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

 

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

My dog’s nose seems to be all clogged up and hard and he is not well at all

Canine distemper

Following recent outbreaks of Distemper (Hondesiekte in Afrikaans) in Kwa Zulu Natal and Gauteng, it is important to have an understanding of this disease which is fatal in half of all cases of dogs that contract the disease.

What causes Distemper?

Distemper is a virus disease caused by the Canine Distemper Virus or CDV. This virus is a morbillivirus in the Paramyxoviridae family which is a virus group that affects humans, vertebrates and birds. This specific virus is not transmissible to humans but specifically targets dogs hence the name “Canine” Distemper Virus. The virus is closely related to measles virus in humans, and also to rinderpest virus in cattle, which at the beginning of the previous century almost killed the entire cattle population of Southern Africa. It’s a nasty virus.

What are the symptoms of Distemper?

The virus attacks mainly the respiratory system (from the nose right into the lungs), the gastro-intestinal system (from the mouth, through the stomach into the small and large intestines) and the central nervous system (mainly the brain). This means that the symptoms associated with the disease will be related to problems with these three main systems. In acute to subacute infections the dog will usually develop a fever within a day or two from being infected. The dog will go off its food and become weak and lethargic

Respiratory system symptoms may include a clogged up nose typically with mucous or slime that becomes hard, and hardening of the nose itself. This is a very telling symptom of Distemper but is by no means the only, or most typical, presentation of the disease. A dog with distemper may have a perfectly normal nose and still have the disease. Many times there will also be a discharge in the corners of the eyes. Other respiratory symptoms include coughing, sneezing and difficult breathing if the virus attacks the lungs.

If the gastrointestinal systems is affected you may see vomiting and/or diarrhoea.

If the central nervous system is involved you may have muscle tremors, a dog which seems disorientated and walks around as if they are drunk (ataxia), hind limbs which are dragged or seem lazy (paresis), a dog which cannot get up or falls down when they do get up (paralysis), and even seizures. Other symptoms which are not immediately visible and which only the vet may be able to pick up are lesions on the retina at the back of the eye, or an inflammation in the front of the eye called anterior uveitis. Hardening of the footpads  (hyperkeratosis) was previously quite common because of the strains of virus involved, but seem to be less common these days.

How is Distemper diagnosed?

There are several blood tests which can be done by the vet, but it is a difficult disease to diagnose because unlike a disease like biliary or tick fever in dogs where you can see the parasite in the blood with a bloodsmear, in Distemper, as with all other virus diseases, you cannot see the virus as it is simply too small. The trouble with the blood tests are that they are often not conclusive. The reason for this is that some of the tests, test if the dog is building up antibodies (“soldier”) against the virus. However a dog that may previously have been vaccinated may show antibodies and not have the disease. Sometimes the dog may die acutely before the body was able to produce neutralising antibodies, so in that case the test may be negative, yet the dog still had the disease.

Another type of blood test where the white and red blood cells are counted and where the white cells are less than usual, called lymphopenia,  may give an indication that the dog has a virus disease but it will not tell which virus the dog has.

If the dog has central nervous system symptoms, the fluid around the brain and spine called Cerebro Spinal Fluid (CSF) may contain antibodies but once again it may not be 100% diagnostic. There are other tests which can be run on the CSF (cell or protein content) which may be indicative, but does not conclusively confirm that the dog has Distemper.

There are a number of other diseases which can present with similar symptoms which the vet will have to rule out. On the respiratory side there is Kennel Cough or other upper respiratory tract infections. On the intestinal side there is Parvovirus and Coronavirus, parasitism like worms or Giardia, bacterial infections, toxin ingestion or inflammatory bowel disease. On the neurological side there is granulomatous meningoencephalitis, protozoal encephalitis (toxoplasmosis, neosporosis, babesia), cryptococcus or other infections (meningitis, Ehrlichiosis), pug dog encephalitis and lead or other poisoning.

Clearly Distemper is not a simple disease to diagnose and the vet will often have to rely on the age of the dog, its history, the results of the clinical tests and the appearance of the clinical symptoms, to make a diagnosis of Distemper.

How is Distemper transferred?

The virus is typically inhaled through the air from other sick dogs and also from physical contact with infected animals. The virus can survive for a period of time in the environment and if a dog which carries the virus sniffed around or spent time in a certain environment, it will leave tiny, tiny droplets (aerosol) which contain the virus in that area, which can then infect other dogs. A dog which is infected will inhale or ingest the virus and the virus will quickly spread through the mucous membranes to the local lymphnodes (these are like the remote “army bases” of the body which has to protect the body against invasions) where it will multiply and within one week the whole body will be infected.

How is Distemper treated?

Vets have over the years tried antiviral drugs of which there are very few anyway,  and none have been effective. As with almost all virus diseases one has to support the body in its own fight against the virus because it is only once the body has been successful to produce antibodies (the “soldier cells” which kill the “terrorist” or virus), that the dog will be able to overcome the disease. Often, when the body is attacked by viruses and the immune system is fighting hard to overcome the infection, bacteria will cause a secondary infection and make the whole situation worse. Therefore antibiotics are often administered even though it will do nothing against the virus, but at least it will help the body fight off opportunistic bacterial infections and help the body to overcome the disease. Other treatment depends largely on which systems are affected and to what extent. The vet will typically give symptomatic treatment, for example if the dog has seizures, the vet may administer a drug to help contain the seizures and make them less violent. Certain drugs should not be given and it is important to consult with the vet in case you think your dog may suffer from Distemper.

Can Distemper spread to humans or cats?

