Winter illnesses in pets

Winter illnesses in pets are not necessarily season-specific but they do tend to occur with greater frequency during the colder months. Taking steps early on to prevent or contain them can make a big difference to how your pet responds, and to his quality of life.

Here’s what to look out for as the months grow colder:

Winter illnesses: what to look out for

SNUFFLES We see more infections of the upper respiratory tract in cats during winter. These infections fall under the syndrome ‘snuffles’ and symptoms are similar to those suffered by people with colds. These symptoms include: sneezing, nasal discharge, teary eyes, discharge from the eyes, poor appetite and drooling.

Snuffles occurs as a result of a viral infection, and there are several virus families that cause the same symptoms. There may also be a secondary bacterial infection.

Treatment isn’t always necessary but if the cat is struggling to breathe, coughing or won’t eat then it is necessary to see your vet who will treat secondary infections and offer symptomatic support.

Prevention is by vaccination. Kittens must be vaccinated at 9 and 12 weeks against the viruses that cause these infections; vaccinations to be repeated annually.

Snuffles (herpes virus) can stay in the system and cause repeat symptoms for years, especially if the cat is stressed, i.e. going into kennels or if there is a new cat in the house. Chronic snuffles can also cause eye problems. If your cat suffers from repeat bouts of snuffles, chat with your vet about a long term plan.

ARTHRITIS One of the most common winter illnesses is arthritis, especially in older pets. It is more noticeable as the weather gets colder and their pain intensifies.

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • sleeping more than usual
  • increased aggression or trying to bite you when you touch them
  • urinating or defecating on the house
  • inability to jump onto their favourite chair, or can’t walk as far as they used to
  • walk stiffly after getting up from a nap

It is necessary for your pet to be properly examined by a vet if he or she is displaying any of the above symptoms in order to diagnose the issue and this will include x-rays and blood tests.

Treatment may include pain medication, joint supplements, dietary support and light exercise or physiotherapy. Your pet will need to be seen by the vet every 3 – 6 months to monitor its progress and to amend medication if needed.

Remember that animals are masters at hiding pain; they will cry out very rarely, so it is important to look out for the more subtle symptoms so that they aren’t living with pain.

KENNEL COUGH This a viral infection affecting the upper respiratory tract. There could be possible secondary bacterial infections.

Symptoms include a loud, dry cough which many people mistakenly believe is an indication of something stuck in the throat. Dogs with kennel cough are generally not too ill and continue to eat well.

Treatment is symptomatic: anti-inflammatories for a sore throat and sometimes cough syrup. If there are secondary bacterial infections, then antibiotics are usually recommended. In a small percentage of dogs pneumonia may develop which will require more intensive treatment. Avoid contact with other dogs as this is highly contagious.

If the dog is coughing for more than 7 days, if he looks sick and won’t eat or if he is struggling to breathe and coughing consistently, then he must see a vet. There are other ailments that cause coughing, especially in older pets, and it’s important to diagnose what is causing a persistent cough.

Prevention is best through vaccination. There are more than 10 viruses that cause the symptoms listed above and annual vaccinations prevent some of them. However, if your dog is going into kennels or is in contact with a number of dogs, he should have an extra kennel cough vaccination.