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Dog Advice

Professional advice on caring for your dog

  • Nutrition
  • Neutering
  • Parasites
  • Vaccinations
  • Worming

Nutrition

We all know that a balanced diet plays an important part in maintaining our dog’s health and vitality. What we are not so clever at remembering is that dog's nutritional requirements are different from our own – what is good for us is not necessarily good for our dogs. Additionally, requirements vary depending on the age, size, breed and lifestyle of a dog. 

Life stages and lifestyles

Puppies are growing fast and need plenty of nutritional building blocks (amino acids from protein) to develop in a steady and controlled manner. A specific puppy food or a puppy raw complete are the most appropriate diets at this delicate stage in life. This is one of the most likely times for feeding habits and fussiness to start. Be very wary of this and try not to pander to them as you will regret it later! For certain types of dog, ideal nutrition in puppyhood is especially important. For example, large and giant breeds of dog are prone to a condition called OCD (osteochondritis dissecans) which is a form of joint disease that affects young dogs. This occurs for a number of reasons, of which nutrition is one important factor. Perhaps surprisingly, certain nutrients need to be very slightly restricted in these breeds to prevent growth spurts which damage the formation of joints. On a properly regulated diet, the dog will still develop to the same weight and size once adult, but with a reduced risk of developing OCD. It is also for this reason that we strongly recommend against dietary supplements including vitamin tablets, rice pudding, Weetabix and the various forms of calcium. The best timing of transition from puppy to adult food will differ depending on the type/brand of food, the breed of dog and if your dog is neutered. Again, we would be happy to advise you on this. Generally, commercial foods will say on the packet what size, breed or age the diets are recommended for, and possibly what size the kibble (biscuit) is. Small breed dogs can find standard dog biscuits ‘a bit of a mouthful’, so some diets are formulated specifically with a smaller kibble. Remember these manufacturers want to sell their diet and may overestimate... Working dogs and very energetic dogs may need to be fed on a rich high-performance/high protein diet, whereas dogs with a more sedate lifestyle need food that is lower in calories and protein, or you may end up with a hyperactive dog! Working dogs may also need to have their diet varied depending on the season. There is a huge amount of choice these days. Take your time and choose carefully. If your adult dog is fit and doesn’t need a specific diet for health reasons, then it makes sense to choose a high quality diet. This means good protein levels, a low amount of carbohydrate and as few additives as possible. For these reasons, raw diet might be most appropriate for your dog. Some dogs can be prone to weight gain despite plenty of exercise and the owners best efforts with feeding. If they are on kibble, these types of dog may benefit from a calorie controlled/light diet, or possibly a prescription diet for weight loss. Old dogs need fewer calories than energetic youngsters, and they often require food that is easy to digest, because their digestive systems may not work so effectively any more. Food for senior dogs often contains less protein and reduced levels of certain minerals, but may have a higher content of other vitamins and fatty acids. Please do discuss your diet worries with us at your next consultation.

Prescription diets

There are many special diets available to help dogs with certain types of disease such as kidney problems or arthritis. Many such foods are available only on prescription as their nutrient content can be very different from that of normal food – this is similar to the situation in humans who have certain health problems and who have to keep to a strict diet.So while to us most dog foods look and smell alike, there can be vast differences in their quality and content. It’s always best to feed as naturally as possible, and try to avoid grain. Please contact us for advice if you are unsure about what to feed your individual dog.

Wet, dry, raw?

The easiest way to cater for all your dog’s nutritional needs is to feed a complete diet – these are available in moist form (e.g. tins), as dry food or as a complete raw diet, which is great as long as you know what you are doing. It can be very difficult to prepare a well-balanced diet for dogs at home. Unintended mistakes can lead to serious problems if they result in an unbalanced diet being fed over a long period of time; also cooking destroys some of the nutrients. As a practice, we do recommend raw feeding; it suits most dogs very well as long as it is done correctly. Suitably sized bones are good chewing material, but not marrow bones – duck or goose necks are less likely to cause damage to teeth. Table scraps can be fed (infrequently) unless they have a high salt content. Also be aware that some common foodstuffs can be toxic to dogs, e.g. raisins which can cause kidney failure in dogs and onions which can cause anaemia. There will always be exceptions, but we know that ONE grape in some dogs can be fatal, and there is enough onion in leftover Chinese food to poison a dog too...

What is better - wet, dry, raw?