In the past it was suspected that the Canine Distemper Virus can cause Multiple Sclerosis in humans. However this has been proven NOT to be the case and as far as we know the disease cannot spread from dogs to humans. Similarly, as far as we know, this disease cannot be transferred to domestic cats.

What is the prognosis should my dog contract Distemper?

Unfortunately the prognosis is not good and the mortality rate is 50%. It will be very difficult for the vet to tell whether your dog will fall in the 50% that will survive or the 50% that will not make it. The vet will have to assess the extent and severity of the clinical symptoms and the progression of the disease and based on that, will advise you whether treatment has any chance of success or not. An important thing to remember is that even though the disease may not appear to be very far advanced when you first present your dog to the vet, and there seems to be early good response to treatment, like the clogging of the nose and the discharge in the eyes clearing up, the dog may still develop fatal central nervous system signs later on. It is important to understand that the vet has no control over which way the disease may go and will do his or her best with your animal’s best interest at heart, when recommending treatment or not.

Can Distemper be prevented?

A resounding yes! Vaccination has been hugely effective in almost eradicating this disease and all dogs should be vaccinated, preferably yearly at the same time as their annual health exam. Your vet will give you more specific advice related to the area you live in and the risk factors involved and should the vet think that annual vaccination is not necessary, the vet will advise you accordingly.

Puppies and old dogs are more commonly affected and all puppies should go through an initial vaccination program from 6 weeks onwards to provide protection. Puppies born from mothers who were vaccinated and had antibodies will get this protection from the initial milk or colostrum from the mother in the first few days after birth. The protection provided through the mother’s milk will start waning after six weeks and this is why vets normally start vaccinating at this time, and repeating the vaccination three or four times with booster vaccinations with monthly intervals and then yearly thereafter.

What do I do if I suspect my dog to have Distemper?

Get them to the vet as soon as you can. Home remedies or treatment is unlikely to give your dog a fighting chance. Proper supportive and secondary infection treatment remains the mainstay of treatment.

Most importantly, have your dog vaccinated. Prevention is always better than cure!

© 2019 The Code Company Vetwebsites

My older German Shepherd Dog seems to be getting weak in its hindquarters

This article outlines a genetic disorder that mainly German Shepherd dogs are prone to. There are other breeds affected by this condition too like Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Corgis, Boxers, Wirehaired Fox Terriers and Rhodesian Ridgebacks, however, the disease is mostly seen in German Shepherds.

If one breaks down the name of the disease it describes what happens with the disease. Degeneration refers to a breaking down or deterioration of something. That “something” in this case is myelin which is the insulating sheath around neurons in the spinal cord. Neurons are the “electrical wires” of the nervous system and one can compare myelin to the insulating plastic around the wires, almost like one would find with an electrical cord. Whenever a term is followed by “pathy” it refers to a disease or disorder in a certain part of the body. In this case the spinal cord.

Degenerative Myelopathy is a debilitating condition for which there is no cure but only the potential to slow down the progress.

The occurs typically in older German Shepherd Dogs. The average age at which clinical signs start and progress is from 8 to 12 years of age. This is not a condition with rapid onset but instead is slowly progressive with clinical signs worsening with time. Degenerative myelopathy starts out as a very slowly progressive hind limb weakness and loss of function of the back legs called paresis. It is commonly confused with hip pain because the symptoms can mimic hip dysplasia, another debilitating condition with a high incidence in German Shepherds.

The condition is the result of a demyelination (loss of protective cover) and nerve degeneration of the spinal cord in the region of the mid to hind back. This degeneration is something referred to as an ascending lesion meaning that it starts at the tail end of the spinal cord and works its way towards the head. The underlying cause of the disease is thought to be a genetic mutation (change) of the SOD1 gene. This gene is responsible for the protection of cells against certain particles that damage the DNA of cells. The name given to the damaging particles are free radicles. Under normal circumstances the SOD1 gene produces a free radicle scavenger i.e. it helps to clean up the system and prevents damage to the sheath surrounding the nerves.

The way in which the defect is inherited determines whether a particular dog is at a high risk of getting the disease or if they are a carrier of the genetic mutation without showing clinical signs. An individual dog has to carry 2 copies of the mutation in the genes of the cells of their bodies for it to cause the disease. There is no sex predilection, so male or female dogs may be affected equally. What is interesting about the disease is that even if an individual dog has both copies of the mutated gene and they are at very high risk of developing the disease, there are still other factors that influence whether or not they do contract the disease and to what extent they do.  

As mentioned previously this a slowly progressive condition that has a time frame of about 3 years before severe debilitating disease sets in. The clinical signs noticed in dogs include the following:

After 6 to 12 months of contracting the disease, you will notice weakness and partial loss of function of the back legs. Your dog may seem weak and wobbly on the back legs and they may struggle to get up or be slower to get up that what they used to be. When they run, their back legs may sway abnormally.

After 9 to 18 months on contracting the disease, the back legs start to get even weaker and collapse under the dog from time to time. If one assesses the reflexes in the back legs like the patella reflex, you will find that they are abnormal and weakened.

After 12 to 24 months of contracting the disease, the front legs start to become affected and you may notice that your dog starts losing their normal co-ordination and function. By this point, the hind legs are very weak and your dog may struggle to stand and use their legs correctly. Unfortunately, the nerve degeneration also influences bladder and bowel control and they will start to urinate and defecate involuntarily. This is known as urine and faecal incontinence.

After 24 to 36 month of contracting the disease, and if the dog was able to come this far and still cope with the disease, they develop tetraplegia or quadriplegia which is a paralysis that causes partial or total loss of use of all their limbs and body. The loss is usually sensory and motor, which means that both sensation and control are lost, or put a different way, the dog does not know where its legs are and even if they did, they do not have the ability to correct it. Clearly a very unhappy situation.

