How to manage your new puppy or kitten Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Wednesday, 18 November 2009 08:43
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In this column veterinarian Dr Liesel van der Merwe provides practical assistance for common problems in companion animals. She is a specialist physician at the Onderstepoort animal teaching hospital and a senior lecturer in the section of small animal medicine. Send your questions to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

It is always exciting to get a new puppy or kitten, but remember that this is a very stressful time for new pets as they are taken away from their siblings and mother, have probably travelled for the first time and may have been in a pet shop with strange people, animals, smells and sounds.

Your new puppy should have been vaccinated at the age of six weeks. A vaccination card signed by a veterinarian is proof of this. Do not believe excuses such as “I had it done, but forgot the record card”. The first vaccination is mainly against parvoviral diarrhoea (cat flu) and distemper (hondesiekte).

Parvovirus affects the intestine’s lining, causing it to strip off, thus causing important nutrients and salts to leak into the bowel, resulting in foul smelling bloody diarrhoea and at the same time allowing bacteria to enter the body. The virus also attacks bone-marrow and decreases the number of white cells produced, which are essential for fighting infection. The combination of all these factors causes a really severe disease which has a high mortality rate, even with aggressive treatment. Your puppy will only really be well protected against parvovirus about two weeks after the third vaccination (second booster) which normally happens at 14 weeks. It is thus advisable not to let your puppy roam where infection may be found. The virus is resistant and can persist in the environment for months.

Distemper is a virus which affects the nervous system. Initially it enters the body through the respiratory tract. It is spread via the lung and eye secretions and is quite a labile virus, so close contact with an infected animal is required. It is a problem in informally settled areas where vaccination is not routine. There is no treatment for distemper and in puppies with an immature immune system, the results are usually fatal.

Cats, on the other hand, suffer from two different potentially fatal viral diseases: FIP and feline leukaemia virus. There are vaccinations for these diseases but they are not routinely used in SA as the prevalence of these diseases in the average cat pet population is still relatively low. FIP is caused by a virus which normally causes diarrhoea but may mutate and cause disease in stressed cats or cats in high density environments. Cattery and kennel management are more important in preventing this disease than vaccination. Enquire about the disease status in the cattery when buying a pedigreed kitten.

Young kittens often develop “snuffles” which is a combination of viral and bacterial infections, including herpes virus, calici virus and bordatella bacteria. These viruses are similar to the flu virus in people: vaccination will not prevent infection but will decrease the severity. Kittens from high density accommodations are more prone to these diseases due to stress and increased exposure.

Young animals are also prone to verminosis (worms) as many of the worms may be passed across the placenta or through the milk. Verminosis is also a problem in high density environments such as breeding kennels or catteries. Deworming every three to four weeks until pets are at least four to six months old is advised.

A change in diet also causes some stress and may cause mild diarrhoea without the puppy appearing ill. A good quality puppy diet together with deworming will maximise intestinal tract health and nutrient uptake which promotes the development of immunity. Pronutro and milk, extra calcium or bone meal for large-breed puppies and extra milk are all no-no’s. Keep the food plain and simple and the best quality you can afford. Spending money here may save you spending it later with bone and joint problems in you large-breed dogs.

Also realise that these little animals need to sleep and rest. Restrict playtime until they have settled in. Give them a secure area which is theirs. Avoid very small toys and chews which can be swallowed. All these factors need to be taken into consideration as any stress can increase susceptibility to viral infections as it causes suppression of the immune system.

Only now are all the cute toys and fluffy blankets of any relevance. See to the important basics first . . .

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