Posts Tagged ‘dogs’

Pet Diabetes Awareness Month: Diabetes in Dogs

What is it?

Like humans, any dog can get diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes). And like us, it is more likely to occur in the obese than in those of a healthy weight. While the early symptoms may be subtle, it is a potentially fatal condition and can result in severe and life-threatening complications.

What causes it?

Insulin is needed in the body to tell cells to take glucose (sugar) out of the bloodstream and into the cells, where it can be used as fuel. In diabetic dogs, there is insufficient production (often coupled with peripheral insulin resistance), so the blood glucose levels rise uncontrolled. However, the body is unable to use this sugar, and instead turns to burning fats and proteins for fuel. In the short term, this is fine, but if it goes on too long, the dog is at risk of diabetic ketoacidosis, where the blood become acidic and organ systems start to shut down. This is rapidly fatal without immediate emergency treatment.

What dogs are at risk?

Any dog may develop diabetes, but it is most common in mid-adult life. Specific risk factors include pancreatitis (because of damage to the pancreas, where insulin is made), pregnancy, some infectious viral diseases, the use of high doses of steroids, Cushing’s Disease, and (most importantly) obesity. Certain breeds may be at higher risk, even when all these factors have been accounted for – there is evidence that the Miniature Pinscher, Cairn Terrier and possibly Dachshund and Poodle are at slightly increased risk.

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What are the symptoms?

In the early stages, the most common symptoms are increased thirst and increased drinking (this may lead to mild urinary incontinence, especially overnight); increased hunger and weight loss (because they cannot use the sugars in their blood). Affected dogs are also prone to repeated urinary tract infections. Later, if diabetic ketoacidosis occurs, loss of appetite, lethargy, depression, dehydration, vomiting, collapse and ultimately coma and death. All dogs with diabetes, even if it is well controlled, are likely to develop cataracts as well, so it’s always worth monitoring their eyesight, or getting the vet to check it over when you come in.

How is it diagnosed?

An increased blood glucose level is highly suspicious, as is a high sugar reading in the urine. However, there are other possible causes of these signs (including stress and certain kidney diseases), so the most usual way to confirm the diagnosis of simple or early diabetes is to send away blood for a fructosamine test – this measures the AVERAGE blood glucose level over the previous 2-3 weeks. Another method is to do repeated blood sugar levels over several hours to a day – this is called a blood glucose curve, and will clearly demonstrate persistent high blood glucose levels. In Diabetic Ketoacidosis, the presence of ketones in the blood over a certain level is diagnostic – we often measure this by ketones in the urine (which is equally useful).

How can it be treated or managed?

Most diabetic dogs can be managed and stabilised effectively, but it is very unusual for it to be possible to manage them without the use of regular daily (or twice daily) injections of insulin. By giving extra insulin at exactly the correct dose, we can “top up” what they’re making, and keep their levels in the “normal” range. However, as insulin levels vary over the course of the day, and high levels can be dangerous (leading to a “hypoglycaemic episode” where the dog behaves abnormally, and may become unconscious, have fits, or even die) it is important to match the insulin dose to their feeding times. As a result, a regular, stable routine is VITAL, as is regular monitoring – with a blood glucose meter at home or blood glucose curves. Special diabetic diets also help, by smoothing out the peaks and troughs in blood sugar levels.

Can it be prevented?

The risk can be reduced by keeping your dog a healthy weight, but even healthy dogs develop diabetes, and there is no certain way to prevent it.

If you have more questions, contact your local Goddard practice!

Leptospirosis: Fact or fiction?

Leptospirosis can make dogs very ill, cause long-term damage, and even be fatal. Incidence rates vary depending on where you live, your lifestyle and the area where you walk your dog, but most dogs are at some level of risk. The disease is seen in veterinary clinics all over the country and has been labelled ‘re-emerging’ as it seems to be on the increase. It’s also zoonotic, meaning it can spread from animals to humans. The human form (Weil’s disease) is thought to be the most widespread zoonotic disease in the world. There were 87 cases confirmed in people in 2017 in the UK alone, an increase from the previous year. Although usually treatable, fatalities can occur. British olympic rower Andy Holmes died of organ failure after contracting Weil’s disease in 2010, days after competing in a marathon rowing event.

