My Collie is bumping into things and seems to have difficulty with its eye sight

What is Collie eye anomaly?

Collie Eye Anomaly is an inherited condition affecting both eyes of many different Collie type breeds of dogs. Interesting to note, that not only Collie breeds are affected but also some other breeds. Affected breeds include Rough and Smooth Collies, the Shetland Sheepdog, the Australian Shepherd, the Border Collie, the Lancashire Heeler, and the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. 

The region of the eye affected by this genetic condition is called the choroid. The choroid is the layers of blood vessels and pigment between the sensory membrane that lines the inner surface of the back of the eyeball (the retina) and the outer white covering of the eye (the sclera). The locations of all the parts being described can be seen in the image below. 

The primary lesion is typically the underdevelopment of the choroid called hypoplasia, which results in the appearance of a pale spot on the back surface of the eye when looking through the pupil. More severe consequences may occur such as retinal detachment or bleeding in the eye, both of which may lead to blindness. The back part of the eye where the main nerve that runs from the brain the eye comes into the eye is called the optic disc. With Collie Eye Anomaly one will often find small areas of indentations next to the optic disc. These indentations look like holes in the structure of the eye and are also described as colobomas. The degree to which an individual animal may be affected varies considerably, from very mild, to severe enough that eyesight may be lost completely. The lesions are not progressive and normally do not worsen over time. Mildly affected dogs will just have the pale spot seen on the side of the optic disc. There will be no impact on the dog’s ability to see and the pale spots may be seen in very young puppies and not in adults. The choroidal blood vessels may be reduced in number and abnormal in shape. Up to 25% of dogs that are severely affected will have severe complications that result in significant vision loss. These include the retinal detachment (loosening of the membrane at the back of the eye), bleeding (ocular haemorrhage) and colobomas. This can happen in these severely affected dogs before two years of age and the severity in both eyes may differ. It is very rare for only one eye to be affected by this condition Although this condition does affect vision, it is fairly rare for a dog to be completely blind in both eyes.

How does a dog get Collie Eye Anomaly?

Collie Eye Anomaly is a fairly common condition in affected breeds that has its roots in breeding with affected animals who have not been identified as carriers of the genetic defect responsible. The single most important fact to remember is that Collie Eye Anomaly is genetic and all affected dogs can pass the disorder on to their offspring. It is therefore essential that regardless of the severity of the condition in any individual dog, that they should not be used for breeding. All dogs from affected breeds should be clinically examined and genetically tested before breeding to avoid this unwanted condition to be passed onto their offspring. 

How is Collie Eye Anomaly diagnosed?

Diagnosis of this condition is generally confirmed through an ophthalmic (eye) examination by a veterinary eye specialist (veterinary ophthalmologist). The back of the eye is examined through an ophthalmoscope and an area of pallor is identified. This may be done from as early as 5 – 8 weeks of age. As the puppy grows, the retina becomes more pigmented and this may mask the changes in the choroid which means that the eye exam at an older age may appear to be normal, yet the dog still has the condition and is still a carrier of the gene which causes this condition. It is for this reason that all puppies must be examined at a young age, especially if they may be used for breeding later in life. Another fact to understand is that even a mildly affected dog may produce offspring that can be severely affected. 

There is also a genetic test available that may be used by vets and breeders to avoid transmission of the disease to the next generation.

How does Collie Eye Anomaly spread?

Having established that Collie Eye Anomaly is a genetic condition where the structure of gene changes (known as a mutation), fortunately, the gene mutation responsible for the defect has been identified. This mutation is found on chromosome 37 on dogs. This is a recessive mutation. A recessive gene is a gene that can be masked by a dominant gene. To have a trait that is expressed by a recessive gene, both parents must pass on the mutated chromosome for the condition to be clinically apparent. 

How is Collie Eye Anomaly treated?

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for Collie Eye Anomaly. The best way to prevent this in our dogs is to take part in conscientious responsible breeding, testing all animal from a young age and only breeding with dogs that are negative for both clinical signs and absent genetic mutation. This is our only weapon in the battle against a condition that can be very debilitating to affected pets and it is our responsibility to ensure we aim to breed for the health of our dogs above any other trait that may be deemed desirable.

What is the prognosis if my dog is diagnosed with Collie Eye Anomaly?

The prognosis of Collie Eye Anomaly depends on the extent to which the individual dog is affected. The condition does not normally progress however in early severe cases the indentations (colobomas) around the optic disc where the eye nerve enters the eye from the brain may lead to retinal detachment, which will make the condition severe at an early stage and lead to complete blindness which may lead to euthanasia. If the condition is not so severe and there is partial loss of sight, the dog will learn to cope with the partial loss of sight and will be able to live a good quality life. 

Conclusion

It is very important to have any Collie type breed dogs tested for this Collie Eye Anomaly at a very young age (between 6 and 8 weeks of age), so if you do get a puppy that falls in this category of breeds, speak to the vet to set up an appointment with a veterinary eye specialist, to have the test done. A more ideal situation would be to request a certificate from the breeder that you obtain your puppy from, issued by a veterinary ophthalmologist, confirming that the necessary examination and tests have been performed and that the puppy you are obtaining does not have Collie Eye Anomaly. 

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

From Kitten to Cat

Tiny fuzz-balls of cuteness – the perfect description for every kitten. We cannot resist them creeping into our hearts. 

You have brought your new kitten home and realise it is dependent on you for its every need. For the kitten, the world is huge, brand new and can be a bit scary. Every sight, sound, smell, person and animal are a new experience. These first experiences are likely to influence their future behaviour.

Kittens learn first from imitating their mothers, then through trial and error. The bulk of their learning occurs from birth to six months, although learning and training is still possible as an adult.

The communication behaviours, specific to felines, are established early on in life. This is known as the socialisation period which starts from about 2 weeks after birth until about 16 weeks of age. 

During this time, it is important to provide the kitten with an ‘enriched environment’. In other words, they need different stimuli that will arouse their senses and spark their intelligence. 

Expose your kitten to different noises, textures and objects, much as you would a newborn human baby; and interact with them as much as you can. 

Good early socialisation leads to friendly, well-adjusted adult cats which are less likely to be scared. Sadly, without positive early experiences, cats can become nervous, which often leads to behavioural problems. 

