Babesiosis in dogs the UK

babesia_canisIt has been in the news that some dogs in Essex have been infected with Babesia Canis and become very ill. This is news because these dogs had not travelled outside the UK, and Babesia had not previously been endemic in the UK, although commonly occurring in Europe.
What is Babesiosis?
Babesiosis is a tick borne disease which causes destruction of red blood cells resulting in anaemia and jaundice.  Acutely affected dogs appear depressed, weak and are disinclined to eat (anorexic).  They have pale membranes (e.g. lips, eye lids or tongue) and often have a fever.  The passing of very dark coloured urine is also frequently noted. The disease cannot be passed directly from one animal to another.  It is only spread by bites from ticks infected with the protozoan (one celled) parasite, Babesia.
Babesiosis is common in many parts of the world including large parts of Southern Europe.
What is the cause of the disease?
The disease is caused by protozoan (single celled) organisms.  Babesia canis is the most common type and is the variety diagnosed in Essex.
How does Babesiosis spread?
The parasite cannot survive outside the dog or the tick vector.  The tick implicated in the cases in Essex is Dermacentor reticulatus. This tick is variously named the ornate dog tick, ornate cow tick, meadow tick or marsh tick, reflecting its variety of habitats. In Europe it is found up to 1,000m above sea level on grasslands, pastures, fringes of meadows, and grassy paths in woodlands, along rivers and streams, banks of ponds, in marshy areas and peat bogs. It has been described in the sand dune systems and coastal pastures of West Wales and South-West England, particularly North Devon. It has recently been found in coastal South-East Essex presumed transported by sheep moved from Wales and would seem to be spreading in the UK and in Europe. It is currently not found in our area but is likely to spread this way in time.
Can we catch Babesiosis?
Unlike some other tick borne diseases (e.g. Lymes disease – Borreliosis), Babesia canis does not appear to be transmissible to man, in other words it is not a zoonotic disease. Some other Babesia varieties (Babesia gibsoni) can cause disease in humans and cats but this has not yet been diagnosed in the UK.
Is the disease very common?
Canine Babesiosis has an almost worldwide distribution.  It has always been prevalent in Southern Europe and appears to be spreading northwards across France and Germany. The disease occurs commonly in endemic areas. In these areas, animals develop some inherent immunity so the disease is more common in young or debilitated animals.
Is it important in Britain?
Until relatively recently Babesiosis was unknown in Britain except with animals in quarantine.  Relaxation of quarantine regulations with the introduction of the PETS scheme in 2000, resulted in the death of an elderly dog as a result of the disease after a visit to Southern Europe.  In subsequent years there have been several other cases confirmed in Britain in animals which have travelled. These cases in Essex are the first where the animals have not travelled outside the UK.
The disease is presently restricted to a small, well defined area in Essex, but now that it has entered the UK, it is likely to spread further.
Dogs in the UK have never been exposed to Babesiosis and will have no inherent immunity, and are more likely to be susceptible to contracting the disease if bitten by an infected tick.
Will I know if my dog has been infected?
If your dog has become infected, there may be no signs for 10-20 days, (i.e. during the incubation period).  Signs can vary from slight malaise (being a bit ‘off colour’) to serious haemolytic disease with lack of appetite, dark coloured urine, multi-organ failure and even death in 24-48 hours.  Some very mild cases may recover without treatment but may still be carrying the parasite and act as carriers.  The danger lies in the fact that certain ticks already resident in Britain may prove vectors for the spread of the disease from such animals.
Is there any treatment?
Drugs are available which are very effective provided a correct diagnosis can be arrived at without delay.  The disease is quickly diagnosed by doing a blood smear and finding the parasite in the red blood cells. Blood smears can be done in house to speed diagnosis. Chronic carriers can be diagnosed by serology or PCR. If your dog shows any signs of lethargy, pallor, jaundice or dark coloured urine, it is important that you consult your veterinary surgeon without delay as Babesiosis generally responds well to treatment if caught early, but can be life threatening if treatment is delayed.
Is there anything that can be done to prevent my dog becoming infected?
Babesia is only transmitted by the bite from infected ticks. Ticks are not able to transmit infection immediately upon first attachment. They need a period of 24-48 hours of initial feeding before the organisms are able to cross into your dog. This means that using effective tick control that repels ticks  to prevent them from biting, or kills them within 24 hours is a very effective means of preventing the disease.  There are a wide variety of effective tick control methods, including collars, spot-ons and tablets. Please talk to us find the best method for your pet. If you notice a tick on your dog, it should be removed immediately, using a tick removal tool.
Dermacentor reticulatus   Ornate dog tick, Ornate cow tick, Meadow tick, Marsh tick.