The way in which this condition is diagnosed by the vet is through a number of tests as well as the typical clinical signs and also the breed of your dog. These, together with the thorough history of the condition, should provide the veterinarian with some very important clues to what is going on with your dog. The important diseases or differential diagnoses to rule out are spinal disc disease (like a slipped disc) and conditions affecting the lower part of the spine where the hips meet the spine, like hip dysplasia or joint disease. The biggest difference with degenerative myelopathy and the other conditions is that degenerative myelopathy is painless because it is the loss of sensation and function which underlies this disease. Special tests such as MRI’s may be done to visualise the damage within the spinal cord and there is also a DNA test available to check if your dog has the genetic mutation discussed earlier.

Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment available. Certain supplements can be used in an attempt to slow down the condition, such as vitamin E and aminocaproic acid. The vitamin E is an essential vitamin which helps various systems in the body to protect it from these damaging free radicles. The aminocaproic acid is an agent used to prevent the breakdown of clots in the bloodstream. The reasoning behind using this is that it is believed that the spinal cord may be indirectly attacked by the body’s own immune system. Antibodies in the bloodstream attach to the foreign material within the bloodstream forming complexes and these stimulate a response from the immune system. These complexes are usually removed by the liver and spleen. Sometimes they can stick to the walls of blood vessels, damage the walls and stimulate the formation of blood clots. The breakdown of these clots are associated with inflammation and this may result in damage to the surrounding tissues, so-called collateral damage. If this happens in the sensitive tissues of the spinal cord, the damage is devastating because the nervous tissue is not able to regenerate and repair itself. The thinking behind using aminocaproic acid is to inhibit clot breakdown in these delicate tissues.

Lastly and most importantly, the most effective treatment for this condition and the only one proven to actually slow down the progress is the use of physiotherapy and hydrotherapy. Another key factor is, the sooner the dog is diagnosed and treatment started, the better the progress of the disease can be slowed, and the more time the vet can give you with your dog. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that eventually, the disease will lead to complete paralysis and eventually, in most cases, euthanasia.

Genetic disorders like degenerative myelopathy can only be prevented by not breeding with animals where there is a family history of the disease. Make sure if you buy a puppy, that you get references on a breeder before you buy.

©2018 Vetwebsites The Code Company (Pty) Ltd

I found a lump on my animal’s skin. Is it cancer?

Finding a lump or a bump in your pet which you have never noticed before, can cause serious worry for pet owners. This article will highlight what to watch out for when to take your pet to the vet and the process veterinarians follow when approaching any lump found on a pet.

Firstly, it is always important to remember that you can never tell how serious a mass on your pet is by simply feeling it and judging by its size. Dynamite can often come in small packages and some of the most aggressive skin cancers may present as a simple small raised area on the skin. Generally, lumps on a cat tend to be more dangerous and they are not something to be ignored. All growths have to start small but may grow very rapidly. Lumps come in all shapes and sizes and for that reason, it is always best to get any lump on the skin or underneath the skin checked by the veterinarian as soon as you discover it. This will provide peace of mind to you as an owner if it is simply a dermal cyst or a small wart-like growth, both of which will not cause any major health issues for your pet. Alternatively, if it is something more aggressive and dangerous, it is always better to start treatment as soon as possible. If it is determined to be a bad type of growth (malignant), the sooner it is diagnosed the better the prognosis for both removing it surgically or starting any other form of treatment.

When you bring your animal to the vet there are a few questions the vet will ask that are essential to determine when and if the lump will be removed.

1. When did you notice the mass and has it grown since noticing it? Masses that grow quickly will invariably need to be removed regardless of the cells that make up the mass. The reason for this is that it will only continue to enlarge and may eventually lead to impaired function of the area of the body it is growing from or may cause discomfort and become more difficult to remove later on.

2. Is the lump bothering your pet, are they scratching, biting or licking it? Any lump that bothers your pet is causing them discomfort and this is the last thing we want. It also predisposes them to infections in the area as the licking and scratching will traumatise the mass with a subsequent breakdown in the skin’s protective barrier.

3. Has your pet ever had any other masses that were of concern? Certain growths on the skin, mast cell tumours for example, do have a tendency to regrow or spread to other areas. Once the vet has gained sufficient information from the pet owner, a more in-depth assessment of the lump will commence.

Usually, a visit to the vet will start with the vet obtaining a history from you regarding the pet’s health which will then be followed by a physical clinical examination of your pet. The vet will then examine the appearance of the lump and determine if there are any other lumps present on or under the skin. The appearance of a mass may give a clue as to what the mass might be. A small round firm lump may simply be a cyst. Small superficial wart-like growths on the skin surface are often benign and only need to be monitored. If they are injured or bleed, they may have to be removed. A dermal cyst may eventually rupture discharging its contents and resolve on its own.  A dermal cyst may however re-occur and the only way to get rid of it for good will be to surgically remove it. Once the vet has had a look at the appearance of the mass they will then most likely perform a fine needle aspirate. This procedure involves placing a needle into the mass with a syringe attached to the needle. The plunger of the syringe is drawn back and with some luck, a small sample of the cells making up the lump will be drawn into the needle. Once this small sample of cells is obtained it is sprayed onto a glass slide for fixing, staining and observation under a microscope. It is rare for the vet to make a definitive diagnosis of what type of growth and how aggressive it is with a single or even multiple fine needle aspirates. However, the small sample of cells obtained may give the vet an idea of the type of cells making up the growth and how urgently it needs to be removed, if at all. There are three types of lumps which can generally be identified more accurately based on these small samples which are, lipomas (which is a benign fatty growth not considered to be a cancer), mast cell tumours (which is a bad type of cancer) and a melanomas (which is a really bad type of cancer). The exclusion of these three types of growths already helps somewhat in determining a prognosis. If it does turn out to be a mast cell tumour or a melanoma, the grade and the subtype of these masses will still need to be determined so just identifying it is not enough. Generally, the vet can determine the type of cells present, for example, a round cell tumour, which may be present in a number of specific growths, but the final diagnosis of which type of round cell tumour and the stage cancer can only be definitively identified by histopathology. Histopathology is where either the full growth or a portion of it is removed surgically and sent to a specialist pathologist who then examines the tissue sample sent with high-resolution microscopy and makes a definitive diagnosis. Round cell tumours generally have to be removed surgically as they grow quickly and are locally invasive into surrounding tissues. Other cell types that may be seen are spindle cells, epithelial cells, glandular cells, fat cells etc. If a cyst is aspirated then one will only see cyst material or debris and no obvious cells. If these lumps are subsequently gently squeezed, the contents of the cysts will be extruded.

