Category Archives: Diseases of dogs

Exaggerated and irresponsible article in today’s Canberra Times

An article on a report published by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (AVPMA) in the Canberra Times today magnifies adverse effects in some animals to veterinary vaccines, flea treatments and other chemicals. It fails to mention the sickness, suffering and death prevented by these treatments in the vast majority of animals.

This morning we admitted an unvaccinated pup into hospital with parvovirus gastroenteritis. He is very dehydrated and is suffering severe abdominal pain. His chances of survival are 60:40. If he had been vaccinated he would not have developed this nasty disease. The vaccine is close to 100% effective in preventing parvovirus disease and only has to be administered once very 3 years to adult dogs.

Many hundreds of thousands of dogs are vaccinated every year and only a handful suffer any side effects. Most often the side effects are mild, a swelling at the site or of the face.

This summer is the worst for fleas and ticks in many years because of the high rainfall. Tick antiserum is in short supply and it is imperative that all dogs travelling to the coast are treated with a tick preventative and searched daily for ticks.

Advantix, permethrin spray and Frontline are the most effective tick prevention available. Compared to the number of dogs treated we see very few side effects. They are usually mild skin irritation or hair loss, and usually reversible.

Dogs infested with ticks die without tick antiserum and intensive treatment. Tick antiserum is far more likely to cause serious side effects than any of the preventative chemicals. Tick prevention is far better than cure.

Fleas and flea allergy dermatitis cause far more discomfort in far more dogs than the occasional side effect to any of the flea preventatives. Millions of doses of fipronil, imidacloprid and permethrin are applied every year but, as the APVMA reports, only a few cause side effects.  The benefits of flea prevention far outweigh the risk of side effects.

Each individual cat should have a tailored vaccination programme. Specialists from around the world debated the frequency of immunisation in cats at this year’s veterinary immunology conference. Factors affecting our recommendation for your cat include whether she goes outdoors or to boarding catteries, or how many other cats live in the household. We have not seen significant adverse effects to the vaccines in any of our patients but we often see very sick unvaccinated cats.

Feline AIDS caused by the cat immunodeficiency virus circulates in our outdoor cat population. It is incurable and reduces affected cats’ ability to fight off common infections and afflictions.  We see fever in the occasional cat on the day following the AIDS vaccination.

We see unexpected but occasional side effects with many things we give our pets. This article exaggerates the APVMA’s report and the likelihood of serious problems If you have concerns about any treatments you currently use please discuss the costs and benefits with your veterinarian first.

Snakes in the grass

Miss Lucy found a snake this morning. After all the rain there is plenty of long grass for snakes to slither through. Jack Russells are notorious snake killers so snake envenomation was top of our list this morning when Lucy came in wobbly and shivery. Although Lucy lives in the suburbs snakes feel quite at home in our sprawling city. They wander in to our yards from nearby paths and paddocks in the warm weather surprisingly often.  Usually we don’t notice them. It is only when a dog like Lucy finds them that we even know they are there. Keep your grass cut and your dogs on leads when out walking so that they don’t end up in hospital like Lucy.

PS Lucy has had a dose of snake antivenom and is recovering well!

Itchy bottom?

Dogs scoot their bottoms along the ground when they have anal gland problems, tapeworms or allergies.

If you catch your dog rubbing along on the carpet, worm him with a good quality wormer such as Drontal or Milbemax that covers all worms, especially tapeworm.

If he is still irritated or if he seems off colour then bring him in to the surgery. Many small dogs suffer from anal sac problems. The gland fills up with material too thick to empty through the small ducts in the anus. Usually we just express them and all is well.

Sometimes the material gets infected and the glands become swollen and painful.  Your dog might have trouble defecating or lick the area a lot. The glands may break through the skin and discharge foul smelling fluid. At the surgery we clip and clean them as well as starting antibiotics and pain relief. If your dog has repeated anal gland infections we recommend surgery to remove them.

In spring and summer many allergic dogs rub, lick and scratch all over including their bottoms. Some dogs allergic to food proteins also rub their bottoms on the ground. Treatment for the allergies usually stops the rubbing and licking.

Ear infections

Ear infections are very common in dogs, especially breeds with long or hair ear canals like Poodles, Cocker Spaniels and Golden Retrievers. Often they are the first or only sign of doggy hayfever (also known as atopy).  Sometimes the infection is secondary to a grass seed.

Dogs with ear infections flap and scratch their ears. The ears are red, have a yellow or black discharge and often smell offensive.

Your vet will inspect the ears with a special scope and take a sample of the discharge to determine the cause of the infection.

