Browsing tag: parasite

Ask a vet online – ‘Can you suggest a home remedy for mites in dogs please?’

Question from Sharon Barett:

Hi can you suggest a home remedy for mites in dogs please? I used the spot on treatment off the vet for 3 months but it did not make any difference she still scratches it a King Charles Spaniel 5 months old thank you .x

Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, online vet

Hi Sharon and thank you for your question regarding your itchy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  In order to answer your question I will discuss the possible causes of the itch, how we work out a diagnosis and then some treatment options.

Dog Scratching Flea

Getting the itch!

Why is my pet scratching/itchy?

If your pet is scratching itself then something will be causing an irritation, most commonly this is due to the presence of external parasites such as fleas (Ctenocephalides canis or felis) or mites (e.g. cheyletiella, sarcoptes scabeii). Itchiness can also be due to the presence of an allergy to things you pets eats (food allergy), contacts (contact allergy) or inhales (atopic allergy).

How to diagnose the itch

It is really important to work with your vet to find out the cause of your pet’s itch. The first thing your vet will do is ask for a detailed history of your pets condition including how long it has been going on, any changes to your pets routine, any changes to your household, what treatments have already been tried and if they have had any effect.

The next step is for your vet to perform a full physical examination of your pet paying extra attention to the skin and coat, underlying diseases can have symptoms that affect the skin which include Hypothyroidism( under active thyroid gland), Cushing’s disease ( over production of steroid) and diseases of the immune system.

Finally your vet may suggest performing some diagnostic test on your pet such as skin scrapes, hair plucks, sticky tape strips, skin biopsies, wet paper test, swabs and blood tests.

Skin scrapes: these involve use of a sterile scalpel blade to scrape the surface of your pet’s skin to collect surface cells and debris, which is then examined under a microscope usually for parasites and or fungi.  For certain parasites such as Demodex mite (not usually itchy) a deep scrape has to be taken.

Sticky tape strips: a strong sticky tape is applied to your pet’s skin and then removed, again this is examined under a microscope looking at the surface cells and debris similar to above but it is a less invasive procedure.

Hair plucks: as the name suggests a clump of hair is plucked from your pet and examined as for skin scrapes and sticky tape strips, sometimes this can help to show up Demodex mites (which live down the hair shaft in the hair follicle) or ring worm (actually a fungal skin disease). Hair plucks can be cultured to try and grow bacteria and fungi; this is usually done at a laboratory.

Skin biopsies: this is usually performed under general anaesthesia or sedation as a full thickness sample of the skin is cut out, put into preservative and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Often several samples are taken from different sites.  This gives a lot of information about how the skin is reacting and what types of cells and changes are present.

Wet paper test: your vet will comb through your pet’s coat and collect the debris and put it onto a sheet of wet white paper, if small red dots appear this is suggestive of fleas, as the flea dirt contains digested blood and this turns red when wet.

Swabs: there are sterile cotton bud tipped sticks which are wiped in any discharges present on the skin (often in the ears), the material on the swab can then be stained and examined under a microscope or sent off for culture and sensitivity to grow bacteria and see which antibiotics are affective against them.

Blood test: these can be routine to check overall body function or very specific looking into what your pet is allergic to.  The test chosen will be a decision made with you and your vet depending on your pet’s condition.

What treatment will help my pet?

As external parasites are the most common cause of an itchy pet this is often the first treatment approach whether parasites have been detected or not.  It is important to use a product recommended by your vet that is safe for your pet and covers the suspected range of parasites.  It is also important to use the treatment correctly and repeat as advised. It can take several weeks to clear up some parasites.  Your vet may also advise you to treat other pets in your household and the home environment itself. Especially in the case of fleas as the majority of the flea population is living in the environment ant not only on your pet.

Parasite treatments come in tablet, injection, spot on and spray preparations. Your vet will help to direct you to the method which is most appropriate for you and your pet.

Food allergies are usually treated by feeding a low allergy or special diet (in which protein molecules are broken down so as not to cause reaction).  In some cases your vet may recommend a home cooked diet.  The diet needs to be stuck to strictly and can take 3 months or more to begin to allow improvement in your pet’s skin signs.

Contact allergies usually are present on the paws and tummy, which are areas in contact with the ground.  Once the substance your pet is reacting to has been worked out it is then needs to be avoided or stop being used.

Atopic allergies are usually diagnosed by a combination of examination, skin and blood tests.  There are several treatment options which include medical therapy using drugs or special vaccines.  The drugs often used to treat atopy include antihistamine (reduce allergic reactions), steroid (anti-inflammatory and suppress the immune system from reacting), immunosuppressant (which suppress the immune system form reacting) and antibiotics may be used to treat any infection present on top of the allergy. Special vaccines can be made up in some cases to try and help desensitise your pet to the individual things that he or she reacts to; these are administered in gradually increasing doses over many months by injection.