Any lump or bump which is cancerous should be surgically removed and sent for histopathology for definitive diagnosis and grading. This is also important to ensure that the surgical margins are clear which means that all cancer cells were removed and none of the growth was left behind. This is particularly important for very aggressive tumours such as mast cell tumours, as they invade the surrounding tissue easily and to a large extent. To remove these tumours, a margin of 3 cm around the entire mass, and 2 tissue planes deep have to be removed by the surgeon. The resulting wound to be closed after surgical removal of a tumour can be very extensive with a high risk of post-operative complications. It is with these masses, as you could imagine, that the smaller the growth, the better it is to catch it early.

Instances where you would not remove lumps and bumps include

  1. cases of wart-like growths on the skin called adenoma’s. Unless they have been traumatised by the animal scratching, biting or licking them or where they have grown too large, it does not have to be removed.
  2. dermal cysts come and go and unless the owner wants them permanently removed, they do not need to be surgically removed.
  3. the very common growth known as a lipoma, which is a soft lump underneath the skin which is usually not firmly attached to the underlying tissues and do not seem to bother the animal at all. A lipoma is, in essence, a tumour of fatty tissue, but it is benign and only grows locally.

Lipomas are generally benign, well-encapsulated growths which do not invade surrounding tissues and they can sometimes grow very large, sometimes up to the size of a rugby ball, without posing any systemic risk to the animal. The problem is that they become a physical problem which interferes with the animal’s sitting or lying down or movement. Smaller lipomas can initially be monitored and not removed, but should they continue to grow, it is advisable to get them surgically removed before they start to interfere with your pets ability to move and live a normal comfortable life.

In conclusion, when you find a lump or bump on your pet, rather take them to the vet to have it checked out so that it can be diagnosed and treated. If advised by the veterinarian to remove the growth, it is always better to do it sooner rather than later. Lastly, remember that no growth is too small to be ignored.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

Can my kitten make me sick?

There are many diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. These diseases are called zoonotic diseases. Although the list below is by no means comprehensive, some of the more common diseases that we can get from our household pets are:

  • Ringworm, which is a fungal infection of the skin
  • Hook worm, roundworm and tapeworm infection
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Cat scratch disease
  • Scabies, a mite that causes severe itchiness and skin lesions

In this article we are going to look at cat scratch disease (CSD), the cause of it, the symptoms and how to prevent it. Cat scratch disease, or cat scratch fever, is caused by an organism called Bartonella henselae or formerly called Rochalimaea henselae. It is a small anaerobic (organism which does not need oxygen to survive), gram-negative, non-motile bacterium. Domestic cats are the natural hosts for this organism and the animal from which humans can contract the disease (also known as the vector). If a cat harbors this bacterium, the cat very rarely shows any signs of the disease which is described as asymptomatic. It is therefore impossible to tell if a cat is infected with this organism without further testing. Fleas are the organism responsible for transmission of the disease between cats and therefore flea control is one of the best ways to prevent this disease. The infection rate is much higher in a population of cats that are flea ridden and can be as high as 61%. As a cat scratches and bites at fleas, the organism gets stuck between their teeth and under their nails. Kittens younger than 12 months are 15 times more likely to carry the infection than adult cats.

Cats transmit the disease to humans when they bite or scratch a person, causing a break in the skin. There is no evidence to suggest that fleas can transmit the disease directly to humans through a flea bite. Bacteria are also found on the coat of infected cats and can be transmitted to a person with open wounds on their skin by just stroking or holding an infected cat. Bacteria enter the wound of the affected human and causes local inflammation with swelling and redness of the area. A vesicle or an erythematous papule (a small blister almost like a pimple) may form at the site of initial infection during the progression of the infection. Soon after the initial bite or scratch, people develop signs of fever, headaches, decreased appetite, nausea, muscle pain, chills and joint pain. There is a swelling of the lymph glands closest to the area where the initial bite occurred. This is also known as a regional lymphadenopathy. The lymph glands become enlarged and painful and the nodes glands most commonly affected are in the armpit, the groin and the junction between the neck and jaw.

