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.

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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


“Crocodile Mite” skin disease in dogs and cats

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

There are two main forms of demodectic mange:

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

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

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

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

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

Clinical signs

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


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


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

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

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

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

Demodex in cats

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


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

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


Can I treat my pet’s wound at home?

When managing wounds at home it is important to always contact your veterinarian for assistance. Many home and even human wound remedies are not suitable for use in pets. Determining factors in deciding whether a wound can be treated at home or needs veterinary care includes the severity and age of the wound, the cause and location of the wound, and most importantly if the pet is leaving the wound alone. In most instances the safest and most effective way to deal with it is to take the injured pet to the veterinarian for initial treatment and advice on continued care at home. In this article we will go over some of the major components of wound treatment and care as well as giving you guidelines on when to visit the vet.

Factors determining your course of action

  1. Severity of the wound:  Minor scratches, bruises and nicks can be taken care of at home. Any cuts, puncture wounds, severe bruising, multiple wounds and especially any wound caused by dog or cat fights should be seen by your vet. Any wound obtained by fighting will inherently be an infected wound and should this wound not be treated correctly the formation of an abscess is almost a certainty.  
  2. The age of the wound: This is an important factor as it contributes to the next course of action. The concept of the golden period is something that helps determine whether a wound may be stitched and allowed to heal by first intention (faster healing, less wound management and less scar formation) or if it should be allowed to heal by second intention or as an open wound (slow process where the body has to rebuild tissues and heal itself, intense wound care and large scar formation). The golden period, the time within which one can successfully clean and stitch a wound without much consequence, is generally within 6 hours of the wound’s occurrence. Thereafter it becomes tricky and one has to seriously consider the consequences of closing an infected wound. Also if a wound is a few days old granulation tissue has begun to form and second intention healing started, in this instance it is very unlikely that the wound could or should be stitched.
  3. The cause of the wound: As mentioned previously any fight wound should be seen by a veterinarian. In the event an injury is caused by something else, the relative cleanliness of that object comes into consideration along with the other factors. The less contaminated the cause of the injury the less risk for contamination and infection.
  4. Location: Certain areas of the body heal better than others. The extremities (i.e. lower legs, feet, tips of the tail and ears) tend to heal more slowly whereas those over the body and neck and upper legs, tend to heal better because of the copious blood supply. Wounds in areas of the body that undergo constant motion do not heal as well as those located in a more stable area of the body. The motion does not allow time for tissues to work themselves together again and these locations are also more prone to fluid accumulation in and around the wound. Wounds on the body and neck can often have large pockets of space where fluid readily collects as a result of the large amount of skin that is more easily torn away from the underlying tissue, especially during fights.
  5. Self trauma to an existing wound (Is your pet leaving their wound alone?): It is a natural response for animals to lick their wounds, this can help to initially clean the wound but as their mouths contain very high numbers of bacteria it can also aid in the contamination and infection of the wound. Also constant licking and bothering of a wound can impede the healing process and even do more damage. If your pet will not give their wounds time to heal it will result in a chronic non-healing wound.

Home Management of wounds

If you have determined that it is not necessary to bring your animal to the vet, home wound treatment will ensue. First it is important to clean a wound and human antiseptic solutions work well for initial wound treatment. If you are in doubt about what solutions you can use, rather use plain water and flush the wound with plentiful water until you can contact your vet or take your animal in to be seen by the vet. Once the wound is clean you may apply human wound treatment ointments such as Germolene and Bactroban. Be warned any ointment applied to a wound will often be licked by your pet so it is important to prevent this. An Elizabethan collar (cone of shame) often works well as it keeps the pet’s mouth away from the body. It is never a good idea to attempt bandaging a wound at home. If bandaging is not done properly it can have very serious consequences, doing more harm than good. If it is done on a short term basis i.e. just to prevent bleeding while transporting the pet to the vet, it should be fine. Once your initial treatment is done always contact your vet and ask for advice on what to do next. Most wounds will need cleaning at least twice a day. Ask your vet for a cleaning solution safe to use in the long term as most human antiseptic solutions are good enough for initial wound cleaning but are strong and may inhibit healing of the wound in the long term. As for wound cream, you can use human remedies but there are also veterinary products specifically designed for use in animals that work well and assist in the healing process.