I hope that I have managed to answer your question by explaining how complex an itchy dog’s condition can be.  I really recommend that you return to your vet and come up with a joint plan of attack to help your pet.  I hope that your dog is feeling much more comfortable very soon.

 Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online Vet)

If you are worried about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet or use our interactive symptom guide.

Ticks…little suckers! – how to identify and rid pets of these parasites

Ticks are small parasites from the spider family.  They attach themselves to our pets and feed off their blood.  They can spend several days in this position, gradually becoming larger as they engorge.  They can also transmit diseases, some of which can be severe, but these are thankfully not very common in the UK.

What are ticks?

Ticks are from the spider family and feed by sucking blood from our pets.  They spend the majority of their lives in the environment and only attach to pets once or twice a year, so they can continue their lifecycle, which can take two to three years to complete.   They tend to be found in moorland type areas and are most prevalent in the Spring and Autumn.  The most common kinds of ticks found on pets in the UK are either Hedgehog or Sheep ticks.

How to tell if your pet has ticks

Ticks often get mistaken for warty growths or nipples (and vice versa!).  They look like small, grey beans attached to your pet’s skin and will grow gradually larger over a period of a few days.  They are most commonly found on the head, ears and legs as they prefer sparsely haired areas.

Generally ticks don’t cause the animal any discomfort or irritation and are often found by accident when you are grooming your pet.  However, sometimes after they have dropped off they can leave a small sore patch where they have bitten.

How to treat your pet for ticks

If you find a tick on your pet, the most important thing to do is to never just pull them out.  Simply pulling on the tick is likely to leave the head still buried in the skin, which can cause a nasty reaction. If you do decide to remove it directly, the best thing to use is a tick puller, a small L-shaped tool designed to slip between the tick and the skin and ‘twist’ them out.  The twisting action keeps the head attached.  The tick pullers will be available from your vet and it is always a good idea to get a demonstration on how to use them first.

Frontline spot-on, which is available from both your vet and over-the-counter, has an action against ticks and as long as your pet has been treated in the past month it will still be active.  However, although the tick will die within a few hours of attaching, it can still take a few days for it to fall off your pet.  It is comes as a spray but this is only available from vets.  There are other spot-ons active against ticks, ask your vet for advice on the best one to use.  There is also collars available which are impregnated with chemicals which stop ticks biting and are active for 6 months.  Again, these are only available from your vet.

Tick borne diseases

These are rare in the UK but with more and more pets traveling abroad with their owners, vets are seeing more  of the exotic tick borne diseases.

  • Lymes Disease – this is the only tick borne disease that is seen in the UK.  It is a bacterial infection and is usually passed by the sheep tick.  The symptoms are variable but can include; lameness, high temperatures, lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes and a distinctive ‘bulls eye’ pattern around the site of the tick bite.  It is treated with antibiotics and infected dogs generally do very well.
  • Ehrlichiosis – this is usually only seen in dogs who have traveled to Europe or the USA.  The symptoms include a high temperature, lack of appetite, weight loss and bleeding.  It is diagnosed by blood tests and although most dogs respond well to treatment, some will need hospitalisation.
  • Babesiosis – again this does not occur in the UK but is occasionally diagnosed in dogs who have traveled outside the country. Symptoms include lethargy, weakness, high temperatures and even collapse.  It can be challenging to treat.

These diseases are amongst the reasons why it is so important to protect your pet against parasites if they travel abroad.  The official regulations only require you to treat your pet just before you return to the UK but it is sensible to talk to your vet about protection for your pet during the whole length of your stay.  Tick borne diseases are very rare in cats.

Toxoplasmosis gondii, Pregnancy and Cats – Fact vs. Fiction

Well over halfway through my second pregnancy, I am currently inundated with comments from clients, mostly positive, and it has added a bit of humour and lively conversation to my otherwise increasingly tiring days. ‘Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?’ ‘How do you think your toddler is going to react to the new baby?’ ‘Are you going to come back to work after two children?’ But one question I wasn’t expecting came from a woman with a lovely ginger tom – ‘Are you sure you’re OK to examine my cat if you’re pregnant?’ I laughed and assured her that despite my expanding waistline I could still reach the table and her cat would be fine. But after a slightly confused and very embarrassed smile, she explained that she had recently been told by a friend that she would have to give up her beloved cat once she became pregnant because it wasn’t safe for pregnant women to be around cats. It had been a while since I had heard that myth and was saddened to hear it again, but I wasn’t terribly surprised. We spent most of the rest of the consultation discussing the real facts about toxoplasmosis, the disease in question, and she left very much relieved that her feline friend was not going to have to be evicted should she ever decide to have a baby, and determined to speak to her GP if she had any further concerns.

What causes toxoplasmosis?

