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When used properly, veterinary medicine is essential and practical for many pet medical conditions. Below you will find a list of some of the most common conditions your pet may suffer from. Learn more about their causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention. If after perusing this section you don’t find the information you were looking for, please give us a call at 415-681-5553.
Cartilage is a slippery substance which acts as a buffer or “cushion” between the bones in a joint. It allows the bones to move over or around each other without pain. Arthritis occurs when the cartilage within a joint becomes damaged. Eventually an arthritic joint becomes inflamed and painful. There are over 100 different types of arthritis recognised in humans. In pets, the most common form is osteoarthritis, sometimes called degenerative joint disease. Other types include rheumatoid arthritis and septic arthritis which is caused by joint infection. Arthritis commonly affects older and middle-aged pets. However, the condition is not limited to these age groups and younger animals can also suffer from the disease. When arthritis eventually causes changes in the joint which result in pain, this often becomes apparent by changes in the animal’s behavior – the primary symptoms of the disease. Because arthritis commonly develops with age, pet owners sometimes confuse changes in their animal’s behavior as normal age-related changes (such as a decrease in play), whereas in fact, the animal might be suffering quite severe arthritic pain.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is essentially caused by daily wear-and-tear of the joint, but can also occur as a result of injury. Osteoarthritis begins as a disruption of the cartilage; ultimately, this causes the bones in the joint to erode into each other. The condition may start with minor pain during your pet’s activity, but can develop into continuous chronic pain which might even occur when the animal is resting. Osteoarthritis typically affects the weight-bearing joints, but can affect both large and small joints of the body. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis is most commonly a disease of elderly pets. Osteoarthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis, cannot be cured, but the condition can be prevented from worsening. Physiotherapy to strengthen muscles and joints can be helpful. Pain medications may be required. For some pets, weight-loss can reduce the stress on the joints thereby reducing the development of osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s own immune system starts to attack body tissues. The attack is quite general and affects not only the joint but also many other parts of the body. This condition causes damage to the joint lining and cartilage. Eventually, this results in erosion of the opposing bones of the joint. Drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis include corticosteroids.
Symptoms of arthritis may not be particularly obvious in the early stages of the disease, but become apparent as pain in the joint increases. Symptoms may be particularly difficult to notice in cats as they tend to hide signs of injury or weakness. Limping An animal with arthritis may favor one or more of their limbs, or have a distinct limp. The severity and type of limp will depend on the joint/s that are affected. Limping is often more pronounced immediately after the animal wakes up from sleeping, and then becomes less pronounced as the animal begins moving about.
Because of the pain caused by arthritis, affected animals may become reluctant to move in ways with which they previously had no difficulty. For instance, arthritic cats might stop jumping up to high areas for sleeping, or may stop using litter trays with high sides. Dogs may not be able to sit so easily, jump in and out of cars, or get up and down stairs.
Arthritis can also affect various parts of the spine. This often results in an abnormal posture with a hunched back, a sore neck, or lameness in one or both hind legs.
Animals with arthritis become tired more easily. For dogs, walks may become shorter and your pet may spend more time sleeping or resting.
Pets with arthritis often lick, chew or bite the painful body areas. If this becomes severe, it may cause baldness over the affected area, or inflamed skin. Conversely, your pet may reduce its grooming because the movements are painful.
Changes in temperament
As with any condition that causes pain, your pet may become irritable if arthritis develops – they may bite, snap or vocalize when handled. It may be necessary to revise your petting or handling so that it does not cause pain.
Muscle atrophy is a decrease in the mass of muscles. This decrease can be partial or a complete wasting away. Arthritic pets can develop muscle atrophy due to inactivity. Atrophied muscles in the legs will give your pet the appearance of having legs thinner than usual.
Some cat breeds are more susceptible to arthritis than others. Hip dysplasia (abnormal development of the hip joints) is seen especially in Maine Coon, Persians, Siamese and other breeds. Patella luxation (dislocation of the knee cap) is more common in Abyssinian and Devon Rex breeds. In dogs, the larger breeds such as Labrador, Retriever, German Shepard and Alaskan Malamute are all more susceptible to hip dysplasia than other breeds.
Injury or trauma
Fractures, dislocations and other joint injuries can cause abnormal joint conformation and irregular future development. This can result in secondary osteoarthritis.
There is no evidence that obesity causes arthritis, however, it can make an existing condition worse.
Arthritis affects one in every five adult dogs in the U.S. It is one of the most common sources of chronic pain that veterinarians treat. In dogs, the joints most commonly affected by arthritis are:
spine (inter-vertebral joints)
A study in 2002 concluded that 90% of cats over 12 years of age had evidence of degenerative joint disease. In cats, the joints most commonly affected by arthritis are:
A veterinarian will be able to diagnose whether your pet has arthritis. They will perform a physical examination on your pet and may take x-rays. Occasionally, it might be necessary to take blood or joint-fluid samples to investigate possible joint infections.
Although arthritis cannot be cured, there are treatments available that can ease the pain for your pet. The solution to keeping arthritic pets comfortable is not to limit their activity but to manage their pain. Initially, treatment for pain may need to be aggressive, especially if the pet has been inactive for a long time. As the benefits of exercise develop, the need for pain relievers often decreases.
Exercise is important for treating arthritis as it keeps strength in the muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding the joints. If these supportive tissues become weak or loose, they can worsen arthritis. Exercise stimulates the production of joint-fluid which lubricates the joint and nourishes the cartilage. Exercise also keeps pets from becoming obese; extra weight increases the loading on joints making movement even more painful.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and opioid derivatives can be used in the treatment of arthritis.
Several diets or dietary supplements are available for pets with arthritis. These contain essential fatty acids to reduce inflammation, and glycosaminoglycans, the ‘building blocks’ of cartilage.
Acupuncture and low-level laser therapy have also been used in the treatment of arthritis in pets.
Neoplasia describes a process involved in several different diseases. It is therefore difficult to give an all-encompassing definition. However, it is generally recognized that neoplasia is the uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells or tissues in the body, prior to a lump or abnormal growth developing. Once developed, the abnormal growth is called a neoplasm or tumor. Tumors can be benign or malignant.
Benign and Malignant Tumors
A benign tumor is a mass of cells that lacks the ability to invade neighboring tissue or spread throughout the body. Benign tumors typically have an outer fibrous sheath of connective tissue and grow more slowly than malignant tumors. Malignant tumors usually grow more aggressively, they invade the tissues surrounding them and can metastasize (spread throughout the body). The actual swelling or appearance of a neoplasm is often described as a “tumor” or “mass”. The word “cancer” is often used instead of neoplasia, but only malignant neoplasms are true cancers.
INCIDENCE OF NEOPLASIA AND CANCER
Neoplasia is common in pets and the incidence increases with age.
Approximately 32% of all cats over 10 years of age will die from some type of cancer. Most feline cancers occur in cats 10 to 15 years of age – although lymphoma is an exception as this occurs most often in young cats. Cats commonly develop skin tumors; 25% of all feline cancers are skin cancers, with 50% to 65% of them being malignant. The next most common type of feline cancer is breast cancer (17%) and approximately 10% of all feline tumors are found in the mouth.
It has been estimated that almost 50% of deaths in dogs over 10 years of age are cancer-related and approximately 25% of all dogs will die from cancer. Overall, the incidence of cancer is 3 times greater in female dogs compared to males. This difference is due to the much high rate of mammary cancer in bitches. The incidence of cancer in pure-bred dogs is substantially higher. For example, one in five Golden Retrievers is diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma and is likely to die from it. Other breeds in which cancer is more common include the Boxer, Bernese Mountain dogs and Greyhound.
Physical examination and a pet’s medical history may lead a veterinarian to suspect neoplasia. Additional tests, such as x-rays, ultrasound examination and blood-tests may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. In some cases, taking a tissue sample (biopsy) from the neoplasm for microscopic examination may also be necessary. This examination can help determine whether the neoplasm is benign or malignant. Additional tissue samples from other organs such as the lymph nodes may be necessary to determine the rate and extent of spread of a malignant neoplasm.
The causes of most neoplastic diseases are not known. Prevention is therefore difficult and early detection is the best way to manage neoplasia.. Cancer is a “multi-factorial” disease. This means it has no known single cause. Hereditary and environmental factors have been identified as risk factors contributing to the development of cancer in pets.
COMMON TYPES OF NEOPLASIA IN PETS
Skin neoplasia is common in older dogs, although developing tumors are usually benign. Cats also develop skin neoplasms, most of which are malignant. If you find a lump on your pet, your veterinarian should be consulted to determine whether it is malignant.
Mammary Gland (Breast)
Both cats and dogs can develop mammary neoplasms. In dogs, mammary cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer, accounting for 70% of all cancer cases. In dogs, 50% of all breast neoplasms are malignant, whereas in cats, more than 85% of breast neoplasms are malignant. Spaying your female pet before she is 12 months old will greatly reduce the risk of this type of neoplasia.