In the event that it is not appropriate to care for the wound at home, take your pet to the vet for examination. Based on the assessment of the wound one or more of the following course of action can be taken: Shaving around the wound, cleaning the wound, disinfection of the wound, debriding the wound (removal of dead necrotic tissue and debri) or stitching the wound with or without the placement of a drain. Shaving and cleaning the wound will expose the wound and help to remove all dirty and infected material in and around the wound to aid healing and allow for easy access for home treatment. If a wound is not to be stitched your veterinarian will give strict instructions on how to care for the wound at home, dispense medication (topical treatment, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories as the situation requires) and have you in for regular check-ups to monitor the progress of the wound and determine the course of action as the wound matures. If a wound needs to be stitched your pet will be admitted into the hospital and placed under either sedation with local anaesthetic or full general anaesthetic, depending on the severity of the wound to be stitched. In the event that large pockets and open spaces are found under the skin a drain may be placed near the wound to allow drainage of fluid the body produces in response to the trauma. These drains are generally left in place for 3 days giving the body enough time to close off the open spaces and start the healing process. These will then be removed. If a wound is stitched without the placement of a drain, there will be little to no wound care at home except to monitor the healing of the wound and bring your pet in for stitches to be removed. If a drain is placed you will have to clean around the area twice a day until the drain is removed.

In conclusion most wounds will require at least initial examination by a veterinarian and in all instances seek the advice of your vet. Prevent your pet from licking or further traumatising their wounds and ensure regular cleaning and care. Do not use any wound treatment on your pet which you would not use on yourself.                  

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

My cat has pimples!

Feline acne is a common skin condition in cats. Cats of any age can be affected, and there is no breed or sex predisposition.

Cats are often presented to the veterinarian with the complaint of ‘dirt on the cat’s chin, that the owner cannot remove after attempts to clean it’ or ‘bumps on the cats chin’.

How does feline acne develop?

Hair follicles on the chin become blocked with secretions from small fat glands called sebaceous glands in the skin. This gives rise to multiple blackheads otherwise known as comedones on the chin, giving the chin the so-called ‘dirty appearance’. These comedones may also be associated with small red blisters or pimples and crusts on the surface of the chin.

In some cats, feline acne can be itchy, causing the cat to scratch and further damage the affected skin. Trauma to the surface layers of the skin often cause bacteria on the skin to start multiplying and cause infection, further complicating the clinical picture.

In severe cases, these plugged hair follicles may burst into the deeper layers of the skin, resulting in swelling, hair loss and draining tract formation. These draining tracts are often painful and your cat will be very reluctant to allow any touching or examination of this area.

The exact cause of feline acne is unknown, but there are multiple contributing factors, including:

  • Hyperactive sebaceous glands with excess sebum (fatty discharge) production
  • Clogging of hair follicles, when hair isn’t properly shed
  • Stress
  • A suppressed immune system (this includes abnormalities in the skin surface or the immune barrier function)
  • Irritation with inflammation of the skin also called dermatitis which may be as a result of the skin coming into contact with something that irritates it or sometimes an allergy not related to contact but perhaps food or pollens
  • Poor grooming habits (the chin is a difficult area to groom properly)
  • Sensitivity to certain foods, chemicals or medications

How is feline acne diagnosed?

The first and foremost clue is the discolouration and swelling of the chin area (in most cases it is limited to that part of the body).

Apart from doing a thorough clinical examination the vet will also take a comprehensive history of the case.

The vet may ask you questions like:

  • When did you first notice the comedones (bumps)?
  • Is the condition getting any worse?
  • Does the cat seem itchy on its chin?
  • What is your tick and flea control program like?
  • Have you made any recent changes to the cat’s diet, feeding bowls or feeding habits?

If no other abnormalities are found and further diagnostic tests are required, a tentative diagnosis of feline acne can be made. Feline acne lesions have a very characteristic appearance.

