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Although routine clipping of the nails of cats and dogs should not normally be necessary, there are circumstances under which it needs to be carried out.
In dogs, we usually only clip when there is overgrowth of the claws. This may occur in animals which, for whatever reason (arthritis, age, laziness(!), or not exercising regularly, or those which, because of the structure of their feet, have nails that do not wear normally. Some dew claws fit into this category, and can overgrow to the extent that they curl right back in on themselves. We also often need to clip - or at least blunt - those sharp little puppy claws which regularly rake their owners legs until the "not jumping up" lesson has been learnt.
In cats, claws are most commonly clipped in those older animals that do not as easily shed the outer layer of their claws, and regularly get themselves hooked into the carpet - or your best jersey! Of course there are those less than sociable felines whose owners require the claws to be clipped for their own protection.
However, before you take to your pet's claws with the clippers, you need to be aware that within the claw there is a bone surrounded by a "quick" which contains blood vessels and nerves (see diagram).
And if you inadvertently clip too short and cut the quick, your pet will let you know in no uncertain terms that it hurts and it will also bleed substantially, so care is needed.
With cat claws, and with those dogs that have transparent nails, the quick is easily visible - pink in colour - inside the nail, so is relatively simple to avoid. It is the dark coloured claws that are more difficult. Some of these have a natural hook on the end that starts where the quick ends. For those that don't, the best idea is to make successive small cuts up from the bottom of the nail making sure that you gradually increase the pressure on the clippers rather than cut straight through - this means that, when you do reach the quick, the dog can let you know you're there before you cut through.
The other thing to remember is that unlike human nails, cat and dog claws are three dimensional, so that human nail clippers will tend to squash the nail, causing damage above the cut. Use proper animal nail clippers to avoid this. The tips on those sharp little puppy claws can often more safely be filed off rather than clipped.
Virginia Williams and Bert Westera
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Mange is a term that is often used incorrectly - "mangy-looking" is a description often applied to any dog that has a skin problem involving some degree of hair loss. Strictly speaking however, the word mange only refers to skin disease caused by mites, small insect-like parasites which live on the surface of the skin, or burrow into it.
There are several types of mites that affect our pets. Demodex probably causes the most severe problems. It is a mite that lives deep within the hair follicles, mainly of dogs. Many dogs carry the mite with no apparent disease, but if the dog’s immune system is not working at 100%, the mites can cause problems such as hair loss, scaling and inflammation, sometimes with secondary infection by bacteria.
The hair loss usually starts on the face and forelimbs, and typically, there is no itchiness. The immune system can become suppressed for a number of reasons - the dog may have inherited a weakness for instance, or it may be fighting of another infection. But stress is also a factor in immune suppression, and we see cases of demodectic mange most commonly in pups that have been raised in less than ideal conditions. Poor nutrition, lack of worming and general lack of hygiene can stress the puppies to the point where they have no resistance against the mites, resulting in extensive hair loss and skin disease.
Because the mites live deep within the hair follicles, they are not visible and a skin scraping is necessary to confirm the diagnosis. They can also be difficult to kill. Treatment will obviously depend on the severity of the infection, but usually involves clipping of the hair, cleansing of the skin plus repeated application of a solution that is poisonous to the mites - severe cases may take several months to clear up completely. If infection with bacteria has occurred, antibiotics will be needed as well.
Demodectic are not usually passed from one dog to another except from a bitch to her pups in the first few weeks of life.
Another mite that causes problems mainly in dogs is Sarcoptes. Unlike demodectic mange, sarcoptic mites cause intense itching as they burrow through the upper layers of the skin. Crusty lesions are usually noticed at the edges of the ears, later spreading over the face and head. Sarcoptics mites can be passed to humans, causing the condition known as scabies, and are easily transmitted from one animal to another, especially in crowded conditions, so infected dogs should be kept isolated.
The Notoedres mite causes a similar type of problem in cats - again very irritating, with dry crusty lesion on the ears, face and neck.
Once again, these mites need to be identified from a skin scraping to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment involves softening and removal of the crusts before applying skin preparations. Injections of substances that pass to the skin through the bloodstream are also effective.
A mite that lives mainly in the hair and fur is cheyletiella, found in cats, dogs and rabbits, which causes excessive scurf or dandruff. It is easily passed on to other animals and humans, but is relatively mild and easy to clear up, because the mites don’t penetrate the skin.
One of the mites we see most commonly, and one which is easy to see through an auroscope, is the so-called "ear mite" - Otodectes. This lives in the ear canal of cats and dogs, causing intense irritation - animals scratch at their ears and shake their heads, sometimes causing hair loss, and occasionally causing the rupture of a blood vessel in the ear flap so that a large blood clot forms. Early in the infection, there is often a dark brown discharge from the ear - later, if bacterial infection occurs, the discharge may become thick and yellow.
The ear mite is readily passed from one animal to another, so all animals within a household should be checked if infection is found in one. Treatment involves cleansing of the ear canal, plus the use of drops and systemic injections.
- Virginia Williams & Bert Westera