Head and Neck
Neoplasia of the mouth is common in dogs but less common in cats. Symptoms include tumors on the gums, bleeding, bad breath, or difficulty in eating. Because many swellings in these areas are malignant, early, aggressive treatment is essential. Neoplasms may also develop inside the nose. These can cause bleeding from the nose, breathing difficulty, or facial swelling. These symptoms should be checked by your veterinarian.
Lymphoma is a common form of neoplasia in dogs and cats, characterized by swelling of one or several lymph nodes in the body. In cats, one cause of lymphoma can be the contagious feline leukemia virus.
Testicular neoplasia is rare in cats. It is more common in dogs, especially those with retained testicles, i.e. testicles that did not descend correctly during maturation and may remain located in the abdomen or between the abdomen and scrotum.
Neoplasms inside the abdomen are common. Because of their location, they can be difficult to detect and an early diagnosis is unlikely. Symptoms of abdominal neoplasisa are weight loss or abdominal swelling.
Bone neoplasms are seen most often in large-breed dogs or dogs older than 7 years; they are rarely seen in cats. The most common sites are the leg bones, near the joints. Symptoms include persistent pain, lameness, and swelling in the affected area.
Many symptoms of neoplasia are also seen in non-neoplastic conditions, however, they still need prompt attention by a veterinarian for diagnosis. Neoplasia is often treatable; early detection and diagnosis will assist in getting the best possible treatment.
The various types of neoplasia require different individual treatment. This may include one, or a combination, of therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation, hyperthermia (heating) or cryosurgery (freezing). Your pet’s overall health is, of course, important. Veterinarians may recommend dietary changes or other alterations to your pet’s life to help your pet respond better to the proposed treatment. Discuss with your veterinarian, the best treatment options for your pet and especially the risks and side-effects associated with these options Pain management is an extremely important aspect of treatment. In some cases, depending on the recommended course of treatment, your veterinarian may refer you to a cancer specialist, or speciality clinic. Some types of neoplasia can be cured, but other types can only be managed to decrease their spread to other organs and tissues of the body. This will prolong your pet’s comfort and quality of life as much as possible. Early detection of a neoplasm and the type of neoplasm are often the greatest factors which determine the success of treatment.
Depending on the severity, development and type of cancer, euthanasia may be considered. Before making your decision for treatment or euthanasia, discuss with your veterinarian the options available so that you can make the best choice for your pet and your family.
The success rate of any treatment is highly dependent on the type and severity of the neoplasia, as well as the aggressiveness of any treatment being undertaken. Benign neoplasms are usually easier to treat. Although some neoplasms, especially the more aggressive cancers, cannot be cured, treatment can both prolong and improve your pet’s quality of life.
Research means we are learning more and more about neoplasia. Animals today have a considerably better chance of being successfully treated for neoplasia and cancer than they did just a few years ago. New diagnostic methods, such as improved imaging techniques, can help detect neoplasia earlier. These will improve your pet’s chances of an early diagnosis and receiving early treatment. New treatments are being developed which will provide better success rates with less risk of side-effects.
Oral hygiene is a very important issue for dogs and cats. The bad breath that is so common in pets is also often the first sign of dental disease. By 2 years of age, 85 percent of dogs and cats have periodontal disease. Periodontal disease begins with the accumulation of plaque on the teeth which, if not removed, then hardens into tartar. Tartar accumulation causes sensitive, sore, and swollen gums as well as gingivitis. At this point your pet is suffering from advanced dental disease. As well as the visible cosmetic problems, advanced dental disease also has an effect on many internal organs. Bad teeth in dogs and cats has been scientifically linked to heart, lung, and kidney problems, which can shorten the life of your pet.
The progression of dental disease is affected by breed and diet. In dogs, smaller breeds tend to experience dental problems at a younger age than their larger counterparts. In cats, mixed breeds do not suffer from dental disease as much as purebreds do. Many years ago, it was believed that animals should always be fed dry food to help keep tartar at bay and prevent dental issues. That way of thinking has been replaced, and the Veterinary Dental Society does not consider dry food or canned food to make a difference.
It is recommended that you always try to prevent dental disease, but if your pet already shows signs of dental issues such as loose teeth, swelling gums or oral infection, a deep cleaning performed by your veterinarian under general anesthesia may be necessary.
There are many basic steps that can be taken to prevent dental disease at home. A raw diet seems to be the best for oral health, and dogs should be offered one or two raw bones weekly. When you offer bones to your dog, be sure to stay away from pork or chicken as they can splinter, and offer lamb or goat bones instead. Large dogs can also chew on beef bones, but be sure to freeze the bone first and take it away from your dog after an hour to avoid broken teeth. Also keep in mind that beef bones do make quite a mess so outside may be the best place for them. To further eliminate plaque and improve the health of your pets’ mouths, you should brush their teeth daily, beginning when they are young. While there are rinses available to combat bad breath, be cautious of anything containing alcohol. Chinese herbal remedies have proven helpful in some situations, but diet and daily brushing are the best ways to prevent dental disease in dogs and cats.
Diabetes mellitus is a disease caused either by a lack of insulin, or an inadequate response of the body to this hormone. After your cat has eaten, the digestive system breaks down the food into various parts. One of these is carbohydrates which are further converted into simple sugars such as glucose. Glucose is absorbed from the gut into the blood where it is transported around the body. Insulin, which is produced by “beta cells” in the pancreas, helps in the process of moving glucose into the cells of the body where it is converted into fuel. If there is insufficient insulin available, or the body responds inadequately to insulin, glucose is unable to enter cells and can build up to high concentrations in the bloodstream. The resulting condition is called hyperglycemia. As a result, an animal may behave as if it is constantly hungry (the cells are not producing fuel), but may also appear malnourished, again because the cells are unable absorb glucose.
Damage to the beta cells in the pancreas can be either temporary or permanent. The damage may be caused by a virus, infection, trauma, some medications (steroids), or even from over-work after too much sugar or carbohydrate consumption.
Diabetes mellitus is often divided into two types, depending on the origin of the condition:
Diabetes mellitus Type 1, sometimes called “juvenile diabetes” or “insulin-dependent diabetes”, is caused by the destruction of beta cells in the pancreas. Because the destruction of the cells is not reversible, the animal must be treated with an exogenous (external) source of insulin. Both cats and dogs can suffer from Type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes mellitus Type 2, sometimes called “”adult-onset diabetes” or “non-insulin-dependent diabetes”, is characterized by high blood sugar due to the body being resistant to insulin and a relative lack of insulin. Type 2 diabetes is found in cats, but not in dogs.
RISK FACTORS AND INCIDENCE
Diabetes has been diagnosed in cats of all ages, both sexes, both intact and neutered individuals and all breeds. Older cats, especially neutered males, are more susceptible to the disease. It has been reported that in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, Burmese cats have a higher incidence of diabetes mellitus but this has not been found in North America.
Key risk factors for diabetes in cats include
Other metabolic diseases (e.g., hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s disease, acromegaly)
Predominant indoor lifestyle
Between 0.2% to 1.0% of cats develop Type 1 diabetes. This incidence is expected to increase in the future.
Diabetes is one of many conditions that cause visible changes in behavior which the owner can detect. Usually, there is a gradual onset of the disease over a few weeks. By knowing the signs of diabetes, you will be able to detect the disease earlier and thereby seek an early diagnosis and treatment. The following are indications your cat may have diabetes. If your cat shows any of these, speak with your veterinarian about the possibility of diabetes:
Excessive thirst/drinks more water than usual (polydipsia)
Urinates more frequently, in greater volumes (polyuria) or perhaps loses urinary control
Consistently acts as if it is hungry (polyphagia), but maintains or loses weight
Unusually sweet-smelling or fruity breath (due to ketone production)
Thinning, dry and dull hair
To diagnose diabetes, your veterinarian will initially conduct a urine test for the presence of glucose, ketones and/or urinary tract infection. If necessary, a blood test will then measure your cat’s blood glucose concentration. If glucose is present in your cat’s urine, a blood test will determine blood glucose concentration and fructosamine concentration. A consistently raised blood glucose concentration could indicate that your cat’s pancreas is not secreting sufficient insulin, or, your cat’s body is behaving as if it is “resistant” to the insulin being produced. Regardless of the underlying cause for the increased blood sugar, your cat is suffering from diabetes mellitus. The diagnosis is considered as confirmed when glucose is found at consistently high concentrations in blood and in urine.
Because cats can suffer from either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes (dogs only suffer from Type 1) some cats can be treated (at least initially) with oral medications, while others require immediate insulin injections.
The objective in managing diabetes is to regulate glucose concentrations by avoiding peaks and troughs, and to reduce or eliminate the symptoms, such as excessive thirst and urination. Although diabetes can not yet be cured in cats, the condition can be successfully managed with daily insulin injections, changes in diet and/or medication. The serious chronic complications that afflict humans with diabetes mellitus are uncommon in diabetic cats. Once stabilized with proper treatment and home care, diabetic cats can live many healthy years.
