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Giving medication to pets: a necessary but challenging task

Giving medication to pets is not easy. In a typical case of a dog with a skin condition, I may send the owner home with three types of tablets to be given twice daily for ten days. As I write up the final details of the patient’s file, I sometimes reflect that I have sent the owner away with a challenging task to complete.

When vets give medicines, we often use the easy route of giving an injection, usually into the skin at the back of the neck. Most animals do not even notice this happening, since the skin in this area is loose, with insensitive innervation. Long acting injections are sometimes available, such as an antibiotic that lasts for two weeks, or a steroid that lasts for a month, but these drugs are only effective for particular cases. In most instances, ongoing medication has to be given by owners at home, and this is usually via the oral route, using tablets or capsules….

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A message from the Easter Bunny for owners of pet rabbits

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I’ve often wondered about the oddness of the Easter Bunny. What does a rabbit have to do with Christianity? And why on earth would a rabbit produce eggs?

A little internet research was enough to find some answers. First, our Christian festival of Easter, while clearly celebrating the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, coincides with an ancient time of feasting linked to Eastre (or Eostre), who was the Saxon goddess of Spring and dawn. Eastre’s favourite animal was a large bird, which in mythology, she transformed into a hare. Perhaps coincidentally, both eggs and hares/rabbits have long been regarded as symbols of fertility, celebrated at spring time. Eggs and hares/rabbits have also featured in Christian art and customs, and in the 17th Century, there are the first records from German churches of Easter hares bringing Easter eggs to children.

Whatever about the origins of the large, fully clothed, friendly, egg-producing Easter Bunny, his prominent presence at this time of year offers a useful opportunity to mention helpful information about caring for modern day pet rabbits.

  • While the Easter Bunny is always on his own, pet rabbits love company, needing at least one other rabbit to be happy bunnies. The best combination is a neutered male and neutered female.
  • Although he delivers chocolate eggs, the Easter Bunny would definitely never eat them. Rabbits need fibre based plain diets, with plenty of clean hay, grass and leafy greens such as broccoli, cabbage and kale, not lettuce or rabbit “muesli” which can contribute to serious teeth and stomach problems.
  • The Easter Bunny is often shown wearing a jacket, but real rabbits don’t need clothes. Their living environment should be enough to keep them warm and safe. Their home should be large enough for them to move around freely, waterproof and draught-proof, with clean, dry bedding and a big attached exercise run that allows them run rather than just hop.
  • The Easter Bunny would definitely enjoy an Easter Egg hunt. Although rabbits should never eat chocolate, they are inquisitive, playful animals who need plenty of opportunities to dig, forage and explore.
  • The Easter Bunny is happy and healthy, and the same should go for all rabbits. Pet rabbits should be checked every day for any signs of illness or injury and taken to the vet if there are any concerns.
  • The Easter Bunny never seems to get any older, but typical pet rabbits live for 8 to 12 years of age. To maximise their life span, rabbits needs regular health checks and vaccinations at the vets, just like cats and dogs.

Many families take on pet rabbits in the springtime, and while it’s true that they can make excellent children’s pets, they do need careful adult supervision to make sure that their welfare is optimised.

Happy Easter everyone, and may you enjoy whatever the Easter Bunny brings to you.

 

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Commercial pet food: could insects provide a new form of sustainable ingredients?

The Pet Food Manufacturers Association runs a pet-related seminar every year, often covering novel topics that are interesting to anyone with any connection with the pet world. This year, the topic was “sustainability” – both of the production of pet food, but interestingly, also the production of pets, including the complex issue of dog breeding. This is the first of two blogs from the seminar: the second one will discuss the “sustainable dog production” issue.