Pet Passports

Rules on taking your pet abroad to most EU has become more far more relaxed. Taking your pet with you on holiday is now far easier.
However, a word of caution before rushing off to France with Toby, getting it wrong can result in serious consequences at border control if the rules are not carefully followed.
Foreign diseases for which our pets may have little or no immunity are also something to be aware of.  Be especially wary of external parasites which can act as hosts of numerous diseases.

A summary of the process:

  • Book an appointment.
  • Microchip (if not previously done).
  • Vaccinate for rabies.
  • Pets passport (documentation).
  • Pets can travel after 21 days.
  • Dogs must be dewormed between 1 and 5 days before returning to the UK (vet certified).

A few things to be careful of:

  • Double check with DEFRA which countries are included.
  • Check rules carefully before travelling.
  • Remember different diseases are present in different areas of the EU, and your pets are at greater risk than local pets.

Useful Links:

Information on Rabies
Defra – Owner information
Defra – Main site


K-Laser – Effective treatment for arthritis

It was a cold winters day and Barley was snuggled up in his basket when he heard his dad return home from work. ‘Great!’ he thought, ‘walk time!’ and he tried to leap out of his basket as he always did.
However his back legs gave way underneath him and he struggled fruitlessly for several minutes. Eventually he made it up and walked rather stiffly to the door to greet his owner. After a few paces, it became easier and Barley was soon running and jumping on his walk.
He came back muddy but satisfied and he totally forgot about his earlier stiffness. He settled down into his basket to rest for a while. Later on he heard his tea being served and again had the same stiffness in his hind legs.
This time his owners watched and helped as he struggled to get out of his basket. They took Barley into Potton Vets who did several xrays and diagnosed arthritis in Barleys hip joints. The vets explained that although arthritis cannot be cured it can be managed.
Management can involve weight loss, regular exercise, K-laser treatment, joint supplements and/or pain relieving anti inflammatory medication. Barley’s owners had never heard of laser treatment and asked for more information. They learnt that Potton Vets is one of the few vets that have a class 4 therapeutic laser.
These lasers transfers energy via the laser light into the cells of the hip joint providing relief from the pain of arthritis and also slowing down arthritis progression. The laser can also be used on cats and small animals as well! For further information on arthritis, the class 4 therapeutic laser and Potton Vets Senior Health Clinics please talk to one of our clinical team, who would be more than happy to help you

Spay your Dog the Humane way with Laparoscopic Spaying

Puppies are about the most adorable organisms on the entire planet, but the fantasy of snuggling in a warm pile of little doglets can be quite different from the reality of having to care for ten of them at once. Thus, unless you’re an established breeder, it makes sense to spay your female dog.

Get it done ASAP

There is such a thing as too early, of course, but in most cases you’ll want to get your dog spayed sooner than you think. Dogs can first season as young as six months, and vets nearly unanimously recommend spaying them before their first heat, as this greatly reduces the risk of mammary tumors. Plus, as any owner of a female dog can tell you, one heat is one heat too many.

Do it for yourself, your Dog, and other Dogs

There are many reasons to get your dog spayed, and hardly any not to unless you really are dead set on breeding it. As alluded to before, a pet being in heat can be an unpleasant, even traumatic experience for a pet owner. You’ll have every male dog in the neighborhood closing in from all sides, and if just one of them gets through you’ll have puppies in a few months. The UK has over 125,000 stray dogs (more than 5,000 of which are put to sleep every ear) and every new puppy that gets a home is taking the place of a dog that needs one.

