Browsing tag: worms

Part 3: Surgical Colic

As we saw in the previous part of this series, Medical colics are those which can be managed medically, usually on the yard. However, about 1 in 10 cases of colic require emergency referral to an equine hospital for surgery.

This is what most horse owners are terrified of. The general indicators that a horse has a surgical colic are:

1) Heart rate over 60 that isn’t relieved by injectable painkillers.
2) Dilated loops of small intestine on rectal exam.
3) Positive stomach reflux from the stomach tube.
4) A definite rectal diagnosis of a surgical problem.
5) “Toxic rings” – dark red or purple gums, that indicate that the horse is going into toxic shock.

Of course, it varies between horses, and the vet has to make a judgment call based on all the evidence available.

We also have to talk to the (by now usually frantic) owners about costs. Colic surgery usually costs between £4000 and £5000, but can easily be a lot more. Even if the horse is insured, it is important to check how much the insurance company will cover – there are a couple of companies out there who will only cover part of the costs of emergency surgery. If in doubt, always call your insurer’s helpline.

However, colic surgery is one of the most genuine emergency operations there is – and it can be truly life-saving.

So, what causes a surgical colic? Probably the most common are:

1) Twisted bowel. If a length of bowel twists around itself, it can cut off the circulation. At this point, the gut begins to die, and unless it can be removed by surgery, and quickly, the horse will go into toxic shock and die. This commonly happens in the small intestine or occasionally the colon, but there’s also a condition where the caecum gets turned partially inside out (an intussusception).

2) Small intestinal blockages. Horses rarely eat things that get stuck in the small intestine (although it can happen). More commonly, a really heavy worm burden can simply block up the bowel; with the bowel overfull, the blood supply starts to fail, and the gut, again, can die. I once had a patient who was a little foal with a severe colic; we removed two gallons of worms from her small intestine!

3) Strangulating Lipomas. These are really common in older horses and ponies. A small, benign, fatty tumour forms somewhere in the abdomen, causing no harm at all. However, it grows on a stalk, and eventually, the stalk gets wrapped around a length of gut, cutting off the blood supply… This results in the bowel dying, as if it had twisted. Fortunately, these are usually really simple surgical procedures; unfortunately, older horses and ponies are less likely to be insured for surgery.

There are also a number of medical conditions that can mimic those requiring surgery – particularly peritonitis and anterior (or proximal) enteritis. Horses with these conditions are often referred for possible surgery because it’s very hard for the vet in the field or on the yard to be 100% certain they’re not surgical. I think that most of us would say it makes a lot more sense to have the horse at the hospital, with a surgeon on call, to make the definitive diagnosis, rather than waste time in the stable, and risk having to then decide it needs surgery when it’s still an hour or more away in travelling time from the hospital!

So, what happens when the vet decides that a colic case isn’t suitable for medical management?

Firstly, they’ll talk to you about the options. If a horse isn’t insured, or there’s no money for treatment, it is a perfectly respectable and responsible decision to decide, sadly, to put the horse to sleep rather than prolong its suffering.

Hopefully, of course, that won’t be the case. Once you and the vet have decided that referral is the way forward, your vet will get in contact with a referral hospital. If you’re very lucky, it will be one run by your vet’s practice, but in most cases, it will be a specialist referral hospital. I must say here that not every centre with surgical facilities is able to cope with emergency colic surgery – they need not only to have the facilities (knock-down box, operating theatre, recovery box etc), but also the staff (not only a surgeon, but also enough vets and nurses to take care of your horse in the vital recovery period). Your vet will have a list of suitable referral hospitals – generally, its best to send the horse to the closest one with the shortest transport time, but your vet will be able to advise you.

Making an emergency referral is simple – but only your vet can do it. A referral hospital will not accept referrals from the horse’s owner! Once you’ve made the decision to refer, your vet will call them and speak to the veterinary team on call, who will be available 24/7/365 (when I was part of one such team, we ALWAYS seemed to get our referrals at about 10pm!). They’ll let him or her know what they want done during transport – generally, they’ll describe what painkillers they want given, and what samples they want taken (don’t be surprised if your vet gives you a couple of blood tubes to take up and give to the referral team). In addition, they’ll sometimes ask the vet to put in a stomach tube and tie it in for the journey – this is to prevent the stomach from getting over-full and bursting if there’s an obstruction in the small intestine. Don’t forget your horse’s passport – legally, they do need it even when being rushed to emergency surgery.

