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Worms

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Of the problems that afflict our younger pets, infestation with intestinal roundworms is one of the most common. The typically thin, but pot-bellied pup or kitten is the classic example of roundworm infection, for it is this type of worm that is the most serious in the young animal. As animals mature, they develop a certain amount of immunity to these worms. There'll often be a few in the intestines but most tend to "hibernate" in the tissues of their so-called "host". If they've picked a male or a spayed female to hibernate in, their luck is out - their life cycle will go no further. But if, by chance, they picked an unspayed female, they can lie dormant until they are mobilised by the animal's changing hormone levels during pregnancy.

In dogs, this means that immature forms of the worms can cross into the young via the placenta so that already when the pups are born, they may have maturing worms inside them. After birth, larval worms can pass into both puppies and kittens through their mother's milk. Naturally this will be the first exposure to these parasites for young pups and kittens which can soon have large numbers of worms inside them. Failure to gain weight, and indeed loss of condition, is the immediate result, but if large numbers of worms are present, they may cause severe bowel irritation or even completely block the intestine.

But it's not just the roundworms that like to make their home in the insides of our pets. Tapeworms are frequent visitors as well. Have you ever noticed small white wriggly "things" that look a bit like grains of rice, around your pet's bottom or on its faeces? These are likely to be segments shed from tapeworms in your pet's intestine. These particular worms found in both dogs and cats, are commonly called "flea" tapeworms, because the larval stages need to develop inside a flea. The cat or dog becomes re-infected when it swallows the flea during self-grooming. Although these tapeworms can grow up to half a metre long, they don't usually cause too many problems apart from the irritation those "grains of rice" cause around the anus!

Other worms, including the blood-sucking hookworm, and the whipworm, can cause more severe problems in dogs, but these are much less common.

So how do you go about dealing with the problem of intestinal worms? With the possibility of so many unwelcome internal visitors, regular worming becomes an essential to good pet health. Any adult animals, cats and dogs, should be wormed every three months to prevent re-infection, but breeding animals should be done before mating and during the pregnancy as well, to reduce the passing of roundworms to the young. However inevitably, pups and kittens will carry at least some worms, and in order to reduce the amount of damage these can cause, young animals need more frequent worming. An initial course at two-week intervals for six weeks, starting as early as two weeks of age, should be followed by monthly treatment up to six months of age.

You need to make sure that you use the appropriate medication. Very young animals only need treatment for roundworms, but once they reach three months, they may have tapeworms as well, so you'll need to ensure the treatment you're using covers all types of worm - check with your veterinarian if you are unsure. Don't forget that the flea is an essential part of the life cycle of the common tapeworm, so control of this pesky insect is important too!

One final word. The worms that inhabit the bowels of our pets are not the same as those that bless human intestines , so if your pet has worms, there's no need to rush off and worm the kids - unless you have reason to think they have worms of their own!

Vaccinations

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There are often a lot of instructions that come your way when you pick up your new cat or dog, and somewhere in there you are told the animal "must be vaccinated". So just what are the diseases that pets can be innoculated against?

For dogs, standard vaccination is against:

1) Distemper - a usually fatal viral disease that attacks mucous membranes and nerves, initially causing runny nose and eyes but leading on to muscle twitching and ultimately convulsions.

2) Parvovirus - a virus causing severe gastro-enteritis which can be fatal in the young.

3) Infectious Canine Hepatitis - yet another virus, this one affecting the liver.

4) Canine Adenovirus and Canine Parainfluenza - two of the organisms causing respiratory disease in the dog.

In addition, dogs may also be vaccinated against:

1) Leptospirosis - this is a serious disease, primarily affecting the liver in dogs, that is caught from rats or rat urine. If your dog frequents places inhabited by rats - the bush, creeks and streams, farms, parks - or if you know there are rats around your home, your dog should be vaccinated, especially if it is of a breed such as a terrier that enjoys hunting rodents. Leptospirosis is also a zoonosis i.e. it can be passed on to humans, although this particular form of it is not as serious as that which is caught from cows.

2) Bordetella - another of the causes of Kennel Cough which can be given to dogs if they are going into kennels, or to a dog show - any situation where large numbers of dogs are gathered together.

Vaccination programmes vary depending on the type of vaccine your vet uses, but pups should have their first vaccination between six and eight weeks, with boosters up to sixteen weeks. You should remember that your pup will only become fully immunised two weeks after its final shot and should be kept away from public places until this time. Do remember though that this is the important age for socialising your pup, so that contact with other (vaccinated) dogs is essential, but must take place on private property. Once the initial course of vaccinations has been completed, your dog will need an annual booster to maintain its immunity.