Dry food comes in kibbles of various shapes and sizes. Crunching hard kibbles is thought to help to slow down the development of dental tartar and tooth decay. There is even dry food specifically manufactured to help clean teeth while eating. Unlike wet food, a dry diet is very concentrated and a little goes a long way – this can sometimes lead us to feed too much, thinking that the advised amount looks too little! If you feed dry food, make sure it is a complete food, grain-free if possible and not a ‘mixer’ food that is supposed to complement wet food. A drawback of wet diets is that they tend to encourage the development of dental tartar and so tooth brushing is thoroughly recommended for dogs on moist food. A great diet for dental health is now thought to be raw food – the complete ones contain bone and firm muscle tissue which help to clean the teeth as your dog eats, and the raw meaty bone treats can also keep the back teeth clean and provide good exercise for the jaw muscles. Providing that a good quality, appropriate food is chosen for your dog, she will get a balanced diet on wet, or dry food or a mixture of both. Of course it is important that fresh water is always available.

How often do dogs need to be fed?

Small puppies can be fed four times daily until they are about 12-16 weeks old. Afterwards meals can be reduced to three times daily and eventually to twice daily. Pups often start to leave out one of their meals on their own. The majority of older dogs would happily consume amazing amounts of food if allowed to, and it is rarely possible to leave food down at all times and let the dog decide how much to eat. Keep to regular mealtimes with measured amounts of food. If you have a family who like to “help” to feed the dog, then spending 10 minutes once a week measuring out her dry food into meal-sized sandwich bags can help to stop over-indulgence, as you will easily see that your dog has been fed if that day’s bag is short or completely missing, whatever your dog is telling you. Many dogs will beg for treats. Dogs who are never ever successful when they are begging will soon stop doing it. They only need to be successful once when begging and from then onwards they “know” that you will succumb.

Eating a lot of food too quickly?

This is a nasty habit which seems to be intrinsic in some breeds. The Retrievers are renowned for it. Depending on their diet (or what they have stolen), and their body shape and size, it can lead to a condition known as Gastric Dilation with volvulus (GDV) or Gastric Dilation on it’s own. This disease is otherwise known as Bloat. For various reasons, the rapidly-devoured food ferments and releases gas into the stomach, dilates to huge proportions, causing stretching of the stomach wall, compression of some of the large vessels supplying and draining the organs including the spleen, with possible rotation of the stomach adding to the problem and further cutting off the blood supplies to the stomach. It is a horrible, painful and potentially fatal condition and needs to be treated as soon as possible. This is a true emergency. Deep-chested dogs are more prone to this condition (eg. Giant breeds, German Shepherds). It can also occur if your dog has too much exercise right after a meal or a sudden ingestion of water, if very thirsty. It is worth familiarising yourself with GDV in order that you are prepared for the signs; anxious behaviour, depression, abdominal pain and distention, collapse, excessive drooling and vomiting or unproductive dry heaving. Your dog may also have an extremely rapid heart beat, laboured breathing, a weak pulse, and pale mucus membrane (the moist tissues lining the body’s orifices, such as the nose and mouth).

The problem of overweight dogs

Unfortunately obesity is all too common in dogs and in people in the UK these days. Overweight dogs are more prone to health problems such as heart disease or arthritis. In common with the situation in people, slim dogs generally live much longer than overweight dogs. It is therefore important to keep a close eye on your dog’s waistline. Dogs do not automatically become overweight after being spayed or castrated, they only become overweight when they take in too many calories for their needs. The removal of those potent hormones at neutering reduces metabolic rate and therefore reduces the amount of food they require. Dry food in a bowl can look like a minuscule amount. But remember that dogs are generally much smaller than us – an amount that looks sufficient for us would be way too much for your dog! Modern dog food also tends to be quite concentrated and a little goes a long way. Food companies want to sell lots of food and so often the feeding guides on food packets overestimate the amount you need to feed. If you know your dog is too heavy then discuss the situation with your veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse. There are numerous ways to reduce your dog’s weight and it is necessary to find one that fits in with your life and suits your dog. In some cases just a reduction of the normal food can be enough, in other cases specific diets are more advisable. As with people, a gradual approach is usually more successful than a ‘crash-diet’. While it is beneficial to increase the activity of a dog, it is very difficult to slim an overweight dog just by increasing its activity. The best thing is to work out a diet plan with your vet or nurse, and to keep in regular contact to adjust the plan as necessary. As dogs are very individual, the dietary approach and calorie restriction that causes significant weight loss in one dog may not help another dog at all. Don’t worry – it may just take a little time to find the right method.For very difficult cases there is even medication to help with slimming. This cannot take the place of a good diet however, as it is only suitable for short term use but it can help with getting started. Your dog CAN lose weight!

My dog is unwell, what should I do about his diet?

Diet can play an import part in the treatment and management of some diseases. We may advise you to change the food or avoid certain products if your dog is ill. The necessary changes depend entirely on what is wrong with your dog. Prescription diets are for very specific problems, and they are unlikely to be appropriate for a healthy pet, so you may need to separate dogs with different nutritional needs during meal times. It is still important to introduce a new diet gradually, making sure that your dog keeps eating throughout the change-over and does not refuse to eat food for significant periods of time.Some dogs, especially the toy breeds, can be fussy when it comes to changing their food, but there are several ways to achieve this, and we are happy to advise you how to encourage your dog to eat a new diet.

