Telemedicine

The Covid-19 pandemic has swept the world into unchartered waters. As humans and as veterinarians, we are trying to adapt to the ‘new abnormal’, which requires navigating between providing the best care to our animal patients and ensuring the safety of their humans – you – and our staff. One of the solutions available to vets, which has quickly gained traction in the human healthcare sphere, is telemedicine: providing healthcare via the internet.

Changes in veterinary practice during Covid-19

In the midst of Covid-19’s early grip on South Africa, vets issued safety protocols for clients who needed to bring their pets in for consultation and examination. It was stipulated that only essential and emergency procedures would be conducted – the rest would have to wait. This put the onus on the pet owner to determine what type of situation is deemed essential and what constitutes an emergency.

In some instances, pet owners’ queries can fortunately be answered and resolved during a phone call to the vet, especially if the vet is already very familiar with the pet patient. Where home care is prescribed (such as bland chicken and rice as well as rest for non-emergency gastric upset), this ensures that pets’ health is taken care of while lowering the risk of Covid-19 infection for pet owners, vets and veterinary staff. 

The case for telemedicine during Covid-19 

The use of online video conferencing tools like Zoom and Skype can help to maintain social distancing protocols and reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection. In an ideal telemedicine situation, you would book an appointment with the participating vet, pay in advance for the consultation and then meet the vet on camera at the time of your appointment. No need to get your dog or cat into the car or sit in a waiting room with a restless pet. As with an in-person consultation, the vet would enquire after your pet’s health and hear your specific concerns. Being on camera allows the vet to see the ill pet in question, look at any suspect lumps or rashes (high-resolution photos can also be sent via email), and assess general behaviour. Discussing symptoms and narrowing them down to find a cause can lead to a diagnosis and prescription (if necessary), which you would then collect or have delivered. 

Over the last four months in the United States, veterinary telemedicine has already seen a sharp rise in the use of apps specifically developed to provide 24/7 access to professional veterinary advice. In most cases, pet owners rely on access to vet care professionals for advice and reassurance, especially in post-operative instances, or when pets have eaten something suspect or simply don’t seem like themselves. Most pet owners just want to know that they’re doing the right thing for their furry family members and are willing to pay subscription fees for access to vet care via these apps.

Emergencies, vaccinations and diagnostic tests, however, cannot be bypassed with telemedicine.

The benefits of telemedicine in veterinary care

Vet telemedicine may be a benefit to pet owners who are geographically or economically compromised – easier online access means less time and money spent on non-emergency vet care. It also (uncannily) performs a kind of natural triaging process, where pet owners and vets can decide together whether the pet in question qualifies as an emergency case. This keeps vet care capacity available for urgent emergencies. Telemedicine also allows easier access to specialists, and it allows pet owners to show vets behavioural symptoms as they occur in real time. How many times have you taken your sick or ‘off’ pet to the vet, only to have him act totally normal during the consultation?

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, vets have had to reduce their office hours and staff attendance, which means less capacity for routine vet visits. Telemedicine has the potential to fill that gap, especially in terms of providing peace of mind that pet parents are appropriately caring for their pets’ health and wellbeing, especially in such uncertain times. At best, telemedicine is the ideal screening tool to determine whether the vet should rather see the pet patient in person.

The major caveat in vet telemedicine

The provision of telemedicine as a veterinary service comes with a whole range of professional and legal implications. Appointments via video conferencing mean that consultations can be recorded – both for posterity and as part of the pet patient’s file. This may protect vets and pet owners from the liability of misdiagnosis or incorrect treatment, but if the pet’s health is compromised in a way that could have been avoided with an in-person consultation, telemedicine cannot be entirely supported as a reliable tool or protocol for veterinary care.

Telemedicine is not a responsible way to assess first-time patients. Vets need to establish a health baseline as well as a vet-pet-owner relationship in person. The vet also has to literally get a feel for the animal patient. Veterinary medicine is very hands-on, especially since their patients cannot tell them directly what’s wrong, and pet owners’ observation of symptoms and behaviour are only hearsay and may even be coloured by subjectivity.

Consider the following

The symptoms for pancreatitis in dogs include loss of appetite, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Sometimes, these are accompanied by increased or decreased body temperature, diarrhoea, lack of energy, dehydration and irregular heartbeat. How does a pet owner confirm this? A distance diagnosis via telemedicine may result in the misdiagnosis of food toxicity, which in many cases will pass without any major illness. The dog’s body has its own way of expelling toxins and restoring balance. Pancreatitis, on the other hand, is a very serious condition and needs fast emergency treatment. By the time the dog shows symptoms, the illness may already be very advanced and the dog may be suffering unnecessarily. The use of telemedicine in a diagnostic situation would not serve this dog quickly enough.

In conclusion

Telemedicine may make it easier and more efficient for pet owners to get advice from a veterinary professional in these unprecedented times. It may also be necessary as part of the screening process to ensure vet waiting rooms remain empty and Covid-19-free. But telemedicine is not an adequate substitute for real, hands-on care from a vet who is familiar with your pet and cannot be relied on as a failsafe way of diagnosing and treating disease in animals. If you have any concerns regarding your pet’s health and wellbeing, don’t hesitate to phone the vet to ascertain your pet’s need for a consultation. And then go and see them in person. 

© 2020 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

My dog is tilting his head to the side, and seems to be off balance

The vestibular system

The vestibular system is the body’s ‘balance messenger’ – giving mammals (including humans and pets) key sensory information that allows us to stay upright and properly orientated in the world. The vestibular system is made up of two main components: the inner ear and the brain.

In the inner ear, the vestibular system is made up of tiny sensitive bones, membranes and tiny hairs, all strategically positioned to send signals about balance and where your limbs are and how your body is moving also called your spatial orientation. An example of this will, for instance, be your brain sending and receiving messages about which way your head is moving. The different parts of the brain involved in the vestibular system receive the sensory information from the ear and other body structures and help them to all function together to give you a perception of balance. The eyes, the head, the body and the legs are all included, allowing for smooth, balanced and harmonised movement. The proper functioning of the vestibular system allows you to stand on one leg and touch your finger to your nose without falling over.

What is vestibular disease?

Vestibular disease shows up as the sudden onset of balance problems in your pet. The causes of vestibular disease can originate either from the inner ear (peripheral (outside)) or from the brain (central (inside)). How it is diagnosed and treated will depend on the cause (infection, trauma, structural changes or hormonal influence) and the location (inner ear or brain).

How does vestibular disease occur?

Most cases of vestibular disease occur as a result of infection and inflammation of the inner ear (peripheral vestibular disease). Long-standing outer ear infections can progress to middle and inner ear infection leading to vestibular disease in pets. Ear infections at the best of times are difficult to treat because it in itself have many different causes. The ear canal in dogs and cats is much longer than the human ear canal and consist of two parts, the vertical ear canal and the horizontal ear canal. The long ear canal can in many cases contribute to ear infections, but sometimes ear infections are not primarily related to the ears but can be as a result of general skin allergies which then causes ear infections as a secondary problem. Because severe ear infections can lead to vestibular disease, which is a really serious condition, it is important to treat ear infections as early as possible. Other causes of peripheral vestibular disease can be due to damage to the bones protecting the inner ear as caused by head trauma, abnormal growths in this area, certain medications and even hormonal abnormalities such as low thyroid levels.

Central vestibular disease, which affects the brain, is more serious and can be caused by abnormalities in the brain or the membranes protecting it. This can result from bacterial or viral infections such as meningitis, abnormal growths, toxins or even a stroke.

What symptoms will I see in vestibular disease?

The cause of the disease will determine the signs you will see. The most common sign of both peripheral and central vestibular disease is a head tilt to one side. The head tilt almost always affects only one side; with one ear up in the air and the other pointing down. The downward ear is usually the culprit for the discomfort.

