Hack, hack, hack – Hairballs! – Invaluable advice for cat owners

There’s nothing quite like being woken up at 2am to the oh-so-unpleasant sound of your cat producing a large hairball at the foot of your bed. Or perhaps quite so unsettling as stepping in it the following morning. Hairballs, also known by the fancy and somewhat horrifying name of ‘trichobezoar’, are something that most cat owners will have to deal with at some point. But how do they form and how can we help prevent them?

What is a hairball anyway?

A hairball is pretty much what it says on the tin – a ball of hair. Except it isn’t often in the shape of a ball, more cigar-shaped due to its passage through the oesophagus on the way out. They’re usually quite small, a few cm in length, but can be quite impressive at times. Cats have tiny barbs on their tongue that are perfect for picking up dead hairs in the coat. When the cat grooms itself, it swallows a significant amount of hair which usually passes without issue in the stools but sometimes accumulates in the stomach instead. Hairballs are, as one might expect, more common in long-haired cats and older, more experienced groomers who have more time to spend cleaning themselves each day. They also tend to occur seasonally, at times of increased shedding. Sounds like a pretty normal process, and in fact, it’s not uncommon for most cats to have a hairball once or twice a year (a spring clear-out of the stomach if you will…). But are they really ‘normal’?….

Ask a vet online-‘How often should an 8 week old kitten be using the litter tray’

Question from Janine Anne-Ruby Law:

How often should an 8 week old kitten be using the litter tray, I got my kitten on Saturday afternoon and she has only pooped twice is this normal? She seems to have settled in really well but I am a bit concerned about this help please?

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Janine and thank you for your question regarding your kitten and toilet training. From what you are describing about how well your kitten is settling in to her new home and the fact that she is using her litter tray you probably have very little to worry about.

Cats and kittens will pass faeces (poo) when they receive a signal from their bowel (large intestines) that faeces are present and ready to be passed. The exact frequency with which faeces are passed will depend on each individual, their diet, and if they are stressed or have any underlying problems such as bacterial, viral or parasitic infection.

It is normal for kittens to pass faeces as often as they are fed a meal, so at eight weeks old your kitten is probably being fed 3-4 times a day and could therefore be expected to pass faeces up to four time a day, however as your kittens digestive system becomes more efficient and dealing with food and waste products this may well decrease down to once or twice a day. An adult cat would usually pass faeces once or twice a day….

Debunking myths about “rip off veterinary fees”

“Rip-off veterinary fees” were the subject of a recent poll on a vets-only website.
In answer to the question “How often does your practice receive complaints about the prices it charges?“, the results were:

  • All the time – 16%
  • Fairly often – 53%
  • Hardly ever – 30%
  • Never – 1%

So around 69% of vet clinics get regular complaints about their fees, and given that many people may feel irritated about fees without vocalising their concern to the vet, the true level of discontent is likely to be even higher. This is clearly an aspect of veterinary care that pet owners feel strongly about.

I always find this a difficult topic to discuss: as a vet, I can’t help feeling defensive, and it’s all too easy to write a self-justifying commentary. Sceptical readers may then brush off any of my explanations: “well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”….

Information overload? – Trusting online pet advice

From the minute you bring a new pet home, as well as the companionship, fun and general entertainment there will always be a lot of questions and there will always be plenty of people more than happy to give you their advice and opinions. From your mother (always!) to the lady down the road that’s owned dogs for years, to the man in the pet shop, to your vet (listen to them!) and, of course, the internet. However, sometimes views vary wildly and it can be difficult to know who to trust.

With any health related issue a vet should always be your first port of call; either by booking an appointment or ringing for advice. A good clinic will always be happy to chat on the phone but in many cases will want to see your pet before giving you a definitive answer. This can sometimes put people off but if you are concerned enough to ring, very often your suspicions are correct and there is a problem. However, there are many simple queries that can be handled over the phone, so do pick it up! Even at night and weekends, with a single call you should be able to speak to a vet or nurse, as in the UK all practices are required by law to provide a 24 hour service.

Sometimes though, you might have questions that are more mundane or trivial or want the answer right now and that is when you will fire up Google! However, this is when things can get tricky. There are loads of brilliant sites out there giving excellent quality advice but there is also an awful lot of old wives tails, self-important pontificators and downright bonkers information as well! How do you decide which is which and what to believe?…

Are your cat’s kidneys crock? – The signs of kidney failure

Kidney failure is very common in cats, between 20% and 50% over the age of 15 will suffer to some degree. Unfortunately, it is often missed until it becomes advanced because the early symptoms are subtle and our feline friends are very good at hiding illness. However, the sooner it is caught the better

In most cases the cause for the kidney’s failing is unknown, it is just a gradual dying off of the tissue, particularly in elderly cats. If younger animals are diagnosed with the problem then can be a more obvious cause but it doesn’t often change the treatment plan.

The kidneys are the filtering organs for the blood. They remove all the waste products and toxins, sending them out in the urine. When they start to malfunction they become less efficient, these by-products stay in the body and, as they are effectively poisons, make the animal feel unwell and mildly nauseous. They are often mildly dehydrated, so it is not unlike a permanent hangover.

