Home Magazine Issues October-November 2012 Lifestyle: Keeping Pets Healthy in Uganda

Keeping Pets Healthy in Uganda

By Dr. Linda Nelson

Among the many challenges of living in Uganda is keeping household pets healthy. The warm, humid conditions found throughout most of the country are ideal for the development of parasites and disease-carrying vectors. Combined with a relative shortage of small animal vets, lack of reputable products, and the logistics of travelling with pets in traffic jams, maintaining your furry companions’ health can be a real headache. The best way to tackle the situation is to pay close attention to preventative care and avoid costly bills and poor outcomes later on.

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The World Small Animal Veterinary Association, along with their American, British and South African counterparts, recommends that all dogs and cats receive certain “core” vaccinations against infectious diseases and then various elective vaccines according to geographical location and lifestyle. The core vaccines for dogs are: rabies, distemper, hepatitis, Para influenza virus and parvovirus. Some of the optional dog vaccines are leptospirosis, bordetella (“kennel cough”), and coronavirus. For cats, the core vaccines are: rabies, pan leukopenia, herpes virus and calicivirus. Optional feline vaccinations include Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, Feline Leukemia Virus, chlamydia and bordetella. Fortunately for our pets, most vaccines are available in a “cocktail” that incorporates multiple vaccines in one jab. You may note on your pet’s health record the abbreviations “DHLPP” or “FVRCP,” which are the common combinations for dogs and cats respectively. These vaccines should be given 2 or 3 times as puppies or kittens to build immunity, and then annual boosters thereafter. Some overseas vets advocate vaccinating less often after checking antibody blood levels to ensure protection, but this is not practical or cost-effective in Uganda.

Annual rabies vaccinations should be given to every dog or cat beginning at 4 months of age. This is the law in most developed countries but is particularly important in Uganda, where rabies is endemic. Certain brands of rabies vaccine only need to be given every 3 years, but unless you have been advised by a qualified veterinarian that this is the case, pets must have a rabies booster every year. Proof of recent (within 6 months) rabies vaccination is always required for the movement of animals between countries. NEVER let your pets remain unvaccinated for rabies, as it is a fatal disease for both animals and people. If in doubt about the status of your pet, vaccinate again. If a human (or pet) is bitten or scratched by an animal of unknown rabies status, immediately consult your doctor or your vet for appropriate treatment. Prompt treatment can save a person’s life.

Dogs and cats should be de-sexed (spayed/neutered) at approximately 6 months of age. Currently these are routine surgical procedures requiring general anesthesia, but new technology is being developed that will allow sterilization through a series of injections or tablets. However, these cutting-edge products will not be commercially available in Uganda for some years, so we must rely on the standard procedures for now!
De-sexing not only prevents unwanted puppies and kittens being born and the inconvenience of bitches coming into season, but it also prevents mammary tumors in females and prostate cancer in males. Thousands of unwanted puppies and kittens are put down or suffer unbelievable cruelty in Uganda, so please consider adopting before breeding. The Uganda Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (USPCA) in Mbuya can be contacted on +256 772 403 789 or on Facebook.

Diet & Teeth
A key element of maintaining your pet’s good health is choosing the proper diet. Find the most suitable diet for your dog according to age, activity level, and ongoing medication. Many supermarkets in Kampala carry a selection of recognizable brands of pet food. As a general rule, high quality dog food should have a meat listed as the first ingredient. If it doesn’t, you may want to supply additional protein through feeding extra meat. Special “dog posho” is commonly sold and can be quite economical, but exercise caution, as its wholesomeness and freedom from toxins is not guaranteed. There have been several cases of dogs dying from Aflatoxin poisoning acquired from “dog posho” in Kampala. Cats can be successfully fed either dry or wet food, or some combination of the two. It is also important to give your pets’ ample, clean water. Many Kampala pet owners have found that water unsuitable for humans also causes chronic diarrhea in their pets.
Dental health is supported by providing rawhide bones and other chew toys. Expensive toys specifically claiming to clean pets’ teeth are often not effective and a waste of money. It is also helpful to check your pet’s teeth monthly to look for loose teeth, excessive tartar buildup or gum infections. Tooth extractions or heavy-duty cleaning can be done by your veterinarian if it becomes necessary.

