Small World

One of my favourite photographs has been taken by the DSCOVR spacecraft as it travelled a million miles from Earth...

As it was looking back towards us, the moon passed into its field of view and a wonderful photograph was the result. (view it on The contrast between the grey and barren moon against the backdrop of our beautiful blue planet just highlights how precious and small our world is in the great emptiness of space. And it is a very small planet, with our modern world feeling smaller every day and very few places are truly isolated.

So, what has this got to do with animals? Well just like human diseases, animal diseases are travelling faster around our planet too. Not only are many more humans travelling abroad than ever before but we are doing so with our pets in tow. As an island, we have a natural barrier to the spread of disease. For instance, the UK has remained officially rabies free since the 1920’s. Quarantine has been the mainstay of disease prevention and recently, rabies vaccination in conjunction with the Pet Passport Scheme has been effective at protecting our disease-free state from this particular virus.

However, there are other diseases which are not covered by the Pet Passport Scheme that are prevalent in other countries and which are beginning to spread through Northern Europe and will (and have) entered the UK.

Only a couple of years ago we had an incidence of Babesiosis in Kent. This disease is carried by ticks and is passed onto dogs as the tick latches on to suck blood. The Babesiosis organism damages red blood cells causing a severe anaemia. Dogs become very pale and lethargic and in severe cases the disease is fatal. Severely affected dogs need treatment and intensive care in order to recover but, even so the outlook is guarded. We have had Babesiosis before in the UK, but this was the first time that infected ticks survived in our environment and are now beginning to spread the disease. The good news for dogs, is that the disease is only passed on by ticks and regular treatment from your vet will kill any ticks within 24 hours of them latching on to your dog and before they can pass on the disease.

Round the Mediterranean basin, sand flies pass on Leishmaniasis. This parasite affects the skin and the internal organs and dogs will eventually succumb to renal failure. The disease can take months or years to develop and most dogs initially present with fur loss and scaly skin around the face and body. Blood tests and tissue sampling from the skin, spleen and even bone marrow are needed to diagnose the condition. Antiparasitic collars and keeping dogs in at dawn and dusk when the flies are most active helps to prevent infection. There is, however, an increasing trend to rehome rescue dogs from abroad. If, for some reason, you go down this route, make sure the rescue charity has performed all these tests and the dog is infection free or you could be introducing new diseases into the UK and, with global warming, they will spread.

It is a small world indeed.