Ask a Vet Online – ‘I have a border collie he has progressive retinal atrophy and now he has a cateract, is there anything that can be done for him?’

Question from Anne Wood

I have a border collie 5 years old. Hes a very frightened dog but he is completly blind in 1 eye and partly blind in the other the vet told me it was progressive retinal atrophy and now he has a cateract on top of his blind eye, is there anything that can be done for him please and thank you for taking the time to read this.

Answer from Shanika Online Vet

Hi Anne, thank you for your question regarding your dog’s eyes and behaviour.

So what is progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)?

As the name suggests it is a condition where there is gradual degeneration of the retina (layer lining the back of the eye). PRA is usually an inherited condition and sadly there is no cure for it, however on the positive side it rarely causes pain. There is no treatment for PRA at present, there have been some trials of using antioxidants to slow down the degenerative process but the results of this are as of yet inconclusive.

Cataracts are a common finding along with PRA; a cataract is cloudiness in the lens of the eye. The loss of vision caused by the PRA itself means that cataract surgery is rarely advised as there will not be much improvement to vision as a result of the surgery.

How would I know that my dog has PRA and how is it diagnosed?

Owners usually notice a loss of vision in the pet, most noticeable in low light conditions, their pets pupils may appear more dilated with an increased glow/shine (tapetal reflex) from the back of the eye.

A diagnosis is usually made when your vet or ophthalmologist examines your dog’s eyes and notices the damage to the retina.

What can I do for my dog with PRA?

Sadly there is no treatment for PRA itself but as it is a painless condition then it is more a case of trying to help your dog to adjust to his gradual loss of vision. Generally the other senses smell, hearing, touch and taste increase to try and compensate for the one that is deteriorating.

You can take steps to make your home environment easier for your dog with poor or no vision to get around. Keep large pieces of furniture in the same place, use stair gates to block off dangerous areas, when out and about use lots of vocal and physical clues to let your dog know where you are and to provide reassurance.

Dogs are incredibly resilient animals and adjust very well to changes especially when they are gradual. I hope that this answer has helped you to understand a little bit about PRA and how both you and your dog can still lead a happy life together………

Think before you throw… The trauma of canine stick injuries…..

Who “wood” have thought that playing with a simple tree branch or stick could result in such life threatening injuries?

With such a vast selection of toys available today for our canine companions it is a wonder why the simple tree branch / stick is still so widely used as an interactive “toy” for dogs to chase , catch and retrieve. Often so freely available after a windy winters day the selection of the most suitable stick can be so tempting, often dogs will help themselves with an overzealous approach attempting to carry a tree branch much larger than their own body length or owners simply pick up a small stick that would be much easier to throw, fly through the air further and with the added advantage to float in water too!

But do you ever stop and think of the implications of throwing a stick? And the serious life threatening injuries that can result?

Dogs are natural athletes often with a desire to do everything with such speed and with an abundance of enthusiasm during play. Mid-air acrobatics during stick catching is often considered part of the “fun” but severe trauma can result ; I have even nursed a dog that have caught the stick and then ran into a tree resulting in a cervical fracture in the neck!

The hidden “minor” injuries that occur through playing with sticks can often go unnoticed for a period of days, often lacerations occur under the tongue, in the laryngeal area, or stick fragments become lodged in the roof of the mouth which cannot be seen. Often symptoms of excessive salivation and reduction of appetite might be the only indication of oral damage……

