Welcome to out Winter 2022 Newsletter. Once again it seems so unbelievable how fast the past year has flown by. Finally we have our new designated cat clinical area up and running as we work towards, hopefully, attaining cat friendly accreditation in the next 12 months. Next on the agenda for practice improvements is the expansion of our dog wards. There is still much to do and although the recent changes are less apparent than the new waiting areas and consult room, everything aims to improve the service and care we can give to our patients. Tia, the most recent addition to our office team has settled in well and in the new year we look forward to welcoming Seren into the Holmer veterinary nursing team. Our current trainee nurses, Aimee and Beth continue to progress well through their training.
In this newsletter we take a look at two new subjects. Firstly, Brucellosis, which has become a disease concern/threat to UK dogs and humans alike, from imported dogs. Secondly, we consider the health and welfare of guinea pigs, a popular pet which is too often overlooked.
We hope you enjoy reading this newsletter and find the articles interesting and informative. Do not forget, if you would like to see any particular small animal subjects in future articles please drop us an email.
For now we at Holmer Vets would like to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and Best Wishes for the New Year. Stay warm, safe and well, and remember if you have any concerns that your pet is sick or injured over the festive period one of our vets will always be on call ready to help.
What is it?
It is a disease caused by the bacterium Brucella canis. It is a notifiable disease due to it being zoonotic (able to spread to people) which causes abortion. It is spread between dogs mostly through breeding and contact with reproductive fluids such as semen, birthing fluids, vaginal discharges and urine. Less common routes of infection occur through contact with an infected dog’s blood, milk, saliva and faeces. Pups can also become infected from the mother whilst in the womb.
The most common way that humans become infected is through contact with birthing fluids, abortion products, afterbirths or vaginal discharges from an infected dog. In people symptoms are often mild and non-symptomatic. The most common symptoms include a fluctuating fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, sweating, headaches, fatigue, back and/or joint pain. If you have any concerns regarding brucellosis you should contact your local GP for advice.
What does being notifiable mean?
Whenever an animal is suspected of having, or known to have, a notifiable disease the case vet will report the animal to the local APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) department who will then assess and advise on disease threat and recommending appropriate test/s. Where a notifiable disease is confirmed then APHA will advise on what actions that should be taken.
How common is Brucellosis in the UK?
Brucellosis is a non-endemic disease in the UK meaning there is no reservoir of infection in the UK. The main risk of dogs and humans encountering the disease is by contact with dogs imported from parts of the world where the disease is endemic, such as eastern Europe, most notably Romania. Prior to the summer of 2020 there were only 2 confirmed cases in the whole UK, since then there have now been over 40 confirmed cases due to rising number of dogs being imported from abroad.
What are the symptoms of Brucellosis?
Most infected dogs show no clinical signs; however, they are at high risk of going on to suffer clinical disease later in their life. In female dogs, brucellosis usually causes abortion from the 45th day of the first pregnancy following infection. Subsequent pregnancies are more likely to reach full term, but the pups may be weak and more likely to die shortly after birth. Other common reproductive issues include infertility in otherwise healthy dogs, males can have abnormal semen quality with swollen and painful testicles. In chronic infection some male dogs will have a decrease in size of their testicles. Non-specific symptoms include: lethargy, lameness associated with the back, generalised lymph node enlargement and premature aging.
What are the test for Brucellosis?
Some tests aim to detect the bacteria directly such as a culture or PCR, these can be done on blood samples or materials/fluid from abortion/birth. However, these tests are not 100% reliable so a negative result is not a guarantee of absence of infection. Indirect tests such as serology aim to detect antibodies in the blood that are specific to B.canis. Antibodies are typically produced within 2 weeks of infection; however, it may take up to 3 months in some dogs. Puppies may not produce detectable antibodies due to their immune system not being sufficiently developed when they were first exposed to the disease.
The GB National Brucella reference laboratory at APHA Weybride recommends serological testing in most cases to obtain the most reliable results, this also applies to pre-import testing. Where infection is suspected a blood sample should be taken for serological testing 3 months after the dog was last in contact with an infected dog.
