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

Introduction to cherry eye

Prolapsed gland of the third eyelid

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

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

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

Other clinical signs associated with cherry eye.

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

Course of action with cherry eye

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

Conclusion

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

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

My pet is vomiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 Vetwebsites The Code Company (Pty) Ltd

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2018 Vetwebsites The Code Company (Pty) Ltd

Help! My pet has just drank some Anti-Freeze

Winter has arrived and many people, as a precautionary measure, are putting antifreeze into their cars’ radiators, to prevent the water from freezing.

Ethylene glycol is the main ingredient found in antifreeze. Antifreeze is not as commonly used in South Africa as on other very cold parts of the world, as we do not get the very cold temperatures found in some parts of the Northern hemisphere. It is however found in many other products, which are found in South Africa. It is found in lower, less harmful concentrations in hydraulic brake fluid, solvents, motor oils, paints, film-processing solutions, wood stains, inks and printer cartridges.

Ethylene glycol is a sweet, odourless liquid that dogs and cats may find quite tasty. Ethylene glycol has a very narrow margin of safety. This means that only a very small amount needs to be ingested in order for it to be toxic and very often fatal.

As little as a tablespoon may cause severe acute kidney failure in dogs and as little as one teaspoon may be fatal to cats. Animals are often attracted to ethylene glycol due to its sweet taste. It has a repulsive aftertaste but often the animal has ingested enough of the fluid by the time the aftertaste kicks in, to cause disastrous effects.

What are the signs that your animal may have been ingested ethylene glycol?

Early signs of intoxication may be seen from 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion and may include any combination of the following signs:

  • Drunkenness
  • Excessive thirst or urination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Panting
  • Sedation
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Muscle twitching
  • Fatigue
  • Coma

Ethylene glycol poisoning can be divided into three stages:

  • Stage 1: occurs up to 30 minutes after ingestion and includes fatigue, vomiting, incoordination, excessive urination, excessive thirst, low body temperature (hypothermia), seizures and coma.
  • Stage 2: occurs 12 to 24 hours after ingestion. Some of the clinical signs seen in the first 30 minutes may improve but during this stage, the animal may become very dehydrated and develop an increased heart rate and breathing rate.
  • Stage 3: occurs 36 to 72 hours after ingestions. There is generally severe kidney dysfunction at this stage. The dog or cat is generally in much pain and they do not produce urine (this is referred to as anuria). The patient may become more depressed and tired. They may lose their appetite and vomit. They may have a seizure or fall into a coma, which eventually leads to death.

How is ethylene glycol toxicity diagnosed?

If you suspect that your dog or cat may have ingested antifreeze or any other product containing ethylene glycol, it is important to seek immediate veterinary attention. If your animal is showing any of the clinical signs described, it is important to bring your pet to the vet immediately to be looked at. If there is any possibility that your pet may have been exposed to ethylene glycol but not showing any signs, they should still be brought to the vet.

If your pet has vomited or had diarrhoea, collecting a sample to bring to the vet may be beneficial in making a diagnosis. If a diagnosis can be made quickly and supportive treatment is given sooner, the prognosis, although still very poor, is that much better.

It is important to provide the veterinarian with a good history with as much detail as possible. The onset of symptoms may give a very important clue as to the potential cause. In some countries, there is a specific test for ethylene glycol toxicity but this is not widely available. The ethylene glycol concentration in the blood also decreases very rapidly so it is important to test as soon as possible after suspected ingestion. Diagnosis is usually made from history, clinical signs and laboratory data.

Ethylene glycol is processed or metabolised by the liver into toxic by-products that are damaging to the kidneys. Kidney function is measured by two main products in the blood, namely Creatinine and Blood Urea Nitrogen, both of which are nitrogenous waste products. If the kidneys are not functioning properly, these two products build up in the blood. These levels can be tested relatively easily. They are not a specific test for ethylene glycol poisoning, but they do indicate kidney damage. By the time these levels increase, it is unfortunately very often too late.