Laparoscopic Spaying is the way to go

With the case for spaying your dog fairly airtight, there comes the question of which type of procedure you will elect to do. Laparoscopic spaying is a fairly recent development that greatly reduces the invasiveness of spaying. Spaying has always been more invasive for female dogs than neutering for male dogs, but laparoscopic spaying greatly moderates this difference and therefore reduces the short-term suffering involved for your girl. Thanks to the minimally-intrusive nature of laparoscopic spaying, pain and healing time are both greatly reduced. It’s more expensive than a traditional spay, so base your decision accordingly, but more and more pet owners are deciding that a little extra money is a small price to pay for their pet’s happiness.
Whatever type of procedure you choose, spaying is an important part of being a responsible pet owner. Even though they can’t say so directly, your dog will thank you for it.
For more information visit or why not pop into the clinic in Potton market square.

Puppy vaccinations – current concepts

Having just picked up your new puppy, you are excited about your puppy and want to do the best for it.  Now where to go from here?
There are a number of topics to cover including worming, flea and other parasite control, socialisation, vaccination, nutrition, insurance and so much more.

Where do you go?
We believe that you are going to provide the best start for your puppy by coming to see us at Potton Vets. Our vet provides a full half an hour consult on your first visit, this time is used exclusively for a full examination, careful evaluation and advise regarding you and your pet specifically.  There really is no “one shoe fits all” solution.
One of the many confusing topics is puppy vaccinations, with contradicting information from vaccination companies, breeders, other vets, friends, dog trainers, groomers, the internet etc.
The importance of Vaccination and Socialisation:
Part of the confusion starts because there is a contradiction, what is best from a socialisation point of view (i.e. get them socialised as early as possible) is at odds with what is best from a vaccination point of view (keep them away from potential risk as long as possible).
There are, however, well established principles that help us make a sensible decision through the maze of confusion!
Maternally derived antibodies (MDA)
One of the causes of vaccination breakdown (i.e. the vaccine does not appear to work) is that if you vaccinate a puppy while it is still protected by its mothers antibodies the vaccination can be weakened or useless.  This protection from the mother is handed down through maternally derived antibodies (or MDA).  We cannot easily predict what these levels will be in an individual puppy, or when exactly the best time to vaccinate that puppy is.  We do, however, know that a puppy is extremely unlikely to have enough MDA to neutralise a vaccination by the time it is 14 weeks old. This is why we recommend a final primary puppy vaccination at or 14-16 weeks of age.
Other truths:
It is also true that the bulk of puppies will actually be protected by vaccinations finishing at 10-12 weeks.
Another truth is that we want puppies to go out and explore their environments, meet new people and dogs to become socially well adjusted from as young an age as possible.
What to do?
So bearing in mind there is no completely risk free option, we recommend a final puppy core vaccination at 14-16 weeks, and expose your puppy to other vaccinated dogs in safe areas from a young age.  Avoid high risk areas (e.g. parks – where you cannot possibly know if the area is contaminated) until fully vaccinated.
I hope this has helped in understanding the challenges of the not so “simple” primary vaccinations, we encourage you to discuss this further face to face at your first vaccination  with our vets (half and hour), or with our nurse (half an hour) at the second vaccination.
Below is a link to the BSAVA and WSAVA guide to vaccination – an interesting bed time read! Enjoy.
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WSAVA – Vaccination guidelines
“We should aim to vaccinate every animal with core vaccines, and to vaccinate each individual less frequently by only giving non-core vaccines that are necessary for that animal.” WSAVA
Pup Vaccination and the 12 Month Booster
“Most pups are protected by MDA in the first weeks of life. In general, passive immunity will have waned by 8–12 weeks of age to a level that allows active immunization. Pups with poor MDA may be vulnerable (and capable of responding to vaccination) at an earlier age, while others may possess MDA at such high titres that they are incapable of responding to vaccination until ≥12 weeks of age. No single primary vaccination policy will therefore cover all possible situations. The recommendation of the VGG is for initial vaccination at 8–9 weeks of age followed by a second vaccination 3–4 weeks later, and a third vaccination given between 14–16 weeks of age. By contrast, at present many vaccine data sheets recommend an initial course of two injections. Some products are also licensed with a ‘10 week finish’ designed such that the second of two vaccinations is given at 10 weeks of age. The rationale behind this protocol is to permit ‘early socialization’ of pups. The VGG recognizes that this is of great benefit to the behavioural development of dogs. Where such protocols are adopted, great caution should still be maintained by the owner – allowing restricted exposure of the pup to controlled areas and only to other pups that are healthy and fully vaccinated. The VGG recommends that whenever possible a third dose of core vaccine be given at 14–16 weeks of age.
In immunological terms, the repeated injections given to pups in their first year of life do not constitute boosters. They are rather attempts to induce a primary immune response by injecting the attenuated virus (of modified live virus [MLV] vaccines) into an animal devoid of neutralizing antibody, where it must multiply to be processed by an antigen presenting cell and stimulate antigen- specific T and B lymphocytes. In the case of killed (inactivated) vaccines, MDA may also interfere with this immunological process by binding to and ‘masking’ the relevant antigens. Here repeated doses are required.
All dogs should receive a first booster 12 months after completion of the primary vaccination course. The VGG redefines the basic immunization protocol as the ensemble of the pup regime plus this first booster. The 12 month booster will also ensure immunity for dogs that may not have adequately responded to the pup vaccinations.”