Dogs and cats that spend any significant time outdoors will need monthly flea prevention. Fleas obviously cause uncomfortable scratching, but also transmit tapeworms, and can cause very severe allergic reactions in pets. There are dozens of products to choose from, but many are not readily available in Uganda. Some of the most effective products are K9 Advantix®, Frontline Plus®, Sentinel®, Advantage® and Revolution®. The products available in supermarkets are generally useless because they contain no real insecticide, or they contain only tiny amounts of the active ingredient. It’s best to consult your veterinarian about which product would be best-suited to your pet and most cost-effective for you. Fortunately, many flea preventatives also protect against and kill ticks, ear mites, mange and lice. Regular bathing with medicated shampoo may also help.

Tick Fever is very common and ticks are found everywhere in Uganda. Their saliva carries three types of blood parasites namely Babesisa canis, Babesis gibsoni (both protozoans), and Ehrlichia canis, a rickettsia. These parasites will affect your dog and can be fatal if not treated. Often the first sign noticed is that the dog feels tired and starts to go off food. As the disease develops, the dog may become progressively weaker, may show blood-tinged urine, bleeding from the mucous membranes, and have episodes of fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. The disease can have a very gradual onset and progression, with your dog just looking “off-colour” until the later stages when walking may not be possible. Treatment of Tick Fever is a combination of supportive measures and medication to kill the blood parasites, but the treatment is not guaranteed to work and many dogs die every year of the disease.
Tick prevention is vital in all dogs, wherever you live in Uganda. Applications of products such as Frontline® and/or tick collars containing amitraz are essential for outdoor dogs, but nothing is 100% effective so your dog should be checked daily for the baby ticks. These look like little brown spiders, and they are common between the toes, behind the ears and anywhere that is dark and makes detection difficult.
Intestinal/Stomach Worms
All puppies should be given a de-worming tablet every 2 weeks until they are at least 4 months old. Virtually all puppies are born with intestinal worms, and it’s important for your own health as well as the puppies that these are eradicated. Regular de-worming throughout a dog’s life is recommended, and products such as Heartgard Plus® (against heartworm) will also treat some of the most common worms but not tapeworm. Please note that regular de-worming tablets do not treat or prevent heartworm.

Heartworm Disease
Heartworm disease (Dirofilariasis) is a relatively common and potentially fatal disease of dogs throughout the world. Unfortunately, treatment of heartworm is difficult, dangerous, and expensive. On the other hand, prevention of heartworm is safe, simple, and easy. All dogs should always be protected from heartworm by using preventive medication.
A dog is infected by heartworm by being bitten by a mosquito. The mosquito injects microscopic heartworm larvae into the dog’s bloodstream. These larvae grow slowly and move towards the dog’s heart and lungs, where they severely interfere with the flow of blood through the heart. These adult heartworms breed in the dog’s heart, producing new heartworm larvae. The larvae are ingested by mosquitoes, which then spread the disease to other dogs. Initially when the heartworm are growing and spreading around the dog’s body there are no unusual signs. It is generally only after the worms are lodged in the heart and infecting the lungs that dogs show signs. Common signs include coughing, exercise intolerance and weight loss.
Some vets recommend that a dog be less than 5 months old or have a negative heartworm blood test before preventative medication be started. The blood test results for your dog will only take about 10 minutes. Dogs can be given the yearly heartworm prevention injection called ProHeart 6®, or monthly Heartgard®, Iverhart® or similar tablets. Possibly the only disadvantage is that tablets must be given monthly, and if the monthly tablet is forgotten, then your dog could be infected with heartworm.

Remember: “An ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure.”
For more information, please contact:
Dr. Linda Nelson,
Mobile: +256 784 718988. Email: linda.a.nelson@gmail.com