Whizz-bang or whizz-gone? How to help cats cope with fireworks.

While fireworks displays can really brighten up an autumn evening for us, for our cats, they can be really, really stressful! Unfortunately, the way a cat responds to sudden fear is all too often to run away and hide – but in a busy city, running away from home can result in becoming lost, attacked by other cats or dogs, or having an accident on a road. In this blog, we’re going to look at how we can help our cats to cope with the scary noises outside, and how to keep them safe when the rockets do fly.

How do cats respond to fireworks?

It does, of course, depend on just how scared they are. If the fireworks are totally unexpected, very close or very loud, then panic sets in. The cat may:

  • Try to hide – for example, under furniture, or in a cupboard, anywhere where they think the scary “monsters” outside can’t find them.
  • Attempt to escape by climbing to a high, safe place where the “monsters” can’t follow. Typically this might be up the curtains, or onto shelves, or into the loft – even up the chimney in some cases.
  • A cat running in a blind panic just keeps going, and easily gets lost, attacked, or hit by a vehicle.

Less severe fear usually shows itself as signs of stress or anxiety. These may include:

  • Spending more time safe, hidden places.
  • Urine spraying and leaving faeces around – often near doors and windows.
  • Reduced time playing or socialising.
  • Overgrooming (this can sometimes be mistaken for a flea allergy, and can also cause hairballs).

 How can we help them be less afraid?

The best approach is to teach them that firework noises aren’t anything to be afraid of. There are two components to this – desensitisation and counter-conditioning, but the best results are usually from doing both together. As early as possible (i.e. NOW!) get a series of audio-clips of scary firework noises. We can supply a CD, or you can download them – it really doesn’t matter where you get them from. Then start playing them at a very low volume. If the cat ignores the noises, or responds in a non-fearful way, give him or her a favourite treat (tuna, prawns, cheese, whatever it is they really love!). The next night, turn up the volume by one click ONLY and repeat the exercise. Before long, they’ll come to associate fireworks with treats (and then you’ve only got to worry about them raiding the fridge on fireworks night!).

Using pheromones to reduce their overall anxiety levels is also invaluable – we recommend using Feliway, which is a synthetic version of Feline Facial Pheromone, and reassures them that they are safe, in their own territory, and not under any imminent threat.

There are other products available that may also help – the milk-protein tablets Zylkene are widely used to reduce anxiety. Unfortunately there haven’t been many good studies into their effectiveness, however, they may be worth trialling as part of a programme for reducing total stress levels.

Is there any way to help keep them safe during the fireworks season?

Ultimately, the best thing you can do if your cat is still scared is to minimise the harm they can come to.

The most important single intervention is to keep them inside when fireworks are expected. In fact, in an urban environment, it’s often good practice to keep cats indoors overnight anyway if possible – most cat fights and road accidents seem to happen during the hours of darkness. So get them used to coming in for a meal, and then staying in overnight, making sure all the doors and windows are firmly shut (to prevent escapes, but also to keep the noise outside). If they’re indoors, they can’t get lost, or hit by a car, or into a fight with a dog – they are much, much safer.

They can still get afraid though, so make sure you provide them with a suitable den that they can retreat to – a comfortable nest, hidden away, and ideally in the quietest spot in the house. Some cats prefer to be raised up, so you could put a cat basket, lined with comfy blankets, on a worksurface, for instance; but your cat will let you know where they feel safest!

Finally, try as far as possible to stick to your normal routine, and not to make an excessive fuss of them – any change in routine might only make things worse by making them feel less safe in the house.

If you need more advice, please feel free to give us a ring – our vets will be more than happy to advise and help you and your cat.

 

 

 

Top Tips For Keeping Your Pet Safe During The Summer

Summer can bring many happy pet memories, but it can also bring some extra challenges. Here we highlight some, so while still enjoying summer with your pets you can make sure they stay healthy too.

 

Heatstroke and sunburn

 

Heatstroke is common and potentially fatal. Because our pets have a fur coat and are only able to lose heat through panting, they are much more at risk of heatstroke than us. Short-nosed breeds (brachycephalic) such as pugs, bulldogs, Persian cats and lionhead rabbits are more prone, as are elderly or overweight pets. At first, they appear agitated but this can quickly lead to collapse and can be fatal. Dogs can die if left in cars in as little as 15 minutes, with signs of heatstroke in just a few minutes. With open windows, a car still becomes as hot as an oven quickly, even when it doesn’t feel that warm. When it’s 22 degrees outside, in a car it can reach an unbearable 47 degrees within the hour.

