All the latest info on caring for your pet

Looking for something in particular? Check our categories!

The story of Dan, a coughing Springer Spaniel

a 019

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.

I started by physically examining Dan. I listened carefully to his chest with my stethoscope. He had the perfect heartbeat of a fit dog, with slow steady sounds and no murmurs or irregularities. His lungs, however, sounded noisier than normal, with some wheezes and crackles. He definitely had some type of lung disease, and further tests were needed.

The following day, Dan was anaesthetised, X-rays were taken, an endoscope was used to directly view the lining of his airways, and finally tiny biopsies were taken of the many red sore areas that we could see. Dr Mullen called in three days later to discuss the full results of our investigations.

“I can say for certain that Dan is suffering from Chronic Bronchitis”, I began. “The initial X-rays suggested that that there was thickening of his lower airways, and using the endoscope, we could see that the thickening was because of inflammation of the lining of the small tubes of the lungs, known as ‘bronchi’. The biopsy of the red, swollen areas confirms that the disease process is simple inflammation, with nothing sinister going on. Finally, he has a mild bacterial infection in his lungs.”

Dr Mullen asked me if an antibiotic would completely cure his dog.

“Although antibiotics will help him, for a complete cure, he needs to go onto long term medication using other drugs. The chronic bronchitis probably started out with a simple infection, but there is now also an irritant and allergic aspect to the disease. The tiny particles of dust, smoke and pollens that are always in the air are perpetuating the bronchitis. We’ll use two drugs to help him. Firstly, a ‘broncho-dilator’, which will widen his airways and lessen the tight narrowing of the bronchi that is making them irritated. Secondly, a low dose of steroids will directly lessen the irritation. We’ll modify his dose of each drug so that he should be able to live a normal, symptom free life without side effects from medication.” There are other options for treatment, including an inhaler mask, but this treatment was my standard first stage.

Dan was sent home with three containers of tablets, and twice-daily medication ritual became part of his routine. I saw him again two weeks later, and the cough had almost completely stopped. He was suffering some side effects from the steroids, with increased thirst and appetite, but we were then able to reduce the dosage, so that he was given tablets only on every second day. When he came back a full month later, Dr Mullen was delighted.

“His cough has vanished completely”, he told me. “And he is enjoying his walks more than ever. The only problem is that he’s wearing me out! Do you know any tonic pills for a fifty-five year old human?”

No Comments

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. There are a number of different options to manage firework fear in dogs (behavioural techniques, Adaptil pheromones, various calming products, and if necessary, anti-anxiety medication from your vet). However, there’s one really effective option that is rarely used to its maximum extent. This is Sound Desensitisation. The principle is to help your dog to learn that the scary bangs and crashes aren’t anything to worry about. Part of the problem is that fireworks are a rare and special event – a couple of weeks in the autumn, and again over the New Year, and that’s about it for most people (OK, if you’re in the US, or have American neighbours, maybe in the early summer too – but that’s still only three times a year). As a result, firstly the dogs never get used to it, and secondly, we’re perhaps a little bit too inclined just to manage our pets’ anxiety, rather than try to treat it at the source. Sound desensitisation is a essentially a process of habituation – the noise becomes a normal part of the background to daily life, and the dog learns to ignore it. This is how it works: 1)      As early as possible, start exposing your dog to very, very quiet firework sounds – ideally, a mixture of rockets, bangs and multiple explosions. There are a number of excellent commercial CDs and mp3 downloads – but you could use any suitable soundtrack, such as the video link here: Fireworks in action. 2)      To begin with, play it at the minimum volume your computer, tablet, or phone can manage. 3)      Act completely normally while it’s playing through – get on with your normal day, and leave it playing as background (the embedded video is about 13 minutes long, and you’ll want to run it through completely once if not two or three times each session). This may be difficult, especially if your dog is suspicious, but if you start it on the very lowest volume settings, they may jump, but they’re not likely to have a meltdown. Even if they do, however, as far as possible act normally. Don’t lavish them with extra fuss, or give them special treats – it is very important that they see this as just a normal part of the day. Of course, they should have a safe den to hide in, if necessary, but hopefully it won’t be needed. 4)      Every day or two, increase the volume by one or two clicks – but continue to behave normally yourself. The aim is to build it up to a noise level similar to the actual display before Bonfire Night – but very, very gradually. 5)      If you reach a volume where your dog is showing signs of genuine fear, reduce the volume a little, and keep it there for a few more days. Then start to increase it again. 6)      Eventually, the vast majority of dogs will learn that firework noises are a normal part of life, and nothing to get too upset about. A few dogs have such deep-rooted phobias that desensitisation on its own isn’t enough – in these cases, have a chat with your vet, as some anti-anxiety medication may be useful as an adjunct; or speak to a good canine behaviourist – your vet will be able to recommend one. However, for the vast majority of dogs, this is an effective way to treat and prevent noise phobias – but you need to start as early as possible – ideally several months before Bonfire Night. Good luck to everyone with dogs suffering from sound phobias! David Harris BVSc MRCVS
No Comments