Cat scratch fever is a self-limiting disease in people with a healthy immune system. The disease resolves without specific treatment within 6 to 12 weeks. In children younger than 5 years as well as immune compromised people, complications can occur. Impaired immune systems can be the result of HIV infection or cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. In these cases treatment is necessary and this entails putting the patient on a course of antibiotic tablets which has to be prescribed by a medical doctor. Complications that can occur in patients with weakened immune systems are the following:

  • Meningoencephalitis (infection of the membrane around the brain)
  • Encephalopathy (infection of the brain itself)
  • Seizures
  • Endocarditis (infection of the heart)
  • Granulomatous conjunctivitis (infection in the eye)
  • Optic neuritis (damage to the main nerve running from the brain to the eye)

The best way to avoid this disease is to avoid situations where you can be bitten by a cat. Kittens are often playful and rough play frequently results in scratches or even bites. When bitten or scratched, it is important to wash the wound thoroughly under running water and cleaning it with a disinfectant. Never let cats lick open wounds on your skin. Since the disease is transmitted to cats by fleas, good tick and flea control is very important in your cat. It is important to take note that you should treat all your animals (dogs, cats and any other animals you may have) for fleas, even if you find just one flea on only one animal in your household. It is often difficult to see fleas on your cat because by grooming themselves they actually often catch and shallow fleas during the process. It is advised that people with weakened immune systems adopt cats that are older than one year of age, since kittens are the most likely carriers of the disease. Keeping your cat’s nails trimmed can also help prevent infection.

If you experience any of the above named symptoms after being bitten or scratched by your cat, it is strongly advised that you see your doctor.

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My dog is scooting on its backside and I think it has worms

Many veterinarians are presented by concerned pet owners about the animal’s scooting or dragging their backsides along the ground by holding the back legs up in the air and pulling themselves forward by the front legs whilst remaining in a seated position. The owner often thinks that the animal may have worms and is trying to get the worms out their backside by dragging it along the ground. Although this is quite possible to be the case, especially in the case of tapeworm infestation, it is unlikely to be the cause. The most common cause for this behaviour is uncomfortable anal glands.

Anal sac disease is the most common disease entity of the anal region in dogs. The anal sacs, commonly referred to as anal glands, are located on either side of the anus at 4 ’o clock and 8 ’o clock and are present in cats and dogs. The sacs are reservoirs for a secretion produced by glands within the wall of the sacs. The sacs have little ducts, which open just within the anus and connect the sacs to the outside. The secretion is released when the animal passes stool or when they are scared or nervous. It is often yellowy brown to grey and foul smelling to us, but it is an important scent marker in dogs. These are the same glands that are responsible for the foul smell secreted by skunks when they are threatened.

The sacs can become inflamed, infected and blocked and occasionally tumours can form within them. Small breed dogs appear predisposed to anal sac disease, although medium and large breed dogs can be affected too.

Why do the anal sacs cause a problem in dogs?

Anal sac disease is relatively common in dogs. The anal glands become blocked or impacted due to the ducts becoming inflamed. The anal gland secretion thickens and the sacs become full and swollen. The glands can be described as being inspissated. It can become painful for the animal to pass a stool or defaecate. If the sac is not emptied, the contents are a perfect medium for bacterial growth and for an abscess to form. The abscess will appear as a red, painful and swollen area on one or both sides of the anus. Sometimes, the abscess can burst. If left untreated, the abscess can spread infection to the anus and rectum.

What clinical signs can you expect?

Clinical signs are associated with pain when the patient sits or passes a stool. Commonly, anal gland disease will present with the dog licking the area around the anus, scooting (rubbing the anus along the ground) and the animal may experience pain when passing stool. Sometimes, an abscess may form that then bursts. Blood or pus may be seen around the anus.

What treatment is there for anal sac disease?

On clinical examination, the veterinarian will perform a digital exam of the rectum. This is very useful as the sacs can be nicely felt or palpated. The vet will try and express the glands. If there is an abscess or a tumour, this is not always possible. Normal anal sac fluid is thin and the sacs are easily expressed. The anal sac fluid can become very thick and difficult to express. If the sacs are just inflamed, they may need to be expressed manually over a few days. In the case of an abscess, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories may be required. Sometimes, antibiotics may be instilled into the sac for a few days. In some very severe cases and in the case of anal sac tumours the sac and duct will need to be removed surgically by a veterinary surgeon.

Can anal sac disease become a chronic problem?

Some dogs can have recurrent anal sac impactions or abscess. Overweight dogs tend to be overrepresented, as the sacs do not always empty completely. With each impaction or abscess, the sacs can become scarred and so making emptying even more difficult. The anal sacs may need to be manually expressed more regularly and in chronic cases surgically removing the gland may be an option. Adding fibre to the diet to bulk up the faeces may assist in emptying the sacs as the stool passes through the anus. Speak to your vet about your pet’s nutrition to ensure you are using the best diet possible to counter this disease.

Although the anal sac secretion is an important territorial scent marker, it is not important in the domestic dog, so removing the sac should not cause any adverse effects if done correctly.

Even though anal sac disease is the most common reason dogs scoot, one has to always ensure that it is not in actual fact worms that cause this behaviour. It is sound practice to deworm your dogs and cats at least three to four times a year with a good broad spectrum dewormer you can get from the vet.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty.) Ltd.

Is your pet safe?

Fatal Diseases that can easily be prevented

There are some fairly common fatal diseases in animals which can and should be prevented wherever possible. This article looks at how these diseases present, what they lead to and most importantly how they could be prevented. Today we have more information about our animals and the diseases they may suffer from than ever before. With this knowledge comes the means of preventing these conditions that years ago would have meant certain death to our beloved pets. The most important means of disease prevention readily available to us is vaccination. A simple annual health check and vaccinations can help ensure your pet lives a long and healthy life. Other important means of prevention includes regular deworming as well as tick and flea treatment.