Feeling sick understandably means affected cats have poor appetites and to survive the body has to break down its own tissue. Unfortunately, this creates very high levels of toxic metabolites, which stay in the blood stream, make the cat feel worse, so they eat even less and so the vicious cycle continues. The toxins themselves also directly damage the kidneys, further exacerbating the problem….

Ask a vet online- ‘My 10 year old dog has a lump not sure if I should take him to the vet?’

Question from:

Sheree Lu

My 10 year old dog has a lump around the size between a 10-cent/20-cent (Australian) coin. It’s round, soft to touch and when I touch it, it didn’t seem to cause him any discomfort or pain. It’s located on one of his hind flanks, on his thigh-ish area. Like if he sits down, the lump would be on the ground but it’s not near his anus. I’m not sure if I should take him to the vet..?

Answer by Shanika Winters Online vet

Hi Sheree and thanks for your question, with any lump you find on your pet I would advise that you take your dog to be seen by your vet. I will try and explain in my answer some of the possible causes for the lump and how it can be monitored, treated or removed.

Why has my dog got a small soft lump?

A small soft lump can be caused by an infection, reaction to a parasite/foreign body, swelling in response to an injury/allergy, a tumour or a combination of these.

Infection tends to lead to an area of reddened/hot (inflamed) skin, which may then swell up as it fills with fluid/puss. An infected lump would usually appear over a few days, may be painful to the touch and might burst followed by crusting over. An infected lump may be due to a skin infection, where a parasite has bitten, where a foreign body (e.g. a grass seed or thorn) has entered or is trying to exit or maybe on top of an existing lump…

How to get your kids involved in your cat’s care

Everybody loves a kitten. They’re cute, they’re cuddly and they do lots of funny things which make great YouTube videos. Your kids may have been pestering you for years to get a kitten and at first, all eyes are on the new little ball of fluff. Over time, however, the children’s interest in the little critter often fades along with their promises to help with their daily care. Sure, you could easily care for the cat on your own, but don’t give in that easily – learning to care for another living creature is a lesson that not only your kids will benefit from, but your cat as well. Here are a few ways to get your children more involved in the care of your cat.

1. Have your child take responsibility for feeding the cat every day

Most children can learn to feed a cat, and many get great joy out of watching them eat their meals. Wet food can be fed in a different place every day – your cat will start to follow your child around the house as they choose the next spot, providing exercise and entertainment for everybody involved. Dry food can be scattered on the kitchen floor, to be chased and caught by the cat, or placed in a treat ball so they have to work at getting it out. This may sound a bit mean at first, but is actually closer to their natural feeding behaviours. Of course, you could just ask your child to put the food in the bowl every day, but that can get a bit dull after a while….

Ask a vet online-‘my cat has suddenly lost weight, she was fine a few weeks ago’

Question from Gemma Loopylou Moorey:

I has my cat suddenly lost weight I can even fill her ribs now she was fine a few weeks ago. Even her mood is changed she meows loudly when I talk to her in a bad mood way

Answer from Shanika Winters online vet:

Hi Gemma and thank you for your question regarding your cats sudden weight loss and change of temperament. I will discuss in my answer some possible cause for the changes you have noticed in your pet. I would advise that you take your cat to see your vet as soon as possible.

A sudden loss of a significant amount of weight can be very dangerous for your cat, regardless of the cause of the weight loss in the first place such changes can lead to organs failing and your cat being in need of emergency veterinary care.

An average cat weighs between 4 and 6 kg so even a change of a few 100g of weight is significant on such a small animal. Ideally your vet will weigh your cat each time they are seen; it is easy to keep track of your cat’s weight at home too, weigh your cat carrier empty and then with your cat inside and the difference is your cat’s weight…

Zoonotic diseases – what could you catch from your pet?

Zoonosis is any disease that can pass from animal to human. Although most are easily treated, some of them can be serious and even fatal. Below are several zoonotic diseases that can be passed from dogs and cats, sometimes via other organisms that use the dog and cat as their host.

Toxocariasis

These are the roundworms of the dog and cat (and other species). They can be transferred to humans via their eggs which are left in soil after infected animals have defecated. Children are more predisposed to ingesting the eggs as they might play in the soil and not wash their hands. Adults can also ingest the eggs from eating raw vegetables that have not been washed properly.

If the infection is heavy or repeated, it can cause the disease ‘visceral larva migrans’. This is when the worm larvae move through the body and causing swelling to the major organs and affecting the central nervous system. High-temperature, coughing even pneumonia are various symptoms. The disease is also known to cause ‘ocular larva migrans’ when the worm larvae enter the eye….

June bugs – stopping parasites from bugging your pets!

Hurrah, it’s June! Which means the weather is (hopefully) warming up and summer is just around the corner! However, just as we enjoy the sunny conditions, so do the bugs and beasties that live on our pets. A little forethought and treatment now, can save a whole lot of trouble (and maybe some vets bills!) in the future.

Fleas

These irritating little creatures are the ones everyone thinks about as the weather warms but here’s an interesting fact; actually the worst time of year for fleas is the Autumn. Then the few fleas our pets have picked up over the summer move into our centrally heated houses and have a party. However, what that means is by protecting our pets over the summer, we not only keep them from getting itchy bites now, we can stop a house infestation later!

It can be surprisingly difficult to know if an animal has fleas….

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.