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The trouble with tapeworms

Tapeworms are a common problem. The infection can be caught from multiple areas and environments; however, some conditions make them more likely to be transmitted.

What is a tapeworm?

They are long, flat worms that live in your pet’s intestines. Most species can be infected and the larvae are often ingested by dogs while they groom, or from the soil or grass. They travel to the intestine where they attach to the mucous lining, using their strong mouthpieces, and grow into adults. They can grow up to 8 inches in length and, when mature, produce proglottids (segments) which grow from the end of the worm. Tapeworms are made from lots of segments, all of which have their own reproductive parts allowing their numbers to multiply rapidly as they constantly reproduce. These segments become gravid (pregnant with a pack of eggs encircled in a membrane) and are passed in the pets’ faeces, where they burst releasing tapeworm eggs onto the grass or material beneath them. These eggs are ingested by an intermediate host (normally a flea or a rodent), which is then eaten by your pets. The eggs are released and hatch into tiny tapeworm heads, which mature into adult worms inside your pet over 2 months or so.

Is my pet likely to get tapeworm?

There are lots of different types of tapeworm, each with different intermediate hosts, meaning tapeworm can be caught from various sources. The tapeworm eggs can live in the environment in grass and soil, carpets and dust, so it is hard to eliminate the process of infection as we cannot keep this permanently clean. The flea is a common intermediate host, so keeping your pets away from any fleas, or areas where you know there will be a high flea count can help to prevent your pet from becoming infected.

Fleas commonly live on cats so if your pets spend lots of time with cats they are more likely to pick up the infection. Fleas thrive in areas which are moist, humid and shaded. If your dog has fleas, they will be itching excessively so they may appear to have bald patches, redness of the skin, and potentially wounds, or even blood. Regularly treating your pet for fleas would be a good preventative treatment for this type of tapeworm. Reinfection can occur if a new flea (also infected) is ingested, so one preventative treatment will not usually be enough.

Mice and rodents can be carriers too so, if possible, reduce the access your pets have to areas which may be infested. If your cat likes to hunt or rummage through bins, they are more likely to pick up tapeworm from these sources. If you know an area is likely to be habituated by rodents, try to keep your dog on a lead whilst walking through these areas. This allows you to have more control over your pet, helping to prevent them from eating infectious material.

What are the symptoms of tapeworm?

Tapeworms can cause lots of different health problems. If your pet is infected, you may see small white objects, that look like grains of rice, around the tail or in the faeces. They may even be moving! These segments stick to bedding or rugs where your pet spends a lot of time so if you suspect an infection, be sure to investigate these locations and clean them thoroughly. Your pet may itch their rear end a lot as the larvae become stuck in the area, irritating it. If the burden is much larger, weight loss may be seen.

If your pet has worms living inside the intestines, they may show weight loss and have lower energy levels compared to normal. This is because the worms are stealing their nutrients. You may notice a difference in eating habits, as they often lose their appetite and then quickly become very hungry again. Their coat may become duller looking. Blood may be seen in the faeces, so careful investigation of the stool using gloves could be useful – or just ask us about it if you prefer! You may see worms or white eggs in the faeces. The heavier the worm burden, the more serious the symptoms become; it is therefore very important to treat this infection as soon as possible.

If any symptoms are seen, please call or visit the practice for more specific information on treatment and we can help return your pet to normal health as soon as possible!

Unfortunately, lots of animals show no symptoms.

Can I catch tapeworm from my pet?

People are rarely infected by tapeworm, but these infections do occur. You cannot catch the infection directly from your dog. The human infection occurs when the human ingests a flea carrying the infection. Fleas often live on animals, so if people are commonly in close contact with animals they are much more likely to become infected. This is more common in children compared to adults.

Summary – DO NOT WORRY ABOUT TAPEWORM, but DO TREAT IT. It is very common and treatment is available. If you notice a sudden change in behaviour or weight, contact one of our vets!

Becoming a Veterinary Nurse

If you have a passion for animal health and welfare, an interest in science and yearn to be part of a varied profession with a plethora of opportunities to develop your career, veterinary nursing could be for you.

At Goddard Vets we see a bright future for the veterinary nursing profession and we are delighted to promote and support it in our very own, direct way. Setting up our veterinary nurse (VN) training college in 2005, we are proud to offer aspiring VNs the opportunity to complete a Diploma in Veterinary Nursing. We currently employ and train 30 student nurses to our own high standards, producing a workforce of skilled, knowledgeable and well respected VNs. Fully certified by Central Qualifications, our training course prepares and qualifies students for the world of work in veterinary nursing; most going on to join our current, registered team, already 91 nurses strong across the group.

