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Fly strike in rabbits

By Jenny Sheriff [caption id="attachment_837" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="In warmer weather it is important to spend time checking your rabbit carefully at least twice daily. Fly strike can become life threatening within hours"]In warmer weather there is also another very important reason to spend time checking your rabbit carefully at least twice daily. Fly strike can become life threatening within hours[/caption]  Rabbits are becoming more and more popular as pets in this country. A well-cared for rabbit can offer a family years of fun and companionship. Rabbits are living longer, healthier lives as the care offered to them improves. They can be vaccinated against diseases which could otherwise kill them (myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease) and operations, including neutering, are very much safer than they used to be. This is partly because they are more regularly carried out and partly because safer anaesthetics are constantly being developed. Although a rabbit does not need taking out for walks like a dog, it would be wrong to think of a rabbit as a pet which does not need much time spending on it. Feeding the right diet is essential to prevent obesity and to reduce the risk of dental problems. Keeping the hutch or run clean is important. Handling the rabbit daily and grooming it if long-haired are also necessary. In warmer weather there is also another very important reason to spend time checking your rabbit carefully at least twice daily. Rabbits are particularly prone to a condition called fly strike or myiasis, which happens when flies lay eggs on the rabbit and these develop into larvae (maggots). Usually eggs are laid where the skin is broken or soiled, especially if there is any faecal matter around the anus or any urine soiling of the coat. It can develop into a life-threatening infestation of maggots within a few hours. Particular care needs to be taken if a rabbit has a wound of any kind if the weather is very warm. Obesity increases the risk because an obese rabbit cannot reach to clean itself properly, and diarrhoea also makes soiling and fly strike more likely. When maggots are seen on a rabbit, the veterinary surgery should be contacted at once. Don’t attempt to wash off the maggots in case the skin needs to be shaved. It is a very serious condition which develops very quickly and needs urgent treatment. In a matter of hours a few maggots can eat away at the rabbit’s skin and flesh and cause a very severe illness. If untreated it leads to shock, weakness, depression and sometimes death. If noticed early enough, the rabbit can be treated by your vet by removing all the maggots, probably with tweezers, shaving the area and using special washes or sprays. This can be very time consuming as some may be very tiny and more will develop so the process may need to be repeated. Sometimes it can only be done under sedation or anaesthetic. This is one of the most unpleasant conditions which vets have to treat. Prevention is by keeping the rabbit’s environment free of flies and applying topical preparations available from your veterinary surgery. To minimise the risk of fly strike: 1. Check your rabbit all over at least twice daily looking for wounds, soiling or maggots 2. Keep your rabbit’s weight right (ask at your surgery for advice on diet and exercise) 3. Avoid feeding too much rich grass or anything else which may cause diarrhoea 4. Have urinary problems checked out to avoid wet smelly patches on the coat 5. Use a fly repellent licensed for use on rabbits 6. Clean the hutch and run regularly 7. Seek immediate veterinary advice if you see maggots on your rabbit  We are all hoping for a long hot summer, but if it does happen, please be aware of the extra risk to your rabbit.
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Osteoarthritis in dogs.

