Twisted Whiskers Pet Deli & Spa, where your pet is Styled | Pampered | Adored



In light of the recent disease outbreak scares around SA, Twisted Whiskers has put together a quick reference guide to some of the common, deadly, yet COMPLETELY PREVENTABLE, diseases that may be a threat to our pets in Jo’burg.



Following an outbreak of distemper in Knysna last year (which quickly moved to the Western Cape), vets countrywide are reminding their clients to ensure that vaccinations are up to date.  Distemper is not new; in fact, it’s one of the oldest diseases to affect dogs.  The canine distemper virus belongs to the same family as those that cause measles, mumps and bronchiolitis in humans. Distemper affects various body systems, hence its name, which derives from the Middle English term, distemperen, meaning “to upset the balance of the humours”.  Symptoms are respiratory, gastrointestinal and neurological and include the following:

  • Diarrhoea and Vomiting
  • Mucous discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Pneumonia (characterised by coughing and laboured breathing)
  • Hardening and thickening of paw pads and nose leather
  • Muscle spasms and inability to co-ordinate movement
  • Seizures with salivation and jaw movements (referred to as “chewing gum fits”)
  • Partial or complete paralysis

There is no cure for this disease and the small number of dogs that survive the initial symptoms are at risk of developing severe neurological problems up to years later. By the time this disease becomes neurological (ie. seizures, self-trauma and paralysis), the animal cannot be saved and euthanasia is sadly the only option.

Distemper is transmitted from dog to dog through direct, as well as indirect, contact (eg. bowls, blankets, etc.) and may even be airborne.

Preventable!  Ensure your dogs are seen annually by their vet and that you follow the vaccination recommendations to the letter.



CPA or “parvo” is the infamous puppy-killer – it is usually seen in puppies aged between 6 weeks and 6 months but adult dogs with lapsed vaccinations can also contract the disease. The puppy starts showing symptoms within 5 days of being infected: listlessness, loss of appetite, vomiting and severe bloody diarrhoea.  Parvo is unfortunately still very prevalent in SA, due to the high numbers of unvaccinated pups.  It is highly contagious, making breeding kennels and welfare shelters prime locations for it to thrive; the virus may also survive in the environment for up to a year, so it is inadvisable to bring a new pup onto a property where parvo has been diagnosed for at least that long, regardless of the steps taken to eliminate it.  Parvo is spread through contact, as well as via the oral-faecal route, which means that pups sniffing an infected pup’s behind or poop could be infected.

There is no known cure for parvovirus, but intensive treatment in hospital focused around managing the symptoms, supporting the dog’s ability to outlast the virus and preventing secondary bacterial infection may save an infected pup’s life.

Preventable!  The treatment for parvo is very expensive, with no guarantee that the dog will survive, yet an inexpensive series of vaccinations can prevent the disease. Young puppies should be vaccinated at 6-8 weeks of age, with at least 2 vaccines a month apart after 10 weeks of age. Puppies should not be socialized with dogs where their vaccination status is unknown, until at least 2 weeks after their third vaccination.



Spirocerca lupi is the worm that kills, yet many dog parents aren’t familiar with it.  Additionally, only 2 parasite control products currently on the market in SA are effective in preventing it.

S. lupi is a 5cm long worm that lives in the oesophagus of a dog who has ingested it after swallowing dung beetles (the worm’s intermediate host) or other small animals like birds, mice, lizards and frogs (transport hosts) that feed on these beetles. After being ingested, S. lupi larvae hatch in the dog’s stomach, migrate through the abdominal blood vessels to the aorta. Once mature, they move through the tissues of the chest into the oesophagus, causing damage to those structures along the way, where they form large nodules. These cause the typical respiratory symptoms of spirocercosis (laboured breathing, coughing and retching), as well as the gastro-intestinal signs (difficulty swallowing, regurgitating food and loss of appetite).  This process generally takes 4-6 months but may be as quick as 2.5 months.  The female worms lay their eggs through holes in the nodules, and these pass through the dog’s intestines and out via the poop.  To be eaten by another dung beetle.  To be eaten by another dog….

This very invasive migration path through the body may cause any of the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting/regurgitation
  • Enlarged salivary glands
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Pale gums and lips
  • Swollen paws
  • Fever
  • Ruptured blood vessels
  • Secondary bacterial infections
  • Coughing/pneumonia

The nodules in the oesophagus may form cancerous growths that can spread through the body.

Treatment involves killing the S. lupi worms and simple infections caught early may respond to anti-parasitic drug treatments repeated over time.  However, advanced spirocercosis that has become cancerous cannot be treated and all that can be done is to alleviate the symptoms and relieve pain.

Preventable!  The highest prevalence of S. lupi is in Gauteng and KZN, so monthly deworming with Milbemax (Elanco) or spot-on treatment with Advocate (Bayer) in these areas is a must.  These products are available from TW.  We can even set up notes on our system to provide them whenever your pooches visit us for grooming.