The head tilt can vary in severity – from a barely noticeable tilt to tilting all the way to the side, where your pet looks like they’ll fall over. Some pets develop instability where they tend to lean to one side or even fall and roll to the same side as the head tilt. Sometimes pets will walk in tight circles, always in the same direction toward the problematic ear. In some cases, the vertigo and dizziness can cause nausea where pets drool, lick their lips or even upend their dinner. Pets with outer ear infections often scratch their ears and shake their heads with irritation. Some pets with inner ear infections can develop signs of Horner’s Syndrome, where one side of the face may droop, one eyelid hangs, the third eyelid partially covers the eye and there is a change in the size of the pupil. Sometimes one eye appears squint and looks in a different direction to the other, especially when the pet’s head is lifted up.  

If the cause is located in the brain there will be subtle signs such as poor appetite and sleeping more than usual; as well as more frightening signs such as weakness of the legs to paralysis and seizures.

Is vestibular disease treatable?

Treating vestibular disease depends on the cause of the problem. If the problem originates with an inner ear infection, the vet can usually treat it with anti-inflammatories and antibiotics. However, if the problem is more complex and affects the brain or is caused by abnormal growths, the treatment decision would depend on what is found. If your pet is nauseated or vomiting, your vet can assist with anti-nausea medication.

What do I do if I suspect my pet might be affected?

The best option would be to bring your pet to the vet for a full checkup. The vet could first determine if vestibular disease is a problem in your pet and pinpoint the source of the problem, whether it be peripheral or central. It is important to mention to the vet when you first noticed any signs and how it has progressed over time, as well as if your pet is on any medication.

The vet will do a full check on your pet. This may include examining your pet’s ears with an otoscope, test nerve and brain responses, and the vet may even recommend x-rays to have a better idea of what is going on in the inner ear. If a brain-based problem is suspected, a Computed Tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan (MRI scan) might be recommended. These procedures are highly specialised and most veterinary practices do not have the equipment to do these scans in house and you may need to be referred to a veterinary specialist.

When is vestibular disease a problem?

On the basic level, vestibular disease can be a problem if your pet is falling over and hurting themselves, or even falling into the pool and unable to get out. Ear infections are uncomfortable and often painful and will not come right by itself.

On a more serious level, a head tilt can be the tip of the iceberg and may be the first sign of a very serious problem. If your pet has vestibular disease, it is something that does require further investigation and treatment – it will not simply come right on its own.

Either way, if you see your pet persistently tilting their head to the side,  please make an appointment with the veterinary practice.

© 2020 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

Is my dog ill?

Thanks to the nationwide lockdown, we’ll all be spending the next three weeks in the constant company of our furry friends. As the days go by, you may notice some behaviours or signs in your dog that you haven’t noticed before and may wonder if these are cause for concern. This article will outline the most common signs of illness that you may notice in your dog.

Changes in appetite or drinking habits

You may notice a sudden decrease or increase in your dog’s appetite. He may eat less than usual, take longer to finish his meals or even refuse to eat at all. You will easily notice any changes if you feed your dog set meals. However, if he is used to having food out all the time or you have more than one pet in your household, it may be trickier. Pay attention to how frequently you have to refill the food bowls – if it suddenly becomes more or less frequent than usual it may mean that something’s up.

Also make sure that the food bowls are kept out of reach of pigeons and birds – given the chance, they may eat all of your dog’s food and lead you to believe that your dog is eating well when he actually isn’t.

Similarly, your dog may start drinking more or less water than usual. If he starts drinking less than usual he’s at risk of dehydrating. A vet visit will help to determine why he’s refusing to drink and also address any dehydration that may have occurred. If your dog is drinking more water than usual it may also indicate an underlying issue that needs to be addressed, especially if it’s accompanied by more frequent urination.

Lethargy

Another common sign of illness is lethargy – your dog may seem to have less energy than usual and spend more time sleeping or simply lounging around.

Changes in toileting habits

You or someone in your household will probably already have an idea of what toileting habits are normal for your pet. Diarrhoea in dogs occurs very commonly and has several causes, including a change in diet; chewing or eating something unusual, especially when digging into the garbage bin; parasites such as worms; stress and even organ issues. If your dog is constipated, he will pass small, hard stools infrequently or no stools at all. Phone the vet if you notice a change in the colour, consistency or frequency of your dog’s stool.

Similarly, you may notice a change in your dog’s urination habits. He may urinate more frequently than normal or your house-trained dog may suddenly start having ‘accidents’ in the house. Pay attention to how he urinates – is he straining or does the urine just dribble out? If it just dribbles out, is your dog awake/excited/asleep when it happens? Is he also drinking more water than normal? Is he showing any other signs of illness? The vet may ask for this information in order to guide them towards the correct diagnosis.

Repeated vomiting

Vomiting can be caused by a variety of conditions where the primary cause is not in the gastrointestinal tract as one would anticipate. As an example, kidney failure may cause an increase in the blood levels of by-products of protein synthesis, which can make your dog nauseated and cause him to vomit, with no inherent defect in the intestine. Puppies are sometimes prone to overeating or eating too fast, which may lead to vomiting. Dogs love chewing things, and foreign objects that have been swallowed and cause obstruction are a common cause of vomiting. Take your dog to the vet if you notice him vomiting repeatedly or more frequently than usual, and especially if the vomiting is accompanied by other signs of illness. Vomiting can be associated with many different underlying systemic diseases, and if gastrointestinal causes have been ruled out, further investigation will be required.

Blood in the urine, stools or vomit

Blood in any of your dog’s excretions is never normal and warrants investigation by the vet. Dark brown to black stools or vomit may indicate the presence of partially digested blood.

Unexplained weight gain or loss

If your dog suddenly starts losing weight it may indicate an underlying illness. It is also worth noting that weight loss may not always be accompanied by a loss of appetite. Take your dog to the vet if you notice he’s losing weight without a change in his diet or exercise patterns.

Conversely, weight gain can lead to obesity, which comes with its own set of health problems. The vet can help you determine why your dog is gaining weight and also help you come up with a plan to get him back to a healthy weight.

Changes in breathing

In dogs, panting is a normal process that aids in controlling their body temperature. Dogs can also pant due to stress or excitement. Hacking, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, shortness of breath and raspy breathing, however, are all abnormal and should be investigated by the vet.

Mobility issues

You may notice your dog limping, having difficulty getting up or seeming stiff and reluctant to play or go for walks. It is very important to note that just because a dog isn’t crying out, it doesn’t mean he’s not in pain. Dogs do not form an emotional connection to pain as we humans do; they simply accept the pain as their new reality and continue with their lives. Older dogs, like humans, are prone to developing arthritis, while younger dogs may be affected by any number of mobility issues. The vet will be able to diagnose your dog’s condition and recommend therapies to make him more comfortable.

Behavioural changes

Dogs are generally quite consistent with their behaviour, so if your friendly dog suddenly becomes grouchy, your boisterous dog suddenly becomes timid, your independent dog suddenly becomes needy and clingy, or your dog just seems ‘off colour’ it may mean there’s a problem.  Also pay attention to how much your dog vocalises normally – if he suddenly starts crying, barking or moaning more than usual there might be a medical reason for it, which should be ruled out before deciding it’s a behavioural issue.

Dry, red or cloudy eyes or eye discharges

Dogs are susceptible to a variety of eye issues, which can be diagnosed and treated by your vet. If the eye is sore your dog will typically keep it closed most of the time and may even rub or scratch at it. If this is the case, take him to the vet sooner rather than later – he may have an ulcer in his eye, which, if neglected, can result in the loss of the eye.

Discharges from the nostrils

Excessive watery fluid, a yellow discharge or blood are never normal nasal discharges and warrant investigation by the vet. Either one or both nostrils may be affected and the discharge may sometimes be accompanied by sneezing. You may have heard rumours of a cold, wet nose indicating a healthy dog and a hot, dry nose indicating illness. There is unfortunately no evidence to support this idea and it is nothing more than an ‘old wives tale’.

Ear debris or discharge

Look out for a dark brown or yellow wax-like substance accumulating in or around the ear canal as well as redness or swelling of the ears. Your dog may also shake his ears or scratch at them constantly. If you notice these signs, your dog may have an ear infection or parasite infestation, which is very uncomfortable and sometimes even painful.

Skin irritation, hair loss or coat changes

Dogs are susceptible to a variety of skin conditions, which can be painful, itchy or otherwise uncomfortable. You may notice redness, scabs, bald patches, crusting, dandruff, pimples or even blackheads. Also look out for changes in his coat – a normal coat is smooth and glossy. Take your dog to the vet if his coat suddenly becomes dull and dry, greasy, smelly or if the coat seems to thin out.