Amber-on-grassToxoplasma gondii, the protozoal parasite responsible for causing the disease known as toxoplasmosis, is a tiny single-celled organism that can infect many different species from mice to sheep to humans. Cats, however, are the only hosts in which the parasite can reproduce, so in addition to being infected themselves, they can also release oocysts (which are essentially the eggs from which new organisms are created) in their faeces. These eggs are very resistant and can survive in some environments for months, allowing other animals to ingest them with their food. When other animals such as mice become infected with the parasite, it develops to form tiny cysts in their muscles and waits there until the animal is eaten by another cat so it can begin the cycle all over again. Most animals, therefore, are capable of spreading the infection through the consumption of their flesh, but only cats are able to spread it via their faeces.

What happens to cats that are infected with toxoplasmosis?

The short answer to this question is, well, usually not much. In fact, unless the cat is otherwise ill or immunocompromised (young kittens, or those with FIV or FeLV), most owners don’t even notice if their cat becomes infected. If cats do show symptoms, these usually include fever, decreased appetite and lethargy. Rarely, more serious cases may develop pneumonia, blindness or inflammation of the eyes, or more commonly, neurological symptoms such as personality changes, loss of balance, walking in circles, difficulty swallowing, or seizures.

How are people infected and why is it so dangerous?

People can become infected by handling the faeces of infected cats (but only during the few weeks after they become infected for the first time, after that they stop shedding the eggs), gardening in soil that has been defecated in by recently infected cats, or more commonly, eating undercooked meat of any kind as animals such as lambs and pigs can also be infected (the cooking process kills the organism). But as you’ll see below, all of these things are easily prevented with simple and common sense measures. There are three main health concerns when it comes to humans. The first and most well-known risk group is pregnant women. Expectant mothers that pick up the disease for the first time during pregnancy (ie, NOT those that have already been exposed to it earlier in life) do not usually show symptoms themselves but are capable of passing the infection on to their unborn child. In these cases, vision and hearing loss, mental disabilities and occasionally even death of the child are possible. So there is certainly cause for concern. The second group of people that are particularly at risk are those that already have immune systems that are deficient, such as those with HIV or AIDS or who are on chemotherapy. Finally, although the vast majority of people who become infected with the toxoplasma organism (and that includes a staggering one third to one half of the world’s human population!) show only mild flu-like symptoms if any at all, it has recently been linked to some pretty serious conditions such as brain tumours, attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and possibly even an increase in suicide risk. But because most people don’t know they have it, it isn’t something that is routinely screened for so a lot more studies need to be done before we know the true effects of the illness in all species, not just humans.

If toxoplasmosis can do all that, why would anybody own a cat??

Domino-sleepingBecause even though cats spread the disease, we are very unlikely to catch it directly from them. Cats are only capable of spreading the disease for the first 2-3 weeks after they are first infected. After that, they are immune to new infections and although they may later show symptoms, they are not later contagious. And then even if your cat was shedding eggs, there has to be direct ingestion of the contaminated faecal material by humans. Not many of us (perhaps toddlers aside…) will intentionally consume cat faeces, but we will sometimes come inside after gardening and grab a quick sandwich without remembering to wash our hands. This is not a problem with the cat itself, rather our own personal hygiene. It is extremely unlikely that you would pick up toxoplasmosis by petting your cat or being scratched or bitten by your cat, because the organism is not spread by the fur or saliva. You CAN, however, pick up toxoplasmosis by eating undercooked infected meat, particularly lamb and pork. Again, this is not your cat’s fault, rather our own lack of taste or culinary skills, and is by far the most common way of picking up the disease in developed countries.

What’s the best way to avoid becoming infected?

Use common sense, and if you are pregnant, take a few extra precautions and chances are you’ll be just fine. Unless you already have it, which is probably more likely than you care to acknowledge, but chances are you’ll never know it so you might as well do these things anyway!

• Don’t eat raw or undercooked meat or drink unpasteurised milk. And once you’re finished preparing raw meat, wash your hands and all surfaces that it may have touched.

• Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them, even if they came from your own organic garden.

• Wash your hands well after gardening and before eating, especially for children, goodness knows where those hands have been…

• Pregnant women, and people with suppressed immune systems, should not clean the litter tray (I don’t know many pregnant women who wouldn’t jump at the chance to make their partner clean the litter tray). Or if you must clean the litter tray yourself, wear gloves, wash your hands well and try to remove the stools daily as faeces that have been sitting around for a few days are more infectious.

Toxoplasmosis is a serious illness and can cause serious harm to both cats and humans. But contrary to what many people believe, living with a cat only slightly increases your chance of catching the disease and with the help of simple common sense measures like those mentioned above, this risk can be minimised. So yes, I’m perfectly happy to keep working and living with cats, and hopefully you will be too. But if you do have any questions regarding either your own health or that of your family, make an appointment to speak with your GP and make sure everybody is aware of the facts rather than the myths about toxoplasmosis.

If you are worried about your cat talk to your vet or use our Interactive Cat Symptom Guide to check any symptoms they may be showing and see how soon you should visit your vet.

