Archive for the ‘Cats’ Category

Tick Bites – When to worry, and how to prevent them

Ticks are widespread in the UK. They are actually arachnids rather than insects and, like spiders, adult ticks have 8 legs and vary tenfold in size from 1 millimetre to 1 centimetre.  Ticks hatch from eggs and develop into larvae, then nymphs, and finally into adults. At each stage ticks have to attach onto and feed from an animal (their host), to develop into the next stage. The younger stages of ticks, like larvae, prefer to feed on small animals like birds and rodents. However, the older stages can attach onto and feed on larger mammals, such as dogs and cats, and also humans. For this reason, these unwelcome hitchhikers are something you should be aware of.

 

How do animals get ticks?

Whilst they could be found in some gardens, particularly in more rural areas, ticks are most commonly found in vegetation in areas such as woodland, meadows and moors.  When they are looking for a new host to attach to, they are described as ‘questing’ and will wait on low branches and leaves to attach to any animal brushing past.

 

Is there a particular time of year that my pet is likely to be affected?

Ticks are most active in spring and early summer, and then again in early autumn. They are generally dormant in cold weather. However, with global temperatures on the rise, they are likely to be active for a greater proportion of the year.

 

Why should I worry about ticks biting my pet?

The majority of the time, tick bites will not harm your pet. Rarely, bacterial infections or abscesses will develop at the site of a bite. This is more likely to occur if a tick has been improperly removed, with part of the tick being left in the skin. However, the main reason for wanting to prevent tick bites in dogs is that they have the potential to act as vectors (spreaders) of infectious disease.

 

What diseases can be spread by ticks?

In the UK the most common disease that ticks transmit is Lyme disease, caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Dogs that are bitten by an infected tick do not always become ill. We know this because many dogs in the UK have antibodies in their blood to the bacterium, suggesting they have been exposed, without ever showing signs of being unwell. However, some dogs do become ill, and this can occur weeks to months after being bitten. Signs of Lyme disease in dogs can include painful swollen joints, a fever and lethargy. It can also go on to cause glomerulonephritis, a condition affecting the kidneys.

 

Lyme disease can also affect humans, often showing as a characteristic ‘bulls-eye’ rash in the area of the bite. This rash is not generally seen in dogs.  Humans can initially suffer from a flu-like illness, but can also be affected by heart rhythm abnormalities, neurological problems and arthritis. In some people, this can become a long-term illness.  Whilst there is no evidence humans can be directly infected by dogs carrying Lyme disease, dogs could bring infected ticks into your home and garden.

 

Babesia is another parasite that can be transmitted by ticks to your dog. It can cause damage and destruction of red blood cells in the bloodstream, sometimes causing severe anaemia (low red blood cell count), as well as bleeding disorders and organ failure, and can be fatal. Until fairly recently, Babesiosis was a disease only seen in the UK in dogs that had travelled from continental Europe. However, in recent years, several cases of Babesiosis have been seen in dogs in the South East of England that have never travelled abroad, sparking concern that this infection is now beginning to establish in ticks in this country.

 

Dogs and humans can also contract a disease called Ehrlichiosis from ticks, though this is also rare in the UK.

 

How can I prevent my pet from getting ticks?

It is important to check your dog daily for ticks and remove any that are found, particularly at times of the year when ticks are most active and when your dog has been walked in areas that are high risk. Be sure to check them all over, including their feet, groin and armpits. Cats can also be affected by ticks but are quite good at grooming them off. If your cat gets ticks, they are most likely to be found on areas of the body they cannot clean so easily, such as on the head.

 

There are a variety of preventative tick treatments available that will repel ticks, kill them once they have attached, or both. Infected ticks do not spread infections such as Lyme disease until they have been attached to the host for around 48 hours. Effective tick treatments will kill ticks much quicker than this, meaning they are killed before they can transmit disease to your pet. Many of these treatments also prevent flea and other parasite infestations. Our practice staff would be happy to discuss with you what treatment would be best suited to use for your pet as part of their routine parasite prevention, so please do get in touch!

 

What should I do if I find a tick on my pet?

The easiest way to remove a tick is by twisting it off using a special tick remover. Properly removing a tick in this way reduces the risk of leaving the tick’s mouthparts still attached.  Ticks should never be removed by squeezing or pulling, nor by being burnt. If you have any concerns, one of our veterinary surgeons or nurses will be happy to help.

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!

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.

Goddard Veterinary Group Wellness Screen – What are we looking at and why?

Blood testing is an incredibly useful method of gaining more information about the health of a pet. Our vets will often run blood tests when an animal is unwell to help find out the cause of their illness in order to treat them effectively. However, there are situations when it might be advisable to run blood tests, even if your pet does not seem unwell.

We all know the old adage ‘if only they could talk’. Unfortunately, as our pets cannot speak to us, it can be difficult or impossible for both owners and vets to pick up on the subtle early signs of some illnesses, which often cause no noticeable changes in a pet at home and may not even be detected by a vet physically checking over an animal. Many chronic (long term) diseases can be ‘subclinical’ for months to years, meaning they do not cause any signs of ill health. If we are able to detect disease at an early stage, there is often more that we can do to slow down how fast that disease progresses, and in some situations even prevent an animal becoming unwell at all. Blood tests are a quick and non-invasive way of being able to find out more.

 

What is included in the Goddard Veterinary Group Wellness Blood Screen?

  • Haematology: This part of the blood screen counts different cell types in the blood. Many diseases can cause levels of red or white blood cells to be high or low. For example, a low red blood cell count (anaemia) can be caused by a variety of conditions. The haematology can give more information than just numbers of a type of cell – the average size of the red blood cells can provide more about the possible causes of anaemia, for instance.

 

  • CHEM 10 blood biochemistry: This measures ten different values. These include blood protein and sugar levels, which can indicate if a pet is diabetic, for example. ALP and ALT are liver values which can be high in primary conditions affecting the liver but can also be high for a variety of endocrine (hormonal) disorders, such as Cushing’s disease, an over or underactive thyroid, or other diseases in the abdomen, which can have secondary effects on the liver. Urea and creatinine are also checked to screen for kidney disease.

 

  • SDMA: This is a new biomarker of kidney disease and is something we are able to include as part of the health screen. The other kidney values of urea and creatinine are only increased when 75% (three-quarters) of kidney function has been lost, whereas SDMA increases when just 40% of kidney function has been lost. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a very common problem in elderly animals, particularly cats, and this test means we can pick up reduced kidney function at a much earlier stage. Whilst kidney disease will progress with time, if detected early there are many measures our vets can recommend being instituted to slow this down, such as changes in diet or medication.

 

  • Thyroid hormone level (Total T4 or TT4) for cats over 8 years old: hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) is a common problem in geriatric cats. The thyroid gland is located in the neck and produces thyroid hormone. An overproduction of this can cause many changes such as weight loss, increases in thirst and appetite, and changes in behaviour and coat condition. It can also lead to heart disease and increased blood pressure if left untreated, meaning it is best to pick up the disease at as early a stage as possible. The condition is easily manageable and there are many options for treatment.

 

We recommend you discuss with our vets whether or not your pet would benefit from a screening blood test. Examples of when we might recommend blood tests would be for animals that are more senior in age, on long-term medication that has potential to affect organ function, or for an animal that has unexpectedly lost weight.

 

There are limitations to blood tests, and it should be noted that not all health problems can be detected with these tests. In some instances, if abnormalities are flagged up on the screening blood test, our vets may recommend further tests, such as tests on urine if kidney disease is suspected, to gain more information.

 

But if you want to know what’s going on inside your four-footed friend, to pick up problems before they become disasters, give us a ring!