Your vet can then prescribe the appropriate ear drops.  The cause is commonly yeast or less often bacteria – either cocci or rods.

Occasionally we find ear mites in young pups or their household friends.

Sunloving pooches beware!

We have seen an upsurge in dogs with sun induced skin cancers in the last month or so.  Most of these are on the bellies of  Staffies or Jack Russells that love to lie on their backs in the sun.These cancers can be difficult to remove completely if they are not caught early and will recur if the sunbaking continues.

The types of skin cancers include squamous cells carcinomas which look like scaley skin in the early stages and cancers of the tiny skin blood vessels which look like bright bruises or red areas in the skin.

If you find a suspicious area on your dog’s belly ask us to check it out earlier rather than later.

Geriatric Vestibular disease

Dogs with Geriatric Vestibular Disease have a head tilt, walk in circles, fall to one side, appear disoriented and are reluctant to stand up. Some also have flicking eye movements, known as nystagmus. Many dogs feel nauseous and vomit.

Geriatric Vestibular Disease often develops suddenly and without warning in old, medium to large breeds of dogs. The precise cause is a mystery and there are no known predisposing risks.

The latest thinking is that it is a type of stroke and that the blood supply to the vestibular system is interrupted.

The vestibular system is a complicated structure in the inner ear that perceives the body’s orientation relative to the earth and informs the eyes and limbs how to move accordingly.  It allows animals to move on uneven ground without falling, helps them know when they need to right themselves, and allows their eyes to follow moving objects without becoming dizzy. When it fails a dog’s balance is upset and he feels as if he has motion sickness.

Most patients return to normal within a few days but others take weeks. We don’t medicate them unless they are unable to drink on their own or persistently vomit.  Intravenous fluids in hospital and medication to settle persistent vomiting support these patients until they can drink on their own.

Most dogs with geriatric vestibular disease are nursed at home. They need a warm, dry, well-padded bed and will temporarily require assistance with toileting.

Despite the initial acute and dramatic presentation, most dogs with geriatric vestibular disease recover completely or accommodate minor balance problems.

Recurrence is possible but uncommon.

Heart murmurs

Heart murmurs are quite common in older dogs, especially in small breeds.  They are due to problems with the valves between the chambers of the heart.

When we first hear a heart murmur at the annual checkup there may be no obvious signs of heart disease. Many dogs with a heart murmur will continue to lead a normal life for years and need no treatment.

As the heart deteriorates they develop congestive heart failure (CHF). When this occurs, medication and lifestyle changes help us manage the disease. Treatment must begin at the very first sign of CHF.

What is a Heart Murmur?

Valves within the heart open to allow the heart chamber to fill, then close to form a seal against back flow as the heart contracts. This ensures that all blood moves forward to supply the body with oxygen and nutrients.

We hear a heart murmur when these valves don’t close properly. Blood leaks “backwards” when the heart contracts. The murmur is heard with a stethoscope and is the noise made by the blood rushing back through the damaged valves, as the heart contracts.

The valve defect is usually due to a slight change in the shape of the valves. The cause of this in most cases is unknown, although there may be a hereditary component.

Eventually, as the backflow of blood increases, the heart has to work harder to ensure enough blood reaches the body. As the disease worsens inadequate blood reaches the vital organs and the dog cannot maintain a normal, active life.

How do I know when it’s time to begin treatment?

All cases of valvular disease eventually progress and require treatment.  Treatment begins when we notice any of these signs:


Early Signs; Advanced Signs; 
Coughing (usually a hacking cough) Pale gums
Shortness of breath, panting a lot Pot belly
Less willing to walk or play; stop midway Extreme reluctance to exercise
Loss of alertness Difficulty breathing
Reduced appetite Fainting
Weight loss

Contact us immediately if your dog is showing any of these signs. Some of the signs may be related to other issues, but in most dogs with a heart murmur these signs indicate that heart medications are necessary.

A chest X-ray or an ultrasound help us assess the extent of the heart failure and lung congestion.

Treatment Options

The first tier of treatment is a diuretic, or fluid pill, to reduce the fluid build-up in the lungs. Frusemide is often the first choice.  Other medications such as an ACE inhibitor to reduce blood pressure or Vetmedin to improve heart efficiency are added in depending on the individual.  A special reduced salt diet and a tailored exercise regime also benefit most dogs.

Congestive heart failure is not curable, but we maintain most dogs’ quality of life on a combination of these medications.

Hip screening with PennHIP

Animation of compress, distraction and extension xraysDr Helen is now certified to PennHIP screen dogs for hip dysplasia. Penn HIP screening identifies pups that are likely to develop hip dysplasia from as early as 16 weeks of age.  It is much more accurate than the old Hip Dysplasia Scheme.

