Vet Talk- Your Questions Answered

When food makes Fido sick

Q.  Can dogs suffer from food poisoning?

A.  Yes, very definitely, although with modern commercially prepared foods this is infrequent. In the case of super-premium diets the food is prepared in conditions which are equivalent to factories producing human food.

Two main types of food contamination exist: bacteria (and fungi) and toxins. Bacteria usually cause illness in a few days, but toxins can produce symptoms in a few hours. Fungi and mould produce so-called mycotoxins and a good example is aflatoxin. These are toxins produced by an organism called Aspergillus and can result in fatal liver disease (hepatitis). These are mostly found as a white to grey, fluffy mould on bad food. The aflatoxins are heat stable and will not be destroyed by heating or cooking. Another is fusarium, which produces a toxin called vomitoxin, which causes, no surprise, vomiting in dogs.

Bacteria that are often implicated include salmonella, which is a common bacteria which will usually only cause disease in weakened individuals. Salmonella can be found on meat as well as vegetables, and washing food is the first line of defence. Cooking will kill these organisms.

Dr Donald Leask


Conquering kennel cough

Q.  What is kennel cough and how is it treated?

A.  Kennel cough is a highly contagious upper respiratory tract infection in dogs. It is airborne, which means your dog can inhale the infection when in contact with other dogs – for example from neighbours’ dogs or dogs at the park. There is more than one causative agent – it can be viral, bacterial, or a combination of both. Kennel cough typically sounds like a dry, harsh cough, often with spasms of coughing on exertion – for example, when your pet gets excited when you get home from work. This cough may persist for two to three weeks. There are other possible causes for a dog coughing – this includes (among others) worms, heart disease and lung disease. So you need to get your dog checked by a veterinarian if he is coughing. A diagnosis of kennel cough is made on the dog’s history together with the clinical examination and by excluding other causes of coughing.

Treatment can be difficult due to the complex nature of the infection. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and/or anti-tussives (cough suppressants).

Supportive treatment is important:

  1. Rest. Do not allow your dog to overexert himself.
  2. Warmth. Make sure your dog has a warm, dry place to rest.
  3. Additionally you could consider nebulising – a great alternative for this is putting your dog in the steamy bathroom after you’ve had a hot shower or bath.

Prevention is available to us in the form of vaccinations. But the vaccines are only against some of the viruses/bacteria involved and so they do not 100% prevent against infection; rather they will result in the reduction of the severity of the disease. So your dog may still get infected, but the symptoms will be milder and should last for a shorter period of time.

Dr Patricia Mills


Scratching hamster

Q.  Do hamsters get fleas?

A.  A hamster is highly unlikely to get fleas. Hamsters do tend to spend a lot of time grooming. Sometimes the grooming may look excessive and be interpreted as itching or scratching.

If there is no physical evidence of skin disease, for example hair loss, rashes, flaky skin, swollen extremities and ulceration or bleeding, there may in fact be nothing wrong. If hamsters do have fleas, they are incidental hosts just like people can be. Hamsters can suffer from various skin disorders that can cause scratching, the symptoms of which are noted above.

These disorders are most notably allergies, dermatophytosis (fungal infection of the skin), mites, skin cancer and even stress. It is important that these conditions leading to clinical signs are not self-diagnosed. They are best treated by a veterinarian as some of the treatments may be dangerous to the hamster.

Dr Jurie Grobler


Pups and paws

Q.  Why does my dog keep licking his paws?

A.   This is a question without a simple answer. Anytime there is a ‘behaviour’ involved, it is most important to first rule out an underlying medical reason for the behaviour. If all medical concerns are ruled out, then behaviour modification techniques can be employed.

Some questions to consider: is this a new behaviour? Is it the front feet or all four feet? Are there any other conditions present such as limping or swelling in the foot? A foot-licking problem can start out for a medical reason and later become a habit. Your vet will be the only one able to fully determine what is going on with your dog’s feet, but here are some things your vet will want to know and will be looking for on examination: Are the feet red, swollen or crusty/flaky? This could indicate a local irritant or inflammation/infection from bacterial, fungal and/or parasitic sources. Even if the original cause is no longer present, constant licking and chewing can become a self-propagating cycle of continued trauma to the skin and continued inflammation.

Is licking present in the absence of any noticeable pathology of the feet or toes? This could be from inhalant allergies that produce general itchiness, arthritis or other ‘interior’ conditions causing pain in the area without visible infection on the foot.

Are there any irregular lumps or bumps deep between the toes or foot pads? Cysts, growths or small abscesses can cause discomfort and licking.

Foot licking can simply be a habitual behaviour as well, seen when the dog is relaxing, stressed or bored. Some dogs even chew at their nails with this type of behaviour.

Depending on what your vet finds, treatment to stop this behaviour will be aimed at the underlying cause. For cases of allergy or infection, there are medications and/or dietary changes that can be made to assist with the problem. In situations where pain is the underlying cause, it should be dealt with directly to alleviate the licking. Growths or abscesses are usually treated surgically. Pet owners should always be vigilant about environmental hazards to feet.

Behavioural modification to stop paw licking and chewing, like any behavioural modification, takes time, patience and consistency. If additional behavioural help is needed, consider working with a vet with experience in animal behaviour.

Small animal veterinarian


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