Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A good place for a cache?

Finca renovation continues relentlessly, but even the most dedicated grafters need a break.

We decided to place a cache in one of the 18th century coastal watchtowers that are dotted up and down the coastline.

Set on a hilltop just back from the beach (and the road) it commanded excellent views, looked well-maintained, didn't even involve a huge long hike or a scramble over rocks, unlike most of our other caches.

Commanding the coastliine

In fact, you could probably drive right up to it. We didn't. We parked off the road at the beach, crossed over and wandered leisurely up the hill.

Approaching the tower

There seemed to be a few cars parked at the top. Perhaps there was work going on? Or maybe it was a popular local viewpoint? Not such a good place for a cache if it was popular as they have a habit of going missing from such locations.

We rounded the corner. Stunned. There was a house built right at the bottom and half way around the side of the watchtower.

A house?!!!!

Hiding a cache here seemed even less of a good idea. We walked around the one side which the house hadn't yet annexed. No. There was no way we could hide one here. Even if we put it under a couple of rocks it would almost certainly be discovered by the householders and trashed.

Shame. A good location, nice views, and an impressive watchtower. Amazing place for a house though.

I thought I would see what I could find out about it. The official Andalucían sign at the tower (in the pic) came out with the usual stuff about how there was a series of watchtowers up and down the coast to warn the local population of attacks from pirates in the 18th century blah blah.

The Junta de Andalucia sign - just next to the chairs and table set out in the garden of the tower

It was semi-circular (fairly obvious), with two towers jutting out at the back, and had two floors and a roof terrace. For picking people off, not for sunbathing, or hanging out the laundry which is what most people use them for these days. Apparently the tower could hold almost 25 soldiers. It's the biggest on the Málaga coastline and unique in its shape - most of the others tend to be circular or square.

But the most interesting info I discovered, was at a site called Panoramio, where someone asked about the house. The reply (I couldn't find any corroboration for this, and there was no reference cited), was that after the Spanish Civil War, the tower was ceded as a home to the family of a pensioned Guardia Civil officer, whose descendants continue to live there.

So as well as being a unique shape, and the largest on the provincial coastline, it's also the site of a family home while being an official Andalucían monument.

The view down the coast from the top

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Canine erlichiosis - tick disease

It's three months to the day when we rushed Pippa to the vet. He struggled to move, didn't want to eat, and we thought he was dying. Turned out he was seriously ill with tick disease, but it could be treated.

So here is the lowdown on tick disease. It's on my blog rather than Pippa's as it is a serious post about pretty much most aspects of it, with some links that I found useful when I was researching it. I knew nothing about tick disease until three months ago, so maybe someone may find this post helpful/informative.

I've divided it into the following sections, in case you want to jump to particular bits and skip others which you may have read elsewhere. It may seem a back to front order, but it's the way it impacted on me, so there we go.

  • What happened

  • Blood test results

  • Erlichia canis and erlichiosis

  • Treatment

  • Prevention/control

  • Update

  • Sources

What happened

There was nothing very obvious to suggest that Pippa was poorly. In fact he had been to the vet the previous week for his annual shots, and we'd said he didn't have any health problems. As well as the shots, our vet gave us some extra tablets to give him at home as there was an outbreak of tapeworm in the countryside in our part of Spain.

A week or so later, he started to seem a bit tired and listless. He didn't want to walk as far around the block, and although he ate his meals, he preferred them to be brought to him rather than charging around the place. As you do, well I do, I jumped to conclusions and wondered if he was having a reaction to his jabs. Plus of course, with him coming to us off the streets, we don't know how old he is. We've had him seven years and he was a young dog when we got him.

The next day he seemed slightly perkier, so although we'd discussed going to the vet, we decided to wait and see. But the following day he was clearly poorly, not wanting to go out at all in the morning, and sitting down because he was having trouble putting weight on his back legs. We didn't bother discussing anything, a sudden deterioration at his rear could mean anything. He was lifted into the vehicle well before 8am and we were on the road to the vet.


When we arrived, he seemed a bit brighter. The clinic was empty, so we sat in the spotless waiting area while Pedro checked him over. About the only useful thing we could tell the vet was that Pippa's urine looked milky. As Pippa was lying on the floor with his head on Partner's boots, Pedro took a blood sample from his front leg. As Pippadogblog readers will know, he is such a docile dog, and didn't even move.

Then Pedro explained we would have to come back in a couple of days for the results which were being rushed to a lab in Barcelona. He gave me some tablets, and I looked at them puzzled - they were for osteoarthritis. I asked if he had arthritis. Typical medic, Pedro said he didn't know, but Pippa did have some pain in his stomach area, so he needed to take one of these a day.