Your vet will generally give you directions and a contact number for the hospital, and send you on your way. Remember, they can’t normally go with you, because your horse’s colic, while devastating, is probably only one of several cases they’ll have to deal with.

If there’s a problem (e.g. your horse getting distressed) in transit, call your vet or the referral number you were given – but if at all possible don’t stop unless they tell you to! Remember, you’re on your way to the best equipped help available.

On arrival at the hospital, you can expect to be met by the veterinary and nursing team. Your horse will be rushed to an assessment area, and you’ll probably be given a lot of scary-looking paperwork to sign. Generally, this comes into 2 parts – firstly, you’re signing to give consent for whatever they need to do (and remember, a lot of drugs aren’t technically licensed for use in horses, because the manufacturers haven’t paid for an official license for that drug in horses. It doesn’t mean a drug is dangerous or experimental, it’s probably used on a daily basis by the hospital. You’ll have to sign consent to use unlicensed medication – it’s absolutely routine, and nothing to worry about). Most hospitals will also ask to see your passport – if you haven’t got it, or it isn’t signed to mark the horse as “not intended for human consumption”, legally the hospital can refuse treatment (although they rarely do).

The second set of paperwork you’ll sign is a bit more pedestrian – you’ll be signing to say that you will pay for any treatment!

While you’re contemplating the paperwork, your horse will be undergoing another examination by the veterinary team. This is to establish what’s going on, and what’s changed since your vet examined him back on the yard. They may well repeat some tests – most colic conditions are dynamic (i.e. constantly changing), and sometimes the change is more useful in working out what’s going on than a one-off test. Other tests they may wheel out include ultrasound – the powerful ultrasound systems available in a hospital environment can give the vets a lot more information about what’s going on. The vets will then make a decision about what to do – don’t be disappointed or worried if they don’t rush immediately to surgery! They may decide to try a course of medical treatment first (remember, they don’t have to rush as much as your vet does – if your horse’s situation deteriorates, they can operate at a moment’s notice).

In many cases, however, they will decide to take the horse straight to theatre. If so, you normally won’t be able to follow, so I’m going to describe what happens once you’ve been gently steered in the direction of a waiting room.

To begin with, the horse will have an intravenous catheter fitted, to allow easy access for fluids and drugs. A horse with colic is systemically weakened, so will almost invariably be given intravenous fluids during surgery. He’ll then be given a premed – this is a sedative, designed to make induction into anaesthesia gentler. It will usually contain the drug acepromazine, because the use of this before surgery has been demonstrated to reduce the risks of anaesthetics.

He’ll then be led into a knock-down box: this is a special padded room, designed to make induction of anaesthesia safer. Then he’ll be anaesthetised with an injection containing (usually) a mixture of 2 anaesthetic agents, ketamine (no, it’s not a tranquilizer, it’s an anaesthetic) and diazepam or a similar drug. Shortly after the injection, he’ll go wobbly, and then quickly lie down.

Once he’s asleep, the team will swing into action: a tube will be passed down his throat to help him breathe and he’ll be moved into the operating theatre. While this was going on, the surgeon(s) will have been scrubbing up, ready to start.

Once he’s in theatre and safely ensconced on a well cushioned table (to prevent pressure sores etc), he’ll be put onto anaesthetic gas to keep him asleep.

Colic3 - SurgeryThe surgery involves a long incision down the midline of the belly. The surgeons can then have a good look through all the intestines, to find the problem. This is the exciting, sexy bit, but it’s actually pretty simple in principle: “if in doubt, cut it out”. In other words, removing devitalized (dead) bowel, emptying out anything in the bowel that shouldn’t be there (e.g. a caecal impaction), replacing anything that’s got stuck in the wrong place (e.g. an entrapment) and untwisting anything that’s tied up. There are usually at least 2 surgeons, because one person is needed to hold loops of intestines (and they don’t stay still – sometimes they wriggle around in your arms)! Meanwhile, the anaesthetist will be carefully monitoring all sorts of parameters (heart rate, blood pressure, ECG, reflexes, breathing and blood gasses can all be monitored at many hospitals) and adjusting the anaesthetic and any other drugs to give the safest and most effective anaesthetic.