Baldness in Dogs (Alopecia)

Bald SetterI’ve been seeing a number of bald dogs in the consulting room recently, and it made me wonder how common a problem it is – and how many conditions there are that can lead to a dog losing his hair!

Baldness (or alopecia, to give it its technical name) isn’t generally a disease in its own right – it is almost invariably a symptom of an underlying disease condition. So, when I’m faced with a poor, balding dog in the consult room, my first task is to try and define what the underlying cause is. With a symptom with so many possible causes, what we do to narrow down the possibilities is to work out a differential list – a list of all the possible conditions that can cause baldness – and then eliminate them until we come to the actual cause in this specific case.

So, in no particular order, here are the more common causes of hair loss in dogs, along with their other major signs or symptoms:

Firstly, those disorders that give a symmetrical pattern of hair loss (i.e. the same pattern of hair loss on both sides of the body):

Hypothyroidism

Hair loss is symmetrical along the trunk and may also involve the tail, armpits and the belly. The skin isn’t inflammed or itchy, but there may be a darkening of colour and dandruff or greasy skin. Caused by production of too little thyroid hormone, other common symptoms include lethargy, weight gain, and sometimes muscular weakness. To diagnose hypothyroidism, your vet will take a blood sample; treatment is simple, with daily tablets containing replacement thyroid hormone.

Cushing’s Disease

Once again, hair loss is symmetrical, and there may be hard lumps in or under the skin (calcinosis cutis). Cushing’s is caused by too much cortisol (an important natural steroid hormone) being produced by the body. Other symptoms include increased hunger, thirst and urination, development of a pot-belly, muscle weakness, skin thinning and “spots” or “blackheads” developing. To diagnose it, your vet may have to do a series of blood tests to see how your dog’s body responds to injections of steroids or other hormones. Tablets to treat Cushing’s usually act to reduce production of steroids, although some destroy the adrenal glands that make the excess hormones.

Iatrogenic Cushing’s Disease

This is a form of Cushing’s disease caused by long term use of steroid medications (e.g. Prednisolone for severe allergies). The only treatment is to VERY GRADUALLY reduce the steroid dose – but this needs to be done carefully, following advice from your vet, because if you reduce it too far, too fast, it can result in severe withdrawal effects, or even death, due to a lack of cortisol in the body.

Sex hormone disorders

Excess production of sex hormones (e.g. due to a testicular tumour) or insufficient sex hormones (usually after neutering) can, in rare cases, cause symmetrical hair loss.

And now, those diseases where there are patches of hair loss in various sites across the body:

Flea Allergic Dermatitis

This is probably the commonest cause of all! Dogs with a flea allergy scratch and scratch, and wear the hair away. FAD is usually straightforward to diagnose (very itchy dog plus fleas is something of a giveaway), although in extreme cases, a single flea bite can set it off, which is harder to detect. Prevention is simple – avoid and kill fleas – although it can be hard in severe cases to keep the flea population low enough, and anti- allergy medication may be required.

Sarcoptic Mange

Mange mites burrow into the skin, creating a very itchy patch covered in little bumps. The dog scratches away at it, wearing the hair away, creatng a bald patch. The most common site is on the ear; fortunately, there are some spot-on treatments available from your vet that will kill the mites and stop the itching.

Demodectic Mange

This is a different variety of mite, and unlike the sarcoptic mite, it doesn’t itch at all. Most dogs have a few, and they don’t cause any problems, living harmlessly deep inside the hair follicles. However, sometimes they can start to multiply, and the sheer numbers start to result in hair loss. Typically, it is a patchy disease, with hair loss in distinct regions that get bigger over time. Sometimes there is a bit of scale forming, but the mites themselves do not cause itching, although secondary bacterial infection may occur, which can. To diagnose Demodex mites, your vet will have to take a deep skin scrape, usually with a scalpel blade, and then look at it under the microscope. If Demodex mites are found, treatment may involve spot-ons like Promeris Duo, or bathing with Aludex for several months – sadly, it can take a lot of work to get it under control.

Primary Pyoderma

Bacterial skin infections are common in dogs, and can result in hair loss. The skin is usually reddened and inflamed, and there may be pussy “spots”. Often the area is itchy and sore, but occasionally there are cases where the skin looks almost normal, but hairless. The vet can diagnose it by taking scrapes and smears from the skin, then looking at them under the microscope. Treatment nay involve antibiotic creams, washes, and sometimes tablets to kill the bacteria.
Sometimes a yeast infection can cause the same symptoms; treatment then is usually with anti-fungal washes.

Ringworm

(Or dermatophytosis) is often diagnosed in practice, generally by using a Woods Lamp, which makes the fungus glow. Its appearance can vary widely, but most looking involves patches of hair loss, sometimes with scales, sometimes itchy (but not always). It’s particularly a problem in dogs that are ill with something else, and have reduced immunity. To get a definite diagnosis, hair plucks have to be sent to a lab and cultures, but that can take weeks so vets will often start treatment while waiting for confirmation to come back. Treatment usually involves washes, shampoos and occasionally tablets to kill the fungus, but it can take a long time to completely clear a bad infection.