How is Brucellosis treated?
Sadly, treatment to eliminate infection is rarely effective, also there is no way of determining that the infection has been killed. Euthanasia, even if the dog is not showing clinical signs, is advised as it is the only way to eliminate the risk of disease transmission to other dogs and humans.
The popularity of guinea pigs as pets is ever increasing as is our understanding of their health and welfare needs. Guinea pigs are a very active species of rodent, they eat an entirely vegetarian diet, and have an average life expectancy of 4-8 years.
Guinea pigs can be housed indoors or outdoors it is important that they are kept in a draught proof and predator proof area. The ideal housing temperature for a guinea pig is 17-20C and it is important they are protected from extremes of temperature as they can be susceptible to both heatstroke and hypothermia. Housing should offer the guinea pigs a warm, clean and comfortable place to sleep as well as a separate toilet area. Housing should be a minimum of 4ft by 2ft. The house should be attached to a larger run filled objects to allow them to hide, tunnel and forage.
Guinea pigs are highly social animals and are best kept as a same sex pair or group, litter mates make the best companions. A male can be paired with a female but it is important to remember they are sexually mature at a very young age (9 to 10 weeks in males/boars, 4-6 weeks in females/sows) so early determination of gender, separation of male from female siblings and early neutering are essential to prevent unwanted breeding. Neutering can be carried out from 12 to 16 weeks. Planned breeding of sows this should be done before they are 6 months old as after this their pelvis becomes fixed and rigid leading to a high risk of dystocia (inability to deliver the piglets naturally).
Guinea pigs should not be housed with other species like rabbits as not only do they have different nutritional needs but rabbits also pose a risk of disease and bullying. Guinea pigs appear to enjoy and thrive on having regular human contact, although when taking on new pet guinea pigs it is likely to take them time to adapt to their new environment and interactions. Checking guinea pigs at least once a day is also important to identify any health issues early, as the health of guinea pigs can deteriorate to a critical level quickly.
Guinea pigs have continuously growing teeth which are worn down by their plant-based diet. Their natural food in the wild is of low nutritional value so they eat large quantities to enable good hind gut fermentation. Fibre is an essential part of a guinea pig diet helping maintain a healthy intestinal microflora. Like rabbits guinea pigs eat their own caecotrophs (soft faeces full of nutrients) which provides them with protein and fibre. Guinea pigs should be fed around 60g/kg bodyweight of predominantly fresh hay a day. The rest of a guinea pigs diet should be made up of a small amount of concentrated food and fresh vegetables e.g. broccoli, parsley, peas etc which provide essential vitamin C.
Guinea pigs diseases
- Parasitic skin disease- mites can cause significantly itchy skin, resulting in self trauma and sometimes seizures. Treatment involves antiparasitic and anti-inflammatory treatment as well as maintaining a clean environment. All in contact guinea pigs should receive anti mite treatment.
- Abscesses- bacterial infections from trauma including from bite wounds, mouth trauma, self trauma from itching or an infection that may come from the respiratory tract called Streptococcus zooepidemicus. Treatment requires antibiotic therapy and may also require surgical removal of the abscess/es
- Ringworm-usually causes hair loss and crusty skin lesions which are not itchy. It can occur due to a low dietary intake of vitamin C. Treatment involves all in contact guinea pigs being treated with antifungal medication and environmental management with an environmental antifungal.
- Cheilitis -is a painful crusting condition around the lips and nose that can result in anorexia. Cheilitis is thought to develop due to a number of factors including viral infection, vitamin C deficiency and secondary bacterial infection. Treatment involves topical and sometimes systemic antibiotics , antifungals and pain relief.
- Bumblefoot- ulcerative pododermatitis of the feet and hocks of guinea pigs usually develops as a result of poor environmental hygiene, inappropriate flooring/bedding, obesity may also be a contributory factor. Infections can become very deep and painful and may extend into the bone or joint. Treatment can be challenging and requires careful wound bandaging, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories as well as appropriate environmental changes.
