What can you do to help your puppy or kitten stay healthy?

Sadly we can’t always prevent our much-loved pet from getting ill. However, if we can stack the odds a little more in their favour, why would we not? This blog takes a look at some common questions, myths and facts surrounding preventative healthcare and why it’s especially important in our young pets.


How do I know if my kitten/puppy has worms?


It’s best to assume your puppy or kitten will have roundworms. Immature larval stages of these worms lay dormant in adults. When awakened by pregnancy and feeding, they spread to puppies or kittens. If there is a large burden you may see them in your pet’s faeces or vomit, like strands of spaghetti. They may cause a pot belly appearance or weight loss, but many won’t have signs of infection. The worms we are talking about cannot live in people, but the eggs of some species, if ingested (usually in children), can cause blindness or damage to the liver, brain, or other internal organs.


The environment is more of a risk than the adult worms in our pets, as it takes weeks for eggs to become infectious. By cleaning up faeces immediately and always wearing gloves when gardening, risks are minimised. As up to 67% of public parks sampled, and 75% of sandpits, were contaminated with roundworms and their eggs, prevention with good anti-parasite medication is best.


Tapeworms are long, flat worms composed of segments containing eggs. These segments are released in faeces appearing like grains of rice. The UKs most common tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum) infects our pets through fleas eaten during grooming. If your pet has fleas, it will probably have tapeworms. Another type of tapeworm (Taenia taeniaeformis) requires the eating of small rodents hosts, so is seen more in older hunting cats. Tapeworms may cause diarrhoea and poor coat quality. Most UK tapeworms don’t harm people. However in Wales the Echinococcus granulosus species can infect dogs when they eat infected meat (carcass or raw meat). Humans ingesting eggs from infected dogs can become an intermediate host and develop potentially serious cysts.


What about fleas? How can I tell if my pet has fleas?


Fleas hide well, move fast, and are hard to find, especially in dark coated animals so it’s best to treat new pets anyway. Only in heavy infestations do you see fleas easily. One flea can lay 40-50 eggs developing into adults within 12 days. Parting the fur may reveal black specks the size of dandruff, which could be flea faeces. Remember fleas means probable tapeworm infection. Also, as 95% of the lifecycle of the flea is in the environment in the form of eggs, larvae and pupae, leaving just 5% in the form of adults, treating the home is vital.


What should I treat with?


There is an array of products in pet shops, supermarkets and online that may not be effective, tested, or safe. Our team can advise you on what is safe, effective and appropriate for your pet. As your pet’s worming and flea treatment needs may change with age and lifestyle, a tailor-made personalised programme is best.


Do I really need to vaccinate my pet?


The vast majority of evidence shows vaccines to be a safe and effective way of preventing disease and saving lives. This is the best choice for pet welfare, but also financially sensible given treating diseases costs more than vaccinating against them.


Core vaccines in puppies include parvovirus which can cause a fatal gastroenteritis in 91% of pups without treatment. Leptospirosis spreads by contact with infected urine (or water contaminated with urine) from wildlife or other dogs. Any dog with outdoor access is at risk. It is possible for humans to also become infected, causing serious illness. Canine distemper we now see rarely, thanks to vaccination. Adenovirus (Infectious Hepatitis) attacks the liver (and kidneys), killing at least 30% of those dogs infected. Outbreaks are rare due to vaccination, but do occur. Both adenovirus and distemper still exist in the environment and, if vaccination rates continue to fall, there are likely to be more cases of adenovirus and a possible reemergence of the terrible distemper virus.


Core vaccines in kittens include feline enteritis (aka panleukopenia), an often fatal gastrointestinal infection. Calicivirus and feline herpes viruses come under the umbrella of ‘cat flu’ as they can cause signs similar to human flu. However cat flu can be serious, cause long term issues, and can be fatal in young kittens. Depending on your cat’s lifestyle we may recommend vaccinating against feline leukaemia virus, an incurable viral infection that’s eventually fatal.


The immature immune systems of young pets mean infections can be much more serious than in adulthood. However, vaccines given too early may not be effective due to residual maternal protection. Contact us to discuss the best age for vaccination and for further information.


Why is neutering important?


The evidence for neutering female cats and dogs is strong. It can vastly reduce the chance of mammary cancers later in life. Given 85% of mammary tumours in cats, and 50% in dogs, are malignant and most are aggressive, this is life-saving. Another life-threatening condition commonly seen in females is pyometra (womb infection), a condition that’s totally preventable by neutering. Neutering prevents unwanted puppies and kittens, thousands of which are euthanised every year because there aren’t enough homes for them. Help by neutering yours.


Castrating male cats is vital for population control. It helps reduce spraying, fighting, and spread of disease. Unneutered males often stray and we find are more likely to be involved in accidents. In dogs, the situation is more complex. While neutering can reduce the chance of some prostate diseases and some behavioural issues like scent marking, straying and mounting, a decision should be made only after discussion of the pros and cons with our vets.


In summary, as the old saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’. Book an appointment with one of our team to check your new puppy or kitten over and discuss what preventative measures may be appropriate for your pet.