What causes it?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease caused by a complex group of closely related bacteria of the genus Leptospira. Only some strains cause disease, some affect certain species more than others (cats are rarely affected), and are more prevalent in certain areas. The bacteria survive well in warm, humid areas, and are often found in stagnant water like ponds.

How is it caught?

Wild animals can carry the bacteria for years without signs, spreading it via their infected urine. Once in moist soil or stagnant water, the bacteria can remain infectious for several months. Any pet of any age, going out in any area, can be infected, but dogs that spend lots of time outside, especially in areas prone to flooding and high rainfall, are at higher risk.

As well as being inadvertently swallowed, contaminated water can more rarely pass on the infection through broken skin, such as cuts or scrapes.

Although infected pet dogs’ urine can be a source for humans, more often it comes from contact with infected water, often during watersports.

What signs should I look for?

The signs are not unique to this disease and can be vague. There is often a fever. The bacteria most commonly affects the kidneys, causing tiredness, lack of appetite, vomiting, abdominal pain, and changes in urination. Dogs with a poor immune system may not survive this phase or may go on to have long term kidney damage. Some will have less severe signs. The bacteria often affects the liver instead of or as well as the kidneys, causing similar signs but accompanied by yellowing of the gums or skin. Some dogs have respiratory signs such as a cough, snotty nose or eyes, and less commonly, their muscles are affected causing trembling. The bacteria can attack blood vessels, causing nosebleeds or blood in their faeces or vomiting due to clotting issues, but this is rare.

How do you diagnose leptospirosis?

If a dog presents signs of kidney and liver disease, a fever, and is either unvaccinated or at high risk, leptospirosis will be high on the list of potential diagnoses. Blood and urine tests can confirm if there is any liver and/or kidney damage and changes to red and white blood cell counts and blood clotting tests may be helpful.

There are specific blood and urine tests looking for antibodies to the bacteria itself, but if treatment has already started these can be hard to interpret. Furthermore, if vaccinated, then the immune system will often have produced antibodies in response, so results are again hard to interpret. The most reliable test may be a repeated antibody test, 2 weeks after the first (in an infection, the antibody levels will be rising) – but obviously this does not help with initial management of the patient.

What treatment options are there?

An initial course of antibiotics is given, followed by a longer course of antibiotics to reduce bacterial shedding. Importantly, damaged organs must be supported, often via intravenous fluid therapy, and medications to address any pain and respiratory or gut signs.

In all but the mildest cases, infected dogs are usually hospitalised in an isolation ward. Whether in the hospital or at home, care is needed when handling infected dogs and their blood and urine to reduce the chance of infection. We can advise you on how to disinfect your home, and how to reduce spread as dogs may shed the bacteria for some time.Washing your hands after contact, ideally wearing gloves, disinfecting frequently, and disposing of any soiled bedding are important. Pregnant women, immunosuppressed people, children and other dogs should avoid contact with the dog until at lower risk. Anyone who feels unwell while looking after a dog suspected of having leptospirosis, must seek medical advice.

The outlook is very variable. Some dogs seem to have minimal signs, while in others it is fatal, or causes lasting damage.

What’s the best way to prevent it?

Fortunately, vaccines are available – we include them in the regular primary course in dogs. Unfortunately the immunity does not seem to last as long as with many other vaccines. The manufacturers recommend yearly boosters to keep immunity at a protective level. In the past, two main strains were responsible for most disease in the UK, but recently additional strains have been implicated. Vaccines are now available covering the four most disease causing strains in Europe (L4), compared to the previous two (L2).Vaccination may reduce bacterial shedding in dogs carrying the bacteria without signs, so are of value to public health protection.

If your pet goes outside, it’s hard to eliminate the risk. Avoid stagnant, shady water, especially after flooding, as the bacteria is rapidly destroyed by light and temperatures above 20C.

Is the vaccine safe?

