Mange in cats

What is mange?

Mange is a skin condition that develops when there is an infestation of parasitic mites or an overpopulation of mites on or in a cat’s skin. The presence of these mites, some of which burrow into your cat’s skin, causes itching, redness, and other uncomfortable symptoms. As with dog mange, cats can suffer from different types of mange based on the types of mites present on their skin. In this article we explore the different types of mange that cats can get, how the different types of mange are diagnosed and what can be done to treat the mange. 

Types of mange

Cats can experience a number of different types of mange, caused by different types of skin mites. These include:

  • Sarcoptic mange (canine scabies)
  • Notedric mange (feline scabies)
  • Demodectic mange (demodex or red mange)
  • Otodectic mange (ear mange)
  • Cheyletiellosis (walking dandruff)
  • Trombiculosis (chiggers)

What causes mange in cats?

The different types of cat mange are caused by tiny mites that infest the skin surface or burrow into the skin. These mites usually come from the outdoors and contact with other animals, or cats pick up the mites from the environments where other carrier animals have been. Mange is not as common in cats as it is in dogs, but its effects on cats’ health is just as serious. Here, briefly, are the causes of the various types of cat mange:

Sarcoptic mange 

Sarcoptic mange is caused by an infestation of the scabies mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) that is typically found in canine scabies. The mite has a flat round body and is known for burrowing into the skin to lay its eggs. It’s this burrowing that causes an intense and insatiable itch; and the combination of burrowing and the cat’s persistent scratching causes inflammation, redness, hair loss and other skin symptoms. Cats usually contract canine scabies from infected dogs, which is why all animals in the home should be checked and treated for scabies even when only one animal is showing symptoms. 

Notoedric mange 

Notoedric mange is caused by an infestation of another type of scabies mite, Notoedres cati. This is also a burrowing mite and, while rarer than sarcoptic mange, notoedric mange is highly contagious among cat populations when it does occur. It is also contagious to humans, but – as with sarcoptic mange – the mites cannot burrow into human skin to complete their lifecycle, and only cause intense itching and redness for a few days. When humans are no longer around cats with notoedric mange, their own symptoms subside.

Demodectic mange

Similar to demodex in dogs, feline demodicosis is caused when the cat’s immune system is compromised by another illness or malnutrition, and is not strong enough to control natural populations of demodectic mites – Demodex cati and Demodex gatoi. These mites are a natural part of the cat’s skin microbiome, but without proper immune control, mite populations can become excessive and cause skin issues. Signs of demodex include hair loss on the legs, paws and around the eyes, which is accompanied by a severe itch.  

Otodectic mange

Otodectic mange occurs in and around the cat’s ears and is characterised by itching and redness in their ear canal. These mites – Otodectes cynotis – can be found on the rest of the cat’s body, but primarily affect the ears, and can put the cat at risk of damage to their eardrums, especially when they scratch persistently. A telltale sign of ear mites is a lot of ear scratching and head shaking. 


Unlike demodex and the scabies mites, ‘walking dandruff’ – as Cheyletiella mites are known – are visible on the cat’s fur and skin, and appear as small white flecks in motion. They live off of skin oils, dander and other skin matter; feeding and breeding on the skin’s surface. Walking dandruff is very contagious to other animals as well as people, creating a skin rash that lasts a few weeks. 


Cats are also susceptible to Trombiculidae mites – more commonly known as ‘chiggers’ during their larval stage. These tiny red-orange mites cause a nasty bite through which they feed on blood before dropping off their feline host when they’re satiated. They leave red bumps, crusty skin, and severe itching even long after they’ve departed. Chiggers are also contagious to humans and are responsible for bites commonly seen around the waist and ankles.

What are the symptoms of mange? 

If you’re curious as to how you would know if your cat has mange, the signs and symptoms for the different types of mange are relatively similar. Despite a specific skin mite being responsible for each type of mange, their presence on your cat’s skin will trigger the same kind of response:

  • severe itch – whether due to the mite burrowing into the skin, or the cat’s immune system producing an allergic response to the mite
  • scratching the head and ears
  • debris in the ear canal and on the skin
  • redness and inflammation
  • bumps and pustules
  • hair loss
  • thickened skin, where scratching and hair loss takes place
  • restlessness (a result of the itching)
  • excessive grooming

How is mange diagnosed?

Just because a cat is very itchy, scratches a lot, and has patchy hair loss doesn’t mean the vet will diagnose them with mange and send you on your way with a skin cream. Each type of mange will require a specialised treatment, so it’s crucial that the vet find out exactly which type of mite is affecting your cat. 

The vet will consider all the physical signs of mange as well as take a skin scraping from your cat and identify the mite by looking at the skin scraping under a microscope. From there, they will diagnose your cat’s specific type of mange and suggest the best treatment to get rid of the mites and help your cat’s skin to heal.

How do you treat mange?

Depending on the type of mange the cat has as well as the intensity of the infestation, the vet may prescribe any number of medications – from an antibiotic to an anti-parasitic, anti-inflammatories, topical cream, a spray, shampoo and/or dip. Many tick and flea medications can also be used to combat mite infestations on your cat. 

Take special note of the veterinarian’s advice on isolating your infected cat from other pets in the house, but make sure your other pets’ parasite control medication is up to date. Wash and sterilise all pet bedding, toys and socialisation areas to ensure all traces of the mites that caused the cat’s mange have been eliminated. 

How to prevent mange

Many cats are roamers, so it’s not always possible to keep them out of environments where they may contract certain types of mites. It’s therefore recommended to keep your cat’s parasite control medication up to date, but to also make sure your cat is healthy and their immune system is functioning optimally. High-quality cat food, adequate exercise, fresh water and even health supplements may all work together to boost your cat’s immune health. Keep their environment clean and healthy, and also groom your cat regularly to take the opportunity to examine their skin condition.

Mange in dogs

What is mange?