 

If you think your pet is showing signs of heatstroke contact us immediately. Remove them from the heat and offer cool water. If possible, soak them in cool water. Cold water produces shivering, making them hotter so should be avoided – go with cool but not icy! Get your pet to the closest vet (even if it’s not us) as soon as possible.

 

Our pets’ fur gives some protection from the sun. Areas that are hairless or sparse can suffer sun damage and sunburn. White breeds with pink skin – such as bulldogs – often have sensitive skin. White cats especially are prone to sunburn on their ears and sometimes nose which can progress to skin cancer. It is important to keep your pets out of the sun as much as possible. Pet sun cream should be used on hairless or sparse areas around the head and ears.

 

Hazards in the garden

 

We see too many road traffic accidents in the summer when dogs escape through open windows and doors. Check your garden is fenced off so your dog cannot escape. Provide shade to rest in and water to drink at all times, and keep exercise to a minimum in the heat of the day.

 

Be aware that some plants are poisonous to pets. Daffodils, lilies, azaleas, laburnum and yew are a few. If in doubt, speak to a member of our team before planting anything new. Many pesticides and fertilizers can harm pets. Try safer, pet-friendly alternatives. Blue-green algae can be toxic if ingested. This is actually a bacterium but has an algae-like appearance when clumped together in stagnant water.

 

During BBQs, make sure your dog doesn’t have a chance to get at the scraps. Undercooked meat and fatty foods can make them poorly. Scavenging bones, skewers, or corn on the cob may end in risky surgery for removal. Use paper plates and cups, as broken glass and crockery can cause injury to paws. Make sure bins are secure.

 

Tips for travel with your pet

 

The effects of motion sickness can often be overcome by conditioning your dog to travel. Start in a stationary car, giving treats to form positive memories. Introduce a harness at this stage as it is important your pet is restrained for both their security and your own. Next, try with the engine running. Eventually, try driving just a few metres. Behaviour training takes time and patience and taking it extremely slowly is important. Small pets can travel in a carrier, wedged so it can’t tip over. Ventilation is essential. Don’t be tempted to fill the basket with comfy blankets in the summer, as this will increase the chances of your pet overheating. There are sprays that may have a calming effect on your pet, helping the training process.

 

Avoid long journeys in the heat. If unavoidable, then break the journey up and never leave your dog in a parked car. Remember that dogs die in hot cars. If you see a distressed dog in a vehicle please call 999, or either the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 or the Scottish SPCA on 03000 999 999.

 

Do not feed them for a few hours before travel, but small amounts of water can be taken while travelling. If your pet suffers from motion sickness placing them in a footwell can help so they can’t see movement. Our vets can discuss medications for sickness if needed.

 

If you plan to visit other countries in Europe, please discuss your plans with our vets before booking. There are diseases spread by mosquitoes, sandflies, ticks, and fleas to consider. Different parasites may need to be prevented in different countries, too. Your pet will need an up-to-date pet passport issued under the Pets Travel Scheme (PETS) and fulfil entry requirements to re-enter the UK. For details on how to get a pet passport, contact us. You can also visit gov.uk/take-pet-abroad or telephone DEFRA directly for further information.

 

Life’s a beach

 

If you’re lucky enough to be venturing on the beach, here are our handy tips:

  • Make sure your dog doesn’t eat too much sand, as large volumes can cause blockages. Drinking too much saltwater can also be dangerous. Offer them fresh water regularly and rinse the salt water off them when you can.
  • Remember not all dogs swim well. Take care of the tides, and introduce them slowly, especially if they have short legs (!).
  • With all the excitement your dog may not realise they’re overheating until it’s too late. Avoid the hottest part of the day and limit exercise.

 

Flystrike

 

Rabbits eat some of their faeces (caecotrophs) to enable them to recycle proteins. In summer this can make them attractive to flies, laying eggs that within 24 hours can hatch into maggots. Maggots chew through the skin causing flystrike, which is sadly often fatal. Check your rabbit’s bottom daily for urine staining and faeces. Speak to our veterinary team who can advise on how to prevent this and why your rabbit may be predisposed. Wounds on any animal can also be attractive to flies. Speak to our vets if you are concerned.

