Before you take your pet on holiday abroad we recommend you consider the prevention of the following diseases. Not all diseases mentioned are present in all countries.
If you need information on what diseases are prevalent in the local area while on holiday then contact the local vet on arrival. Remember that the local animals have an inherent immunity that helps protect them so local prevention measures may not be sufficient for your pet.
Heartworm is a type of worm that lives in the blood, only the adult females live in the heart. It tends to be more serious in dogs than in cats but can potentially be fatal in both species. It is spread by mosquitoes which carry immature stages of the parasite.
Once infected, an animal may show signs of heart disease or other complications. Treatment involves killing the adult worms in the heart or surgically removing them but both can be associated with problems.
Prevention is easy and based on killing the heartworm larvae before they mature into adults and reach the heart. By using a product - usually monthly - that contains a drug called Avermectin, heartworm should be prevented. This should begin a month before you leave the UK. Equally, avoiding the mosquitoes that carry the parasite will help infection, so avoid walking your dog at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes tend to be most active.
Leishmaniasis is a disease mainly of dogs, although rarely it is seen in cats. It is caused by a blood parasite that is spread by sand flies. Often its most noticeable sign is a skin problem but this can rapidly progress to a severe wasting illness caused by multi organ failure. There is a risk to humans from the Leishmania parasite. Often symptoms don't appear to start for years after infection, thus, if you have taken your dog abroad, you should tell your vet whenever they become ill. Treatment is not always successful and will never "cure" your animal which means repeat treatments are often necessary.
Prevention is based on your dog avoiding sand fly bites. They are most prevalent from May to September. They are low-level flies which means allowing your dog to sleep in an upstairs room will help avoid bites. Again, avoid walking your dog at dawn and dusk and wearing a collar specifically designed to repel sand flies will help (e.g. Scalibor collars) although it must be changed at the recommended frequency for it to remain effective.
Babesiosis is a disease caused by a parasite that lives in the blood and is spread by ticks. The parasites can cause a disease where the red blood cells burst and the animal is very sick from internal blood loss.
Treatment will help but there is no treatment that can entirely clear the parasite from your pet so prevention is always recommended. Prevention is by controlling ticks and a suitable anti-tick product.
Vaccines do exist but they don't always offer full protection and they work by stopping clinical signs rather than preventing infection. Also they are specific for the Babesiosis strain in a particular area so a vaccine given in Spain for instance would not offer protection against Babesiosis in Australia.
Ehlrichia is another disease spread by ticks. It lives in the blood and the signs of illness can be similar to Babesiosis. It is not uncommon for an animal to concurrently be sick with both parasites.
Treatment is with antibiotics but by the time a diagnosis is made, patients frequently need blood transfusions and other care to stabilise them. Prevention is by controlling ticks and a suitable anti-tick product.
Rabies is a deadly disease caused by a type of virus. It can affect a wide variety of mammals including man. Behaviour change is the most common sign seen and everyone thinks of the rabid salivating dog when they imagine rabies. However, cats can also be affected and there is a form of the disease which makes the animal very quiet and withdrawn.
Given that your pet needs a rabies vaccination before travelling abroad, they should be at an extremely low risk of contracting it. However, you should be careful about approaching other dogs, cats and other animals (especially strays) when travelling abroad since their rabies status is unknown.
There is no treatment for rabies and it is usually fatal. Due to the human health risks, animals suspected of having it are normally euthanased.
- Once monthly treatment to prevent heartworm (start 1 month before leaving the UK)
- Fitting your dog with a Scalibor collar to protect against sand flies and thus Leishmaniasis
- Allow your dog or cat to sleep upstairs at night if possible (to avoid midges)
- Don't walk your dog at dusk or dawn and preferably not on the beach (to avoid midges)
- Don't let your dog associate with any stray dogs or sick looking animals