Once whatever the problem was has been found and (hopefully) sorted out, your horse will be returned to the recovery room. In many ways, this is the most dangerous part of the procedure. Horses are very prone to breaking things when they wake up, so everything is done to keep it as calm and quiet as possible. Sometimes, the veterinary team will help the horse to rise, using hoists and lifts; other times, it works out better to let him get up in his own time. In either case, he will be moved into a padded room, and left in dim light, as quietly as possible, so he wakes up slowly.

Once awake, and steady on his feet, he’ll be moved to an intensive care box; he’ll almost certainly be on a drip to keep him hydrated. At regular intervals through the next 24 hours (or longer) he’ll be checked by vets and nurses. In some cases, the guts don’t start working properly on their own, and medication may be needed to encourage motility (e.g. a lidocaine drip). Although everyone gets excited about the surgery, it is this recovery period that is in many ways the most important in getting a good long-term prognosis.

As time goes on, the vets and nurses will try and tempt the horse to eat – normally, we’ll try and get him eating fresh grass as soon as possible. As soon as he is stable enough and eating on his own, he’ll be sent home – most horses do better in their own home environment, so as soon as they no longer require advanced medical intervention, they can go home. Once home, it’s important that the discharge instructions from the hospital are followed – it can be tempting to try and speed things up, but don’t rush it! Major abdominal surgery takes time to recover from.

Colic is a worrying condition to have to deal with as an owner, especially as it often seems to come out of the blue. However, if you ever have to go through it, I hope that having read these blogs, you’ll have some idea of what’s being done, and why. Remember, our aim as vets is to help your horse and, if at all possible, send him home to you fit and well.

If you are worried your horse or pony may be suffering from colic, talk to your vet, or check the symptoms using our Interactive Equine Symptom Guide to help assess how urgent the problem may be.

Looking after the Older Horse

When I was training as a vet, a 20 year old horse was considered really quite old. Now, however, I regularly find myself working with healthy horses in their late twenties and thirties – even a few that go on into their forties!

That said, horses don’t age uniformly – one may be sprightly and fit at 30, while her paddock mate is really feeling his age at 20, so there’s a lot of variation. The challenge is maintaining them at the best quality of life for as long as possible.

To do so, we need to consider three things:

• Work and exercise
• Preventative health (worming, dental care etc)
• Disease management and medication

I’ll deal with these in sequence, although really they are of course all interconnected.

Work and Exercise

PerryI’d like to introduce Perry, a horse I’ve known for many, many years. Born in 1986, by 2002 Perry was a successful Eventer, competing on the Affiliated circuit, and usually well up in the places. However, by then he was starting to slow up a bit, and his then-owner decided it was time to reduce his workload. He was struggling in particular with the dressage and show jumping, so they sold him on to a friend of mine as a Pony Club horse for Tetrathlon. All he had to do was carry his (fairly novice) rider round a cross country course – the phase he enjoyed the most anyway. Relieved of the need to work in an outline, or in collection, he flourished at Tetrathlon, going on to compete at the National Championships.
Of course, in time, his low-grade arthritis (which I’ll talk about more later) meant that he was struggling with the cross country requirements, and he moved into a semi-retirement as a hack. He’d seen it all, done it all, and was as close to 100% in traffic, tractors and low flying aircraft as any horse could be.
For most horses, as long as they can work, they want to – generally (and there are always exceptions!), it isn’t in a horse’s best interests to take him out of work one day and retire him to a field. A gradual wind-down over several years is kinder, and helps to keep him interested and alert.
So, by changing career, Perry had an extra five years of competition, and then many more years of useful work – simply because his various owners were wise enough not to over face him, but to play to his strengths.

Preventative Health

I’ve talked before about the importance of regular dental work – in the older horse, it is doubly important. As the horse ages, his teeth undergo a number of changes. Although it appears that teeth grow constantly, that is in fact an illusion – the adult teeth are pretty much a fixed length, but most of the tooth is hidden away within the gums (the reserve crown). As the tooth is worn down by chewing, more of this reserve is extruded (which is, by the way, the basis of ageing horses by dentition). However, sooner or later, this reserve is expended, and the teeth “cup out”, becoming small, loosely held, concave structures, of limited use for chewing. Good, regular dental care can help delay the onset, and can help the horse to manage as the teeth cup out. Remember, as long as there are a few pairs of teeth in occlusion (i.e. Facing each other), the horse can still chew, he’ll just be very slow about it! In my experience, teeth generally start to cup out about 30-35 years of age, but it depends on their dental history – more use and wear and tear means the teeth are ground down faster.
Worming is also inceasingly important in the older horse, simply because although they may have higher immunity to worms (this is still debated, but does seem likely), they also have less reserves to cope if they have a heavy infestation. The spring is a particularly risky time, as sometimes large numbers of small redworms can emerge all at once, causing massive gut wall damage. It is important to make sure that at some point over the winter, you use a wormer that is active against hibernating (hypobiotic) worm larvae – currently, the only wormers on the market that have this activity are a full 5 day course of Panacur, and (reportedly) Equest.