Wikivet blog: oral hygiene – the key to a healthy mouth in pets

dogs-49324_1280

It's well known that regular home care of pets' teeth is the only way to ensure optimal dental health, but it's also well known that most owners find this challenging. Dental experts have identified that there are two methods of home care, depending on an owner's ability to get involved: active and passive.

Brushing your pet's teeth a) Active home care is “hands-on” where the pet owner is physically involved with removing plaque and maintaining oral hygiene. Tooth brushing and applying anti-plaque agents directly into the mouth fit into this category. Active home care is the ideal answer, but it isn't always easy. It's known as the "gold standard" of preventive dental care. Clara, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, is a ten year old dog who is an ambassador for active home dental care. Her owner started to brush Clara's teeth when she was a pup, and has built tooth-brushing into her daily routine. Clara knows that before she can tuck into her dinner, she has to sit still for a 30 seconds while her owner whizzes around her mouth with a toothbrush and some chicken-flavoured toothpaste. The results of this daily routine are astonishing. Most ten year old dogs have advanced dental disease, with gingivitis, accumulations of tartar and missing teeth. Clara, in contrast, has teeth that are as healthy as a two year old's. Clara provides a good example of the power of active owner dental care. "Letting your pet clean their own teeth" b) Passive homecare refers to aspects of an oral hygiene program that help to reduce plaque in the mouth, but do not require the owner to get involved with the hands-on tooth-brushing or mouth-handling. Examples of passive home care include giving a special type of diet that helps to keep the teeth clean, or offering a dental chew to help reduce plaque accumulation. Jake is a ten year old terrier who has been given a daily dental chew for the past five years. His owner originally tried to brush his teeth, but he wouldn't let her. Many owners have this experience, and this has created a niche in the market that has been occupied by a wide range of commercial products. Jake's owner discovered that he loved the taste and texture of a dental chew, designed to be given once daily. Jake gets this every evening, as a treat before bed. His owner has reduced his daily food ration to take account of the calories in the dental chew, and he's stayed at his ideal weight. Jake did originally need a dental clean up and polish, to remove the build up of tartar that had occurred before he started his dental chews. But the daily chew regime has worked wonders for his back teeth (the molars), and they're as clean as Clara's. The front teeth (canines) have accumulated some tartar (Jake doesn't use these when chewing), but the problem is a minor one that doesn't need any intervention at this stage. Home dental care is an important part of a pet's daily routine, whether you choose an active or passive approach. To find out more, read the Wikivet section on dental hygiene, by clicking here.
2 Comments

Training dogs: can old dogs learn tricks? And what about residential “boot camps” for dogs?

[caption id="attachment_4418" align="aligncenter" width="442"] Does your dog 'sit and stay'?[/caption]

The early autumn is a bit like a mini-New Year. The summer has ended, schools have gone back, and the term-time routines start again. It can be a great time to start new projects, and for many dog owners, that can include tackling the complicated issue of training their pet. Many dog owners have pets with bad habits that they want to change.

Dogs behave in response to the way that their owners treat them. A dog will only beg from the table at mealtime if her owner has taught her to do this by feeding titbits in the past. A dog will only jump up onto the settee if she has been allowed to do this by her owner. It then follows that it is possible to re-train dogs by changing the way we behave towards them. A dog can be re-trained at any age, by using modern dog training methods.

Anybody can set themselves up to be a dog trainer, and so there’s a wide variety of styles and standards in the dog training world. Some have had formal instruction in dog training. Some have even passed exams. Others are self-taught. It’s best to choose trainers who have been taught the latest techniques, and who continue to make an effort to keep themselves up to date.

As in other areas of life, dog training is an evolving science. Techniques used thirty years ago would now be thought to be completely inappropriate by the experts. The modern belief is that dogs should be trained by reward rather than by punishment. Choke chains should never be used. Dogs should never be hit or hurt during training.