It is good to choose a kitten that has had good socialisation from the breeder or owner of the litter. The kitten would normally still be at home with its mother and should have mixed with other people and pets, seen everyday sights and heard normal household sounds at the breeder- or owner’s home.

The Life of a Kitten

Let’s go through the life of a kitten from birth to 18 months.

Birth to 2 weeks: Your kitten learns to orient toward sound. Their eyes begin to open, they are usually open by 2 to 3 weeks of age.

2 to 7 weeks: Your kitten becomes social. By the third week, their sense of smell is well-developed, and your kitten can see well enough to find its mother. 

Cats can only detect the colours blue and green with certainty but require six times less light to see than humans. This is why they move excellently at night because they distinguish depth better than humans in the dark. 

Cats’ noses can detect a single molecule of odour whereas humans need several hundred. This makes for an extremely sensitive sense of smell. By the fourth week, their sense of smell is fully mature and their sense of hearing is well-developed. 

Feline ears can detect minute changes in frequency and tone making this an extra sensitive sense as well. Your kitten will learn to differentiate your voice from any other, adding to the bond between owner and pet. The kitten starts to interact with littermates and can walk fairly well. The teeth start to come in. 

By the fifth week, eyesight is well developed, and kitten can right itself, run, place its feet precisely, avoid obstacles, stalk and pounce and catch “prey” with its eyes. Kitten starts to groom itself and others. 

By the sixth and seventh weeks, kitten begins to develop different sleeping patterns, motor skills and social interaction abilities. Kittens are usually weaned at eight to nine weeks, but they may continue to suckle for comfort as their mother gradually leaves them for longer periods. 

Now is a good time to expose the kittens to different textured food to prevent them becoming fussy eaters. Orphaned kittens, or those weaned too soon, are more likely to exhibit inappropriate suckling behaviours later in life, such as sucking on blankets, pillows or your arm.

Ideally, kittens should stay with their littermates or other “role-model” cats for at least 12 weeks but it is safe to take them away from their mother by eight to nine weeks of age.

7 to 14 weeks: This is the age when your kitten will play the most. Social and object play increases kitten’s physical coordination and social skills. Most learning is by observation, preferably of their mother’s behaviour. Social play includes belly-ups, hugging, ambushing and licking. 

Object play includes scooping, tossing, pawing, mouthing and holding. Combined social/object play includes tail chasing, pouncing, leaping and dancing. 

Cats are generally curious creatures and quickly learn that food comes from refrigerators or countertops. Now is a good time to teach the kitten not to jump up. A stern “no” accompanied with a sharp sound like clapping will teach your kitten that this is unacceptable behaviour. 

It is difficult for felines to differentiate between which tables they are or aren’t allowed on to. For this reason, it should be an “all or nothing” rule. Remember to not hit your kitten as this may cause fear in your pet and lead to unwanted or aggressive behaviours. 

Toys come in handy at this stage of life. Any toy that encourages chasing and hunting-type behaviour is beneficial. It need not be expensive but can be as simple as a piece of paper folded in a block, tied to a string and dragged on the floor. 

Scratching, or ‘claw conditioning’ is a natural part of cat behaviour. It keeps their claws healthy and leaves scent marks. Try a scratching post for your cat to help prevent damage to your furniture or carpets. Ensure it's stable and tall enough for your cat to exercise at full body stretch.

3 to 6 months: Your kitten starts ranking the household and is most influenced by her ”tribe”, which may now include playmates of other species. 

Kitten begins to see and use ranking (dominance or submission) within the household, including humans. Your kitten will identify your home as its territory and will organise its life around this area. 

Kittens tend to prefer areas with a layout that offers opportunities to play, be up high and hide away, compared to a bare space. Within its territory, the kitten will have four distinct areas: the eating area, an area for rest, the toilet and a large area for play.

You should try to not disrupt this organisation, or your kitten could develop behavioural problems. The eating area should not be near the toilet area or your own eating area. 

If possible, avoid the kitchen or dining room so that your kitten does not confuse your meals with theirs, which could lead to a nutritional imbalance. 

The position of the rest area changes depending on where the best heat sources are and your kitten will probably choose to rest near a heater or in the sun. If you have a sleeping basket, position it in a warm place near you, as your kitten will enjoy being close to you. 

Choose an area away from the kitten’s food for the toilet area. The litter box should be easily accessible. If necessary, have a few positioned around the house. Gradually move the litter closer to the door and then outside if you would like to train your kitten to eliminate outside. 

The play area is the largest of the four and ideally provides ample opportunities for playing, racing about and climbing up high. 

Cats adore places where they can be at the same level as your face and rub against you as they would another cat so your kitten will be prone to jumping on beds, couches, tables or cupboards to be closer to you.

6 to 12 months: Your kitten is an adolescent and will increase the exploration of dominance, including challenging humans. Sexual behaviour begins now if your kitten has not been spayed, if a girl, or neutered, if a boy.

Kittens orphaned or separated from their mother and/or littermates too early often fail to develop appropriate ”social skills” such as learning how to send and receive signals, what an ”inhibited bite” (acceptable mouthing pressure) means, how far to go in play-wrestling and so forth. 

Play is important for kittens because it increases their physical coordination, social skills and learning limits. By interacting with their mother and littermates, kittens explore the ranking process ”who’s in charge” and also learn ”how to be a cat”.

While these stages are important and fairly consistent, a cat’s mind remains receptive to new experiences and lessons well beyond kittenhood. Most cats are still kittens, in mind and body, through the first two years of life.

Remember to take your kitten for vaccinations at 6 – 8 weeks of age with a booster vaccination after a month. A 3-in-1 vaccine is given, which treats for the 3 most common and contagious diseases in one vaccine. 

At 3 months old, your kitten will receive their first Rabies vaccine with a booster required a month later. Deworming can be done from the time they are 2 weeks old and repeated bi-weekly (2-week intervals) until they are 6 weeks old. 

The vet will give a dewormer at every vaccination. This is a good time to get your little one used to go to the vet. Try to make it a positive experience as well using treats and play. Good associations at the vet could save stressful experiences for everyone later on. 

It is important to make it a lifelong relationship and the most pleasurable experience for all Involved. Do not hesitate to call your veterinarian for advice or questions on your new kitten.