Foot care is always important, as older horses can suffer some terrible hoof capsule problems if left untreated.

I always recommend that people keep up vaccinating their horses, even if they’re not competing or going out. Equine influenza probably isn’t essential in a stay-at-home horse or pony (although they can still contract it if they’re in contact with a younger friend who does go out and do), but Tetanus vaccination is essential. Just because a horse is old doesn’t mean you can stop vaccinating, because tetanus kills horses of any age just as easily. It’s also a really useful opportunity to have a general “MOT” and get your vet to check the horse over thoroughly, to detect and problems before they become too serious.

Disease Management

Although many horses lead a long and healthy life, the probability is that as they enter old age, they will suffer from one or more “chronic diseases”. These are generally low-level conditions, and in the older horse are usually manageable rather than curable. Probably the most common are arthritis and Cushing’s disease, but malabsorbtion diseases and some tumours aren’t that uncommon either.

The key factor is managing the disease in such a way that the horse doesn’t suffer from the symptoms, and is able to keep up as much work as possible, for as long as possible.

Arthritis is perhaps the commonest condition of older horses, and those that aren’t so old. In most cases, it is due to simple wear and tear on the joint surfaces. The harder a horse has worked, the more rapid the onset of arthritic changes. It’s often the case that, initially, a horse will have trouble working in an outline, and perhaps with show jumps, but hacking and cross country, with it’s more open jumping style, is less of a problem. This of course was exactly the case with Perry. Managing arthritis is a lot more than just monitoring exercise, however – nowadays, we no longer need to just accept “a bit of stiffness” in the older horse. It’s often best to use several different strategies. I generally recommend a combination of joint supplementation (feed supplements such as Cosequin and Newmarket Joint Supplement are the most popular, while injectables like Adequan are more expensive but possibly more effective) with analgesics (bute and/or Danilon, usually) as required. Although painkillers like bute don’t address the underlying disease, they reduce the inflammation and associated pain. Although there can be side effects, it really isn’t fair to put a horse through the pain and discomfort of arthritis without some pain relief; if side effects are a particular concern, Danilon has a much lower risk, although it seems to be a little less effective. Its usually best to start out using bute only as required, and then build up the dose as necessary. Perry, for example, started using bute about 10 years ago, but just a sachet or so immediately after a competition. As he’s got older, he uses more, and at the moment he’s on an average of 4-5 sachets a week – enough to keep him comfortable (and galloping round his paddock like a yearling!).

Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is most common in older horses, and is caused by a micro-tumour in the pituitary gland. This results in an excess of circulating cortisol (a stress hormone), that causes the characteristic symptoms of abnormal fat pads (typically over the eyes and as saddle-packs), excessive drinking and urination, and increasing susceptibility to minor infections and laminitis. Ironically, the “classic” shaggy coat of the Cushingoid horse isn’t entirely due to cortisol – the presence of a tumour in the pituitary causes a malfunction in the part of the brain that controls body temperature, causing retention of a winter coat for longer. Cushing’s isn’t curable in horses, but symptoms can be partially controlled by management (regular clipping, diet and exercise control and remedial shoeing), or largely eliminated with some medications – Cyproheptadine (Periactin) may be of some use; however, Pergolide (Prascend) is highly effective, and is licensed for the treatment of Cushing’s.

Gut problems of one sort or another are also more common in older horses – these may be malabsorbtion issues, caused by thickening of the gut wall, or an increased susceptibility to colic. This may be due to a diffuse Lymphoma (a cancer of the white blood cells) which is the commonest tumour of older horses. In these cases, the key is to feed a highly digestible, high feed value ration, possibly with a probiotic to enhance digestion.