It is very important to choose the right dog trainer, and owners should spend some time doing research rather than just choosing the first name they find in the phone book. It could be useful to go along to a training class as an observer. Do you like the style of the trainer? Talk to a few of the dog owners at the class. Have they found the classes useful and effective?

Once you have chosen a dog trainer, make sure that you attend classes regularly, and make sure that everyone in the household knows the rules. Dogs need consistent, continual monitoring. If one person in the house persists in feeding the dog from the table, she will never learn to stop begging.

It's one thing to train a puppy or a young dog, but what about retraining an adult dog? How do you break old habits? This is much more challenging, but it’s still possible.

One controversial answer can sometimes be to send your pet off to a ‘training camp’. Dogs stay at the training centre for a two or three week period. They are taken out of their own environment, and they are taught a new routine. When you collect your dog, you are first shown a twenty-minute video of your dog behaving in a calm, obedient way. You are then given a two-hour lesson in the techniques that you need to use to ensure that your dog continues to behave calmly and obediently. Finally, the training centre remains in contact with you, so that you can telephone them if you have problems, or even book your dog in for another training session if needed.

This type of "boot camp" is controversial, with many trainers believing that it is a short cut that should not be taken, and that an owner needs to be involved from the start, all the way through the process. My own view is that, like many aspects of pet care, it is impossible to make a "one size fits all" pronouncement. Residential training works well for some dogs, but not all.

Regardless of what sort of dog training you choose, the formal instruction is only the first stage. The second stage is up to you. You need to spend fifteen minutes a day working with your pet. For long-term success, you need to stick to a simple but challenging statement – ‘I promise to continue to give my dog regular daily training sessions’!

No Comments

Ask a vet online – My dog has black dandruff!

Sheila Elcott asked: I have an 11 year old red fox lab boy who keeps getting a build up of black coloured dandruff type patches under his chin & his manly areas. Up to date with spot on. Is it his age & lack of my grooming care? After bathing & removing said patches the skin clears. He has hip & elbow dysplacia to boot. Tnx Answer: Hi Sheila, thanks for your question. Skin problems in dogs can be really frustrating to deal with, so I'll go through some of the possibilities, then talk about how they can be investigated and managed. So, what can cause patches of black dandruff material to appear? There are a number of possibilities that spring immediately to mind:
  • Flea dirt. Flea droppings are black flecks, sometimes comma-shaped.
    • I know you're up to date with spot-on, but there are a wide range of different products out there, some of which are more effective and longer-lasting than others. In addition, most spot-ons are water soluble, so regular bathing or swimming will reduce their effectiveness.
    • You'll very rarely see a live flea unless there's a really severe infestation. To check it out, try the wet paper test:
      • Scrape some of the black material onto a sheet of wet white paper.
      • If it goes red, it is probably a flea dropping - they're basically just dried digested blood.
  • Scabs. As blood dries, it turns black and crumbly. It can be caused by:
    • Lice. Heavy louse infestation can cause scabbing where the parasites suck.
    • Skin infections. In these areas, this would typically be a skin fold infection, where saliva or moisture is trapped against the skin, damaging it and allowing infection to become established.
    • Allergic reactions (e.g. contact dermatitis). Reactions to products such as surface cleaners, pesticides, some plants, etc etc; typically affect the high-contact surfaces - chin, elbows, hocks and belly.
  • Sebaceous matter. Sometimes, excessive secretion of sebum may give the symptoms you're discuss. This may be due to sebaceous adenitis (an inflammatory disorder), or simply from aging changes.
Unfortunately, without seeing the dog, it's difficult to know which of these is the most likely for your boy! So where do we go from here? Ideally, you want to rule out parasites - do a wet paper test; and ask your vet to do skin scrapes and tape strips to examine the black material and the skin underneath it. Also, try and see if there's anything that seems to trigger an episode - for example, if it always flares up after using a particular floor cleaner, I'd be really suspicious it was an allergic reaction. So what can be done? If a specific cause can be identified, obviously it should be treated (for example, a louse infestation should be treated; and you should avoid using any products that your dog is allergic to). Even if not, there are certain techniques that may be useful in controlling the symptoms. As the problem resolves with cleaning, I'm quite suspicious that it might be a skin-fold infection - these are often more common in older dogs. In general, these can be controlled with grooming, good hygiene, and the use of medicated antiseptic wipes (e.g. CLX wipes) to control the growth of bacteria in the area. Sometimes, bathing with an antiseptic shampoo can help as well - you should talk to your vet about the options. I hope that helps and you can get him sorted out! David Harris BVSc MRCVS
6 Comments