Why Mange Is Now Rare In Adelaide

Every seen a mangy dog? Probably not the way I mean. You have to be my age or older, or travel to disadvantaged places, to be likely to say yes these days. What passes for ‘mange’ now is nothing compared to what it looked like up to a generation ago.

Strangely, I miss those times. We vets were like gods, healing a terrible and ancient disease for good with just a touch here and a prod there. You could literally see the hair regrowing like a freshly seeded lawn. It was easy to be a hero, even if all we were doing was taking the credit for someone else’s work.

dog neck mange

By self (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The pictures show the classic appearance of the dogs we would see. The disease I’m talking about can still be seen in other places, but in Adelaide, it’s now virtually non-existent. The reason it’s disappeared contains a vital message to dog owners.

What Is Mange?

Mange is an old name for widespread hair loss and dermatitis. Like most mediaeval medical terms, the name ‘mange’ isn’t a diagnosis, it’s a description of a set of symptoms. The same is true for other terms like ‘consumption’, ‘dropsy’ or even ‘distemper’ even though these have since developed more precise meanings.

dog mange rump

By self (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

There are actually at least four common diseases under the ‘mange’ umbrella:

  • Sarcoptic mange
  • Demodectic mange
  • Atopic dermatitis (atopy)
  • Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD)

Sarcoptic and demodectic mange are both uncommon problems caused by burrowing mites. Atopy is essentially a skin allergy, and while it can be severe, with good skin management it almost never gets as bad as the dog in the picture.

Why Mange Disappeared From Adelaide

You’ve no doubt guessed it by now: mange was mostly caused by fleas. The crazy thing is: we didn’t know that for sure until we were able to fix it. The game-changer was the development of a new class of flea control that finally worked.

So there we were, seeing these dogs day in and day out who had lived sometimes ten years in a life of constant itch. We would prescribe this new expensive wonder drug called Program and wait. Before too long, owners would stop us on the street, or bring the dogs back just to show the amazing hair regrowth after all those years.

Then came Advantage and Frontline, prices dropped and the game was up. In one fell swoop, a disease disappeared.

Why We Missed The Fleas

You must be asking, “why didn’t you see fleas on the dogs if they were the cause?” This is the crux of the matter: you almost never find fleas on dogs who become allergic to them. Think about all that scratching and biting. So much so that both vets and owners are fooled alike.

I think the best illustration comes from scientific papers at the time. Veterinary skin specialists like to publish the results of allergy tests and their reports from the 1990s contain a big surprise. Many Australian and American skin specialists were diagnosing flea allergy in up to half of the dogs referred to them by veterinarians!

Now I’m fairly certain that no vet intended to send a flea problem to a specialist. It’s just that they couldn’t tell. Without a flea control that could eliminate 100% of the fleas, allergy signs would persist and responses to treatment would be poor. It’s likely the vets didn’t know what the problem was and had no easy way of working it out.

Hooray For Progress!

How life has changed for dogs. That 5% who would suffer excruciating disease from simple flea bites now looks just like the rest of the dogs. And the advances keep coming. What happened in the 1990s for mange is now being repeated for atopy. This time, its a drug called Apoquel, and yes, for now, it also costs a mint. But I guess that’s the price of progress.

In conclusion, I need to point out that this article refers mainly to privileged areas. There are many places, even in Australia, where flea mange still exists, and sarcoptic and demodectic mange are also common. These too are easily treated by new wonder drugs. You’ll find our page explaining all the new parasite treatments of dogs here.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Help! My Dog Is Peeing Inside

At A Glance (Details Below)

What To Do

If A Dog Urinates In The House

  1. Urinating in the bed is almost never a behavioural issue
  2. Most cases are an easily treatable form of incontinence
  3. A loss of toilet training in an older dog is often caused by urinary infection, excessive thirst and mobility or cognition problems


Now dive deeper… Read more

Help! My Dog Is Drinking A Lot

At A Glance (Details Below)

What To Do

If A Dog Drinks More Than Usual

  1. When dogs drink more it’s usually hormonal or kidney issues
  2. These are all easily diagnosed on routine blood & urine testing
  3. The top cause in small breed dogs is Cushings Disease
  4. If testing is normal, there’s usually nothing to worry about


Now dive deeper… Read more

The Look Of Thyroid Problems

The picture above shows Bingo, a cat from our clinic before and after treatment. I need all cat owners to know the warning signs of this insidious disease.

You are looking at one of the top three diseases of older cats. Without treatment, it causes significant health problems leading to early death. I would say that when you compare the pictures, it’s obvious. Yet it’s still missed all the time.