Neutering

Why castrate a male dog?

  • Entire male dogs can have a tendency to roam and look for bitches on heat. This increases the risk of them becoming lost and/or involved in road traffic accidents.
  • Some un-castrated male dogs develop aggressive behaviour towards other male dogs when they mature. Castration prevents or reduces this behaviour. Other forms of aggression are not reliably stopped by castration, however, and in these instances it may be necessary for the dog to be taken for a behavioural consultation.
  • Entire male dogs can develop medical problems with their testicles or prostate gland. Castration can prevent/reduce the prevalence of such diseases.
  • A number of un-castrated male dogs show hypersexual behaviour towards people or objects, which can be problematic for both the owner and the dog! This problem usually significantly reduces and may even disappear several weeks after castration.

Are there any problems associated with castrating male dogs?

  • There is a small risk associated with performing any operation under general anaesthesia – this is the case for every operative procedure.
  • Castrated dogs generally need fewer calories, which means that there can be a tendency for them to put on weight. Being aware of this and feeding them with an eye on their waistline will prevent extra weight gain. There is no automatic increase in weight due to castration, it all comes down to giving the correct amount of food.

How do I arrange to have my dog castrated?

The first step in having your dog castrated is to arrange an appointment. We may already know your dog if he has been to us for his vaccinations. However If we have not seen your dog before or if we have not seen him for a long time, we will ask to see him for a normal appointment first to perform a general health check. This is done to make sure that he is healthy enough to undergo general anaesthesia and to ascertain that both testicles are sitting in their normal anatomical position.

What happens next?

For the operation we will ask you to bring your dog to the surgery for a designated appointment on the day. It is very important that he is starved the night before the surgery and that he has nothing at all to eat on that morning. If there is any food in the stomach, the anaesthetic risk is higher than usual, so this point cannot be overemphasised. Initially your dog will be given a premedication (‘pre-med’), which contains a sedative and a strong pain killer. He will then be anaesthetised and the testicles will be removed.

The wound is usually closed with sutures that are not visible on the outside. After waking up, your dog can go home on the same day, usually in the afternoon. He may still be a bit ‘light-headed’, but should be fully awake. He can eat a small light meal and should be allowed to rest. He may well have a cone of shame as he may want to investigate the surgical site, and we would rather that he did not. We also stock the inflatable collars is suitable for your dog's shape if you would prefer this. They are a little more expensive but if suitable, are less stressful for both your dog and you. We advise that you keep your dog quiet for about 10 days, with lead-walking only, and running or playing should be avoided at all costs as these activities can result in wound-healing problems. If necessary he may have to wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent damage to the wound.

It will take 10 days for the wound to heal fully. We will ask you to bring him for a postoperative check-up appointment 3-5 days after the operation. Should anything look unusual or should you be unsure about anything at all before or after the appointment, you should contact us for advice.

Female dogs

Why spay a bitch?

  • Bitches come into season about twice a year. Initially the vulva swells and there may be some bloody discharge which can last for 5 to 7 days or longer. The fertile period only lasts for 48 hours or so, and can be at any time between day 10 and 25. They are very attractive to male dogs during that time and will actively search for males as well. Controlling a bitch on heat can be much more difficult than people think, so the danger of having a pregnant bitch and a litter of unwanted puppies is very real. Coping with the extra work and finding loving homes for all the puppies can be extremely demanding, especially for owners who are not used to this situation.
  • In older bitches, hormonal problems not uncommonly lead to the development of an infected uterus (pyometra). Pyometra usually presents as an emergency and can be fatal if not treated promptly. The condition can be avoided by having a bitch spayed while she is young.
  • Spaying bitches before maturity is reached (usually when they are 6 to 8 months old) will reduce the probability of malignant growths in their mammary glands (‘breast cancer’) later in life. If they are spayed after they have had one or more seasons, this added benefit no longer applies.

Are there any problems associated with spaying bitches?

  • There is a small risk associated with performing any operation under general anaesthesia – this is the case for every operative procedure.
  • Spayed bitches generally need fewer calories, which means there can be a tendency for them to put on weight. Feeding them with an eye on their waistline will prevent extra weight gain. There is no automatic increase in weight after spaying, it all comes down to giving the correct amount of food for your dog’s needs.
  • Urinary incontinence (dribbling urine) is a problem that can develop in bitches whether or not they have been spayed, especially as they get older. However, spaying may increase the likelihood of incontinence problems developing. It is not a problem that we see on a very regular basis, but occasionally it can occur. In the majority of dogs cases the problem can be controlled with medication.
  • Changes in coat quality have occasionally been observed in spayed bitches, especially in longhaired breeds. 