By the time Saturday came around, Pippa had made a considerable improvement after taking the painkillers. I couldn't believe the difference - to be honest, I'd not expected to be taking him home with us.

Pedro explained the test results, but there was still one outstanding - erlichia canis. He gave me another ten days worth of painkillers, and some extra tablets - doxycyclin - one to be taken each day. When he got the final results through, he said he would contact me as I may need to double the dose of doxycyclin.

We asked what Pedro thought was wrong with him, and he said he thought it was an infection. 'Oh nothing serious then?' said Partner happily. Pedro looked worried and shook his hands in a very Spanish fashion which in this case, indicated that he wouldn't say that at all.

I couldn't see much point in pestering him with questions when he didn't have all the results and I could get back to Gib and do some research on the internet.

It was late Monday when he finally emailed me, apologising for the delay, and saying he had only just got the results through. I needed to double the dose of doxycyclin. The final results were attached as a PDF doc and showed that Pippa had tested positive for erlichia canis.

Blood test results

I was really impressed that these were waiting for us on the Saturday morning printed out for us to take home, and also that the final one was sent as a PDF. I don't think I've ever had so much info from a vet or medic in the UK. Perhaps things have changed?

Here are the key findings from the results. I've included the readings that are well outside the 'normal' range. The first figure is Pippa's reading, the next is the range that it should be within. As you can see, his readings were way too high.

Leucocitos 24.96 5.95-17.2
Segmentados 18,620 3,380-11,530
Monocitos 3,245 100-1700

A sample of his blood examined under the microscope was normal.

Protein analysis
Total protein 99 52-76
Total globulins 86.3 20.6-50.6
Alfa-2 globulins 17.3 4.6-9.9
Gamma-globulins 48.3 1.2-20

Finally there were two specific tests.

1) He tested negative for leishmaniasis.

2) His results for erlichia canis were 1/1240. Values up to 1/40 could be produced by illness or some unspecific reaction. Any values higher than 1/40 were to be considered positive.

Before we'd received the final result I'd had chance to read up on his results and on erlichia canis. Classic indicators of the presence of erlichia canis were high levels of protein and leucocytes so it was no great surprise when the final result was a positive one. I should have realised that if it had been straightforward, ie negative, then the result would have been there with the others. Either it was borderline (which it clearly wasn't) or they wanted to double-check the result. In this case it was clearly a very high reading.

Erlichia canis and erlichiosis

So what is it? Technically, erlichia canis is a rickettsia which is an organism mid-way between a bacteria and a virus. It is spread by ticks which, when they bite the dog, spread the organism into the bloodstream, which then reproduces inside the white blood cells. Erlichiosis is the resultant illness. It has a number of different phases. The bad news is it can be fatal. The slightly better news is that it is treatable, and preferably caught sooner rather than later.

The disease has three phases.
1) Acute
2) Sub-clinical
3) Chronic

One thing I found interesting when I was researching on the internet, is that apparently German Shepherds are particularly prone to this disease. Pippa, as far as we know, is part GSD.

There is more than one tick disease - canine babesiosis is another one. I picked up a useful leaflet in the clinic which summarised the two.

Symptoms according to the leaflet:

Canine erlichiosis:

Apathy, vomiting, fever, loss of appetite, and finally, anaemia.

Canine babesiosis:

High fever, tiredness and red urine.

And, on this site here, is a list of all the symptoms under the sun. Whose dog has not suffered from any of these at some point?????

I know there are other tick-borne illnesses that affect dogs eg Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but I wanted to concentrate on erlichiosis, particularly as it is world wide - and it is the one I needed to know about. Once I had done the research, it seemed sensible to share it.




Brand name - Previcox (also Equioxx for horses).

This is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), manufactured by Merial, which is a COX-2 inhibitor.

A lay explanation about NSAIDs is that they are mainly used as painkillers and as anti-arthritic drugs. Aspirin and ibuprofen are both NSAIDs.

NSAIDs inhibit the enzyme cyclooxygenase, which has three variants called COX-1, COX-2, and although not often mentioned, COX-3.

COX-2 inhibitors however, are a later generation drug and are selective, that means they only target the COX-2 enzyme. So they suppress the pain and inflammation associated with COX-2 while leaving COX-1 alone. Studies suggest, that by not inhibiting COX-1, there is a lower risk of the usual NSAID side effect - gastro-intestinal disorders.

With me? Pharmacology lesson for today is over anyway :)


Brand names - Proderma (Industrial Farmacéutica Cantabrica) and Vibricina (Pfizer)

This is an antibiotic and the first choice treatment for tick disease. Again, in lay terms, it prevents the bacteria from reproducing. Not much else to say about that.