Why Don’t We See It?

cat thyroid problemTo answer this, have a look at a photo that now only shows two cats before treatment. Suddenly it’s not obvious at all, is it? These cats are suffering from hyperthyroidism but both of them were only diagnosed on a routine annual health check. That’s no criticism of their owners; in fact, it’s a testament to the power of getting ‘just a checkup’.

Wait until you hear the veterinary story. Until the 1980s this disease wasn’t being recognised by a lot of vets either. It’s still a subject of intense debate; many of these vets swear that they couldn’t have been overlooking it. To these vets, it appeared out of nowhere and it’s possible they are right.

However, I think the real reason they missed it is ‘pattern recognition’, and that’s why I’m writing this blog. Without a recognised pattern, the signs of this disease hide in plain sight among all the other diseases of old cats. Then once you see it, it’s so obvious you wonder how you didn’t see it before.

Two other examples spring to mind.

  • When dog owners find a lump, they often think it came up overnight, because once they find it, it’s impossible to miss.
  • Before feline AIDS was discovered, vets already saw that cats who got into a lot of fights died young. Without a viral explanation, they would say that fighting made cats get ‘run down’.

Facial Expression & Illness In Cats

The curious thing is that this observation may be only the tip of the iceberg. It’s been known for a long time that vets are no better than flipping a coin in knowing whether a cat is in pain (read here how I work out if cats are in pain). But a recent study using facial landmarks showed us a possible way forward. You can read this study here.

In essence, what they did was measure distances between a range of facial features to read a cat’s facial expression, and showed that it could do a lot better than a human at recognising pain: in fact 98% versus 13%. Those who know me know how often I say “everything will change the day we invent a reliable test for pain”. Could this be it?

What Hyperthyroidism Looks Like

The most obvious signs of cats with excessive thyroid hormone are usually a combination of:

  • An increased appetite i.e. a hungry cat,
  • Weight loss despite no reduction in food intake, and
  • A characteristic facial expression

It’s important to point out that I say here isn’t ‘textbook’ science but only my personal experience. It’s also vital that any suspicion taken just from appearance is confirmed by a blood test. You can read more about the symptoms, testing and treatment of hyperthyroidism here.

Why Do Thyroid Cats Look Different?

I think the facial shape changes in hyperthyroid cats are due to:

  • Selective muscle wastage
  • Hypertension and changes in mental state
  • Weight loss

In other words, I think that it’s a combination of physical and behavioural changes that create the clinical picture I see. That leads to the biggest message of most of my cat blogs: cats don’t tell us how they feel.

I have no doubt life is a lot less fun for a hyperthyroid cat. Just have a look at the two photos at the start, both kindly taken at home by Bingo’s owners. Try telling any cat owner the ‘after’ photo isn’t the happy one!

Have something to add? I would especially love to hear other vets’ views. Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

Help! My Dog Is Limping

This isn’t just a catalog of limping dogs. By knowing the leg problems that dogs get you have a better chance of preventing some, identifying others and taking them all seriously.

I’ve gone back through our records, found the top 20 with pictures. The list below is sorted into ‘puppy’, ‘adult’ and ‘common’ problemsVisit this page to see which problems happen in the front or back legs and how to tell which leg is sore.

Read more

Causes Of Limping On Front & Back Legs

We’ve written a guide to the common causes of limping in puppies and dogs. This companion page is designed to help you narrow down the possibilities based on which leg is lame.

Causes of Limping On A Back Leg

  • Patellar luxation
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Cruciate ligament rupture
  • Neurological causes
  • Arthritis
  • Fractures
  • Dislocations
  • Bone Cancer
  • Sprains
  • Muscle Tears
  • Grass seeds and other foreign bodies
  • Pad, Nail and Skin Problems

Causes Of Limping On A Front Leg

  • Angular limb deformity
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Biceps tendon injury
  • Carpal sprain
  • Arthritis
  • Fractures
  • Dislocations
  • Bone Cancer
  • Sprains
  • Muscle Tears
  • Grass seeds and other foreign bodies
  • Pad, Nail and Skin Problems

Which Leg Is A Dog Limping On?

Our video shows the characteristic head bob of a left foreleg lameness. The ‘up’ phase of the head bob is in time with using the affected leg so that the upward movement takes weight off the leg. However, it’s often easier to see the head drop. Here’s how:

  • Get the dog trotting towards you from a distance of 10 to 20 metres
  • Start by watching the head and counting the rhythm: “up, down, up, down, up, down etc”
  • Now keep counting the rhythm and shift your gaze to the legs
  • The leg that is in use when you say “up” is the leg the dog is limping on

Dogs are notorious for not limping at the vet so if you bring along a video like this it helps a lot! There’s no easy way to explain how to tell which back leg a dog is limping on but the vet should be able to tell from the video and examination.