Tooth loss is also a problem in the older horse – as I discussed earlier, eventually the teeth “cup out”, at which point there’s little more that can be done, dentally. The next phase is that the tooth falls out, leaving naked gums. I remember once doing a regular tooth rasping on a 38 year old mare – I put a hand in to have a feel around, and four teeth fell out in my palm… (she actually did better once the teeth were out than she had in months!). An edentulous (toothless) horse needs a soft, ultra-high fibre diet; typically a mash made from fibre pellets or pencils. Horses can live healthily for quite some time on such a diet – however, once your horse has reached this stage, it is probably time to consider how long you can fairly keep him going.

If you can stay on top of all these points, you have every chance of keeping your older horse going for a long, healthy life – as Perry has had, and indeed continues to have.

If you are worried about any symptoms your horse or pony is showing, please talk to your vet or check how urgent the problem may be by using our Interactive Equine Symptom Guide written by expert equine vets.

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.

Chronic Diarrhoea in Cats – Could it be Tritrichomonas foetus?

Marla is an older cat who has recently had the displeasure of becoming a frequent visitor to our practice. She was adopted not long ago from an animal shelter and now lives with a lovely woman who thankfully has a lot of patience!

Marla first came to see us because she had developed diarrhoea and a red, irritated rear end. She had a type of diarrhoea called ‘colitis’ (which simply means inflammation of the large intestine or colon), that caused her to strain frequently to produce small amounts of sometimes bloody stool. She was treated with antibiotics and her diet was changed to something that was bland and easy to digest, and although sometimes her symptoms seemed to improve a little they continued. A standard stool sample was run but this was negative for all worms and harmful bacteria. After nearly a month of problems and after trying every routine treatment out there, we decided to try one last and wouldn’t you know, it came back positive!

Marla had developed an infection of Tritrichomonas foetus (which I’ll call T. foetus from now on), a previously rare but becoming increasingly common infection in cats. Recent studies have shown that the infection is even more common than we think, so if you think your cat may be affected it might be worth looking into!

What is T. foetus?

  • T. foetus is a single-celled protozoal parasite (bigger than a bacteria but smaller than a mite, with a very clever membrane and a few tails that help it move around). The infection was originally found in cattle, but it’s cats that have been more of a concern recently.
  • Most affected cats are less than 1 year old, but as in Marla’s case, it can affect cats of any age.
  • Purebred kittens from breeding colonies or cats in shelters or multi-cat households are more likely to get the disease.
  • Up to 30% of cats in the UK and US may test positive for the organism, but not all those that carry the disease will show symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include (some of which you may only see if your cat uses a litter tray):

  • Fluffy BWSemi-formed to liquid faeces (diarrhoea)
  • Blood or mucus in the faeces
  • Straining or painful defecation (may lead to howling in the litter tray)
  • Increased frequency of defecation (more frequent trips out the cat flap)
  • Inflamed and painful anus (may lead to or be caused by excessive licking)

Despite the above symptoms, however, most affected cats are otherwise well in themselves and do not usually lose weight.

How is it treated?

  • If your vet suspects that your cat may have T. foetus, they will recommend you bring in a fresh stool sample from your cat. They will then look at the sample under the microscope to see if they can find any of the tiny organisms or send it to a special veterinary lab where they can run a test called PCR to detect the organism.
  • Most cases will resolve on their own but it’s a slow process, sometimes taking many months, and many owners (and cats!) may want to treat the disease to get rid of it faster.
  • None of the drugs currently licensed in the UK for use in cats can kill T. foetus.  However, there is an antibiotic called ronidazole that is used to treat the disease in the United States and this drug can be used in the UK if the cat’s owner provides their informed, written consent. Not all cats will respond to the drug and a few may develop side effects (neurological problems that go away once the drug is stopped), although the vast majority of cats won’t have any problems.

If your cat has had T. foetus and is now back to normal, it is possible that they may still be carrying the disease in their body and could therefore pass it on to another cat.  The disease is unlikely to infect people, but those who have a weakened immune system should not handle any cat with diarrhoea.  Basic hygiene measures should be taken as a precaution and to stop it from spreading to other cats in the household (or shelter, cattery, breeding colony, etc.).  Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling cat faeces and after cleaning litter trays and wash all cat bites and scratches immediately with soap and water (always seek medical attention immediately if the wound develops signs of infection such as redness or swelling).