There are other conditions that can resemble feline acne, which include:

  • mange (Demodicosis) caused by a mite burrowing into the deep layers of the skin
  • yeast infections (Malassizia)
  • allergies
  • ringworm (Dermatophytosis) or
  • eosinophillic granuloma complex which is an immune condition affecting the skin

Further diagnostic testing may be required to rule out the above mentioned conditions and your vet may want to do a skin scrape, bacterial or fungal culture or in certain cases a skin biopsy. Biopsy is where a small piece if skin is cut out under general anaesthesia and sent to a laboratory for examination.

How is feline acne treated?

Treatment is dependent on the severity of the condition. If only a few comedones are present, topical treatment is applied. Cleansing the skin with a diluted disinfectant which is not irritating to the skin like Hibitane or a Chlorhexidine solution, Betadene or Witch hazel is recommended daily. Be careful not to use any of the normal human skin disinfectants as the pH of human skin differs from animals and these product may irritate the skin and make the condition worse. Afterwards fresh aloe gel, colloidal siver or a topical glucocorticoid cream can be applied. If your cat will tolerate it, a warm cloth can be applied to the chin for one minute, this will open the pores and allow better cleansing of the affected skin.

In severe cases with ruptured pustules and secondary infection, the hair on the chin is clipped, the skin is cleansed as mentioned above and systemic antibiotics and glucocorticoids are included in the treatment protocol. As this condition can be quite painful most cats will not allow this kind of treatment without being aneasthetised or deeply sedated.

It is worth considering switching to stainless steel feeding bowls, as some cats are sensitive to plastics or the dyes used to colour plastic feeding bowls. This skin sensitivity, when exacerbated, can worsen the feline acne.

Feline acne may occur as a single episode or in some cats may be a recurring problem. The condition can however be controlled with proper treatment and your cat can have a good quality of life despite feline acne.

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

Ear Infections in Your Pet

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

Causes and diagnosis of ear infection

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

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

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

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

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

Treatment of ear infections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scratch scratch scratch – Part 2 of 2

In the first part of this two-part series we looked at the complexity of itching and scratching in pets and the fact that although the symptoms eventually manifest in the same way i.e. itching and scratching,  there could be many different causes for it. Itching or pruritis, as vets call it, can be described as the sensation that elicits the desire to scratch. The skin, being the biggest organ in the body and acting as a sort of outer nervous system, provides feedback to the brain of things like temperature, touch, pain and itching through a network of nerve endings.

So what then are the most common causes of scratching and how can it be treated? Probably the most common answer most vets will give you is that it is fleas. These tough little parasites have survived for centuries and are still plaguing our domestic animals today. Fleas feed on blood and biting and latching onto an animal often causes the itching we so often see in animals with fleas. It is like experiencing tiny pinches all over the body which, understandably, become very irritating the more fleas there are on an animal. Fleas only live between two months and a year but their eggs can survive for more than a year in the environment and one flea can produce up to 600 eggs. Needless to say, a few fleas can quickly lead to a flea epidemic. It is therefore particularly important to use effective and long lasting anti-flea remedies as soon as possible after you spot a flea on your pet. Since more than three-quarters of a flea's life is spent somewhere other than on the animal, it is not adequate to treat only the animal, but also important to treat the environment. Thorough vacuuming, washing linens in hot water, and treating all animals in the same household at the same time even though one may not see any fleas on any of your other animals is essential and if possible, should be done on a regular basis.

With cats that groom themselves, one has to be especially careful because anything you use on a cat’s skin will also be taken in by the cat itself and if it is some kind of terrible poison that not only kills the fleas but everything else around it as well, it may not be safe for your cat. Due to flea eggs surviving so long, one should also try to use something which will clean the environment in which the animal lives of fleas. Some clever products have been devised for animals over the years, some which harden the flea eggshell so it cannot hatch, others that stay on the animal’s skin for up to two months, turning the animal into a walking “exterminator”, because as soon as a new flea hatches and jumps on the animal, they are exposed to the product and dies. Products which are water resistant, staying on the animal’s skin even though it gets wet, are very useful. Ultimately any product one uses needs to be safe for the animal itself and therefore the development of products which targets invertebrates like fleas and are safe for vertebrates like our pets, have gone a long way in fighting the war against fleas. It can also happen that an animal develops an allergy to flea saliva which then only takes one flea to bite an animal and cause a massive skin reaction completely out of proportion to the number of fleas found on the animal. The typical symptoms seen with flea allergy dermatitis are loss of hair on the back, close to the tail area in dogs, and in cats one can also find little scabs and skin flakes around the head and neck of the animal called milliary dermatitis. (It looks and feels as if someone took bird seed and rubbed it into the hair around the head and neck of this cat.)