Allergic Reactions

(e.g. to a spot-on medicine, or a new floor cleaner, sometimes even to food!). Usually, there is reddening and inflammation of the skin, and itching, before the hair comes out, but occasionally hair loss is noticed first.

There are other causes (e.g. genetic disorders, immune diseases like pemphigus) but they are generally far less common. It’s important to remember the old adage that “common things are common” before jumping to cocclusions.

Baldness and hair loss in dogs can be a marker for a serious underlying condition – it’s almost never due to simple old age! – but most of these conditions are either curable, or at least manageable.

And the dogs I saw this week? Well, one was a nice simple skin infection (although it didn’t look like it to begin with, the tests were clear and she responded really well to antibiotics). The other one had been on steroids for several years, and the effect over that time had given him Iatrogenic Cushing’s. His owners are working to reduce the dose (very, very gradually, as his body has become dependant on the tablets now), and to keep him warm, they’ve bought him a coat to wear when he goes out in the cold for a walk!

If you are worried about bald patches on your dog, talk to your vet or check any other symptoms using our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help decide how urgent the problem may be.

It may be getting cold outside, but it’s always flea season at home…

Daisy in her bedI see it almost every day, and constantly warn my clients about it, yet somehow even I wasn’t expecting it – yes, last week my very own cat came home with fleas. ‘How could this happen to me?’ I said, ‘I’m the vet!’ Well, the answer is very simple. I, like many of us, forgot to apply my cat’s flea preventative for the past few months. The weather was getting colder and she wasn’t going out as much, and with everything else going on the monthly treatment just slipped my mind. It sure was a wakeup call, however, to find the
tell-tale rusty brown dirt on my cat’s favourite bed.

And let’s face it, fleas are downright creepy. They eat blood and leave their faeces all over your pet, not to mention the fact that they can live in your carpets and even jump up and bite you. But at the same time, they’re pretty amazing little creatures, and successful ones at that.

Did you know…

… there are more than 2000 species of fleas around the world? 63 of these are found in the UK, and 10 of these can be found in our own homes. The most common species seen however, is called Ctenocephalides felis, which although it is commonly called the cat flea can also be found on dogs.

… fleas are responsible for spreading the Bubonic Plague in people, and myxomatosis in rabbits?

… fleas can jump up to 150 times their own length, and consume 15 times their own body weight in blood daily?

… a female flea can lay about 50 eggs a day, and once these new fleas mature, they can each bite up to 400 times a day. Add all that up and you’ve got one miserable cat.

How do I know if my cat has fleas?

IndieThis sounds like a simple question but it can be a lot harder than you think to diagnose fleas in cats. Sure, sometimes you can see them scurrying around your cat’s fur but it isn’t always that easy. In fact, I have seen four patients with significant flea infestations in just the past week, and none of their owners were aware of the problem. Animals with fleas don’t always itch, and there are lots of other reasons why cats can be itchy. Also, cats can sometimes eat any fleas that they come across whilst grooming themselves, so you don’t always see them. The most reliable way to tell if your cat has fleas is to comb your cat well with a very fine-toothed comb (they make flea combs just for that purpose) over a piece of white paper or onto some cotton wool. This will result in the flea ‘dirt’ (which is actually their faeces) falling onto the white surface where you can see it. Then cover the specks with a bit of water and rub gently – if the dirt turns reddish-brown, it is flea dirt. If your cat has a lot of fleas, you may be able to see the dirt in their bedding or other favourite areas without even needing a comb.

Of course, if you have any doubts, your vet would be happy to examine your cat for fleas and advise you as to the best course of action.

Why is it important to prevent and treat fleas?

• Adult fleas feed on blood, which in young kittens can result in weakness, anaemia, and even death.

• Some animals are very allergic to flea bites, which makes them more likely to develop a bad skin infection as a result. Even one bite can set off a reaction, so you may not ever see the offending flea itself. So if your cat has an itchy skin infection but you can’t find any fleas, it’s probably worth treating them for fleas anyway.

• Fleas carry tapeworms, which are spread to the cat when they eat the fleas during grooming. Therefore, if your cat has fleas, they should also be treated for tapeworms.

• If all of that wasn’t bad enough, they can bite you too. Cat fleas won’t live on a human, but they won’t be able to resist a free meal…

How do you treat a cat with fleas?