[caption id="attachment_826" align="alignleft" width="237" caption="Stiffness in older dogs may be due to osteoarthritis which could be treated."]Stiffness in older dogs may be due to osteoarthritis which could be treated.[/caption] This week I met a lovely 12 year old Labrador called Amber, who has been suffering for some time now with osteoarthritis. She is on a combination of two treatments, which keep her quality of life good although her condition is getting worse. This is a very common complaint in dogs, especially middle-aged and elderly ones, but the good news is that the treatments available are improving all the time. One of the most common findings in a routine examination of an older dog is stiffness of one or more joints. On questioning the owner, we often find that there is occasional lameness or difficulty getting into the car, or stiffness for the first few minutes of exercise before the dog “gets going”. One of the most likely causes of such symptoms, although not the only one, is osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. Most people just call it arthritis, although there are other kinds of arthritis as well. Medium to large breeds are most commonly affected by arthritis, but it can happen in any size of dog. Usually the onset is quite slow and may not be noticed at first by owners, or just put down to the inevitable process of ageing. Unfortunately this can mean that owners are not aware that their pet is in pain, or underestimate how much pain they have. Owners are often surprised when it is suggested that their dog has arthritis that would benefit from treatment, and equally surprised by the improvement they see when treatment starts. A very common reaction is that he/she is “like a new dog”. This is mainly because their joint pain has been removed or reduced. Arthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints, where the cartilage overlying the bone becomes rough instead of smooth and movement of the joint becomes difficult and painful. The fibrous capsule surrounding the joint becomes thickened and restricts the amount of movement the joint can make. New pieces of bone called osteophytes can grow on the damaged surface, further restricting movement. The joints may make clicking or crunching noises when the dog walks, and the joints may also be swollen. Diagnosis of arthritis is by a mixture of examination of the dog, history taking (asking the owner about the dog’s exercise tolerance etc) and further examinations such as x-rays. It may not always be necessary to take x-rays, but it can be very helpful to rule out other conditions which might also be treatable, but would require a completely different type of treatment. As well as helping to make the right diagnosis, the changes seen can help decide on the best treatment. While the dog is anaesthetised, the joints can be manipulated much more thoroughly than when the dog is awake, so a more thorough examination can be made. [caption id="attachment_802" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Regular short walks are advised for affected dogs."]Regular short walks are advised for affected dogs.[/caption] Once the diagnosis of arthritis has been made, treatment can begin. Before even thinking about drugs, the vet will want to consider whether changes need to be made to the dog’s weight and exercise regime. Being overweight puts increased strain on all the leg joints, so slimming down if necessary should be considered as part of the treatment. Rest can also be very important. Regular, frequent, short walks will be tolerated much more easily than an occasional long run. Often the first line of treatment involves “chondroprotective agents” like glucosamine and chondroitin. These can be given in tablet form or can be included in the diet. They help to repair the cartilage and maintain the lubricating fluid of the joint, the synovial fluid. Two points worth remembering about these are, firstly, that the full effects may not be seen until six weeks after starting, and secondly, the formulations on sale for human use may not be as effective in dogs as those formulated for dogs. Another very common group of drugs used to treat arthritis are called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, or NSAIDs for short. These reduce pain and inflammation and can be given as tablets, liquids or injections. These drugs are generally very safe, but if used for a long time it is sensible to monitor the dog’s liver function as a healthy liver is needed to metabolise these drugs. A routine blood test is carried out every 6 months or as recommended by your own vet. Like all drugs there can be side effects, including the possibility of diarrhoea and vomiting in some dogs. If your dog develops any new symptoms while taking any drugs, it is advisable to seek advice from your veterinary surgery. In some more serious cases other drugs may need to be used, such as steroids or strong painkillers. Surgical treatments can also be used in the treatment of arthritis. Operations which have been common in human medicine for many years, like hip replacements, are now more widely available to dogs too. In severe cases of hip arthritis, this can allow enormous improvements in quality of life. In younger dogs where arthritis may be the result of a developmental problem in a joint, surgery may be recommended. Not all veterinary practices carry out these sorts of procedures so your dog might need to be referred to a local specialist in orthopaedics. Amber is a lucky dog in that her symptoms are well controlled even though her exercise is restricted. She has an examination and a weight check every 3 months and a blood test every 6 months. She spent a lot of our consultation lying on her back having her tummy tickled, and I had no doubts that she is still leading an enjoyable life. If you are concerned about arthritis, stiffness or lameness in your dog, or any other health issues, contact your vet or use our Interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.