Biliary, similar to Tick Bite Fever in humans, is a very common killer of dogs in this country.  The biliary parasite is transmitted through the saliva of infected ticks which, in turn, are infected by feeding off infected dogs.  Once the parasites are in the blood stream, they multiply and destroy the dog’s red blood cells.  Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, so losing them results in the symptoms of biliary:  pale or yellow gums, fever, listlessness, decreased appetite and red urine.  These symptoms start about 10-21 days after the initial bite.  Another tick-borne disease, Ehrlichia, often occurs together with biliary, as they are transmitted by the same ticks, and blood tests will reveal if a dog has one or the other, or both.  Biliary isn’t contagious, but dogs exposed to the same infected ticks can develop it.  ie. All dogs in your household may be at risk.

Treatment ideally involves hospitalisation as, in severe cases, a blood transfusion may even be necessary.  It’s vital to seek treatment a.s.a.p.

Preventable!  Religious dosing with an effective tick and flea treatment [eg. Seresto collar (Bayer), Bravecto (MSD) or Nexgard (Boehringer-Ingelheim) oral tablets or Frontline (Zoetis) or Advantix (Bayer)] spot-on will help protect your fur-family from deadly ticks.  Remember that even dogs and cats who don’t have any contact with other pets are at risk, as ticks enter your property via birds, rats and mice, reptiles, etc.  DO NOT be tempted to discontinue anti-parasite treatment (or stretch the periods between doses) in winter – ticks can survive on penguins in the Arctic, so the warm and cosy conditions in our heated homes are just as ideal for them to thrive in, as in the sweltering summer temps.  Veterinary hospitals deal with plenty of cases of biliary in winter, almost all of them due to pet parents relaxing their parasite treatment.  And another word to the wise:  NEVER rely on home remedies like garlic or any of the host of flaky concoctions that pepper the internet – your pets need tried and tested, scientifically researched parasite control measures in order to stay safe, and these need to be dosed/applied strictly according to the package guidelines to ensure efficacy.  Ask the TW Team for their recommendation of the best tick and flea prevention product to suit your and your pets’ lifestyles, as well as your budget.  Again, we can assist you with reminders when your furballs join us for their Spa days.



The Rabies virus is transmitted when an infected animal bites another animal or a person. Additionally, infected saliva that encounters a skin wound can spread the disease.   The virus affects the brain of the affected mammal, travelling along the nerves from the site of infection.

The incubation period can vary greatly from weeks to months, so it’s vital that any animal or person who has been bitten by a suspected rabid animal receives immediate attention. The only way to confirm that an animal is rabid is on post mortem, which means that the animal suspected of being rabid must be euthanised and sent for examination.   Once symptoms have developed, the disease is incurable and always results in death. 


All the symptoms of rabies relate to inflammation of the brain and subsequent neurological disfunction. Hyper-salivation (frothing at the mouth) and hydrophobia (fear of water) are mostly associated with rabies and occur as the animal or person desperately wants to quench their thirst but cannot swallow.  Rabid animals may stumble around aimlessly and demonstrate abnormal behaviour for their species: wild animals can appear tame, or domesticated, otherwise friendly animals, show aggressive behaviour.  Children should be taught never to approach unfamiliar animals.

Preventable!  It is a legal requirement to vaccinate all dogs and cats against rabies in SA. Due to the serious risk to human health, any animal suspected of being rabid, without an up to date vaccination history that has bitten another animal or human, may be confiscated and destroyed. If you take your pets on trips, please always travel with your vaccination certificate or the contact details of your veterinarian, who can provide proof of your pet’s vaccination history.

The first vaccine is given from 3 months of age and repeated before the animal is 1 year old. Thereafter a booster vaccine must be administered every 3 years. In some parts of SA, like KZN, and for travelling pets, annual vaccinations are usually required.



Feline Leukaemia Virus, or FeLV, is increasingly a cause of death of cats in South Africa.  85% of infected cats die within 3 years of contracting it, as it suppresses the immune system and predisposes them to deadly infections.  FeLV cannot be transmitted to people or dogs but is passed between cats through infected saliva or blood (eg. when grooming or fighting) and, to some extent, urine and poop (sharing litter trays).  Kittens can contract the disease in the womb, or through their mum’s milk. 

Preventable!  FeLV may be spread by cats who appear to be healthy, so it’s important to have all cats tested for it.  Cats living in multi-cat environments, including residential complexes, should be vaccinated against it.

Healthy but FeLV-positive cats should always be sterilised and, ideally, kept indoors.  New cats or kittens over eight weeks of age should be tested for the virus before being introduced to a multi-cat household. Most vets caution against introducing a new cat into a household with a FeLV-positive cat, because the new kitty may be at risk for contracting the infection – even with vaccination. Additionally, the stress of a newcomer could affect the immunity of the FeLV-positive cat.


It’s a relief to know that many of the most serious disease threats to our beloved pets are entirely avoidable if we ensure that their vaccination and parasite-prevention programmes are kept up to date.  Chat to your vet about their recommended vaccination protocol (these may vary in different parts of the country, or for individual pets) and set calendar reminders to guarantee that you never skip parasite control doses.

 © Written By Twisted Whiskers

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