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Rabbits are not like small dogs or long-eared cats. And it’s not just that they eat grass.

When something goes wrong with an animal’s nervous system, it’s very upsetting, and it’s easy to panic. People often make generalisations, and leap to the wrong conclusion. He’s falling over! He’s had a stroke! He’s dragging his back legs! To help animals, it’s important for vets to be as objective as possible, making a careful note of precisely which part of the nervous system has gone wrong. Vets do this using a specific examination procedure, known as the “neurological examination”. There are tick sheets available to make it easier for vets: various aspects of the nervous system are examined individually, and at the end, it’s then easier to be specific about the precise diagnosis. Only then can the correct treatment and prognosis be given…

The structure of the heart: everything you didn’t know you wanted to know from Wikivet

The heart is probably the most central structure in the body. Arguably, the brain could be said to be “more important” (death is classified technically as absence of brain activity rather than a motionless heart), but for most of us, a beating heart is synonymous with the presence of life. We all have a heart – whether we are dogs, cats, humans, or indeed frogs – and one of the fascinating things about veterinary science is the fact that the fundamental structure of many organs – including the heart – is surprisingly similar.

There must be something intriguing about the structure of the heart: the Wikivet page on this subject has been the most visited page of all over the past year….

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Ask a vet online – How often should my dogs get boosters?

Karen Taylor asked:

How often should our dogs be re-vaccinated (boosters)?


Hi Karen, thanks for your question about booster vaccinations. This is an area that’s become quite controversial in the last few years, and there’s a lot of confusion about the subject. In addition, there’s a lot of very poor-quality information out there, so I’ll try to make this quite clear and obvious!

To put it as simply as possible – see your vet every year for a health check, and discuss your vaccination strategy with them.

For more detail… now read on!

What are vaccinations?

Put simply, a vaccination is a way of teaching your dog’s immune system how to recognise and defeat the micro-organism that causes an infectious disease, without the risks (of illness, potential long term health problems or death) inherent in a “natural” infection.

This is achieved in one of three ways:

1) A weakened form of the disease-causing organism.

These are called “modified live” or “attenuated” vaccines, e.g. for Distemper and Parvovirus; the organism included is unable to multiply and/or cause clinical disease, but it is active enough to stimulate a strong immune response. Most modified live vaccines give a stronger and more long-lasting immune response than an inactivated vaccine; however, they aren’t suitable for every disease (because some organisms cannot be weakened enough to make them safe)…

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The story of Dan, a coughing Springer Spaniel

 Dan was a nine year old Springer Spaniel who loved strenuous physical exercise. His owner, Dr Mullen, was a medical doctor who was an enthusiastic hill walker, so they made a good team. They would spend days off in the Dublin mountains together on six-hour hikes through the countryside. Dan was brought to see me because he had developed an irritating cough, and Dr Mullen was worried.

The cough did not affect Dan during exercise. He was still able to run for hours without any problem, but the following morning, immediately after getting up, he would cough repeatedly as he walked around the room. It seemed to be a productive cough: sometimes he swallowed after the cough, and other times Dr Mullen found patches of white phlegm on the floor. When Dan had been up and about for half an hour, the cough seemed to clear, and he’d be fine for the rest of the day…

Oils and fats in pets’ diets: everything you need to know (and more besides) from Wikivet

There’s one aspect of nutrition that many people – including vets – can find particularly daunting: fats and oils. There have been mixed messages over the years about good fats/ bad fats, essential oils/ unnecessary oils, long chain/short chain, saturated/unsaturated. This is one area where Wikivet can help – for veterinary professionals as well as members of the public. The Wikivet section about fatty acids provides a clear, comprehensive summary…

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Why would an experienced vet go back to college? Here’s why…


The university course leading to a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery is by necessity a hard-working, information-packed five years. The focus has traditionally been on accumulating facts, with the presumption that other aspects of being a vet can be learned later, when life in practice has commenced. As a result, there has sometimes been a perception (which may or may not be true) that new graduates can be over-academic, with a tendency to be impractical.