Bad breath

Remember that a mild degree of ‘dog breath’ is normal for dogs. Severe bad breath, however, is not normal, especially if it’s accompanied by drooling and bleeding from the mouth. Also look out for swollen, red gums, brown to green calculus build-up on the teeth and even loose teeth. These all indicate gum disease, which, if left untreated, can cause difficulty eating due to pain as well as long-term health effects.

Swelling

Swelling anywhere on your dog’s body should not be ignored, especially if it’s hot or painful to touch. Dogs can develop abscesses from wounds as well as a wide variety of tumours. If your dog’s muzzle seems to swell up suddenly he may be having an allergic reaction to something. The vet will be able to determine what the swelling is and treat it accordingly.

Emergency situations

Some conditions need urgent attention and, if not addressed promptly, can be fatal. It’s always a good idea to keep the contact details of the vet’s after-hours telephone or of a 24-hour facility handy in case you ever need it. If you notice any of the below signs, rush your dog to the nearest open vet immediately.

Trauma, such as a dog fight, getting hit by a car, etc.

Blue, white or very pale gums

Difficulty breathing

Sudden inability to walk

Moderate to profuse bleeding

Seizures or tremors

Dizziness, disorientation, circling, head tilt or imbalance

Collapse, unconsciousness or unresponsiveness

Severe pain (crying out loudly or excessively or acting aggressive when touched)

Distended, bloated abdomen especially in large breed dogs

Rectal temperature above 39.5°C or under 36°C

If you notice anything about your dog’s appearance or behaviour that’s worrying you, it’s always better to rather be safe than sorry. Phone the vet so they can help you decide whether it’s an emergency or otherwise take your dog to the vet.

© 2020 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

Is my cat ill?

Thanks to the nationwide lockdown, we’ll all be spending the next three weeks in the constant company of our furry friends. As the days go by you may start noticing some behaviours or signs in your cat that you haven’t noticed before and may wonder if these are cause for concern. This article will outline the most common signs of illness that you may notice in your cat.

Changes in appetite or drinking habits

You may notice a sudden decrease or increase in your cat’s appetite. Your cat may eat less than usual, take longer to finish her meals or even refuse to eat at all. Conversely, your cat may become ravenously hungry and gobble down anything and everything she can find. You will easily notice any changes if you feed her set meals. However, if she’s used to having food out all the time or if you have more than one pet in your household, it may be trickier. Pay attention to how frequently you have to refill the food bowls – if it suddenly becomes more or less frequent than usual it may mean that something’s up.

If your cat is sick and stops eating, she may deteriorate even more if she’s not eating. Therefore you need to take your cat to the vet sooner rather than later if you notice any changes in her eating habits.

Similarly, your cat may start drinking more or less water than usual. If she starts drinking less than usual, she’s at risk of dehydrating. A vet visit will help to determine why she’s refusing to drink and address any dehydration that may have occurred. If your cat is drinking more water than usual, it may also indicate an underlying issue that needs to be addressed, especially if it’s accompanied by more frequent urination.

Litter box issues

If a cat that is properly litter box trained starts having ‘accidents’ outside the box, it means there is a problem. Also, urinating more frequently than normal is a sign of an underlying issue that needs investigation. Take your cat to the vet if you notice these signs. If you notice your cat straining, but not producing anything, there might be a blockage somewhere which, if left untreated, may be fatal. Take your cat to the vet immediately.

Similarly, changes in your cat’s stools may also be a cause for concern. On average most cats go to the toilet once or twice a day. You should already have an idea of what is normal for your cat. If your cat has diarrhoea the stools will be loose and watery and you may notice accidents around the house. If your cat is constipated it will pass small, hard stools infrequently or even no stools at all. Take your cat to the vet if you notice any changes in the frequency, colour or consistency of your cat’s stools. 

Repeated vomiting

Many cats, especially those with long hair, will vomit up the occasional hairball, which is normal. Take your cat to the vet if you notice your cat vomiting more frequently than usual to or if the vomiting is accompanied by other signs of illness.

Blood in the urine, stools or vomit

Blood in any of your cat’s excretions is never normal and warrants investigation by the vet. Dark brown to black stools or vomit (which resemble coffee grounds) may indicate the presence of partially digested blood.

Unexplained weight gain or loss

If your cat suddenly starts losing weight it may indicate an underlying illness. It is also worth noting that the weight loss may not necessarily be accompanied by a loss of appetite – hyperthyroid cats (suffering from an overactive thyroid gland), for example, lose weight despite a voracious appetite. Remember that cats are a lot smaller than us humans, thus the loss of even a few hundred grams can amount to a significant percentage of your cat’s bodyweight. Take your cat to the vet as soon as you notice she has lost weight.

Conversely, weight gain can lead to obesity, which, in turn, can lead to health problems. The vet can help you determine why your cat is gaining weight and also help you come up with a plan to get her back to a healthy weight.

Changes in energy levels

Cats are generally lazy compared to dogs and you will probably already have an idea of your cat’s normal activity levels. Lethargy can be a very subtle sign, but if it’s noticeable, it can be a cause for concern. Take your cat to the vet if she seems more lethargic and lying around or sleeping more than normal. Conversely, if your cat becomes more active than normal it may also indicate illness. Take your cat to the vet, especially if she seems restless or paces around the house.

Changes in breathing

Although panting is normal for dogs, it’s not normal for cats. Cats sometimes start panting due to stress or excitement, but it can also indicate an underlying problem. Wheezing, shortness of breath and raspy breathing are all abnormal and should be investigated by the vet. If your cat is struggling to breathe – breathing with her mouth open, breathing very fast or taking very deep breaths – it is an emergency and she needs immediate veterinary attention.

Mobility issues

You may notice your cat limping, but also look out for the more subtle signs, such as not being able to jump up onto furniture anymore. This can indicate problems in younger cats while older cats, like humans, are at risk of developing arthritis. Your vet will be able to diagnose the problem and recommend medications or methods to make your cat more comfortable.

Behavioural changes

If your cat with an outgoing personality suddenly starts hiding all the time, or your friendly cat suddenly becomes grumpy it may mean there is a problem.  Also pay attention to how much your cat normally vocalises – if your chatterbox suddenly goes quiet or your quiet cat suddenly starts meowing a lot it may mean something’s up.

Discharges from the eyes and/or nose

These discharges may indicate an upper respiratory tract infection and may be accompanied by sneezing or sniffling. The infection may be contagious and may also make your cat feel sick and stop eating. Your vet can recommend medications to help her feel better and recover quicker.

Ear debris or discharge or changes in the shape or posture of the ears

Look out for a dark brown wax-like substance accumulating in or around the ear canal. Your cat may also shake its ears or scratch at them constantly. If your cat holds down one ear partially instead of having both ears perked as they normally are, it usually indicates a problem. If you notice these signs, your cat may have an ear infection or parasite infestation, which is very uncomfortable and sometimes even painful.

One condition that is more common in South Africa than other countries around the world, is when a cat’s ear tip is bent forward. This is usually a sign that the cat touched an electric fence with its ear. Cats do not honour the boundaries we have for our yards and will often creep through an electric fence to get into the neighbour’s yard. If they get ‘zapped’ on the ear, the tip of the ear will often become somewhat floppy and bend forward. It may take some time for such an ear to recover, if at all. 

Skin irritation, hair loss, coat changes and grooming patterns changing

Cats are susceptible to a variety of skin conditions, some of which may be painful, others itchy, or some others just merely uncomfortable. You may notice redness, scabs, bald patches, crusting or dandruff. Also look out for changes in the coat and grooming behaviour – this may indicate an underlying illness. A cat’s normal coat is smooth and glossy, so take your cat to the vet if her coat suddenly becomes dull and dry. A cat that develops a matted coat from a lack of grooming or a cat that spends more time than usual grooming itself (overgrooming) may also have an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

Bad breath

Remember that, unlike humans, cats don’t brush their teeth so a mild degree of ‘kitty breath’ is normal for them. Severe bad breath, however, is not normal, especially if it’s accompanied by drooling and bleeding from the mouth. 