Do Dogs Fake A Limp?

Believe it or not, I get asked this question a lot. The answer is no: a limp always means something and it is almost always caused by pain. Now visit Why Dogs Limp to learn more!

Caring For Newborn Puppies

Hopefully you’ve read our guides to:

Now the fun really begins. Here’s what to do and what to expect during the first 6 weeks of a litter of puppies.

Post Whelping Check

Please come down to the clinic in the first 24 hours. We’ll make sure mum is healthy, look for retained placentas or puppies and check her milk production. We’ll also give each puppy a quick once-over to look for obvious and serious problems. All this can be done in a single appointment.


I’ve written about runts before. Suffice to say, it’s not a precise term and most pups called runts are actually just naturally smaller. You do need to make sure that smaller or less vigorous pups are getting equal access to teats.

Looking After New Puppies

The best way to keep an eye on the pups is a daily weigh-in. That way you’ll quickly notice if one of them is failing to gain weight at the same rate as the others. In big litters (usually larger breeds) there may not be enough milk production or teats for all the pups. The last thing you want is a fight for survival happening in your nest box.

pile of puppiesIn these situations, or whenever mismothering occurs, supplementing the pups with puppy milk formula is easy to do. Just ask for help.

You may also find that one pup is getting too big. This is especially common with small litters and can have serious consequences for their leg development if not corrected. Only a vet can tell you if this is happening but weighing the pups should get you suspicious.

Remember what I said: quiet pups are usually happy pups.

Mother’s Health

Most suckling bitches will lose weight until the puppies are weaned. This is usually OK but needs watching. Occasionally two serious problems occur:

  • Mastitis: when a mammary gland becomes infected. The affected gland is hot and painful, and the mother is quite unwell.
  • Hypocalcaemia: sometimes called puerperal tetany, when calcium losses in milk exceed the mother’s ability to maintain normal blood levels, causing severe muscle tremors.

For both of these, the pups are best weaned onto formula.

Neonatal Puppy Development

Puppies with open their eyes after 2 weeks and by four weeks are able to walk, run and play. Starting puppies on solids isn’t too hard, and comes naturally with age. From two weeks of age, offer a moistened puppy food near where the pups are exploring. Their curiosity will usually do the rest.

From four weeks they should all be eating solids and by six weeks it’s possible to wean them off the mother. In practice, pups will continue to suckle as long as mum lets them.

When Do Puppies Need Their First Vaccination?

At six weeks of age all puppies should visit the vet for a health check and C3 vaccine. If mum needs a booster this is a good time as well. It is essential that all puppies don’t just get immunised but also receive an individual complete health check prior to sale or rehoming. This is to check for common congenital conditions and especially heart murmurs. Better you know now that sell a puppy with a serious defect.

Most vets (including us) offer a reduced fee for litter vaccinations and microchipping (recommended and may become compulsory with sale). Make sure you get a certificate for each puppy that will be included in the sale documents.

It’s also possible to have the puppies desexed before sale, especially if you are concerned the new owners may breed inappropriately. Our advice? On balance it’s better for the puppies’ health to wait until later.


The biggest infectious disease threat to puppies is worm infestation. During pregnancy, the mother’s immunity is lower and worms take the opportunity to migrate into the foetuses via the placenta.

Puppies and mothers should be wormed every two weeks from two weeks of age. That’s the same length of time as the worm life cycle, so they can’t build up. As your vet for a wormer safe for young puppies.

Quarantine Rules

Pups are susceptible to all sort of common bugs and you need to protect them. Maintain strict quarantine with all visitors and especially people coming to view the pups. It’s likely they were just handing other dogs and puppies elsewhere.

Handwashing with soap and water is compulsory, not those silly alcohol gels. Parvovirus is spread in soil and dirt, so getting everyone to turn Japanese and leave their shoes at the front step is another good idea. The same applies to you of course, and it’s a good idea to avoid other dogs for the moment.


Puppies toilet train quicker if they haven’t already developed bad habits. You aren’t responsible for toilet training the puppies but you can make it easier for the new owner by not letting them pee and poo on the floor. All you need to do is cover the area around their nest in something else, especially training mats or newspaper. Medical suppliers can get you incontinence mats much more cheaply than pet stores.

Don’t do what I saw one breeder do and use old sheets; the puppies learnt to see any fabric on the floor as a toilet!

Choosing New Owners

If you’ve bought a puppy from a registered breeder you’ll know how many questions they put you through. That’s a good standard to keep. Some people may get offended, but most will understand you’re just trying to do the right thing.