The first question is: what does “sustainability” mean? Most of us think about this in terms of our environment – the issue of declining resources, such as clean air, fresh water, fertile soil, forests, oceans and the wider issue of global warming. But for every human endeavour, there is a broader definition of sustainability which includes the ability of the organisation to thrive for coming decades. As well as the resources issue, there are three other important aspects:

1. Full transparency. Our information-rich, internet-driven world means that people expect to know everything possible…

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Babesiosis – a new arrival to the UK

On 16th March this year, newspapers and news feeds across the UK broke the news that a new “deadly tick-borne disease” had been diagnosed in dogs in Kent. The disease turned out to be babesiosis – a parasite of the red blood cells, similar in many ways to malaria, transmitted by tick bites. The condition has now, apparently, reached the UK for the first time. So, how seriously should we take the stories, and are they accurate?

Is this a new disease?

Not at all – it has been fairly common in continental Europe and across the world for many years; as an island, the UK has been lucky enough to avoid it (until now). There have, however, been “mini-outbreaks” before in the UK, so it’s not something we’ve never seen before. The difference is that the previous outbreaks have been in dogs who had travelled to Europe on the PETS Passport Scheme; the new outbreak appears to be “native” to the UK, with infected ticks surviving in the environment….

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Crufts – the best and worst of the dog world?

Crufts starts today – the World’s Largest Dog Show – an annual dog-fest that used to be seen as a “best of British” institution, but which has become controversial in recent years. This year, three different viewpoints have been loudly expressed.

First, the Kennel Club , which is “dedicated to protecting and promoting the health and welfare of all dogs”, predictably stressing the many initiatives taken to promote good health in pedigree dogs. And there’s no doubt that innovations like the Mate Select programme, the Online Kennel Club Academy  to provide education for breeders and judges, the recently released 2014 Breed Health Survey, a range of new DNA tests and other initiatives represent useful steps forwards towards improving pedigree dog health….

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If you care about animals, why aren’t you vegan?

Are you an animal lover with a vague unease about eating meat? Have you heard all the recent buzz about veganism, and wondered if it’s for you? If so, you’re like me: read on.

Last month, I was one of the fifty thousand people who took part in Veganuary, which meant living a vegan lifestyle for the month of January. It was an eye-opening experience. I learned about how much of my daily diet was simply a meat-eating habit rather than conscious decision-making. I discovered how easy it is to prepare delicious and nutritious non-meat, non-dairy, non-egg meals….

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BBC’s Today Programme asks a profound question: how much is a dog’s life worth?

Dogs and vets’ fees took centre stage in the UK media yesterday when they featured on the BBC’s Today programme, the most popular show on Radio 4, with over 7 million listeners every week. One of the presenters, Evan Davis, brought his whippet, Mr Whippy, into the studio, and a discussion on vets’ fees followed. Mr Davis recounted how he’d spent £4000 on fixing Mr Whippy’s broken leg (including a course of hydrotherapy) while fellow presenter Justin Webb admitted that it had cost £5000 to save the life of his dog Toffee after he’d swallowed a sock.
In both cases, the costs had been covered by insurance (as it is for around half of British pet owners), but the incidents provoked a debate about the size of vets’ bills, and the ethical dilemma about how much should be spent on treating pets.
As Davis put it: “When we got the dog, I thought… he’s like a watch – if the repair is going to cost more than the new one – he cost £500 … then you basically throw the dog away and replace it with a new one. But of course, once you’ve got the dog, you don’t think that way”. The presenters then discussed how much they’d be prepared to spend of their own money if their pets weren’t insured, and Davis summed his view up neatly: “If you compare the dog’s leg to the life of a small child in a poor country, obviously the child prevails. But if you compare the dog’s leg to a holiday, I would pay for the dog’s leg any day.”
I suspect that most pet owners would share this view. Dogs become part of the family, worthy of significant sacrifices in our personal lives.
Davis then came up with an interesting idea: just as the National Health Service has the National Institute for Care Excellence (NICE) providing national guidance and advice to improve health care, why isn’t there a pet equivalent – perhaps a Veterinary Institute for Clinical Excellence (VICE). The presenters pointed out that there is a financial temptation for vets towards to do unethical treatments at huge costs, extending the life by not very much, possibly causing suffering. So should there be some way of countering this temptation? Should there be some guidance body to make judgements on how far it is right to go?
The problem, of course, is that every case is individual. And the wisdom of proceeding with a case can only be judged properly with the benefit of hindsight, when it’s all over.