When we first moved to Spain and noticed a load of fleas and ticks, we started off with those little cheap collars for the dogs that prevent fleas and ticks. They didn't prevent either fleas or ticks. We spoke to our neighbours and they suggested the drops. Frontline, Spot-on, whatever you want to call it.

And once we learned about leishmaniasis, we bought leishmaniasis collars. The ones that protect against leishmaniasis for six months, ticks for four and fleas for two. Or something like that.

I read about the drops on the internet. Like all chemical products they can cause side effects. Skin irritations, or worse.

So then what do you do? Add extra chemicals to your dog? Six and two threes. Dose him up with chemicals, or risk infection with parasites, or horrid fleabites for us. Doesn't bear thinking about.

We tried to find a happy medium. Nasty chemicals in the damp warm weather of spring and autumn, leaving all dogs free in the height of hot dry summer and cold dry winter when the nasties aren't around.

In Gib, we have bought Advantix (Bayer).

The two main ingredients in this are permethrin, and imidacloprid. Both are insecticides and neurotoxins. Pyriproxyfen is an insect growth regulator (IGR) that prevents juvenile fleas developing.

In Frontline Plus (Merial) you get fipronil and S-methoprene. Fipronil is classed by the WHO as a Class 11 moderately hazardous pesticide. S-methoprene is the IGR used in the Frontline product.

There are natural alternatives, links below.

We tread a fine line when the lives of our animals and the quality of their lives are in our hands.


We took Pippa back to Pedro after the ten days worth of tablets was finished. He prescribed another 20 days tablets. Although he was no longer taking Previcox as a painkiller, he was taking three capsules of doxycyclin a day. It can take some time to get rid of the organism, so it will be a few months before he has another blood test to see what improvements have been made.

'It's the disease of your pueblo,' added Pedro rolling his eyes.

'There are lots of animals,' I replied, thinking of the horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, pigs, buyo (draught oxen), cows, not to mention feral dogs and cats.

'There are lots of garrapatas (ticks),' he said Spanishly, succinctly cutting to the chase.

He is now doing boundaround for his breakfast, boundaround in the morning when he wants to go out onto his Spanish terrace, and has put on weight. So much so, that we are considering buying a new harness as the current one is extended to the limit. I am talking about Pippa here, not Pedro. I have no idea what Pedro does at breakfast time or whether he does boundaround.


Our total bill at the vet's was 116.50€ which included the lab analysis and consultation (70€) and the remaining 30 odd euros was for the first lot of tablets. I took a prescription to the pharmacy for the final 50 or 60 capsules, and the cost for those was around 14€.

Sources and links

A clinical article which provides a good summary of E. canis from a technical perspective

Another vet-type article

Written by a vet, but readable for lay people

A short but useful summary

Another good summary

Lots of detail about E.canis

Longer than my post and very good - worth a read, if pretty scary

Some wiki links about the chemicals




Natural ideas



Monday, March 14, 2011

Commonwealth Day 2011

Today is a bank holiday in Gib. A very rainy bank holiday to rival even the traditional British rainy bank holiday.

The sort of rainy day where you set off for the shops with Goretex jacket, leggings and walking boots and are wet within five minutes of leaving the house.

It was too wet to stop to take photos on the way down, but on the way back it had eased off somewhat. Typical. If only we'd waited ten minutes or so instead of being our usual early bird selves.

Irish Town

Main Street looking north

Main Street looking south

College Lane

Why is it a bank holiday?

Because it is Commonwealth Day.

While the Commonwealth may well be a legacy of Britain's imperial and colonial days, at least the work it does these days, and the messages given out every year, try to do some good for the people living in Commonwealth countries.

I wrote about it a couple of years ago here, and here is a link to the Commonwealth web site.

This year's theme is Women as Agents of Change. Very good, I say. As this is not my ranty blog, I shall confine myself to that. For now. I may write more elsewhere.

Poster produced by the Commonwealth Secretariat for this year's theme

I would also like to point out that the research undertaken by the staff of Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma leaves something to be desired. By which I mean his speech is inaccurate. Wrong in fact.

Around the Commonwealth, there are a number of bank holidays today. In Australia, Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Melbourne all have a hol, and there are also stock exchange holidays there.

Chittagong in Bangladesh has one to celebrate the World Cup Cricket Match, St Vincent and the Grenadines has Kingstown Bank Holiday to celebrate National Heroes Day, while Uganda has a Kampala Bank Holiday and a currency/stock exchange holiday.

Turks and Caicos, Tuvalu, Virgin Islands and Gibraltar all have a bank holiday specifically to mark Commonwealth Day.

Now I have no idea about any of the others mentioned in the list above that have bank holidays today, whether for Commonwealth Day or other reasons, but I can tell you Gibraltar is pretty quiet. And the schools are not open.

