Posts Tagged ‘dogs’

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 are unsure or worried that your pet has a tick, book an appointment with your local Goddard vet.

How to protect your dog from grass seeds

At this time of year grass seeds are a common problem and can pose a real threat to dogs if left unfound or untreated as the seeds can work their way into the skin and become infected or cause lameness. The tops of long grass stems found in gardens or parks can become very dry during the summer months and will easily attach themselves to your dog’s fur as they walk past, without you even noticing. Paws, ears and under the armpit are the most common affected areas, so what can you do to protect your dog from grass seeds?


How do I tell if my dog has an issue with a grass seed?

Your dog may show signs that it is being irritated by a grass seed such as:

  • excessively biting or licking the affected area, especially in between the toes
  • shaking their head if there is a grass seed in the ear, or pawing at the head
  • sneezing excessively if there is a seed up the nose
  • a closed, uncomfortable eye

If the grass seed has pierced the skin, you may notice swelling around the affected area.  Occasionally, the only sign of a grass seed infection might be lethargy or loss of appetite if the grass seed has penetrated into the internal body cavities of the chest, throat or abdomen.

Are all dogs affected by grass seeds?

Yes, all dogs can be affected by grass seeds, but especially those breeds that have longer fur and feathered toes. It is best to check your dog over as soon as you get home from your walk to catch any stray seeds that may have attached themselves and dispose of them.

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What if I cannot remove the grass seed?

A grass seed that is seen on the surface of your dog’s fur is easily removable, but if you notice the grass seed has burrowed its way into the skin or if you think you dog has a grass seed in their eye or ear, contact your local Goddard Veterinary Practice immediately.

How can I protect my dog from grass seeds?

  • Try and avoid letting your dog roam or jump around in long grassy areas
  • Check your dog over with your hand when back at home, paying attention to the feet, the inside of the ears and the armpit
  • Brush out any seeds you may find and dispose of them in a bin
  • Look out for any signs that a grass seed may be irritating your dog
  • Have your dog regularly groomed if the coat is prone to matting, or has a long coat.

Long grassy areas are also a haven for ticks and fleas, so be sure to keep your preventative treatment up to date and dog protected.

I need more advice, what should I do?

Call and speak to one of the team for advice or book an appointment. We’re here to help.

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.