Mange is a skin condition in pets caused by an overpopulation or infestation of parasitic mites. The mites burrow into an animal’s skin (sarcoptic) or over-populate the hair follicles (demodex), causing either itchiness and thickened skin, or skin changes and hair fall. There are different types of mange caused by different species of microscopic mites – the most common being demodectic mange and sarcoptic mange. In this article, we’ll explore the symptoms of mange, how the different types of mange are diagnosed and treated, and whether mange is contagious to humans.

Types of mange

Dogs can get demodectic mange or sarcoptic mange. The type of mange is determined by the type of mite infesting your dog’s skin or hair follicles. Demodectic mange is the most common type, while sarcoptic mange is the more devastating type and is highly contagious to other dogs and even to humans. Left untreated, both demodectic and sarcoptic mange can be fatal.

What causes mange in pets?

Demodectic mange

Demodectic mange is caused by an overpopulation of the skin mite Demodex canis (or other varieties Demodex injai and Demodex cornei). Dogs and humans both have a natural population of demodex mites living in their hair follicles, kept in check by a healthy immune system. If the immune system is compromised (due to illness, complications from a medical condition, or genetics), demodex mites are free to flourish and can cause mange. It’s possible for dogs with chronic conditions like cancer or diabetes to develop mange while their immune systems are weak.

Puppies can sometimes experience demodectic mange, since they acquire the skin mites from their mother. Normal, healthy puppies host demodex with no problems; sometimes experiencing bouts of overpopulation that need a simple topical treatment to bring back under control. However, puppies with a genetically weakened immune system can develop juvenile onset demodectic mange, which is very serious and needs immediate and intensive treatment.

Sarcoptic mange

Sarcoptic mange is caused by an infestation of the skin mite Sarcoptes scabiei. Sarcoptic mange is also referred to as canine scabies, and it occurs when the mite buries itself deep within the skin, causing severe itching and skin changes. Dogs with canine scabies will bite and scratch their skin incessantly, trying to get at the source of the irritation. This causes primary and secondary symptoms, which we will discuss below.

What are the symptoms of mange?

Since the different skin mites take up residence in different parts of the skin, the symptoms of scabies and demodex may differ. Let’s look at both:

Symptoms of demodectic mange

  • hair loss (alopecia) on the face, especially noticeable around the eyes
  • itchiness (though not as severe as with sarcoptic mange)
  • red, scaly skin patches
  • acne-like bumps
  • skin crusting
  • skin thickening and darkening
  • swelling
  • pain and fever if the condition has progressed
  • ear infections

The dog may appear lethargic and have leaky wounds if the demodectic mange is generalised (all over their body and not confined to the face) and has progressed quite far. They will need immediate treatment.

Symptoms of sarcoptic mange

  • intense itching and persistent scratching
  • hair loss as a result of the scratching
  • secondary bacterial and yeast infections
  • red, inflamed skin
  • skin thickening
  • crusting skin

In advanced canine scabies infections, the dog’s lymph nodes will be inflamed and they will become lethargic and malnourished.

How is mange diagnosed?

A veterinarian will do a skin scraping and look at it under a microscope to identify the presence of skin mites or their eggs. The demodex mite is elongated and slightly tapered, while the scabies mite is rounded.

How do you treat mange?

The treatment for both types of mange will depend on how far the infestation has progressed. There are oral medications as well as topical treatments and medical baths, both to kill the mites and promote the healing of the dog’s skin.

The sarcoptes mites may still be in the dog’s bedding and living environment, so it’s important to keep them away from these areas until they’ve been disinfected and bedding has been thoroughly cleaned. Also keep other pets away from the infected dog, to prevent the spread of canine scabies and the animals reinfecting each other.

In the case of demodectic mange, the veterinarian may also identify the systemic illness that’s weakening the dog’s immune system; be it old age, chronic disease or a genetically underdeveloped immunity. They will want to ensure the demodex is kept under control, since a compromised immune system may result in an overpopulation of demodex again in future. If the systemic illness is not being managed, demodectic mange can be fatal. Severe demodectic mange may take a long time to treat, and all dogs respond differently to treatment, but generally the prognosis is good.

Can mange in dogs spread to humans?

We have our own population of skin flora (including demodex mites) to keep our skin microbiome in balance, and cannot be infected with canine demodex mites. Demodectic mange is not contagious to humans or other dogs with healthy immune systems, but sarcoptic mange is a zoonotic disease and highly infectious. What does mange do to humans? Canine scabies mites cannot complete their life cycle in human skin, but people with canine scabies will still experience redness, itching and what appear to be inflamed welts – symptoms that will last until the mites die off. (Be aware that canine scabies is not the same as human scabies, which is caused by Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis or the human itch mite, and needs immediate treatment to kill the mites as it is highly infectious).

How to prevent mange

Pet owners can prevent demodectic mange by ensuring their dogs are healthy and not suffering from other diseases. Regular vet check-ups give the veterinarian the opportunity to screen your dog and potentially pick up any health conditions that may compromise your dog’s immunity and lead to demodex overpopulation.

You can prevent sarcoptic mange by ensuring your dog is contained within your yard (not exposed to stray animals or unknown environments where a sarcoptes infestation may put them at risk). By keeping your pets away from dogs with known sarcoptic mange, you prevent infection.

© 2023 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

Seasonal allergies in pets

All domestic animals can react to the changes of the season – just like some humans do. During late winter, early springtime, when the climate is dry and windy, there is a lot of dust and pollen in the air. Humans as well as our pets inhale these particles or pets brush up against skin irritants, which can lead to seasonal allergies.

Let’s explore the symptoms of seasonal allergies in pets, what triggers the allergic reaction, and how to treat seasonal allergies in dogs and cats.

Symptoms of seasonal allergies in dogs and cats

If your pet is exhibiting one or more of the following symptoms and/or behaviours, it is likely that they are experiencing a reaction to a seasonal allergen:

  • coughing, sneezing, wheezing
  • snoring or abnormal respiratory noise
  • itchy, inflamed eyes; watery eyes
  • ear infections
  • red, inflamed or dry, flaky skin
  • swollen, sensitive paws; compulsive paw licking
  • excessive grooming; abnormal licking
  • excessive shedding
  • excessive scratching
  • vomiting and/or diarrhoea

Some pets are not only allergic to seasonal allergens like pollen, dust and grass, but may also react to general allergens like mites, mould and mildew. These pets will be more sensitive to allergens when there is a greater load in their environment (like when the seasons change), but they may also show these symptoms at other times of the year.

