Diseases for which vaccines are available:-


1. Snuffles

Caused by a feline herpes virus.  Infection with herpes viruses means once the animal has the disease it has it for life.  The virus can remain latent (asleep) in the body and when stressed (i.e. shifting house, new addition to family etc),  the cat develops an obvious sickness, runny, pus-filled eyes, sneezing, coughing.  The cat becomes a carrier of the disease.


2. Cat Flu

Caused by a feline parvo virus.  This disease is usually deadly.  The cat develops sudden diarrhoea and vomiting and dies of dehydration within hours of signs developing.  Severe depression accompanies onset of clinical signs.


3. Feline Calici Virus  (pronounced K-lissy virus)

Respiratory virus that can cause weeping eyes, coughing - similar signs to herpes virus infection but also cats can develop ulcers on the tongue and mouth;  intermittent or shifting leg lameness - where the cat can be lame  in different limbs at different times.  Cats do recover from this disease but can become quite debilitated from their inability to eat.


4. Feline Leukaemia Virus

Is a cause of serious disease in cats seen mainly in breeding catteries or multi cat households.  The virus can cause multiple diseases affecting the immune system.  Cats can develop leukaemia, cancers, anaemia, reproductive problems.  “Healthy” cats can be carriers.


None of the above diseases are transmissible to man.  Prevent all these by vaccinating kittens at least twice, 3-4 weeks apart, then annually.


Diseases for which vaccines are not available:-


1. Ringworm

Fungal infection of mainly young cats and kittens.  The infection starts by the fungus growing in the shafts of hairs which progressively become broken off, leaving areas of coat which look as though the hairs have been cut short with scissors.  The patches are not necessarily circular (as in human infection) and have silvery crusty flakes on the surface.  Infections can become generalised so cats with suspected ringworm must be seen by a vet and treated accordingly. Zoonosis.


2. Flea Infestation

Common cause of skin disease.  Zoonosis.  Two types of problems arise from flea infestation.  One simply as a result of the fleas biting the cat and causing a mechanical invitation and the other, a more serious complaint, flea allergy dermatitis.  The former causes the cat to groom itself excessively and the coat can go brown from saliva stain.  The latter (F.A.D.) is a result of the cat being allergic to the bite of the flea.  One flea can cause havoc.  Commonly the hair along the midline of the back can become sparse and the skin can become so inflamed that scabs form.  Flea eradication is the aim.  There are many anti-flea preparations- one of the best currently available is “Frontline”. Prevent by vacuuming house regularly, treating with Program or Frontline.


(Zoonoses are diseases that can be contracted by humans).


3. Cat Bite Abscesses

Common complaint of cats because of their free roaming habits and territorial behaviour.  Affects both sexes.  Occur from fighting.  Fangs deposit bacteria deep into tissues and the infection can smoulder for several days before pus-forming bacteria become highly active and large abscesses develop.  These are serious as infection can get into the blood stream and set up abscesses in organs like liver or kidneys.  Cats usually have to be anaesthetised; the abscess lanced, irrigated with antiseptic or antibiotic solutions and cat is sent home with antibiotics.  Not easily prevented although reducing wild cat population will help.


4. Periodontal Disease

Applies to dogs as well, especially small breeds.  Cats develop plaque and tartar on their teeth from 2-3 years of age onwards, depending on the diet.  Tartar can build up to phenomenal proportions.  As it does it causes gum margins to recede (move up the tooth) so roots are progressively exposed.  Eventually the tooth underneath the tartar can become loose and the gums become infected.  The breath smells rotten, the animal may have difficulty eating or lose its appetite.

Cats teeth should be checked annually, at vaccination time and owners should expect that cats of eight or more years may need dental work.  No teeth are better than rotten teeth.  Diets should include raw meat (Not chopped up but large pieces to encourage cats to gnaw), biscuits, and raw chicken necks.

Prevention:- good diet, regular check-ups and for the diligent, toothpaste and tooth brushing will help.


5. Disorders  Of The Urinary System

Range from bladder infections, bladder stones, blocked bladders to kidney failure.

Kidney failure can be sudden or chronic.  The kidneys lose their ability to excrete waste products from the body and to regulate fluid levels in the body.  Depending on the type of kidney failure the kidney can shut down completely and produce no urine at all or fail to concentrate urine so there is more than normal amounts of urine produced.