- Flystrike- more commonly seen in the summer months, flies attracted to guinea pigs who are soiled or have a wound, where they lay eggs and maggots subsequently develop. The risk of fly strike is higher in guinea pigs who are obese, inactive, have mobility issues, diarrhoea or urinary issues and/or where housing is not kept adequately clean.
Healthy guinea pigs hold food in their mouths so a guinea pig found to have an empty mouth is an indication of anorexia. Anorexia, small hard faeces, a swollen abdomen, tooth grinding due to pain, and depression are all symptoms of ileus, where the normally very active gut stops working. Ileus is life threatening and intensive treatment is required.
- Dental disease is very common in guinea pigs and is predominantly the result of poor feeding practices. Clinical signs include weight loss, anorexia, drooling, ileus and depression. The most common dental issues involve overgrowth of the molars/cheek teeth. Molar overgrowth into the mouth, cause tongue entrapment, overgrowth of the root results in an inability of the guinea pig to close it’s mouth and subsequently the incisors, at the front of the mouth, become overgrown. Overgrown teeth can also result in jaw abscessation. Treatment requires dental burring, often multiple times, however sadly a good outcome cannot always be guaranteed.
- Diarrhoea – can be caused by use of inappropriate antibiotics, viral, parasitic, bacterial disease or low vitamin C. Prompt treatment is necessary.
- Bloat- guinea pigs are unable to vomit and when they develop ileus their stomach can bloat with gas, this condition is life threatening and emergency treatment is necessary to have a chance of the guinea pig recovering.
- Liver conditions- hepatic lipidosis can develop secondary to anorexia. Liver torsion or rupture can result due to trauma including inappropriate handling and is usually fatal.
Urinary stones can develop anywhere in the urinary tract and can result in kidney damage. Signs can include bloody urine, straining to urinate, pain, anorexia and weight loss. Dietary and genetic factors can influence the development of stones with inactivity, obesity, dehydration and the presence of concurrent disease being risk factors. Stones can be identified by radiography and or ultrasonography, treatment involves surgical removal of the stone and/or the affected kidney. Attempts to prevent recurrence of further stones involves increasing water intake (feeding wet washed vegetables, iceburg lettuce, offering flavoured water or dilute fruit juice), avoiding artificial supplementation of vitamin C and foodstuffs high in calcium (e.g. carrot tops, kale, broccoli, dandelions and concentrates), managing any concurrent illnesses, avoiding obesity and providing opportunities to exercise.
Cystic ovaries are common in middle aged entire sows, they can be non functional (most common) or functional. Non functional cysts can be found in clinically well females but they can cause issues if they get so big that they cause distention of the abdomen and press on other organs. Functional cysts produce excess hormones, affected individuals may develop skin and coat changes as well as changes to the uterus, including some cancers. Whilst some medical treatments are available ovariectomy/ovariohysterectomy (spey) is considered the treatment of choice.
- Pregnancy toxaemia- can develop during the last 14 days of pregnancy, due to high energy demands from the foetuses. Affected sows may present collapsed and uncoordinated. Intensive treatment is required, sadly the prognosis is guarded to poor.
- Pyometra (womb infection), torsion and tumours have all been reported in entire female guinea pigs.
- Penile prolapse -can develop in boars due to spinal or urinary issues.
- Mammary tumours- male and female guinea pigs are equally as susceptible.
- Heat stress -can develop in guinea pigs from environmental temperatures of 25C and above. Clinical signs may include hypersalivation, incoordination and an increased respiratory rate. If not treated promptly and aggressively the condition can be fatal.
- Hypovitaminosis C, vitamin C deficiency can cause a variety of symptoms including weakness and lethargy, lameness due to swollen joints, skin sores, poor coat condition, poor appetite or diarrhoea.
Optimising the care of pet guinea pigs involves providing them with a suitable environment, a suitable diet, companionship, the opportunity to express normal behaviour and the provision of appropriate health care. Many diseases of guinea pigs can be avoided/prevented by ensuring that their welfare needs are met. Prompt veterinary care should be sought for a guinea pig showing signs of ill health.