What triggers seasonal allergies in pets?

In general, allergic reactions occur in the body when the immune system recognises a foreign substance (dust, pollen, mould spores, etc.) and launches a defence against this substance, even though these rather benign substances are not biologically harmful. It quickly creates antibodies to fend off the foreign substance, triggering the release of histamines, and deploys inflammatory responses to prevent the foreign substance from entering our system. Inflammation in the skin, sinuses, airways, eyes, ears and even in the digestive system are prime examples of immune reactions.

Seasonal allergies in our pets occur when their bodies are reacting to an excess amount of dust and pollen. Their immune reaction to those foreign substances causes them to sneeze, scratch, tear, sniffle, and sometimes even vomit. However, not all pets develop seasonal allergies – in the same way that not all humans are sensitive to pollen and dust. It’s all down to our genes; some immune systems are simply more sensitive to allergens than others.

Do I need to take my allergic pet to the veterinarian?

Generally, most pets with seasonal allergies have dry, itchy skin, the sneezes, and if they are susceptible to ear infections, these will flare up. Soothing, conditioning baths with medicated shampoos as well as applying nourishing or prescription lotions can help with mild reactions. However, some pets will scratch until they break their skin, which can cause secondary infections or a sore spot that doesn’t heal.

In instances where pets are very unhappy because of their symptoms (their quality of life is affected) or if they have trouble breathing, sleeping or eating – i.e. the allergic reaction is severe – then it’s time to take them to the vet.

How will the vet diagnose my pet’s allergies?

During a consultation, the veterinarian will assess your pet’s physical symptoms. It will help a great deal if you can give the vet a timeline of when the symptoms (scratching, sneezing, etc.) first appeared and how severe they may have become. Have you noticed a difference in your pet’s eating and elimination patterns? Have you recently changed their bedding or introduced a new toy or treat? What other changes can you think of?

To rule out any other problems that may be causing these symptoms (such as flea and food allergies), and to confirm that the allergies are what they appear to be (a reaction to seasonal allergens), the vet will perform an intradermal skin test – or what we know as a skin-prick test. This involves injecting a tiny amount of known allergens under your pet’s skin and if the skin becomes red, inflamed and swells, it indicates a positive immune response to the allergen. The vet then uses this confirmation to formulate a treatment plan to reduce your pet’s symptoms and reaction to the allergies.

The vet may also refer you to a pet dermatologist for further testing and treatment.

How are seasonal allergies in pets treated?

The treatment plan for seasonal allergies will vary from one pet to another, and depends on the severity of the allergic reaction. For mild reactions, the vet may prescribe oral antihistamines or recommend over-the-counter medications to help manage symptoms. Your friends and family might suggest various remedies that worked for their pets’ allergies, but ALWAYS check with the vet before giving your pet any medications.

Soothing, anti-itch sprays and creams may help to control the topical symptoms while you are helping to build up your pet’s immunity. Oatmeal baths with skin-moisturising properties can also help to relieve itchiness and dry, flaky skin.

For severe reactions (which have been diagnosed with proper dermatological testing), the pet dermatologist or veterinarian will prescribe an allergy serum. The serum is injected in small doses and gradually increased over time to allow your pet to build up immunity against the allergen and reduce the severity of their allergic symptoms.

How can I prevent my pet’s allergies from flaring up?

Prevention is better than cure, but when it comes to an allergic reaction in our pets, prevention can be a bit tricky. Pollen, dust and other allergens in the environment cannot simply be removed, but there are a few things pet owners can do to alleviate their pets’ symptoms.

  • Try to keep susceptible cats indoors during high-allergen times of the year.
  • Use a dust-free variety of cat litter, to give your cat’s respiratory system a break.
  • Do not smoke around pets.
  • If your allergic dog’s play area is on a lawn, it’s likely that he’ll react to the grass and pollen. Take him for walks on a pavement or road instead and see if it reduces his symptoms. Allergen load is usually highest in the mornings and early evenings, so try walking your dog in the middle of the day (if it’s not too hot) to see if he’s less reactive.
  • Giving pets more frequent baths or thorough wipe-downs with medicated wipes will help to remove most of the allergens from their coats and reduce allergic reactions.
  • Bath pets with lukewarm water, as hot water can irritate the skin even more. Medicated shampoos can soothe and cool hot, angry skin as they contain antihistamines and steroids, which can reduce inflammatory symptoms.
  • Clean their coats and paws each time they come indoors, to prevent them from tracking pollen, dust, spores and other allergens all over the house and creating more exposure. Try to make indoors as allergen-free as possible.
  • Vacuum and clean more frequently during high-allergen seasons, especially on and around your pets’ beds and play areas.
  • Support and strengthen your pets’ immune system with a healthy, high-quality diet, supplemented with pre- and probiotics, vitamins, minerals and enzymes that will boost their vitality and wellbeing.
  • Speak to the vet about the best preventative protocol for your pet, as all pets will require a different approach to help reduce or manage their symptoms.

Are some pets more susceptible to seasonal allergies than others?

Seasonal allergies are the luck of the draw for pets, but some dog breeds have been shown to be more vulnerable than others: brachycephalic dog breeds like pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers and Pekingese are susceptible because of their very short airways, but other breeds like setters, terriers, German shepherds, shar-peis and retrievers are also high on the allergy list. 

© 2022 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd 

Understand the life cycle of fleas

Tick and flea treatments for our pets promise quick and lasting results and are usually very effective when administered correctly. However, these treatments – including chews, spot-on liquids and collars – may not be able to get rid of flea infestations completely when pet owners don’t tackle each stage of the flea’s life cycle head-on. Understanding the life cycle of the flea is the key to eradicating this nasty pet pest.

There are four stages of the flea’s life cycle, each with its own approximate timeline. In total, the flea’s life cycle can last from two weeks to a few months, depending on environmental conditions. The flea moves from one stage to the next when specific conditions trigger each change.