 

Have a good summer, and stay safe! Please do call us if you need any advice.

Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a serious bacterial infection affecting the gastrointestinal tract or liver and kidneys of young dogs. Until recently the disease was uncommon as a result of an effective vaccination programme in the UK. However, we have recently seen development of infections caused by new types of leptospira not covered by the old vaccine.

Leptospirosis (like Weils disease in humans) is caused by a spiral shaped bacterium (leptospira). Leptospira organisms are carried by rats and shed in their urine they do not usually last long outside the rat but can persist in wet environments. The likelihood of infection is increased in dogs that spend a lot of time in water.

The signs of disease are often dramatic and come on suddenly. In some forms of the disease there is vomiting and bloody diarrhoea. In others liver damage is severe and jaundice develops. Sometimes the kidneys are affected with acute renal failure developing. Animals may die quickly before signs of disease have had time to develop.

Your vet will probably suspect that your dog might have leptospirosis from the symptoms that you describe, your dog’s vaccination history and the findings on physical examination. A blood test may show a severe decrease in the white blood cell number and/or damage to the liver and kidneys. The bacteria can be seen in special samples prepared form a urine sample.

Therapy is “supportive” and consists mainly of injecting the dog with fluids and electrolytes via a vein in order to compensate for dehydration and correct for on-going losses of fluid by vomiting. In addition, dogs are treated with drugs to stop vomiting, and with antibiotics to control the bacterium.

Early detection of the disease before your dog deteriorates severely and the institution of good medical therapy, will give your dog a good chance of survival. However, some dogs do not survive despite proper medical care and early diagnosis. The disease appears to be more severe in young pups and in those that have had no vaccination against leptospirosis or have only just begun their vaccination course.

It is essential to vaccinate your dog according to your vet’s recommendations. Pups that are born to vaccinated dams usually have antibodies from their mothers (maternal antibodies) that protect them against infection during the first few weeks of their lives. The pup is in danger after the level of maternal antibodies declines in his blood and that is when he should be vaccinated.

Maternal antibodies prevent active vaccination, therefore a vaccine should be injected when the maternal antibodies are no longer protective and that time differs between pups. The vaccination is repeated in order to make sure that the dog has had an effective vaccine dose and to boost this effect. Additionally, dams can be vaccinated before they become pregnant.

Dogs that have recovered from infection may continue to spread the bacterium for many months and pose a risk for other animals and humans.

To prevent the spread of infection, sick dogs should be isolated from other dogs and cages and pens should be properly disinfected and cleaned. Pups who have not completed their vaccination schedule should be prevented from any exposure to potentially infected animals or their environment.

Leptospirosis is zoonotic (can be passed to humans). If your vet diagnoses leptospirosis in your dog, you should seek advice from your GP.

Leishmaniosis

Leishmaniosis is a potentially fatal disease of dogs that can also affect other animals including humans. It is spread between animals by sand flies. Unfortunately domesticated dogs harbour the infection and your dog may catch it especially in countries around the Mediterranean, e.g. southern France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and the Middle East. Leishmaniosis is not uncommon in the UK because of the number of infected dogs travelling here. However, the sandfly that spreads the parasite between individual dogs, has not been identified in the UK yet.

Canine Leishmaniosis is caused by a small parasite that lives inside cells. The disease is spread by infected sand flies which pass the parasite from one animal to another when they bite and feed. The disease occurs in warm climates, e.g. Central and South America, the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. In these areas as many as 4 out of 10 dogs are infected. Dogs travelling into or through these areas can be infected.

Sand flies often live in woodland areas but recently they have adapted to survive in areas close to human habitation especially in South America. Sand flies are more common during the warmer months of the year although, with climate change, the seasonal period for transmission is increasing. Most sand flies that spread leishmaniosis are most active (and will bite) between evening and dawn. They are small flies and may not be easily seen.

Most affected dogs have swollen glands (swellings in the armpits, groin, around the throat) although these may not be obvious in long-haired breeds. Dogs may have poor appetite, listlessness, unwillingness to exercise and weight loss.