How to walk your dog safely in the dark months of winter

As the clocks go back next Sunday (28th October) at the end of British Summer Time, millions of dog owners in the UK will be walking their dogs in the dark when they come home from work. Road casualty statistics show that there is an 18 per cent rise during the winter months in the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured in road accidents: it’s darker, wetter and windier out there.
Road traffic accidents – RTA’s – are the most common cause of serious injury to pet dogs. While it’s true that many accidents happen when dogs are out on their own, a surprising number happen to dogs that are accompanied by their owners. And even more surprisingly, dogs can even be hit by cars while on the leash. I remember one case, where an owner was walking on a narrow footpath, with their dog on one of those extendable leashes. It was a dark evening, with poor visibility. Cars were swooshing by at speed. A cat darted out of some bushes beside the road, and the terrier leapt after it without thinking, straight into traffic. The oncoming car braked heavily, but couldn’t avoid hitting the dog. The unfortunate owner was left shocked, with a badly injured dog at the end of his leash.
It’s important to take steps to ensure that you – and your dog – are as safe as possible during those evening walks in the winter. The UK’s biggest dog charity, Dogs Trust, has put together some useful tips to help.
Keep control of your dog and don’t let him off lead unless you are in a safe area which is well lit
Wear high visibility clothing such as jackets, vests or reflective strips on your clothes so you can be easily seen by motorists
A reflective collar and lead or a high visibility coat or flashing collar will also increase your dog’s visibility in the dark
Work out a winter dog walking route which, in urban areas, includes both wide pavements and bright street lighting
If there is no pavement, walk against the flow of the traffic and keep your dog on the side farthest from the road
Carry a torch which will help you be seen and also enable to you see to pick up your dog’s mess. Or, consider a head torch so your hands are free
Walking in groups can be safer than on your own
If possible, take your dog in the car to a place where you can walk away from the roadside. Many parks and sports fields have lighting but always check that dogs are allowed first
Make sure your dog is well trained and responsive to commands. For helpful tips on training, visit www.dogstrust.org.uk
With some thoughtful planning, you can make dog-walking a safer, more enjoyable activity, for both you and your pet. Take care out there this winter.

A new trend: pets with human names

A survey of the most popular pet names of 2012 has just been released by Co-Operative Pet Insurance, and there seems to be an interesting trend: people are beginning to call their pets the same names as their children. The most popular dog names are are Alfie, Molly and Poppy, with Charlie and Max following, whilst the most popular cat names are Charlie, Molly and Poppy closely followed by Oscar and Alfie. The survey shows that pet owners are moving away from traditional pet names such as Rover and Whiskers, and are now choosing human names. The top two pet names also appear in the recently released top 10 children’s names.
This is something that I’ve noticed in practice as a vet: some people are even using names that can’t be shortened into handy “calling” names, such as Christopher, Andrew and Margaret.
This new approach to pet names reflects a change in the way that people view their pets: they are now often seen as members of the human family. Many people see themselves as “pet parents” rather than “owners”, so it seems natural to use children’s names rather than animal versions. The humanisation of pets has become visible in veterinary consult rooms too…………….

The death of Ben Fogle’s dog: his honest grief is helpful to us all

Ben Fogle has written a moving piece in the Sunday Telegraph about the loss of his Black Labrador, Inca. At twelve years of age, she had lost the power in both hind legs. Ben made the right decision for Inca, but it was still terribly difficult to go through the process of euthanasia. His article is unusually frank, with Ben describing how he “burst into uncontrollable tears” on the telephone when talking to his veterinary surgeon father, Bruce, about the situation. Then later, Ben describes the actual act of euthanasia:
“I carried her from the car into the house, burying my face into her fur, and laid her on the kitchen floor. Mum, Dad and my sister were all there. “I lay on the floor, hugging Inca while Dad injected her. Her breathing became heavy. I could feel her heart pounding and the warm blood beneath her skin. I breathed the familiar scent of her fur as I nuzzled into her thick coat. I have never sobbed like that in my life. It was a primal, uncontrollable, guttural sob as I felt her heart stop beating.I lay there on the kitchen floor clutching my best friend, unable to move. Wishing, hoping it was a dream, I held her lifeless body.”
Many readers have commented on the online version of Ben’s article, with some describing how tears were streaming down their face as they read his words.
Ben’s account will come as no surprise to vets and nurses: we witness people going through the emotional trauma of losing a pet every day, or even several times in one day. Perhaps the only surprising aspect is that the depth of grief isn’t discussed more commonly in public. It’s as if it’s only behind closed doors that it’s acceptable to express this level of grief for an animal……………………….