Until recently, most vets probably hadn’t heard of this organism and were therefore not likely to look for it. But as we become more aware of the disease, we will hopefully be able to diagnose and treat it faster so cats like Marla can be back on their feet in no time. So if you think your cat may have T. foetus, please speak up!

If you are worried about diarrhoea or any other problems with your pet, speak to your vet or use our Interactive Symptom Guide to help decide what to do next.

“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.

Choosing a first family pet.


Most children love animals, and there are many benefits from owning one. Apart from the fun and companionship, caring for an animal can help give children a sense of responsibility.

On the other hand, children can become bored with things quickly when the novelty wears off, so adults always need to be prepared to take overall responsibility for a pet. Choosing the right pet for your family’s lifestyle can make it more likely that the children will stay involved and that their relationship with their pet will be a fulfilling one.

The basic welfare needs of all pets are that they should be provided with a suitable environment and diet, the right health care as needed, be kept with others or apart from others (depending on species), and be allowed to exhibit normal behaviour patterns. These basic rights are a legal requirement under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Different animals have very different needs however, so it is worth doing some research before deciding which pet would best suit your family.

Dogs

The most popular pet in Britain for many years (although now being caught up by cats), dogs are also amongst the most time consuming and expensive to keep. It is not fair to leave a dog alone at home for long periods, so this would make it unsuitable if everyone is out at work all day, unless a reliable dog walker was used. As well as needing company and exercise, dogs need time spent on training, and grooming if long-haired. Having a garden and somewhere close by for exercise would be ideal. Expenses would include food, vaccinations, neutering and other vets bills, grooming or clipping and boarding kennels or dog-sitters. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes so the traits of different breeds should also be considered. If a dog is your choice of pet, you can expect years of fun and loyalty.

Cats

The independent nature of cats means that they are not quite as reliant on humans as dogs. With a cat flap or a cat litter tray and food available, they can be left for a number of hours, but most cats still enjoy human company. Not all cats like to be lap cats though, so their enjoyment of your company may be on their own terms! This very independence of character is part of the appeal to a cat lover. They also exercise themselves, but long-haired cats need daily grooming. Expenses to consider would be vaccinations, neutering and other veterinary bills, cattery fees.

Rabbits

The number of pet rabbits in the UK goes up all the time, and many now live more like cats and dogs than in the traditional hutch. Rabbits can be litter-trained like cats and can make very good house pets. They are not always ideally suited for children though, as they may resent being picked up and scratch or kick. To keep them in good health they should have the correct diet, vaccinations and in some cases, neutering. They need daily attention to ensure they do not suffer from problems like fly strike or overgrown teeth.

Caged animals

In general, these animals take more time to look after than you might think. Cleaning out cages can be quite time-consuming and can reduce the amount of time spent handling and interacting with the pet. The smallest furry animals can be very quick and a bit nippy, making them less suitable for young children. My own personal favourites in this group would be guinea pigs and rats, but we are probably all influenced by which pets we grew up with ourselves.

Guinea Pigs

These make very good pets and are easy to handle and sociable. They need the right diet (especially a source of vitamin C) and as with all caged animals they need their home to be regularly cleaned. They like to have a companion of the same gender.

Hamsters

The biggest drawback with hamsters is that they tend to be nocturnal, so they may be asleep when you want to play with them and active during the night. They need to be handled very carefully and very frequently to keep them used to handling. If they get ignored for a while they become reluctant to co-operate and will bite. Cages need regular cleaning. A hamster’s lifespan is only about 2 years.

Ferrets

These are interesting and entertaining animals, which have a longer lifespan than many other small furries. They can have a strong smell, especially the males. Females need to be spayed to prevent health problems. Ferrets can be prone to disease of the adrenal glands requiring hormonal treatment.

Rats

Another animal which I think makes a great pet if well kept and well handled. They are intelligent and like to play and interact with humans. They do like to live with a companion rat of the same gender.

Fish

These can be enchanting and relaxing to watch but there isn’t any opportunity for handling as with other pets. The initial expense of setting up a tank is quite high. They can be ideal pets for a family with little space and no garden.

Birds

Many different species are kept as pets, either caged or in an aviary. Caged birds can be tamed and handled and allowed out of the cage to interact with the family, while birds kept in an aviary can enjoy having room to fly. Specialist knowledge is needed to offer the best conditions as different species of birds have very different requirements.