Looking at the urine may also assist in confirming exposure to ethylene glycol and subsequent kidney damage. The urine is often very dilute and contains blood, proteins and specific crystals. The urine is often acidic.

Is there a treatment?

Quick action and treatment are essential if there is any chance of survival. There is an antidote for ethylene glycol toxicity but it is very expensive and unfortunately not readily available in this country. The antidote also needs to be given within five hours of ingestion. Alternative treatment such as ethanol are available but animals need to be monitored closely as the drugs used for treatment have side effects. Sodium bicarbonate administered in the drip will assist with the metabolic acidosis.

In suspected cases, supportive treatment is essential and this will include intensive monitoring, fluid therapy to correct dehydration and correction of any pH imbalances in the body. Despite treatment, the prognosis is often grave to poor and many animals do not survive antifreeze poisoning.

The old saying, “Prevention is better than cure”, stands true here. It is important to be aware of any household products that contain ethylene glycol and store them safely, away from animals. Clean up any potential spills immediately and if you are unsure of potential exposure seek veterinary care immediately. There are many potential threats within a home of which the drinking of antifreeze is only one, and so it is important to be aware of them and take the necessary precautions to safeguard your animals.

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

Can I, or my dogs or cats contract bird flu from my pet birds?

The information provided here is not an official statement but is meant to provide some general information on bird flu because of the break out of bird flu in September 2017 in South Africa.

Bird flu or Avian Influenza (AI) is a family of influenza viruses that mainly affect birds. They are named according to two proteins on the surface of the virus (Haemagglutinin and Neuraminidase). The only ones of commercial concern are the H1, H5 and H7 types. There are dangerous (HP or highly pathogenic) and LP (low pathogen) strains. So when you see someone talking about HPAI H5N8 that means the dangerous type of H5N8 avian influenza.

These viruses have been around for a long time and are spread mostly via migratory waterfowl.

Many wild birds can have the viruses without becoming ill. Bird, swine and human flu are very similar viruses.

The panic at the moment is due to a HP strain of H5N8 spreading rapidly through South Africa.

This strain is rapidly fatal to chickens and ducks and could decimate our commercial poultry industry if left unchecked.

Also, one of the biggest concerns with bird flu is that it could mutate to become dangerous to people. The current strain doesn't affect humans and as far as we are aware cannot be transmitted to dogs or cats.

There have been recorded bird deaths all over South Africa, including in some of our best zoos and parks. Current government policy is to cull all poultry on an affected commercial premise, like a chicken farm, and to institute quarantine. The exact details depend on the situation.

Parrots can get bird flu but cases are rare. It is critically important that you minimise contact between wild birds and your pet birds or your bird collection to prevent infections. Keep birds indoors or under roof and prevent wild birds from getting near food and water supplies. Do not take in any injured or sick wild birds. Ideally, do not have chickens or ducks on the same premises. If you find a dead ibis, Egyptian goose etc, place it in two sealed plastic bags and send it for testing. Talk to the vet about how to submit dead wildlife to the State Vet.

Maximise your biosecurity by using F10, Virkon or other good disinfectants, and use footbaths and hand sprays before entering your aviaries. If not absolutely necessary rather do not handle your pet birds physically.

What about vaccination?

There are vaccines available overseas but vaccination is currently not allowed in South Africa. Using a vaccine in a commercial setting as with poultry could theoretically worsen the situation by increasing the chances of the virus mutating to affect people and could also theoretically adversely affect South Africa's ability to export poultry products. Some countries recommend vaccinating at-risk endangered species of birds.

Be careful of bringing wild birds that appear to be sick to the vet without a telephone call in advance to see that it is in order. This is because it may be risky if there are domestic/exotic birds which are hospitalised, which could lead to cross contamination. If you have an injured or ill waterfowl from your own collection or should you have a sick parrot that you may suspect may have bird flu, special arrangements may have to be made for seeing the bird, to prevent other birds being affected.

© 2018 Dr Dorianne Elliott – Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital Onderstepoort

 

Is your pet safe?