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

 

My cat has suddenly gone lame in her hindquarters and seems to be in a lot of pain

What is Feline Aortic Thromboembolism?

Feline Aortic Thromboembolism (ATE) is a condition in cats where a big blood clot settles and blocks the main artery (the aorta) running from the heart to the cat’s hind legs.  The clot typically settles near the pelvis, where the aorta divides into the two main arteries that extend into the legs.

It is almost like the clot itself has two legs extending down into the two main arteries. This type of clot is known as a “saddle clot” or “saddle thrombus”. This condition is typically associated with heart disease in cats.

ATE most commonly occurs in cats with an enlarged left chamber (atrium). The enlarged heart chamber slows down blood flow and over time the red blood cells start clumping together and form a blood clot.

The blood clot is then pushed out of the heart and down the aorta, where it lodges at the point where the aorta branches into the two main arteries (external iliac arteries) extending into the legs. As a result of the clot obstructing the artery, the blood supply to the hind legs is cut off.

What are the symptoms of a saddle thrombus in cats?

  • Sudden Lameness/ Unsteadiness in the hind legs
  • Decreased Activity
  • Over Vocalisation (Painful ‘Meowing’)

Up to 90% of cats show no signs of heart disease before developing this condition and owners often suspect trauma. If the owner is not present right at the onset of the condition, they may come home from work and find their cat paralysed in the hindquarters and dragging its body forward with the front legs. In such instances, it makes perfect sense that one would suspect that the cat had been run over by a car.

When presented to the vet, the tell-tale signs are usually that the hind leg muscles are swollen and very painful to touch. The legs are also cool to the touch because the warm oxygen-rich blood from the heart cannot be pumped down to the legs.

The nail beds will also either be very pale or very dark. With the blood being blocked higher up, the femoral arteries, which are the main arteries on the inside of the leg taking blood to the paws, will have no pulse. The vet will try and feel this pulse on the inside of the hind legs to establish if any blood is still coming through to the legs.

The cat’s rectal temperature will be abnormally low. Many cats are still able to move their tails and control their bladder and stool functions, however, skin sensation and neurological functions i.e. reflexes are absent. Signs of heart failure (heart murmur, difficulty breathing) may accompany the signs.

How is a saddle thrombus diagnosed?

The condition is mostly diagnosed on the typical clinical signs, but to further confirm the diagnosis the vet may cut one of the toenails down to the quick to see if any blood is coming through to the extremities. With a saddle thrombus, the cut nail will either ooze dark blood or not bleed at all.

The vet may also recommend taking radiographs, performing an ECG or doing an echocardiogram (heart scan) with ultrasound to assess the extent off the condition and potential underlying heart failure.

Occasionally the blood clot may lodge further up the aorta and occlude the blood flow to the kidneys as well, in which case the vet may recommend blood tests to evaluate the kidney function.

How is Feline Aortic Thromboembolism treated?

The condition is often treated through cage rest, pain control and drugs which counter blood clots from forming (often in humans referred to as “blood thinners”) and arterial dilators.

Due to the severe pain that this condition causes, Opioids (morphine/fentanyl class) are usually the drugs of choice for controlling the pain. Additionally, the vet may decide to lightly sedate the cat if it is very distressed.

Blood-thinning drugs may theoretically prevent further blood clot formation, while ACP or hydralazine might dilate the blood vessels to aid blood flow to the affected areas. There is however no evidence that these drugs have any benefit over cage rest alone.

Surgical removal of the blood clot carries very high risks and is generally not performed. The concurrent heart failure will also need to be managed. The cat may be kept on a drip for a while and the vet will prescribe medications for it to take for the rest of its life.

If the cat survives past the first few days, it will start regaining its limb function after 10-14 days and will be fully recovered after 4-6 weeks. Some residual deficits may be permanent.

Several drugs such as aspirin, heparin, warfarin have been suggested to prevent blood clots forming in cats diagnosed with heart disease, however, there is no evidence of these drugs being effective and the side effects can be quite severe; thus your vet might opt not to use them at all.

It is important to NEVER use human medication for the treatment of cats unless the vet has prescribed it. Some human medicines like Panado is fatal to cats and one should never treat your cat with a human medication unless it was prescribed by a vet.

If the condition is left unattended, the cat may become permanently paralysed and the skin and muscles may start dying off. This may result in wounds needing surgical treatment or even amputation of a leg. In severe cases, additional blood clots may lodge at various points throughout the rest of the body, ultimately leading to death.

What is the prognosis of a saddle thrombus in cats?

The prognosis is generally guarded, with only 33-50% of affected cats surviving and recovering well enough to be discharged from the hospital. Unfortunately, recurrence of the condition is very common.

Due to the guarded prognosis, the high risk of recurrence, and the presence of heart failure, the decision to euthanise your cat (put to sleep) is often the most humane option.

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

My dog has what looks like a red cherry stuck in the corner of its eye

Introduction to cherry eye

Prolapsed gland of the third eyelid

A cherry eye is a non-life-threatening condition that occurs in dogs, and less often in some cat breeds.  It is an extremely descriptive term, as one can see an oval, bright red swelling in the inside corner of an affected dog’s or cat’s eye, resembling a cherry. As a pet owner one can easily become quite alarmed by seeing this, but fortunately, it only causes slight irritation to the dog initially and you will have time to attend to it and take your animal to the vet before the condition gets out of hand. It is never a good idea to just leave it be. The condition tends to occur more commonly in younger dogs and cats, usually between the ages of 2 and 6 years.

How does it happen that an animal develops a cherry eye?

A cherry eye is in actual fact a protrusion (or bulging out) of the gland of what is colloquially called the third eyelid. Dogs and cats have three eyelids, the top and bottom lids that close up and down over the eyeball as in humans, and then a third eyelid, otherwise called the nictitating membrane underneath the upper and lower eyelids. If you press on the eyeball through the upper eyelid, you will notice the third eyelid moving across the ball of the eye from the inside corner of the eye towards the outside corner of the eye.  This eyelid contains a gland that produces up to 30% of the tear production of the eye. The third eyelid provides extra protection to the animal’s eye and keeps the eye moist. The gland in the nictitating membrane is anchored to the corner of the eye by a connective tissue band. For reasons unknown, this connective tissue starts to weaken and the gland slips out of its pocket. If this happens, the gland is exposed to sun, wind, dust, and trauma from the outside. The gland becomes red and swollen, and eventually painful, due to inflammation. One or both eyes may be affected at the same time. The most common breeds affected by this condition are Beagles, Bulldogs, Spaniels, Shih Tzus, Pekingese, and other brachiocephalic (flat-faced) breeds. The condition is rare in cats but Burmese and Persians seem to have a higher incidence of cherry eye.