Other forms of skin allergies are very common in animals and the most common is inhalant allergy which is similar to hay fever in humans. This is called atopy. Dogs and cats rarely suffer from a running nose or blocked sinuses so typical of hay fever in humans but dogs, more so than cats, suffer badly with a generalised itching and scratching because of allergy to pollen and other plant material. There is usually a seasonal prevalence of this condition and knowing that the season for it is coming up, one can prepare by taking some precautions to “soften the blow” of the condition. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition and this is one of the most common conditions for which pet owners will seek second opinions because it will seem like the vet is simply not able to make a proper diagnosis and treat the animal effectively. The most effective way of treating this condition is to remove the animal from the environment causing the atopy, but unfortunately, this is not an option for most people. The treatment of this condition can include amongst other things:

  • keeping the animal inside,
  • anti-histamines and cortisone,
  • adding omega 3 fatty acid oils into the diet,
  • changing to a prescription diet which naturally addresses the problem to some degree,
  • topical lotions and using specially formulated medicated shampoos,
  • having special desensitising vaccines made which is injected over a period of time to try and reduce the body’s over-reaction to the offending allergens, etc.

There is not a single recipe which works in every case of atopy and the vet has to consider the symptoms, the environment and circumstances of the pet and the owner, the response to treatment and the budget available for treatment, when making therapeutic decisions. Not an easy mix and often frustrating because the condition cannot be definitively treated but only effectively managed.

Other forms of allergy, which are less common, include food allergies and contact allergies and through a process of elimination, the vet usually has to determine which the primary source of allergy is. An animal with a food allergy has to be fed an elimination diet (usually a diet which contains a novel protein like duck, and a novel source of carbohydrate like rice) for at least eight to twelve weeks. Needless to say the commitment of the owner, and the animal for that matter, needs to be immense, to make sure that no tit-bits or other food are fed in between.

Mites, which are tiny microscopic creatures, can also cause itching and scratching and some of the more common mite conditions like demodicosis, scabies and cheyletiellosis need to be considered as possible causes of skin problems when presenting an animal to the vet for itching and scratching.

Fungi like ringworm or Malassezia have the potential to cause itching and scratching (similar to athlete’s foot in humans) and the vet will look at these conditions as possible causes for itching when examining and doing a diagnostic workup on an itchy pet. Bacteria that live on the skin of animals as normal inhabitants of the skin also has the potential to “get out of hand” and start causing infections which may cause itching and scratching. Sometimes it can be very difficult to determine if bacteria was the primary cause of the itch or if the itch leads to an irritation of the skin which in turn lead to bacteria starting to overgrow and cause secondary infections.

Some other less common causes for itching and scratching include hormonal conditions, cancer (like Sertoli cell tumours), immune-mediated disorders, genetic disorders and a poor diet.

When your dog or cat is itching and scratch, scratch, scratching, and it is driving you mad, make sure you get it to the vet as soon as you can for a thorough check-up to find the cause as early as possible and start with treatment. Keep in mind that certain conditions are never going to be cured and will require lifelong management and dedicated treatment from your side.

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


Scratch scratch scratch – Part 1 of 2

Vets often hear this complaint in the examination room, where clients complain about the incessant itching and scratching of their pets. This is a more common complaint with dogs where the nightly thump, thump, thump of a hind limb hitting the floor keeps the owner and the dog awake for hours. If it is irritating and hard wearing on the owner, then equally so, if not so much more for the affected pet. Skin problems in dogs and cats make up by far the biggest number of cases seen by vets. This is understandable given the fact that the skin is the biggest organ in the body. By definition, it is also the organ which has the greatest exposure to the environment.

