At the refuge, with so many dogs living in one space and over a thousand animals through our gates every year, we see more than our fair share of illnesses and diseases. Many of these can be fatal if undetected. Worse are those which can be fatal even if detected. Saddest are those which are completely preventable with a common vaccine.
Some of the diseases and ailments we see at the refuge are not common in the UK and knowing their symptoms can save your dog’s life.
Dogs in France are routinely vaccinated against canine distemper (maladie de Carré) infectious canine hepatitis (hépatite) parvovirus and leptospirosis. Many dogs are also vaccinated against rabies, and this is a compulsory condition for all Category 1 and 2 dogs. If your dog is often in kennels or social doggie surroundings you can also vaccinate them against kennel cough. Vaccines are also being seen for piroplasmosis (babesia canis) and Lyme disease which are often contracted through tick bites. Although at the refuge we do not see many cases of distempter or hepatitis, we see parvovirus frequently, as well as kennel cough.
Parvovirus is a highly contagious viral illness seen in two main forms. The first form is the one we see most commonly at the refuge. It is characterised by vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, fever or low temperature, a rapid heartbeat, engorged lips and eyes, a painful abdomen and a loss of appetite. Symptoms can appear rapidly and are often extreme. Dogs may not present with all symptoms. Lack of fluid and nutrients is a major issue for dogs with parvo, and your vet may recommend keeping them in at the surgery and putting them on a drip to keep them hydrated and give them the nutrients they need. Parvovirus can be transmitted by direct contact with an infected dog, or by fecal-oral transmission (Rover sniffing another dog’s business). It is resistant to many cleaning products, can live for up to a year in infected soil and is very difficult to get rid of, which is why there are outbreaks in shelters that can be hard to get rid of. Sadly, this means that weaker, older or young dogs who have not been vaccinated arrive at the pound and do not have the antibodies to fight off the virus. The survival rate for dogs is good if they are given intravenous nutrients and antibiotics, but there is no medication that can treat a virus: your vet can only support your pet in fighting off the infection themselves. This is why it is particularly important that vulnerable dogs are vaccinated.
The second strain of parvovirus is seen more in puppies and young dogs. This attacks the heart and is often fatal for young puppies.
At the refuge, we see both types. With so many dogs in weak conditions, it can be fatal. All dogs are routinely vaccinated, but if they have caught the virus before they are vaccinated, the vaccine is ineffective.
What to look for: vomiting, diarrhea, blood in vomit or feces, fever, lethargy, reddened eyes and gums
Quacking-like coughs are often the first sign of kennel cough. Many dogs will get kennel cough at least once in their lives. Vulnerable dogs are more at risk. It can be caused by viruses or bacteria, and if your vet tests for bacteria, they may prescribe an antibiotic, although for many dogs, rest and hydration are sufficient to help them overcome the disease. Many vets will diagnose based on symptoms, such as coughing, retching, nasal discharge, pneumonia, lethargy or loss of appetite rather than prescribing antibiotics however. It is very rarely life-threatening and mostly clears up without medical treatment or intervention. As the name implies, it is often contracted by dogs in kennels, because like the common cold or the flu virus, it passes quickly in crowded surroundings. Kennel cough is not the only disease to have coughing as a symptom, so if you are worried or the coughing lasts more than a couple of days, see your vet immediately. As with vomiting and diarrhea, severity, frequency and duration are the key things to monitor.
What to look for: a quack-like cough or repeated, nagging cough, shortness of breath
Demodetic and Sarcoptic Mange
Mange is a common condition of a small number of animals brought to the refuge, evidenced by scaly patches, hair loss and sometimes skin lesions. It is caused by overpopulation of the mites which live in the hair follicles of a dog. It can be localised or found all over a dog’s body. Another form of mange is sarcoptic mange which kind of the doggie equivalent of scabies. Both kinds can be passed from mothers to their offspring, so it is often seen in puppies. Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious and it is advisable for you to keep your dog in quarantine if your dog has it. If you notice excessive scratching, hair loss and scabbiness, mange could very well be the reason. It is usually treated with regular medicinal shampooing or creams. Other infections can manifest themselves as ringworm (a fungus) which is most commonly identified through reddened skin, circular lesions, hair loss, itchiness and dandruff, or earmites, identified through ear scratching, stinky ears, a dark waxy substance and head shaking. Many forms of mange are highly contagious and although it is distressing for the dog, leading to complications with breathing, it is not usually fatal unless there are complications resulting from lesions. Most are treated with creams or medications.
What to look for: hair loss, itching, lesions, dandruff
Bloat and stomach torsions
A number of dogs die at the refuge every year as the result of bloat, leading to a stomach torsion. Bloating is always an emergency and one that is sadly very difficult to treat. Once bloat has started, it is very difficult to rectify without surgery. Prevention is more efficient than treatment. Bloat can affect dogs at any age and in any physical condition. It more commonly affects deep-chested dogs like Great Danes, Leonbergers and even large setters or pointers.