Vomiting, bad breath, increased thirst, increased urination, ulcers in the mouth, anaemia are all signs of kidney failure.

Bladder infections/bladder stones or crystals - can sometimes produce similar signs.  The cat urinates frequently, it appears painful and sometimes there is blood in the urine.  A blocked bladder is a very serious complaint.  It is usually fat, older, male cats that suffer from this.  They may appear sleepy or depressed or distressed while trying to go to the toilet.  Early diagnosis is important to prevent kidneys failing as a result of back pressure.







Diseases for which vaccines are available:-


1. Distemper

Is a viral disease which affects mostly young dogs but all unvaccinated dogs are susceptible.  The clinical signs are fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, anorexia, dehydration and skin problems.  The virus can attack the nervous system and cause convulsions and facial twitching.  Not many dogs survive, and survivors are usually left with a facial twitch.


2. Canine Infectious Hepatitis

Is a viral disease which is highly infectious and can cause severe illness.  The virus attacks the liver and kidneys.  The signs are loss of appetite, intense thirst, vomiting, diarrhoea, back pain (dog stands with back arched).  The disease can range from an acute form where the dog can die within hours, to a severe non fatal form, to mild cases, and to sub-clinical hepatitis.


3. Kennel Cough

Is another viral disease which can be complicated by bacteria causing a much more severe illness.

Signs:- discharge from the nose and bouts of coughing.  The dog recovers eventually but can take 6-8 weeks.  Some dogs remain carriers.


4. Parvo Virus

Causes vomiting and diarrhoea, resulting in death from dehydration.  The disease is seen mainly in pups less than five months old but all unvaccinated dogs are susceptible.  The progression of the disease is rapid; pups can be active and apparently normal in the morning; depressed, reluctant to move by lunch time and near death by evening.  The virus attacks the lining of the intestines and large quantities of fluid from the body can pool in the intestines and the pup can die before any diarrhoea is noticed.


5. Leptospirosis

Is a bacterial disease which affects kidneys mainly but also the liver.  The disease can range from mild to severe where the dog may die within 1-4 days.  The bacteria is passed in the urine and is highly infective.  Leptospirosis is a widespread disease and can infect man, pigs, deer and cattle.  The prognosis is proportional to the severity of signs.  Dogs can fully recover.  Some can remain as carriers.


Disease for which vaccines are not available:-


1. Parasitic Disease

(a) Internal parasites = worms.  The main worms are roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms.  Roundworms and hookworms are particularly serious in puppies; roundworms cause obstructions in the bowel and hookworms cause anaemia.  Whipworms cause diarrhoea, dehydration and anaemia.


There are several kinds of tapeworm:- hydatids tapeworm is a zoonosis.  

Hydatids: the adult tapeworm inhabits the intestines of dogs.  Eggs are passed in faeces which an intermediate host such as sheep,  cattle (and man) ingest.  Once inside the intermediate host, cysts can form in the liver and other organs.

Prevention of disease:-

  • Treat dogs regularly for hydatids.
  • Never feed raw offal.
  • Always wash your hands after handling dogs and before eating.


(b) External parasites - most common = flea - see fleas in cats.


2. Anal Gland Disease

Anal glands are two small glands that sit at 10 and 2 o’clock in the ring of the anus.  They produce a secretion that covers the faeces and is associated with territorial marking.  The secretions pass from the gland to the outside via a duct that can sometimes become blocked.  The gland swells and becomes uncomfortable and the dog in an effort to clear the blockage “Scoots” its backside along the ground.  When the glands are blocked this is referred to as anal gland impaction.  Anal glands can also become infected or cancerous.  Some dogs can live their whole lives without anal gland problems, others can have constant problems.  Anal glands can be removed surgically.


3. Skin Problems/Ear Problems

Ear infections are caused by bacteria, mites, and yeasts.  Some dogs are more prone to ear problems than others - dogs most at risk are dogs with hairy, pendulous ears (like Cocker Spaniels) and dogs least at risk are dogs with fine coats and pricked ears.  Some dogs such as Poodles and Bichons have trouble with hair growing in their ear canals which makes the ear canal an ideal place for bugs to grow.


Skin problems range from allergies to mite infections to flea infestations to bacterial infections.



Written by: Suzanne Craig BVCs - Small Animal Vet, based at Balclutha and used in the local newspaper (The Leader) in the monthly Pet Corner section.