When should I have my bitch spayed?

If your bitch has already had a season then the surgery should be performed two to three months after the end of the season, when the uterus (womb) and blood vessels are at their ‘quietest’. If she is a puppy and not yet had a season, then your vet will discuss with you the best timing of the procedure.

How do I arrange to have my bitch spayed?

The first step in having your bitch spayed is to arrange a consultation. If we have not seen your bitch before or not seen her for a long time, we will ask you to arrange a pre-op appointment to perform a general health check. This is done to make sure that your bitch is healthy enough to undergo general anaesthesia and the operation, and that she is not currently in season.

Are there options in how the procedure is performed?

The traditional spay technique involves a midline incision on the underside of the abdomen (tummy) and an ovario-hysterectomy, which means removal of the ovaries and the uterus (womb). The comfort and welfare of our patients is always extremely important to us, and pain relief is provided before, during and after the procedure. The surgical and suture techniques used are ones which help to minimise discomfort.

The laparoscopic (keyhole) technique can be arranged at our Practice and is performed by a visiting soft-tissue endoscopic surgeon. A rigid endoscope is used to view the internal organs and special instrumentation is used to perform an ovariectomy, i.e. removal of the ovaries only. This technique has the advantage of being less invasive, with only two small holes being made in the abdominal wall. Pain relief is provided but recovery from this procedure is more swift than with a traditional, larger incision surgery. There is no evidence that leaving the uterus behind results in any increased risk of incontinence or womb infection in the future, when compared to conventional surgery. If you are interested in laparoscopic ovariectomy please discuss this with us as a special appointment will need to be made. Please note that permission is always gained for the surgeon to convert to a traditional spay technique, should technical issues make the laparoscopic technique inappropriate.

What happens on the day?

On the day of the operation we will ask you to bring your bitch to the surgery at an appointed time. She should have been starved since 9pm the night before but have had free access to water until the time you leave the house. Food in the stomach at the time of anaesthetic can cause anaesthetic complications. Initially your bitch will be given a premedication injection (‘pre-med’), which contains a combination of sedatives and pain killers. The procedure will usually take place in the morning. Most bitches are free to go home the same evening, although slight wooziness after the anaesthetic is not uncommon. The sutures will be dissolving ones and will be buried under the skin, so are not visible on the outside. A dressing may be applied to the wound. Your bitch may be provided with an Elizabethan collar to prevent her licking the wound and causing an infection, or a onesie if requested. We also have the inflatable neck collars if they are suitable for your pet. We will offer her some food on recovery. At home, a small light meal should be offered and she should just be allowed to rest. She will be sent home with pain killing medication.

We advise that you keep your bitch quiet for about 10 days after the surgery. Lead-walk only during this period; running or playing should be avoided at all costs. Vigorous exercise could result in problems with wound healing. You may need to lift her gently into and out of the car.

It will take 10 days for the wounds to heal fully, and it is important that you watch her closely during that time. We will ask you to bring her for a postoperative check-up appointment three to five days after the operation. Should anything look unusual, or should you be unsure about anything at all before or after the appointment, you should contact us for advice.

Parasites

All skin parasites usually cause itchy skin and depending on the type and number of parasites involved this can range from an occasional scratch to devastating self-mutilation. Other signs can be bald patches, red patches, spots, scaly skin, crusts and sore patches which are prone to secondary infection with bacteria. This aggravates the situation, causes more itching and soreness and making diagnosis more difficult. Some animals can become generally unwell.

Sometimes there is a typical pattern of itching related to a particular parasite, but usually further tests are usually necessary to determine the cause. Ticks are an exception – they are usually very obvious once they have filled with blood.

Fleas

Fleas are the most common skin parasites found on dogs; most dogs encounter them at some point in their lives. Adult fleas live on the dog and feed on blood, and each female flea lays up to 50 eggs per day. These eggs are oval and creamy white and fall off the dog into the environment where they develop through 3 life stages and then hatch as an adult flea. It is very important to remember this when treating a flea problem, and to use a household treatment, as this is where the majority of the flea population lives. There is one stage of development which is near-on impossible to kill, which is why it is so hard to get a “clean kill” and we have to persevere for a few months to eradicate the problem. Fleas are easily transmitted from one animal to another, but more commonly they become infested via the environment e.g. a house or car where developing fleas are lying in wait. Some animals with fleas are not bothered by them, but others can develop severe irritation, hair loss and inflamed or infected skin. As flea infestations can quickly get out of hand, sometimes up to the point where professionals may have to be employed to decontaminate the house, it is important either to prevent a flea problem or to treat it thoroughly as soon as it is noticed. As stated above, use a good quality spot-on preparation and treat the environment (house, shed, car etc) -this is very important. The treatment of all pets should be continued over a period of at least 3 months to ensure all the next flea generations have gone, and it should be applied according to the instructions on the packaging, usually monthly. Pet-shop flea collars, shampoos and powders are not recommended – many of these are actually “flea repellents” and do not kill the flea.