Here are just a few of the conditions our animals can be prevented from getting:

Rabies (affects dogs and cats)

Rabies is a viral disease affecting the brain and spinal cord of all mammals, including cats, dogs and importantly humans as well. This is a fatal condition for which there is no cure once infection has taken hold. It is important to remember that the idea we have of rabies and how an infected animal may present and act may only be half the story.  A rabies infected animal (domestic and wild animals alike) can present in one of two forms – the commonly known aggressive form, and the lesser known ‘dumb’ form. The aggressive form will be the animal that appears very aggressive, tries to bite and often is salivating at the mouth. The ‘dumb’ form is unusual and not well known because animals appear tame, calm, docile and even slightly sedated. These animals may have excessive salivation but not always. This animal appears calm until approached and then will just as easily bite you. Both forms have the same end result for the infected animal or human – severe inflammation and damage to the nervous system resulting in death. Rabies is transmitted through contact with an infected animal’s saliva, most often through a bite but other contact may also result in infection. In the event contact is made with any body fluids of an infected animal there is a risk for infection.

Treatment: None

Prevention: Vaccination

Distemper (this is a disease that only affects dogs)

Distemper is a serious viral disease that is highly contagious and for which there is no known treatment. This virus is transmitted through direct or indirect contact with infected animals, and may even be transmitted via the air. This virus first attacks the tonsils and lymphatic system (the body’s drainage and filter system) and then spreads to the gastrointestinal, respiratory, urogenital (kidneys and bladder system) and nervous systems. Initially the dog is feverish and un-well and there may be vomiting and diarrhea. Later there is progression to involve other internal organs and systems including the brain which may lead to seizures, behavioural changes, paralysis etc. Animals may also develop hard thickened foot pads. Most animals diagnosed with distemper need to be euthanised.

Treatment: None

Prevention: Vaccination

Parvoviral infection (CatFlu) in dogs

Parvovirus infection is mainly a problem in young unvaccinated puppies but can also affect dogs of any age if they have not been vaccinated. Initially is was thought that dogs contracted this disease from cats but this is not true and cats are not affected by this disease at all. The small and very tough virus that causes this disease attacks and destroys the intestines, resulting in vomiting, lack of appetite, and a severe watery bloody diarrhea. Even with intensive treatment puppies often succumb to dehydration with loss of nutrients and electrolytes essential for life. Treatment is costly, intensive and can still result in the death of your pup. Parvo is a preventable disease, with adequate vaccination of mom, ensuring she passes on essential protective antibodies to her pups. Once the pups are born they have to undergo a complete puppy vaccination program from 6 weeks of age onwards to ensure they remain protected at all times.

Treatment: Intensive therapy with intravenous fluids by having the dog on a drip, antibiotics (which cannot kill the virus but protect against bacteria infecting the animal whilst the virus is causing damage, drugs to prevent vomiting, electrolyte supplementation, nasogastric tube feeding and monitoring of electrolytes, proteins and blood counts

Prevention: Vaccination

Infectious Canine Hepatitis (affects dogs)

Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH) is a worldwide, contagious disease of dogs with clinical signs varying from a mild fever and red mucous membranes to severe depression, white blood cells deficiency, and bleeding tendencies. It is also carried by a number of wild canids (dog like animals) such as foxes, wolves and others. These carriers don’t often show clinical signs of the disease but are important in its spread to our dogs. As suggested by the name this virus attacks the liver primarily and results in varying degrees of damage which leads to clinical disease. The disease in a dog can vary from a mild fever from which they can potentially recover with supportive treatment, to death (especially in younger animals). The main route of infection occurs through ingestion (either directly/indirectly) of urine, feces, or saliva of infected dogs. Dogs that have survived infection shed the virus in their urine for more than 6 months. 

Treatment: Supportive and symptomatic treatment which includes fluid therapy (placing them on a drip), antibiotics to prevent secondary invasion of the body by bacteria and controlling the bleeding tendencies that result from the damaged liver which amongst other things produce the clotting factors which prevent an animal from bleeding spontaneously.

Prevention: In recent years there has been a reduction in the incidence of this disease as a direct result of active vaccination programs. Vaccination is the only sure way of preventing the disease and with the many carriers of the disease it is important our animals are continuously protected.

Feline Panleukopenia (affects cats)

Feline panleukopenia is a highly contagious, often fatal, viral disease of cats that is seen worldwide with kittens being the most severely affected. The virus is very resistant and can persist in the environment for a long time. Cats are infected by exposure to the stools or other secretions of infected animals or contaminated objects. The virus infects and destroys actively dividing cells in bone marrow, lymphoid tissues, intestinal cells, and in young animals the nervous system. It may also lead to abortions in pregnant cats. Animals infected with this virus may die acutely, or may present with fever, weakness and later vomiting and diarrhea. On examination they often have painful abdomens. They can also appear anemic (pale). Eventually affected animals become systemically ill and septic, eventually resulting in their death. In young kittens affected with the virus they can show a variety of nervous signs such as ataxia and tremors with increasing severity depending on the age of the kitten when infected and the extent of damage to the nervous tissue.

Treatment: Supportive and symptomatic treatment with fluid therapy, antibiotics (to prevent secondary bacterial infection), checking electrolytes and other body systems on an ongoing basis until the animal is better. Some animals may even require blood transfusions with severely anemia. The outcome of treatment cannot be guaranteed.

Prevention: Vaccination.

If you are in any doubt as to when your animals should be vaccinated or what diseases they should be vaccinated against, please phone the veterinarian to book an appointment and to make sure you keep your animals safe from potentially fatal diseases.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty.) Ltd.

Ear Infections in Your Pet

Ear infections are common in dogs, and to a lesser degree in cats. The anatomy of the animal predisposes them to this condition. The ear canal of the dog and cat follows the shape of an “L”, going first downwards and then horisontally. This shape makes it difficult for debris and water that go into the ear to come out, against the force of gravity.