Fatal Diseases that can easily be prevented

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

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

Rabies (affects dogs and cats)

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

Treatment: None

Prevention: Vaccination

Distemper (this is a disease that only affects dogs)

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

Treatment: None

Prevention: Vaccination

Parvoviral infection (CatFlu) in dogs

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

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

Prevention: Vaccination

Infectious Canine Hepatitis (affects dogs)

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

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

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

Feline Panleukopenia (affects cats)

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

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

Prevention: Vaccination.

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

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

False Pregnancy

False pregnancy, also known as Phantom pregnancy or Pseudo-pregnancy, is a condition of both dogs and cats, whereby the unsterilised female animal (regardless of whether she was mated or not) shows some or all of the typical signs of pregnancy but is not really pregnant. In other words, she shows mammary gland development (with or without milk production) but does not produce any offspring.

Symptoms appear usually about 1 to 2 months after oestrus (heat) has finished. Animals that have experienced a false pregnancy after a heat cycle may or may not experience the condition again after any future cycles.

Pseud-pregnancy is a fairly common condition and can be quite confusing and frustrating for the owner or breeder that wishes to breed with their animal. Although the astute pet owner or breeder may be able to correctly diagnose their animal as pregnant, non-pregnant or pseudo-pregnant, one should always consult a veterinarian if pregnancy is suspected.

A veterinary visit will help to ensure that the mother animal is healthy enough to support a pregnancy and that any potential complications are dealt with early. It will also ensure that you are adequately informed and correctly advised on how to care for both mum and babies during pregnancy and once they are born.

What are the typical signs of pregnancy in animals?

  • Pregnant animals typically start showing a more pendulous belly as gestation progresses and weight gain may be the presenting complaint in animals that are found to be pregnant or pseudo-pregnant.
  • Some animals will pour all their energy and body fat reserves into the unborn offspring and appear to be emaciated with muscle wastage in favour of a large developing belly. (This should not to be mistaken for parasitic causes of pot-belly).
  • Some animals show signs of “morning sickness” such as vomiting/nausea/inappetance although appetite may increase in order to supply enough nutrients for the increasing energy demands of the growing offspring.
  • Nesting behavior may become apparent, whereby the pregnant female is more affectionate (motherly), scratches at bedding to make it more comfortable, or seeks a warmer environment in which to rest.
  • Decreased activity levels or being less inclined to play/run may be noticed in pregnant animals which may be mistaken for depression.
  • The female may become more agitated and restless and in some cases even aggressive.
  • Mammary glands become enlarged and watery white or slightly brown-tinged fluid may be able to be expressed.
  • Teats (or nipples) will become enlarged, usually during the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy.

What is the length of the gestation period for dogs and cats?

Cats are pregnant for an average of 66 days, with a range of 62 to 67 days. Cats can have litter sizes of anywhere from 1 kitten in younger queens, to 4 or 5 kittens in older more mature queens.

Dogs are pregnant for an average of 65 days with a range of 58 to 65 days. Dogs can have litter sizes of anywhere from 1 puppy in smaller breeds e.g. Chihuahua, up to 15 puppies in some larger breeds e.g. Labrador.

What causes a False Pregnancy?

The un-sterilised female animal is continually under the influence of a number of hormones, including Oestrogen (feminising hormone), Progesterone (pregnancy maintenance hormone) and Prolactin (milk production stimulating hormone), which all play an important role in the recognition and maintenance of pregnancy.

The exact cause of pseudo-pregnancy is not currently known, but hormonal imbalances (mainly involving elevated levels of Progesterone and Prolactin) play a significant role.

After being “on heat” (oestrus) the female ovaries naturally produce more of these hormones in order to prepare the uterus and body for pregnancy in case she has been mated, and if pregnancy is recognised by the uterus (if embryos are present) the hormones will continue to be produced in order to maintain the pregnancy. If no embryos are present (the female is not pregnant), the Progesterone and Prolactin levels of a normal female animal will slowly decline in favour of a rise in Oestrogen in preparation for the next “heat” cycle.