Other clinical signs associated with cherry eye.

You will quickly notice the red swelling in the corner of your animal’s eye. Other signs that you might notice are a mucoid discharge from the eye and/or redness in the tissue surrounding the eye, called conjunctivitis. Your pet might also show you he/she is experiencing discomfort by pawing at the eye or rubbing his/her face against objects. This can cause even more trauma to the exposed gland.

Course of action with cherry eye

Due to the fact that some dogs don’t seem phased by the popped out gland, some owners might opt to leave it like that. Not treating the gland may however cause more serious problems to the affected eye in years to come. As more damage is inflicted onto the popped out gland, the amount and quality of tear film that protects the eye will decrease causing chronic inflammation and irritation to the eye. The best would be to get treatment of the infected cornea eye as soon as possible. The vet will examine the eye closely and will usually recommend replacing the gland surgically. The vet may stain the cornea with a fluorescein stain to check for ulcers on the eye itself that might have occurred during protrusion of the gland. A few decades ago, it was common practice to remove the gland surgically when it protruded. This is not the practice any longer because by removing a gland that produces tears, the affected eye can dry out causing a condition called keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or more commonly referred to as ‘dry eye’. It is therefore no longer recommended to remove the gland surgically, unless the gland is so traumatised that it will lose its function in any case. Replacing the gland into its original position is usually done under general anaesthesia by anchoring the gland in its pocket with suture material. For an experienced veterinary surgeon it is a relatively easy surgical procedure to perform. The most common complication is a re-occurrence of the cherry eye and trauma to the cornea by suture. If the condition re-occurs it certainly does not mean that the vet did a hopeless job. Between 5 and 20% of dogs have a recurrence of the condition after the surgery. The reason is that the gland can protrude and prolapse to the other side where the sutures were not placed. If it happens the procedure just has to be repeated. There is no way of predicting whether your pet will be one of the unlucky ones where the condition recurs after the initial surgery.

Conclusion

It is not clear why the connective tissue of the third eyelid housing the tear gland weakens causing a cherry eye other than that there seems to be hereditary component.  It is therefore not recommended to breed with affected dogs. Taking your dog to be examined by the vet as soon as you see the signs of cherry eye, can save you a whole lot of problems with your pet’s eyes later in his/her life, and even save his or her eyesight.

© 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 pet injured its eye!

Just like in people, the eye of a dog or cat is a delicate structure that can be affected by a huge number of different conditions. This article will cover trauma to the eyelids, third eyelid and cornea.

Anatomy of dogs and cats eyes

The eye of the dog and cat is very similar in structure to the human eye but there are one or two differences. Both a cat and dog’s eye is globoid (round) in shape. The part of the eye exposed to the outside is protected by the eyelids and eyelashes, just as in people. The cornea is the see-through part of the eye. It is a thin layer, allowing light to pass through the pupil and lens to the back of the eye.  The white of the eye is known as the sclera. The conjunctiva is the pink part of the eye that can be seen between the eyelids and the eyeball. Dogs and cats both have an extra membrane, known as the third eyelid or nictitating membrane.  This membrane can be seen in the inner angle of the eye and sometimes it can cover most of the eye, particularly following trauma. 

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Trauma to the eyelids

The eyelids are the first structures protecting the delicate eyeball from the outside and potentially trauma. Due to being more active, getting into fights and exploring, cats and dogs are more prone to traumatizing their eyelids. Lacerations or cuts to the eyelids are a fairly common injury seen in most veterinary practices.  If there is any trauma to the eye, it is important to take your pet to the vet. Some injuries may be superficial and cleaning the wound with disinfectant may be all that is required. In other cases, the eyelid may need to be stitched back together. The sooner the eyelid is stitched, the better the chances of it staying together. It is very important that the eyelid margin (that is the part that the eyelashes attach to) remains smooth. If there is a kink in the eyelid margin, this can lead to further trauma to the eye and it can damage to the sensitive cornea.  Once the eyelid has been stitched, your pet may require eye drops for a few days to assist with the healing and prevent any infection.

Trauma to the third eyelid

Sometimes the third eyelid can be lacerated. This is commonly seen in cats that have been involved in a fight and have been scratched in the eye.  If the third eyelid is badly traumatized, it may need to be sutured.

Trauma to the cornea

Corneal ulcers

The most common injury seen to the cornea is corneal ulceration. This is where the first outer layer of the cornea (the epithelium) is damaged, exposing the more sensitive inner stroma of the cornea. This can be very painful. A scratch to the eye or a splash of shampoo or other caustic substances can cause an ulcer.  There are some viruses, such as herpes virus in cats that can also cause ulcers in the cornea. Often we do not know what has caused the ulcer. If you notice your dog or cat squinting, or the eye is closed and seems painful, then it is important to take them to the vet immediately. Often the conjunctiva will also be inflamed. This is known as conjunctivitis. The eye may also have some discharge.

The vet will examine the eye with an ophthalmoscope. This will allow the inside of the eye to be seen and ensure that there is nothing else going on. The vet will then perform a fluorescein test. This is where an orange stain is placed on the cornea. The eye is then looked at with a UV light (blue coloured light). If there is any defect in the cornea, this will show up as bright green. The corneal epithelium does not take up any stain but if the stroma is exposed it will take up the stain. 

Corneal ulcers can vary in size and severity. It is important to start treatment as soon as possible as the quicker it is treated, the more likely it is to heal. If the injury is superficial and small topical treatment with eye drops remains the most effective treatment. It is important that eye drops containing corticosteroids are not used as this delays the healing of the cornea and can, in fact, make the ulcer worse. Other drops and medications may be needed for pain control or to maintain the eye’s lubrication. The eye will need to be assessed daily to ensure that it is healing. In some cases, further treatment will be needed. In severe cases, the ulcer may need to be covered with either the third eyelid or some conjunctiva. This procedure will need to be done under general anaesthetic. The flap is placed over the cornea and sutured in place to give the cornea time to heal. The vet may even give you a referral to a specialist veterinary ophthalmologist which is a vet who would have done between four and six years of extra study over and above their veterinary degree, to become an eye specialist.