Swelling

Swelling anywhere on your cat’s body should not be ignored, especially if it’s hot or painful to the touch. Cats can develop abscesses from wounds, as well as a wide variety of tumours. The vet will be able to determine what the swelling is and treat it.

Emergency situations

  • Some conditions need urgent attention and, if not addressed promptly, can be fatal. It’s always a good idea to keep the contact details of your vet’s after-hours telephone or of a 24-hour facility handy in case you ever need it. If you notice any of the below signs, rush your cat to the nearest open vet immediately.
  • Trauma, such as falling off a balcony, getting hit by a car or being mauled by a dog, even if you cannot see any open wounds on the cat. Cats’ skins are loose and tough, and a cat can sustain severe injuries not visible to the naked eye, which is all hidden under the skin. 
  • Blue, white or very pale gums
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sudden inability to walk 
  • Moderate to profuse bleeding
  • Seizures or tremors
  • Dizziness, disorientation, circling or imbalance
  • Collapse, unconsciousness or unresponsiveness
  • Severe pain (crying out loudly or excessively or acting aggressive when touched)
  • Straining to urinate, but not producing anything
  • Rectal temperature above 40°C or under 36°C

If you notice anything in your cat’s appearance or behaviour that’s worrying you, it’s always better to rather be safe than sorry. Phone the vet and they will help you decide whether it’s an emergency. Better yet, make an appointment and take your cat to the vet, for your own peace of mind and the wellbeing of your kitty.

© 2020 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

 

 

Coronavirus and your pets

Now that the coronavirus has hit South Africa's shores, and several people have been confirmed to have the disease, COVID-19, there are many pet owners who are concerned about how COVID-19 will affect them and their pets.

Background

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The source of the coronavirus is believed to be a ‘wet market’ in Wuhan, China, which sold both dead and live animals including fish and birds. Currently, there is no evidence suggesting a specific animal host as a virus reservoir, and further investigations are ongoing.

How is COVID-19 spread?

The disease is spread from person to person via respiratory droplets produced from the airways, often during coughing or sneezing. Symptoms appear between two and 14 days (with an average of five days) from the time of first exposure and contraction of the disease. As with most viral infections, some people will contract the disease while others who have been exposed to the same virus will not contract the disease. This is usually as a result of the immune status and health of the individual.

Symptoms of COVID-19 infection

The symptoms of COVID-19 are very similar to the flu we have become accustomed to in winter and include a fever, a dry cough, weakness and fatigue, and shortness of breath. Sneezing, a runny nose and a sore throat are less common. The disease usually causes only mild symptoms, but in immune compromised or older people, it can progress to pneumonia and multi organ failure.

Can pets contract Coronavirus?

Currently, there is no evidence that companion animals can be infected with or spread COVID-19.

However, there are several coronaviruses that affect our pets and that can cause disease in animals.

It is very important to understand that when we speak about ‘coronavirus’, we are actually speaking about a large family of viruses and not a single virus. To this end there are a number of coronaviruses that can affect people and animals.

Coronaviruses belong to the family Coronaviridae. Alpha- and beta-coronaviruses usually infect mammals, while gamma and delta coronaviruses usually infect birds and fish. Canine coronavirus, which can cause mild diarrhoea, and feline coronavirus, which can cause feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), are both alpha-coronaviruses. These coronaviruses are not associated with the current coronavirus outbreak. Until the appearance of SARS-CoV-2, which belongs to the beta-coronaviruses, there were only six known coronaviruses capable of infecting humans and causing respiratory disease, including the severe acute respiratory syndrome, coronavirus SARS-CoV (identified in 2002/2003) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus MERS-CoV (identified in 2012). SARS-CoV-2 is genetically more related to SARS-CoV than MERS-CoV, but both are beta-coronaviruses with their origins in bats. While it is not known whether COVID-19 will behave the same way as SARS and MERS, the information from both of these earlier coronaviruses can inform recommendations concerning COVID-19.

Can I get COVID-19 from my pets?

Recently, the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) announced that a pet dog of a COVID-19 infected patient has tested ‘weak positive’ for the virus, however, further tests are currently being carried out to determine if it is a true infection or if it is due to environmental contamination of its mouth and nose. In a statement, AFCD said that the dog had not shown any symptoms and there was no evidence to suggest that pets could contract the coronavirus or be a source of infection in people.

In the last few weeks, rapid progress had been made in the identification of viral etiology, isolation of infectious virus and the development of diagnostic tools. However, there are still many important questions that remain to be answered. For now, the information available indicates that we cannot get the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which causes COVID-19, from our pets.

It is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets. This protects you against various common bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella that can pass between pets and humans.

Should I avoid contact with pets or other animals if I am sick with COVID-19?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following: “You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus.

When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask.”

If my pet has been in contact with someone who is sick from COVID-19, can it spread the disease to other people?

While we do not yet know for sure, there is no evidence that companion animals can be infected with or spread SARS-CoV-2. We also do not know if they could get sick from this new coronavirus.

Additionally, there is currently no evidence that companion animals could be a source of infection to people. This is a rapidly evolving situation and this information may change.

What should I do if my pet develops an unexplained illness and was around a person with documented COVID-19 infection?

We don’t yet know if companion animals can get infected by SARS-CoV-2 or develop the COVID-19 disease. If your pet develops an unexplained illness and has been exposed to a person infected with COVID-19, talk to the public health official working with the person infected with COVID-19. If your area has a state veterinarian, the public health official can consult with them or another appropriate official. If the state veterinarian, or other public health official, advises you to take your pet to a veterinary clinic, call us before you come in to let us know that you are bringing a sick pet that has been exposed to a person infected with COVID-19. This will allow us time to prepare an isolation area. Do not bring the animal to our veterinary facility unless you are instructed to do so by a public health official.

What are the concerns regarding pets that have been in contact with people infected with this virus?

While COVID-19 seems to have emerged from an animal source, it is now spreading from person to person. Person-to-person spread is thought to occur mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. At this time, it’s unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people.

Importantly, there is no evidence at this point in time (March 2020) that companion animals including pets such as dogs and cats, can become infected with COVID-19.

What should be done with pets in areas where the virus is active?

Currently there is no evidence that pets can be infected with this new coronavirus. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, until we know more, pet owners should avoid contact with animals they are unfamiliar with and always wash their hands before and after they interact with animals.  As stated before in this article, if owners are sick with COVID-19, they should avoid contact with animals in their household, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If they need to care for their pet or be around animals while they are sick, they should wash their hands before and after they interact with them and wear a facemask.

Should my vet vaccinate my dogs against canine coronavirus because of the risk of SARS-Cov-2?

The canine coronavirus vaccines are intended to protect against enteric coronavirus infection in dogs and are NOT licensed for protection against respiratory infections. In the face of the current outbreak, some dog owners may propose that there may be some form of cross-protection against COVID-19 and may think that it will be of benefit to have their dogs vaccinated with the current coronavirus vaccine to be better protected. There is absolutely no evidence that vaccinating dogs with commercially available vaccines will provide cross-protection against the infection by SARS-CoV-2, since the enteric and respiratory viruses are distinctly different variants of coronavirus. No vaccines are currently available in any market for respiratory coronavirus infection in dogs.

What can I do to protect myself and my pets against COVID-19?

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, experts recommend everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay at home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the rubbish bin.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
    • CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

Where can I find more information on COVID-19?

The most up-to-date information and advice on human infection can be found on the following websites:

• World Health Organisation (WHO) (see here)

• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (see here)

The most up-to-date information related to animal health can be found on the following website:

• World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) (see here)

 

© 2020 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

 

 

 

SEPARATION ANXIETY

What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a state of distress experienced by a dog or a cat (for our purposes) upon anticipation and/or the realisation of having been left behind by (separated from) the owner and/or other household members (including other pets). It is a behavioural or physical response exhibited by the affected animal and also has a biochemical component at play. It is not uncommon to find pets suffering from separation anxiety who also experience other anxiety-related conditions such as phobias of thunderstorms, loud noises and fireworks.

What are the symptoms of separation anxiety?