Why do I mention schools? Because in his second paragraph Mr Sharma says:
"Commonwealth Day is celebrated on the second Monday in March, a day when every school in the Commonwealth is open,..."

No. Not here, they aren't sweetie. Give me a job.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Finca renovation (2)

When we weren't idling on the terrace, watching runners, walking down the beach, or playing Matador - we did manage a little work.

So some more finca renovation photos, and a few garden ones.

The sitting room just needs a coat of anti-mould paint and then it will be finished. Shazam!

Garage and patio doors have been etch-primed and first coated in grey.

Outside walls have had loose and flaking paint scraped off, a coat of sealer and two coats of white exterior masonry paint applied.

The salad patch is doing very nicely although I need to shield the baby plants from the sun ....

..... and here are the results.

More seeds have been sown and had already germinated before we left.

But reluctantly we decided to chop down a nispero tree as its roots are so big it is causing cracks in the wall. Wall falling into street, hitting people on the head, or cars, is not a good scenario.

When the tree had come down, a piece of paper or card fell out. When I moved it again - the thing flew away, looking like some sort of flying prehistoric reptile. And it flew too fast for me to get a pic sadly.

The neighbours are still coming up trumps, one day we got some roasted peppers from them, so I chucked a salad together for a mid-morning brunch when we were working. Olives, capers, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, pimientoes, and parsley.

Here is hibiscus in the flower garden.

And the winter jasmine is finally out, looks lovely and smells divine.

Good books read: Cold Mountain and The Book of Negroes. Reviews later. If I remember.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Moorish Castle

Those rare few of you who got Christmas cards from me may remember they were taken from historical paintings of Gibraltar.

They were produced by the Gibraltar Heritage Trust and the trust also publishes an excellent calendar based around a specific collection of paintings.

This year's calendar depicts early 19th century Gib, based on a series of watercolours by Lt Frederick Leeds Edridge. He was at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, for which he received the Waterloo Medal and in1920 he joined the Royal Artillery. He was stationed with the Sixth Battalion of the RA in Gib between 1830 and 1834 which is when he painted his Gib watercolours. The collection is now with the Gibraltar Museum.

March's painting shows the Moorish Castle. The current castle site is the result of centuries of rebuilding, extensions and remodelling from the 12th century when the first city was founded and a castle or fortification was built on the hill facing towards Spain.

At the top right of the photo is the Tower of Homage which is open to visit, so below are some photos when we went as a comparison with the watercolour.

The photos of the interior and the very top of the tower were NOT taken by me. I really must pluck up the courage to go up all those ghastly stairs so I can go inside though.

Lt Edridge's painting, September 1834 (worth enlarging)

The castle - Tower of Homage - as it looks today

Queen Charlotte's battery, just before the entrance to the tower

A close-up of the gun

Entering the depths of the tower - look at those stone walls

Looking down to the basement area (no go)

Umm, looking down from the top involving some rickety-looking stairs

Lots of arches inside, but this is not a Moorish window - is it?

Lovely vaulted ceiling

Looking towards Spain across the runway and the road that crosses it

And looking towards Africa

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Día de Andalucía

Doing up fincas is hard work. Luckily Día de Andalucía - February 28 - fell on a Monday, so we allowed ourselves the privilege of a long weekend.

The autonomous communities in Spain celebrate their own special day in different ways and on different days. I suppose it is a bit like Yorkshire Day except that it is acknowledged by local government, and is a bank holiday everywhere throughout Andalucía.

In our village, the local council had organised a race. Although some adults took part, it was primarily aimed at young people.

So, after a walk down to the peaceful and quiet beach, we settled down to await the race which was coming past our house. For some reason most things end up coming past our house - parades, races, the annual romería - so it provides some entertainment without having to move off the terrace.

After watching the plucky kids charging uphill and around the circuit a few times, we felt tired, and decided a game of dominoes was in order.

Appropriately, we settled on Matador, which we'd not played before. The instructions in my domino set tend to be rather vague sometimes, so we had no idea if we were doing it right.

It seems we got the general principle right, and as I won, it was declared to be A Good Game. So much so, that we played it the next day until we realised it was even more tiring thinking about domino strategies than doing up fincas. After that, it was back to the grindstone.

Beach. And sea.

Solitary boat. Solitary palm.

Looking towards Málaga, beach bar - closed - and summer pedalo.

No rest for the wicked. It's just another day for agricultural workers.

A buyo, or maybe a cow (?) at one of the local farms. Not seen this breed here before, how cute.

Piggies and more buyos saying hello.

Happy runners?

Fifth time around the circuit maybe?

Matador. Opening game, think I won that one.