There is no set time to how long the cornea will take to heal but daily checkups are required initially to ensure that the condition is not deteriorating. In very severe or long-standing cases, the eye may even need to be removed. 

Foreign bodies within the eye

Penetration of the cornea by foreign bodies such as thorns, glass and sand can be seen in dogs and cats. This is normally very painful and can quickly lead to infection within the eye. If the foreign body is just penetrating the surface of the cornea, it may be removed with the aid of local anaesthetic. In severe cases, where the foreign body has penetrated deeper into the cornea and eye, it will need to be surgically removed. Fine instruments are often required in order not to damage the eye further and this procedure may need to be performed by a specialist ophthalmologist. If your pet is showing any signs of pain or discharge to their eye, it is important to seek immediate veterinary attention.

What is the prognosis with eyelid and corneal trauma?

The prognosis of injuries to the eyelids and cornea will depend on the severity of the trauma. If treated quickly, then permanent damage to the eye is minimized but this does depend on how extensive the injury is. The cornea scars white and so if the ulcer is very deep or long-standing this can affect the eyesight, particularly if the scar forms over the part of the cornea that is in front of the pupil. It is important to remember that the quicker it is treated, the more successful the treatment is likely to be. If you notice any pain, discharge or redness to your pet’s eye, it is important to take them to vet for an assessment. You may ask how do you determine that your pet experiences pain in their eyes? Apart from you visibly seeing damage to the eye or noticing an eye which is excessively teary, you will most likely notice your pet scratching at the injures eye with their front paw or alternative scratching the eye or face on furniture or the carpet, in an effort to relieve the discomfort and pain. If you are in doubt, err on the conservative side and get your pet to the vet as soon as you can. The loss of eyesight through the loss of an eye is simply not worth risking seeing whether the animal will get better by themselves.

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The vet could not cure my pet!

First things first, there are always 3 parties to any veterinary consultation: The vet, the pet and the one often overlooked, the owner. For any veterinary treatment to be successful at least two of the three parties, namely the vet and the owner, are pivotal to the success of any intervention. As an owner, you are the eyes and ears of the vet in the home environment and most importantly no one knows your pet the way you do. The truth is we the vet cannot do their job without you. I am sure many have heard the saying that vets have it harder because their patients don’t talk, they can’t tell the vet what is wrong, or where it hurts. It is for this reason that a vet will require every bit of additional information they can get from you, the owner. Animals are as biologically complicated as people, in fact, most medical ailments affecting people can affect animals.

When any consultation starts the first thing a vet starts doing is asking you questions about your pet, this is what we call history taking. It is the first step to working out the puzzle and coming to a diagnosis in order to treat.  These question can include activity levels, appetite, urination, defecation, history of limping or pain, what is in the environment at home, has anything changed etc. Vets are many things, but they are certainly not mind readers and these are pertinent questions which help the vet identify the problem. So as an owner it is your responsibility to be aware of what is going on in your pet’s life. You are the closest thing they have to being able to speak. Always remember that you know your pet better than anyone else and you will be able to notice changes much sooner. So don’t hesitate to bring your pet to the vet if you suspect something to be wrong with your pet. Sooner is always better.

Now that the consultation has started your vet will be doing the clinical examination and this involves some uncomfortable things like having their temperature taken via the rectum. The better part of the physical clinical examination is an invasion of your pet’s personal space in an environment where they are already scared, nervous and anxious. If you know your dog or cat is nervous and may potentially bite, it is always a good idea to inform the vet in advance. Although most vets have “spiderman reflexes” they don’t particularly like getting bitten when they may just not be fast enough to escape a hurting or nervous animal’s defence mechanism. Most dogs will never bite their owners, so you are essentially the safety net for your vet. You need to hold your pet and if they become aggressive, don’t let go. If you are at all concerned they may harm you or feel you will be unable to restrain your pet adequately, let the vet know. Vets have contingency plans such as muzzles and most of the time, wonderful, experienced handlers that can assist. When everyone feels safe, then everyone is relaxed and tension subsides and often the animals will calm down in response to this.

Luckily most of the diagnostic procedures and some in-hospital treatments (surgeries, drip, injections etc.) don’t involve you as an owner to a large degree. However, when your pet goes home on medication and home treatments, it’s all about you. Unfortunately, treatments and medications don’t work if they aren’t given. If the vet prescribes a course of medication, dose as instructed and always finish the course, especially if it is antibiotics. If wounds need to be cleaned, or ear/eye drops applied, they must be done as instructed. Always remember the vet knows better than anyone else how difficult animals patients can be when it comes time for giving medications. A useful tip when dosing medication for dogs: Hide them in something tasty like a Vienna sausage, cheese, peanut butter (check no xylitol in sugar-free alternatives), ham or anything tempting enough for your dog. A good idea is to offer a few pieces of your treat of choice without any medication in, then once your unsuspecting dog is sure there is nothing unsavoury in the treat, sneak the tablet laden one in, with the next clean one following in quick succession, and they often gobble it up without even tasting it. If you have one of those stubborn, clever dogs who delicately eats the treat and leaves the tablet untouched, you will have to learn to dose your pet properly. This involves placing the table in the back of the throat behind the tongue.  Ask the vet for a demonstration.  Cats, on the other hand, are a whole different kettle of fish. Most cats will not willingly eat medication whether or not it’s disguised in something tasty. They will generally require direct oral dosing of medication. The technique for pilling a cat can be demonstrated by the vet, and a few practice rounds in the consulting room is always a good idea. Once you have the knack pilling them comes the trouble of catching them to actually give the medication. After day three they will normally have learnt to avoid you when it comes to tablet time. Something that often works to reduce the negative association of dosing medication is giving them a treat afterwards, something tasty and very tempting.