An innovative response to this criticism has been established at many vet schools, with a concept known as the “Practitioner-in-Residence”
. An experienced veterinary surgeon leaves their own practice for a period of ten weeks, to spend time at the Veterinary College, teaching students about “real life”. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to fill this role at my own local vet college….

Fear of fireworks can affect cats as well as dogs: how do we know, and what can we do to help them?

In the veterinary blogging world, there are key seasonal topics that come up every year: hazards around the home at Christmas, chocolate poisoning at Easter, heat stroke in summer and, of course, the fear of fireworks at Halloween/ Guy Fawkes Day. It can be a challenge to come up with a new angle every year: it could be tempting to find an old article, re-jig it and re-phrase it, and the job is done. After all if you plagiarise yourself, is there anything wrong with that?

A better answer, however, is to seek out a completely new angle. So with the help of the Wikivet archives, instead of writing a repeat blog of what to do with dogs that are terrified of fireworks, here’s an alternative: how to help cats cope with fear of fireworks….

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Preparing for Fireworks – with Sound?

Firework fears are one of the commonest behavioural issues we see in practice – unsurprisingly, a lot of dogs spend the week on either side of Bonfire Night terrified.

In almost every case, this is because of the noise – a sudden, sharp and loud sound, with no obvious warning (from the dog’s point of view). Although a few dogs are afraid of the light show, it’s pretty rare – it’s usually about the sound. The dog’s natural dislike of loud noises is worsened because we get really excited about fireworks, and tend to jump around, shout and exclaim loudly. We know that’s because we’re enjoying the display – but dogs often get the wrong end of the stick and think we’re alarmed, or scared ourselves. Therefore, in their mind, it must be something truly terrifying if humans are afraid of it too…

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Oscar, the grumpy cat who needed twice daily injections to treat his diabetes

Oscar, a ten year old cat, had started to lose weight, despite the fact that he was eating well. His coat had begun to look bedraggled, as if he was not grooming himself as much as usual. His owner had noticed him visiting his water bowl more frequently, and she had needed to fill up the bowl every day, rather than every three days.

When I examined him it was clear that Oscar had lost a significant amount of weight. His ribs were prominent, and I could feel the sharp tips of the bones of his back. When I weighed him, I discovered that he had lost a kilogram since his previous visit.

Physically, I could find no obvious cause of a problem, so I decided that a blood profile was needed…

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What should be done about vets collaborating with puppy farmers?

The BBC Watchdog exposé about a puppy farm in Bradford was shown last night: it provided a shocking reminder of this horrific industry.

Puppy farming is one of those hidden issues in our society. We all know that it goes on, but it happens behind closed doors, and it’s generally only with hind sight that people realise that they have bought a puppy-farmed dog. Typically, somebody sets their mind on a certain breed. They try the “quality breeder” route, but discover that they’ll have to wait four months, and there’s a hefty price tag. So when they find a pup on the internet that’s immediately available, costing 30% less, it can be tempting. They meet the seller in a car park, because “it’s much easier than giving directions to our place in the countryside”. It’s only later, when the initial excitement of welcoming the pup has worn off that they notice the fleas, the worms, the poor body condition and the nervousness, all indications of a classic puppy farm upbringing.

It’s one thing for an unscrupulous breeder to be producing puppies in sub-standard conditions, but what about the vets who may be involved in helping them? I came across one purchaser of a puppy-farmed dog recently who was incensed that her puppy came with a vaccine certificate signed by the local vet. She was furious, and she wrote to the vet, demanding answers to her questions. “Do you do any checks in people bringing litters to your practice? Do you ask to see the parent dogs? Do you do background checks on breeders? Do you not wonder why there are so many puppies? How many litters of pups have you vaccinated for this man?” These are all good questions: how much responsibility should vets take in such situations?

More Useful Information

Examining your pet

Simple ways to check the health of your pet. Vets use these techniques as part of their clinical examiniation.

Medicating your pet

Arming you with the same simple techniques for stress free pill giving.

Worming & Flea Treatment

Information and advice in treating your pet for worms and fleas.