Adult flea

Let’s begin with the adult flea, since this is the creature most pet parents are familiar with. Whether you’re petting your dog or cat and you spot the flea in their fur or if you see the adult flea momentarily jumping onto you, the sight of the flea can cause a certain amount of dread because if there’s one flea in plain sight, how many are lurking about that you don’t see?

The adult flea needs to bite and feed from its host (your dog or cat) before it can mate and start laying eggs, approximately two days after its first feed. The female adult flea can lay around 40 – 50 eggs per day… for three months. That’s thousands of eggs that all have the potential to grow into adult fleas and lay their own thousands of eggs. A flea infestation can happen very quickly!

Flea eggs

The adult flea is attached to the host, but the eggs are not. They may be laid on your pet’s skin or in their fur, but most flea eggs will drop off your pet and land somewhere in the surrounding environment. When your pet gets up from a nap and shakes their body, those flea eggs go flying. Dog and cat beds, blankets, carpets and even pet plush toys make the perfect incubators for flea eggs.

Flea eggs are tiny and almost invisible to humans. If you happen to specifically be looking for flea eggs (with a magnifying glass), they will look like tiny oval-shaped grains of salt. In optimal conditions (a warm, humid environment), the flea egg can hatch within one day to two weeks. The colder and drier the conditions, the longer it will take for the egg to hatch and the larva to emerge.

Flea larvae

Upon hatching, flea larvae are blind, almost transparent and only around 3 – 4 mm long. They are ‘negative phototactic’, which means they are repelled by sources of light. They eat flea dirt, which is the excreted remains of the blood eaten by fleas. These little sightless larvae burrow into carpets and floorboards to develop in the dark for around seven to 14 days (sometimes more). In the right conditions, the larvae begin to spin cocoons around themselves and actively enter the pupal stage.

Flea pupae

When heat and humidity are ideal, the flea pupa can develop rapidly inside its cosy cocoon and emerge as an adult flea within three days. In less than ideal conditions, pupae can survive for up to a year. The cocoons are sticky and buried inside carpets and crevices, and are difficult to remove. There are certain environmental conditions that will trigger the pupae to emerge as full-grown adult fleas. These include the vibrations, body heat and carbon dioxide emitted by potential hosts – animals and people.

As soon as the adult flea emerges, it’s ready to feed, mate and lay eggs again after 48 hours. And so the flea’s life cycle continues.

The only way to get rid of fleas is to disrupt the life cycle

Tick and flea treatments for pets (including chews, collars and spot-on treatments) create an environment that is toxic to adult fleas – whether they bite into the skin and die, or are repelled or killed by surface treatments. These treatments work for adult fleas and some larvae, but don’t kill flea eggs or cocooned pupae, which are generally not on the animal.

Getting rid of a flea infestation will take a multi-pronged approach and it needs dedication or the flea eggs will hatch or the pupae will mature into adults and the life cycle will start all over again. When treating your pets for fleas, use the opportunity to deep-clean your house – especially carpets and cracks and crevices in floorboards.

Insect foggers and chemical products that can be applied to upholstery are intended to kill insects at various stages of their life cycle. These products contain insecticides as well as insect growth regulator, which stops flea development at the pupal stage. Pet owners may want to contract the services of a pest control specialist who understands the life cycle of the flea and has the right products and methods to control an infestation.

After chemical application, a strong-suctioning vacuum or even steam-cleaning carpets, pet beds, couches, mattresses and other places your pets may lie down, will help to remove the dead residue as well as most of the flea eggs. If you vacuum as a first precaution, keep in mind that flea eggs and pupae don’t necessarily die in the vacuum cleaner bag, and may just hatch/emerge from there. After vacuuming, destroy the contents of the bag or reservoir, which may just act as an incubator for new fleas to hatch from if you don’t.

The most effective way to prevent flea infestations from developing at all is to make sure your pet’s tick and flea regimen is up to date and their resting environment is clean at all times.

© 2022 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

Eosinophilic granuloma complex in dogs and cats

What is eosinophilic granuloma complex?

Eosinophilic granuloma complex (EGC) is a disease complex that presents in three main forms, namely an eosinophilic ulcer (also known as a rodent or indolent ulcer), an eosinophilic plaque or an eosinophilic granuloma. These conditions are more commonly found in cats and horses, and only occasionally in dogs.

An eosinophil is a type of white blood cell that mainly specialises in defending the body against parasites and allergies. It is a tiny cell that moves around the body in the bloodstream, moving into tissue when an intruder is detected. Inside the cell are little pink granules, which are like little chemical bombs that are released onto the intruder in order to destroy it or render it inactive.

A granuloma is a collection of immune cells that change the structure of the tissue in which they accumulate. It is a symptom of inflammation and usually shows there has been a response to a foreign invader.

What causes EGC?

The cause of EGC is believed to be a response to an allergy, usually to fleas, other biting insects, food or environmental allergens. Studies have been done that suspect a genetic component is involved as well.

When the body detects an allergen – let’s say pollen – the immune system responds by sending an army of immune cells and other responses to get rid of the foreign invader. Think of hay fever when your sinuses swell up and your nose and eyes start to run. This is an inflammatory reaction in response to the pollen.

In the case of EGC, the body responds to an allergen by sending in eosinophils, which quickly infiltrate and surround the potential danger. When they arrive, they release their little toxic bombs that attract other immune cells and start an inflammatory reaction. What you see on the outside are red, raised, round to elongated areas that are warm and angry. The toxins from the eosinophil granules actually alter and coat the structure of the collagen in the tissue where the reaction occurs, which can cause permanent scarring.

What does EGC look like?

The three forms of the condition look a little different, but can overlap.