Chocolate poisoning – what you should know

Chocolate poisoning in dogs.
Dogs are susceptible to chocolate poisoning.  This is because they are more sensitive to the poisonous ingredient (theobromide), they are relatively small compared to humans, and they can very quickly eat a lot of chocolate (or whatever else they can get hold of!)
Charateristics that make poisoning more likely:
Small dogs have a lower body weight which makes them more susceptible.
Type of chocolate: Bakers chocolate, dark chocolates and cocoa powder/beans/shell mulches contain far more theobromide than the refined chocolates (milk and white chocolates).
Gastrointestinal symptoms are common (vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea), as is increased drinking and urinating.
Later, or if large amounts are eaten, symptoms may include muscle tremors, seizures, irregular heartbeats, internal bleeding and possible heart failure.
How much is too much:
This is not always easy to answer, but one or a few milk/white chocolates are unlikely to cause any problems in healthy dogs.
With a dark or bitter chocolate however, as little as 25g can cause symptoms in a 20kg dog.Chocolate
Symptoms normally start within 2 hours, but can take up to 24 hours.
If in doubt, rather take a cautious approach early on and contact us for advice.
Prompt treatment is essential in overdose cases.  We do provide 24-hour emergency cover for our clients, so even if you have a chocolate guzzling monster late at night – please call.
Symptoms can continue for up to 3 days.
By far the best treatment is to medically cause vomiting (ideally within half an hour of ingestion, but up to 2 hours, or even a little longer will reduce the amount of theobromide absorbed).
This is best done at the practice with an injectable drug that causes vomiting, reliably.
Lethal dosages and the numbers:
The lethal dose of theobromide is 100-500mg/kg of body weight.
Cocoa powder (20mg/g) and plain dark chocolate (15mg/g) contain the highest levels of theobromide.  Milk chocolate has around 2mg/g and white chocolate very little at 0.1mg/g).
Therefore, 100g of dark chocolate (1500mg theobromide) could kill a 10kg dog (1000mg potential lethal dose).
To get the same amount of theobromide from white chocolate this dog would need to eat 15kg of chocolate!
Put another way treatment is needed if your dog eats more than:
Ø  9g/kg of milk chocolate (the light brown one)
Ø  1.25g/kg of dark chocolate (dark brown/cooking chocolate)
Please note: these figures are not absolutes, please call for advice.

Dog lumps and bumps – histiocytoma

What is a Histiocytoma?

These are usually angry looking, raised, hairless masses found on the skin of young dogs.
The most common areas are on the head, limbs and ears (often the front end of the body).
These are benign lesions and usually regress within a period of 3 months.
Informative image: Histiocytoma Skin lesion PottonVets

How to make a diagnosis:

Age of the dog
Cytology is a very useful tool in diagnosing histiocytoma, the appearance is relatively typical.  Cytology also helps to exclude other growths which can look similar.

What to do once a histiocytoma is diagnosed:

Once we are confident that a lump is a histiocytoma and it is not causing distress, we tend to monitor them regularly and allow them to regress spontaneously – this usually happens in 6 to 8 week period.
However these masses can be very irritating or be associated with infections/reactions, or regression may not progress as expected – in which case medication or removal and histopathology is indicated.

Informative image: Histiocytoma Microscopy PottonVetsCan’t we just leave all lumps to see if they disappear?

The simple answer is – this is a bad idea, and not in your pets best interests. There are many lumps that can look similar, some of these are very malignant, and the sooner they are removed the better. For example, mast cell tumours (MCT) are a very common and malignant tumour and can look exactly the same as a histiocytoma. We believe that using cytology helps us make choices that are in the best interest of your pets health at the early, and most important stage of evaluating tumours.

