The children have been on at you to buy them a puppy, with the usual enthusiastic promises that they will look after it and feed it, and perhaps even buy its food out of their allowances every month…With the number of unwanted pets on the rise, it’s a good idea to know what you’re getting yourself into before you find yourself ankle deep in puppies and vet bills!
The first thing that enters one’s mind when considering giving a home to a cute, cuddly animal, is that it’s going to need food, bowls for food and water, a collar and lots of toys; and you’re going to need to increase your budgeted allowance for shoes and furniture! There are other things, however, that need to be considered if you intend to be a responsible pet owner.
Things like vaccinations, deworming and sterilization:
A puppy is protected by its mother’s immune system until it is weaned – that is until it transitions from milk to solids. After that, it’s up to the pup’s owner to ensure it is protected against all the nasty diseases that could add to your veterinary expenses and ultimately result in the death of your little furry bundle of joy.
Bordetella (aka Kennel Cough) is an infectious disease not unlike bronchitis. A dog will develop a hacking cough that sounds almost as if it has something stuck in its throat. It is caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica organisms inhaled by the dog. Bordetella is most often spread in crowded areas with poor ventilation – boarding kennels, vaccination clinics etc, or close contact with an infected dog. It is an airborne virus, so your dog could pick it up just by having its daily conversation with the dog next door. Kennel Cough is rarely fatal, but young puppies are very susceptible to it, and it can easily progress to pneumonia.
Distemper is a highly contagious and very serious virus. It attacks the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems of puppies and dogs, and can also attack the nervous system. It also infects wild animals like foxes, wolves, coyotes, raccoons, ferrets and skunks. It is an airborne virus, which means dogs and puppies can contract it through contact with an infected dog or any of the wild animals already listed. Outbreaks are sporadic and are not limited to certain times of the year. All dogs are at risk, but puppies younger than four months and older dogs not vaccinated regularly, are more prone to infection. Symptoms include: a watery or pus-like eye discharge, fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. In later stages it affects the nervous system and can cause seizures, twitching and partial or complete paralysis. Distemper is often fatal. Even if the dog doesn’t die, it can cause lasting damage to the nervous system.
Hepatitis is a virus that is part of the adenovirus group. It is not seen in cats or humans, but can be carried and spread by foxes, bears, wolves and dogs through contact with the infected animal’s eye or nasal mucous or urine. Dogs can remain infected for up to a year after recovery. The virus attacks the liver, kidneys, eyes and linings of blood vessels throughout the body. Initial symptoms are: a cough, lethargy, loss of appetite and a mild fever. Symptoms then develop into a bluish discoloration of the cornea also known as “blue eye”. Young puppies can develop liver disease, internal bleeding and swelling of the mouth and eyes, which can cause severe shock, and death. Dogs that recover can develop cirrhosis of the liver, glaucoma and chronic kidney disease.
Parainfluenza affects the upper respiratory system. It causes a dry cough and nasal discharge, and can be misdiagnosed as kennel cough. It is spread through contact with nasal secretions from the infected animal. It can cause serious complications and even death, if pneumonia occurs.
Parvovirus is highly contagious, and very serious. It affects the gastrointestinal tract of puppies, dogs and wild canids; that is wolves, foxes, coyotes, etc, and can also affect the heart muscle of very young and unborn puppies. It is spread through direct contact with infected dogs, contaminated feces, environment or people. The virus can contaminate kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, collars and leads, and the clothing and skin of people that handle infected dogs. It is a very resilient virus, resistant to high and low temperatures and dry or damp conditions. It can survive without a host for long periods of time and is readily transferred from place to place on hair, feet, shoes, clothing and skin. All dogs are at risk, but particularly the very young and those that do not have regular vaccinations.
Symptoms include: loss of appetite, fever, vomiting and severe, sometimes bloody diarrhea. Vomiting and diarrhea lead to dehydration. Most deaths occur two to four days after clinical signs are seen.
Leptospirosis affects the liver and kidneys of all animals, and humans, and is potentially deadly. It is spread through contact with the urine of an infected animal. Symptoms include lethargy, dehydration, fevers and jaundice.
Canine Corona virus causes diarrhea in infected dogs and is spread through feces. It is similar to Parvovirus, but is considered a milder version and death from infection is not common.
Heartworm is a parasite transmitted to your puppy through mosquitoes. This potentially fatal parasite is easily prevented, but not so easily treated. Mosquitoes containing the heartworm larvae bite the dog, the larvae are injected into the blood stream, and from there, make their way to your dog’s heart. The first symptom is coughing as the parasites find their way from the heart into the lungs, by which time substantial damage has been done to the heart muscle, and so is therefore very difficult to diagnose and treat. The parasites can also affect the liver and blood vessels, and cause lung cancer.
Round worms (Ascarids) live in your dog’s intestines, feeding off food as it is digested. Symptoms include lethargy, dull coat, diarrhea, and vomiting and weight loss. They affect puppies, predominately, and can be transmitted before birth. Round worm can be transmitted to people.
Tapeworms most commonly use fleas as intermediate hosts. When licking, scratching biting an itch, the infected flea is ingested, and the worm larva develops into an adult worm, attaches itself to the wall of the gut, and feed off the host’s (your dog or puppy’s) blood. Symptoms of a heavy infestation include anemia, loss of appetite and dull coat.
Hookworm eggs usually develop into larvae in the environment. The larvae then burrow into the skin of the host and hook into the intestinal wall of the host, feeding off its blood and causing a range of severity in its symptoms from mild diarrhea, weight loss, anemia, dehydration and even death.
To prevent these diseases and infestations, your vet will set up a vaccination schedule for your puppy, generally starting with its first vaccine given in three doses.
The first dose is usually given at the age of six to eight weeks, and contains vaccines for Bordetella, Distemper, Corona virus (where of concern), Hepatitis, Parainfluenza, Parvovirus, an intestinal parasite screen, Heartworm preventive pill and strategic deworming for intestinal parasites.
The second dose is usually given at ten to twelve weeks, and contains the same as the first dose, and includes vaccines against Leptospirosis and Lyme disease (where it is of concern).
The third and final dose is usually given at fourteen to sixteen weeks and contains the same as the first and second doses, but also includes Rabies which is an incurable and fatal viral disease that affects the nervous system of almost all mammals including humans, and is spread through contact with the saliva of an infected animal. There is no cure for rabies. In some countries, the Rabies vaccine is done every year, in others, every three years.
Once these three doses are administered, the puppy then has to have annual vaccinations to keep its immunity. Like all drugs, however, immunity is not one hundred percent guaranteed. If used in conjunction with proper nutrition and good sanitary conditions, vaccinations are your pet’s best defense against disease.
On top of vaccinations, the other thing you need to decide on is sterilization. While some might consider it an unnecessary expense, sterilization is a worthwhile consideration. Not only does it go a long way to preventing ovarian cancer, breast cancer, testicular tumors and prostate problems, it also prevents unwanted litters of puppies. Neutered males tend to be less aggressive and territorial and so don’t feel the need to lift their leg on every available vertical surface! It also cuts back on roaming in both males and females.