Exotic Pets

Snakes, reptiles and others require very special environments which are secure and have controllable temperature, light and humidity. They also require very special diets to keep healthy and should not be considered good first time pets. Some grow to a very large size which would make them impractical for many people to look after.

If you want to know more about the care needed by a particular type of pet, most veterinary surgeries will be happy to advise. It is also worth remembering that some of the worries about expense can be eased by taking out pet insurance. This is not just for dogs and cats but is also available for rabbits, birds and exotics.

Note from editor: The PDSA have a fun interactive ‘Pet Finder’ tool that is very helpful.

Lungworm Photo Shoot

Joe Inglis BVSc MRCVS is the vet for the One Show, This Morning and BBC Breakfast. He runs his own line of natural pet food called Pet’s Kitchen

Be Lungworm aware campaign

The Be Lungworm Aware Campaign

In my career both as a vet and in the media I’ve been asked to do some fairly strange things – pulling a guinea pig’s head out of a coconut, dressing up as a 50’s garage mechanic in the Blue Peter pantomime and dancing to The One Show theme tune on the BBC to name but a few – so I wasn’t too surprised when I got a request which involved having my photo taken with a dog bowl, umbrella and a selection of snails and slugs!

The photo shoot – and rather unusual props – was all in aid of a campaign called Be Lungworm Aware which is trying to raise awareness of a very nasty condition that is increasingly affecting dogs called lungworm, or French heartworm.

The disease is caused by a microscopic worm called angiostrongylus vasorum which is transmitted to dogs from its main hosts which are molluscs such as snails and slugs. When inquisitive dogs lick or swallow slugs or snails, the parasite enters their system and then larvae migrate to the lungs where they can cause life-threatening symptoms including bleeding, breathing difficulties, weakness and collapse. There is a very effective treatment, which is a simple spot-on flea product called Advocate, but  the problem is mainly one of awareness as most dog owners – and even many vets – don’t know about this parasite and the devastating effects it can have on dogs. Part of the reason for this lack of awareness is the fact that until recently the parasite that causes the disease has been limited to a few geographical hotspots, mainly in the south-east. However in recent years the parasite has become much more widespread and there have now been cases as far afield as Scotland and Kent, so it really is a UK-wide problem.

With this in mind, the aim of the photo shoot was to generate publicity for the campaign and try to educate dog owners about the dangers lungworm can pose. The campaign is also trying to advise people about how to spot the potential signs of infection, which include bleeding and poor blood clotting, breathing difficulties, generalised lethargy and illness and even behavioural changes, as early diagnosis and treatment is vital in preventing the most serious consequences of infection with this parasite, which include fatalities.

To really get the message across about the main source of infection for dogs, which is slugs and snails, the PR company involved decided to create a picture with me and a dog huddling under an umbrella as a rain of molluscs comes down all around us!  The rain of snails and slugs was something that would be added in using a computer, but the director wanted a few real snails to be in the shot, so consequently I found myself holding a dog bowl covered in snails in one hand, an umbrella in the other and a dog between my legs as I crouched in a damp and cold Oxfordshire field.

I do hope the pictures do get some good exposure as it’s a very worthwhile campaign and if I can help prevent some of these devastating cases then I will be really pleased – and it will certainly make the experience of squatting in a field holding snails well worthwhile!

Give a dog a home?

by Cat the Petstreet vet.

Rescue centres are over-flowing with ready trained and healthy adult animals

Rescue centres are over-flowing with ready trained and healthy adult animals

When most people consider getting a new pet, their thoughts turn to a cute bundle of fluff; a baby to join the family and grow up as part of it.  Certainly a puppy or kitten will provide hours of entertainment but they can also be a lot of hard work.  Just like a human baby they don’t come fully house trained and many won’t sleep through the night for some time!  Many people underestimate the amount of attention and time a young animal needs and so they are not ideal for everyone.  However, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a pet, with rescue centres over-flowing with ready trained and healthy adult animals, you could just find your perfect companion!

