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Pet articles

Animal Emergencies

Female veterinarians perform surgery on a small dog

Female veterinarians perform surgery on a small dog

An animal emergency can roughly be defined as an incident or condition which, once it occurs, if left untreated for more than an hour, will lead to death. Most emergencies have an acute nature or onset and leave little room for preparation and decision making. We therefore have to prepare for them in advance, and be ready to take action as soon as the emergency occurs. For one thing, it will mean that you will have to have the vet’s emergency number on your mobile phone or readily available. The sooner you can get in touch with the veterinary practice and alert them to the fact that you have an emergency and they need to be on standby and ready to assist as soon as you arrive at the veterinary practice, the better the chances of survival of your animal. Continue reading

Your pet’s once a year health check-up

annual checkupMany people wonder why vets recommend having a once a year check-up for pets. There are many reasons but probably the most important is that the average dog or cat ages by approximately seven “dog/cat years” for every human year. It may differ slightly from breed to breed and usually cats and small breed dogs age slower than large breed dogs. The average life expectancy of a large breed dog is about twelve years whereas cats and smaller breed dogs can quite comfortably live to eighteen years. Just like in humans where the average life expectancy has increased dramatically over the last twenty years because of better healthcare, proper nutrition and a general improvement in living conditions, so has the life expectancy of our pets. Animals which are kept as domestic pets live a much more sheltered lifestyle than their wild counterparts, where there is little protection from natural predators and harsh environmental conditions. Nutrition for pets has also become a much more advanced science than in years gone by and these days it is quite common to find specialised diets for life stages, breed types and conditions. The average quality of life and life expectancy in large breed dogs who suffer from arthritis has been substantially increased because of specialised diets catering for their particular needs. Continue reading

Behaviour difficulties

picture of a puppy purebred rottweiler being reprimanded.

picture of a puppy purebred rottweiler being reprimanded.

“Man’s best friend.” The reason why dogs have been described like this over centuries is because of their unwavering loyalty and their good nature towards humans. However now and again, behavioural problems crop up in pet dogs which cause many people to dispute whether dogs are really man’s best friend. Behavioural problems can range from aggression, to destructive behaviour like chewing and digging, to house soiling. Some of these problems can be blamed on uninformed and uninvolved owners who do not spend the time to properly socialise and do basic training when they first acquire their dogs as puppies. Continue reading

Spaying / Neutering your pet

Female veterinarians perform surgery on a small dog

Female veterinarians perform surgery on a small dog

People will often refer to sterilising an animal or alternatively called spaying or neutering of a pet as a “snip-snip”. This makes it sound like it is a quick, outpatient procedure, which only takes a few minutes and only cost a few rand. Nothing could be further away from the truth. Spaying or neutering pets is a full blown surgical operation which requires a general anaesthetic. Continue reading

Vaccinating your puppy and kitten

tick and flea prevention for a purebred jack russell dog

tick and flea prevention for a purebred jack russell dog

Getting a new puppy or kitten is always exciting and most of us just want to cuddle this cute little bundle of fur. It would be lovely if this were enough to keep them healthy and disease free forever but unfortunately it isn’t. Just like human children, animal babies also need immunization when they are very young. Continue reading

The worm you did not know about – Spirocerca lupi

Dog at the vet in the surgery preparation room.

Dog at the vet in the surgery preparation room.

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. Continue reading

The infallible flea

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

The no-good, the bad and the ugly

English bulldog laying stretched over floor, high key

English bulldog laying stretched over floor, high key

Few people can hear the word “worms” without cringing – especially if it is related to a beloved pet. Unfortunately parasites living in the stomach and intestines occur all too common in our dogs and cats. These parasites live in the digestive tract, causing damage and robbing your pet of much naeeded nutrients. The amount of damage they cause depends on the type and number of worms your pet has. Continue reading

Tiny but deadly

English bulldog rolling over floor, laying upside down, high key

English bulldog rolling on the floor

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 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.


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.

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