Hormonal disturbances, whether due to inherent pathological conditions e.g. underlying infection or tumours that affect hormone production, or human intervention such as sterilisation (whereby the ovaries and uterus are surgically removed) have been known to occasionally result in false pregnancy-like symptoms.

I think my pet might be Pseudo-pregnant – what now?

A specific diagnosis of pregnant / pseudo-pregnant will need to be made by your veterinarian.

Once your veterinarian has collected a full, detailed history of your pet’s health, a number of diagnostic procedures will be performed which will usually involve a full clinical examination (temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate, capillary refill time of the gums, gum colour, general overall body condition score) and may also involve additional routine diagnostics such as a blood smear, blood testing, a faecal float, a vaginal smear and a urine analysis. This is in order to rule out any other potential illnesses which may be the cause of your dog’s apparent false pregnancy.

If your animal is suspected to be pregnant, your vet may need to take survey radiographs (abdominal X-rays) to assess the size, number and position of the foetuses. Foetal skeletal maturation occurs after the 49 days of pregnancy, so very young foetuses may not be visualised until after this point in gestation. In the case of early pregnancy, an abdominal ultrasound is more rewarding.

Where abdominal ultrasound is performed, pregnancy can be detected from 4 weeks after mating, and your vet will be able to assess the heart rate of the foetuses (which will indicate if the offspring are in fact alive and/or if they are stressed), as well as taking a closer look at the abdominal organs of the mother including the uterus and ovaries.

False pregnancy will quickly be diagnosed if there are no foetuses present. In this case, your vet may elect to run further diagnostic tests (such as routine blood testing involving a full blood count and biochemistry profile) to find out why your animal is showing signs of phantom pregnancy.

If the female animal suspected to be having a false pregnancy is suspected to be between 21 to 15 days pregnant, it may be possible to test your animal’s blood for a hormone called Relaxin which, if present in high enough quantity, may be used to confirm pregnancy.

Are there any dangers or adverse effects from Phantom Pregnancy?

If no underlying pathological condition can be found by your vet as the cause of the symptoms being displayed by your pet then no drastic intervention is usually required. Simple remedies such as the use of an Elizabethan Collar to prevent licking of teats, or hot/cold packs on the mammary tissue and even a reduction in food intake will help to reduce milk production.

However, if a disease process is found to be at the root of the problem (for example infection or cancer), intervention to remedy the condition (such as removal of the ovaries and uterus, called sterilisation or “spaying”) may be necessary.

If your pet is sick or physically ill, and if any behavioural changes are severe enough to cause concern, then medical treatment such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, anti-anxiety medication, and/or diuretics may be indicated. Hormonal therapy is rarely necessary.

Most dogs will improve or revert to normal within two to three weeks of the onset of symptoms without any intervention. If your pet is to be spayed, it is best to have the procedure performed after all pseudo-pregnancy symptoms have been resolved otherwise their resolution may be delayed.

Is there anything I can do to prevent False Pregnancy in my pet?

Although False Pregnancy is not a life-threatening condition (as long as it does not involve a disease process), early sterilisation or “spaying” of female animals will not only ensure that pets do not develop the condition again after the initial episode, but will also reduce the risk of other potentially life threatening conditions of the reproductive tract, such as pyometra (uterine infection), in future.

In addition, early sterilisation of females is proven to reduce the risk of mammary cancer and reproductive disorders, and all unwanted pregnancies or mis-matings will also be avoided if all non-breeding stock females are sterilised.

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

The worm you did not know about – Spirocerca lupi

Most people do not know about this little worm. It has a strange and difficult name and an equally strange life-cycle. Normal deworming remedies do not kill this parasite and most people do not even know when their dog is infected with it. This article will try and shed some light on the how, what and where of Spirocerca lupi.

Spirocerca lupi is a roundworm. It is red in colour and 40 – 70 mm long. The eggs contain the larvae and have the shape of a paperclip. The eggs and larvae are passed from one host to another and this process normally starts when an animal passes the eggs in its stools. For example, a dung beetle ingests the eggs while working with or rolling in infected stools. The larvae then hatch inside the dung beetle and develop into more mature forms. A bird, lizard or another small animal might eat the dung beetle and then become infected with the larvae. Your dog will then become infected by eating the bird or lizard, called an intermediate host. This disease has not yet been seen in cats.