Ticks

Ticks are commonly found on dogs, but can also latch onto other animals and humans. Several types of ticks are found in the UK. In most cases they only cause local irritation and localised infections. However, in some parts of the UK ticks can transmit more generalised diseases, such as Lyme’s disease, and in other countries they commonly transmit a variety of unpleasant infections. Ticks will not stay long on the dog, they burrow their mouthparts into the skin, fill their bodies with the dog’s blood and then drop off after a few days. Ticks are a problem from spring to autumn, and especially in late spring and early autumn. Ticks are found on trees, bushes and in areas of denser vegetation and in the UK where there are wild deer, and they are able to sense when a dog or other animal passes by. They crawl onto the dog and start sucking blood. Ticks are not transmitted from dogs to other animals directly. Ticks should be removed individually with a tick remover, taking care that the mouthparts are removed in order to avoid causing a nasty skin reaction. All other procedures such as covering the tick in oil, alcohol or glue should never be used because this can leave the tick dying slowly in the skin, and infectious agents can be pumped back out from the tick into the pet. There is a good spot-on which works against ticks, and there is a very effective flea and tick collar which prevents the tick from attaching, so if your dog is prone to these pests, please contact us for advice.

Mites

Mites come in different shapes and sizes. Dogs are more commonly affected by mites than cats, with the exception of ear mites.

Scabies

The Sarcoptes mite or ‘fox mite’, causes scabies. This condition, a very itchy and uncomfortable skin disease, is common in dogs. Cats and foxes can also be affected by scabies. Although the mites spend their entire life-cycle on the dog, they can survive for up to 3 weeks away from their host. The mites burrow tunnels through the skin where they live and lay their eggs. Because they actually live inside the skin, they cannot be seen on the outside, and brushing and bathing will not remove them. In the early stages of the disease many dogs are not itchy, so the problem may not always be immediately apparent to the owner. Later, however, the discomfort becomes extreme. Sarcoptes mites are often transmitted by direct contact. However, as the mites can live away from their host for up to 3 weeks, dogs can be infected even without coming in direct contact with an affected animal.

Cheyletiella

Cheyletiella mites live on the surface of the skin and their eggs can be found stuck to hairs. The condition can affect dogs, cats and rabbits, and the mites spend their entire life on the animal. Adult mites can live in the environment for 10 to 14 days.

Affected animals are often presented with crusty or scabby skin, and although most patients have only mild or no itchiness, occasionally severe discomfort develops. Sometimes mites can be seen on the hair (‘walking dandruff’).

Cheyletiella mites are usually transmitted from animal to animal through direct contact.

Sarcoptes and Cheyletiella mites frequently pass from infected pets to their owners and cause intensely itchy red spots and crusts on human skin. However, after treating the mites on the dog, disease in humans is usually self-limiting and does not require additional treatment.

Demodex

Demodex is a special type of mite. It is present in small numbers in the majority of normal dogs and usually does not cause any clinical signs. Occasionally, however, the Demodex mite can cause disease and it may then result in one of the most challenging skin problems encountered in veterinary practice. Young dogs (usually about 3 to 11 months of age) occasionally show a localised form of the disease consisting of one or more focal areas of thinning hair or red and scaly skin. These lesions are not usually itchy and may go unnoticed. In most cases they disappear without treatment. In some instances, however, the lesions can grow until the most of the body is affected. This more severe form is occasionally also seen in adult dogs without previous development of localised lesions. Dogs with normal immune systems seem to have no problem in keeping demodex mites in check. In cases of generalised demodex infection, a significant underlying problem with the immune system can be suspected and further investigations may well be necessary to find out what is going on. Animals affected by Demodex are often not as itchy as may be expected with other types of mite infestation.

Demodex mites are probably only transmitted during the first hours of life from mother to newborn pups. Most animals never show symptoms, as they will only appear if the immune system is unable to control the mites.
Demodex mites are not transmitted from dogs to humans, although humans have their own version of demodex infection.

Harvest mites

Harvest mites are generally only a problem in summer and early autumn. Mite larvae are found mainly on the feet (especially between the toes), but also on the legs, occasionally the head/ears and the tummy of affected dogs. They will not stay, but only feed for several days and then leave the dog. Infested dogs can show signs ranging from no symptoms at all to intense itching. Larvae are often visible as small orange/red patches on the skin. Itchiness may persist for a while after the mites have gone.