Before going into battle against your cat’s fleas, it’s a good idea to understand a bit about their life cycle so you can plan the best attack. Adult fleas mostly live on the cat, but they can live up to two years and survive in the environment for up to six months. Once they find a host, they start eating and laying eggs. Both the eggs and the flea faeces fall off the animal, where the larvae hatch and feed on the flea dirt. The satisfied larvae then dig deep into carpeting or furniture, trying to escape the light and making themselves incredibly hard to kill. They then develop into pupae and build themselves a cocoon. The flea develops to adulthood inside the cocoon then waits until just the right moment to burst out and jump onto your unsuspecting cat by detecting changes in pressure, heat, noise or vibrations. The whole process takes about 15 days from egg to adulthood, but they can lie waiting in their cocoons for up to 2 years so modern conveniences like central heating can cause a resurgence in flea populations that you thought you had under control. As you can see, treating fleas doesn’t just involve putting a flea preventative on your pet (although that’s a very good place to start), you must treat the environment as well.

1. Ask your vet which flea medication is best for your pet and use this as directed. This will be either a long-acting insecticide to kill adult fleas or an insect development inhibitor to prevent eggs from maturing into adult fleas, or possibly both. These can come in the form of a spot-on liquid, spray, tablet, or injection. Collars and powders are not recommended for use in cats now that more effective and safer treatments are available. Flea treatments from the pet shop or internet may be just fine, but they also may not work as well and if used incorrectly, could seriously harm your cat. Be particularly careful never to give a flea product intended for dogs to your cat! If in doubt, ask your vet.

best friends
2. Treat ALL animals in the house, provided there is a licensed flea treatment for that particular species. If you treat just one pet and not the others, the fleas will just go live on them instead.

3. Wash everything that you can. This particularly includes their bedding (and your bedding, if they have access to that too, eek!).

4. Hoover everything else. Frequently. This includes carpets, floorboards, skirting boards, sofas or other soft furnishings and any other little nooks and crannies where the young fleas may hide.

5. Once you’ve done your best to mechanically remove as many fleas as possible from the house, and if you still have a problem, go after the remaining residents chemically. There are several products on the market that can be used to safely treat fleas in your house, ask your vet for their recommendation.

6. Finally, be prepared to repeat these treatments if necessary, as flea eggs can hatch in waves that will need to be treated at different times. Be patient, be thorough, and be sure to follow all instructions carefully.

As with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If even the thought of fleas makes you shiver or perhaps you don’t fancy the extra housework mentioned above, I’d suggest you take steps to prevent your cat from getting fleas in the first place. Use flea preventatives on a regular basis as directed by your vet, which often means once a month. Don’t be tempted to stop the preventative in the winter months, which may be OK in colder climates but doesn’t apply to most of the UK, especially thanks to central heating. Remembering to apply the preventatives regularly can be difficult, so many come with stickers that you can put on your calendars, don’t be ashamed to use them! And remember, even vets’ cats are at risk – fleas can strike any pet, at any time. Be ready!

If you are concerned that your cat is itching or has fleas, check their symptoms using our Interactive Cat Symptom Guide to find out if you need to see your vet.

“No! Not on the carpet!” – Vomiting in Cats

I knew it was going to be a rough day when I walked in and saw that three of my ten morning appointments were vomiting cats.  Second only to the chronically itchy dog, vomiting cats can be one of the most frustrating things we have to deal with as vets because there are so many possible reasons why it can happen.  Anything from what the cat had for dinner last night to metabolic diseases that may have been brewing for years could be the cause, and distinguishing between them can take a lot of time, money and effort.  And that’s just for the vet – as the owner of a cat that vomits frequently myself, I understand how unpleasant it is to walk downstairs in the middle of the night and step in a pile of cat sick.  Be it on the new white carpeting or the beat up old sofa, it’s not pretty.  It may be a harmless hairball, but it can also be a sign of serious illness in your cat so it’s definitely worth getting it checked out by your vet.  If you are unlucky enough to have a vomiting cat, here are some things you may want to consider.

Why do cats vomit so much?

Amber prowl cropVomiting in cats is extremely common, but that doesn’t mean that it’s normal.  Some cats are simply prone to hairballs, especially long-haired cats or those that groom excessively.  Others are particularly sensitive to the kinds of food they eat and may not be able to tolerate a particular protein such as beef or additive such as wheat gluten.  Intestinal worms can cause vomiting sometimes, and you may even see them wriggling around after they come up!  Poisonings are rare (cats have a much more discerning palate than dogs) but do occur.  Sometimes playful kittens will swallow things such as pieces of string which can be very dangerous indeed.  Metabolic disorders such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes and liver problems can all cause vomiting too as can tumours of the intestinal tract such as lymphoma.  Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas, an organ which secretes digestive enzymes) or inflammatory bowel disease are other common causes which can present themselves in a wide array of confusing ways.  And of course there is one of my favourite terms, “dietary indiscretion”, which can describe the ingestion of anything from rancid rat remnants to last week’s chicken chow mein from the bin.  With such a huge range of possibilities, it’s easy to see how difficult it can be to find the underlying cause.

What should I do if my cat vomits?