The first problem when you want a new, young animal is where to get one from.  There are loads of ways people advertise new litters; from the websites of the Kennel Club and GCCF (General Council of Cat Fancy) to the local bargain pages.  It can be difficult, especially if this is a first pet, to know how to find a reputable breeder who will have produced the pups or kittens responsibly, ensured they are as healthy as possible and looked after both their physical and mental well-being.  Sadly, many young animals are bred by those in it only for the money, the worst examples being the puppy farms, who make big efforts to hide themselves and who can catch even knowledgeable pet owners out.  This is an advantage of the rescue centres, many of whom will have litters of pups as well as adult animals, you know by homing an animal from them you are not supporting poor breeding practices and that they will have properly cared for in their early life.

Young animals, although lots of fun, can be very hard work to look after, particularly puppies.  In the early stages they can’t be left alone for long periods, which can be challenging for those who work.  Few also sleep through the night straight away, which can be tiring to say the least!  It can also take some time for them to establish good toilet training habits and this means not only do you have to be vigilant and consistent for the training itself, you also have to be prepared to clean up the regular messes which will be left behind!  You can’t be too houseproud at all with a young animal, not only do you get ‘presents’ on the carpet, some are prolific chewers and, particularly with the kittens, very adventurous in where they will explore.  Mantlepieces, curtains and even wall paper hold no barriers for the sharp claws and climbing skills of a young cat.  Also, don’t forget the garden, most pups have a natural instinct to dig, so often you have to wave goodbye to the years new seedlings and cope with various holes in the flowerbeds for some time!

Young pups also need training in general, ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ do not always come naturally (!) and, given the boundless levels of energy most young dogs have, they also need plenty of exercise, at least an hour a day, every day.  Most adult dogs will come with all this training already in place and, especially if you chose an older one, don’t need nearly as much exercise as younger dogs to keep them happy.  The best rescue centres will work with their residents to find out how much they know, they will also assess them for their suitability in different homes, for example how well they get on with children or other pets, and ensure they don’t have any significant behavioural issues.  Some also have a support team for once you have re-homed the dog, who will help with any problems that may arise.  They also tend to be careful about which dogs go with which people, meaning they will help you find a pet who will be best suited to your home and lifestyle.  Adult, rescue pets are particularly great for older people, who benefit greatly from the companionship an animal brings but who may not be able to cope with one requiring lots of exercise or care.

If you do want a kitten, talk to your local rescue centres , they will always have unwanted litters

If you do want a kitten, talk to your local rescue centres , they will always have unwanted litters

Kittens are usually less intensive as new pets than puppies.  Cats tend to be easily litter trained, most kittens having been taught good habits by their mother well before they leave her.  They can provide hours of entertainment as they zoom around the house, provided you don’t mind the odd ornament being knocked off the side.  They do, however, have very sharp baby claws and teeth, not a problem for young people and adults but they can cause a lot of damage to the delicate skin of older people, the same applies to puppies.  If you do want a kitten, you should be talking to your local rescue centres anyway, they will always have unwanted litters, especially in the Spring time and will be able to give great advice on the care of a young cat.

And what about rabbits?  They are now the third most popular pet in the UK but they are also one of the most likely to be dumped, a fact few people are aware of.  There aren’t many rescue centres for rabbits and those that do exist are always bursting at the seams.  Rabbits can make great pets but they do need to be well socialised and handled, and if they are neutered they tend to be much calmer.  The best rabbit rescues will make sure this is done and many will work with the rabbits to ensure they are happy with human contact.  Also, all rabbits are cute, so you won’t be missing out on the ‘arrr’ factor even if you get a grown up one!

Another advantage of choosing an adult animal from a rescue centre is that, from the best ones, they tend to come to your neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, de-flead, de-wormed and with any health problems having been assessed and treated.  They are not an unknown quantity like a younger pet.  Although most centres will charge for their animals, these actions can represent a significant saving.  Some, if you take on a cat or dog with an on-going health issue, will continue to pay for their care.

Deciding to get a new pet is an exciting time and most people want a young animal, which is perfectly understandable.   Although they do require a lot of input, puppies and kittens are fabulous to have around and, if brought up well, can be proper members of the family for many years.  However, do consider a rescue pet before you start phoning local breeders.  Adult animals can make loyal, faithful companions, come to you with someone else having done all the hard work in training them and you have the knowledge that you have done something to reduce the huge population of unwanted pets in the UK.  And, even if you do have your heart set on a young animal, do think of rescue centres first, they will often have litters needing new homes.  So, want to feel good about yourself and get a great new pet into the bargain? Go on, give a dog a home!

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.