Harvest mites most commonly live in areas of well-drained ground with heavy vegetation, so the larvae will infest dogs that frequent such areas. Even though the individual larvae do not stay long on the dog, it is possible for dogs to be infested on a regular basis when they often go to the areas where the mites are found.

Lice

Infestation with lice, a common problem in humans, is actually rare in dogs. Dogs have different lice from humans, so humans cannot catch lice from dogs and vice versa. The entire life cycle of lice is completed on the dog within 3 weeks. Clinical signs range from no symptoms at all to severe skin disease, with the empty egg cases (nits) attached to the hairs as the giveaway sign. Occasionally, a heavy infestation with blood-sucking lice can lead to anaemia in small dogs or puppies.

Most affected animals are presented with a dry scruffy looking coat, some hair loss and varying degrees of itchiness.

Lice are transmitted by direct contact or by grooming a cat with a contaminated brush or comb. Louse infestations are more common when many cats are together in a relatively small space, such as a cattery, a rescue centre or at a cat show.

Lice can be treated with most of the spot-on preparations that are used to treat or prevent fleas. Treatment of the environment is not necessary, although grooming equipment (combs, brushes etc) should be thoroughly cleaned.

Vaccinations

Several serious infectious diseases of dogs can be prevented by vaccination. Immunity to disease develops either after exposure to the natural disease or after being given a vaccine – a very weak or dead form of the infection. Allowing a dog to develop immunity by natural exposure to dangerous infections such as parvovirus runs the risk of him contracting severe illness or death. We advise vaccination of dogs against serious killer diseases. This immune protection wears off over time and so booster vaccinations are necessary to ensure continued protection. In addition, some insurance policies are mad null and void if vaccinations aren’t current – read your small print.

Which diseases do we vaccinate against?

Parvovirus disease

Parvovirus disease: weakness and severe vomiting and bloody diarrhoea. Dogs, especially puppies, dehydrate very quickly and die due to dehydration and, possibly, severe blood loss. In puppies under the age of eight weeks the virus can also damage the heart muscle. Parvovirus can be caught directly from other infected dogs, but the virus can also survive for several months in the environment. It can be picked up by a dog just sniffing in the park, for example. Illness usually develops within ten days of being infected.

Intensive treatment is frequently necessary for dogs with parvovirus infection. Unfortunately, even with intensive care, not all dogs can be saved.

Canine hepatitis

Clinical signs in mildly affected dogs include fever, poor appetite, a painful tummy and pale or jaundiced (yellow) gums. More severely affected dogs can develop bleeding and some patients are left with kidney damage. A characteristic sign during recovery is a blue haziness of the cornea (the clear part of the eye) – a condition known as ‘blue eye’. Infected dogs shed the virus in all body secretions, especially urine and faeces, and may continue to be infectious for some time, even after they have survived the disease. As the virus can live in the environment for several months, it can be picked up by a dog during a normal walk without necessarily meeting an infected animal.

With intensive therapy many dogs, but unfortunately not all, can survive hepatitis.

The virus causing canine hepatitis is different from the human virus, so people cannot become infected with this disease.

Distemper

Distemper virus can attack almost every organ, so affected dogs can develop many clinical signs ranging from fever, severe conjunctivitis, pneumonia, vomiting and diarrhoea, to meningitis and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Dogs that survive acute distemper are often left with brain damage, leading to tics or seizures (fitting). They may also develop thickening of their paw pads and nose (‘hard-pad disease’) which can be painful. Infected puppies that survive the acute form often have teeth with damaged enamel which leads to early tooth decay. Infected dogs shed the virus in all their body fluids and can continue shedding virus for a long time after surviving the acute disease. Virus particles can also be transmitted through the air.

Intensive treatment is usually necessary for dogs with distemper and they may then survive the initial acute disease. However, further on-going treatment is often necessary to try to control the long-term signs of the disease (fits and/or hard-pad disease), which is not easy.

Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is the only bacterial disease included in dogs’ vaccine protocols. Several forms of the Leptospira bacterium exist, but all cause liver and kidney disease and often failure of these organs. This disease is a zoonosis – humans can become infected via the dog. In human medicine leptospirosis is known as ‘Weil’s disease’ and there is no vaccination available. Leptospirosis bacteria can survive for a long time in damp or wet surroundings (eg puddles or near rivers). They are also transmitted by small mammals like rats, mice or voles, dogs are potentially at risk on every walk. Many dogs can survive with intensive treatment, but may be left with liver or kidney damage. As infected dogs shed large amounts of Leptospira with their urine, owners are at risk of catching the disease from an infected pet. In 2014, one of the main vaccination manufacturers, MSD, added new “strains” to their lepto vaccine, because the rapid increase in european travel has brought two new types of the disease into the UK.