Skin problems are often seen. These may include loss of hair especially around the head and ears, scaly skin, swellings and ulcers on legs, foot pads and other areas including the mouth and tongue. Ulcers and inflamed areas can appear around the lips, nose, eyes and, especially, the tips of the ears. The nails may become very long and brittle.

Other signs may be seen depending on the area of the body affected and include lameness, eye problems, bleeding from the nose, drinking or urinating too much, vomiting and/or diarrhoea.

Joints may also be damaged by the disease and this causes lameness, stiff gait and swollen limbs.

Signs of disease may develop a long time after infection (up to several years) or within a few months of being exposed to an infected sand fly. It all depends on how susceptible your dog is and the number of sand fly bites.

You should be concerned and consult your vet if your pet starts to show any of the signs of ill health mentioned above, after travelling abroad (or if it was born abroad). Always mention that your pet has spent time in a Leishmania area, whether they were adopted and then came in the UK, or if they have travelled to an area where leishmania occurs commonly – even if only for a few days.

As leishmaniosis is becomly increasingly common in the UK, more diagnostic techniques are being developed for vets. However, more than one test may be necessary to confirm if your dog has active infection or has just been exposed to an infected sand fly bite. Leishmaniosis can be confirmed with one or more of the following tests:

  1.  Looking for the whole Leishmania organism or looking for the Leishmania DNA (PCR testing) in samples from blood, glands, smears from the eyelid, bone marrow or skin biopsies.
  2. Looking for very high antibody levels in blood.

In dogs that have been imported from endemic regions to countries where Leishmaniosis is not common, diagnosis may be delayed as the disease may not always be considered initially.

Treatment in dogs is much more difficult than in people and the disease in untreated dogs is commonly fatal. Even with current treatments it is still not possible to completely eliminate the parasite. However, treatment can often dramatically reduce the clinical signs of disease and improve a dog’s quality of life. However, continued treatment may be needed life long in an infected animal to keep the parasite under control.

Treatment is not straightforward. There are licensed drugs in continental Europe for the treatment of leishmaniosis but these are not yet available in the UK. Your vet will have to do two things to obtain the right drugs:

  1. Contact a drug company which will import the drug into the UK for your pet
  2. Obtain a special certificate from the UK Veterinary Medicines Directorate that shows that all details about the drug comply with UK standards

Treatment can be expensive and rarely results in a cure. Dogs that look very well can still harbour small numbers of parasites deep in some organs such as the bone marrow. Before treatment your vet will want to check your dog’s kidney function, liver function and immune system. The drugs used are very powerful and may produce significant side effects if the disease has already caused kidney or liver damage. If your dog has serious kidney problems. unfortunately the outlook is likely to be poor.

The most successful methods of treatment involve using a combination of different drugs. The most commonly used drugs are meglumine antimonate and allopurinol, but the combination of the new drug miltofisine with allopurinol may be a good alternative.

At present dogs that have never travelled outside the UK are at very low risk of developing leishmaniosis. However, if the sand fly manages to establish within the UK, this will change.

If you are taking your dog abroad to a country where leishmaniosis is common then it is important to protect them against biting sand flies. Dogs should be kept in during the evenings (when the flies are most active) and certain insecticides (synthetic pyrethroids) in spot-on and collar formulation with fly repellent activity should be used. None of these products provides 100% protection.

A vaccine for leishmaniosis in dogs has now been developed (CaniLeish® – registered by the European Medicines Agency in 2011).

Bites from infected sand flies are the major route of transmission of leishmaniosis. Just like dogs, people are usually infected by being bitten by sand flies. If you are visiting an area where leishmania is known to be common it is vital that you apply repellant insecticides on yourself (as well as your dog).

There are no published reports of direct infection from an infected dog to a human without a sand fly vector being involved. However, there are reports of transmission of infection from human to human by blood transfusions and contaminated needles. There are also rare reports of transmission from dog to dog without the sand fly vector. Considering this, general advice would be to limit contact between infected dogs and children or adults with a poorly functioning immune system.

Kennel cough (acute tracheobronchitis)

Kennel cough is not a serious disease in most otherwise healthy dogs. However, it is very contagious and will spread rapidly around the dog population. As its name suggests, it causes coughing that can go on for a month in some cases.