A good idea is to send each puppy with a sample of the food they are eating (to avoid sudden change) and a piece of their nursing blanket (to provide familiar smells). Some breeders even fit an Adaptil collar as an excellent way to further reduce anxiety.

One last piece of advice is to get the new owners to contact their vet straight away. If their vet is anything like us, they will offer them a free puppy checkup to get them on the right track straight away, and be able to offer early finish vaccines to get the puppies out and about by 11 weeks of age.

You’ll shed a tear when they depart, but it’s not the end. Thanks to social media you should be able to watch the puppies grow into happy and loved dogs for years to come.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

All About Dog Breeding

Know what a BYB is? That’s what some people call a ‘backyard breeder’. They see ‘BYB’s as poorly educated breeders of unhealthy pups totally motivated by money. In other words, no better than puppy farms.

I have to tell you, there are certainly people like that here in Adelaide, and the new laws on dog breeding can’t come soon enough to help get rid of them. But there’s another side to this story. Some of the best-bred dogs in Adelaide come from backyard breeders. And it’s not just me saying it; sensible dog trainers say the same thing.

Pros and Cons of Backyard Breeding

home breeder puppy

Dog bred well by local family


  • Puppies grow up in a rich, social, family environment
  • People who breed for love often have very high standards
  • Good homes can usually be found in the breeder’s social group


  • Mistakes occur from a lack of experience or knowledge of dog breeding
  • Puppies bred only for money rarely get adequate care
  • Undesirable traits like anxiety or aggression can appear
  • Genetic diseases like hip dysplasia or skin diseases may not be managed
  • Inbreeding from accidental matings can occur

You’ll need to be ready for a lot of criticism from purebred breeders. Many have the opinion that breeding should be done to ‘improve’ breeds and that their testing and assessment skills are essential to achieving this. While to some extent this is true, especially from a breed standard point of view, practical problems other than changes in appearance aren’t common.

Is Breeding Crossbreeds OK?

There is particular debate around creating crossbreeds. However, most vets agree that a cross-bred dog can be healthier than a purebred. Personally, as much as I support and admire the purebreds, I have no problem with deliberate cross-breeding for family pets if the sire and dam are selected with care.

I’ve written before about how to avoid buying puppies from bad breeders. Now I want to tell you how you can be an excellent breeder and avoid the common mistakes. Be warned though: dog breeding can be very rewarding but there are high financial and emotional costs as well. From August 2018, you will also need to be registered as a breeder in South Australia if you intend to sell the puppies.

Planning The Parents

Before you get set on breeding, discuss your plans with your vet. Your vet will support you if it’s in the interest of the puppies and the mother. Ask if the two dogs you plan to breed are compatible, or if they have any genetic faults that prevent breeding. Be prepared to take ‘no’ for an answer if the vet says it’s unethical or thinks you aren’t ready.

If possible, ask if your breeder is happy to help. You might find they will support you in exchange for first pick of the litter, and that’s probably a good deal. They might have a preferred sire you can use if you have only the female.

Then ask about or research the genetic diseases of your dog’s breed. In susceptible breeds your vet may recommend genetic tests or hip dysplasia xrays.

Getting Pregnant

Dogs, like most animals, are built to breed and can’t be judged on human ideas of morals. A mating, whether wanted or not, almost always results in a pregnancy. You’ll often hear unwanted matings called ‘misalliance’ which to me sounds hilariously old fashioned. It can just be a matter of happening when it wasn’t planned, but serious problems can result. These include:

1. Brothers & Sisters Breeding

One of the largest causes of unplanned litters is people assuming siblings won’t breed. They will. If this has happened to you, it’s far from ideal, but don’t panic. A single ‘inbred’ litter doesn’t usually have major problems or birth defects. Just don’t do it again and don’t sell two of these puppies together!

2. Size Mismatch

If it wasn’t so serious it’s be funny. Just because you have a Maltese and a German Shepherd doesn’t mean they won’t work it out. When the female is the smaller breed it’s best to terminate this pregnancy before she gets into big trouble. If the male is smaller, it should be OK.

3. Breeding Too Young

Female dogs should not be bred on the first heat. If this happens, there are usually problems giving birth, and young bitches (still being puppies themselves) are often not emotionally equipped to care for their litter of puppies.

When Do Dogs Go Into Heat?

The ‘heat’, season or oestrus is the time when female dogs are fertile and accept the male. Dogs come into season roughly every 6 to 9 months starting at 6 to 9 months of age. The exact timings vary depending on the individual.

