Warnings about your pet: Dr Karly explains what can kill your dog and how to prevent it

by Trevor Bailey

Sai Kung veterinarian Dr Karly Lam and patient

Dogs become much loved family members and people fear for their safety, just as they do their children. Sudden disease or trauma could kill your dog. SAI KUNG BUZZ asked Dr Karly Lam of Animal Medical Centre what in her experience are the most likely causes of death for local dogs, what to be aware of as a dog owner and what preventative measures you can take.
Dr Karly listed the severe cases she sees: traumatic injury, leptospirosis, tick fever, proptosed globes, rodenticide toxicity, heat stroke, GDV (gastric dilation – volvulus) allergic reaction, parvovirus and screwworm infestation. My family has had four dogs: two died of old age and two of sudden diseases. The last dog probably of leptospirosis and the first of GDV.
One day you could get up — as has happened to us — and find your dog is too weak to stand to greet you. He tries, but can’t. You realise he is seriously ill and rush him to a vet.
Later the doctor calls and says your dog has turned orange and had a seizure. The vet says there is nothing he can do. Your dog dies the same day. It’s a traumatic event you never forget.
Here are brief descriptions of serious canine illnesses and steps you can take to
keep your dog safe, as approved by Karly:
TRAUMATIC INJURY: Dog fights, car accidents and boar attacks, resulting in bruising, fractures, laceration and degrees of shock. Prognosis is variable.

Prevention: The obvious, keep your dog under control.

LEPTOSPIROSIS: Infection by bacterial spirochetes. These are spiral bacteria that burrow into a dog’s skin and spread in the bloodstream. It can also be picked up from an infected dog’s urine.

Symptoms: fever, reluctance to move, shivering, weakness, increased thirst and urination, diarrhea, red speckled gums, yellow skin or whites of eyes. Risk factors: leptospira spirochetes are more prevalent in muddy or marshy areas with stagnant water that are frequented by wildlife. Dogs come into contact with contaminated water, while swimming, running through or drinking.

Treatment: hospitalisation, possibly blood transfusion, and antibiotics.

Prevention: vaccination by your vet.

TICK FEVER: This is one of the most common and most dangerous diseases for dogs in Hong Kong. Ticks have eight legs and look like little beetles. They are from the arachnid family, like spiders. They live in grassy areas and feed by drawing blood from animals. Tick fever is a bacteria-like protozoal organism that lives in ticks. When a tick bites a dog it injects the organism into the dog.

Symptoms: loss of appetite, perhaps an unusual choosiness with food. If your dog normally eats like a vacuum cleaner and then doesn’t, see your vet. Other symptoms: lethargy, dark urine. If you suspect tick fever, get your dog to a vet within 24 hours.

Prevention: There is no vaccine. The only way you can protect your dog is to be diligent at tick prevention.

New products greatly reduce the chance of infection: Bravecto tablets and Seresto collars. Also Nexguard.

PROPTOSED GLOBES: This is the second scariest condition after seizures. The eyeball pops out of the eye socket, usually because of dog fights, accident, trauma, being hit or misuse of choker collars. Pugs and Pekingese are most prone. If the injury is severe — torn muscles, optic nerve damage, detached retina, ruptured eyeball — the vet may remove the eyeball and suture the eye socket shut. In some cases the vet may decide the patient’s vision can be saved and carry out a surgical procedure called temporary tarsorrhaphy.
RODENTICIDE TOXICITY: This can occur when a dog eats mouse or rat poison. Some poisons are more toxic than others and dogs can die. Toxins cause problems with blood clotting and the nervous system. Kidney failure can happen.

Signs of poisoning: trouble breathing, pale gums, bruising, bleeding from mouth or nose, seizures, increased rinking and urination, bloody vomit, urine and faeces, lethargy and depression. See your vet immediately. Take product packaging that may identify poisons. The vet may induce vomiting or anaesthetise the dog to flush the stomach. Medication will continue for several weeks.

Prevention: keep rodent poisons out of reach of pets.

HEAT STROKE: Dogs eliminate heat by panting. When panting isn’t enough their  temperature rises. This can be fatal if not corrected quickly.

Symptoms: excessive panting and signs of discomfort. Any hot environment can cause heat stroke — leaving a dog in a car on a hot day, not providing shade for a dog outdoors, excessive exercise on a warm day.

