Ticks and Fleas spread diseases…

Ticks like this carry disease

I spent years learning about diseases, medicine and surgery to become a vet so I could help make animals better. Yet sadly there have been many times where I’ve either seen a dog die or be euthanised because of diseases that are preventable. For me it is heart-breaking to see a dog die like this, yet even worse are the owners crying because they did not know any better. I hope by writing this I can help prevent suffering to another dog and their owners.

Most people with a dog will probably have seen a tick or flea at some time or other. Whilst it is common to believe they may just be an annoyance to your pet, in some cases they can carry diseases which may be spread to your pet or in some cases even you.

Actually calling fleas an annoyance may not even be accurate as the itchiness that they cause can be extremely painful and lead to a dog destroying its own skin trying to get it to stop. However today I want to rather focus on ticks. In April this year I saw 23 dead dogs due to a disease carried by ticks. It is one that is relatively new to the UK; however it is very common where I studied as a vet in Slovakia.

This disease is caused by another parasite called Babesia which exists inside blood cells and is transmitted by ticks when they feed. When it enters a new animal the parasite spreads in the blood entering the red blood cells and then replicating inside it causes the cell to rupture and die. This process repeats until there are very few red blood cells left, it is treated, or the dog dies.

The symptoms vary, when the dogs I have seen suffering from this have arrived they have often been lethargic, the worse ones have been yellow with icterus and collapsed. The common symptoms are blood in the urine, lack of appetite, weight loss, pale gums and tongue, lack of energy and collapse. In fact the symptoms can be so non-specific that one of my teachers here actually once told me that if I cannot explain the symptoms by any other means then I should check for Babesia.

Checking for Babesia is generally easy with a blood test where a smear is examined under the microscope – if it is positive for Babesia then they will be seen within the red blood cells as in the dog below…

Babesia parasite inside a red blood cell
The dark puple “butterfly” in the middle circle is typically what Babesia looks like under a microscope © Chris Allen 2017

So we have the diagnosis, now for the treatment. Unfortunately this is where it gets complicated as although there is medication to kill the Babesia parasite, it can often be a battle to keep the dog alive long enough for the medication to work. Without enough red blood cells to deliver oxygen throughout the body the organs cannot work, the heart starts working faster to try and move the few good cells it has around faster, and the waste is filtered into the urine. The regeneration of red blood cells takes a few days to really start, so one potential lifesaving treatment is a blood transfusion – however this often just buys more time as these red blood cells may then also be infected and destroyed by the Babesia parasite.

The next problem then comes with the cost of treatment as well; often these dogs need hospitalisation and intensive therapy which for some is unaffordable. It really can be a gamble as to whether or not they survive at all, even if treatment is attempted, potentially leaving a big bill and a dead dog vs the happy pet parent taking their dog home.

The main question though is why it is even necessary.  Although tick products are generally not licensed against tick borne diseases, to help prevent Babesia you should help protect your dog against ticks with a vet recommended treatment, remove any ticks you find as soon as possible, and especially make sure you do this if you travel into mainland Europe.

I fully support the Pet Parasite Action campaign – such a little thing as regular prevention could help save your dog’s life even though you may not know it. You don’t go out and leave your front door unlocked to avoid theft, why would you leave your pet unprotected against diseases such as this?

Click Below to Check You Are Protecting Your Pet…

Pet Parasite Action Protect your pet

Fish farms and the function of glucose… (Day 170)

Fish Farm production fish farming systems

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Pet Webinars

This week the bee’s lecture was cancelled so this morning I got a little extra time to work on my Emergency First Aid for Animals book which was pretty cool and is coming along nicely. I didn’t make my goal however will also be selling the electronic version of the book through this website very shortly, in the meantime you can get it here: http://www.indiegogo.com/a-lifetime-helping-animals-vet-student/x/811619.

Anyways this week we still had a diseases of fish lecture looking at fish production systems (very cool!) and the problems associated with this. The common misconception here is that fish farming is just putting some fish into tanks, letting them grow and then selling them. I remember when I was very young visiting a salmon farm near Aviemore in Scotland and thinking it was more fun than that it was producing food to eat. This however is not the case as when a single tank may contain half a million fish getting things right is essential with complex infrastructure and processes. I am planning some individual diary entries on specific fish so for today will keep it to general information.

Fish Farm production fish farming systemsNow the production process starts with the design of the facilities, fish at different life stages require different conditions with water temperature and space. On farms these may be on separate buildings or tanks, each having an isolated water supply. One of the farms we looked at today spent years getting permits before even starting to allow them to source some of their water from a local river, and discharge water back into the river – even like this they still discharged more than they took!

The problems with the production systems include temperature, water filtration and feeding, the failure of one of these systems can be catastrophic for the animals causing the death of tens of thousands of fish in a single tank! Common problems with farmed fish is that they are not encouraged to move and recently there are new circular tank systems that have been developed producing a current and so encouraging the fish to swim against it causing a better quality of meat.

The biggest problem here however is the economics of production, farm owners are constantly asked for certain native fish, however these may take longer to grow which means higher food costs meaning the fish is unaffordable to buy. Even worse I believe is where it takes more little fish to feed the bigger fish during production (for example salmon takes 3 tonnes of little fish as food to produce 1 tonne of salmon to sell). Anyways this was the diseases of fish lecture today.

After this we had a physiology practical where we were looking at the absorption and digestion of glucose in the body systems though the Oral Glucose Absorption Test. For this we used rabbits checking the blood glucose before than after giving the rabbits a drink of glucose solution and then measuring the blood glucose at 30 minute intervals to produce a glucose curve. This is one of the most basic tests of insulin production and can be used to identify problems which is pretty cool.

Phagocytosis, visiting the dairy farm, and snow… (Day 85)

Milking time on the dairy farm

Today has been another long day, this morning went to Immunology and this afternoon has been about cows. Now today in immunology we started looking at phagocytosis, in basic terms this is when a cell “eats” another cell. Usually this is the phagocytes in the white blood cells which then engulf bacterial or foreign cells that have invaded the body. The phagocytic process generally has 5 steps

  • Activation of the WBC
  • Chemotaxis where WBC moves towards the bacteria
  • Adherence where the WBC will stick to the bacteria
  • Ingestion where the WBC invaginates around the bacteria moving it into the cell
  • Digestion where enzymes and chemicals within the WBC break down the bacteria

Testing the ability of the immune system to respond to a antigen is done using fresh blood to which the antigen is then introduced before it is incubated for an hour. Once this is done the a slide is then prepared for examination under the microscope using the Pappenheim staining technique. In the left of the image below you  can see 3 different phagocytes each containing multiple foreign antigens that they have ingested.

Phagocytosis of antigen by leukocytes observed under the microscope
3 different leukocytes having ingested bacteria

This afternoon Milk Production finished on a high note with a visit to the University Dairy Farm which is located outside of town in a small village in the hills. With snow on the ground, we could see mountains and forests stretching for miles…

Stunning Mountains by UVM Kosice Dairy FarmNow of course being a working dairy farm hygiene requirements are extremely high, they supply all the protective clothing including the wellies, labcoat and hairnet which did look rather fetching on top of my beanie whilst I hide in my scarf.

Me and Milk HygieneWith all that over I guess its time for some cows, here some are in the milking parlour (sorry for the poor photo’s, my ipod sucks at them!) which is automated with id tags on each cow to allow computer tracking of the milk yeild and milking times.

Milking time on the dairy farmWith that I really must be getting some sleep, I did however take this picture from the front door of dorms earlier to share with you all!

Snowy view from the front steps in Kosice, Slovakia