Kennel cough is caused by a combination of viruses and bacteria including: Canine parainfluenzavirus, Canine adenovirus and Bordetella bronchiseptica. These agents get into the body and cause irritation to the windpipe resulting in coughing. It is called kennel cough because it is so infectious that if one dog in a kennel gets it the cough will spread rapidly through the rest of the dogs there.

Good kennels will insist that your dog is vaccinated against this disease before agreeing to take them for boarding. This is to prevent the spread of the disease through other dogs in the kennel. Even if your dog is fit and healthy and would not suffer as a result of catching kennel cough, there may be older or more vulnerable dogs staying in the kennels at the same time.

The protection given by the specific kennel cough vaccinations when they are administered into the nose (intranasal) lasts 12 months. It may therefore be wise to separate this vaccination from your dog’s routine boosters. Most dogs only receive intranasal kennel cough vaccinations at times of potential high risk, i.e. before going into kennels.

Many kennels prefer that the vaccination is given around 14 days before the animal is admitted to kennels so make sure you arrange this in plenty of time. Ask your vet for details of how to protect your dog against kennel cough before putting it in kennels.

As its name suggests, this condition causes a cough. Most dogs are not really unwell when they have the disease although occasionally they have a high temperature and are a bit ‘out of sorts’ for a day or two. The cough is dry and hacking and it often sounds as if your dog is choking on something stuck in his throat. The cough gets worse for a few days and then gradually goes away after about 3 weeks.

Your vet will probably know what is wrong with you dog from your description of the symptoms. It is very rare for further tests to be required.

There are treatments that will make your dog get better more quickly – basically they have to fight off the infection themselves. Very rarely, if the infection spreads to the chest or if your dog is unwell in himself, your vet may prescribe some antibiotic tablets. However, these will not stop the coughing more quickly, nor will they make it safe for your dog to mix with other dogs.

Your vet may prescribe some cough linctus to make the coughing less severe and this is normally given if your dog is having a particularly severe coughing fit. There are some tablets that can help to reduce coughing but these would only be given if there were a medical reason why it was dangerous for your dog to cough.

Just as in people with a cold, coughing is brought on by exercise, excitement and exposure to cold air. If your dog has kennel cough you should keep them in a warm environment (where possible) and try not to exercise them too much. Avoid situations where your dog is likely to bark, as this is highly likely to cause coughing. If your dog normally wears a collar, take this off, to stop it irritating his throat, and exercise him outside with a harness or halter and lead.

Above all be responsible – remember that other dogs are at risk of catching the cough from your dog. Do not take him to places where he is likely to meet other dogs (particularly in closed spaces like dog training classes) while he is still coughing and for a few days after.

Most dogs recover quickly from kennel cough. A young, otherwise healthy dog, should not be unwell with the disease and the cough should get better within 2-3 weeks. Very young or old dogs and dogs with other diseases may be much more severely affected by kennel cough. It would be very unusual indeed for a dog to die as a direct result of catching kennel cough.

There are several vaccines available which can protect your dog against the different viruses and bacteria that can cause kennel cough. Many of these vaccines are traditionally given as drops into the nose, although some are available as injections too. Ask your vet for details if you are not sure which diseases your dog is protected against.

Infectious hepatitis

Infectious hepatitis is a serious viral infection, most often seen in dogs less than one year old. It primarily causes damage to the liver. Although dogs with mild disease usually recover, the disease is often fatal in severely affected animals. Recovered animals can shed infection for many months and may be a risk to other dogs. An effective vaccine is available that can protect your dog from the disease.

Infectious hepatitis is caused by an adenovirus, related to the virus causing the cold in man. The disease is also known as canine adenovirus type 1 (CAV1). Animals become infected by breathing in the virus following contact with an infected dog or contaminated environment.

The virus multiplies in the tonsils and then is rapidly spread through the body via the blood. Infection first localises to the liver and kidney and causes damage to the cells here. Virus can be shed in the urine for up to a year after the infection and this poses a risk to susceptible dogs who come into contact with the urine.

The infection can also affect the immune system and the immune system may start to react against the dogs own tissues (an auto-immune reaction).