Kennel cough

Kennel cough is actually not a single disease, but a group of diseases causing very similar clinical signs. Any cough that it transmitted easily to other dogs is called kennel cough. Several ‘bugs’, both bacterial and viral, can cause this problem. Kennel cough vaccine is not included in the routine vaccination protocol, but instead is given on request, for example when dogs go into kennels or attend shows. In many cases kennel cough is a mild disease, although the cough can last for several weeks. In some dogs, however, especially the young, the frail, those with pre-existing heart or lung problems or flat-nosed breeds, it can be more worrying and difficult to treat.

When should puppies be vaccinated?

Current advice from our vaccine manufacturer is that puppies need two vaccinations given 4 weeks apart. The first vaccination is usually given when the puppy is 8 weeks old, followed by the second at 12 weeks. Full protection should start about 10 to 14 days after the second vaccination has been given. The timing of these vaccinations is a balance between, on the one hand, a desire to get the puppies vaccinated early, so that they can go out and socialise, and on the other hand, whether the vaccine will work properly (older puppies tend to get better immunity from the vaccine). In recent years the vaccinations have been brought earlier as an acknowledgement of the fact that behavioural problems caused by a lack of socialisation are a major cause of re-homing and even euthanasia of dogs. With the above schedule, your puppy would not be “safe” to go outside and mix with other dogs until 14 weeks of age. We can give the distemper, parvovirus and hepatitis part of the vaccine at 8 and 10 weeks, thus allowing them to attend indoor puppy classes etc. from 11-12 weeks old. The only part of the vaccine that must be given at 12 weeks is Leptospirosis and you will see from the above description, that pups kept indoors, socialised only with other pups, are very unlikely to come across this disease

How early? Puppies receive maternal antibodies from their mother. This immunity starts to reduce at about 6 weeks of age, but it may still be protecting the puppy until it is 12 weeks old. Unfortunately, if this immunity is still protecting the puppy when we vaccinate it, mum’s antibodies will prevent the vaccine from stimulating the pup’s own immune system. From trial data, we know when the vaccines are most likely to begin working to create an immune response successfully. Vaccines given later lead to a better response, but we also could be leaving our pups exposed to the real diseases without Mum’s antibodies and without an immunity induced by vaccination.

Some breeders will vaccinate their puppies for parvovirus very early if they perceive they are at risk. These puppies will still need the full vaccine course, as outlined above.

Our vaccination recommendations for puppies:

  • Initial course of 2 injections 4 weeks apart
  • The first vaccine no earlier than 8 weeks of age
  • The second vaccine no earlier than 12 weeks of age

How often should a dog be vaccinated?

The basic answer is that a dog should be vaccinated again when the level of protection starts to wear off. This can be different for each dog and also depends on the type of vaccine used. Currently the vaccine manufacturers advise vaccinating against distemper, parvovirus and hepatitis in puppyhood (see above), then at one year of age and every three years thereafter. Leptospirosis and, if necessary, kennel cough, have to be vaccinated against yearly, as the protection does not last very long. This time period is set by manufacturers to ensure that the level of protection stays high.

Why is a health check necessary before vaccination?

An annual health check plays a vital role in the process of vaccination. It is important that the dog is healthy at the time of vaccination and that the immune system is working properly and not focussed on another illness/issue. If we find cause for concern, the vaccine will be postponed and we will either treat the problem we find or we will advise further tests to find out what is going on, if a diagnosis is not possible just on clinical exam. Only after we have sorted out the problem will we ask you to come again to have your dog vaccinated. A half-yearly health check, between vaccinations, is also recommended especially for our oldies.

Can something go wrong after vaccination?

These days vaccination is a very safe procedure and problems rarely encountered. Unusual reactions (‘vaccine reactions’) are very rarely reported and the risk of illness from one of the diseases is far greater than the risk of a vaccine reaction. Occasionally a small skin lump appears at the site of the vaccination, but this usually disappears within a few days. If a lump appears and does not get smaller go away in a few days (5-10) please notify us and we will make an appointment for this to be checked as soon as possible.

Is regular vaccination still recommended?

We strongly recommend regular vaccination. We still treat dogs with the diseases mentioned above. The outcome of these infections can be very serious or fatal and can be avoided by regular vaccination. With the increase in European travel, we have already seen the change with Leptospirosis. How long will it be before we are seeing distemper on a regular basis? The only vaccine that incoming dogs have to have had is Rabies. Which brings us to another point; illegal importation with all the problems and diseases that brings, including the chance of re-introducing Rabies to a country proud to be clear of it for many years.

Worming

What types of worms do dogs get?

Round worms.

