The UK is a nation of pet lovers, with a total of 13 million households owning a pet, which equals 45 per cent of all UK households. Where there are children in a household this figure rises to 53 per cent, says the Pet Food Manufacturers Association. And, according to PDSA, there are 11.1 million cats, 8.9 million dogs and one million rabbits owned in Britain. Birds, guinea pigs and hamsters are also popular choices.
In general, pet owners take the health of their furry friends seriously, but there is still plenty of room for education and improvement. Some 1.4 million dogs (16 per cent) are walked less than once a day and 40 per cent of owners don’t know their dog’s weight or body condition score. And, among cat owners, 65 per cent don’t know their pet’s weight or body condition score.
When it comes to parasites, 16 per cent of dogs are not regularly wormed and 21 per cent not treated regularly for fleas, while 23 per cent of cats are not wormed and 19 per cent are not treated for fleas. So there is plenty that pharmacy teams can do to help furry friends, and their owners.
Over a third of pet owners are not familiar with the Animal Welfare Acts and 25 per cent have never heard of them, according to PDSA’s PAWS report 2018. The 2006 Animal Welfare Act places a legal duty of care on owners to provide for their pets’ welfare, including five needs. When asked about these, 74 per cent of owners said they were informed about all of them:
“In our surveys we have found that owners who know the welfare needs of pets are more likely to care for their health properly than those who don’t,” says PDSA vet nurse Kristiana Shirley. “On our website we have a ‘which pet’ section which you can direct customers to educate them about the different health needs of pets.”
Both cats and dogs can be affected by the heat, with risk of heat stroke in extreme cases. Here are some tips to pass on to pet-owning customers to help keep their animals cool:
Fleas will affect most cats and dogs at some point, often during spring and summer. However, a recent survey by Bayer revealed that 45 per cent of owners are unable to detect signs of a parasite infection in their cat. The research also found that nine out of 10 cat owners could not recognise signs such as depressive behaviour or lack of appetite as possible indicators of an infection.
“Explain to customers the benefits for pets’ health and the family home. A flea infestation can cause lots of health problems for animals and is hard to get rid of from your home too. It’s much easier – and cheaper – to prevent them with regular treatments,” says Kristiana. “If a pet has fleas, it’s best to treat them for tapeworm too as they can get this from swallowing an infected flea.”
Fleas start feeding on a pet’s blood in five minutes and can mate after eight hours. Females lay up to 50 eggs a day with eggs falling onto carpets and furniture where they can survive for up to six months before hatching into larvae. Many owners make the mistake of only treating their pet, not their home, which is often the reason for reinfestation. According to the RSPCA, 95 per cent of flea eggs, larvae and pupae live in the environment, not on the pet. As well as the home, customers may also need to treat garages, sheds and other places where the pet goes in order to kill all fleas and larvae. Thorough vacuuming followed by use of an insecticide spray will get rid of fleas in the home.
Fleas are hard to spot unless a pet is heavily infested. Advise pet owners to check around the pet’s belly, tail base and neck. They may notice ‘flea dirt’, tiny black specks, which is faecal matter from fleas. They can check this by combing the pet’s coat and placing any black specks on a wet tissue – if a red halo forms around it, this is flea dirt.
Signs of a flea infestation in pets include:
An infestation can cause anaemia as the pet loses a lot of blood to the parasites, and this can be fatal, especially in kittens and puppies, says the Blue Cross.
There are many different types of flea treatments for cats and dogs, but spot-on treatments and tablets or injections are the only effective long-term methods of flea control:
Just as with humans, obesity is a real and growing threat to the health of pets. Some 50 per cent of vets surveyed by PDSA predict obesity will have the biggest health and welfare implications in 10 years’ time. And vets and vet nurses estimate that 46 per cent of dogs they see in their practice each week are overweight or obese, with 40 per cent saying this has increased in the last two years.
Some 16 per cent of dogs are walked less than once a day, and while 80 per cent of owners say their dog is an ideal weight, 40 per cent don’t know its weight or body condition score. “The fact that so many owners don’t know their pet’s weight or body condition score contributes to obesity. If not picked up early it can cause arthritis and diabetes,” says Kristiana Shirley, PDSA vet nurse. “Emphasise the benefits of regular dog walking to your customers for their own health as well as their dog’s.”
As well as lack of exercise, giving treats is a contributing factor. Some 91 per cent of owners give treats to their dog and 81 per cent to their cat. “Lots of owners give their pets human food. What we consider a small treat for us translates into many more calories for a pet. Healthy treats for dogs are carrot sticks or cucumber,” says Kristiana.
There are four types of intestinal worms that affect dogs in the UK. The most serious is roundworm, but hookworms, whipworm and tapeworms are also found:
Dogs can become infected by contaminated soil or if the worm is passed on from their mother. Left untreated, worms can cause serious health problems, such as nutrient deficiencies or life-threatening blockage of intestines.
It’s important to treat pets for worms not only for their health but for humans’ health too. Some worms can be passed on to humans and are especially dangerous to children and pregnant women. Regular worming treatment is important for all dogs, as it’s difficult to prevent reinfection. It should be done at least twice yearly. A range of worming treatments is available OTC to recommend.
Tapeworms and roundworms are the most common worms to affect cats. Tapeworms are long, flat worms, while roundworms are short with rounded bodies. Roundworms produce tiny eggs shed in faeces of the cat, while tapeworms release mature segments from the end of the worm into faeces, which look like grains of rice.
Roundworms can be picked up from rodents or the faeces of other cats. Tapeworms are passed on by ingesting infected fleas during grooming. Most cats with fleas will also have tapeworms.
The best way to protect cats is with a regular worming treatment, every two to six months. Recommend a product that works against roundworms and tapeworms.
Ticks are spider-like, egg-shaped insects that can cause diseases by transmitting bacteria and microbes when they bite an animal or human. Commonly found in long grass, woodland and heath land, they can affect dogs and cats, with dogs much more at risk.
Ticks are quite easy to spot on a pet’s coat and feel like a small lump under their skin. They usually attach themselves to a pet’s head, neck, ears or feet.
The best way to remove a tick from a pet is with a tick removal device, which takes it out safely. Never squeeze a tick as this expels blood into the pet, increasing risk of infections such as Lyme disease.
Just as passive smoking can cause fatal illnesses in humans, the same is true if animals are exposed to smoke. The PDSA has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers: dogs are more prone to smoking-related breathing problems while cats are more likely to develop mouth cancer. Smoking indoors also harms small pets such as hamsters and birds. Customers should be advised to smoke outside and away from their pets.
OTC medicines such as ibuprofen and paracetamol can be fatal to pets if accidentally swallowed. These drugs cause several pet deaths each year, says the PDSA. “Drugs such as ibuprofen and paracetamol should be stored in the same way you would if you had young children, as they can be just as dangerous to our pets,” says Kristiana Shirley, PDSA vet nurse.
What’s more, warn customers about the danger of medicating pets with human medicines. They should only be given medicines prescribed by a vet.
Xylitol is a common sugar substitute used in vitamin supplements, chewing gum and toothpaste. An increasing number of xylitol poisoning cases are being reported in dogs, usually caused by dogs consuming chewing gum.
Customers should take care not to leave packs of gum around where a dog could reach it. Just one stick of gum is enough to make a dog seriously ill. Xylitol can cause hypoglycaemia and liver failure.
What we consider a small treat for us translates into many more calories for a pet