The animal suffering from separation anxiety will exhibit such symptoms and behaviours as incessant barking or howling, chewing, digging and other property destruction (like shoes, toys, furniture, pot plants, etc.), either pacing or escaping the yard, coprophagia (ingestion of faecal matter), urinating or defecation in inappropriate places, and self-mutilation like chewing on or licking their paws to excess.

What causes separation anxiety?

Several theories have been proposed as to the possible causes of separation anxiety. One of these is the discovery of an anxiety gene, similar to the anxiety gene identified in humans who also suffer from anxiety. Separation anxiety – theorised as a genetic condition – could therefore be potentially heritable as well as a common occurrence in specific breeds. Another school of thought suggests that the condition is a result of chemical imbalances and functional abnormalities. As such, medicating the patient can be beneficial in alleviating the symptoms when managing separation anxiety cases.

A quick review of the vast research on this topic uncovers several predisposing factors to the condition, which are noteworthy for pet owners. Predisposing factors usually encountered in practice include excessive greeting by the owner, hyper-attachment to the owner, single adult human home, changes in family circumstances, traumatic experiences early in the pet’s life, and de-sexing. With the vast number of predisposing factors to anxiety, case management of the condition therefore becomes a huge challenge for the attending veterinarian, particularly with attempts in modifying those pet owner behaviours identified as risk factors.   

What are the tell-tale signs of separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety manifests when the pet owner is away from the affected pet, hence the signs will often be missed by the owner. The use of hidden cameras assists in identifying the signs of anxiety and its diagnosis. Usually the first sign that a problem exists is the pet owner’s discovery of evidence of destruction of furniture and anything else the anxious pet would have had access to, when they return home. Repetitive behaviours like pacing and digging would undoubtedly leave physical evidence of the pet’s distress. The new behaviours would be unexpected and clearly unusual of their pet. In fact, behavioural referral centres report that the most common reason pet owners are sent to them is destruction in the home by their pets suffering from separation anxiety.

Other signs pet owners tend to identify include vocalisation such as howling (when the neighbours complain), and evident self-mutilation and excessive behaviours like paw licking and drooling. In addition, pets with separation anxiety tend to go off food, may withdraw from the owner upon their return, experience diarrhoea, and at worst aggression towards the owner or other pets, particularly if they had left and returned with the owner.

A pet suffering from separation anxiety is not being malicious and therefore should never be punished! Their response to being left alone is the result of a chemical imbalance and/or learned behaviour; not naughtiness. Punishment is never an appropriate response and may even increase anxiety.

How do vets diagnose the condition?

Diagnosis by a veterinarian relies strongly on a good patient history from the owner, which is then combined with physical examination findings and (sometimes) blood tests. The power of hidden cameras should not be minimised as an aid in information gathering. A thorough physical and neurological examination is required to rule out any anatomical abnormalities, including hidden pain, which could be causing the sudden behavioural changes. Proper examination therefore serves to confirm whether the patient suffers truly from separation anxiety instead of being confused with other conditions similar to it. Blood tests are relied upon to detect and rule out detectable chemical imbalances in the body. Of importance is a test to assess if the thyroid is functioning effectively. Once a correct diagnosis is reached, proper management can then ensue. 

How to manage separation anxiety

The starting point for managing the animal’s separation anxiety would be for the veterinarian to characterise the severity of the condition. A distinction is then made between whether the pet requires medical management or only enhancements in their environment and the owner’s behaviour. Consequently a plan of action is developed and implemented.

It is important to understand that the management of separation anxiety needs to be tailor-made for each patient as the condition might differ significantly from patient to patient. Pet owners will also require training on how to better manage their anxious pets, and receive tips on particular behaviours specific to each affected pet.

Environmental enhancement will include the use of hormones such as the dog appeasing hormone, which has been found to calm anxious pets. (Several other hormones exist on the market for which owners’ regular veterinarians can make recommendations).  For single-pet households, adding a companion has been found to reduce the severity of anxiety in some instances. Adding toys and other environmental stimulators can help, particularly in cats. When leaving pets at kennels over long periods of time, an alternative would be finding a pet sitter who is familiar to the pet/s. A major advantage is that the anxious pet is spared the additional stressor of a changed environment.

Medical management will include the use of calming tablets or pastes. The medications can either be over-the-counter nutraceuticals or – in severe cases – prescribed scheduled drugs. Scheduled drugs will require a full physical examination of the patient to ascertain that they qualify to safely receive the intended medication without experiencing severe side effects. It is important to note that medical treatment tends to be as long as four to six months. In severe cases, medical treatment becomes life long, and possibly requires a combination of medicines. When the treatment becomes chronic, blood tests are required every six to 12 months at the veterinarian’s discretion.   

Can separation anxiety be prevented?

Prevention of the condition is very difficult especially with rescues, as the new owner has no knowledge of the pet’s history. However, once triggers of episodes of anxiety have been identified, it becomes imperative to enhance the patient’s environment accordingly. The aim would be to attempt to completely avoid stressors or at best to minimise the duration and minimise the stress surrounding the period of separation.

© 2020 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

Making 2020 the best year ever for your pet

As we enter a new year and a new decade, many of us make New Year’s resolutions for ourselves. This a great time to reconsider one’s priorities and establish the foundation for better living habits. Why not do the same for our pets?

1. Make sure they are safe 

Depending on which part of the country you live, your surroundings may differ. These days in the big cities, most of us have high walls or fences around our properties. This is usually a great way of keeping unwanted intruders from coming into our personal spaces, but how does it affect our pets? Growing up behind large walls and being confined for most of their lives means that our pets are probably not street smart, at least not to the level of a few decades ago where most properties had no walls or fences around them. Many people these days have electronic gates controlled with remotes which allows one not to have to get out your car to physically open the gate when arriving home. Dogs are social creatures by nature and are also curious, which mean every time the gate opens, they are likely to be tempted to explore the outside and go and “take a sniff” on the pavement. If your dogs have been properly trained, they will likely respond to your calling them back into the property if they do run out. However, if they have not been properly trained, the likelihood of them running into the street and being hit by a car becomes a much bigger risk. Training can be high on your list of New Year’s resolutions for your dog, if you have not done so yet. If your dog is not properly trained yet, you will have to ensure there are means inside the property to prevent him or her from getting out the gate. This may take the form of physical barriers like a fence or alternatively may take the form of a correctional collar which the dog wears which emits a tiny electrical current any time the dog comes close to the motor gate, making them associate the vicinity of a motor gate with an unpleasant experience. This will prevent them from running out the gate.  

For cats safety is a completely different concept to dogs. Dogs will usually accept the physical boundaries of your property as their territory. However cats have much bigger territories than the boundaries of our properties. A cat’s territory will usually span three properties east and west, and four properties north and south, and they certainly do not consider the walls and fences we put up around our properties as their boundaries. Cats, being nocturnal (night time) animals will often sleep the whole day and be out at night roaming their territory, which means they will most likely be found somewhere in your neighbour’s property or the streets and pavements. This means that they will be a lot more vulnerable for being attacked by dogs, landing up in fights with other cats from the neighbourhood, or being run over by cars. Many people in South Africa have razor wires or electrical fences on top of their walls or fences, as an extra measure for security. This holds inherent risks for cats and one should keep this in mind when planning the security of your property if you own a cat.  

Dog and cat flaps are great for letting your four footed furry family in and out the house without having to open the door for them. As long as  the area they are getting access to is secure, this is a great way to provide more freedom to move around for your pets. 

There are also special harnesses and leads available as safety belts when your dog is travelling in the car with you which means that your pet can also “buckle up” and be safe on the road, whenever they go the in car with you. 

2. Training

The second New Year’s Resolution you may want to consider if you have not done so yet, is training for your pets. Contrary to popular belief that cats cannot be trained, cats can definitely be trained. However cats have figured out that it is much easier to train humans than the other way around They have mastered the art of meowing, purring and running up to you and brushing up against your legs for food, only to see how gladly their human servants run to provide them with the food they are so vocally demanding. 😊 Seriously however, cats can be trained and finding a suitable trainer is well worth the while if you have a problematic feline friend. 