Qualification criteria

Whilst the role of a VN is undoubtedly a very practical one, it is underpinned by the necessity to have a good grasp of mathematics, science and written English. From calculating medication doses to understanding the physiology of animals and communicating well with a team, it is easy to see why minimum entry requirements onto a course such as this include a grade 4 or above (C for slightly more mature applicants) in GCSE maths, English and a biological science or equivalent – there is a very practical need for these subjects. Should you fall short of the criteria, it is never too late to gain maths and English GCSEs and we are happy to announce our Veterinary Care Assistant (VCA) course which can replace the science element. Usually taking one year to complete, the VCA course benefits from a highly tailored approach to the science required for veterinary nursing as well as many other valuable animal health and husbandry modules.

The diploma: Teaching and learning methods

Our diploma combines theory based study with practical learning which reflects the nature of the VN role in practice. Most student VNs will complete our course within two and a half or three years. The first two years involves the teaching of the theoretical elements on a day-release scheme at college, whilst learning much of the practical side working in practice. Time spent in the classroom within a small class of fellow students will teach you the theory that underpins the practical side of the job; fascinating and vitally important in order to be the best VN that you can be. Physiology and anatomy, anaesthesia and medical nursing are just some topics covered which will leave you feeling excited and enthused to put your knowledge into practice. Moving into the third year, college time concentrates on fine-tuning practical skills when students learn and are assessed on tasks such as blood taking, intravenous catheter placement, anaesthetic monitoring, bandaging, medicating, infection control and many more elements.

Facilities and people

We are proud of the super-supportive environment that our students get to learn in. Our highly trained and knowledgeable lecturers are also very personable and encouraging. Teaching in relatively small class sizes means they have the time to invest in the needs of individual students, and provide a great deal of support so that every student VN gets the most from our course.

Our facilities include a purpose-built training room packed to the brim with much of the equipment required to learn the practical skills of a VN; from anaesthetic machines and patient breathing circuits, to laboratory and X-ray equipment. Our students learn how to make blood slides for the microscope; how to test urine; how to set up for, and monitor, anaesthesia; how to bandage patients; how to take X-rays; how to set up and calculate fluid therapy rates and much, much more… and all within the familiar environment that is our training room, and with friendly, patient professionals on hand to guide.

Beyond the diploma

Once you’ve gained your professional qualification, the support and development doesn’t stop there. Many nurses stay within the group where there is lots of potential for continued learning and career development. Registered VNs must complete a number of learning hours each year in order to remain on the register; we at Goddard Veterinary Group value the worth of continued learning in a field that is constantly changing, growing and developing. As such, we fully support and encourage continued learning, providing our nurses with a financial budget to do so.

So, might your love for animals move you towards veterinary nursing? If yes, please do get in touch!

My Cat’s been Diagnosed with Hyperthyroidism – What Next?

Hyperthyroidism is a relatively common condition that we see a lot of in middle-aged to older cats. As the symptoms can be quite subtle initially, it is often mistaken for ‘natural aging’ or perhaps a stomach upset.

At first, owners may even be pleased at the change they notice in their cat, who is suddenly more active than before and has a bigger appetite. However, over the weeks it may be noticed that they are acting hyper, have been very vocal and seem to be losing weight. A few loose poos in the litter tray may have been found and the water bowl may need filling more regularly too.

When presented to us in the veterinary clinic, we will check these kitties from nose to tail and look for some of the tell-tale signs of hyperthyroidism, such as a fast heart rate or a small lump in their neck region (a goiter). As a first step, we will recommend a general blood test, which will include a thyroid hormone check.

If your cat is hyperthyroid, blood results will show a thyroxine (thyroid hormone) level that is much higher than it should be, confirming our suspicions. As hyperthyroidism negatively impacts a cat’s quality of life and is a progressive disease, it is important to address it as soon as possible.

My cat has been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism – now what?

Thankfully, this is a very treatable disease and there are several different options available to owners. Which route to go down will depend on your cat’s age, their overall health and temperament, convenience, accessibility and finances.  Most commonly, hyperthyroid cats are managed with long-term medication. This is available in several forms, including tablets, oral liquids and even a cream that is applied to the ears. The medical management option is generally very safe and is achievable for most owners. Cats do require frequent re-checks and blood tests throughout their life, ensuring the dose of their medication does not need to be altered.

For some, daily medicine may not be practical. This is true for owners with busy lifestyles or for cats that are not particularly co-operative! Luckily, there are several other options available:

  • A surgery whereby the affected thyroid gland(s) is removed is a possibility and this procedure has high success rates. Owners will be advised of the potential complications of both the anaesthetic and the surgery itself. Though this surgery can be quite expensive, in middle-aged cats it will mean less money spent over time as there should be no need for any long-term medicine once the surgery has been confirmed a success.
  • Another potential treatment is Radioactive Iodine Therapy. This is a specialist procedure that is only available in certain referral centres and can be cost prohibitive to some. For most, a single painless injection of the radioactive isotope is all that is needed to solve the issue forever. Afterwards, all treated cats must stay in the referral centre in isolation for several weeks and handled minimally as they are classed as ‘radioactive’.