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Sometimes it’s not teeth – other causes of bad breath in pets.

What can cause bad breath?

Bad breath, or halitosis, is very common in dogs and cats; however, there are a wide range of possible causes. Some are simple to treat; others less so – but bad breath is almost always symptoms of an underlying problem.

There is one, harmless cause of halitosis – eating something rotten or smelly (much more common in dogs than cats)! Some dogs love eating faeces or rotting food; this may be habit, or greed – but in a small percentage of cases is due to a condition called pica. This is when the animal will eat pretty much anything, whether or not it is actually food-like, and may be due to mineral or vitamin deficiencies or certain brain diseases. In most cases, however, eating rotting or smelly things isn’t due to a disease condition (although it may well lead to a nasty episode of vomiting and diarrhoea!).

Metabolic diseases can also cause bad breath – especially diabetes and kidney failure. These conditions are both associated with changes in urination and drinking, and often weight loss. If untreated, both are potentially fatal. In diabetes, the breath may smell sweet (because of the excess sugar in the bloodstream); sour (because of increased bacterial growth, as the bacteria feed on the sugar); or musty (as yeasts grow in the mouth). In kidney failure, the breath may smell metallic (due to a build-up of toxins and waste products that the kidneys aren’t filtering).

Diseases of the respiratory tract such as sinusitis, nasal infections, and nasal tumours may also lead to bad breath…

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Ask A Vet Online – My cat is itchy with watering eyes…

Ellie Masters asked:

My cat is scratching above his eyes and losing fur, sometimes his eyes water too. this happened earlier in the summer he went through testing nothing found, he’s treated with stronghold so no fleas etc. All help appreciated as at wits end now

Reply:

Hi again Ellie, thanks for your question!

To answer it, I’m going to discuss the possible causes, then the investigations available to demonstrate them, and then finally possible treatment options.

What possible causes are there?

Given that he’s scratching the area around his eyes, losing fur and has watery eyes, there are three immediate possibilities that spring to mind.

The first is a primary eye disease – conjunctivitis, a corneal ulcer, chlamydia or calicivirus infection are probably the four conditions I’d be wanting to rule out. In this situation, the hair loss is because of his constant rubbing at his sore eyes.

The second possibility is that it is a skin disease, manifesting most dramatically on his head above his eyes. This may sound unlikely, but many cats suffer from a condition called miliary dermatitis, where the skin becomes very itchy and forms tiny red scabs or bumps – often it is focussed above the eyes and in front of the ears, although along the back is also a possibility. This is not a diagnosis, but a symptom – and is most commonly associated with parasites, allergies, or skin infections.

The third option is a condition that affects both the skin and the eyes – classically, this would be a more general allergy of some sort. Allergies in cats are less well understood than in dogs, however, food allergies are thought to be the second most common cause of itching in cats (after fleas and other parasites). Other possibilities would include auto-immune disease, where the immune system starts attacking healthy tissues.

So, how do you tell which it is?…

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Ask A Vet Online – Help, I’ve got a stuffy-nosed Pug!

Natalie Kent asked:

My 8 year old pug has just been diagnosed with Pseudomonas in his nose. He’s been having problems with his nose for about a year, discharge, blocked up etc. Vet did a nose swab and found this bacteria. He’s been on marbocyl antibiotics for 2 weeks and it’s not completely gone away, still a bit of discharge and a bit stuffy but vet refuses to give any more tablets, what else would you suggest?

Reply:

Hi Natalie, thanks for your question. Because of the conformation of their skull and nasal passages, Pugs are prone to a range of different breathing problems, and may suffer from recurrent nasal infections, so I’ll start by discussing the anatomy of the nasal passages and the defects Pugs typically suffer from. Pseudomonas is a particularly nasty bacterium that can be very difficult to treat effectively, so I’ll also talk about appropriate antibiotic therapy and the reasons why the symptoms may not have resolved. Finally, I’ll look at different ways forward for your dog….

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