Once the dog has eaten an intermediate host, the larvae are released in the dog's stomach and then travel via the small arteries in the stomach to the aorta (this is the main artery in the body). This process takes about 3 months. The small larvae will then pass through the wall of the aorta into the wall of the oesophagus (the muscular tube which takes food from the mouth to the stomach. The aorta lies very close to the oesophagus in the chest.

In the wall of the oesophagus the larvae form a swelling called a granuloma where the worms live and mature. As the worms grow, so does the granuloma which can then become big enough to put pressure on the windpipe and/or aorta and cause a partial blockage and irritation of the oesophagus. The pressure and irritation will cause coughing/wheezing and even breathing problems in your dog. If the blockage in the oesophagus is big enough you may also notice vomiting soon after eating. Other signs include loss of appetite and as a result also weight loss. These signs might not sound very serious, but this worm can cause life-threatening secondary changes to organs and tissues inside the body.

The difficulty in breathing or swallowing can become quite noticeable and distressing for the animal. In long-standing cases the granuloma can become cancerous and if it stays in the oesophagus this growth is called a fibrosarcoma. It can also spread to the long bones (i.e. tibia, femur, radius and ulna). This will be seen as abnormal, and in some cases painful, swelling of the dog's legs. This is called hypertrophic osteopathy and over time this may become cancerous as well – normally a very malignant bone cancer called an osteosarcoma.

As if this is not bad enough, the worms can also damage the wall of the aorta, causing the wall to become weak and thin forming an aneurism – a thinning and ballooning of a blood vessel wall. If this thinning is severe enough, the aneurism may burst, causing the dog to bleed to death within minutes. Unfortunately it is often at this very late stage when vets see these infected dogs for the first time. People bring in a dog that died suddenly during the night and Spirocerca lupi is diagnosed on post mortem.

How is Spirocerca lupi diagnosed?

It is not easy to diagnose a Spirocerca lupi infection partly due to the symptoms mentioned earlier indicating many different diseases. The most common presenting symptom is constant vomiting directly after eating. If your vet suspects Spirocerca lupi, an x-ray photo of your dog's chest will be taken where the granuloma may sometimes be visible. Spirocerca lupi eggs may also be seen in your dog's stools. If the vet cannot make a positive diagnosis this way, the next step is an oesophagoscopy. This is a test where a camera with a light source (called a scope) is passed into the dog's oesophagus through its mouth (for this procedure your dog will need a general anaesthetic). The granuloma or even the worm (protruding out of the granuloma) may be seen on the oesophagoscopy.

How is Spirocerca lupi treated?

The treatment is unfortunately not always successful as vets mostly see cases when the secondary changes have become very advanced. The medication your vet will use is not registered for the use in dogs (it is used in sheep as a deworming medicine), but is the only effective remedy available. For this reason if your dog is diagnosed with Spirocerca lupi, it can ONLY be treated by veterinarian and should be supervised closely. Many times the disease process is too advanced to treat in which case your vet will prescribe treatment to keep your pet comfortable. Some of the treatment could include ways to feed your dog to minimise vomiting, antibiotics (many infected dogs can develop pneumonia due to coughing and with subsequent inhalation of food particles) and even pain medication (in those patients with bone cancer).

How can you prevent your dog from getting infected?

The most important way to prevent this “disease” is to remove stools daily. It must also be disposed of in such a way that none of the intermediate hosts can get to it. You should also try to prevent your dog from eating any of the intermediate hosts. This might not always be easy in terriers or hunting breeds, but training from an early age should prove helpful.

Fortunately there is now a registered spot-on product mainly used for tick and fleas available from the vet, which has been proven to be effective against Spirocerca Lupi. Please ask the vet about this product.