It’s important to note that even those owners who opt for the surgical route or for the radioactive therapy will have to first stabilize their cats using medication. Though it can be tricky to medicate some cats, our staff are more than happy to discuss the various options available and to demonstrate how to medicate. Items such as pill poppers and pill pockets can be real game changers.

On top of what has already been discussed, there is also a dietary treatment option available to manage hyperthyroidism. It is a safe and effective way to manage hyperthyroidism as it contains limited amounts of Iodine. The issue with this therapy is that if cats eat anything else (treats, food from the outside or food from the other cat’s bowl), it becomes ineffective. Cats with other medical conditions may not be appropriate candidates for this diet but for many, it is a convenient choice.

With hyperthyroidism being the most frequently seen hormonal disease in cats, it is a condition which we are very familiar with and which has many effective treatment options.

Whichever road you and your cat decide to go down, we will be here to help and guide you every step of the way.

Chronic Kidney Disease in Pets

Lots of cat owners know that kidney disease is a big problem for their feline friends, but it might surprise you to know that it is a problem in dogs too. Around 1 in 40 cats will be diagnosed with kidney problems, whilst in dogs, the number is much lower at around 1 in 100. This makes it one of the most common diseases we see in practice, so we thought we’d take the time to tell you a little more about it.

What is Chronic Kidney Disease?

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is also known as kidney failure or renal failure- the end result of kidney damage over time. It is known as chronic because the damage is usually sustained over a long period of time, unlike Acute Kidney Injury which occurs very quickly. There is no way to prevent kidney disease specifically, although early diagnosis certainly helps. A yearly urine test in elderly pets can help to diagnose problems before symptoms start to appear- just ask our reception team for a urine collection pot.

Could my pet have CKD?

Animals with CKD often don’t show many symptoms at first, and pets can be in quite advanced stage of the disease by the time they are diagnosed. Older pets are more prone to CKD, and cats get it more commonly than dogs. Pets with heart disease, high blood pressure or severe dental disease are more prone to getting kidney problems. There is also an increased risk if your pet has had previous problems with their kidneys. The most common symptoms are an increase in drinking and urination, smelly breath, weight loss, and inappetence. However, other symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting and poor coat condition may raise suspicion of a problem.

If you think your pet is showing any of these symptoms, it’s highly recommended that you book an appointment with one of our vets.

How is CKD diagnosed?

We’ll definitely want to check your pet over to rule out other causes and confirm your suspicions. Clinical dehydration and kidneys that feel smaller or ‘knobbly’ are both evidence of a problem, but it’s also important to listen to your pet’s heart as heart disease and renal problems sometimes go hand in hand. As most of the symptoms of CKD are also symptoms of many other diseases, we’ll probably suggest a blood test to get more information. We can then check that the liver and other organs are normal. If the kidneys are struggling, we will see a rise in two chemicals in the blood- urea and creatinine. Combined, increases in these two chemicals suggest renal disease, especially if there’s other evidence. We may also see upsets in some enzymes and anaemia associated with renal failure. We also like to check a urine sample. Pets with CKD have very dilute urine because the kidneys are no longer concentrating the urine correctly. We can measure the concentration of urine, and if it is very dilute this lends further evidence to a diagnosis of renal failure. We might also send the urine to a lab for further investigation and check your pet’s blood pressure.

How is CKD treated?

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for CKD, but there are ways it can be managed. At first diagnosis your pet may be quite sick, so we often advise that we hospitalise them and put them on intravenous fluids (a drip). By doing this, we are trying to correct any dehydration and flush the toxins that have built up out of the system. This usually takes 24-48 hours.

If a pet is not too ill, or after they have been discharged from hospital, they are put on a home-management plan. The most important thing is to support the kidneys by providing a kidney-friendly diet. These diets are low in phosphorus and contain a moderate amount of high-quality protein. We will advise you on diet at discharge from hospital. Your pet may also be put on medication to lower blood pressure or stop too much protein being lost by the kidneys.

What is the prognosis for animals with CKD?

The prognosis is dependent on how ill your pet is, and how well they respond to treatment. There is no doubt that chronic kidney disease is life-limiting, but many pets can live for months or even years with the condition. The important thing to do is to monitor their quality of life and keep checking in with us to make sure they aren’t getting worse or there isn’t more we can do to help.

It’s also worth considering that some medications shouldn’t be given to animals with renal problems. Many medications pass through the kidneys and can damage them further if the kidneys are struggling to process them correctly. If your pet is on any medication that we don’t know about, such as store-bought flea treatments or supplements from an online pharmacy, it is best to check with us that they are still safe to give.

Where can I get more information?

If you want to know any more or have questions about your pet’s care, ask to speak to one of our vets. We’re always here to help you, help your pet.