The standard vaccination for cats is against:

1) Panleukopenia - also known as Feline Enteritis, this is a viral disease causing severe vomiting and diarrhoea especially in young kittens.

2) Rhinotracheitis - a Herpes virus causing respiratory disease, commonly known as Snuffles.

3) Calicivirus - another virus which attacks the respiratory system and can also cause mouth ulcers. Note: The calcivirus which affects cats is quite separate from the one used for rabbit control.

Other vaccinations, mainly used by owners of breeding cats, protect against:

1) Chlamydia - which causes conjunctivitis, abortion and infertility.

2) Feline Leukaemia - a virus that suppresses the immune system.

Initial vaccinations for kittens are usually given at around nine weeks of age with a booster four weeks later. Once again, annual vaccination is necessary, with the added recommendation that cats going into a boarding establishment or to a cat show should have been vaccinated within the previous six months.

- Virginia Williams & Bert Westera

Tooth Care

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Its easy to ignore teeth. For one thing, theyre out of sight most of the time. For another - well, lets face it - theyre a form of defence - a weapon if you like. Now many animals would never dream of using their teeth in such a way against their intimate acquaintances, but there are certainly the odd few out there who, objecting to having their mouths inspected, will quite happily at least threaten to use their choppers for a non-digestive function on owners and vets alike.

But we shouldnt let such issues detract from caring for our pets teeth. For teeth are important - they start the whole process of digestion by beginning the break down of food. They should be cared for from the beginning. Just like humans, pups and kittens have a set of baby teeth. Their appearance in the first few weeks of life is helped if the young animals are given something to chew on, as this helps the teeth to come through cleanly, thus helping avoid gum inflammation and infection.

The next crucial phase in dental care is when the young animal loses its milk teeth and starts to produce the permanent set. Usually what happens is that the root of the temporary tooth is absorbed by the gum, with the rest of the tooth coming loose and falling out. Sometimes however, the root is not fully absorbed and the new tooth comes through before the old one is lost. This can hinder development of the new one, or even push it out of place, so it is important that persistent milk teeth are removed.

Once the adult teeth are through, the most common problem we see is the formation of tartar on the teeth, partly as a result of the preponderance of soft tinned food our pets eat. Even eating the relatively harder biscuits does not exercise the teeth and gums enough to prevent the formation of tartar, which is made up largely of bacteria. The tartar eventually hardens, sticking to the teeth and causing the gum inflammation which is the first sign of the more serious periodontal disease.

In this condition, bacterial infection of the gums, if left untreated, can result in retraction of the gum away from the tooth root, exposing it to the possibility of infection and, eventually, loss of the tooth. In serious cases, bacteria from chronically infected gums can enter the bloodstream, spreading through the body to infect other organs, particularly the heart and kidneys, causing disease and even death.

So what can you as a pet owner do to prevent tooth problems? Well, there are several lines of attack:

1. You can brush their teeth every day. "Oh horrors!" people cry. "Hed never let me brush his teeth". While this is certainly true of some animals, many owners are surprised at how little trouble they have with the brushings. Its certainly an advantage to start them young so that it simply becomes part of daily grooming, but many older animals adapt to having their teeth brushed without too much fuss. Dont use human toothpaste - animals dont care for the way it foams or for its minty flavour. On the other hand, the chicken flavoured paste you can get from your vet may well go down a treat!

2. There are now special high fibre biscuits available which will help remove soft tartar from your pets teeth.

3. You can also get dental toys for your pet to chew on. These toys, usually made of rubber, are designed in such a way as to help remove soft tartar as well.

4. Regular dental checks with your vet are important so that problems can be forestalled - teeth may need to be cleaned, filled or even removed under anaesthetic, or periodontal disease may need to be treated. Checks should be annual for younger animals; every six months for older pets.

The importance of teeth to nutritional wellbeing is even more important in horses, where poor teeth can prevent the ability to bite off the grass and chew it properly, resulting in weight loss and failure to thrive. One of the major problems is that sharp edges can develop on the back teeth, meaning that food is not adequately chewed before being swallowed, and is therefore much more difficult for the horse to digest. For this reason, horses should have their teeth examined annually, so that any sharp edges or overgrowth can be rasped back, a relatively simple procedure.