  • Eosinophilic ulcer (rodent ulcer, indolent ulcer): This is a red, raised bump on the upper lip, most commonly seen in cats. Sometimes the ulcer is also seen on the tongue. This bump is not usually itchy or sore, but when irritated it can ooze and bleed.
  • Eosinophilic plaque: This form usually presents as hairless patches where the skin is red and thickened with well-defined borders. This area is often very itchy where pets will lick, bite and scratch the area, causing more harm and injury. These patches are often seen on the belly or thighs, sometimes on the throat or around the anus.
  • Eosinophilic granuloma: These granulomas range from pinkish to yellow-orange in colour. They are often complicated by bacterial infection and may or may not be itchy. They too are raised and solid and are most often seen as lines on the back legs. They can be found almost anywhere on the body such as on the belly, foot pads, head, nose, ears and bottom lip, chin and even in the mouth along the gums and palate.

In dogs EGC more commonly occurs in the mouth or on the belly. The breeds susceptible to it are huskies and cavalier King Charles spaniels, but it can occur in any breed.

There is a form of the disease seen in dogs and cats called eosinophilic furunculosis, which is caused by an allergic reaction to insect bites and stings. These look like lots of little raised areas surrounded by swelling. If left untreated, these bumps can progress to ulcers. They are most commonly seen around the eyes, nose and ears of long-nosed large breeds or curious terriers. This condition springs up quickly, usually after hunting or exposure to the outdoors when biting insects are out.

Can EGC be treated?

As the underlying cause of the condition is allergic, identifying the cause and removing the exposure to the allergy is the basis of treatment for affected animals. This often starts with flea treatment and possibly a hypoallergenic diet. Limiting exposure to the inciting allergen usually resolves the problem.

Some vets make use of allergen testing either through testing the skin or through bloodwork. The accuracy and usefulness of allergy testing, however, is somewhat controversial. While the source of the allergen is sought, your pet will likely be treated with corticosteroids in order to control the inflammatory response.  In cats this is often done with a long-lasting corticosteroid injection or with tablets. Depending on the extent of the damage, the vet will assess if antibiotics will also be necessary.

Other treatments include cyclosporin, interferon alpha and even gold therapy against chronic inflammation. Cyclosporin suppresses the immune response while interferon alpha prevents the activation and release of the toxic granules in eosinophils. EGC is usually a recurrent condition and some animals may require long-term management.

I think my pet may have EGC, what should I do?

If you are concerned about a red, angry spot on your pet, it is better to have it looked at by the veterinarian. Unfortunately there are other conditions such as cancers, lymphoproliferative conditions and even viral infections such as feline herpes virus that can look similar to EGC

The vet will perform a full physical examination and usually shave and clean the affected area before taking a sample. Sometimes a simple impression smear is sufficient for a diagnosis, but many cases will require a biopsy. A biopsy is a small piece of tissue removed from the affected area and sent to a pathology lab. The lab is able to look at the tissue sample and rule out other potential causes of red, raised lesions, such as cancer. This identifies the problem directly and can guide and tailor the vet’s treatment protocol.

What is the prognosis for pets with EGC?

The majority of pets diagnosed with EGC respond very well to medical management. The condition does tend to recur, however, which may mean intermittent treatment over the lifetime of your pet. There are occasional cases that are a little more complex and that require management by a veterinary dermatologist.

© 2021 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

My pet lost a patch of fur and developed a massive sore overnight. It looks like a burn wound.

HotSpot dog

Acute moist dermatitis is a skin ailment in pets that’s caused by a trigger like an itch or pain, and exacerbated by the pet’s scratching and licking until it becomes a large bare patch of painful skin lesion. Since the lesion is an open painful wound, it’s referred to more commonly as a hotspot.

What is a hotspot?

No, we’re not talking about public wireless internet. A hotspot is a skin condition seen far more often in dogs than in cats. It is an area of very itchy, wet, unhappy, infected skin that your dog keeps licking or nibbling at. It usually develops overnight; in a matter of hours, your dog’s healthy skin can develop a massive, sore, red or yellowish bald patch. It is constantly wet and raw as some dogs tend to lick this wound almost obsessively. These spots may have started out as something small and insignificant like a bump from an insect bite, but quickly grow larger in a short time. Usually only one spot is affected rather than several around the body, but there are exceptions to this rule.

Which breeds are more likely to develop hotspots?

Retrievers and German shepherds with longer, thicker coats tend to have this problem more often than dogs with short coats. Hotspots are also more often seen in dogs who love to swim and are always in the water. This is because skin that is always wet tends to get more easily infected with bacteria and fungi that thrive in a warm, moist environment. Something triggers the itch, so when the dog begins to scratch, the bacteria is spread and the hotspot quickly develops. People with water-loving dogs often have their dogs clipped in the warm summer months to prevent this problem.

How do hotspots start?

The initial cause will vary from one pet to another. This condition often occurs as a result of the constant scratching at an itch, such as pets with fleas, allergies or even an ear infection. They can occur anywhere on the body, but usually on a spot they can reach with their paws or mouth to scratch and nibble. The typical places for hotspots to develop are the side of the face below the ears or on the upper part of the back leg. Some spots get a little more attention than others and these get infected, leading to an itchy and sore wound that your pet won’t leave alone.

Why do hotspots grow in size?

Irrespective of the cause, hotspots tend to become infected because they are always wet and the skin is licked raw. As you can imagine, your dog’s mouth is far from the most hygienic means to clean a wound. This infection then leads to swelling and pain on top of the initial itch or discomfort. In trying to alleviate the discomfort, your dog will constantly lick the area, but the more they lick, the more widespread the irritation and infection of the skin becomes.

What can I do if my dog has a hotspot?

The most important first step is to establish the underlying cause of the problem. Was your pet itchy to start with; were they shaking their head from an ear infection? Has your pet had persistent flea infestations? Take your dog to the vet, who will help to determine where the problem may have started. It’s important to not only treat the symptoms and the hotspot itself, but to find the cause in order to prevent the condition from deteriorating or returning.

How is a hotspot treated?

A hotspot involves infected skin, so it would be wise to have it treated and to get the infection under control. The vet will examine the area and determine the extent of the infection. The area around the hotspot will be shaved to make it easier to clean and treat. The area will then be cleaned and the vet will most likely treat it with antiseptic creams or even antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. Depending on the severity of the lesion, the vet may also prescribe systemic antibiotics. In severe cases this treatment may have to be continued over a number of weeks. In some instances this condition can be excruciatingly painful and may require sedation or even a full general anaesthetic to be treated properly.