Managing feline diabetes often requires daily insulin injections to restore your cat’s insulin level and control blood glucose concentrations. Each individual diabetic cat’s requirements are different, so you and your veterinarian will need to find the appropriate dose and treatment regimen. Your cat may need to stay at the veterinary clinic for several days so your cat’s response to treatment can be closely monitored. The prescribed insulin product may be specifically for diabetic cats, a human insulin product, or a human oral hypoglycemic medication. The size of the insulin dose will depend on several factors, including the weight of the cat.
Some diabetic cats may show clinical remission after a few weeks or months of treatment, i.e. they will cease requiring insulin. However, clinical remission does not mean that the diabetes has been cured; the cat’s diet and lifestyle must still be taken care of and insulin may be required again in the future.
If your cat does need daily insulin injections, you will have to learn how to do this. It can be a daunting task and at first you may feel nervous about this. This is common, but, it is easier than you probably think. After a while you will learn how to administer daily injections without stress for your cat or you.
Oral Hypoglycemic Medications
Healthy diabetic cats can sometimes be successfully treated with glipizide. This is an orally administered medication that lowers blood glucose. Although glipizide is suitable for controlling the disease in some cats, most require insulin injections to fully control their diabetes.
It is an important part of diabetes management to monitor your cat’s blood glucose concentrations. The method of monitoring will depend on you and your diabetic cat. Methods include urine glucose (and ketone) test strips, or blood glucose meters.
Diet is vitally important in helping to regulate your cat’s diabetes. Once the blood glucose levels are stabilized, you should aim to feed your cat exactly the same diet every day and at the same times of day. Many cats prefer eating small amounts throughout the day and your veterinarian will probably not try to change this. Cats require high levels of good-quality protein in their diet. A high-protein, low-carbohydrate food is ideal for a diabetic cat. Overall, the diet should be palatable, nutritious and minimize fluctuations in blood glucose. In addition, it should help maintain a healthy weight for your cat.
It is important to get regular veterinary checkups to identify possible changes in your pet’s diabetic condition. Diabetes affects cats differently over time. Changes may occur even after a long period of stabilization.
Although it often stated that diabetes can not be cured, in February 2013, Type 1 diabetes in dogs (not cats) was successfully cured using pioneering gene therapy. It seems only a matter of time before this is applied to cats.
Feline Panleukopenia Virus (FPV) is a viral disease of cats. It is also known as “Feline Infectious Enteritis”, “Feline Distemper”, “Feline Ataxia”, or “Cat Plague”. It is highly contagious and life-threatening. The name, panleucopenia, is derived from the low count (leucopenia) of white blood cells (leucocytes in the immune system) characteristic of affected animals. The virus attacks primarily the intestinal tract, bone marrow and stem cells of the developing fetus. Specifically, it attacks the rapidly dividing blood cells in these tissues, meaning infection often leads to anemia and the animal becoming highly susceptible to secondary viral or bacterial infections.
FPV is one of the most significant feline diseases in the non-vaccinated population. The virus is highly resistant and can survive for years in contaminated environments. This means that vaccination is the best prevention measure for your cat. Kittens between 2 to 6 months of age, pregnant cats and immune compromised cats are at the highest risk of developing severe symptoms. In adults cats, FPV generally occurs in only mild form and may not show any symptoms. Cats which survive an FPV infection develop immunity to any further infection with the virus.
The virus causing FPV is related to the canine parvovirus as they are both in the genus Parvoviridae, however, the feline parvovirus can not be transmitted from cats to dogs, or vice versa.
Complete loss of interest in food or water (may hang head over bowl but not drink or eat)
Hiding for several days
Tucking feet under the body for extended periods
Resting chin on the floor for extended periods
Diarrhea (often contains blood)
Anorexia (weight loss)
Poor coat condition
Ataxia (other neurological symptoms if the virus attacks the brain)
FPV is caused by the feline parvovirus which is transmitted by contact with infected blood, feces or urine. The virus can also be transmitted by fleas that have been feeding from an infected cat, or by humans who have not washed their hands between handling cats, or by equipment that has been used by other cat such as bedding or bowls. Proper human hygiene, e.g. using soap and water during hand-washing after handling each animal, minimizes the possibility of transmitting the infection to healthy animals.
The feline parvovirus can survive and persist on many surfaces. It is therefore important to practice safe methods to effectively clean the cat’s environment, including its handlers, to reduce the possibility of transmission. Even with these precautions, the virus may persist in environments where an infected cat has been. Establishments which house large numbers of cats (e.g. shelters and kennels) may harbor the virus.
Kittens can acquire FPV while in the uterus if the pregnant mother is infected, or, through her breast milk during nursing. The prognosis is generally poor for kittens which have contracted the disease whilst in the uterus.
Because cats tend to go outdoors more during summer, the disease is more likely to be transmitted during this season.
If you suspect your cat has FPV, your veterinarian will require a thorough history of her health and recent activities. This will include whether your cat has recently been in contact with other cats, or if she is allowed access to the outdoors.
FPV symptoms can be similar to several other diseases including poisoning, pancreatitis, feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus and others. It is therefore important to give as much detail as possible to your veterinarian so that appropriate treatment can start quickly.
The veterinarian will initially perform a physical examination. If necessary, blood tests will be taken for a complete blood count and biochemistry profile, and possibly a urine test for urinalysis. The feline parvovirus attacks and kills cells that divide rapidly, such as those in the intestine and those produced in the bone marrow. An infected animal will typically have a blood count that is low in white and red blood cells. Microscopic examination of feces may reveal remnants of the virus.
Cats infected with FPV are likely to require immediate treatment. Because dehydration is one of the primary symptoms, the major aim is to restore body fluid levels to normal values and maintain these, along with appropriate electrolyte balance. It is critical this is done quickly as the dehydration can quickly become life endangering. Because the virus compromises the immune system, your cat may have to take antibiotics to reduce the possibility of opportunistic bacterial infections.
Your cat will need to be rested during her recovery. Provide a warm and quiet space away from other animals and children. Avoid her exerting herself by placing food, water and the litter tray close to her recovery bed. Isolate the infected cat from others, however, maintain your own physical contact with the cat as the probability of your cat’s recovery are increased by receiving affection from you; this infection has an extremely depressing effect on both the mental and physical health of your cat and your cat ‘s recovery will benefit considerably from your affection and comfort. Strict hygiene is essential. Remember that the virus can remain infective on surfaces and people which handle an infected cat should stay especially clean to avoid transmitting the virus to other cats.
If your infected cat is treated effectively and quickly, and survives the first 2 days, it is likely she will make a full recovery. It may take several weeks for your cat to return to complete normality, but once she has, she will have a life-time immunity to FPV and will not transmit the virus after the initial infection.
Living and Management
Follow your veterinarian’s advice with regards medication, isolation of your cat and household disinfection. Closely observe your other cats for signs of illness and discuss with your vet, the possibility of vaccinating other cats in the home.
Although household bleach is an effective disinfectant against the FPV virus, replacing all items associated with an infected cat is the best way to ensure any traces of the virus have been removed. Remember that although your infected cat will not be susceptible to re-infection, other cats can easily be infected by contaminants that remain.
The most important action in the prevention of FPV is vaccination. Ensure you ask your veterinarian to include the FPV vaccine in any vaccination program for your cat. Non-vaccinated, pregnant cats have a compromised immune system and are therefore highly susceptible to fatal complications. If the developing fetuses become infected with FPV, they are very likely to have severe developmental dysfunctions at birth.
“Ear mites” is a term used to describe an infestation of an animal’s ears by the mite Otodectes cynotis. This is a common parasitic infestation, but it is generally mild in severity. Complications can occur if the animal’s immune system is in some way compromised. In such cases, the mites can cause hypersensitivity and subsequent irritation of the external and middle ear.
Animals that have an infestation typically scratch excessively at the ears, shake their heads and even create bald patches by removing their hair from scratching. A serious consequence of prolonged and vigorous shaking of the head is that some ears will form a hematoma. This is a collection of blood within the tissues of the external ear – usually because the head shaking and scratching has ruptured a blood vessel. Excessive scratching at the ears can also cause damage to the ear canals or ear drums.
Ear mites can occur in animals of any age, although it is particularly common in young cats and dogs. It is highly contagious and is often transmitted from the mother to the newborn soon after birth. It is also transmitted between animals of different species, although it does not affect humans. The mite can often spread from the ear to other parts of the body.
Itching and scratching – usually the ears, head and neck
Frequent shaking of the head
Thick red-brown or black crusts on the inside of the ear
Bumps in the ear canal which look like coffee grounds
Scratches and abrasions on the external ear
Crusting and scaly tissue on various body areas including the neck, rump and tail
Diagnosis will require a detailed history of your pet’s health, when the symptoms started, and details of the regular contact your pet has with other animals. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam and then, if needed, standard laboratory tests such as a blood count and blood profile, urinalysis and electrolyte tests to screen for other diseases.