But can’t he just die in his sleep…..?

This week my Granny died, which was sad for us all but she was very old, had had a wonderful life and her family was with her at the end. She had been in a home for some time and was cared for very well. When she became sick and bedbound, the doctors and nurses worked together to keep her comfortable and pain free, until she slipped away in her sleep. I am lucky in that she was the first person I knew well who has died and this experience has made me understand why many people hope this is how their pets will go. However, to die in their sleep is rarely a pleasant or pain free experience for our animals.

Although, just like people, our pets are living longer and healthier lives, inevitably there comes a time when their age catches up with them and illnesses develop. Advances in veterinary care mean we can do a lot for them but eventually we won’t be able to keep up with their problems. If they were people we would put them in wheelchairs or place them in a home where their needs could be catered for, for example being assisted to the toilet or spoon fed but this isn’t practical, or in most cases fair, to a pet who won’t understand what is happening….

Getting ready for an anaesthetic at the vets

At one time or another we all have to face our beloved pets having an anaesthetic which can be a scary process if it’s not properly explained. Fortunately most veterinary practices have a fantastic team of nurses that can help you understand the procedure. (NB. I have used “he” in the article for continuity but this goes for all dogs a

and cats regardless of gender).

To give you a head start, here are some top tips:

1. The number one golden rule for preparing for an anaesthetic is no food after midnight (this does not apply to rabbits or guinea pigs). Also, some practices may give you an earlier time say nine or ten o’clock but the principle is still the same, basically no midnight feasts and no breakfast. The reason for this is two fold. The main reason is to stop your pet vomiting and potentially inhaling it. This can also prevent nausea on recovery. Another reason is to try and prevent any ‘accidents’ on the operating table which increases the risk of contaminating the surgical environment although to safe guard against this, some practices routinely give enemas and express bladders before surgery. So, while it breaks your heart to tuck in to steak and chips with Fido giving you the big brown eyes treatment console yourself with the knowledge that you are actually acting in his best interests to help minimise the risk of anaesthetic.

2. Give your pet the opportunity to relieve himself before coming into the surgery. Obviously this is easier with dogs but while we advise taking dogs for a walk before coming in we don’t mean a five mile hike on the beach with a swim in the sea, we mean a nice gentle walk around the block to encourage toileting. If you bring your dog in covered in dirt and sea water, you’re increasing the anaesthetic risk as we have to keep him asleep longer while we prep him. (See my previous article about how we prepare your pet for a surgical procedure).

3. Tell the nurse when she is admitting him whether you have noticed any unusual behaviour. Vomiting, diarrhoea, coughing or sneezing can all be indicators of problems and may need to be investigated prior to anaesthesia. Also tell the nurse if your pet is on any medication, when he last had it and bring it with you if you can. This way, if your pet needs to stay in after his operation, they will have everything he needs without adding extra to your bill…………

Is the government serious about tackling irresponsible dog ownership?

The government has fudged the dog laws again. A written ministerial statement from the Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs was released today, with the promising title “Tackling Irresponsible Dog Ownership“.

A statement had been widely anticipated but its content had only been guessed at. In the Daily Telegraph over the weekend, Germaine Greer called for stricter controls on dog ownership, including a licence for humans to have dogs. I wrote a counter-piece, suggesting that such a radical change was not needed. My own choice would be to follow the suggestions of the RSPCA, Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club, who have suggested simple measures such as universal microchipping of all dogs, along with new legal instruments such as Dog Control Orders which could be used to force irresponsible dog owners to smarten up.