While the hotspot is healing, your most important task will be to convince your dog to leave it alone. This is not always an easy task because he is probably used to licking or scratching to try to relieve the itch and pain. The most helpful tool is the Elizabethan collar (the ‘cone of shame’), which limits the access your pooch has to that spot. The cone needs to be big enough to stop your pet from reaching the hotspot, so the edge of the cone must be longer than his nose.

Most hotspots respond well to treatment, especially if the underlying cause is treated successfully, but finding the cause is usually the tricky part.

Will a hotspot getter better by itself?

The answer is no. In most cases, the condition keeps on spreading like wildfire and, if not treated sooner rather than later, your pet may end up with significant hair loss and infected skin over large areas of his body. If this happens, the treatment becomes a lot more complex and expensive. If you suspect your dog has a hotspot, the sooner you get him to the vet, the better. 

Why is my dog prone to recurring hotspots?

If the underlying condition leading to a hotspot is not successfully addressed or treated, it will most certainly lead to a recurrence of the condition. Ear infections are a common reason for dogs to scratch the side of their face. It may seem obvious that one should treat the ear condition, but an ear infection in a dog may often be a symptom of another underlying condition. Atopic dermatitis, which is skin irritation caused by the inhaling of allergens, is a common cause of ear infection. This can be a very difficult underlying cause to treat and, in many cases, may never be successfully treated; only managed. If your dog is one of the unlucky canines to have an overactive immune system that is negatively triggered by environmental allergens, it may take a lot more to address the underlying cause of a hotspot and prevent it from recurring on a regular basis. The vet will have to spend more time in such a case to work out a plan of action for future prevention.

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

Acral lick granuloma

Canine lick granulomaWhen a pet owner brings their animal in to the vet with a firm, raised, angry red bump on the pet’s leg or ankle, complaining that the animal (a dog more often than a cat) won’t stop licking at it, the vet knows that there is a potentially long road of diagnosis and treatment ahead. The symptoms and behaviour described here are common in what’s called acral lick granuloma

What is an acral lick granuloma?

An acral lick granuloma is a medical condition whose main feature is a raised, angry red bump on the pet’s leg. This angry bump is usually the centre of the pet’s focus, where they constantly lick the area until it is raw.

If we unpack the name of the condition, it gives us a better idea of what it is and how it is caused. Acral refers to peripheral body parts, so the extremities like legs, ankles and paws. This condition usually affects the furthest end parts of the legs; more commonly the front legs, but also the back. The lick part of the name defines the cause of the condition, namely long-term licking, which aggravates the skin and leads to irritation and ulcers. A granuloma is the body’s response to long-term irritation; in this case irritation to the skin. A granuloma comprises clumps of irritated tissue, which usually appear raised like a mushroom on the surface of the skin.

So an acral lick granuloma is a condition where the body creates a granuloma on the leg/s as a result of long-term licking.

What does an acral lick granuloma look like?

Not all acral lick granulomas look identical, but they all share some basic characteristics. They usually appear as thick, firm, raised, hairless areas on the top of the front or back legs. These areas sometimes have a ring of darker coloured skin on the edges. Pets who have this problem compulsively lick the area, even if you scold them or try to distract them. It’s as if they can’t help themselves. Acral lick granulomas develop as a result of long-term licking and develop slowly over time. Long-standing cases have ulcers that develop on the topmost surface of the granuloma. These areas often have an underlying infection, so they can appear red and angry, sometimes oozing a pussy, red or straw-coloured liquid. 

Which animals can get acral lick granulomas? 

Both dogs and cats can develop an acral lick granuloma, but it’s more prevalent in older animals than in younger animals. Retrievers and high focus breeds like Dobermans, Irish setters and German shepherds tend to get this problem more commonly than others.

What causes an acral lick granuloma?

There are several theories about what leads to the development of an acral lick granuloma. Many researchers believe that this condition is mainly caused by psychological factors; that it is stress-related. There is yet other evidence that suggests that there may be an underlying medical problem that starts the licking cycle. These conditions include pain, irritation, infection and discomfort. Conditions such as arthritis, pain related to bone conditions, infections, injuries and even itchy skin-related conditions such as allergies or parasites may kick off the animal’s need to lick.

When a pet licks the area of pain or discomfort, it releases feel-good hormones, making them want to keep licking. This soothing effect is most likely how the lick cycle is maintained once it has started, which results in compulsive licking.

In cases where an initial physical cause of the problem could not be found, studies found that many of the dogs with acral lick granuloma had a psychological origin. Many of these dogs started licking as a response to stress, anxiety or boredom. Many of them started licking after a change in their environment. Examples include dogs who were crated for longer than usual, a change in their owner’s working hours, or even the loss of a friend or family member.

I think my pet may have an acral lick granuloma, what can I do?

If you suspect that your pet has an acral lick granuloma, the best would be to discuss the condition with a veterinarian. It is important to find out what started the problem in the first place. The veterinarian will examine your pet and possibly recommend x-rays or even collect samples from the area to rule out bone or joint problems, parasite infections or even cancer. The cause of the problem needs to be addressed if there is to be any hope of a solution. Each case is unique and treatment administered will depend on the cause.

Possible treatment routes

More often than not there is infection hiding deep in an acral lick granuloma, which requires long-term antibiotic treatment. This may be for weeks or months, and requires diligent effort to maintain on the owner’s part. Resolving infection in these cases is the cornerstone to successful treatment. An important component of managing an acral lick granuloma is to limit your pet’s access to this area once treatment has started. This can be done by bandaging the area or by using a cone, or Elizabethan collar.

In cases where psychological stress is a major contributor to the condition, the veterinarian may recommend a consultation with a behavioural specialist who can assist in managing the stress-related aspect of this condition. 

Keeping an eye on when your pet licks may indicate the psychological contributor to the condition. Do they lick more when they are on their own or when surrounded by people? Do they lick when locked up in their crates during the day or night or when they are alone or bored? Do they show other symptoms related to separation anxiety, like not being able to leave your side when you are at home? 