If you are inclined to feed chicken or red meat to your dog, ensure that it is always properly cooked. Never feed raw meat to your dog, it might have been part of an intermediate host!

In the end doing small things like regular parasite control with good quality products, picking up stools on a regular basis, following a proper feeding regimen with the correct dog food, and even puppy training can all contribute to a long and happy life for your dog and prevent them from picking up nasty infections.

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

Tiny but deadly

Living in a warm and sunny country is great, but with it comes all the parasites and diseases associated with a warm and/or tropical climate. One of these little scourges can be found nearly all over South Africa, namely ticks. Most people have at some or other time encountered a tick on their pet. This can be quite distressing – especially if you consider a disease like biliary (tick fever).

Keeping your pets tick free is of the utmost importance considering the risk of contracting biliary or ehrlichia, two tick-borne diseases.

Biliary

Biliary is a potentially fatal disease which kills thousands of dogs in South-Africa each year. It is caused by a protozoan (a type of parasite) called Babesia canis. This parasite is carried and transmitted by the Yellow Dog tick and when an infected tick bites your dog, he/she will become infected by entering the animal’s bloodstream.

These parasites then multiply in your dog's red blood cells and this multiplication, together with the body's immune response (the body tries to attack the parasites in the red cells which also causes the cells to break up), destroy the red blood cells, – resulting in anaemia (lack of blood). If not treated early, this anaemia can become severe enough to be fatal. Often the parasite does not only cause anaemia, but also life-threatening complications such as kidney and/or liver failure.

The symptoms to look out for in your dog include: loss of appetite, lethargy and weakness, fever, pale gums (may later turn yellow), dark or port coloured urine, yellow stools and, in severe cases, even seizures. Some pet owners may not notice any of the above signs but rather they notice that their pet is “off colour” or “not themselves”. These are often very early signs in the disease and should not be ignored. If you notice any of the above symptoms (even if you have never seen a tick on your dog), take your dog to your veterinarian immediately. With biliary having a 10-20 day incubation period you might not link the disease symptoms with finding a tick on your dog. Waiting even 1 day too long can make the difference between life and death. The quicker biliary is diagnosed and treated the higher the chance of survival for your pet.

Biliary is easy to diagnose. Your vet will take a little blood from your dog's ear and make a blood smear which will then be checked under the microscope, providing a quick and 100% accurate way of diagnosing this disease. Treatment includes taking a blood sample to establish how anaemic your pet is, determining how intensively the vet needs to treat your dog. In very mild cases a simple injection will cure the disease and in severe cases hospitalisation, blood transfusions and very intensive supervised care is needed. Due to the intensity of care provided in severe treatment of biliary it can be very costly, but this can be avoided by proper tick control, not mentioning sparing your dog the trauma, even saving his/her life.

In cats:

Biliary in cats is caused by Babesia felis. Luckily it is only found along the coastal regions of South-Africa. It is important to note that it does not present the same as in dogs. Most of the clinical signs include loss of appetite, lethargy, weakness and an unkempt hair coat. Fever and pale or yellow gums are uncommon in cats – except when other underlying diseases are present. These may include Mycoplasma (another tick borne disease in cats), feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (Fiv/feline aids). Many of the same complications as in dogs are seen in cats – kidney failure, liver failure, and lung oedema and central nervous system signs.

Diagnosis is not as easy as in canine babesiosis and your vet will most likely send a blood sample to the lab for testing. Luckily response to treatment is generally good if the disease is caught in time. When one of the above underlying diseases is present the prognosis is guarded in spite of correct treatment.

Ehrlichia

This disease is caused by a parasite called Ehrlichia canis and is also known as “tick bite fever”. It is transmitted by the Brown Dog tick and presents completely different to Babesia. Tick bite fever has an acute and a chronic form and is not as acutely fatal as tick fever. Signs in the acute form can include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and swollen glands. In later stages of the disease signs include nasal discharge, coughing, bronchopneumonia and even death. In severe forms of the disease the dog can die as a result of massive blood loss as one of the consequences of this disease include a life-threatening depletion of the cells which help in blood clotting.