These are white and resemble pieces of string or spaghetti and can be up to 18cm long. Round worms are rarely seen because most of them stay in the intestines and are shed infrequently. If you see round worms in faeces or vomit, it usually means that there is huge burden of worms in the intestines. Toxocara, hookworm, whipworm and lungworm are all types of roundworm. Lung worms are becoming a real worry; the worms live in bronchi (the airways in the lungs). However, the larvae can also cause problems in other organs, sometimes resulting in severe disease. They not only cause lung damage but can increase the risk of haemorrhage, and so for surgical procedures we will request that your dog has a particular treatment applied at least 4 days beforehand.

Tape worms are long flat worms made up of many small segments and resemble rice grains. They can occasionally reach a length of several metres. Tape worms constantly shed segments filled with eggs that can often be seen in faeces. These segments are mobile and you may be able to observe them changing shape.

How do dogs get worms?

Most worm eggs or larvae are ingested by licking or sniffing. Often eggs or larvae can survive on the ground for weeks or months. Some worm eggs are quite sticky and can adhere to the coat or even to clothes or human skin and then be transported home for the dog or the owners to ingest. Hook worm larvae can burrow through skin ( of dogs or people) and can also be licked up by the dog cleaning his paws after a walk.Tape worms and lung worms require an ‘intermediate host’ (another species of animal) that the worm lives in for part of its lifecycle. When a dog eats all or part of this intermediate host, the worm larvae can settle inside the dog and grow to maturity. In the case of tape worms, intermediate hosts can be fleas, small rodents or larger animals like sheep, depending upon the type of worm. Dogs that have got fleas, hunters and dogs receiving certain types of raw meat as part of their diet are all at risk of acquiring tape worms. Intermediate hosts for lung worms are slugs and snails and their trails and the worms are often transmitted by dogs picking up small slugs while eating or licking at grass or drinking out of flower pot saucers. Most of the worms live in dogs’ intestines (or bronchi in the case of lung worms), but there are always some that are hidden away in other organs or tissues and stay inactive for long periods. Those inactive stages are not reached and killed by any worming product. They can become active at any time, so a dog can suddenly have worms even if it has not been anywhere to become newly infected. Such inactive worm stages become particularly activated when a bitch is pregnant. Toxocara roundworms can invade the unborn puppies inside the uterus before they are born, and, after birth, worms can also be transmitted to the puppies through the mother’s milk. This makes it important to treat young puppies frequently against worms.

What are the clinical signs of worms in dogs?

Light infestations of worms usually cause no clinical signs at all, especially in adult dogs – so the owner of an infected dog may feel sure that their pet does not have any worms.Heavy worm infestations can cause serious and severe clinical signs and can be dangerous in puppies. Puppies can present with a pot belly, slow growth, vomiting and diarrhoea, a rectal prolapse or even a fatal blockage of their bowel system. Hookworms and occasionally whipworms can cause severe anaemia, as these worms feed on blood from their host. Any dog with heavy worm burdens can lose weight, have a poor coat, vomiting and diarrhoea, pneumonia and other respiratory problems, skin irritation, anaemia or bleeding disorders and occasionally problems in other organs.

Can humans get worms from pets?

Toxocara roundworms are not uncommonly transmitted to humans, although fortunately most infected people have no apparent symptoms. In humans the worms do not mature as they do in dogs – instead the larvae wander through various organs. Liver problems, epileptic seizures and blindness are among the (rarely) reported clinical signs in humans affected by Toxocara infection. Children and people with a compromised immune system are most commonly affected. Treatment may or may not be curative and problems such as blindness in children can be permanent. Sandpits left open to the elements are a high risk area. Hookworm larvae burrow themselves into the skin. In humans this can cause an intensely itchy form of dermatitis which is usually self-limiting. Skin contact with damp and, often, sandy soil is necessary to become infected, so again, children and adults fond of gardening or lying on beaches where dogs have been are at risk. Regular worming is important to ensure that your dog stays healthy, and also to protect your family and others.

What can be done to prevent problems?

The best way to prevent worm related disease both in dogs and human beings is regular worming of dogs and picking up dog faeces from the environment. Modern wormers are much more efficient than old style ones. We recommend that puppies are wormed at 2, 5, 8 and 12 weeks of age, and then monthly until they are 6 months old. The mother should be wormed at the same time as the puppies until they are weaned. Adult dogs should be wormed at least every 3 months. Pets with close contact to small children or adults with inefficient immune systems can safely be wormed for roundworms on a monthly basis. Tablets are most commonly used, but effective spot-on products against round worms are also available. We will be happy to advise you on the most appropriate product for your pet.

Practice information

Portchester Vets

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147-149 White Hart Lane Portchester Fareham Hampshire PO16 9AY
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