Monitoring the response to treatment and recovery from treatment is essential for the owner. If your pet is not getting better or not responding as expected, they must be brought back into the vet. Complicated cases may require several diagnostic steps and treatment options to get it right. If the vet has scheduled a follow up to monitor the response to treatment, then your pet should be brought back for their check-ups. This helps the vet keep on top of treatment and progress. Vets, in general, are very busy, they see consultations, monitor and treat in-hospital patients, perform surgeries, research cases and manage practices. Although vets try to stay on top of everything they are human and sometimes things can slip their minds. It is important for you as an owner to take responsibility and contact the vet if you have any concerns, queries, you are looking for updates, or are looking for results for anything if the vet hasn’t come back to you timeously.

Vets rely heavily on you, the owner, for treating their animals successfully. Without the owner’s care, commitment and involvement in the treatment and care of their pets after they have been to the vet, the vet has almost no chance of achieving the successful outcome they desire for your pet’s treatment.

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My dog is really getting old

Taking your elderly dog to the vet for an annual check-up can sometimes feel like a waste of time and a big inconvenience to the pet involved. The stress involved and the difficulty of transporting a big elderly dog, which is not so mobile anymore, may make you wonder if it is really necessary. The answer is a very big YES!

At what age exactly are dogs considered geriatric? You may find different views on the internet and as with humans, it does depend to a large degree on the individual animal. Some humans are sprightly and active at age 75 and others are tired and sickly at age 60. The same applies to dogs but there is a general consensus that small breed dogs generally have a longer life span than medium and large breed dogs. Giant Breeds are considered geriatric at the early age of 6 to 7 years, whereas breeds are only regarded as geriatric when approaching ten to twelve years of age.  The aim of an annual check-up for an adult dog is not just to update the vaccinations, but to give the veterinarian an opportunity to evaluate the dog’s general health and pick up any problems that might have gone unnoticed by the owner. The broad generalisation is that for each one year a human ages, a dog will age the equivalent of 7 years. If you look at it in this light, it will make sense that in older dogs, regular check-ups, as in humans, are vital. The vet will also ask the owner a series of questions to establish how the animal is doing at home. Things to start looking out for when an animal gets older is a loss of appetite, losing weight, struggling to get up and move around, as usual, drinking and urinating more than usual, and general signs like vomiting and diarrhoea.

As the animal’s body ages, it goes through normal changes and often it is an accumulation of these changes that result in health problems. The most common problem that old dogs deal with is arthritis, and as older animals become less active they tend to become overweight. Extra weight places extra stress on already painful and inflamed joints. These patients might need to be X-rayed to rule out any other causes of limping and stiffness. Once a diagnosis of arthritis is made, the vet may advise a change in exercise regimen, a change in bedding, potentially a change of diet or adding joint supplementation products on to, or into the animals' food, and often anti-inflammatory medication depending on the severity. The most important method of pain relief remains weight loss.

The organ function of old dogs often decreases as well. A common problem is decreased kidney function turning into chronic renal failure. As the kidney function decreases, it loses the ability to clear the animal’s blood of toxins. Some medications need to be excreted through the kidneys, and if the kidney function is already compromised, it can cause serious side effects. A good example of this is the anti-inflammatory medication mentioned for pain control in arthritic dogs. This group of drugs is excreted by the kidneys and will cause side effects if the kidneys are not functioning well. For this reason, vets will often test the liver and kidney function of old animals before placing them on chronic medication. It is also important to re-test every six months. Animals that suffer from kidney problems will show signs like weight loss and decreased appetite, as well as drinking and urinating more than previously. It is important to take your dog to see a vet as soon as these signs are noted.  These days there are blood tests which can pick up kidney disease much sooner than the blood tests that were available only a few years ago. Yet, sadly, even though these tests are a lot more sensitive, they only pick up kidney disease once 40 % of kidneys are damaged vs the old blood tests which picked it up after 75% of the kidneys were damaged. Veterinary research will keep on evolving to find means of detecting organ failure sooner, but a test with normal results does not necessarily mean that there is not kidney failure. The other important aspect with regards to kidney failure is that the kidneys do not have the ability to regenerate or repair themselves. So, once the cells are damaged, that is it for the kidney. The only way to support the kidneys once damage has taken place is to try and prevent further damage and lighten the load of the kidneys. This can be done by changing the diet and there are specific veterinary therapeutic and prescription diets available for this which the vet can advise you on. Heart failure, as well as liver failure, can also occur showing a various range of clinical symptoms. With heart failure, your pet might be exercise intolerant, start with a cough (especially at night), and breathe faster in general.

Another common problem in geriatric animals is cancer or neoplasia. As the immune system defence mechanism decrease, the ability to recognise cancer cells decreases, and together with oxidative damage in old animals, cancer can occur more commonly. Organ enlargement and organ failure are often an indication of cancer and the vet may recommend an abdominal ultrasound as well as x-rays to pick up cancer. Even the slightest signs in an old animal can indicate a bigger problem. Owners will often complain that the pet has become fussy, and eats less. But this can be the first signs to indicate that a bigger problem exists. It is important to remember that it’s not normal when an animal that has always eaten well, become fussy out of the blue. In most cases old age, as in humans go hand in hand with less active and a lower appetite, but a major reduction in appetite is usually a sign of disease.

So how do you take care of geriatric animals?

  1. Feed a good quality diet: Old dogs cannot digest food as easily as young animals and they need all the nutrients and antioxidants they can get. There are various maintenance, therapeutic, prescription diets specifically formulated for older animals as well as animals with diseases like kidney failure, heart problems, and arthritis. These good quality foods help the animal cope better with their life stage or specific health problem. If there are no particular health problems, a good quality senior diet is preferred. Please speak to the vet to advise you and the best diet to feed your dog.   
  2. Keep their weight stable: With decreased metabolism and decreased mobility, older dogs tend to pick up weight quickly if they don’t have a chronic medical condition. Research has shown time and time again that obese animals have a decreased lifespan. Problems like diabetes and heart conditions are very common in obese animals.
  3. Encourage activity and moderate exercise: It is important to keep them active, but do not overdo this. Regular short walks are more than adequate and only do it if the animal is not in pain.  Swimming in most cases is a really good form of exercise for dogs but not all dogs love water so go with the flow in terms of your dog’s preference.
  4. Good dental care: Dental hygiene is essential in animals of any age. If the teeth are rotten and the gums are inflamed, they may suffer from pain when they eat. The plaque build-up supplies the body with a continuous source of bacteria to the bloodstream. These bacteria can lodge on the heart valves or in the kidney tubules leading to chronic heart and renal failure.
  5. Provide adequate bedding and shelter: Older animals are stiff and sore and will sleep much better with a softer surface to lie on. They also lose the ability to regulate their body temperature adequately and may need extra shelter against heat, cold and other weather conditions.
  6. The most important thing to remember with geriatric animals is to bring them to the vet for annual check-ups. If the vet can help to pick up a disease in the early stages, they might not be able to cure it, but they can definitely make your pet more comfortable and even add a couple of years to your pet’s life by recommending the right geriatric care for your specific dog.

