KEEPING YOUR THERAPET HEALTHY
The Therapet is almost by definition going to meet and bring comfort and happiness to people who are not in the best of health and whose immune systems may be weak either through disease or in some cases because of the treatments which they are receiving.
It is the duty of every Therapet owner to ensure that their Therapet is in the best of health and not going to take germs into the environment of those we are visiting. We must also be able to convince the authorities in charge of hospitals, homes or schools that we have taken every precaution to ensure that our Therapet is safe and can only bring benefits to those whom we visit.
Canine Concern Scotland would like to ask all Therapet owners to take the following health precautions.
* Annual Health Check.. We would like all Therapets to have an annual check-up by your local vet. Be sure to tell your vet that your dog is a Therapet and ask your vet’s advice as to what vaccinations your Therapet would require. You should in particular ask your vet to check for any signs of ear, eye, nose or mouth infections and to ensure that coat is clear of any overt signs of infection. Remember these are the parts of the dog which the patients you are visiting will make direct contact with.
* Deworming every 3 months and monthly if your Therapet is visiting schools or youth groups. * Skin Parasites. We would recommend “spot-ons” since flea collars and powders can occasionally cause reactions in pets and humans. Some of the “spot-ons” cover fleas only and some cover fleas and ticks. There are also some spot-ons which cover fleas, worms and some mange mites. In general the more comprehensive the protective cover the better, but at the very least all Therapet owners must ensure that their animals are free of fleas.
* Regular dental checks to stop smelly breath, and the risk of spreading infection from infected saliva.
* Regular ear checks since even a mild, early ear infection can be painful if someone pats the head or rubs the ears. (Ear infections may also include bacteria which can infect humans.)
In general any Therapet who is even mildy unwell should be withdrawn from duties until professionally cleared. Therapet owners should also not visit if they are unwell. We should also take precautions when visiting to ensure that our Therapet does not carry any human germs from one patient to the next. If it can be done without causing offence have some bactericidal wipes with you to wipe your Therapets head or face before moving on to your next patient.
The following is a summary of a talk given by George Leslie, Chairperson of the Trustees of CCST at a meeting for Area Reps in July 2011. It is not meant to be a scientific survey, but is more a reflection of one practising vet’s views of the ectoparasites which he is likely to see on a regular basis in very often the most unlikely of dogs.
The phrase “my dog’s never had fleas” is a common statement by owners who just can’t believe that their dog might pick them up somewhere or that their household might harbour one or other of the following. So let me introduce you to a few friends who do actually turn up in the most unusual places, and the significance which they have for owners of Therapets.
CTENOCEPHALIDES FELIS ( the Flea) is very much number one. Latin scholars among you will note that Felis means cat, and the surprising thing is that the majority of cases of fleas in dogs are caused by the cat flea, but there is a Ct. Canis as we1l. They are interchangeable, difficult to tell apart and each can live out their life cycles on a dog, cat or a fox.
scratches itself. If they fall off outside in normal Scottish weather the survival rate is low but in warm or humid weather a large majority survive. If they fall off inside a centrally heated and double glazed room the survival rate is about 100%
The eggs hatch out and produce larvae which crawl into a dark space in vegetation or deep in carpets, blankets etc where after a few days they pupate and form a sticky pupa which can survive in dry warm conditions for many months. Vibration or an increase in CO2 in their close environment (as might be caused by a dog snuffling through the grass) will cause them to hatch and the wee flea will produce a prodigious jump (almost a metre) to get onto the passing dog, and the cycle goes on.
Fleas are an extremely successful parasite, and are increasing year on year. They will jump onto humans where they will take 2 or 3 exploratory bites, realise that they are on the wrong species and probably fall off and mostly die. However if you have 200 fleas in a room and they all take 2 or 3 bites that’s quite a lot. Most dogs which have picked up a flea will scratch and exhibit discomfort but a minority who don’t have sensitive skins may not scratch and the owner may not realise that there is a visitor in their midst. In the case of a Therpaet such a dog may go into a are home or hospital shake itself and leave a few eggs behind. We might hope that hospital cleaning services will remove the evidence, but if they don’t guess who will get the blame.
Next on our list is CHEYLETIELLA (the Dandruff Mite) This is a parasite which has steadily increased throughout my professional life. It is happiest in long coated dogs but even the smoothest coat will pick them up. They are often but not always associated with heavy dandruff in the coat. In most dogs they cause intense itching so owners should notice. They will pass onto humans when you are patting them or when they rub against your legs. They do not live long on humans but in those with sensitive skins they will cause a significant rash.