There have been reports in the media questioning the safety of the L4 vaccines, however, there is a risk of adverse effect with any medication or vaccine. The incidence of L2 vaccine reaction is 0.015%, and is 0.069% for the L4 vaccine. Both are statistically low when you consider the risk of actual disease. Our team are always available to discuss the pros and cons of any decision regarding the health and welfare of your pet, so if you have any further questions, please do get in touch and we’ll be happy to help you.

Do we need to fear the flea?

Do we need to fear the flea?

“All dogs have little fleas, upon their backs to bite ‘em,

And little fleas have littler fleas, and so ad infinitum!”

We often fondly imagine that the flea is a summertime parasite, and that in the depths of winter he disappears somewhere, leaving us and our pets in peace. Sadly, this is a profound mistake.

Why are fleas an all-year-round problem?

One simple answer – central heating. Fleas require a certain temperature for their life-cycle to continue, with the optimal being a little over 20C. Unfortunately, the optimal temperature for modern humans is also just over 20C, and so if we’re comfortable, probably so are our unwanted little house guests.

The adults are much less fussy of course – because they spend much of their lives clamped to a nice furry hot water bottle (called Rex, or Fido, or Puss) and can therefore endure surprisingly cold temperatures. However, if the house is warm, the flea larvae continue to develop into adults, and the infestation continues all year round.

But are they really a problem?

Most of the time, fleas are merely an irritant – their bites cause itching, but no more. However, the immune systems of many dogs and cats (as many as 40% according to some studies) see flea saliva as a dangerous foreign invader, and mount some degree of response to it. In approximately one in sixtydogs and cats, this alone is sufficient to trigger itching, scratching, discomfort and suffering as the pet develops Flea Allergic Dermatitis.

However, they pose other threats as well. Fleas may transmit Feline Infectious Anaemia to cats and are the main source of infection with the common Dog Tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum, confusingly enough a parasite of both dogs and cats).

Furthermore, in young puppies and kittens, a heavy infestation of fleas can even consume so much blood that the animal develops a serious anaemia, without enough iron in their blood to oxygenate their tissues.

To make the creatures even less friendly, the Cat Flea (Ctenocephalides felis) is far from fussy as to what, or who, it feeds on. While the Dog Flea (C. canis) is generally content to feed on its namesake, the Cat Flea will sample the blood of any warm-blooded mammal that is rash enough to come within jumping range. Cats, dogs, rabbits – even humans, they’re all just a buffet for the flea.

How do we kill them?

This great task is easier said than done. The adult fleas are relatively easy to kill – there are a wide range of medications available on prescription that are highly effective, and even over the counter drops are usually sufficient to decimate their populations.

However, the larvae are hard to find. Being soft, vulnerable, grub-like creatures, they hide themselves away in the dark, warm, sheltered places in your house – typically in the carpets and soft furnishings, the cushions and blankets, and in the dust between the floorboards. Here they feed and grow, until they are ready to pupate. Of all the fleas in your house, approximately 95% exist as eggs, larvae, or pupae hiding in the environment. This is why killing the adult fleas is insufficient – there will be another batch along in five minutes, and then another, and another.

Instead, we must be smarter than them. There are three main options for breaking the life-cycle of the flea.

Firstly, we can use environmental treatments – insecticidal sprays that kill the larvae where they cower. Unfortunately, however, the pupal or chrysalis stage is resistant to this – but we can fool them into emerging, by vacuuming the environment they lurk in. The warmth, air movement, and vibration trick the flea hidden inside into thinking that a tasty meal is walking past. Then, as they emerge, we hit them with the sprays, exterminating them.

Secondly, we can treat our pets with medications that make the fleas infertile or unable to reproduce. Indeed, many of these medications will also prevent even the larvae that have already hatched from growing to adulthood, as the larvae have the unpleasant habit of eating their parents’ and older siblings’ droppings.

Finally, we can use a modern drug that will kill the fleas so fast that they have no time to reproduce. In this case, the flea problem usually disappears with the fleas in a few weeks, unless the house is swarming with the little beasts, in which case it may take longer. 

What’s the best option?

For that, we strongly recommend that you speak to one of our vets or nurses. They will be more than happy to advise you on the best way of committing widespread insecticide and protecting your pets from the Fearsome Flea.

IMHA in dogs: What do you need to know?