Skin scrapings will be taken for dermatological analysis. Identification of the mites may require ear swabs to be placed in mineral oil. Your veterinarian will use an otoscope to inspect your pet’s ear canals to assess the severity of the infestation. If your pet is hypersensitive to the mites, a deep examination of the ears can be difficult. In such cases, a diagnosis can be made by observing the animal’s response to medical treatment.
If your pet has ear mites, it is likely he will be treated as an outpatient and you will be provided with medication to eradicate the mites. This infestation is extremely contagious; all pets in the household should be treated and their environment thoroughly cleaned. The mites can not survive for long periods away from the host, so cleaning the environment thoroughly and treating the pets is usually sufficient.
A commercial cleaner should be used to generally clean the insides of ears to remove any debris before beginning topical treatment. The parasiticide should be used for between 7 to 10 days to eradicate mites and eggs, and then a repeat treatment approximately 2 weeks later. Flea treatments should also be applied to eliminate mites on other sites of the body. Some animals, especially cats, sleep in a curled-up position. This means their tail can come into contact with their ears and there is risk of spreading the mite infestation. Therefore, the tail should also be thoroughly cleaned.
LIVING AND MANAGEMENT
Most patients will have a good prognosis. Your veterinarian will schedule a follow up appointment for approximately 30 days after therapy begins. They will swab your pet’s ears and also perform a physical exam to assess the effectiveness of the treatment.
Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain causing physical attacks that come on suddenly and without control. The cat may be conscious or unconscious during these recurring attacks. When there is no known cause for these seizures, it is called Idiopathic Epilepsy.
When cats are having a seizure, they tend to have focal onset beforehand (this is when the brain’s cells are firing abnormally in one area or multiple areas of the brain). During this time, your feline friend may look confused and scared. They may even seek out your help or hide from you. When the cat begins to have their seizure, which can last up to 90 seconds, he/she will fall to their side.
During this time, your cat may do any of the following:
Paddle with his/her four limbs
Chomp their jaw
Produce an excessive amount of drool
Seizures generally happen in a patient’s resting state; usually at night or during the early morning hours. Most of the reverberations seen with seizures will disappear before you get your feline friend to the veterinarian.
Most cases of epileptic seizures occur in cats between the ages of one and four. There are several changes in the cat after a seizure occurs (called postictal behavior), which may include:
Loss of sight
Increase of appetite (or polyphagia)
Increase in thirst (or polydipsia)
Seizure recovery can be instantaneous or take a full-day.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF FELINE EPILEPSY?
For the most part, the cause of feline epilepsy is not known. However, some idiopathic epilepsy is tied to genetics.
There are two key factors in determining if a cat has idiopathic epilepsy:
Age of first occurrence
Frequency and type of seizure (pattern)
If your feline friend suffers two or more seizures in its first week of having a seizure, the veterinarian will often disregard idiopathic epilepsy and find another diagnosis. If the seizures happen in a cat younger than one and older than four years of age, it could be metabolic or intracranial epilepsy (in the skull). When a feline is suffering with focal seizures, it means there are some neurologic deficits (or structural intracranial disease).
The veterinarian will begin diagnosing the type of epilepsy your cat has during a routine blood test. This test will include the following things:
Complete blood cell count
Blood chemistry profile
He/she will also test for viruses like feline AIDS and feline leukemia. A urinalysis may be conducted as well. Further testing may be done – MRI, CT scan, spinal tap, etc.
The majority of the treatment for feline epilepsy is outpatient. The cat may be given anticonvulsant medications based on how often and severe the seizures are.
HOW TO MANAGE YOUR CAT’S SEIZURES
It’s very important to keep an eye on the feline’s blood when taking medications. Cats that are given phenobarbital will need to have periodic serum and blood chemistry profile monitoring. How your feline reacts to the treatment and the drug serum levels will dictate if medication dosages will need adjustments.
Older felines using a potassium bromide treatment must be closely watched for problems with their kidneys. If your older feline suffers with epileptic seizures, the veterinarian must suggest changing his/her diet.
It’s recommended that felines suffering with genetic or idiopathic epilepsy be neutered or spayed to avoid passing on the trait.
You should never give over-the-counter medication to a feline suffering with epilepsy until you speak to the veterinarian. Over-the-counter medications can often interfere with anticonvulsant medications or reduce the seizure threshold, increasing the possibility of more seizures.
Never miss a dose of your feline’s anticonvulsant medication and keep them inside to ensure they don’t miss a dose.
When a feline suffers with genetic abnormalities epilepsy, there’s not much you can do to avoid it. If you suddenly stop giving your feline their anticonvulsant medication, you could exacerbate the condition, leading to more seizure episodes.
Flea bite hypersensitivity and flea allergic dermatitis (FAD) is a skin disease that affects many animals, including cats and dogs. It is often considered to be the most common skin disease in pets. The allergy is an immune response to the saliva (or components of the saliva – including antigens, amino acids, aromatic compounds, polypeptides, and phosphorus) injected by fleas when they bite your cat or dog. The bitten animal’s body begins an exaggerated antigen-antibody reaction to the saliva, inflammation results from scratching by the pet and secondary bacterial infections (principally Staphylococcus intermedius and Malassezia pachydermatis) can begin if the skin is traumatized by the scratching. Flea allergy can develop in your pet at any age, although, 61% of of flea-allergic dogs develop FAD between 1 and 3 years of age. It is uncommon for hypersensitivity to develop in very young animals (less than 6 months of age) because they do not yet have a fully developed immune system to react to the flea bite.
The flea life-cycle is the typical 4-stage process of the adult flea, egg, larva and pupa. Adult fleas must feed on blood (from your pet) before they can reproduce. Once the adult flea lays her eggs on the host (usually in batches of approximately 20), these fall to the ground and frequently into the animal’s bedding. The adult flea may also jump off the host after laying the eggs, however, adults cannot survive long once they are off your pet. Both the egg and larval stages live in the environment rather than on the animal, therefore, it is essential to treat both the animal (for the adults) and its environment.
SYMPTOMS AND TYPES
The most obvious symptom of flea bite hypersensitivity and FAD is severe itching of the skin, which your pet attempts to cope with by scratching and biting. At this stage, the condition is referred to as pruritis, which in hypersensitive animals can be caused by as few as one or two flea bites a week. Because of the low numbers of fleas which can cause the condition, symptoms often persist, even after flea control methods have been used. Symptoms will often occur in episodes, and in general, symptoms worsen with age. Scratching can become habitual and develop into a condition called neurodermatitis in which affected skin become become thick and leathery. After frequent scratching has been occurring for a while, the most notable symptoms are the patchy loss of hair, erythema (redness of the skin), pustules (pus-filled bumps) and crusts or scabs on the skin. Although any part of the body can be affected by flea bite hypersensitivity, the hind end is often affected more than the front or head of your pet’s body.
One problem with diagnosis of FAD is that it may be difficult to see fleas or flea dirt (flea feces). This is partly because the pet’s scratching has likely removed them. Carefully inspect your pet’s skin by using a flea comb to part the fur. This will enable you to inspect for fleas or flea dirt more readily. There are skin tests available for mites or bacterial skin diseases, and these may be recommended by your veterinarian if fleas cannot be seen directly. The distribution of scratching or lesions on the pet’s body can assist in diagnosis. Sometimes, the best diagnostic method is to simply treat for fleas and observe for changes in the symptoms.
For animals with flea bite hypersensitivity, it is essential to control the flea population on the animal, in its environment, and prevent any re-occurrence. There are numerous commercial applications for killing adult fleas, however, these only act for a period of time and all should be repeated as indicated on the product for effective and continuous flea control. Spot-on insecticides are often used. These are a topical treatment, usually applied to a small area, (e.g. the back of the neck) where the animal is unable to lick it. Oral products are also available, but some of these can be difficult to administer, especially to cats. Shampoos can be especially beneficial for young animals or for a severe and acute flea infestation, however, it is essential that a more long-term product is also used to ensure continuous flea management. There are also many commercial products available that can be used to treat for flea eggs and larvae. If the treatment causes fleas to leave the host pet, the fleas may bite humans during the process of searching for another host. It is virtually impossible to successfully control fleas in the long-term if your pet is kept outdoors. There are some products that may be effective for sort-term control, but this is dependent on the kennel or other housing not becoming infested. If your pet is allergic to flea bites, they may require steroids or anti-histamines to reduce their sensitivity. Similarly, if a bacterial infection develops from any lesions, your pet may require antibiotics. Your veterinarian may request follow-up examinations to assess the progression and success of treatment they have recommended.
LIVING AND MANAGEMENT
The most essential factor in successfully controlling or treating fleas is the application of regular doses of flea treatment. This should be done at the frequency recommended by the manufacturer, or as advised by your veterinarian. It takes only one or two bites for an animal that is allergic to fleas to start itching. Therefore, it is best to be consistent with flea control products and the timing of their application. You should also consider other factors such as how frequently your pet is bathed or swims, and whether you are using topical or spot-on treatments. This will determine the time between applications.