Next let’s look at mange mites. These are perhaps less common than they used to be, largely because of better care for pets since they are more likely to occur in dogs whose immunity is low. The first is DEMODEX CANIS . Figure 8: Courtesy of P. Forsythe It is extremely widespread but only rarely causes disease. The earliest signs of a problem will be patches of hair loss with no skin irritation on the face or legs, very often occurring in puppies at puberty or bitches who are lactating or having a phantom pregnancy. Mostly these lesions are mild and self-limiting and probably do not require treatment but every so often if your dog’s immunity is low it can become serious.
Can Demodex pass to humans – probably not although there is a related mite called Demodex Follicularis which is common on humans. I have however included a picture of an animal care worker with an attack of Demodex Canis – so it can happen. So once again as Therapet owners we have to be careful – areas of hair loss around the face or legs should be checked as they could represent areas of increased Demodex mite activity.
The second mange mite is SARCOPTES SCABEI – the cause of Scabies in humans and Sarcoptic mange in dogs. Figure 11: Generally Sarcoptes in the dog produces obvious skin lesions and intense irritation but certain breeds e.g. Greyhounds and Bull Terriers appear to be able to develop a sub-clinical form. In the vast majority of cases these mites will not pass from dogs to humans or vice versa but I have actually developed a mild form of Sarcoptic mange from a dog therefore as Therapet owners we should be careful.
The next two exhibits in our chamber of horrors are the dog lice. The first is LINOGNATHUS SETOSIS – the sucking louse, and the second is TRICHODECTES CANIS the biting louse. Trichodectes is the more common, often seen in dogs in poor condition or in puppies from less reputable kennels. It causes skin irritation and sores and the lice are easily visible crawling slowly through the dog’s coat.
Linognathus is more difficult to see since they move less and often appear to be skin coloured, and over the years I have seen very few cases of this louse but they are known to grumble along at a low level for a while and then have a population explosion which can literally cover the dog. I have seen dogs with this level of infestation presented as dogs with anaemia caused by the lice sucking blood (this can also happen in dogs with severe flea infestation).In both cases the lice are fussy and do not live on humans although it is always possible that some might be transferred mechanically during patting and cause a temporary irritation in a human being.
The last ectoparasite which we have to worry about is TROMBICULA AUTUMNALIS – sometimes referred to in England as the Chigger and in many parts of the east of Scotland as the Berry Bug. The adult parasite lives in warm moist soil where they do not interfere with humans or animals. However in later summer they do lay eggs which develop into first stage larvae which must attach themselves and suck blood from a warm blooded animal.When dogs pick them up they normally have lesions on their feet, legs and muzzle and usually intense irritation. Humans usually pick them up from direct contact with soil or vegetation, but it is possible that a dog once infected could mechanically transfer bugs directly from their skin onto in-contact humans.I apologise for the poor reproduction of the Trombicula larva which is not as colourful as some of our other pictures. However from Jul y to September be on the lookout particularly on the east coast of Scotland.
Finally OTODEX CYANOTIS – the Ear Mite. This parasite is common, does not pass onto humans but is an underlying cause of a large number of ear infections in the dog. A dog with even a mild infestation could react adversely to someone fondling their ears.
WHAT TO DO
The first and most important action for the good dog owner to take is regular grooming with inspection of the coat, and particularly in long haired dogs regular shampooing. Fleas are 3-4mm long and are fast moving. They rarely jump, but do move in a higglety-pigglety fashion through the coat. Even when not seen they often leave black droppings (faeces) sticking to the coat.
Lice are a similar size but are slow moving. Cheyletiella are often referred to as the dandruff mite and if there is a lot of dandruff one sometimes sees the dandruff moving. However a magnifying glass does help. Trombicula are often seen as small red spots on the skin. Dogs with Otodectes will usually have waxy ears. Dogs with mange will usually have skin lesions.
In all cases prevention is always better than a cure, and there are numerous products on the market to deal with all of the above. Unfortunately regular prevention is expensive and there is not a one-off magic bullet that kills them all with the possible exception of Ivermectin which is not licensed for general use in this country.
Flea treatments are the most commonly used products purchased by dog owners. Flea collars, powders and sprays are fine but sometimes cause irritation. Spot-ons are usually more effective and less likely to cause reactions. Many spot-ons cover both fleas and ticks. Advocate Spot-on covers fleas, ear mites, many internal worms, Sarcoptes and Demodex. Stronghold Spot-on covers fleas, ear mites, Sarcops and lice and many internal worms. There is a product called Amitraz which is very effective in many situations but should only be used under veterinary supervision. Cheyletiella and Trombicula probably respond well to topical sprays particularly Frontline Spray.
In all cases I have to advise you to take the advice of your veterinary surgeon particularly when it comes to those parasites which are less common than for example fleas and ticks.