IMHA stands for Immune Mediated Haemolytic Anaemia. It’s a bit of a mouthful so is often known as its less tongue-twisting abbreviation. It’s not as complicated as it sounds and here we will attempt to demystify it.

What is IMHA?

IMHA belongs to a group of diseases known as autoimmune diseases. These occur because the body’s own cells are incorrectly identified as foreign by the immune system. These cells are then attacked and destroyed. With each autoimmune disease, different cells are targeted. With IMHA, red blood cells are targeted and destroyed leading to reduced numbers (anaemia). Two thirds of dogs with IMHA also experience a similar destruction of platelet cells. Platelets are involved in clot formation, and a lack of them (known as thrombocytopenia) leads to abnormal bleeding and is known as Immune Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP). When the two conditions occur together we call it Evans syndrome.

What causes this?

Body cells have a protein on the surface called an antigen. The immune system uses this protein to identify its own cells. In IMHA, red blood cell antigens are falsely recognised as foreign which stimulates the production of an antibody by the immune system. The antibody attaches to the antigen and causes the cell to swell and burst. Cells also become more likely to clump (agglutinate) giving higher risks of abnormal clotting.

When the cause of a disease is unknown we call it idiopathic. This is the case in around 70% of IMHA, so we call it idiopathic IMHA, or primary IMHA.

In the other 30% there is an underlying cause called secondary IMHA. Certain infections, mainly spread by parasites like ticks, can lead to secondary IMHA. Most are uncommon in the UK, but should be considered, especially if your pet has travelled abroad. Certain medications have been known to trigger IMHA, such as some antibiotics and painkillers. Some forms of cancer can also trigger IMHA. Recent vaccination has been suggested to trigger the disease but lacks evidence at present. Vaccination prevents serious life-threatening diseases and in the majority of dogs the benefits vastly outweigh the risks.

There seems to be a genetic predisposition in cocker spaniels and Old English sheepdogs, but any breed can be affected.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms are largely due to the resulting anaemia. Signs may be vague such as weakness, lethargy and a poor appetite. Red blood cells are needed to carry oxygen around the body, so there is often a fast heart rate and breathing rate as the dog tries to compensate for the lack of oxygen. Usually we see pale gums, but there may be a yellow tinge to the gums as when red blood cells rupture they are broken down into a yellow tinged product called bilirubin.

Damage through lack of oxygen within any organ can cause varied signs and, as there is a tendency for red blood cells to clump, clots may form anywhere.

How is IMHA diagnosed?

After an examination and taking a history we may be suspicious.

Firstly we confirm the presence of anaemia. Anaemia has many causes so we need to further define the type of anaemia present. Most dogs with IMHA have a regenerative anaemia, where the body is stimulated to produce more red blood cells to make up for lost ones. In rare cases where the bone marrow is affected then a non-regenerative anaemia is possible.

Next we rule out other causes of regenerative anemia, and other rarer causes of haemolysis like onion poisoning or heavy metal toxicity, and identify whether your pet has had any recent medications or vaccinations. We may carry out further tests to identify infectious causes or cancers.

We often examine the blood under the microscope, looking for certain types of cells known as spherocytes, which are small, round red blood cells often associated with IMHA. We may see more immature red blood cells (reticulocytes) telling us the anaemia is regenerative. We often send samples to a lab for confirmation alongside other specific tests such as the Coombs test, which looks for antibodies on the red blood cells. A saline agglutination test looks for clumping of red blood cells when mixed with saline. It is quick and relatively inexpensive, but can be hard to interpret.

Can this condition be treated?

The first-line treatment for many autoimmune conditions is a corticosteroid called prednisolone, which suppresses the immune system. High doses may be needed initially, aiming to lower and possibly stop medication in the long run. A second immune suppressing drug can be tried in severe cases, or if prednisolone causes severe side effects or doesn’t work. Azathioprine is most commonly used as it is inexpensive, but takes time to work and requires handling precautions. Cyclosporine is licenced for use in dogs but expensive, has an unpredictable dose range and side effects.

A last resort is to help stop red cell destruction in the spleen by removing it (splenectomy). Pets by this stage are very sick and the procedure risky. Many owners would sadly have to consider euthanasia as an alternative.