Gastric dilatation-volvulus syndrome (GDV) is commonly called “gastric torsion” or “bloat”. The first part of the syndrome’s name refers to expansion of the animal’s stomach due to excessive gas accumulation (Dilation). This condition can then be complicated by the stomach twisting around its short axis (Volvulus). Viewed from behind the animal, the stomach can rotate 90-360° in a clockwise direction around the esophagus, which may block the esophagus and prevent the animal from belching or vomiting to release the excess gasses.
The condition is common in domestic animals, particularly dogs. As a consequence of the gastric twisting, a number of emergency conditions can result. These include increasing distension of the stomach, heightened pressure within the abdomen, and damage to the cardiovascular system. Another consequence can be decreased perfusion – the process of moving nutrients around the body via blood in the arteries. Reduced perfusion can result in organ death. In dogs, mortality rates from GDV range from 10 to 60 percent, even with treatment.
Dilation of the stomach and volvulus cause increased pressure on both surrounding organs and blood vessels. The symptoms of GDV therefore include:
Rapid heart beat (tachycardia)
Labored breathing (dyspnea)
Pale mucus membranes (nose, gums and mouth)
General symptoms of shock
Abdominal pain and distension
Vomiting (to the point of unproductive dry retching)
CAUSES and RISK FACTORS
The exact causes of GDV are unknown, although several risk factors have been identified.
Genetics and Anatomy
Large breeds of dog are at higher risk of GDV, especially deep-chested breeds. The five breeds at greatest risk are Great Danes, St. Bernards, Weimaraners, Gordon Setters, and Irish Setters. The lifetime risk for a Great Dane developing bloat has been estimated to be 37 percent. Other breeds at increased risk include German Shepherds and Standard Poodles.
Dogs having a parent or sibling with a history of GDV are at higher risk and the risk of GDV increases with age, although it has been reported in puppies.
Environmental factors believed to contribute to GDV include ingestion of large amounts of food or water by the dog, ingesting food too quickly, too much activity after eating, or delays in emptying the gastrointestinal system.
Clinical tests for GDV include urine analysis and blood testing for concentrations of lactate in the plasma. Diagnosis may also include imaging techniques such as x-rays of the abdomen.
Other conditions have symptoms similar to those of GDV. These include bacterial infections, gastroenteritis (inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract), or overeating by the dog (sometimes called “food bloat”).
GDV is an emergency condition. Dog’s suffering the condition usually need to be hospitalized to receive aggressive treatment, especially if secondary cardiovascular problems are apparent. After the cardiovascular system has been stabilized, the gastric system can be decompressed. The preferred method is oro-gastric intubation, i.e. insertion of a tube through the dog’s mouth and into the stomach. Surgery can then return internal organs (particularly the stomach and spleen) to their normal positions. To prevent recurrence of GDV, a permanent gastropexy may be required. In this procedure, the dog’s stomach is secured to prevent future twisting.
LIVING AND MANAGEMENT
After an attack of GDV, further treatment is likely to include analgesics and other necessary medications. The dog’s activity should be restricted for approximately 2 weeks, particularly if surgery has been required.
Recurrence of GDV attacks is common, occurring in up to 80 percent of dogs treated medically only, i.e. without surgery. Several steps can be taken to prevent GDV or its recurrence, including:
Avoiding strenuous exercise by the dog after eating and drinking
Slowing the dog’s rate of food consumption
Feeding frequent small portions to the dog rather than infrequent larger portions
Heartworm is a parasitic roundworm (Dirofilaria immitis). It primarily infects dogs, cats and ferrets, although it can also infect a wide variety of wildlife. It is a potentially fatal parasite, however, it is preventable. Humans have become infected, although this is rare and does not usually cause illness.
LIFE-CYCLE, TRANSMISSION AND EFFECTS
Mosquitoes are the only way that heartworms can be transmitted from animal to animal. When mosquitoes bite an infected animal and ingest their blood, young heartworms (microfilariae) enter the mosquito’s digestive system. Within 2 to 6 weeks, the microfilariae inside the mosquito develop into infective larvae. They then migrate to the mosquito’s salivary glands. These infective larvae can then be transmitted to another animal when the mosquito bites to get its next meal of blood.
The period between the initial infection when the dog or cat is bitten by an infected mosquito and the development of the microfalariae into adults living in the tissues of your pet usually takes 6 to 7 months. This is known as the “prepatent period”.
In cats, the microfilariae live for only a month in the vascular system and are seen in only 20% of infected cats (compared to 80 to 90% in dogs). This means that infected cats are unlikely to transfer the heartworm to another mosquito – in stark contrast to infected dogs.
The larvae introduced by the mosquito grow for 1 to 2 weeks under the skin at the site of the mosquito bite. Then, they migrate to muscles in the chest and abdomen, and 45 to 60 days after infection, molt to the next larval stage. Between 10 to 15 weeks after infection, the larvae enter the blood system where they are transported through the heart to reside in the pulmonary artery of the lungs.
During the next 3 months, the larvae (or immature worms), continue their development to become adults. Adult female worms can grow up to 14 inches in length and males about 2 inches shorter. The growing and feeding worms damage the blood vessels which causes a decrease in the efficiency of the heart and moving blood around the body. Occasionally, adult heartworms migrate to the right side of the heart and even to the large cardiac veins in severe infections. This can result in severe lung and heart disease. Animals showing signs of illness from adult heartworm infection are said to be suffering from heartworm disease. Death can occur as the result of congestive heart failure. Adult heartworms can have a long lifespan; they may survive for 5 to 7 years in dogs and 2 to 3 years in cats.
At approximately 5 to 7 months post-infection, if both adult females and males are present, they will mate and produce new microfilariae. The host’s immune system raises a strong response to these microfilariae, which unfortunately, can cause damage to other organs. The life-cycle then continues when a mosquito bites an infected pet and itself becomes infected by the microfilariae.
At one time, heartworm in the U.S. was confined to the southern states, but has now spread to nearly all locations where mosquitoes are found. It is also found in many other countries. All dogs are susceptible to heartworm infection and both indoor and outdoor cats are at risk of the disease. If you plan to visit different areas of the country with your dog or cat, or another country, consult your veterinarian about the risk of heartworm in the area you intend to visit.
Because mosquitoes are the vector of this disease, any animal which comes into contact with mosquitoes should be tested. This also includes pets that might go outside only occasionally.
SYMPTOMS AND DIAGNOSIS
Dogs with recent or mild heartworm infections may show no signs of illness. However, once the adult worms have developed in the lungs, your dog may cough, have difficulty breathing, become lethargic or lose its appetite; he may also tire rapidly after only light or moderate exercise.
Your veterinarian will have available to them, numerous diagnostic tests to detect the presence of adult heartworms. These are infections that have occurred at least 6 months previously. The presence of adult female heartworms can be detected with an antigen test which is very accurate in dogs. Exposure to heartworms can be detected by antibody tests. To confirm the diagnosis and evaluate the severity of the disease, your veterinarian may conduct other tests such as chest radiographs (x-rays), a blood profile, or an ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram). These will also help determine the best treatment plan for your dog.
Symptoms of heartworm disease in cats include those often associated with other diseases. These include respiratory distress, gagging, coughing and vomiting. Symptoms associated with the first stage of heartworm disease, when the heartworms are carried to the pulmonary arteries, are often mistaken for feline asthma or allergic bronchitis, when in fact, they are actually due to a syndrome newly defined as Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD). Cats may die suddenly from heartworms, although this happens rarely.
The diagnosis of heartworm infection in cats is more difficult than it is with dogs. Several tests may be required to assess the likelihood of heartworm infection. Even then, the results may be inconclusive. Usually, both antigen and antibody tests are conducted for cats to increase the probability of detecting heartworms.
As usual with most medical problems, prevention is better than cure. However, if your dog does contract a heartworm infection, treatment is available. Treating dogs for heartworms carries with it a substantial risk, but, if your dog is in good health and the instructions of your veterinarian are followed, this will considerably reduce the possibility of serious complications.
The aim of treating heartworm is to kill both the adult worms and microfilariae, as safely as possible. Successful treatment means there will be heartworms dying inside your dog’s lungs. Therefore, during treatment, hospitalization may be required initially. Upon going home, the dog should be rested (limited to leash walking) for a period, to decrease the risk of partial or complete blockage of blood flow through the lungs by dead worms. Other medications may be required to reduce the body’s inflammatory reaction to the worms being broken down in the lungs.
At present, there is no effective and safe treatment for heartworm infection in cats. If your veterinarian diagnoses heartworms in your cat, they may also recommend medications to reduce the inflammatory response and the resulting disease. Another course of action may be surgery to remove the heartworms. Cats are more resistant hosts to heartworm than dogs, and are often able to rid themselves of infections. Unfortunately, many cats react severely to the dead worms as they are cleared by the body which can result in a physiological shock reaction, a life-threatening condition.