An acral lick granuloma can be a frustrating condition to treat and manage. The granuloma develops slowly over time, so you may not know there is a problem until it is well established. An important part of treating these lick granulomas is finding and treating the initial cause. Without finding the initial cause, they tend to recur. Always speak to the vet about your concerns regarding your pets.

© 2020 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (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

My Boerboel with its long tail really looks strange. I much prefer a Boerboel with a short tail.

To start off with let’s define what we are talking about when we are talking about tail docking in dogs.

Tail docking from a veterinary perspective refers to a surgical procedure done to puppies between the ages of 3 to 5 days old, where a portion or partial length of the tail is amputated or cut off with a scalpel or surgical scissors, bleeding is stopped by cauterisation or tying off of bleeding blood vessels with absorbable suture material, and placing a suture or sutures in the skin to close off the wound.

This is quite an invasive procedure and involves cutting through the skin, muscles, ligaments, blood vessels, nerves, bone and cartilage. The idea of doing it to puppies of such a young age was that it would be less painful. Yet, we now know that puppies, even at that very tender age, has a fully developed nervous system and research has shown that the level of pain experience may be even higher than in young or adult animals.

Sadly, in the past, in an effort to save costs, some people opted to do this procedure themselves by cutting the tail off with a knife and then burning the tail to stop it from bleeding. Alternatively, some people used constrictor rubber bands which caused the bottom part of the tail to die, rot and fall off. This is actually a very painful and cruel way to remove a puppy’s tails and certainly was not a method advised or supported by vets in the past.

Almost all dog breeds are born with tails and most dog breeds will have long tails, although there are some breeds which are naturally born with short tails.

Dogs have tails for a reason. Two of the most prominent functional uses of the tail in the dog is for communication and for balance, The tail of a dog will in many instances, even from a distance, convey its body language. If you have a dog, think of when the dog is glad to see you when you return home in the evening after being away at work all day. Some dogs wag their tails with so much enthusiasm that their whole body moves along with it. From a dog owner’s perspective, this makes for one of the best moments of your day. Equally, if your dog is afraid, it may clutch its tail firmly between its hind legs showing its fear. If you have ever observed dogs who meet other dogs in the park you will most likely observe an upright and very active tail, communicating along with the rest of the body and face how it perceives the meeting. The longer the tail, the easier it is to read a dog’s body language. Removing the tail, in fact, to some degree, stifles the ability of dogs to communicate.

If you ever have the opportunity to look at a slow-motion movie of a dog running at high speed, you will notice that its tail is being used as counterbalance when it takes a sharp corner or makes quick turns. From a posture point of view, dogs use their tails in many ways to help balance the rest of their bodies. Removing the tail may in actual fact contribute to injury because the balance of the body is changed somewhat.

So if dogs’ tails are such an important part of their lives, the question arises, why was tail docking done in the past? The question following up on that is, why do vets not do it routinely anymore?

In the past tail docking was an intentional procedure, requested by pet owners and mostly performed by vets and the main reason for it was because of breed standards. What do we mean when we say “breed standards”?. Over many decades, as certain dog breeds evolved, the people who bred those dogs developed a view as to what the length of this breed’s tail should be. Breeders of husky dogs preferred long bushy tails which curl around, and breeders of Boerboel dogs preferred a very short stump of a tail. The main reason given for a Boerboel to have a short tail was that a long muscular tail like that of a Boerboel whose tail has not been docked, is much more prone to damage and injury, even just when the dog wags its tail when it sees the owner or gets excited. This sounds like a sound and plausible reason, but on deeper investigation, one may find the incidence of tail trauma, is actually quite low and does not warrant this invasive procedure. One study done in the United Kingdom showed that the risk for tail injuries in dogs with intact tails is only 0,23%. This is a very low risk compared to the benefit of removing the tail completely. The main thing is that we just got so used to seeing that a Boerboel or Boxer dog has a short tail, that it became the breeds standard or norm, and a Boerboel with a long tail started looking strange to people before the beginning of the new millennium.

So apart from this very practical argument offered as a reason to dock a dog’s tail, one wonders why else would people have started to cut dogs’ tails to a shorter length. Some investigation into the background of tail docking shows that some of the reasons offered why tail docking was done historically are that it helped prevent Rabies, strengthen dogs’ backs, increase their speed, and absurdly enough even reduced paying tax. Seems like there was a time when owners of dogs with long tails were taxed and therefore people started docking their dogs’ tails. Whether this is true or not, there seems to be a myriad of reasons why people started docking their dogs’ tails which, with the benefit of hindsight, holds absolutely no truth and has no value.

Some of the more plausible reasons offered for tail docking are that it prevents injuries to dogs’ tails when used for hunting or fighting. Now if one looks at how the relationship between humans and dogs have evolved over time one can understand that at the time there may have been a case for tail docking. In previous centuries dogs were used for hunting from a subsistence perspective. People actually used their dogs to help them procure food. Jack Russel Terriers used for hunting only had half of their tails docked, unlike Boxers, where almost the whole tail was docked. The reason for leaving a longer piece of tails in Jack Russel Terriers is because when they were used for hunting rabbits and hares, their owners could pull them from a Rabbit’s hole by their tail if they managed to catch the rabbit and battled to turn around and come out of the rabbit hole with the rabbit in their mouth. In the case where the rabbit managed to get away and the Jack Russel being the hunters that they are, refused to back down and leave the one that got away and come back out of the rabbit hole, their owner could pull them out of the hole by their tail and pursue the next one. Today, very few Jack Russel Terriers are still used for hunting for food, but because we have become so accustomed to what they looked like with half a tail, this became the breed standard and the norm. This meant that as a routine, all Jack Russel Terriers had half their tail amputated, for really no reason at all.

One of the other reasons offered for docking dogs’ tails is that it gave the dog an edge during dogfights. A bite to a tail is a very painful thing and during a dogfight, if the opponent manages to get hold of the tail, it can be very painful and throw a fighting dog off balance making them more vulnerable to more lethal bites. So, therefore, it was “off with the tail” to make them better fighters. Even in the previous century dog fighting was a sport attended by many and on which people bet money with fervour. Today, in most civilised countries, dog fighting is illegal and although sadly it still continues in secret, it is certainly not considered a sport anymore but rather a criminal offence.