Let’s start with the adult female flea which is on a dog. That flea is very happy. It’s got a walking meal ticket and it has a nice warm fur coat to protect it against the Scottish weather. It will live for 30 to 40 days, biting and sucking blood and laying 20 to 30 eggs each day. The eggs do not tend to stay on the dog but will fall off each time the dog shakes or
Next let’s move onto IXODES RICINUS (the Sheep Tick) and perhapswe should also talk about an Ixodes Canis (the Dog Tick). These don’t pass direct from dog to human but they are on the increase, they carry nasty infectious diseases and when attached to your dog (they look like a small wart or when fully engorged with your dog’s blood like a grape hanging from the skin) they sometimes cause an infection round the bite wound which can irritate the dog especially when somebody pats that area.
THOUGHTS ON AGEING THERAPETS
I have been asked on a number of occasions for advice on looking after older Therapets. Should we consider retiring them at some point ?
What are the best ways to keep them healthy and fit ?First let us consider what we mean by an older Therapet. The old adage that one dog year is equivalent to 7 human years is not very accurate. It is fairly obvious that a 1 year old dog is relatively more mature than the average 7 year old child and is probably more of a teenager. I think that most accounts I have read suggest a comparison more as follows ;
1 year old dog = 14 year old human
2 year old dog = 21 year old human
3 year old dog = 27 to 30 year old human
Thereafter small to medium breeds one dog year = 4-5 human years, and large to giant breeds one dog year = 6-7 years.
I feel that this sort of formula is fairly accurate, although there are so many different breeds and types of dogs no formula will ever be completely accurate.
So what is my advice about combating the ageing process in our pets ? I have three basic principles.
1) Just as with humans keep them active and socially interactive, so being a Therapet is probably one the best occupations a dog could have. Equally going to dog clubs, dog shows, sponsored walks, family holidays etc will all keep your pet young at heart.
2) Do not let your pet become overweight. If that happens you are almost guaranteeing a shorter lifespan. Most Vets and some Pet Stores have suitable scales, although for small to medium dogs weighing yourself + dog on bathroom scales and subtracting your weight is pretty accurate. If the weight is going up then Diet ! Diet ! Diet! There are two types of diets. The first saves you money. You must calculate everything the dog eats in a day and make a 15% reduction. If the weight does not come down make a further reduction. The second involves obtaining extreme low calorie dog food from your vet (diet is prescription only and expensive).
While exercise is always good for your dog, do not try to reduce an overweight dog by exercise. Many overweight dogs may have other health problems and you should check with your vet about exercise requirements.
3) Good dental health. This factor is not quite so obvious but most dental disease in dogs involves periodontal disease and this is a major drag on general health. I can’t overemphasise the need for keeping your pet’s teeth clean either with toothpaste, oral hygiene products, dentichews etc and regular check-ups.
As your dog’s age increases various problems start to appear. Probably the most obvious will be (just as with humans) stiffness and occasionally severe lameness or leg weakness. There is a great deal you can do. Controlled exercise – no jumping or galloping – walking provided there is no severe lameness and swimming provided you don’t need to clamber over rocks or muddy river banks to get into the water.
Have the problem assessed by your vet who may prescribe short term or long term anti-inflamatories. If these help do not assume that your dog is cured and still control the exercise. Many people advise glucosamine, chondroitin and cod liver oil. All of these probably help but the scientific evidence is pretty thin. Two hints – only a drop or two of cod liver oil is required – if you can get glucosamine hydrochloride rather than glucosamine sulphate go for it as it appears to be absorbed better by dogs but it tends to be much more expensive.
Physiotherapy can be helpful particularly if there is muscle wasting on one leg but good veterinary physios are few and far between.
The following steps are important but I am sure that they are also common sense*dramatic change in appetite must be checked
*dramatic increase in water consumption must be checked
*any problems with vomiting or with toilet must be checked
*breathlessness, tiredness and even a mild soft cough must be checkedall surface lumps must be checked by measurement, fine needle aspirates or biopsy
Remember old age is inevitable but the indignities associated with it are not. Modern veterinary medicine can do a lot to extend your pet’s life and quality of life. Most vets can offer to run geriatric blood tests which can often uncover some old age problems before they become apparent to their owners and when they are more easily treated.
Skin problems which also include many ear problems are more common in the young to middle aged but when your dog becomes old skin and coat quality do deteriorate and neglected ear problems come back to haunt you. You need veterinary advice on every case but regular grooming is vitally important.
I am always being asked to trim nails and in most cases it is un-necessary but in the older dog nail care is important. Nails tend to crack, split or curl and need regular care.
Eyes tend to deteriorate with age, and we should learn to manage our older dogs with the knowledge that they probably don’t see as well as they once did. However any problem with eyes involving discharge, irritation or cloudiness should be checked as they are often indicators of other disease and a great deal can be done to relieve your dog’s eye problems.
So should we retire old Therapets ? Not if they are still up for it, and enjoy the social interaction of meeting their friends in care homes and hospitals.