Removing heartworms by surgery is a high-risk procedure for both dogs and cats. It is typically reserved for only severe cases, however, this approach may be necessary to give your pet the best chances of survival.
Heartworm infection is almost 100% preventable in dogs and cats. There are several heartworm medications available which can be obtained in a variety of formulations. Based on your pet’s risk factors and life-style, your veterinarian will recommend the best preventative, but of course, you will have to remember to administer the medication for it to work!
The preventatives do not kill adult heartworms. They also do not eliminate heartworm infection or prevent signs of heartworm disease if heartworms are already present in the animal’s body. Therefore, it is recommended that a blood test for existing heartworm infection is conducted to assess the pet’s current heartworm status, before beginning a prevention program. It is more difficult to detect heartworms in cats, therefore, additional testing may be necessary to make sure there is no infection during any course of prevention.
Once treatment has finished, testing must then be repeated at the correct intervals. Six months after starting the preventative treatment, a test should be performed to confirm that your pet was not infected prior to starting the prevention – it should be remembered that tests only detect adult worms. From then, heartworm tests should be conducted on an annual basis to ensure your pet does not subsequently become infected. This will also check the appropriate amount of medication is being administered. Some pets develop a heartworm infection despite year-round treatment with a preventive; having regular tests is the most effective way to keep your pets protected.
Hookworms are nematode parasites that live in the small intestines of their hosts, which include cats, dogs and humans. The two most common species of hookworm that infect cats are Ancylostoma braziliense and Ancylostoma tubaeforme. A third hookworm,Ancylostoma ceylanicum, can also cause infections, although it is extremely similar toA. braziliense and difficult to diagnose as a separate infection.
Hookworms suck blood from the host’s intestinal walls. When present in large numbers, they can produce an iron deficiency anemia. This disease is calledAncylostomiasis. Active worms sometimes leave lesions at the site of the bite which may continue to bleed, again resulting in intestinal blood loss. These infections can be fatal, especially in kittens.
Hookworm eggs survive in warm, sandy soil. Generally, they live for only a few weeks under natural conditions. However, if conditions are suitable, they can hatch to become active larvae as quickly as 5 to 7 days. The eggs die almost immediately on exposure to direct sunlight or desiccation. Infection of the host is by the larvae, not the eggs, and the usual method of infection is through the skin. Once inside the host, they are carried by the vascular system to the lungs and from there, they migrate up the trachea and into the pharynx. This often results in the host coughing, whereupon the larvae are swallowed and pass down the oesophagus to enter the digestive system. They make their way to the small intestine where they hook into the mucosal lining. The larvae begin feeding on the host’s blood and eventually develop into adult worms. The adult worms mate inside the host and the female then lays up to 30,000 eggs/day which pass out in the host’s feces. Hookworms are also sometimes ingested. Again, the larvae migrate into the oesophagus and then to the intestine.
The disease becomes communicable to other cats between 2 to 4 weeks after initial infection.
Hookworm infections are caused either by penetration of the skin by the larvae or ingestion. The eggs are usually found in contaminated water on grass or in the soil, or other contaminated environments. After hatching, the larvae typically migrate into the host through the feet when the cat walks on the infected substrate. Kittens can become infected through their mother’s milk.
When hookworm larvae enter the host cat, they often leave small lesions on the foot pads and between the toes – early symptoms of the disease. Another early symptom is repeated coughing. Because the parasite causes anemia, later symptoms can include dark and tarry feces, diarrhea, or constipation. The linings of the nostrils, lips and ears may be pale due to the anaemia. Infected cats will often have an overall unhealthy appearance and poor appetite. Complications can arise quickly and can be fatal if the cat is not treated immediately. Older cats can sometimes carry a low number of hookworms and show little, if any, symptoms. On the other hand, young cats may become very ill with the same sized parasite burden.
Hookworms are small and cannot be seen with the naked eye. A microscopic examination of a fecal specimen is needed to detect the presence of eggs and confirm the diagnosis. When several kittens within a litter have unexpectedly died, hookworms are a potential cause.
Treatment will depend on the age, weight and condition of the cat. To control the infection, de-worming medications will be prescribed. These either kill the worms or cause them to be expelled. Sometimes, this may not be sufficient for long-term infections. Nutritional and iron supplements may also be necessary.
In severe cases, the cat or kitten may be hospitalized for fluid therapy, blood transfusion and supplemental oxygen. Sudden death may occur – even if the cat receives treatment.
For kittens, treatment should begin at 3 to 4 weeks of age followed by monthly treatments.
With pregnant females, treatment should begin 2 weeks after mating. This should continue until 2 to 4 weeks after the kittens are born. This will kill worms in the small intestine and thereby protect the kittens.
To prevent infections, the cat’s environment should be kept clean. This is particularly important for areas in which the cat sleeps or toilets. Particular attention should be given to areas that might accumulate water such as containers, damp (low-lying) areas and even ponds.
There are no inoculations available for ancylostomiasis infections. Prevention of the disease relies on owners being highly observant and quickly seeking advice if symptoms present themselves. Hookworms can be transmitted to humans, so care should be taken when treating infected cats.
Mange is term used for a range of skin diseases characterized by poor coat and skin condition. Mange is caused by a range of common exoparasites called mites, found mainly in companion dogs. Some species of these mites are normal residents of your pet whereas others are not. Their favorite place to reside is in the skin and hair follicles. If they are allowed to proliferate out of control, all mites can cause skin infections which can become severe if not treated. Because mites belong to the Acari (a subclass of arachnids) another term sometimes used for mite infestation is “acariasis”.
There are two major groups of mites that can infest your pet. These are Sarcoptes species, which burrow into skin, and Demodex species, which live in skin follicles.
Sarcoptic mange, also known as “canine scabies”, is caused by the Sarcoptes scabei mite This is a microscopic mite that is oval-shaped and light-colored. They are easily transferred between hosts. The canine sarcoptic mite can also infest cats, pigs, horses, sheep, and various other species. They cause itching due to their movement while burrowing through the skin. Hair loss and crusting usually occur, often seen first on the elbows and ears. Intense scratching and biting can cause skin damage, and secondary skin infections are common.
Demodectic mange is also called “demodicosis”, “demodex” or the “red mange”. It is indirectly caused by the Demodex canis mite. This is a species of mite that is naturally present on almost all dogs. They are transferred from the mother to her pups during suckling and close contact in the first few days of life. Normally, the immune system and scratching/biting behavior of your pet are able to cope with the natural population of mites and many dogs never suffer any consequences. However, if the animal has a compromised immune system and develops hypersensitivity to the mite, mange can begin.
Demodex canis is not the actual cause of mange, rather, it is due to a bacterium called Staphylococcus epidermidis. The demodex mite dilates the follicles and sweat-glands on your pet’s skin allowing the bacterium to enter the body. Demodex canis possibly also carries and introduces the bacterium.
Three types of demodectic mange are recognized:
Localized mange – occurs when the mites proliferate in only 1 or 2 (some say up to 4) small, confined areas, usually on the animal’s face. The resulting isolated, scaly, bald patches look like a polka-dot pattern. Localized demodicosis is common in puppies and approximately 90% of cases disappear without any treatment.
Generalized demodectic mange – affects larger areas of skin, sometimes the entire body. This becomes extremely itchy if there are secondary bacterial infections. The skin may also become foul-smelling. This form of mange can indicate underlying health problems or risk factors such as a compromised immune system, hereditary predisposition, or an endocrine problem. The course of treatment for the dog depends on the age at which the disease develops.
Demodectic pododermatitis – is a type of mange confined to the foot and is often accompanied by bacterial infections. It is one of the most resistant forms of mange. To make an effective diagnosis, deep biopsies are often required.
Transmission of sarcoptic mange mites usually requires direct host-to-host contact. Although mites can live off a host and in the environment for several weeks, they are infective for only 36 hours.
Although demodex mites are relatively easily transferred from one dog to another, it requires direct physical contact. In healthy animals, transmission of the mites simply adds to the dog’s natural population and there is no resulting skin disease. Even for severe cases, isolation of dogs is usually considered to be unnecessary. It is very rare for demodex mites to be transmitted to humans or cats.
The symptoms of mange vary, depending on the type type of mite causing the disease.
Sarcoptic mange can cause extremely intense itching. It can result in listlessness and frantic scratching, gradually increasing over several days. It also can result in hair loss (alopecia), reddened skin, sores and crusty scabs. In dogs, the most commonly affected areas are the ears, elbows, face and legs. In severe cases, it can spread rapidly over the entire body. Sarcoptic mange in humans causes a rash of red bumps, similar to mosquito bites.
Demodectic mange causes hair loss, bald spots, scabbing and dry sores. Secondary bacterial infections can make the dog extremely itchy and uncomfortable. Demodectic mange is not transmitted from dogs to humans. Demodex in pets can be detected by:
Itching, bald patches, particularly around the mouth and eyes
Itching, bald patches on the body and legs – spreading to cover the entire body
Thick discharge from the ears, particularly in cats
Leathery or wrinkly skin
A veterinarian will perform a physical exam of your pet and if necessary, take skin scrapings and examine these with a microscope to confirm the presence of mites. If the mites are buried deep in the skin, they can be difficult to identify. In such cases, the veterinarian may rely on your pet’s history and clinical signs to make a final diagnosis.