Breeders of large breeds, like Labradors and German shepherds, and working dogs, like guide dogs, use PennHIP scoring for predicting which dogs will develop hip dysplasia . They can then choose their breeding stock based on accurate and precise information.

Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD) is an inherited disease which causes stiffness and pain and cripples dogs later in life. Breeding dogs with low PennHIP scores reduces the incidence of it in the breed population.

PennHIP screening includes three separate X-rays of the hips taken under a general anaesthetic by a certified PennHIP veterinarian. The X-rays are sent to the University of Pennsylvania who assess the amount of laxity in the hip joint and detect any arthritic changes.

The University of Pennsylvania issues a ranking based on the amount of hip laxity and the dog’s breed. A lower Distraction Index (DI) indicates that the hips are tight and selecting breeding dogs with a low DI will improve hips in that breed within a few generations.

If we identify a higher DI or signs of hip dysplasia we can advise owners on strategies to minimise the pain and progression of the disease. Affected dogs should be desexed to reduce the chance of passing the risk on.

Arthritis in Dogs

What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a painful inflammation of the joints. Older and overweight dogs risk developing arthritis, but larger breeds of dogs often develop arthritis at younger ages.

Long-term wear and tear of the joints, trauma, or joint abnormalities such as hip or elbow dysplasia and cruciate ligament disease cause arthritis. Infectious and immune mediated arthritis are much less common.

Arthritis erodes the cartilage of the joint, reduces and thins joint fluid, and causes bony tissue to grow around the joint.

How do I know if my pet has arthritis?

Watch out for:

  • reluctance to walk, lagging behind or giving up half-way home
  • reluctance to climb stairs, jump or play
  • lameness or hobbling
  • stiffness
  • difficulty rising from a resting position
  • licking joints

What can I do to help my pet?

Ramps make stairs or the climb into the car less challenging.

Warmth eases stiff joints. Keep arthritic pets inside in colder weather, and provide your dog with a warm coat, a well-insulated kennel and well-padded bed with a heat pad.

Keep and eye on your dog’s weight. Extra kilograms put unnecessary strain on joints. Talk to us about the best weight reduction plan if your dog is overweight.

Moderate exercise is important to the physical and mental health of all pets.  Too much exercise strains the joints but too little results in muscle wastage and more pressure on the joints. Gentle walks or swimming are ideal.


Arthritis has no cure, but we can improve your pet’s comfort and slow further joint deterioration. Treatment must be tailored to the individual and we often combine a number of treatment options.

Pentosan or cartrophen injections protect and repair joint cartilage, and stimulate the production of joint fluid.

Glucosamine and chondroitin formulated and tested for animals provide the raw materials for cartilage production as well as providing an anti-inflammatory action.

Pain medication known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) provide strong pain relief and give many arthritic pets a new lease of life. Your vet will prescribe the best one for your dog and discuss administration and possible side-effects. Never try your own arthritis drugs on your pet as some cause irreversible damage to pets’ kidneys and livers.

Some pets respond very well to acupuncture treatments.

Most owners report that their pets have a new lease of life on their individually-tailored arthritis treatment. They enjoy their walks and activity, want to play more and are happier members of the family. Talk to your vet about the best treatment plan to suit your pet.

Mast Cell Tumours

Mast Cell Tumours are aggressive skin cancers and common in dogs. They can look like anything: a patch of dry skin, a raised red itchy area, a wart or a lump.

Boxers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers have a higher than average risk of Mast Cell Tumours.  Other breeds affected include the Bull Terrier, English Bulldog and Sharpei but we see Mast Cell Tumours in all breeds.

Mast Cell Tumours release chemicals randomly, causing local redness, itch and swelling that comes and goes.

To diagnose a Mast Cell Tumour we take a sample of cells, stain them and examine them under the microscope.  Most Mast Cell Tumours contain characteristic granules that are easily recognised.  If we have any doubts we recommend removal anyway.

The lesion is removed with a wide excision because Mast Cell Tumours send out long microscopic fingers into the surrounding tissue.  It is sent to the pathologist who confirms the diagnosis, makes sure we have removed it all and grades it.

The grade of the tumour reflects how malignant the tumour is.  A low grade tumour is unlikely to have spread and, as long as the entire tumour has been removed, is unlikely to recur.

About 25% of all Mast Cell Tumours are higher grade.  They invade locally and can spread.  Without supplementary chemotherapy, the mean survival time is 18 weeks.

Chemotherapy is effective and median survival times are good.