No one needs to convince anyone that dogs can be trained and starting young is the best thing you can possibly do when you acquire a new puppy. If you have not managed to take your puppy to puppy school, and he or she is now a fully grown dog, please don’t believe the saying “You cannot teach an old dog new tricks”. Older dogs can definitely be trained. There is nothing more pleasant to have a well trained dog which responds to your commands. Coming back to the aspect of running out of a property. A well trained dogs is much less likely to run out into the street and not respond to their owner calling them back. So go ahead, find a suitable dog training school and sign up. You will not regret it and your dog will most certainly enjoy the extra attention and interaction. 

3. Microchips and tags

This is a real quick win and certainly one of the best New Year’s resolutions you can have for your pet. Dogs and cats do well with collars and a small tag with the animal’s name and your contact number is the first step in ensuring a lost pet is reunited with their owner sooner than later. Better yet, and in conjunction with a collar and tag, having a microchip inserted underneath the skin between the shoulder blades is a quick and easy way to provide a permanent means of identification for your pet. Your vet will be able to assist you in this regard and injecting the rice grain size mini transponder under your dog’s skin will take no more than a few seconds. A microchip is not a satellite tracking device (as it does not have a battery), but is a transponder, which when scanned provides a number, which is captured on an electronic database together with your and your pet’s information, providing your contact details when your pet is lost. Most vets and welfare organisations have scanners with which to scan your pets for microchips. There are also more and more medical aids (discussed later) which requires a permanent form of identification for pets and a microchips is the preferred method of choice. 

4. Good quality pet food

If you are not doing so already, it is well worth considering putting your pet on a premium diet available from the vet. Research has shown that animals live longer and suffer less disease then a few decades ago as a result of the improvements made in pet nutrition. Many people are concerned about the cost of a premium diet but when considering that one can feed less of a premium diet compared to conventional pet food because of the higher quality means that more of the food is digested and less of it lands up on the lawn or in the litter box. 

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions for humans is to lose weight. Sadly, according to statistics, very few people “stick it out” with their diets. If your pet is overweight, it is somewhat easier, because you determine what they eat. If your pet is overweight you can obtain a scientifically formulated veterinary diet from the vet, which will be easy to feed and reduce an overweight pet’s weight. Just remember to also use the right snacks at the right intervals same as with humans who go on diet. The vet will be able to provide you with the correct information in this regard. 

5. Exercise 

Exercise goes hand in hand with diet and weight loss so it goes without saying that a pet that needs to lose weight usually also needs to exercise more to reduce their weight adequately. Even pets who don’t need to lose weight, need to exercise and the more exercise they can have, the better. With sedentary lifestyles humans need more physical exercise and this is one of those areas where you can slap two flies at the same time with a New Year’s resolution for yourself as well as for your pet. Taking your dog for more regular walks or swims will be a great way to improve their health and yours. Dogs who are well socialised (discussed in the next section) can be let off their leads in most dog walking parks around South Africa, which means that they will do between 5 and 10 times the distance you do when you walk, with running off the lead. 

6. Socialising

Dogs are social creatures by nature and the close relative of dogs, the wolf, living in packs, is a well known fact. Dogs tend to love interacting with other dogs and even though there is quite a distinct difference between how social certain dog breeds will tend to be, the common principle is that dogs unlike their feline friends, enjoy interaction with other dogs. 

Puppy socialisation has become the norm rather than the exception in the past decade with puppy play schools, puppy day care centres, puppy training schools and puppy socialisation classes springing up all over the place.  This is a really wonderful development but in the same breath one has to be careful that not all puppy training and care facilities are equal. It will stand you in good stead to do proper research before committing to a specific training entity. So what about the scenario if your dog is now fully grown and was never properly socialised as a puppy. Once again an old dog can be taught new tricks. With the correct guidance and proper precautionary measures an older dog which has not been well socialised as puppy can learn to accept and tolerate other animals. Just like in humans, dogs can also be described as introverted or extroverted. Some dogs, “the extroverts”, are everyone’s friend and loves to play and interact with humans, other dogs and even other species of animals. “The introverts” are more reserved and will tolerate other animals or humans but is less likely to be outgoing and go up to other dogs or humans to befriend them. Some dogs, especially the bigger terrier types like Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers and Pit Bull Terriers were bred to show aggression to other dogs. In these cases it may take a bit more time and effort to get them to socialise well with other dogs. 

The best place to socialise your dog (this is after they have been initially introduced to other dogs and properly socialised with the help of a properly trained and equipped professional) is the park. The park is usually considered neutral ground making dogs a lot less aggressive towards each other than when they are in their own property. Taking your dog for a walk in the neighbourhood and trying to let them make friends with dogs who are inside their own properties and inside their motor gates, is a really bad idea. Territorial aggression is a common known phenomenon and many vets can attest to having had to stitch up dogs after a major fight through a motor gate. 

Don’t worry about trying to socialise your cat. Your company is usually good enough for them and although cats are by nature very curious, they certainly do not need the company of other cats or dogs to experience quality of life. 

7. Annual wellness exams and vaccinations

If your dog or cat has been a healthy and happy pet for the past year without the need to visit the vet consider yourself privileged. The very rough general consensus that one dog or cat year represents roughly 7 human years, means that your dog or cat has been healthy for 7 years without the need for a visit to the vet. Quite something if you consider the likelihood of you not visiting the doctor or dentist once in 7 years. An annual wellness examination is a must for all pets. Taking them to the vet for this very important visit may seem like an unnecessary exercise for a healthy pet. This is exactly why it is called an annual wellness exam. Many underlying or potentially harmful conditions can be picked up during an annual wellness exam and everyone knows prevention is better than cure. The purpose of the visit is to establish just how well your pet really is. If your pet is due for vaccinations this can be done at the same time and most vets will also give deworming medication during this visit (discussed in the next section).  If you have not taken your animal to the vet in the past year for a wellness exam, why don’t you schedule a visit in February. Most vets tend to be slightly quieter in February as a result of most humans getting stuck into activities like school and work properly by February, meaning that most animals have to enjoy a bit of a back seat at this time of year.

8. Parasite control

Internal Parasites

As mentioned in the previous section, most vets will do deworming at the time of an annual wellness exam. The exposure of your pet to other animals and the environment will determine how often they need to be dewormed. Most vets recommend every 3 to 4 months. It is a good idea to get some deworming for yourself and other human family members at the very least once a year. 

External Parasites

Ticks, fleas, flies, lice, mites – you name them. They can all affect your animal in one away or another some of them even causing death in a beloved pet. Spot-ons and new generation palatable tablets, have made it very easy to control ticks and fleas and many other external parasites on your pets. Gone are the days of having to dip your animal and powder them up from tip to tail. Many parasites have also become resistant to the chemicals used in these products and the new generation products are phenomenal in that they are biologically and chemically designed to target the brain cells of the parasite without doing the same in mammals. Cats are particularly prone to the poisonous effects of chemical compounds and the vet will be able to provide you with the correct information and products to make parasite control safe, yet effective, for your animal. 

9. Medical Aid

In the past few years, a number of established insurance companies have launched short term insurance products for pets’ health also colloquially referred to as “medical aid” for pets. These products do not work exactly the same as medical aids for humans, but in principle they work on the basis that a small monthly premium is paid, and should your animal need to visit the vet for treatment, the insurance company will contribute towards the expenses involved, depending on the product and plan you take out. It will be a really good New Year’s resolution to start making provision for your animals medical expenses by making a monthly contribution. Veterinary care by its very nature cannot be cheap because the same level of knowledge, expertise, equipment and similar products are used to treat animals as humans. 

10. Make sure your pets are comfortable 

Last but not least, why not decide to make a New Year’s resolution to make life as comfortable as possible for your pet. Many years ago the qualification for a good life for a dog or cat was whether they were kept indoors or outdoors. These days we are far past that and the qualification now is whether your dog or cat sleeps inside your bed under the blankets vs on top of the blankets on your bed. 😊

If you don’t have a proper dedicated dog or cat bed for your pet, buy one and put it in a place which is close enough to you so that your animal can interact with you without “cramping their style”. Having plenty of cat litter boxes available for your cat will make life easy for them when it comes to their toilet requirements. Similarly, if your dog stays inside and you do not physically take them outdoors at night “to do their thing”, then consider installing a dog flap, so they can come and go as they please. 