Although there are several causes of skin irritation in pets, it usually results in a limited number of symptoms of which itching and scratching are the most visible (and sometimes audible) to the owner. The diagnosis of the condition which leads to the symptoms may not always be as straightforward as one might think. Similarly, the treatment options also vary dramatically from condition to condition. One treatment which may be effective for a specific cause of skin disease may actually exaggerate and worsen another skin condition. Therefore, it is imperative that the vet does a proper clinical examination accompanied by an accurate history of the condition, provided by the owner. People often say vets are so great because they make diagnoses without the patient being able to tell them what is wrong. In certain cases, this may be true, but in most cases, vets rely strongly on the history of the condition, provided by the owner, and therefore the owner has to speak on behalf of their pet. In most cases, it is far more complex and difficult to make a diagnosis when there is no history of the condition available than when the owner of the pet can give a detailed and accurate history of the symptoms and behaviour leading up to the condition.

There are several causes of itching and scratching in pets such as parasites, allergies, hormone disorders, infections and behavioural problems, to mention but a few. In order for the vet to make a proper diagnosis, there has to be a systematic approach. Starting with the most obvious and common causes would be the first line of approach. If this does not lead to an immediate and correct diagnosis there has to be a process of elimination with the exclusion of one possibility after the other until a definitive diagnosis can be made and a specific treatment can be prescribed. Sometimes this may be a very simple and straightforward process and treatment may be successful in a very short period of time. Most clients will tell their friends how wonderful and clever their vet is and how quickly and effectively he or she managed to solve their pets’ problem. Other times it will be a complicated, long drawn out and difficult process to make a diagnosis and treat the pet effectively, often times not having a definitive cure and leading to frustration and despair on the part of the owner for the vet’s inability to treat the patient successfully. In many cases these clients will go from vet to vet for several opinions, trying to find a solution and cure for their pet’s condition, and often these clients will lose faith in the veterinary profession’s ability to effectively diagnose and treat their pet’s condition. Vets find these cases as frustrating and demoralising as owners and realise that the cost involved in making a diagnosis and treating the pet was never something the owner prepared or budgeted for. Sadly many pets are eventually euthanased as a result of the incredible cost of treating such a pet effectively. The moral debate on whether this is fair and correct will rage on forever, but suffice to say that with modern veterinary medicine, euthanasia should not be necessary with difficult to treat skin conditions.

So where does one start with the diagnosis of an itchy and scratchy pet? The first place is a good clinical and physical examination by the vet. This examination has to be accompanied by a thorough history of the condition and many vets will actually use a pre-set questionnaire which they will use to go through a systematic progression of the condition, covering various aspects of pet’s environment, habits, diet and exposure, to determine the cause of a condition. Whilst obtaining the history of a condition the vet may try to establish if a condition started as an itch, which then leads to the animal scratching, or alternatively if the animal started scratching first, which then lead to further itching. This simple “chicken egg” scenario may give some important clues to the underlying cause of the condition.

An important part of making a diagnosis is the breed, the age and the gender of the animal. Certain conditions are genetically inheritable and prevalent in certain breeds, and the presentation of a specific breed of animal with specific symptoms will often be a dead giveaway to the possible underlying cause of the condition. Without jumping to a conclusion in certain breed-specific conditions, the vet may be able to speed up the diagnostic process by keeping these conditions in mind.

Following on the clinical examination and history, the vet may need to do some diagnostic tests. These tests may include skin scrapes, skin tape tests and impression smears, blood smears, comprehensive blood screening tests, blood hormone assays, injection challenge tests, allergen screening blood tests, needle aspirate examinations, hair pluck examination tests, cultures or ultraviolet light examination, to mention a few. (The list mentioned here is by no means a comprehensive list of the diagnostics tests available for use by vets, but merely an indication of some of the tests which the vet may recommend, in order of make a diagnosis.)

Some of the diagnostic tests mentioned above can be done immediately, at the time of the first clinical examination, and a definitive diagnosis may be made there and then. One has to be careful though, as sometimes one obvious diagnosis may in actual fact be a cause of another underlying condition. A simplistic approach to diagnostics and treatment may lead to resolving the initial symptoms associated with the obvious or secondary condition, without addressing the primary or underlying condition. This approach may lead to treatment failure in the long run and to a condition deteriorating over time. The follow up of treatment therefore actually forms an important part of the diagnostic and future treatment process of an animal with a skin condition.