 Old age is not a disease! So if your animal is not eating too well and slowing down, do not just blame old age. Rather seek veterinary advice, you may just save your old dog’s life for a couple more years.

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My cat is really getting old

Due to improvements in nutrition, veterinary and home care, cats are living a lot longer than they did twenty to thirty years ago. In the past when a cat reached the age of 13 years old, we believed them to be really old. This is definitely no longer the case. We see several cats that are now reaching ages in excess of twenty years. Cats also tend to age a lot more gracefully than dogs and so it is not always easy to tell when they are starting to struggle or are showing signs of illness.  

Cats are considered elderly once they reach 11 years, with senior cats being between the ages of 11 and 14 years and geriatric cats being over 15 years.  As cats age,  they go through many behavioural and physiological changes and are more prone to developing certain illnesses in their last few years of life.  
 

What physiological and behavioural changes can you expect with your ageing cat?

As cats age, their sense of smell and taste becomes less sensitive. This means that food may need to smell a little stronger in order to appear more palatable to the cat. They also have a decreased ability to digest fat and protein so food needs to provide adequate nutrition but not be too rich. As well as sight, their hearing also diminishes and so extra care is needed to ensure they are out of the way of vehicles or they may need to be brought to their food. 

When considering their behaviour, they become less adaptable to changes in their environment and can become stressed more easily. Older cats tend to spend less time outside and more time sleeping inside.  Their appetite often decreases and they can become fussier due to their diminished sense of smell and taste. Other changes related to particular diseases may be noted. They may start to drink more water with kidney failure, or show pain and aggression due to pain and arthritis.
 

Are there any changes in routine care for your older cat?

As your cat ages, you may need to start doing a few things that weren’t necessary when they were younger and more active. Cat’s are naturally very clean animals and as they get older, grooming does become more difficult. Regularly checking your cat is advisable as problems can be picked up sooner and dealt with more efficiently.  
  • Pedicures – elderly cats are less able to retract their claws and they can become stuck on furniture and bedding. The claws also thicken with age. It is important to check them weekly to ensure that the nails are not growing into the paw pads. Some cat may need regular trimming. With advice and some training from the vet, this can be done at home and may help reduce the stress of a journey to the vet or parlour.
  • Grooming – Ageing cats may struggle to groom themselves due to athritits. Long haired cats, in particular, may need to be brushed several times a week to avoid matted fur. Their eyes may need to be cleaned occasionally with moist cotton wool. It is important to check around their “bottom” (perineum – the area around the anus and rectum) to ensure that there are no faeces stuck and there isn’t matted fur. Some cats may need to be trimmed.
  • Hairballs – The digestive system in older cats can be a little sluggish and so problems like hairballs can become more common. There are several different options when it comes to hair ball control such as food or supplements. If you are unsure if your cat is vomiting or bringing up hairballs then it is important to consult the veterinarian. 
  • Toilet habits – It is advisable to provide an indoor litter box, even if your cat normally urinates and defecates outside. As older cats are more slow and sedentary, they may not want to go very far and they are also more sensitive to the cold and wet. An indoor litter box also makes monitoring the frequency of urination and consistency of stool easier. An increase in urination may be a sign of an underlying condition such as diabetes or kidney failure. Older cats may also struggle with constipation and may need supplements or a change in food. In severe cases, the veterinarian may need to perform an enema.
  • Dental disease – As cats age, dental issues such as gingivitis (inflamed gums),  plaque build-up and loose teeth may become more of a problem. This may affect their appetite, their ability to eat, and may cause them pain. Bad breath (halitosis), drooling, loss of appetite, tooth chattering and pawing at the mouth may all be an indication that there is an underlying dental issue that may need attention. If you are in any doubt then consult the veterinarian.

How often should you take your ageing cat to the vet?

The frequency of veterinary visits will depend on the general health of your cat and any particular illnesses that they may have. Older cats that have not had any issues, are eating and drinking well and do not appear to have any signs of weight loss or other health problems should be seen at least once a year. This gives your veterinarian a chance to assess them and decide whether any procedures or tests are needed. As your cat ages, blood and urine tests are an indispensable tool in detecting problems early, before the onset of clinical signs and severe disease. In the past few years, newer generation blood tests like SDMA, have become available which can pick up kidney disease months, to even years, before it is clinically visible. The levels of these biomarkers start increasing in the blood when there is 40% loss of kidney function compared to the older type of tests where 75% of the kidney function had to be destroyed before the levels of blood markers would increase in the blood tests available to vets. Even with these new and wonderful tests, it is still quite scary to think that we can only start picking up kidney disease by the time that almost half of the kidney function is irreparably damaged. 

Unlike the liver, the kidneys do not have the capacity to regenerate, and therefore once a certain percentage of the kidneys have been damaged, there is no way of repairing it. Therefore it is so critically important that these tests be done at an earlier age, or stage of kidney disease, in order to help protect the functional part of the kidneys. 

If your cat has been diagnosed with a particular condition, visits to the vet may be required more frequently to refill medication, follow up on weight checks or do blood tests.

The following sigs are an indication that your cat should be seen by the vet:

  • Any loss of or change in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Change in water intake- usually drinking more than normal
  • Struggling to jump, lameness or stiffness
  • Any lumps or bumps
  • Decreased energy levels
  • Balance problems
  • Difficulty in passing urine or faeces or messing in abnormal areas
  • Disorientation or distress or any change in normal behaviour
  • A coat which becomes dull
  • Any other signs of disease like vomiting or diarrhoea, change in vision, bad breath, weakness or anything else which is out of the ordinary

Detecting certain diseases early often helps improve the success of treatment so it is important to be on the lookout for any changes in your cat. Older cats will need more time and attention but with advances in veterinary medicine and care, they should be able to live their last few years in comfort and relatively free from stress.