As the norms and needs of society changed, so the ways in which we treat animals have also changed.

In time, people started asking the question whether it is fair to dogs to put them through this very aggressive surgical procedure for no apparent reason other than looks. Sanity prevailed and in time the various breed societies started agreeing that it was not in animal’s best interest to persist with this practice. This did not go down without major resistance from many breeders who now felt that the animals looked silly, because they no longer conformed to the breed standards that everyone became so used to.

In the middle and latter part of the previous century the docking of tails by vets was advocated with the view that vets are professionals and will work in a sterile environment with the correct surgical technique and equipment, and the ability to deal with complications, should they arise. Although this is true, the uneasiness about the ethics of the procedure remained.

In South Africa the docking of tail, as an ethical procedure to be done by vets, were discussed in the veterinary profession over a long period of time (decades). Eventually through much discussion, research and deliberation, the decision was taken by the profession that unless there is a justifiable medical or therapeutic reason for docking a dog’s tail, it should not be done. This means that docking a dog’s tail for aesthetic reasons should no longer be performed.

The South African Veterinary Council, the governing body of the veterinary profession in South Africa, made a formal decision that as from the 1st of June 2008, it will no longer condone the routine tail docking of puppies by vets. This decision in turns means that should a vet dock puppies’ tails in the absence of a medical or therapeutic necessity, they can be prosecuted in terms of the Animal Protection Act no 71 of 1962 and may be found guilty of unprofessional conduct in terms of the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act, 1982 as Amended.

The interesting thing is that perceptions change, as norms change. Our children born in this century (the 2000’s) are growing up with dogs with tails. If you were to show a 10 year old child (in 2017), a picture of a Boerboel without a tail and they have grown up with a Boerboel with a tail, to them it will most likely look strange and they will wonder: “Why does the Boerboel without a tail look so strange, I much prefer a Boerboel with a long tail.”

Times have changed, and vets no longer do tail docking in dogs as a routine.

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

Is Tick Fever and Tick Bite Fever the same disease in dogs?

It is not. Tick fever or Babesios in dogs, is not the same disease as Tick bite fever or Erlichioses. Both diseases are transmitted to dogs by ticks, but they are caused by two totally different organisms or parasites and the clinical signs, progress and treatment are very different.

To further confuse the matter, Tick Bite Fever in humans is not the same as Tick Bite Fever in dogs and once again, although transmitted by ticks, is caused by a complete difference parasite. Tick Bite Fever in dogs is not transmissible to humans or vice versa.

So what is Tick Bite Fever in dogs and how can it be treated, and better yet, prevented?

Erlichiosis is a disease of the domestic dog and is common in the warm climate of South Africa. It is a tick born disease, meaning dogs can get infected when an infected tick bites and feeds on them. The organism that is responsible for this disease is called Erlichia canis, but there are many different Erlichia species worldwide.  Erlichia is neither a bacteria nor a virus, but rather something in between the two. When a tick feeds on an infected animal, the organism gets transferred to the tick. The tick can carry this organism for up to 5 months and infect many animals as they feed on them. Specific tick species carry this disease and Erlichia is prevalent in areas where these ticks are found. This disease is known worldwide and was studied extensively after the war in Vietnam when hundreds of military dogs succumbed to the disease. It was found that German Shepherd dogs are more susceptible and suffer more severely from this disease. 

Clinical signs

There are three phases in the disease process:

  • Acute phase:  The acute phase develops within 1 to 3 weeks after the bite. During this phase the organism enters and multiplies within a certain type of white blood cell, called monocytes. The clinical signs are caused by a widespread vasculitis or inflammation of the veins in the body. It causes blood cell loss or anaemia, and decreases the platelet count. Platelets are responsible for clotting of blood in the body. Signs to look out for during this phase are weakness, lethargy, depression, anorexia and enlarged lymph nodes.
  • Subclinical phase: This can last for months to years without any clinical signs noted by owners. During this phase, the animals’ immune system can clear the infection, but if not, it will progress to the next phase.
  • Chronic phase: The mortality rate can be high in this phase of the disease. Bone marrow suppression (the body’s blood cell factory) and haemorrhage or bleeding are the main causes of the clinical signs. Signs shown are nose bleeds, or any other form of bleeding and bruising. Severe weight loss, fever, difficult breathing, joint pain with inflammation, neurological signs, kidney failure, eye problems and paralysis, to name a few. If the disease is not treated, it will progress to overall organ failure and death.

Diagnosis and treatment

Because of the non–specific nature of the clinical signs, making a diagnosis of Erlichiosis is not straightforward. A detailed history of your dog’s health, whereabouts and living conditions are extremely important in the diagnostic process. A thorough clinical exam should prompt the vet to do further diagnostic steps to get to a diagnosis. The most basic diagnostic tool is a blood smear. A drop of your pets’ blood is smeared thinly onto a glass slide, stained and then examined under the microscope. The organism multiplies in the white blood cells of the affected animal, and can be seen as a purple inclusion body (almost like a bunch of grapes) in the cytoplasm of a specific type of white blood cell called monocytes. Unfortunately, inclusion bodies are  not always visible and very few dogs are dibagnosed this way, therefore other means of detection are needed. Detection of antibodies in the blood is a common way of diagnosing infection and can be done by sending blood to a lab facility. Even this is not 100% accurate and can sometimes give false positive results. Your vet will often look at a full blood count of your animal, and together with the history, clinical presentation and lab tests, will make a diagnosis of Erlichia. Response to treatment is also an important tool to make a final diagnosis. Erlichia is treated with an extended course of doxycycline, an antibiotic. Treatment needs to be continued for at least 4 to 6 weeks. If treatment is stopped prematurely, the disease can continue to the chronic stage.


The saying, “prevention is better than cure”, rings true in this case. Because the disease is transmitted through tick bites, it can to a large extent be prevented through proper tick and flea control. Speak to the vet on your next visit about which products he/she recommends for tick control.

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