In part two of this article, we cover more specifics in terms of the causes and treatments of skin conditions which lead to itching and scratching.

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

The infallible flea

Fleas are the most common pests on our pets. The immature stages (larvae, pupae) can survive for a long time in crevices, sofas, dog beds and carpets, just waiting for the right circumstances (e.g. heat, humidity) to hatch and cause mayhem. Then they not only irritate our pets but can also cause discomfort in humans. Many people will tell you that getting rid of a flea infestation in your home can be quite difficult and costly.

A little on the life-cycle of the flea:

The eggs are often laid on the animal but because the eggs are not sticky, they fall off into the environment. Along with the eggs, the female flea deposits a large amount of faeces as well (often called flea dirt) – this looks like little black grains of sand on your pet. The female flea can lie up to 30-50 eggs in a day! Two days after the egg is laid it hatches if the conditions are right. Do not make the mistake of thinking that fleas only hatch during summer. If your pet sleeps at all indoors during winter, your heater or underfloor heating will provide the ideal conditions for eggs to hatch.

The larvae that hatch from the eggs then starts to feed on the flea dirt left by the female. After a few days, the larva then starts spinning a cocoon and is called a pupa. These can be found in little dark corners e.g. carpets, your dog's bed or your bed… In a week the pupa develops into an adult and emerges from the cocoon. The entire life cycle takes about 15 days, but the pupa can remain dormant under inhospitable conditions (cold) and extend the life-cycle to over a year!

How do you know your pet has fleas?

Flea bites themselves may be unnoticeable on some pets, cause mild irritation in others or produce severe itching, red lesions, hair loss and even ulcers in others. The severe lesions are caused by a hypersensitivity to the flea saliva and are called flea bite dermatitis.

Large numbers of fleas can cause anaemia (blood loss) in small puppies and kittens and if severe enough it can be fatal.

The most common way of diagnosing a flea infestation is by seeing the adult flea or flea dirt on your pet, especially in the hair around the hind quarters. Pets are also generally quite itchy. If you are unsure, your vet will gladly help you make the diagnosis – it is not always as easy as it sounds.

My pet has fleas, now what?

There are a multitude of products available to control fleas; these include dips, sprays, powders and shampoos etc. The most effective flea control products are however exclusively available from vets. Most of the supermarket products only kill the adult stages or, at most, two of the life-cycle stages. The veterinary recommended products should kill ALL stages of the flea on your pet. They are also much easier to use and usually come in a spot-on form where the product is applied on the coat between the shoulder blades. This is especially helpful in our difficult kittys. Remember that powders are not suitable for cats because they groom themselves by constantly licking. These products also have a wide safety margin and most of them can be used on pregnant bitches and queens and even in puppies and kittens of three days old. Pets should be treated at least once a month for a minimum of three months in order to kill all the eggs, larvae and pupa in the environment, preventing them to grow into adult fleas and again jump onto your pet. Usually, by the third month, the life-cycle should be broken. This may not be true in heavy infestations and some pets may need year-long treatment. In such a case treatment of the environment is also very important. Ask your vet which products are safe for this – keeping in mind that fumigating your home is also hazardous to your pet's health.

Other medications such as tablets will also aid in the control of an infestation. Most of these will be available from your vet, but note, they only work when used in combination with a spot-on or another whole body treatment. Your vet will explain how they are best used in combination.

In cases of flea bite dermatitis your vet will also most likely prescribe an antibiotic, shampoo and perhaps a treatment to control your pet's itching. This condition is very common and can be caused by the bite of just one flea! Flea control in these pets is even more important as the disease can have a lengthy recovery period. Many other skin diseases can have similar symptoms and it is, therefore, important to have a vet diagnose the problem if you are unsure.

Also, take note that fleas carry tapeworms and that your pet could become infected by ingesting the flea – when grooming or licking themselves. For this reason, deworming is recommended whenever we treat for fleas.

By following the above protocol you will most likely succeed in keeping your pet flea free. Prevention is cheaper and more effective than treating a flea-ridden pet. You will also be much happier with the thought of NOT having something called “flea-dirt” in your bed…

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