Dogs that are infected usually develop the signs of disease within a week of being exposed to the infecting virus. The initial signs of infection are listlessness, reduced appetite and fever. Some dogs recover within 1 or 2 days and become immune to further infection.

Even if the liver is affected dogs may get better in 3-5 days with appropriate care. Clinical signs are very variable; liver disease can cause jaundice, abdominal pain and depression. In severe cases spontaneous bleeding may develop.

Immune damage to the eyes can cause the development of a white colour to the front of the eye.

Your vet will probably suspect that your dog might have infectious hepatitis from the symptoms that you describe, your dog’s vaccination history and the findings on physical examination. A blood test which shows a severe decrease in the white blood cell numbers (and possibly the presence of virus bodies in the cells) as well as tests to detect damage to the liver will help to confirm the diagnosis. If your pet recovers, an increase in antibodies against infectious hepatitis in the blood will be seen.

Currently, there is no direct treatment against the virus. Therapy is “supportive” and consists mainly of giving fluids by a vein in order to compensate for dehydration and correct for on-going losses of fluid by vomiting, diarrhoea and the refusal to drink during the disease.

In addition, dogs are treated with drugs to stop vomiting, and with antibiotics, to prevent secondary infection with bacteria. If seizures are present then drugs may be used to control these but euthanasia may be the best option in very severely affected animals.

Mild cases usually recover whilst severe cases usually succumb despite therapy. Remember that recovered dogs may be shedding virus for a long time after and therefore are a risk to other puppies and unvaccinated dogs.

It is essential to vaccinate your dog according to your vet’s recommendations. Pups that are born to vaccinated dams usually have antibodies from their mothers (maternal antibodies) that protect them against infection during the first few weeks of their lives. The pup is in danger after the level of maternal antibodies declines in his blood and that is when he should be vaccinated.

Maternal antibodies can interfere with vaccination so vaccination must be timed so that it is given as soon maternal antibody levels start to drop and that time differs between pups. The vaccination is repeated in order to make sure that the dog has had an effective vaccine dose and to boost this effect.

To prevent the spread of infection, sick dogs should be isolated from other dogs and cages and pens should be properly disinfected and cleaned. Pups who have not completed their vaccination schedule should be prevented from any exposure to potentially infected animals or their environment.

Heartworm disease

This potentially serious parasitic disease can cause heart failure and other complications. In most countries where the disease occurs, preventative treatment is given to pet dogs to ensure they do not become infected.

The disease, as the name suggests, is caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis which lives in the heart. The life-cycle of this parasite involves both dogs (where it can cause serious disease) and mosquitos, which act as a vector, transmitting worm larvae between dogs and spreading infection. Cats and ferrets can also be infected.

Heartworm is an important disease in several parts of the world, including:

  • Parts of Europe (not the UK, except in imported dogs)
  • South-eastern and mid-western America and the Atlantic coasts
  • Australia
  • Japan

The tiny immature forms of the worm (larvae) enter a dog via a mosquito bite. They are carried in the blood and settle in the right side of the heart. Here the larvae develop and grow into adult worms. The presence of the worms in this location can lead to serious symptoms, depending on how many there are.

Mild signs may show as tiring and an inability to cope with strenuous exercise; there may be a cough. More advanced or heavier infections can result in heart failure:

  • Fatigue
  • Breathing difficulties and cough, sometimes with blood
  • Abdominal swelling due to fluid accumulation
  • Weight loss and poor overall condition.

The disease may be strongly suspected from clinical history and tests such as X-ray and ultrasound. Infection can be confirmed by finding tiny worm larvae known as microfilaria in a blood sample. Another blood test, to detect antigens (foreign proteins associated with the parasitic worms), may be used when microfilaria are not present.

Infected dogs can be treated with drugs to kill adult worms and microfilaria. These drugs are usually given by injection or by mouth. Side-effects and toxicity may occasionally occur during treatment, either due to the drugs or in response to effect of the drugs on the worms. As the worms are killed an allergic shock reaction develops in some dogs. If side-effects occur, additional treatment may be needed to support the dog and further treatment may need to be delayed to allow the dog time to recover.

If the animal has already developed heart failure when the disease is diagnosed additional treatment may be needed.

