You don’t need a degree in veterinary medicine to rescue a dog. But, whether by choice or necessity, you’ll end up learning at least the basics of canine health.
This is what you’ll most likely come across:
~ PARASITES ~
Transmit ehrlichiosis (or tick fever), a bacterial infection. Once it reaches chronic stage (the case of most ferals or long-time strays), the damage to the dog's entire physiology is irreversible—and, eventually, fatal. Ehrlichiosis destroys platelets, which results in decreased coagulation. Surgery on a dog positive for ehrlichiosis is a bad, bad idea.
Anti-tick / -flea products (we swear by NexGard here). Antibiotics for the infection; in severe/urgent cases, vitamin K as a bloodclotting aid.
Cause allergic reactions which produce hair loss and itchy/red skin patches. Also transmit intestinal parasites; nourishment and medication prescribed orally will only partially make its way into the dog’s system.
Anti-tick / -flea products like NexGard or Frontline. Skin allergies will go away once the fleas are gone (special shampoos may soothe skin). Deworming medication to get rid of intestinal parasites.
|Adult male flea|
Photo credit: Kat M (Flickr)
Skin issues, irritation. Two types: skin-eating and blood-sucking. Usually seen only in extremely unsanitary conditions (dogs rescued from garbage dumps, etc.).
Anti-tick / -flea products may work if they contain fipronil and/or selamectin. Check with your vet to make sure.
A sneaky, silent, progressive killer. Larvae, transmitted by mosquitoes, enter the bloodstream and lodge in the larger vessels of the cardiovascular system and in the heart, eventually multiplying and causing serious damage—and often irreversible, even after the parasite is eliminated. As with ehrlichiosis, a dog diagnosed with heartworms is a poor candidate for any kind of surgery.
Varies according to the severity of the case (and the overall health of the dog). Here in Curaçao it usually involves three Immiticide injections, given a month apart (the 3rd one 24 hours after the 2nd one). They’re very painful, not just the shots as such (they’re given after injecting a preparatory pain med) but also the effect of the drug itself, which lasts between six and twelve hours.
~ VIRAL DISEASES ~
Affects the intestines, attacks white blood cells; survivors often end up with long-term cardiac issues. Very contagious, especially through contact with infected feces. If you suspect a dog might have parvo (not eating, vomiting, bloody diarrhea), be sure to disinfect any of your skin that came into contact with him/her (with alcohol), the soles of your shoes and any other non-organic surface (with bleach), and wash your clothes with a fabric-safe but powerful disinfectant. And make sure your dogs at home are current on their vaccines.
Attacks respiratory and nervous systems; especially in later stages, you’ll see seizures, paralysis, hobbled walking, nervous “tics”, hysteria. Very contagious (it’s an airborne virus). As with parvo, disinfect everything that might have come into contact with a potentially infected dog, and make sure your own dogs are up to date on their vaccines.
- Parvo / Distemper Treatment:
Being viral, no cure is available for either parvo or distemper; treatment relies on controlling symptoms and boosting the dog’s immune system: hospitalization, IV drip, antibiotics, anti-vomit meds, anti-seizure meds, etc. During treatment and until declared otherwise by a vet, any dog infected (or suspected of being infected) with parvo or distemper must be isolated from other dogs. If you’re caring for the dog, you need to disinfect yourself, your clothes, shoes, watch, jewelry, steering wheel, car upholstery, door handles, etc., before having contact with other animals.
If the case is too advanced and the dog does not respond to treatment, euthanasia is the most humane resolution; parvovirus and distemper, left on their own, end in a horrible, painful death.
~ SKIN ISSUES ~
|Meet Mighty. Don't be fooled by the photo, though.|
His story is a happy, happy one—and you can read it here.
Caused by microscopic mites, external parasites that feed on skin. Most mites are part of a dog’s skin, but can cause irritation if populations get out of hand: hair loss, scabby-looking skin, dry and red patches. Two main types:
Highly contagious to other dogs and humans. Mites burrow through skin causing intense itching; the scratching is what produces the symptoms (hair loss, scabs, rashes, etc.).
The dog must be isolated from other dogs. If you’re caring for him/her, be sure to wash hands and all exposed skin as well as clothes thoroughly before coming into contact with other animals. Treatment, which typically lasts several weeks, includes scabicide drugs, injected and/or in shampoo, and sometimes oral medication. The younger the dog, the more effective (and fast-working) the treatment will be.
Non-contagious. Demodectic mange mites are normally present in a dog’s skin and only become a problem when population becomes too large (apparently a genetic issue). May be localized, which is common in puppies and will resolve itself naturally, or generalized, which tend to become more severe (dramatic hair loss, skin wounds from scratching, etc.).
Due to its genetic nature, demodicosis is treated very differently from sarcoptic mange: scabicides won’t work, but other dips or shampoos may help soothe irritation (and prevent excessive scratching, which is 90% of the problem). Treatment is usually long-term; months instead of weeks.
~ OVERALL HEALTH CONCERNS ~
In strays or feral dogs, it’s most often a consequence of parasites, whether internal or external.
The vet will probably prescribe extra vitamins along with a diet rich in specific nutrients.
Build-up on teeth is typically grotesque in older dogs, to the point where painful gums prevent him/her from eating.
Professional veterinary tooth cleaning. Unless the dog is positive for tick fever or heartworms; those need to be treated first, to prevent dangerous blood loss or respiratory problems under anaesthesia.
Mostly seen in senior dogs.
~ * ~
Why are so many homeless dogs rescued in such deteriorated health? They don’t have any more susceptibility to illness, or genetic weaknesses, or physiological deficiencies than family dogs; they might even have less. But this post is long enough. Come back on Q day and we'll talk about it.
Thank you so much for coming by, and sorry about the late posting... We're having a very busy week (it's the annual film festival here in Curaçao)—which also means I'm running way behind in replying to your comments and visiting you back—but please don't give up on me. I'll get there. I promise :)
Have a wonderful weekend, you wonderful people!