Amber-drinkAs with any medical condition, the best thing to do is contact your vet.  They may tell you to simply starve your cat for a few hours (cats should never be starved for long periods of time though, and should always be brought to the vet if they go more than 24 hours without eating, as this can lead to other serious problems) and reintroduce a bland diet such as plain boiled chicken, as this may fix many acute cases of vomiting.  As always, fresh water should be available at all times.  Or, if your cat is displaying other symptoms such as lethargy, inappetence or diarrhoea they may recommend you bring him straight down to the clinic.  The vet will do a physical exam and take a detailed history, so try to remember as many details as you can about your cat’s behaviour in the past few days.  They may take a blood test or check the urine to rule out metabolic diseases.  Depending on the symptoms they may also choose to take some x-rays of the abdomen to look for anything that the cat may have swallowed, or perhaps perform an ultrasound scan to check for any tumours or other problems with the internal organs.  Because there are so many possible causes for vomiting, sometimes many different tests will be needed so it can become quite expensive at times.  Yet another case where pet insurance is a real plus!

How is vomiting treated?

As previously mentioned, if your cat is otherwise well, you may be asked to feed him something bland such as chicken or white fish with no flavourings or fats added.  Although dogs often appreciate rice or pasta mixed with their meat, cats usually do better without the addition of a carbohydrate.  Or, if you’re not up for cooking, there are a number of prescription pet foods available that can help as well.  If hairballs seem to be the problem, there are special pastes and foods that will help them pass through the body instead of being vomited up.  A worming tablet or liquid may be prescribed if there is evidence of worms.  An anti-emetic (medication that stops vomiting) can be given to help calm things for a bit, and sometimes other medications such as antibiotics or steroids are used as well.  If a foreign body is found (in other words, your cat ate something that got stuck), surgery will be performed to remove it.  Surgery can also be used to remove some types of tumours, or to take biopsy samples of different parts of the intestinal tract to help diagnose the problem.

Some cases of vomiting will resolve on their own, while others can require weeks of intensive diagnostics and treatments.  If left untreated, excessive vomiting can make the cat very ill and you also risk missing any underlying medical problems so make sure you talk to your veterinary surgeon right away if you are at all concerned.  But please be patient with your vet if they can’t fix the problem right away – and remember that we can be just as frustrated by it as you!

If you are worried about your cat vomiting, talk to your vet or use our interactice Cat Symptom Guide to check how urgent the problem may be.

Diary of a Puppy’s First Year

The litter of puppies at 5 weeks old

The litter of puppies at 5 weeks old

Choosing our pup

We had decided the time was right to get a second boxer for all sorts of reasons. Most importantly, it was right for our older boxer to get a new companion while she was still young enough to enjoy her instead of finding her a chore.

We chose a breeder who owned both parents of the litter and went to see them all when the pups were 5 weeks old. We met both parents and found them to be lovely dogs. We wanted a bitch puppy and were lucky enough to have 4 to choose from. Luckily we both liked the same pup best, so we paid our deposit and went home to prepare for her arrival.

Tilly came to our house at 8 weeks old.

Tilly came to our house at 8 weeks old.

Tilly comes home

We had decided as a family on the name Tilly, although her full pedigree name is Milkyways Mad Discovery! The middle name is particularly apt. Like most pedigree puppies who are Kennel Club registered, she came with 6 weeks pet insurance cover and we made sure to take out our own policy before this expired. Although I’m a vet myself, I want to be sure that even if she needs specialist treatment one day, she will be able to have it.

House training

We chose to use a crate for Tilly, which worked really well. The idea is that because the puppy will not soil its bed area, as long as she is taken outside every time she wakes and after each feed, she will quickly learn to toilet outside. It’s vital that the puppy does not think of going into the crate as a punishment; it must be a comfortable den which becomes the pup’s own space.

Microchipping

I implanted a microchip as soon as Tilly arrived, to make sure she was permanently identified. Although she was not going to be out of our sight, we weren’t taking any chances! It was painless and she was as good as gold.

Feeding

We chose a good quality proprietary puppy food and Tilly was a good eater from the start. Having another dog can encourage a healthy appetite!

Vaccinations & Worming

Tilly had her first and second puppy vaccinations at 10 weeks and at 12 weeks old. She had a full examination first and was completely healthy. She also continued her worming course, which is very important as most pups are born with worms even if the dam was wormed properly.

Tilly looks up to Martha and has learned a lot from her. Martha scolds her when she gets too big for her boots.

Tilly looks up to Martha and has learned a lot from her. Martha scolds her when she gets too big for her boots.

Training Classes

A week after vaccinations were finished, Tilly could start exploring the outside world and get used to walking on a lead. She didn’t like it at first, but soon grew in confidence when she saw that Martha liked it. We enrolled her in a puppy training class because we think that all puppies benefit not just from training but from the socialisation that goes with it. The first few months are a very formative time in a puppy’s life and an ideal time to learn from new experiences. With this in mind she was taken for walks in the country, in town and on the beach. We took her on a train ride and visited a dog-friendly café. It was also important to us that she should get used to young children.