Preventing bloat relies very much on care with feeding and exercise. Dogs at risk should not be fed and exercised at the same time: exercising a dog with a full stomach can be one way that the gases build up in the stomach and cannot dissipate. You can notice bloat as the stomach is usually distended and hard. Excessive drooling, frothy spittle, light-coloured gums, a strong desire to regurgitate without the ability to do so and a weak heartbeat are also symptoms. Getting your dog to vomit can be effective – and the easiest way to do this can be through motion. A ride in the car to the vet’s can be effective – not only to see the vet but to induce vomiting. Excessive drinking can also cause bloat. This is why it is not a good idea to exercise dogs too hard during warm weather as they may drink too much and suffer from bloat as a consequence. Small meals fed several times a day rather than one meal can also help. Avoiding foods likely to swell in the stomach such as certain dog kibble or bread may prevent bloat, as will methods that force your dog to slow down when eating, such as specialist dog bowls. Bloat is known to affect not only certain breeds, but males over the age of seven, dogs that are only fed once a day rather than twice a day, dogs that eat rapidly, dogs who exercise immediately after eating and dogs who are anxious or fearful. If you think that your dog has stomach bloat, do not wait. Take them to the vet immediately. Even twenty minutes can be too long. In French, mention “torsion d’estomac” or “dilation de l’estomac” to your vet on the phone and they will no doubt meet you straight away at the surgery.
What to look for: frothing at the mouth, unsuccessful attempts to vomit, a swollen/hard abdomen (just below ribcage) light-coloured gums, lethargy
Parasites and worms
At the refuge, there are are many staff and volunteers who have become experts at poo inspections. Consistency, frequency and colour are often tell-tale signs of other infections. Although giardia may not be a word many are familiar with, it can also spread quickly among animal populations. This gastrointestinal parasite is responsible for explosive diarrhea, often very light in colour and with a very strong smell. The feces may also be greasy-looking or frothy. They contract the parasites through contact with other dogs and through oral-fecal contamination. As you can imagine, trying to keep dogs who live in kennels away from any contaminated spots can be very difficult. Treatment is usually effective but since many dogs lose weight rapidly with giardia, it may also cause further complications through weight loss. Dehydration and lack of nutrients need to be watched for, as they do with any prolonged period of diarrhea. If your dog has explosive diarrhea that has a very strong odor, but does not seem to be in ill health otherwise (perhaps weight loss, of course) then giardia may be the cause. Isolation and clearing up of fecal matter is vital, as is keeping coats clean. Many dogs will involuntarily reinfect themselves through cleaning their fur or licking themselves.
Worms are also another parasite that you may not take too seriously, treating easily and quickly with a wormer. For vulnerable animals, worms can be fatal. Many puppies (and kittens) who arrive at the refuge have already picked up worms through their mother’s milk and if their mother has not been wormed or has worms herself, these worms can quickly be fatal. They are uncomfortable for the animals, causing intestinal cramps and pain, as well as bloating, diarrhea and respiratory problems. They can also cause blockages, which are often fatal. Many times they are easy to identify in young animals as they have a distinct ‘pot-bellied’ appearance. Roundworms are particularly persistent little beggars and their eggs can live for years meaning that you don’t just need to administer a wormer but keep the environment clean too. Eggs are dropped in poo which even if cleaned up properly can easily be trodden in by another dog. All it takes is a lick of the paws and the worms have found their new host. For this reason, it is vital that young pups are kept in a sterile environment and wormed regularly. Worms don’t just live in the intestines: they can pass into the liver and lungs. One wormer might not do the trick for those that have been living outside the intestines: a repeated dose after a short interval should pick up those that drop into the intestine the second time. Tapeworms are the recognisable worms we see in feces, looking like a small grain of rice. Heartworms are a rarer parasite but can be fatal to animals. It is passed by mosquito bites, like leishmaniasis is spread by sandflies.
What to look for: diarrhea, respiratory problems, bloating, “pot-belly”, pain on pressing the abdomen
A good worming and vaccination programme, regular treatment with a flea, fly and mosquito repellent and an eye on what your dog has their nose in will usually keep most of these illnesses and diseases at bay. With a little care and attention, none of these common ailments need be an issue for most dog owners.
It is not easy to keep your dog’s nose out of whatever may take their interest, or to ensure they are not walking through environments rife with all kinds of health threats, so there will undoutedly be times when your dog has diarrhea or vomiting. There are many times when dog owners worry about diarrhea and vomiting, which can be frequent occurrences in a dog’s life. You know best when either is a sign of something more serious. If blood is present in either, seek immediate medical attention. It may only be that your dog has burst a blood vessel in their stomach through repeated vomiting, or that they have a lower intestinal bleed as a result of more frequent or painful bowel movements, but blood in vomit or feces is the first reason to visit the vet. If in doubt, pay the vet a visit. The internet is neither veterinarian nor pharmacist, and hearing of someone “curing” a newly-adopted dog’s diarrhea with a dose of gaviscon because they’d read about it on the internet not only could have caused many complications but also led to the dog being removed from the home. As most pet owners understand, you cannot take risks with medication and treatment and your vet should always be your first port of call.