Causes and diagnosis of ear infection

When the ear canal is wet and dirty, bacteria and yeast called Malassezia flourish. Other factors that can play a role less commonly are ear mites or even ticks which creep into the ear canal, any type of growth or foreign body, allergies, or a thyroid gland which malfunctions (hypothyroidism). With a bacterial overgrowth the discharge from the ear is usually yellowish in colour and resembles pus. With a yeast infection the discharge may have more of a dark brown or black colour, and has a distinct smell. It is also possible to have mixed infections within the ear. The vet will diagnose what type of infection is present by looking into the ear with an instrument called an otoscope, and by making a smear of the material accumulating in the ear by putting a small amount of the ear discharge onto a glass slide, staining it and then looking at what cells and organisms are present under the microscope. In more complex or recurring cases the vet will take some of this material from the ear and send it to a laboratory to establish exactly what type or bacteria or organisms is present (called a culture). This process of diagnosis is important as it affects the treatment plan for the animal.

Certain dogs are predisposed to ear infections, and for this reason the condition often recurs in these patients. The condition in these cases will never be totally cured and can only be managed. Dogs that love swimming, such as Labradors, are predisposed to ear infections because they have water entering the ear canal on a more frequent basis. Dogs that have large floppy ears, like Poodles and Cocker Spaniels are also predisposed as this conformation often prevents the ears from drying out properly. Dogs that have a lot of hair in the ear canal, like Schnauzers and Poodles, are also prone to infections, as debris and moisture can become trapped in the hair.

Ear infections are quite rare in cats but Persians are the most predisposed breed of this species. In cats itchy ears are usually because of an ear mite infection, rather than bacteria or yeast. An infection with bacteria or yeast in a cat is quite frequently associated with an underlying illness such as Feline Leukemia Virus, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or diabetes. There is increased risk of infection in these animals because the immune system is depressed.

Signs of an infection commonly include scratching at the ears and shaking the head and may also include animals tilting their heads. There may be an unpleasant odour and you may notice a discharge. This is not always seen as other pets in the home may have licked at the infected ears to clean them. The ears may also become swollen or red, and even show crusting or scabbing of the skin. A common side effect of an ear infection is the formation of an othaematoma. This is a painful swelling of the ear that results from a collection of blood under the skin because of the vigorous shaking of the head which causes blood vessels in the ear to burst. Large othaematomas often require surgical correction.

In extreme cases animals may lose their sense of balance. Severe cases may also show disturbance of the nervous system such as walking in circles or unusual eye movements. Loss of hearing can also result from a severe infection. It is important to treat an ear infection promptly so that it does not progress to the more serious stages, and also to help relieve the discomfort that the infected animal is suffering.

Treatment of ear infections

One of the most common reasons for clients to change vets is because of the perception that the vet fails to get the ear infection under control permanently with treatment. It is important to understand that some ear infections will never be cured and can only be managed. This is as a result of other underlying reasons leading to ear infection. Animals which suffer with inhalant allergy, also known as Atopy, are very prone to itchy skin, called atopic dermatitis (derma-skin, -titis – inflammation). Because the ears form part of the skin, the ears and the inner parts of the ear canal will be affected leading to a red, warm and swollen surface (inflammation), which is a wonderful breeding ground for bacteria and yeasts to grow.

Treatment of ear infections therefore always start at trying to identify, address and alleviate underlying causes. If the underlying causes are addressed, the ear infection will in many cases not return after successful treatment. However in certain instances, it is not possible to completely eliminate the underlying cause. In these instances, it is important to reduce and manage the underlying cause as much as possible, which in turn will reduce the treatment required for ear infection. It may be a life-long problem which is incurable, but can be managed by periodic treatment.

Establishing the underlying cause may be quite difficult in itself and may require an extensive period (at least 8 weeks) of changing the dog or cat’s food to a very specific anti-allergenic diet. In certain cases of allergy, blood tests or other skin tests may need to be done to determine what exactly triggers the allergy, and vaccinations against these triggers can be formulated for the animal. Treatment of underlying causes in itself may be expensive and time consuming, and this does not even address the ear infection itself.

Once the underlying cause has been identified and addressed, treatment involves cleaning the ears and in most cases administering drops into the ears. If the infection is far advanced the ear canal will be very swollen and in most cases extremely painful, which means that the animal will have to have a general anesthetic to clean out the ears properly. In severe or recurring cases the vet may take a swab of the ear and send it to a laboratory to establish exactly what type or bacteria or organisms is present (called a culture). Further to this the vet may request a test to establish which antibiotics will work against the organisms found. In some cases severe resistance to medication has been developed by some organisms which will require special attention.

In mild cases the vet may prescribe a cleaning liquid which will need to be applied to “flush” the ears before medication is put into the ear. To clean the ears, the cleaning agent is squirted into the ear. The ear is then agitated by firmly rubbing the base of the ear. This is to help spread the cleaning agent and increase its contact with the inner surface of the ear. Remember to stand back when you have done this because most dogs will shake vigorously after this exercise. This shaking helps to loosen up material stuck in the ear canal. Once the animal has had a good shake, cotton wool or tissue paper is used to wipe up the cleaning agent and the wax from inside the ear. It is important that cotton wool buds are not used as these are small enough to penetrate too far into the ear and can damage the eardrum. There is no risk of this happening with a finger and cotton wool.

The cleaning agent will help to dissolve the wax present in the ears and create a healthier environment where the infective organisms are less likely to flourish. Once the ears have been flushed, medicated drops will have to in inserted which normally contain agents that act against the specific organisms demonstrated on the ear smear or culture as well as anti-inflammatory and soothing agents. In most cases treatment will have to be administered daily for a number of days or weeks.