Treatment: remove the dog from the heat. Run a cool shower over it, ensuring no water enters the nose or mouth. Apply a cold pack to the dog’s head. Massage its legs to help circulation and let the dog drink as much cool water as it wants. Add a pinch of salt to the water. Get the dog to a vet quickly. Heat stroke can be serious; the brain can swell, kidneys may fail and blood clot abnormally. Dogs that have thick fur, short noses or are obese are more prone to heat stroke. Don’t put dogs in clothing when it’s warm.

GDV (gastric dilation-volvulus): This rapidly progresses into a life-threatening condition. It is associated with large meals. The stomach dilates because of food and gas, which may get to the point where they cannot be expelled. Often the stomach twists and distends with gas. Sometimes the stomach just bloats. Mortality rates are high. Without treatment a dog suffering GDV will almost certainly die. The illness can occur two to three hours after a meal, particularly if following strenuous exercise or a lot of water has been runk.

Symptoms: restlessness, increased breathing effort, drooling, vomiting of white froth, unproductive retching. The abdomen enlarges, gums go pale. The dog may collapse. Immediate vet treatment is essential. The animal will probably be hospitalised and aggressive treatment administered. After it is stable, surgery will take place to get the stomach back into the right position.

Prevention: For some breeds it may be recommended that the stomach is surgically attached to the body wall, which can be done during neutering. Feed your dog small meals through the day rather than one big meal. Don’t exercise the dog immediately after feeding.

ALLERGIC REACTION: Some dogs can have severe reactions to insect stings, drugs and some foods. Their immune systems recognise certain everyday allergens as dangerous. The dog has an extreme reaction. Allergens can be a problem for a dog if inhaled, ingested or if they come in contact with its skin.

Symptoms: itchy, red, moist, scabby skin, increased scratching, itchy runny eyes, itchy back or base of tail (commonly flea allergy) sneezing, vomiting and diarrhea, paw chewing, constant licking. Common allergens that may affect your dog: tree, grass and weed pollens, mold spores, house and dust mites, dander, feathers, cigarette smoke, food ingredients, fleas and flea control products, cleaning products, insecticidal shampoo. Take your dog to the vet, who will look at its history and give it a physical exam. She may be able to determine the cause of the allergic reaction. Also she may recommend skin or blood tests and diets to eliminate the causes.

Prevention: Your vet will recommend the best flea control products. Clean the dog’s bedding weekly. Vacuum your home twice a week. Bath the dog weekly with the shampoos your vet recommends. If food allergy is suspected, a special diet may be proposed. Allergy injections may be recommended, also antihistamines and fatty acid supplements.

PARVOVIRUS: A highly contagious viral illness that manifests itself in two forms, intestinal and less commonly cardiac. In the latter cases it attacks the heart muscles of puppies, usually when they are six weeks to six months old.

Symptoms: bloody diarrhea, lethargy, lack of appetite, fever, vomiting, severe weight loss. How is it spread? By contact with infected dogs or the fecal-oral route. Just sniffing an infected dog’s stool can transmit parvo. Shoes can bring infected faeces into your dog’s environment. Kennels and dog shelters where puppies have been inadequately vaccinated may be hazardous. When parvo is suspected take a sample of the dog’s stool or vomit to the vet. As it is viral there is no real cure. Treatment focuses on symptoms and prevention of secondary infection. With good vet care, the survival rate is 70%. The prognosis for puppies is poor because of their less developed immune systems. Commonly they go into shock and die.

Prevention: Puppies should be vaccinated at six, nine and 12 weeks. High risk breeds may require longer vaccination periods.

SCREWWORM: This horrid infestation is a danger to warm-blooded animals, including humans. The larvae of the pest feeds on raw flesh. The larvae drops from a wound into the ground, where it burrows and goes through the pupal stage. Within a week it will emerge as an adult fly. The female lays screwworm eggs in an animal’s wound, as many as 400 at a time. The larvae can grow to half an inch in length.

Prevention: Be watchful for wounds that may become infected. Administer Bravecto.

Symptoms: Bloody discharge from a wound, reduced appetite. Animals can die in seven to 14 days if not treated. Infected wounds need to be treated for two to three days to ensure larvae are eradicated.

Dr Karly attained her doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Melbourne and has been practicing for three years. She is available for consultancy at Animal Medical Centre, in the street behind Centro.

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