Each heat usually lasts 2 to 3 weeks and is recognised by drops of blood-tinged fluid, vulval swelling and increased interest from males. The first heat is often ‘silent’ to you or I (but not other dogs!) but is still fertile if mating occurs. The only way to prevent mating is complete physical separation. Sending the male on a short ‘holiday’ is a good idea both for you and him.

Breed Problems With Birth

Many professional breeders of high risk breeds get caesarian sections done routinely at their due date. I think this is just one example of what can be wrong with dog breeding practises. By not selecting bitches able to give birth naturally, dogs become entirely dependent on vets for successful breeding. If you have one of these breeds (mostly those with large heads like Bulldogs and Pugs) please make a plan with your vet early.

Can Dogs Take Contraceptives?

Yes. There is an excellent, safe male contraceptive implant called Suprelorin, containing deslorelin. It provides a choice of 6 or 12 months of fertility suppression. There is no equivalent safe method for females; hormonal contraceptives in bitches often lead to severe side effects and are no longer recommended. Female dogs not intended for breeding, or those at the end of their breeding life should be desexed.

Terminating Pregnancy

Sadly, some pregnancies in dogs are better stopped before they cause problems. If this has happened to your dog, ring your vet to discuss the options. The best way for early pregnancies is usually an injection called Alizin (algepristone) which causes a gentle and usually unnoticed loss of pregnancies at up to 20 days gestation.

It’s generally successful but we recommend an ultrasound examination 2 weeks later just to be sure.

Now readPregnancy Testing, Care For Pregnant Dogs & Counting The Puppies

Then you may like: How to help dogs give birth and look after newborn pups.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Is It Bad For Cats To Drink Milk?

What if there’s a parallel universe where cats are our masters and keep us as pets. Wait, hang on… that’s our universe.

OK, let’s try that again. Imagine a universe where cats actually look after humans. I can just hear the sorts of things they would say:

  • You really must get one, they’re so cute.
  • Have you seen how they carry things around with their cute little hands?
  • They beg so adorably for ice cream or chocolate.
  • I train mine using those horrible smelly sweets.

Then there would be the responsible cats who say that you should never give your human any chocolate, ice cream or sweets. It’s just not good for them and shame on you other cats for spoiling your human so.

Now back to reality. Hopefully, you can see what I’m doing. A Google search will tell you that cats are lactose intolerant and that milk causes gastrointestinal upsets. All this is true, in theory. In practice, it’s all about the individual cat and the amount you give.

Why Give Cats Treats

Cats aren’t dogs. I don’t feel any need to give my dogs treats because everything they get is a treat to them. Crumbs? Awesome! You dropped a piece of banana? Double awesome! An unguarded cat litter box? I’ve died and gone to heaven!

Cats don’t work that way. Cats aren’t going to give away their appreciation for just any old thing. You’ve got to earn it.

Getting a cat to do a trick or even just to come when called feels like a major life achievement. That’s why most cat owners when asked will admit to feeding treats to their cat. Things like meat offcuts, fish, or odd personal tastes like Grendel and his seaweed rice crackers. So what about milk?

Can Cats Drink Milk?

In practice, cats love milk and I have never known a problem with an owner feeding it. Yes, I’m sure it’s possible to give them an upset tummy but we aren’t exactly running milking sheds here. It’s usually only a small amount on offer.

Of course, some cats will suffer food allergies to any ingredient. If you look at this data on cat food allergies you’ll see why I stop dairy and fish in any cat with skin or gastrointestinal problems. Then there are kittens, who should never be given milk containing lactose. However, these are the exceptions to a generally harmless treat.

Is It OK To Give Cats Milk?

As long as you only feed a treat-sized amount and your cat is healthy, you are doing no harm. Like most things, it’s better to give the same amount regularly than causing big changes in the diet each day. This allows the gut to adapt.

cat lapping milkAs for lactose, small amounts are tolerated by most cats. If you’re worried about the lactose you can buy special lactose-free pet milk, or use yoghurt which has a naturally lower lactose level.

How do I give Grendel a milky treat? Every morning I froth milk for our coffees and ‘somehow’ there’s always too much froth left over. The warm frothy kitty-cino is probably only a splash of milk but it’s one of the many highlights of his day.

What Treats Are Bad For Cats?

The good news is that cats generally are clever enough to avoid problems. This list of dangerous foods for dogs is also true for cats if they actually ever ate them. As for foods that might just be too rich or unbalanced, the solution is in the very word we use: ‘treat’. If you keep them to under 5% of a lean diet the only risk you take is that your cat may become more demanding, not any less healthy.

Related: How to keep cats from getting overweight

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.