If we think there’s a risk of excessive clotting we may prescribe medications such as aspirin to mitigate this.

A blood transfusion may seem obvious, but new cells may be destroyed quickly, worsening the signs. However, damage caused by the lack of oxygen in severe anaemia may be a bigger risk, so a transfusion may be recommended.

We would monitor the response to treatment with blood tests regularly. Hopefully once a response is seen, we can taper any medication gradually, whilst continuing to sample for any worsening in parameters. We may also want to monitor for any side effects of the medications.

What is the outlook?

The prognosis with IMHA is variable, carrying a mortality rate of 30% to 70% within 1-2 months of diagnosis. If patients suffer IPT at the same time, or if the bone marrow is affected, the outlook may be worse. The condition can come back, and some animals need lifelong medication.

Strange Things Dogs Do…

People are from Mars, are dogs from Venus?

Dogs seemingly do some weird things sometimes. From following you to the bathroom, to chasing their tails, and everything in between, we have explanations for you. But in order to comprehend their actions, we have to get into their psyche. So as you read on further, remember, think dog!

First let’s tackle the above mentioned oddity, why do dogs follow us to the bathroom? Firstly, dogs have different social boundaries. They are perfectly at ease in this situation, they would think it odd that we don’t feel so comfortable. What’s more, you can rest assured that the chances are, this is actually a sign of love, they’re interested in what you’re up to and want to be where you are. So you can feel flattered, honestly!

Love can make anyone do strange things so let’s consider some of the other ways your dog shows you affection, here are our top five:

  1. Your dog boils over with excitement when you arrive home. They love you, they want to be with you, so this surely can’t come as a surprise…

  2. They lick your face. Okay so this is pretty unhygienic, especially if they have a tendency for coprophagia (read on to learn about that term, but you might be able to guess!), but it truly is a sign that you are their human.

  3. It’s all about the eye contact. Eye contact can be a complex thing, staring can mean that a dog is anxious or on the verge of aggression. Anyone who has a dog who gives them that kind of soft, relaxed eye contact knows exactly what the ‘look of love’ looks like, you know who you are, you lucky things.

  4. Simultaneous yawning. One study found that some dogs mimic their loved ones in this way, they yawn when we do. Who’d have thought it?

  5. Remaining calm when you leave them. Sounds counterintuitive doesn’t it? If they love you, why are they okay with you leaving them? Some scientists think that this displays a level of trust. If your dog is relaxed when you leave them, you are great parents, they know you’ll return, the bond is strong.

As lovely as all this talk of love is, what about the other weird things dogs do? Let’s delve deeper into those.

We mentioned the term ‘coprophagia’ earlier. Well, this means to eat poo. As unpleasant as this is, if your dogs does it, you’d probably like to know why. For some, it is a learned behaviour. Whelping bitches will ‘clean up’ after their offspring to keep a clean environment. Some simply learn this from their mother and never lose the habit. Others however might be lacking important nutrients in their diet or their food might simply not be satiating them. Either way, it’s worth discussing this with one of our vets just to be sure.

Ever seen your dog spinning in circles in their bed before settling down? This is apparently to do with the inherent desire to create a safe and comfy ‘nest’. It looks to us like they’re just fussy when it comes to comfort!

Dogs chasing their tail is a classic comedy sight, many dogs do it at some point in their lives. Interestingly, there are numerous reasons a dog might do this, ranging from sheer intrigue to boredom, and from a flea infestation to compulsive disorder.

With so many potential causes of this bizarre behaviour, if your dog does it repeatedly, and especially with a kind of distracted frenzy about them, best get it checked out by the professionals.

What about head tilting? Are there certain words that get your dog’s head tilting from side to side? This unbelievably cute action actually serves a purpose, they are trying to hear you better. They are adjusting their ear pinna (the bits that flap in the wind) so that they may hear you as best as possible. ‘Did you really say walkies?’

These are just some of the more common oddities we see in our beloved canines, each dog has their own personality and we have no doubt they surprise you daily with the funny things that they do. So provided they are well both physically and mentally, enjoy delving into your dog’s mind – you could learn a lot about them.