Just like in humans, the life expectancy of animals are increasing and just as we care for the elderly in our human communities, we can show the same love and care for our geriatric pets and ensure a good quality life for them right up until the end. 

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

My pet is vomiting

Vomiting is one of the most common symptoms of disease seen in pets. It can be quite alarming to see your pet vomit up all his or her food or alternatively continuously wretch and only bring slime or bile. So should you rush your dog or cat to the vet immediately when you see them vomit, or is it safe to wait and see? Because there are so many causes of vomiting, we recommend that if you are ever in doubt, it is always better to visit the vet and have it seen to, even if it is just to put your mind at ease and prevent it from progressing to something more serious.

It is important to realise that vomiting is not a disease or medical condition in and of itself, but rather a symptom of many different underlying causes. Healthy animals should not vomit, so there will usually be some underlying disease process which causes your animal to vomit. This could be as diverse as a brain condition, kidney disease, liver disease, gastrointestinal tract problems or endocrine conditions. It may have an infectious origin, but the cause may not be infectious at all and may vary from a physical obstruction such as a lodged bone to something as sinister as cancer. Distinguishing between vomiting and regurgitation is important. While vomiting is an active process which involves contraction of the abdominal muscles to expel the gastric content, regurgitation is a completely passive process where food is expelled from the stomach or from the oesophagus without any abdominal muscle contractions. Regurgitation usually points to a problem in the upper gastrointestinal tract, like the oesophagus. Nauseous dogs will often lick their lips and start salivating. This “overproduction” of saliva is there to protect the oesophagus against the acidic vomit moving up from the stomach by neutralising it. 

During the clinical exam, the vet will try to establish why your pet is vomiting and will decide after the clinical exam to either carry on with further diagnostic tests if he or she finds anything out of the ordinary, or send your pet home with the appropriate treatment. A full history from a vomiting animal’s owner is often the most useful diagnostic tool, so try and answer any questions the vet may have to the best of your ability. Common questions your vet may ask are: 

  • How many times has your dog or cat vomited?
  • How long has the vomiting been going on for?
  • What did your dog or cat vomit up?
  • Has your dog or cat lost any weight?
  • Is your dog or cat still eating?
  • Has their diet changed in any way?
  • What does the vomit look like?

It is important to know if there is a runny tummy (diarrhoea) associated with the vomiting and if so, to establish your pet’s hydrations status. An animal that is not keeping any fluids down, and vomits throughout the day together with losing fluids through diarrhoea can dehydrate quickly. The vet will most likely feel (palpate) your animal’s abdomen to establish if there is any pain, or perhaps a foreign body stuck somewhere which may be palpable. Depending on the size or the location of a foreign body, it may not always be possible for the vet to feel it. Severe pain in the abdomen will alert the vet to a more serious problem like pancreatitis. Dogs and cats can swallow the strangest things which may cause a blockage in the narrower parts of the digestive tract. This can become a life-threatening condition depending on the type of blockage and the length of time the foreign body is entrapped. Some foreign bodies can perforate the gut which can cause the animal to go into septic shock.

The majority of pets presenting with vomiting is due to dietary indiscretions and will recover within 24 – 48 hours. In these cases, the animal will show minimal abdominal pain, and hydration status will be normal, and temperature will be within normal limits. They are usually not severely depressed, but stay bright and alert. If the animal is bright and alert and healthy in all other respects, the vet may recommend skipping a meal or providing a liquid critical care diet together with access to fresh water. Food can then be introduced slowly over the next 12 hours. A bland diet of chicken and rice can be fed, or a veterinary therapeutic diet that is easily digestible and which has a low-fat content. 

In some cases of animals vomiting, there will be certain things that indicate to the vet that there is a more severe problem than a simple dietary indiscretion. If the vomiting has been carrying on for more than a couple of days, continuous or intermittent, further investigation is always required. Severe weight loss, dry coat and general weakness are some of the danger signs. Raised or decreased body temperature, severe abdominal pain, and accompanying bloody diarrhoea should also raise concern. These animals should ideally be admitted at the veterinary practice and rehydrated with a drip. Animals that are losing fluids by vomiting and diarrhoea often also develop electrolyte imbalances. Glucose may be low due to anorexia lasting a couple of days, and the vet will need to assess what kind of electrolyte supplementation is required with the fluid therapy. While the animal is being treated symptomatically, the vet will start with further diagnostic tests. After a basic blood smear and microscopic examination, the vet may recommend a urinalysis and faecal analysis as part of a minimum database. If the diagnosis cannot be made with these basics diagnostic tests, more comprehensive blood tests may be required which will include a full blood count, biochemistry and electrolytes. If a definitive diagnosis cannot be made with these tests, further investigation with the help of diagnostic imaging which may include X-rays and or ultrasound may be recommended. Even with extensive testing and diagnostic aids, it may not be possible to make a definitive diagnosis immediately, and in these cases, the vet will discuss the merits of further diagnostic tests or procedures, or referral to a specialist vet, with you. 

Some of the more common conditions that can present with vomiting are:

  • “Garbage disease” – where the animal eats leftover food or other items from a knocked over garbage bin 
  • Foreign bodies varying from stones to clothing garments, to anything other than pet food which the animal may have chewed and accidentally swallowed part or all of. Depending on the size and the type of foreign body it may either cause a partial obstruction or alternatively could cause a complete obstruction of the intestinal tract, which may only be rectified with surgery. 
  • Hairballs in cats
  • Pancreatitis or pancreatic tumours
  • Chronic or acute kidney disease
  • Chronic or acute liver disease including liver tumours
  • Inflammation of any part of the intestine including the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine or large intestine 
  • Megaoesophagus which may be due to auto-immune disease or other causes
  • Any tumours pressing on to, or causing an obstruction in the digestive tract
  • Gastric ulcers

The most important thing to remember is that vomiting is merely a symptom of an underlying problem which may or may not have anything to do with the intestinal tract. If your animal is vomiting and does not stop after a single episode, it is worth a visit to the vet to have it checked out.  

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