Treatment consists of 28 days of doxycycline (an antibiotic) and dramatic improvement is usually noticed after 24-48 hours in the early stages of the disease. As in tick fever, the later more critical stages of the disease will include very intensive treatment.

How do you prevent these horrible diseases?

Tick control is by far the easiest and most affordable way to prevent tick borne diseases. They prevent ticks from attaching to your pet and therefore prevent the ticks from transmitting the deadly parasites. Products bought from your vet are the most effective and come in a range of collars, dips, shampoos and spot-ons. Your vet will advise you as to which product is the right one for your pet. Many of these products will kill fleas as well.

Recently a biliary/tick fever vaccine has become available. The vaccine does not prevent biliary completely, but prevents the life threatening side-effects – e.g. anaemia and liver and kidney failure. It is not recommended for all dogs as it may be painful in some cases. It is only prescribed in dogs that are exposed to ticks on a regular basis, especially those who contract biliary once to twice a year. Your vet will be able to help you make the decision as to whether your dog needs this vaccine or not.

Responsible pet ownership is the name of the game in preventing life-threatening tick borne diseases. This includes keeping your pets parasite free and seeking veterinary care whenever you are concerned about your pet's wellbeing. It might be a cliché, but prevention is really better (and kinder) than cure.

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

Do cats get colds?

Just like humans and most other domestic animal species, cats can also catch colds. In cats, this disease is referred to as Snuffles – quite an apt name for all the sniffing and snorting associated with this disease. The learned name for this disease is Feline Rhinotracheitis. This name describes the disease well;

  • Feline means cat
  • Rhino means the nasal passage
  • Trachea is the windpipe
  • -itis – whenever you find a condition ending in –itis, it indicates inflammation. Inflammation causes swelling of the affected tissue, and in this instance if the surface of the nasal passage and throat is swollen, it means that air flow between the nose and lungs is restricted, leading to noisy and/or heavy breathing. The membranes around the eyes are often affected as well.  

The most common signs of Snuffles include sneezing, a blocked nose or runny nose, tearing from the eyes (which could range from a clear, thin and watery discharge to a thick yellow or green discharge) and difficult breathing. Many times the outer glassy layer of the eye itself, the cornea, may be affected, leading to ulcers of the eye. Sneezing is a very common symptom of this disease and coughing is rare.

Similar to colds in humans, viruses are the main cause of this disease in cats with the feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) and feline calicivirus (FCV) being the main culprits. A bacterium with the name Chlamydia Psitacci is also a common cause of the disease. As with most diseases where the surfaces of the body are attacked by organisms which cause infection, as soon as there is inflammation of tissues, other bacteria “join the party”. This illness is highly infectious between cats and can spread quickly from one cat to another. The spread occurs indirectly through the air when the sick cat sneezes, or directly when cats come into contact with the secretions from the eyes and nose of an affected cat. Fortunately the disease does not get transmitted between species so your dog cannot contract the disease from your cat.

Infected animals may lose their appetite and become reluctant to eat. This may be due to a fever and feeling poorly in general, but may also be just from a loss of smell due to a blocked nose, which makes food less enticing. For this reason it is advised to offer cats with Snuffles tasty, strong smelling food such as warmed up pilchards.

The diagnosis of Snuffles is usually based on the clinical signs. A definitive diagnosis of which viruses or bacteria are causing the disease can be made by sending a swab of the nose or eye discharge to a laboratory for testing. In first time or simple cases of Snuffles it is uncommon for the vet to go to this level of diagnosis upfront because the symptomatic treatment, together with antibiotics depending on the severity of the disease, will be the same regardless of which virus is the main culprit. However, in long-standing or severe cases it will be necessary to perform more in depth diagnostic tests to establish the exact offending organism, its susceptibility to different types of antibiotics and to rule out other potential causes. A cancerous mass in the nasal passages or a foreign body like a grass seed could cause the same symptoms. Other possibilities include fungal infections or dental disease such as infections of teeth roots; or allergic inflammation of the nose. 