If your dogs are outside dogs, ensure they have a good quality dog house which will keep them dry and warm when the weather is rainy or cold. 

Last but not least, give your animals lots of love! They deserve it. As one of best parts of life, our pets, giving us the joy, love and affection they do, deserve all the affection and love you can muster.

Happy New Year – to you and your pets!

© 2020 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

 

My little dog is coughing often and sometimes seems to struggle to breathe.

What is tracheal collapse?

Tracheal collapse is a common cause of coughing and airway obstruction in dogs. The trachea, which is also known as the “windpipe”, provides the air supply from the outside to the lungs. The trachea can be thought of as resembling a vacuum cleaner pipe. It is a flexible but firm tube that is reinforced by strong cartilage rings. These rings are not complete but rather “c-shaped”, with the open end of the “c” facing to the inside of the neck with a ligament attaching from the one end of the C to the other. Sometimes these cartilage rings weaken and cannot hold their shape causing the trachea to narrow or even close, making it more difficult for air to pass through.

Which dogs are prone to tracheal collapse?

The small and toy breed dogs are most commonly affected by this condition.  Yorkshire terriers, Toy Pomeranians, Poodles and Chihuahuas are some of the most commonly affected breeds. Young dogs can be affected but the condition is more commonly seen in middle-aged to older patients. These dogs are often overweight and living in a household that has smokers often exacerbates the condition.

What are the signs of tracheal collapse?

  • The dog often has a characteristic “goose honking” cough.
  • The dog may cough when picked up or pulled on a collar.
  • Some dogs may have difficulty breathing and some turn blue when excited.
  • There is usually a degree of exercise intolerance and a wheezy noise may be heard when the animal breathes in.
  • The cough and other signs are often worsened with excitement, eating, drinking, tracheal irritants such as smoke, dust or pollution, obesity, exercise and hot and humid weather.

Diagnosing tracheal collapse

The clinical signs and breed of dog make a diagnosis of tracheal collapse highly likely. X-rays can be helpful in making a diagnosis but the collapse of the trachea is often dynamic so may not be seen all the time. Fluoroscopy is a moving x-ray and is beneficial in that the trachea can be visualised over a short period of time. Unfortunately, fluoroscopy is usually only available at veterinary teaching hospitals and some veterinary referral centres. Using a scope is the only way one can see what is happening within the trachea and may also be useful as swabs and cultures can be taken to make sure there is not a secondary infection present concurrently.

Can tracheal collapse be confused with other conditions?

Tracheal collapse can definitely be confused with other upper respiratory tract conditions of which the most common one in toy breeds is arguably reverse sneeze. Kennel cough, an infectious viral condition of the upper respiratory tract is another. Allergies are another common cause of upper respiratory tract conditions. A foreign body like a grass awn which gets stuck somewhere in the upper or lower respiratory tract is another possibility. To differentiate which condition your dog may be suffering with will most likely require a thorough clinical examination and diagnostic workup by the vet.  

Can tracheal collapse be cured?

Unfortunately, tracheal collapse cannot be cured but it can be managed relatively successfully. Medical management includes medication to suppress the cough, reduce airway inflammation and spasms, and reduce anxiety. Weight loss is probably the most important aspect of management in overweight pets as obesity greatly exacerbates the condition.

In some cases, surgery may be an option to help support the trachea. It is a specialist procedure and an animal will still need to be managed medically afterwards. Surgery does come with its own risk so it is important to speak to an experienced surgeon before travelling down this route. It is also important to remember that not all animals will be ideal candidates.

At present, there is no known way to prevent tracheal collapse but maintaining an ideal weight and reducing exposure to airway irritants such as smoke have been found to help. Patients may be managed relatively efficiently with medical management and it is estimated that more than two-thirds of dogs will show some improvement. About three-quarters of dogs will improve with surgical treatment but the surgery does also carry its own risks. Older dogs may also have laryngeal or bronchial disease. This also comes with complications and does reduce the long-term prognosis for management.  Weight management and control of the cough is vital for a good outcome and it is important to remember that medical management is still instrumental even after surgical treatment. 

There is a strong school of thought that suggests tracheal collapse may be inheritable because it is related to the shape and confirmation of the trachea. Just like you may find some dogs have longer legs and some have shorter legs, so some of the toy breeds may have narrower tracheas than others. It would certainly stand you in good stead to do some proper research before buying a highly pedigreed toy breed of dog.

If you are not sure if your dog may be suffering with tracheal collapse, visit the vet and have a proper exam done. It may just improve the quality of life of your best friend.

© 2019 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

 

How that cute puppy came to cost you R 150 000

We are approaching that time of year when people are considering what to gift people for Christmas and as is often the case, a cute puppy or kitten comes to mind. Many people do the noble thing of going to a shelter or a welfare organisation to adopt a puppy or kitten for a mere R 650. What they fail to realise is that that cute puppy or kitten is not just a R 650 worth purchase but more likely a R 65 000.00 one, or in some cases up to a R 150 000. How is that possible or what do you mean, you might ask?

Primary healthcare

For starters, that cute puppy or kitten will need at least three- to four initial vaccinations to protect them from some fatal diseases. To that, you can add a required dose of monthly deworming, to ensure that the lifecycle of the worms is properly broken. The cost of this exercise could easily set you back anything from R 2000 to R 3000.

Depending on the season of the year you acquire your puppy or kitten, they are going to need regular (at least monthly) tick and flea treatments for at least three to six months, in succession. Depending on the products you use; and the size of your dog or cat, this exercise will likely cost you anywhere between R 500 and R 1200.

Pet Accessories

Recommended accessories when adopting a new puppy or kitten include a bed or basket, a sandbox for kitties, a collar and lead for your dogs, brushes, bowls, and toys. There goes another R 2000 to R 10 000. Indoor cats will need cat litter for the rest of their lives. The cost over your cat’s lifespan (20 years) will likely be in the order of R 18 000.00. Puppies that are kept indoors will need training pads for the first three to six months; these can cost you about R 1300.

Puppy training is a crucial part of socialising and integrating your dog into your family and society in general. The cost of a training program, including travel to and from classes once a week, will most likely set you back between R 5000 and R 8000.

Sterilisation

When your pup or kitten is six months old, they need to be spayed or neutered. In female animals, this is a full ovariohysterectomy and this procedure is heavily subsidised by most vets, assisting the public in preventing unwanted pregnancies. The true cost of this operation, which is a full-blown surgical procedure done under general anaesthesia and inside a sterile operating theatre, is in the order of R 4000 to R 4500. Most vets, however, charge somewhere between R 1200 to R 2500 for this procedure.

Food

By far the most expensive items for your puppy or kitten throughout their lives will be their food. Here, there is a range of prices depending on the quality of food you feed. The general principle here is that the more expensive the food is, the better the quality and usually the better condition your pet will be in and the longer they will live. Size really matters and the cost of a super premium diet for a small breed dog weighing 5 kg or less, will be in the order of R 80 000 over its lifetime (15 years) whereas the cost per day for a large breed dog 30 kg will be R 190 000 over its lifetime (12 years). The cost of feeding a premium diet to a small breed dog weighing 5 kg or less, will be in the order of R 53 000 over its lifetime (15 years) whereas the cost per day, for a large breed dog weighing 30 kg, will be R 180 000. Feeding a poor quality pet food is going to cost less, but your animal may, as a result, not be in optimal health condition and can be prone to diseases.

Annual Wellness exams

Dogs and cats age on average the equivalent of seven human years for every calendar year. When your puppy or kitten grows into a mature dog or cat, they will need to see the vet for an annual health and wellness exam and vaccination if required. This visit is the equivalent of seeing your doctor every seven years. Most people, especially ageing people, need to see their doctor more frequently. The same principle of frequent doctor’s visits applies to your pets too and these annual visits to the vet will set you back roughly R 15 000 over the lifetime of a pet with a 15-year lifespan.

Veterinary care

Veterinary expenses remain a significant contributor to the total expenditure on a pet. You may be lucky and have an extremely healthy pet that may only need to see the vet once a year for their annual wellness exam.