In some cases systemic treatment like a course of antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medication to be taken by mouth may also be prescribed.  The vet may start off this treatment by giving some injections.

Ear infections are seen commonly in small animal practice. If you suspect that your pet is suffering from an ear infection there is no need for alarm, but attending to it promptly with a visit to the vet is advised. Some ear infections will never be cured and will require ongoing treatment and lifelong management.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty.) Ltd.

“Crocodile Mite” skin disease in dogs and cats

Demodex is a mite that lives in the hair follicles of most mammals. It is species specific which means that different types of animals, including humans, have their own type of mite. It is a normal inhabitant of the skin and is most commonly not contagious. The mite is usually passed on to puppies from their mother in the first 72 hours of life. The puppy's immune system usually copes to contain the mite but sometimes an overgrowth of the mites occurs and this is when symptoms of demodicosis also referred to as mange are seen. Mange is a collective name for skin disease caused by different types of mites of which the Demodex mite is only one.

There are two main forms of demodectic mange:

  • Localised demodex – this generally involves fewer than five lesions and is most commonly seen in puppies.
  • Generalised demodex – involves 5 or more lesions and there are most commonly one or two areas of infection. It is commonly seen on the face and muzzle or two or more feet. Generalised demodicosis always requires treatment.

Juvenile onset demodicosis occurs in animals under 18 months. Localised juvenile onset demodicosis usually involves a focal lesion. It resolves without treatment as the puppy's immune system matures. It is most commonly seen as a small patch or patches of hairloss. It is generally not itchy. It can occur anywhere on the body but is commonly seen on the head.

Generalised demodicosis needs to be treated. It is thought to develop due to a defect in the immune system and it is advisable not to breed with these animals. As vets we normally recommend sterilisation once the infection is under control. 

Adult onset demodicosis occurs in animals older than 18 months. It happens as a result of something affecting the immune system. Predisposing factors may include immunosuppresive drugs such as corticosteroids, a high burden of other parasites, such as ticks, fleas or worms, poor nutrition and stress. In cases where a cause cannot be found, this is described as idiopathic. Some breeds seem to be more predisposed demodex skin disease. Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, English Bulldogs and Chinese Sharpeis have been found to be overrepresented.

Generalised and adult onset demodicosis can become a severe chronic disease and animals may develop secondary bacterial infections. It is important to try and find the underlying cause. Some animals may require life long, chronic treatment, particularly in cases of idiopathic demodicosis.

Clinical signs

In localised cases there will be most often one or two small  lesions of hairloss also referred to as alopecia. The patient may or may not be itchy. In generalised cases you may see hairless areas, redness of the skin, darkening and thickening of the skin, increased pigmentation and draining lesions due to secondary infections. The feet and face are most commonly affected.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is made on a deep skin scrape or biopsy. A skin scrape is a very quick procedure and involves scrapping the skin until a small amount of blood is seen. Sometimes multiple scrapes have to be made to find the parasites because they live deep inside the hair follicles. The material obtained is looked at under a microscope. The mites are easily identified by their distinct shape. The mite is sometimes described as resembling a crocodile or cigar. It has an elongated body with short legs. 

Treatment

As described before, juvenile onset, localised demodex usually resolves without treatment. Juvenile onset generalised and adult onset localised and generalised demodex needs to be treated. Treatment may include an oral or injectable antiparasiticide. The most commonly used product is ivermectin, a macrocyclic lactone. This product is actually a product registered for use in cattle and sheep and is not registered for use in dogs but it has been found to be effective and is safe (except in the Collie breeds) if it is correctly tapered up to the effective dose. Collie and Collie crossbreeds cannot always metabolise the drug, so it is important that the safety in these dogs is tested before starting treatment. This is done by testing the blood for the presence of the MDR gene. The test will need to be sent off. The vet will recommend testing these breeds before starting any treatment.

Treatment is continued for twice as long as it took to clear the infection and your pet will require regular check ups and skin scrapes. So if the infection took one month to clear, treatment will continue for another month.

The vet may also recommend using a dip in some severe cases. The dip will more often than not contain amitraz. Amitraz can be toxic so it is important to follow the instructions when mixing up the dip. It is also toxic to cats so care should be taken when you have a household with both cats and dogs.

There are also some spot on treatments available which have been registered to treat demodex in dogs. They also contain Amitraz. It is usually recommended to do six weekly treatments but this will depend on the severity of the infection and the judgement of the vet in each individual case.

Demodex in cats

Demodex is rarely diagnosed in cats. More often than not, if it is diagnosed, there is an underlying condition affecting the immune system. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), Feline Leukaemia virus (FeLV), Diabetes Mellitus and cancer can predispose the cat to developing demodex. It is most commonly seen on the face and ears and presents as generalised hairloss on the head and neck with crusting and potential secondary infection. It can affect the eyelids and the region around the eyes and ear canal is often affected. Cats can be infected with two different types of demodex, of which one is contagious and can be passed on to other cats. As Amitraz is toxic to cats, the condition is treated with Macrocyclic Lactones or sulphur lime. Because the condition is often due to the presence of an immunosuppresive disease, cats will often require life long treatment.

Conclusion

Demodex is a relatively common condition in dogs and more rarely seen in cats. It is generally an easily identifiable condition and in most cases is easily treatable. Treatment does however require dedication from the owner, particularly when it occurs in adult dogs and cats. In adult onset demodicosis it is important to try and manage any underlying conditions, maintain nutrition and reduce any stressful situations. Even in these cases, demodex can be managed and your pet can lead a normal and happy life.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty.) Ltd.