- Virginia Williams & Bert Westera

Talking to the animals

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The cover of a Time magazine posed the question "Can Animals Think?" The accompanying photo showed a chimpanzee sitting on a rock, in thoughtful pose, perhaps pondering the whys and wherefores of a species (human scientists) who can’t accept what is there in front of their noses because they haven’t been able to prove it.

The chimpanzee can rest assured however: It seems that finally the scientific community are for the most part admitting what any self-respecting animal lover sees as obvious - at least some animals are capable of working out consequences of actions and of showing emotions.

Of course every pet owner thinks their own little darlings are the most amazingly intelligent animals ever born - apart from those few who own to living with pets who seem to have brains the size of a pea.

You will all know people who claim their pet "understands every word I say". Whether such an animal does in fact interpret the actual words, or merely reads its owner’s body language, it is evident that, for a lot of pets the level of understanding with their owners can reach quite high levels.That’s not quite the same as saying that a dog, for instance, is capable of intellectual thought. But even those diehard scientists who used to insist that animal behaviour was no more than an automatic response to training, there being no proof that it was anything more, are now acknowledging that animals are capable of emotion and reasoning.

Take Bolte, for instance. This rather lazy Irish wolfhound knows that gumboots mean, at the most, a one kilometre walk to the mailbox. So when her owner puts on his gumboots, she will deign to accompany him, if somewhat lethargically. But let him get out his running shoes, and, like a flash, she’s gone into hiding - no 110 km run for me today thank you very much.

Tramping boots are another thing - they mean a bush walk with lots of great smells, so she’ll get really excited when those go on. But if at the end of the walk her owner turns for home instead of continuing on down to the beach, there’s no one who could deny the aggrieved look on the big dog’s face. As far as she is concerned, the beach is the highlight of the trip - miss it out and she’ll let you know she’s hurt.

So here’s a dog that can work out what’s in the future from the shoes her owner chooses; a dog which can show emotion, that of disappointment. She also does a good line in guilt. Her usual response to her owner on his returning home is one of utter bliss. A joyful wolfhound is not something you can easily ignore - there’s an awful lot of dog to be happy.

So when there’s neither sight nor sound of her as he opens the gate, his suspicions are naturally aroused. To find her curled up in her basket studiously ignoring the fact that her favourite human in all the world has reappeared after an absence is enough of a message to the increasingly apprehensive owner to take a look around the property.

Is the garden dug up? Is it ever! And you try telling him that dog doesn’t have guilt written all over every inch of its skin. So it’s nice that the scientists have caught up with the action - it might have been cheaper if they’d just bought themselves a pet.

- Virginia Williams & Bert Westera

Stop Dogs from Biting

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Bob’s new corgi pup was really cute and forever bringing him a ball or a shoe demanding a game. But her favourite was tug-of -war.

Bob had bought a thick rag cord which Tessa, a very determined player, would hold on to forever, growling furiously all the while. Eventually when Bob had had enough he would laughingly give in leaving Tessa proudly victorious.

But one day, in the heat of the game, Tessa nipped Bob on the finger - and discovered that he would smartly drop the cord.

Bob excused the dog’s behaviour thinking that she was a "bit excited". But a week later she tried it again and once again "won" the cord. A couple of weeks later she gave him a nip on the hand when he bent down to pick up her ball.....

He eventually came in for advice when Tessa, who had been curled up asleep in Bob’s chair, bit him quite badly when he tried to move her off.

The problem here was that Tessa now felt she could dominate Bob. Dogs are pack animals. They feel secure only when they have a place in a hierarchy - and the establishment of their place in the pecking order is an important component of their early playing behaviour.

When you see a litter of pups having a rough and tumble - bowling each other over, grabbing each other by the scruff - you need to realise this play has serious undertones. They’re working out who the "top dog" is and just where each one fits in.

So when a pup comes to a new owner it needs to re-establish its place within its new "pack".

Playing is also an important part of bonding between owner and dog. It provides stimulation and exercise - and it’s a new lot of fun. But approached wrongly it can cause problems.

Bob made a couple of mistakes that unwittingly contributed to Tessa’s increasingly dominant behaviour. First, he let her decide when games would be played by nearly always responding to her "requests".

Also, the tug-of-war kind of game where dog and owner are competing is asking for trouble. A dog’s jaws are extremely strong and you will probably get bored before it lets go.

Every time you let the dog "win" it feels more dominant. This will lead inevitably to confrontation such as Tessa "claiming" the chair.

- Virginia Williams & Bert Westera