Dental radiography – revolutionising veterinary dentistry

Dental care is a discipline in veterinary medicine that was often not performed as well as we might have liked.
There are many reasons for this – a lack of practically useful technology and equipment is one of them.
Fortunately, as time goes by, more advanced veterinary equipment becomes available, which enhances our pet’s lives.  One piece of “new tech” equipment that has made a huge impact on pet’s quality of life is a dedicated veterinary digital dental radiography unit.
Digital dental radiography makes veterinary dental radiography possible because of the detail it provides and the speed advantage over old-fashioned film.  Pets need to be anaesthetized to perform dental procedures, so speed is very important.
It is not possible to see below the gum line without dental x-rays, however the use of a veterinary dental x-ray unit makes it possible to clearly identify the tooth roots and surrounding structures.
In this example, on evaluating the status of the bone surrounding the tooth, we can see that the bone in the angle between the middle tooth’s roots is destroyed. The full extent of the damage was not visible without the x-rays.
The best option in this case is to extract the tooth. 
This gives the dog immediate pain relief, removes of the source of infection, and it allows for the possibility of brushing effectively to keep the surrounding teeth healthy.
The tooth root sockets after extraction, showing that no tooth root fragments remain. 
Retained tooth root fragments can create future problems, this is why it is important to check that there are no remaining fragments – again dental radiography is the only practical way to do this.

Dog – lumpy tongue

Last year a very observant owner noticed a lump on his dogs tongue, and brought him to the surgery for examination.
There were no other abnormalities found on clinical examination.
From a patients point of view it is important and necessary to make an accurate diagnosis, check for other associated conditions, and remove the mass.
How did we approach this case: 
Firstly we performed cytology (we use a thin needle to take a small sample that we can examine under a microscope).  From this we could tell that this was not an infectious or inflammatory process, and that it was a true growth (tumour).
Once we knew we were dealing with a tumour, it became important to find out whether it was likely to be malignant (the bad tumours that either spread to other parts of the body, or recur when removed), or benign (no further problems once removed, or may spontaneously disappear).
We also knew that it was unnecessary to send bacterial cultures and antibiograms (grow bacteria and find out which antibiotics they are sensitive to) to a laboratory, as there was no indication of infection.
However we knew that it was important to check to see if there was any evidence of related underlying disease, and to check for potential spread of the mass.  Screening blood tests and chest x-rays were negative for related problems.
Once these routine procedures were completed we performed a wedge biopsy, in which we cut a small section or wedge from the mass.  This was then sent to an external laboratory where the mass is sliced into very thin sections and examined under a microscope by a veterinary pathologist.  The advantage of histopathology over cytology at this stage is that the structure of the mass is maintained, and a more detailed analysis of the mass can be made.
Cytology and histopathology are complementary procedures.
Now we waited for the histopathology report:IMG00805-20111101-1316
The histopathologist confirmed that this was calcinosis circuscripta.  With the information we had available, we knew the following important points:

  1. It was a benign mass
  2. There were no indications of it being associated with any other condition.
  3. It was likely to resolve completely with removal.

The final part:
We anaesthetised the patient and removed the mass.
This healed without complication and our patient is continuing to live in good health.
Happy dog, happy owners, happy result.
Informative image: tumour from dogs tongue calcinosis circuscriptaFor your interest:
Calcinosis circuscripta is a rare condition in  dogs (and other species), where a mass is formed by abnormal calcium deposits.  Complete removal is usually curative.

Rabbit vaccinations – Now a single annual injection

A new rabbit vaccine has been developed which offers protection against both of these fatal viral diseases.
Viral Haemorrhagic Diarrhoea (VHD) and Myxomatosis are both incorporated in a single vaccine – great news for bunnies!
Rabbits will benefit in 2 ways:

  1. The previous myxomatosis vaccine only lasted 6 months and needed to be injected twice a year to give full protection.
  2. The previous VHD vaccine could not be given at the same time as the Myxomatosis vaccine, so this was given separately from the Myxomatosis vaccine by at least 2 weeks.

From now on a single injection a year will replace these three.  A great improvement – I am sure every rabbit will agree!
Click here to register your rabbit.
Click here to book an appointment.