So did the government say? You can read the full statement for yourself, but it seems to me to come down to three main actions:

1) The extension of the Dangerous Dogs Act to include private property. While this will bring some relief to postmen and other casual visitors to doggy households, intruders should be aware that this specifically excludes “trespassers”. It seems that dogs can continue to bite burglars’ bums without fear of being sued.

2) The police will no longer automatically seize and kennel dogs that are accused of being “dangerous” pending the outcome of court proceedings. This will be a great relief to owners of Pitbull-look-alikes that ran the risk of being impounded because of a mischievous complaint from a neighbour. The civil servants in charge of police budgets will be relieved that they no longer will need to pay for months of boarding for dogs “awaiting trial”.

3) The government has announced its intention to “introduce regulations under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 on microchipping to promote animal welfare by making it easier for local authorities and rescue centres to quickly re-unite stray dogs with their owners.” And this is where the fudge comes in: a decision has not been made on how to do this. The government is going to have “a further consultation to give the public an opportunity to give their views”.

Four possible methods of introducing microchipping are listed:…………..

Could Carprodyl Kill your Dog?

The headline in today’s Daily Mail is typically attention-grabbing: “Could the drug that cost this beloved pet its life kill YOUR dog too?” The article tells the sad story of a thirteen year old Labrador who died after taking pain-relieving medication prescribed by her vet. There’s no doubt that many owners of elderly, arthritis-ridden dogs will be rushing to their vets this week to find out if their own pets are at risk of the same fate.

So what is this drug? Why do vets prescribe medicine which may risk such a severe reaction? And when they do use it, why don’t they tell owners about the potential dangers?

First, the medication was Carprodyl, a generic form of a chemical called carprofen, which is part of a group of drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Carprofen has become perhaps the most widely used pain relieving medication used in veterinary medicine since it was launched as “Rimadyl” by Pfizer, around fifteen years ago. The patent on the chemical has now lapsed, so a wide range of cheaper generic alternatives have become available. Most vet clinics in the UK are likely to sell some version of the product.

Second, why do vets prescribe it? Simply put, because it’s the most effective way of treating arthritis in dogs. Many millions of older animals have been given extra, pain-free life thanks to this type of medication. Three years ago, a major review was published in the Vet Record, comparing the wide range of treatments available to help dogs with the common, painful, debilitating problem of arthritis. The review gathered together the results of research papers published between 1985 and 2007, attempting to derive the best science-based opinion of the best treatment method. The conclusion? There was strong evidence that carprofen and two other commonly used drugs from the same group were “effective in moderating the clinical signs of osteoarthritis”. There was only weak or moderate evidence that other treatments were effective. The conclusion for any vet reading this paper was clear: carprofen and other similar drugs are the most effective way of helping animals with arthritis.

Obviously, an effective drug needs to be safe, so what about those risks? While it’s true that all drugs in this group can have undesirable and potentially life threatening consequences, the incidence is very low. The most common side effect is gastric irritation: affected dogs suffer from gastroenteritis which usually resolves when the medication is stopped. Much more rarely, there’s a very low risk of kidney failure associated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs…….

Thinking of getting a puppy?

This week I have seen two different families who each bought a puppy with very little thought or planning and then ran into problems that caused the animals to be rehomed (with one narrowly avoiding being euthanised), as neither could cope with or afford the issues they faced. What is particularly sad is that with a little forethought and planning, all of this could have been avoided.

Before you decide to buy a dog (and tell the kids!) you must make sure you can afford them. As well as the day-to-day costs of feeding, you also have to consider vaccines, worming and flea treatment, neutering and training classes, not to mention vets fees if things go wrong. Owning a dog can cost many thousands of pounds over their lifetime, even if they don’t have any particular health problems. Pet insurance is vital but it won’t cover routine medications or surgeries. A lack of funds was what caused the problems for both the families I saw recently.

Secondly, do your research into your chosen breed and make absolutely sure they are going to be suitable for you and your lifestyle. All dogs need a reasonable amount of exercise, aim for at least an hour a day, but some require much more than others.

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.