Normally, drugs to kill larvae are given 3-4 weeks after the adult worms have been eliminated. Medication to prevent further infection (monthly) is then started 2-3 weeks after larvae have been killed and a blood test has come back negative to prove that the dog is clear.

In areas where infection is high, preventative medication (milbemycin and avermectins), usually given monthly under veterinary prescription, is used to guard against heartworm infection. This prevention can be started in puppies at around 6-10 weeks of age. If your dog does not live in, or travel to, an area where heartworm is present they cannot catch the disease. Dogs in the UK are not at risk and preventative treatment is not routinely required.

Ehrlichiosis

Ehrlichiosis is a serious parasitic infection of dogs, transmitted by ticks in warm or tropical regions and occasionally elsewhere. The most serious form of the disease has a long course of many months to years and usually proves fatal. Ehrlichiosis may be seen in dogs in non-tropical countries if the animals have travelled from areas where the parasite is common.

Ehrlichiosis is a serious disease of dogs most often caused by a microscopic parasite called Ehrlichia canis which is transmitted by ticks. The tiny parasites, belong to a group of organisms known as Rickettsiae. The disease is seen mainly in the Americas, Asia, Africa and southern Europe, i.e. warm temperate and tropical climates (but not Australia), and also Finland. Some other species of Ehrlichia can also cause related conditions, with reports of these diseases in northern Europe, including Sweden and Scotland.

The disease is known by a number of different names, e.g. canine rickettsiosis, canine haemorrhagic fever, Lahore canine fever and Nairobi bleeding disease. When the disease becomes chronic and severe it is called tropical canine pancytopenia (pancytopenia means abnormally low numbers of all blood cells).

The juvenile parasite is found in ticks. When a tick attaches to a dog to feed, the parasite can enter the dog in the tick’s saliva. Once in the body the parasites enter the blood cells where they can hide from attack by the immune system.

Often, dogs may be simultaneously infected with Ehrlichia and two other parasites: Babesia and Leishmania. Although closely related to a species of Ehrlichia which infects people, Ehrlichia canis is not considered a threat to human health itself.

Common signs are:

  • Lack of energy
  • High temperature
  • Poor appetite
  • Prolonged bleeding after injuries
  • Nosebleeds
  • Tendency to develop infections

Other signs include vomiting, discharges from the nose and eyes, lameness, breathing problems and problems with coordination.

Dogs imported into areas where infection is common from parts of the world normally free of ehrlichiosis, are more likely to show signs than those born in areas where disease is common (although these may still be infected). German Shepherd dogs may be particularly prone to the disease.

After infection there is a period of 1-3 weeks when the dog appears normal. Signs of illness then develop. If untreated the signs of illness may last for several weeks after which the dog sometimes makes a complete recovery on its own. However, even after recovering from illness, a dog can be a carrier and may succumb to the condition again when stressed, e.g. by another disease or pregnancy.

Some animals develop a more chronic and serious form of the condition (tropical canine pancytopenia) which can eventually prove fatal after a variably long period (months to years).

In parts of the world where this disease is common, characteristic signs often lead to a suspicion of ehrlichiosis. If ticks have been found on the dog, then the suspicion is further increased.

Infection can be confirmed by examining the blood of the dog to look for the parasites inside blood cells. Often the number of blood cells is also reduced. Measurement of protein levels within the blood is helpful. Detection of antibodies to the parasite (made by the dog’s immune system) confirms that an infection has occurred.

The parasite can be killed by some antibiotics. Usually the drugs tetracycline or doxycycline are used. Treatment must be given for several weeks. Additionally, injection of a drug called imidocarb dipriopionate may be given to help prevent development of the severe chronic form of the disease.

Other treatments may be needed to support the affected animal, e.g. blood transfusions for severely anaemic dogs, vitamin supplementation etc. whilst they recover from the infection.

With proper treatment in the early stages, the outlook for the dog is good. If ehrlichiosis becomes chronic, however, the outlook is poor. The chronic form of the disease, tropical canine pancytopenia, cannot be cured.

Controlling ticks will prevent transmission of the disease. Various veterinary preparations are available to kill ticks or prevent their attachment to the dog. As the disease can be passed in infected blood, blood donors should be screened for ehrlichiosis before donating.

Dogs travelling in regions where ehrlichiosis is common need careful monitoring as they are very susceptible to contracting the disease.