Kennels

We also wanted Tilly to be used to going into kennels from a young age. This was easy for us as we run our own kennels and we have made a point of boarding both dogs regularly. Luckily, she loves it. Sometimes when the kennel staff go back to work after tea breaks she tries to tag along with them!

Neutering

Tilly has not been neutered because we have not yet decided whether to breed from her. We will only do so if she has a suitable temperament and is free of hereditary conditions common in boxers, so she will be seeing a cardiologist before deciding. If anything is amiss we will not breed from her and will have her spayed.

I would always recommend spaying a bitch which is not going to be used for breeding. Although spaying is a major operation, great care is taken to make sure that the risks involved are very small. The benefits are much greater than the risks. Spaying will prevent several serious conditions such as pyometra (infected womb), ovarian cancer and uterine cancer. It will also minimise the risk of mammary cancer and, importantly, will prevent unwanted pregnancies.

First Birthday

At one year old, Tilly has almost reached full adult size, but still behaves very much like a puppy. One minute we are very proud of her mature behaviour; the next she is chasing her tail like a whirling dervish, or doing a double take at her own reflection in the oven door. When the oven is opened, I think she half expects the dog that lives inside to pop out!

We are looking forward to many more years of fun with Tilly.

Tilly can’t understand how the cats manage to use this door

Tilly can’t understand how the cats manage to use this door

She has just a few favourite toys at any one time, but they have to be close to indestructible

She has just a few favourite toys at any one time, but they have to be close to indestructible

If you have any concerns about your puppy’s health, please contact your vet or use the interactive dog symptom guide to help you decide what to do next.

Beware of Slugs and Snails and Angiostrongylus (lungworm)

snailTo a gardener, slugs and snails can be a nuisance because they eat your plants, but to dogs they can pose a serious health risk because they act as an intermediate host for one of the most serious types of internal worms.

The worm called Angiostrongylus Vasorum is sometimes referred to as lungworm or heartworm (although other types of lungworm and heartworm also exist). It affects dogs and foxes, and in the last few years it seems to have spread across most of Northern Europe including the U.K. I have seen two cases in the south-west of England in the last year. I am pleased to say that both dogs survived but they were both very ill for a time.

The life cycle of this parasite takes place partly inside the dog (the host) and partly inside the snail or slug (the intermediate host). An infected dog or fox will have adult worms in the lungs and blood vessels, which produce eggs. These worm eggs are coughed up and swallowed by the dog, and then passed out in the faeces. They are then eaten by the slug or snail, which completes the cycle of infestation when eaten by another dog.

dog_drinking_puddleIt can be easy to see, or hear, if your dog eats a snail because of the crunching sounds, but it is much harder to know if they eat slugs. Unfortunately some of the slugs are quite small and any dog which grazes on grass or drinks from puddles could be swallowing tiny slugs.

The symptoms of infection with this parasite can be quite varied. The effects on the lungs may cause coughing or breathlessness on exercise. Various bleeding disorders can be caused by the blood failing to clot, which may show as nosebleeds or bleeding in the mouth or eyes, or unexpected bleeding after surgery. Less commonly the brain, kidneys or central nervous system can be affected. All of these are serious and can be fatal.

Diagnosing the cause of the problem is by a combination of a physical examination, blood tests and faecal tests (to identify worm larvae). Other tests such as x-rays or ultrasound imaging may be necessary in cases where the symptoms are less clear cut, to distinguish this from other conditions.

The good news is that treatment is available with a number of drugs available from your vet. Some commonly prescribed worm tablets and some commonly prescribed flea treatments will kill this parasite (when used as directed by your vet, which may be more frequently than for other parasites), and this is just one reason why all dogs should follow a suitable parasite treatment regime. Dogs with more serious symptoms will require intensive care and possibly blood transfusions and other drugs.

The best advice to dog owners to avoid this problem is:

  1. Ask your vet which is the most suitable product to use for routine worm and flea treatment, and use it regularly, even if you don’t suspect that your dog has any parasites.
  2. Try to stop your dog eating slugs and snails if you can.
  3. Pick up your dog’s faeces and dispose of properly.
  4. Don’t be tempted to use slug bait, as this can be very poisonous.

Please ask at your veterinary surgery if you would like more information or advice on this very unpleasant parasite.

Jenny Sheriff BVM&S MRCVS

3/12/09

If you are concerned that your dog is coughing or having nosebleeds use the interactive dog symptom guide to find out what you should do.

More Useful Information

Examining your pet

Simple ways to check the health of your pet. Vets use these techniques as part of their clinical examiniation.

Medicating your pet

Arming you with the same simple techniques for stress free pill giving.

Worming & Flea Treatment

Information and advice in treating your pet for worms and fleas.