If however, you are unlucky and have a pet that sustains a severe injury that needs intensive veterinary intervention and care, like bite wounds, being hit by a car or tearing a knee ligament, the cost of treatment may easily set you back anywhere between R 10 000 and R 30 000.

If your pet develops a condition that either needs ongoing treatment or a therapeutic diet, the cost may be anywhere between R 5000 and R 50 000. Veterinary care, like human medical care, is not cheap. Vets study for six years and veterinary medicine happens to be one of the most expensive veterinary courses available.

Most veterinary hospitals or clinics have to have the same equipment you will find in most human hospitals like X-ray machines, fully equipped operating theatres, laboratories, dentistry suites and special care equipment and facilities. The cost of setting up and equipping a veterinary hospital can easily be between R 1 mil to R 2 mil, excluding the cost of the physical property.

Compared to what humans pay in private medical hospitals, the cost of having a pet admitted to a private veterinary hospital is minuscule. However, most people still don’t have medical aid for their pets like they do for themselves, which means that should disaster strike and intensive veterinary care is needed, all of those costs need to be paid from discretionary, “leftover” income, something which is indeed almost non-existent for most people.

Dental care

The recommended norm for humans to see a dentist is every six months. An annual wellness exam for your dog or cat will be the equivalent of a seven-year gap to see the doctor or dentist, in the case of humans.

As animals get older, most of them develop plaque that calcifies, forming calculi on the teeth. The only way to treat this effectively, other than preventing it by brushing your pet’s teeth daily, is to have it removed by ultrasonic dental descaling under a full general anaesthetic. The cost of this procedure is in the order of R 3000 to R 4000. Many vets also subsidise this procedure to make it more affordable for pet owners to have their pets’ teeth cleaned.

Summary

For the sake of this article, we have worked on an annual inflation rate of 5%. As rates fluctuate, so do prices, and it may either cost you significantly more to own a pet in times of high inflation or less in times of lower inflation. Either way, it should be clear to anyone wanting to adopt a pet to remember that it is not a R 650 transaction but more likely a R 150 000 transaction.

© 2019 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

My cat is eating like crazy and not picking up weight

What is hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism is a condition that arises from an excessive production and secretion of active thyroid hormones by an abnormally functioning thyroid gland. First recognised in the late 1970’s, the frequency of diagnosis has escalated dramatically – currently it is the most common endocrine (hormone system) disease in cats and also one of the more frequently diagnosed disorders in the veterinary field. The condition is estimated to affect 1 in 300 cats.

What causes hyperthyroidism?

Despite several studies, the exact cause of the disease remains unknown. Recent studies have found that there is no breed association with risk. Other studies have found cats fed mostly tinned cat food, especially fish or liver and giblet flavour, and cats using cat litter are at increased risk.

Soybeans have also been implicated as a potential culprit as it is used as a protein source in some commercial cat foods. Furthermore, the thyroid gland contains more selenium than any other tissue, which suggests this trace element may play an important role.

Which cats are affected?

The disease typically affects middle-aged to older cats, with an average age of onset at 12-13 years.  Rarely can it affect cats as young as 4 years of age. There is no breed or gender predilection.

What are the clinical signs of hyperthyroidism?

Thyroid hormones are involved in a wide variety of functions in the body, including the regulation of heat production, metabolism and interaction with the nervous system. Therefore almost any organ system can be affected and subsequently a wide variety of clinical signs are possible.

Typically the signs start out very subtle and slowly progress, causing most owners to not notice them for several months. Some owners may also put these signs down to the normal “ageing” process.

The most common clinical sign is weight loss, despite a voracious appetite. Affected cats may seem constantly hungry and “finicky eaters” stop being “finicky”, eating everything that is offered to them or that they can get to.

Affected cats often gobble down their own food before going on to eat all the other pets in the household’s food as well; they may even try to steal your food off your plate if given the chance. Remember that cats are a lot smaller than us humans – losing for example 500g is not significant weight loss for a human but for a cat it’s about 10-20% of their total body weight and definitely a cause for concern.

Affected cats also become hyperactive – they may seem restless, anxious and irritable, constantly moving or even pacing, sleeping for short periods only and wakening easily. When brought to the vet these cats typically won’t sit for the vet to examine them and become aggressive when attempts are made to restrain them.

Affected cats are also weak and tire very quickly – you may notice it can’t jump as well as it used to. They also can’t cope with stress – short car rides, bathing, boarding or vet visits may weaken them severely or even cause them to collapse.

The digestive system may also be affected, causing vomiting, soft, bulky, stinky stools and sometimes even diarrhoea.

How is hyperthyroidism diagnosed?

Hyperthyroidism can cause a wide variety of clinical signs, many of which can be caused by several other disease processes as well. Vets may perform several tests on your cat to rule out, amongst others, diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, pancreatic disease and cancer. These tests may include blood tests, urine analysis, X-rays and even an electrocardiogram or ECG.

The diagnosis is confirmed by measuring the amount of thyroid hormone circulating in the cat’s blood.   Affected cats’ values may be up to 19 times more than the top normal value.

It is worth noting that up to 10% of affected cats may have borderline or even normal levels of thyroid hormone. These cats are either mildly affected or are suffering from another non related concurrent illness which is suppressing the thyroid levels. Therefore, the vet may decide that a single measurement is not enough to either rule in or – out thyroid disease and may recommend additional tests.

How is hyperthyroidism in cats treated?

Affected cats are generally started on anti-thyroid medication to stop the excessive secretion of thyroid hormones. The medication can be given between one and three times a day. The vet will typically start on a certain dose and repeat the thyroid hormone levels by doing a blood test after two weeks from commencing treatment.

Depending on the result, the dose may be increased or decreased and the blood tests repeated again after two weeks. This process will continue until the thyroid hormone levels return to the normal range. Once this is achieved, thyroid blood levels will need to be retested every 3 to 6 months or whenever otherwise indicated. 

The success of the therapy will mostly depend on you, the owner, as you will be the one tasked with administering the medication. It is important that you stick to the prescribed dosage and return to the vet for scheduled follow-ups or whenever your cat shows any signs of illness.

Cats are notoriously hard to pill! If you find it impossible to administer the medication, let the vet know as soon as possible – we will be happy to show you how to give the medication or help you come up with an alternative.

In some cases the vet may opt to surgically remove either one or both of the thyroid glands. Generally, the procedure cures the disease, but there is always a risk of it recurring – therefor the vet may want to monitor the progression of the disease every 6 to 12 months; if it recurs the cat will have to go onto medication again.

The vet may also recommend a diet change as there are therapeutic diets which have been specifically developed for this condition.

The last option is destruction of the thyroid gland via radioactive iodine, which is currently not readily available in South Africa.

What’s the connection between hyperthyroidism and kidney disease?

Hyperthyroid cats are predisposed to kidney disease due to the effects of the higher metabolism on the kidneys. Conversely, the higher metabolism also masks the signs of kidney failure. Consequently these cats often start showing signs of kidney failure once their thyroid condition is brought under control.

The vet may decide to monitor you cat’s kidney enzyme levels along with the thyroid levels in order to diagnose kidney failure as early as possible.

What’s the connection between hyperthyroidism and heart disease?

Hyperthyroid cats are prone to developing heart murmurs, abnormally fast heart rates and abnormal heart rhythms. The vet may notice these abnormalities when listening to the heart with a stethoscope.

The excessive amount of circulating thyroid hormone makes the heart work harder than normal, which is further worsened by having to keep up with the cat’s higher metabolic rate. Over time the heart muscle starts thickening and/or the heart chambers start dilating to increase their size in an attempt to cope with the increased workload.

Congestive heart failure sets in eventually when the heart cannot keep up anymore fluids starts building up in the lungs and/or the abdomen.

If the vet suspects heart disease, he or she may decide to investigate further with ECGs, ultrasonic heart scans and X-rays. Depending on the findings, the cat may have to go onto heart medication as well.

What is the prognosis for hyperthyroidism in my cat?

The prognosis will depend on the cat’s physical condition, age, and whether other diseases are present. When treated, the average survival rate is 2 years and the quality of life is acceptable.

© 2019 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd