Summertime in veterinary practice often revolves around fleas, barber’s pole worm and facial eczema. A warm, wet summer, like that which is predicted for this year, provides ideal conditions for all these problems. The benefits of taking a proactive approach around dealing with them will make our animals’ lives much happier, as well as our own.
Fleas are a burden that many cats, dogs and owners face. Wintertime is flu season for people; summertime is flea season for cats and dogs. No, I am not advocating using a mask to protect against fleas. Instead, use an effective spot-on flea treatment or a tablet. When I was a kid, we used flea “powders”. Thankfully, we have evolved a long way from those. The latest generation flea products, which most veterinarians favour, are highly effective. They not only kill fleas, they also prevent them reproducing. Unfortunately, they take time to work and do not miraculously prevent fleas from hopping on board your pet. Nevertheless, if you keep up the flea treatments all year round, you can happily lock up your house for two weeks in summer and not return to a flea infestation.
Barber’s pole is a nematode parasite (stomach worm), which infects sheep’s abomasums, or true acidic stomachs. Most worms affect young animals more than older animals, but barber’s pole is problematic for young and old. These little blighters suck large amounts of blood from your sheep to the point where they can become life-threateningly anaemic. Signs of anaemia are related to the inability of blood to carry oxygen. This manifests as tiredness, lethargy, rapid breathing and inability to stand.
Most drenching programs in Northland for sheep worm are targeted at minimising the effects of barber’s pole worm. I usually recommend monitoring the inside of your sheep’s eyelids for signs of anaemia on a weekly basis. Look for signs of a healthy pink colour. I am right-handed, so I stand on the left side of a sheep, with the sheep between me and the yard wall or fence. I hold the sheep’s head in my left hand and use my right thumb to push the upper eyelid down until it is half-way closed. I then apply gentle pressure push the eyelid against the eyeball. This causes the third eyelid, or nictitating membrane, to protrude from the inside of the eye, out across the eyeball, beneath my thumb. Anaemic sheep have no pink/red colour present, only paly white. I suggest you have a look at five to 10 sheep to get an idea of the range of pink colour and monitor a similar number on a weekly basis. When the pink fades, it’s time to drench.
Facial eczema is a disease caused by the spores of a fungus, which grows on pasture plants in warm, moist conditions. When ruminants metabolise the fungus spores, they are concentrated in the bile, which results in damage to their livers. Zinc supplementation has been found to provide protection for ruminants and should be included in your sheep’s, goats’, alpacas’, and cattle’s diet. Discuss these health issues with your local veterinarian and help your animal’s health and welfare.
Stephen McAulay, CEO and head vet, Wellsford Vet Clinic