Localized demodectic mange: Puppies and dogs less than 18 months old are especially prone.
Generalized demodectic mange: Can be hereditary in dogs. Some breeds, such as the Dalmatian, American Bulldog and American Pit Bull Terrier appear to be more susceptible. Older dogs with and underlying illness are also more prone.
Demodectic pododermatitis: The Old English Sheepdog and Shar Pei are particularly prone.
The medication given to your dog will depend on various factors such as the type of mange and the breed of dog. Medication may be given orally, by injection, by shampoo or dip, or applied topically (locally). It is important to realize that many skin treatments can be toxic to dogs. They should not be repeated frequently. Check with your vet before beginning any mange treatment program.
When treating sarcoptic mange, the first step is to isolate your dog to prevent the disease spreading to other pets (and humans). It is likely your vet will prescribe antiparasitic medications to eradicate the mites, as well as separate medications for easing itching, reducing inflammation and treating secondary skin infections. The results of such treatment are usually seen after 4 weeks
Demodectic mange is treated not only by medications but also by managing physiological stress to improve your pet’s immune system. To prevent secondary skin infections, some dogs may also require additional treatments, for example, medicated shampoos.
Younger dogs often fully recover from mange. In contrast, adult dogs often require long-term treatment and therapy to control the disease. It has been suggested that because demodectic mange is thought to be hereditary, dogs with the disease should not be bred.
Whichever treatment option is used, this should be accompanied by skin scrapes every 2 weeks. Usually, medication is discontinued after 2 consecutive scrapes are negative. A final scrape should be performed 4 weeks after treatment to check there has not been a recurrence.
Sarcoptic mange: Thoroughly clean or replace the bedding and collar. Treat all animals in contact with your pet. Keep your pet away from animals you suspect might have the disease. Get periodic skin scrapes to ensure the mites have been eradicated.
Canine Parvovirus (CPV), sometimes simply called “Parvo”, is a viral illness that exists in 2 forms. Intestinal CPV is the more common form. This is characterized by vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and anorexia (lack of appetite). The second less common form is cardiac CPV. This affects the hearts of puppies in the uterus or up to 8 weeks of age and is often fatal. CPV is highly contagious, although the incidence of infections has been considerably reduced by early vaccination of puppies.
SYMPTOMS AND TYPES
The first sign of CPV is usually lethargy. The next symptoms are generally loss of appetite or diarrhea, followed by vomiting.
The intestinal form of CPV drastically reduces the dog’s ability to absorb nutrients. This means that infected animals quickly become dehydrated and weak from a lack of protein absorption. The major symptoms of CPV are severe bloody diarrhea, fever, vomiting, lethargy, anorexia and eventually, severe weight loss. The mucous membranes of the eyes and mouth often become redder and the animal may have tachycardia (rapid heart rate). Infected dogs may respond with pain or discomfort when the abdomen is touched. Another symptom of CPV can be hypothermia (low body temperature) rather than fever.
The cardiac form attacks the heart muscle and the puppy often dies suddenly or after a brief period of breathing difficulty due to the collection of fluids in the pulmonary system. This disease may or may not be seen in conjunction with the signs and symptoms of the intestinal form. However, the cardiac form is now rarely seen due to vaccination of breeding dogs.
CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS
There are several risk factors that can increase susceptibility to CPV.
The virus is usually transmitted either indirectly from the feces of an infected dog, or directly by contact with an infected dog. The feces of an infected dog have high concentrations of the virus, so when a healthy dog sniffs or ingests infected feces, it may contract the disease. The virus can also reside in the soil and on small items within the environment (fomites); it will be transmitted if these are ingested. Transmission of the virus to a dog’s environment can also occur from shoes that have contacted infected feces or fomites. This is an important route of transmission as the virus can live in the ground for up to 1 year. It is also resistant to most cleaning products and weather changes. If there is a possibility that infected feces have been contacted, the suspected areas should be washed with household bleach, the only disinfectant known to kill the CPV virus.
CPV infections can also be caused by improper vaccination protocols or vaccination failure. Establishments that house a large number of inadequately vaccinated puppies (e.g. some breeding kennels, dog shelters) are particularly hazardous places with respect to transmission. Dog breeds that have a high susceptibility to the virus include German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, Doberman Pinschers, English Springer Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers and Alaskan Sled Dogs. A poor immune system from immuno-suppressive diseases or drug therapies can also increase the possibility of infection.
Diagnosis of CPV requires a range of techniques. This will usually start with a physical examination of the dog. If required, biochemical tests and urine analysis will reveal any elevated liver enzymes, lymphopenia (low lymphocyte levels) or electrolyte imbalances. The blood tests will give a chemical blood profile and a blood cell count. Radiograph imaging will show any obstruction of the intestine while ultrasound imaging can reveal enlarged lymph nodes within the body and any fluid-filled sections of the intestine.
The veterinarian will require a thorough history of the dog’s health, recent activities and when the onset of symptoms occurred. Samples of feces or vomit can be examined and used microscopically for detection of the virus.
Because CPV is a viral infection, there is no cure for it. Treatment is aimed at controlling the symptoms and preventing secondary infections. The dog will require intensive therapy for it’s bodily systems to recover. Severe diarrhea and dehydration will be treated by intravenous fluids to re-establish and maintain normal body fluid levels. Nutrition therapy is critical in re-establishing protein and electrolyte levels which will then need to be monitored and regulated.
Several medications may be given to your dog to treat symptoms or prevent further complications. These include antiemetics to reduce vomiting, H2 blockers to reduce nausea, antibiotics to prevent secondary infections and anthelmintics to prevent parasitic infections.
Untreated cases of CPV have a mortality rate of 91%. With aggressive therapy, mortality rates are reduced to 5-20%. When death occurs, this is usually due to severe dehydration, secondary bacterial infections, toxins in the blood from bacteria, or severe bleeding from the intestines. Because puppies have a less developed immune system, their prognosis is usually poorer. Puppies that are infected with CPV commonly suffer from shock and sudden death.
LIVING AND MANAGEMENT
During recovery, it is best to feed your dog a form of diet that is easily digested. After the initial recovery, your dog will be a contagion risk to other dogs for possibly 2 months. Therefore, you should isolate your dog from others. In addition, you should consider telling your neighbors that they may need to have their own pets tested. Wash all objects that your dog uses (e.g., toys, kennel, sleeping box, dishes) with a very dilute bleach solution (1:30 ratio) to disinfect and kill the parvovirus.
Having suffered and recovered from a CPV infection, it is likely your dog will have a weakened immune system making it more susceptible to other illnesses. Talk to your veterinarian about how the dog’s immune system can be made as normal as possible and ways in which you can protect your dog from unhealthy situations. Complete recovery means your dog will have long-term immunity against the virus, however, it is still possible that your dog can again be infected with the virus.
To prevent CPV infection, the best course of action is to follow the correct vaccination protocol. Puppies should be vaccinated at 6, 9 and 12 weeks of age, and should not be allowed contact with outside dogs until at least 2 weeks after the last vaccination. Breeds with a high susceptibility to CPV may require a longer initial vaccination period, possibly up to 22 weeks.
Rabies is caused by a group of viruses (lyssaviruses) which can infect all warm-bloodied animals. Rabies can also infect humans, which is probably why it is one of the most well known viruses; Worldwide, 1 person dies from rabies every 10 minutes. The virus has its devastating effects by causing inflammation of the brain. The delay between contracting the disease and the first symptoms is usually 1 to 3 months, however, it can vary from less than 7 days to more than one year. The delay is dependent on the distance the virus must travel through the body to reach the central nervous system of the newly infected animal.
The transmission of rabies is almost exclusively the result of an infected animal biting a non-infected animal. Rarely, it can also be transmitted by scratches or infected saliva falling on the mucous membranes of the non-infected animal. Amongst wildlife, foxes, coyotes, skunks, raccoons and bats are most likely to transmit the virus. It has been reported that in caves containing many infected bats, transmission of the virus has resulted from aerosolization. The rabies virus does not live for long outside the host. For example, it remains viable for less than 24 hours in the carcass of an infected animal. The saliva of an infected animal contains high concentrations of the virus, however, being bitten by an infected animal does not necessarily mean that the bitten animal, or human, will become infected.
After infection by the rabies virus, the bitten animal may go through one or all of several stages. Initial symptoms include itchiness at the site of infection and fever. Usually, the virus spreads along the peripheral nerves of the animal towards the brain. The virus is relatively slow moving. The average time between exposure to brain involvement is between 3 to 8 weeks in dogs, 2 to 6 weeks in cats, and 3 to 6 weeks in humans. However, incubation periods as long as 6 months in dogs and 12 months in humans have been reported. Once the virus reaches the brain, it then moves to the salivary glands where it can be transmitted to another animal through a bite. After the virus reaches the brain, the animal will show one or more of 3 distinct phases.