Diagnostic tests for investigating severe or chronic cases of Snuffles may include X-rays; exploration of the nasal passages with an endoscope (a narrow tube with a camera on the end); or a biopsy (cutting a small piece of affected tissue from the affected areas) which will be sent for microscopic examination or culture (an attempt to grow the offending organism in a laboratory and identify its type). Some cats are “chronic snufflers,” which means that they are carriers of the virus. These animals shed the virus and show clinical signs intermittently when under stress. Unfortunately in these cases the only way to confirm such a diagnosis is going through one diagnostic test after another and by a process of elimination, rule out all potential causes.

The vet will look for specific signs to try to ascertain the cause of the disease. It is helpful if you can take note of the colour and consistency of the discharge and if it comes from only one eye or nostril, or from both.  The vet will also check for any swelling of the face, or any other signs of illness such as weight loss or swollen lymph nodes.

The most commonly affected animals are those with a low immunity – usually the very young or the very old.  Unvaccinated cats are at a much higher risk as protection against viruses is included in the initial and thereafter annual vaccinations performed by the vet.  Vaccination does not guarantee that your cat will not get Snuffles.  This is because as with the human vaccine against Influenza, viruses often mutate and have different strains which may not be included in the vaccine yet. The vaccination will however, drastically decrease your cat’s chances of contracting Snuffles, and in many cases also decrease the severity and duration of illness if it is contracted.

Regarding kittens, it is important that the mother cat’s vaccinations are up to date, as her immunity is passed down to her offspring. It is also vitally important that the kittens ingest the mother’s colostrum in their first few hours of life.  Colostrum is the first milk produced after giving birth and it is rich in antibodies, which the kittens are able to absorb directly for the first 24 hours after birth. The lining of the intestines of new born animals start changing within six hours after birth and if colostrum is not taken in within those first hours, the kittens have a much weaker immune system and protection against many infections. Round about six to eight weeks of age, this passive immunity which kittens got from their mother starts to wane, and at this stage it is necessary to have the  kitten vaccinated by the vet for the first time, to be followed up by two or three follow up booster vaccinations with monthly intervals. Yearly vaccination boosters thereafter will depend on the risk as assessed by the vet.

Besides low immunity, other risk factors for Snuffles include crowded conditions; poor ventilation and hygiene; inadequate nutrition; pregnancy; lactation; the presence of another disease or high stress levels.

Treatment of viral infections is largely symptomatic. The cat must be provided with a comfortable environment, preferably indoors and warm.  It is helpful if the owner can gently wipe away eye and nose secretions every few hours.  An amino acid supplement called Lysine helps to limit multiplication of the virus in affected cases.  This can be provided in a paste form by the veterinarian. Antibiotics are used if a secondary bacterial infection is present or suspected.  Decongestants and eye drops may also be necessary depending on the case. It is important to encourage sick cats to eat.  Tasty foods must be offered, and an appetite stimulant can be used. In severe cases, anorexic cats (cats that have stopped eating) may require intravenous fluids or even a stomach tube.  Nebulisation which is a process where medical solutions and suspensions are broken up into small aerosol droplets which can be inhaled from a medical device, can be used to treat affected cats. Most cats do not tolerate this treatment well and it is usually reserved for severely ill cats.

Sick cats should be isolated to limit the spread of the disease. Most cases of Snuffles are self-limiting which means that with time the cat will overcome the illness as its own immune system fights back and forms antibodies against the viruses, or the body’s soldier cells kill off offending bacteria. Occasionally, in severely compromised patients, the disease can be fatal. Chronic Snuffles is a severely debilitating disease and treatment can be frustrating because of frequent relapses as well as antibiotic resistance building up over time, leading to fewer treatment options.

As is the case with all diseases, prevention is better than cure. Timely vaccination of all cats will go a long way in decreasing the prevalence of Snuffles. A healthy living environment with minimal stress is also advised.  If your cat does start showing signs of Snuffles it is best to take your cat to the vet as soon as possible for assessment and appropriate supportive care.

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