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Lungworm Photo Shoot

Joe Inglis BVSc MRCVS is the vet for the One Show, This Morning and BBC Breakfast. He runs his own line of natural pet food called Pet’s Kitchen [caption id="attachment_219" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="The Be Lungworm Aware Campaign"]Be Lungworm aware campaign[/caption] In my career both as a vet and in the media I’ve been asked to do some fairly strange things – pulling a guinea pig’s head out of a coconut, dressing up as a 50’s garage mechanic in the Blue Peter pantomime and dancing to The One Show theme tune on the BBC to name but a few – so I wasn’t too surprised when I got a request which involved having my photo taken with a dog bowl, umbrella and a selection of snails and slugs! The photo shoot – and rather unusual props – was all in aid of a campaign called Be Lungworm Aware which is trying to raise awareness of a very nasty condition that is increasingly affecting dogs called lungworm, or French heartworm. The disease is caused by a microscopic worm called angiostrongylus vasorum which is transmitted to dogs from its main hosts which are molluscs such as snails and slugs. When inquisitive dogs lick or swallow slugs or snails, the parasite enters their system and then larvae migrate to the lungs where they can cause life-threatening symptoms including bleeding, breathing difficulties, weakness and collapse. There is a very effective treatment, which is a simple spot-on flea product called Advocate, but  the problem is mainly one of awareness as most dog owners – and even many vets – don’t know about this parasite and the devastating effects it can have on dogs. Part of the reason for this lack of awareness is the fact that until recently the parasite that causes the disease has been limited to a few geographical hotspots, mainly in the south-east. However in recent years the parasite has become much more widespread and there have now been cases as far afield as Scotland and Kent, so it really is a UK-wide problem. With this in mind, the aim of the photo shoot was to generate publicity for the campaign and try to educate dog owners about the dangers lungworm can pose. The campaign is also trying to advise people about how to spot the potential signs of infection, which include bleeding and poor blood clotting, breathing difficulties, generalised lethargy and illness and even behavioural changes, as early diagnosis and treatment is vital in preventing the most serious consequences of infection with this parasite, which include fatalities. To really get the message across about the main source of infection for dogs, which is slugs and snails, the PR company involved decided to create a picture with me and a dog huddling under an umbrella as a rain of molluscs comes down all around us!  The rain of snails and slugs was something that would be added in using a computer, but the director wanted a few real snails to be in the shot, so consequently I found myself holding a dog bowl covered in snails in one hand, an umbrella in the other and a dog between my legs as I crouched in a damp and cold Oxfordshire field. I do hope the pictures do get some good exposure as it’s a very worthwhile campaign and if I can help prevent some of these devastating cases then I will be really pleased – and it will certainly make the experience of squatting in a field holding snails well worthwhile!
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Lily poisoning in cats

[caption id="attachment_755" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="Lilies - the stamens can easily be removed but ALL parts of the plant are poisonous to cats if eaten."]Lilies - the stamens can easily be removed but ALL parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten[/caption] Lilies are beautiful flowers, exotic in appearance and heavily scented. They are often included in bouquets and floral arrangements, but cat owners need to know that they are extremely poisonous if eaten, or even if pollen is accidentally swallowed whilst grooming after brushing against a lily. It is thought that all parts of the lily flower and plant are poisonous to cats if eaten, and the effects are very serious and very fast. Only a very small amount needs to be eaten to cause devastating effects. Unfortunately kittens are most susceptible, not only because of their size but also because of their natural curiosity and tendency to investigate everything. The poison acts mainly on the kidneys and is absorbed very rapidly. The first sign is usually severe vomiting but cats may also show loss of appetite, depression, salivation, twitching or collapse. Sadly, a high number of them will die due to irreversible kidney damage. Others will survive but have permanent kidney damage. Only a lucky few will survive without long-lasting effects. The most important factor in treatment is seeking rapid veterinary help. Any cat which has been seen to eat part of a lily or is vomiting and has had possible contact with lilies, should be considered a veterinary emergency. There is no specific antidote to lily poisoning, but the chance of survival will be increased by giving fluid therapy as early as possible. By placing the cat on a drip, the kidneys are helped to eliminate the toxin and limit the damage to the kidneys. The rate of administration of fluids will be much higher than usual and will need to continue for several days if the cat is recovering. If a cat is presented very early, even before vomiting has occurred, it might be useful to induce vomiting to try to stop toxin being absorbed, or to lavage, or wash out, the stomach or to try to line the stomach with a charcoal substance to reduce further absorption. Other drugs may be given as well, particularly if there are neurological symptoms such as twitching, salivating or fitting. I have seen several cases of lily poisoning in cats over the years, and sadly, at least half of them died or were put to sleep because the effects were so severe. In my opinion, the warnings on lilies sold in some shops are not obvious enough. Some labels may carry a single line such as “Lily pollen is harmful to cats if eaten”, but this does not really convey the seriousness of the situation or advise the buyer that immediate action is needed. Some supermarket lilies have had the pollen bearing parts removed, but this does not change the fact that all parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten rather than just brushed against. If you own a cat it is worth considering keeping lilies out of your house altogether, or at least out of reach. Bear in mind that a healthy curious cat can reach most things if it puts its mind to it! If you are worried that your cat may have eaten part of a lily, or about any other health problems, please contact your vet immediately.
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