Diseases of pets are not everywhere alike. Those occurring in the UAE are influenced by the warm to hot and humid environment, sun exposure, massive air-conditioning and artificial watering of gardens and parks. These factors alone are not causing diseases but they constitute predisposing triggering conditions that selectively favor the development, persistence and spreading of the ailments more commonly seen in the UAE.
In this perspective, it is easy to realize how pets in the region are more prone to develop auto-immune-diseases such as pemphigus as this is a condition triggered by intense sun exposure. These diseases are not very common though, but more prevalent in the UAE than in Europe or North America, thus worthy of mention.
Similarly, artificial watering and frequent lawn mowing of the green areas of UAE lead to a massive presence of harvest mites as these parasites, also known as chiggers or Trombiculidae, tend to be more prevalent in the hot and humid regions of the world during harvesting, parasitizing dogs and cats especially when the grass on which they live is cut, hence their name. This is probably the most common and often unrecognized parasitic disease in pets in the UAE, causing itchy dermatitis with papulae and crusts.
On the other hand, cancers, especially mammary tumors, are rarely seen in pets in the UAE, and this is the good news, although we, doctors, do not know yet exactly why. However, for reasons that also elude our understanding, one type of benign oral papilloma caused by the canine papilloma-virus, is diagnosed more often in the UAE compared to Europe, based on mine and others’ experience. In recent times veterinarians are dealing with an increased number of such cases, that are known to have good prognosis and generally triggered by low immunity, in the same way herpes zoster virus is triggered in human by stress and low immunity. Surgical excision and immunotherapy can solve most cases, although relapses are possible and nobody knows how to identify the underlying causes of low immunity involved.
Low immunity is nonetheless the predominant aspect of the most common disease of cats in the UAE, caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma haemofelis, visible at the microscope on the red cells of about 50% of kittens examined, either sick or not. By reducing the number of white cells that fights pathogens, the Mycoplasma bacterium makes cats susceptible of infections with opportunistic skin fungi and viruses such as the panleukopenia virus, a very frequent unwanted discover in feline pooh.
Similarly, low immunity in dogs is caused by the tick-borne bacteria Ehrlichia, Anaplasma and Mycoplasma, agents of a group of diseases that are very similar in their manifestations – poor appetite, fever, lethargy and gastrointestinal symptoms being the most common – and widely distributed in the UAE to constitute the most prominent disease(s) of dogs in a Country where ticks are present almost year-round!
The trend of bacterial and parasitic diseases of pets follows the distribution of the conditions in humans, being both mammals and susceptible to the same environmental and hygienic factors. That’s why fungi affecting the skin, also known as dermatophytes or ‘ringworms’ are ranking among the most common diseases of pets and humans in the UAE, although frequently as secondary opportunistic agents. Malassezia yeast is another very common skin and ear pathogen of which vets and physicians in the UAE are well aware of.
In UAE, the prevalence of dermatophytes and Malassezia yeast is overwhelmingly superior to the prevalence of the two conditions observable in Europe, because humidity and warm temperatures help them to spread between cats, dogs and humans and vice versa. Because it is easy to detect, showing recognizable round hairless patches in one or more parts of the body, ringworm probably rank first among all fungal diseases of pets in the UAE.
Dermatophytes can occasionally indicate more severe underlying immuno-depressive conditions that are helping the manifestation, severity and persistence of the ringworm, such as panleukopenia virus or Mycoplasma infection in cats and any type of tick-borne disease in dogs.
Some ailments are readily transmissible between species, given the right conditions. Of these, Giardia, a water-borne protozoal parasite causing gastrointestinal disturbances, deserve special attention being shared by dogs and cats with a high prevalence in the UAE. Please wash your hands when handling with infected animals as giardiasis can transfer to humans causing the same symptoms observed in animals. We are animals, after all….