The first phase is known as the “prodromal phase”. In dogs, this usually lasts for 2 to 3 days. Behavioral changes such as apprehension, nervousness, anxiety and solitude may become noticeable, and a fever may develop. Animals that are normally friendly may become shy, irritable and may even snap or nip. On the other hand, normally aggressive animals may become very affectionate and docile. The site of the bite will receive much attention from the animal with constant licking and perhaps rubbing. In cats, the prodromal phase is a little shorter than for dogs as it lasts for only 1 to 2 days. Cats also usually experience more fever spikes and changes in behavior than dogs.
After the prodromal phase, infected animals may enter what is called the “furious stage”. Cats are particularly susceptible to developing this phase. In dogs, the furious stage usually lasts for 1 to 7 days. Animals are restless, irritable and become hyper-responsive to auditory or visual stimuli. As the restlessness increases, the animal begins to wander, progressively becoming more irritable and vicious. If caged, rabid animals may bite and attack their enclosure or its contents. Animals become progressively more disoriented, begin to have seizures and eventually, they will die.
Some animals may develop a third phase, the “paralytic phase”. This occurs either after the prodromal or furious stage. The paralysis is produced when the virus attacks motor neurones. This phase usually develops within 2 to 4 days after the first symptoms of rabies are observed. The nerves affecting functions of the head and throat are usually the first to be involved. Animals may become unable to swallow and as a result begin salivating. As the muscles of the diaphragm and face become increasingly paralyzed, the animal may show deep labored breathing and a dropped jaw. The animals may make a choking sound, as if there is something lodged in the throat. By progressively losing muscular control, the animal gets weaker, eventually going into respiratory failure and subsequently, it dies.
The current method of diagnosing rabies is a microscopic examination of the brain. There are new techniques being developed which use skin or blood samples as a method of testing potentially exposed animals (and humans), although they are not yet being used routinely.
As a precaution, if your pet is bitten or scratched by any carnivorous wildlife (including bats) that is not available for testing, your pet should be considered as having been exposed to rabies. The bitten pet should be placed into complete isolation for 6 months. One month before being released, your pet should be vaccinated. If your pet’s vaccination has expired, it will need to be to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Dogs and cats with current vaccinations are kept under observation for 45 days if they are bitten.
If an animal bites a human and it is suspected that the animal may have rabies, the animal will either be quarantined, or observed for at least 10 days to monitor for symptoms that indicate it has rabies. Other factors will affect the requirements of the quarantine such as whether or not the biting animal was currently vaccinated, and the legalities and local concerns of the community in which you live.
Humans that have been bitten by a potentially rabid animal are usually given post-exposure vaccinations and a globulin (antibody) injection to protect them from becoming infected. If you are bitten by any animal that might have rabies, you should immediately wash the wound thoroughly for 15 minutes with soap and water and then seek medical attention.
Currently, there is no treatment for rabies. Only a small number of people have survived rabies and this required extremely intensive medical care; if the disease develops in humans, death is almost certain. Similarly, although there are reported cases of dogs surviving rabies infection, these are extremely rare.
VACCINATION AND PREVENTION
To prevent infection by the rabies virus, animals must be vaccinated. If done correctly, this provides a very high level of protection. Although vaccination for rabies is mandatory for dogs in all states, it is estimated that 50% are not vaccinated. Some communities also require cats to be vaccinated. This is very important because currently, there are a greater number of cats being infected by rabies than dogs. It has been estimated that less than 10% of cats are vaccinated and this is causing the high incidence of cat rabies.
The standard protocol to vaccinate cats and dogs is a first injection at 3 to 4 months of age and then again at one year of age. A year later, your pet can be given a 3-year vaccination which has proven to be very effective. The veterinarian can explain their recommendations for your pet.
Vestibular Disease is also known as “Old Dog” Syndrome. Most mammals gain their sense of balance and spatial orientation from organs in the inner ear and parts of the brain, collectively called the “vestibular system”. If the vestibular system becomes diseased, this affects the ability of the animal to balance itself. There are two forms of vestibular disease. The most common form is peripheral vestibular disease which arises from disorders affecting the inner ear and nerves (i.e. not the central nervous system). The second form, called central vestibular disease, is a much less common condition although it is considerably more serious as it originates within the central nervous system. Both forms result in the animal experiencing a loss of balance and other symptoms of vertigo and dizziness. This disease can appear extremely dramatic to dog owners, particularly the first time the symptoms are observed. However, most cases improve quickly with appropriate care, treatment and addressing the causes of the condition.
Peripheral Vestibular Disease
Peripheral vestibular disease results from irritation of the nerves connecting the inner ear to the brain. This irritation can arise from several causes:
Chronic and recurrent infections of the inner and middle ear
Overzealous cleaning of the ears
Trauma from head injury
Drugs like the aminoglycoside antibiotics, including amikacin, gentamicin, neomycin and tobramycin.
Ear cleaners that should not be used with ruptured eardrums
Congenital defect (present from birth)
Peripheral vestibular disease can also be idiopathic, meaning the cause has not been identified. Infection of the middle ear is the most common cause of the disease in younger dogs; in older dogs, brain tumors may be the cause of the disease.
Central Vestibular Disease
Causes of central vestibular disease include:
Bleeding in the brain
Loss of blood flow
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Signs of vestibular disease include:
Abnormal posture, e.g. leaning or head tilt (towards the side of the problem)
Asymmetric ataxia, i.e. “drunken” gait (worse on the side of the problem)
Circling/deviating (towards the side of the problem)
Nystagmus–involuntary, rhythmic, jerking eye flicks–the slower flick is towards the side with problem)
Vomiting (motion sickness)
Dizziness and loss of balance can cause excessive drooling, sometimes with nausea and vomiting. If only one ear is affected, circling and head-tilting is usually in the direction of that ear and only the eye on that side may develop nystagmus.
Congenital vestibular disease is usually apparent before 3 months of age. Breeds that are predisposed to this condition include the Akita, Beagle, Doberman pinscher, German shepherd, English cocker spaniel, Smooth fox terrier and the Tibetan terrier.
Vestibular disease in old dogs is often mistaken for the animal having a stroke. The signs of vertigo caused by the disease can be more intense in older dogs which may show a complete inability to stand, nausea and circling. The disease in old dogs can make eating and drinking, or even going outside to urinate or defecate, very difficult, if not impossible. Therapy is likely to be needed in the form of intra-venous fluids and supplemental nutrition.
A physical examination and neurological assessment will ascertain if the vestibular disease is of the peripheral or central form. If the peripheral form of the condition is identified, your veterinarian will likely use an otoscope to look deep into your pet’s ears. Sometimes, x-rays are needed to assist the diagnosis. Other screening methods such as blood tests, culture and sensitivity, and cytology will help eliminate other potential causes of specific symptoms. Your veterinarian may also recommend a biopsy of any polyps or tumors that are found. If central vestibular disease is diagnosed, MRI or CT scans are likely to be recommended. Additional tests include cerebrospinal fluid analysis in which the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord is analyzed for abnormalities in protein concentration, cell counts and other parameters. This test is most useful to determine if there is an inflammatory and/or infectious disease.
The aims of treating vestibular disease are two-fold. The first aim is to deal with the underlying cause while the second aim is to provide supportive care.
The symptoms of nausea and vomiting can be mitigated by motion sickness medications. If the middle or inner ear is infected, antibiotics are likely to improve the condition. Ear infections should be identified and treated as quickly as possible. Inflammation may respond to treatment initially, but without good treatment, it can progress to a point where it may be untreatable. If the vestibular disease is caused by an under-active thyroid, the condition will resolve once the metabolic condition is managed correctly. If a medication is the cause, stopping the medication can bring complete resolution, however, there can sometimes be some residual hearing loss. Surgical removal of polyps can result in a complete cure, however, if there are cancerous tumors, the prognosis is usually less positive. The central vestibular form of the disease generally has a poorer prognosis than the peripheral form, primarily due to the potential for devastating damage to the brain stem. Fortunately, most cases of the peripheral form improve quickly once the underlying cause is diagnosed, addressed and the vertigo symptoms are treated with appropriate care.
Rehabilitation therapy can help your dog learn better awareness of his body position and thereby improve his stability. Symptoms of dizziness can prevent, or even totally stop, normal walking. This means food and water sometimes need to be close to your pet, or even brought to him to eat or drink. Some dogs may need to be hand-fed for a while. Many dogs need help getting to a place for urination or defecation.
There is no treatment that consistently manages either congenital vestibular disease or the geriatric condition. These pets require nursing care and confinement. Puppies born with the congenital disease often adapt and are less affected as they get older. In old dogs, the condition usually resolves in 7 to 14 days, however, the head-tilt can be life-long.
Talk to the veterinarian if you are concerned your pet is showing signs of vestibular disease.
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