All the latest info on caring for your pet

Looking for something in particular? Check our categories!

Do I need to worry about “Alabama Rot”?

You may have read in the news recently of another cluster of dogs affected with the exotically named “Alabama Rot”. Also known as “Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy” (CRGV), this condition is still poorly understood. As a result, there’s a lot of worry and speculation, and vets are receiving increasing numbers of panic-stricken phone-calls from dog owners! So, what do we actually know about CRGV? What is it? Firstly, let’s specify what it isn't – for example, despite excitable media reports, it isn't a “flesh eating bug”. Nor is it a “superbug” or a variant of the Ebola (or any other) virus. Technically speaking, it is a form of thrombotic microangiopathy, a condition where blood clots form in the small blood vessels in the body, blocking off blood supply. For some reason, the skin and the kidneys are most sensitive; without a blood supply, the tissue dies, causing ulcers on the skin, and failure of the kidneys. Is it a new disease?                                      Not exactly – it was first diagnosed in the United States in the 1980s. However, the first cases in the UK were detected in November 2012; since then, cases have been seen from across the country (there’s a map of confirmed and suspected cases here). It is most common in the winter and spring – most cases are detected between November and May. What causes it? No-one knows. It is probable that a bacterial toxin (i.e. a poison made by bacteria, that causes disease even in the absence of the bacteria themselves) is involved, perhaps from E. coli; however, this has not yet been confirmed, and tests for E. coli shigatoxin (one possible culprit) have proved negative. There is, however, no evidence that it is caused by a toxic plant, heavy metal poisoning, or genetics (although it was once thought that only Greyhounds and other sighthounds were predisposed, this is not now thought to be the case). It has been suggested that contaminated pet food may be involved, but this seems improbable – there just aren't enough affected dogs for that to be likely. So what are the symptoms? Initially, the first sign is an ulcer or wound, usually on the legs. They typically look like small, round sores and usually occur on the legs, but may also be found on the body, face or tongue. The lesions range from 5 to 50mm (1/5” – 2”) in diameter. 1-9 days later (usually about 3), affected dogs will usually suffer acute kidney failure. The symptoms are of increased thirst, changes in urination (increased amounts of dilute urine, or in more severe cases, reduction or absence of urine production). This is accompanied by lethargy, anorexia, vomiting, depression and often bad breath (which may smell metallic). Once clinical signs of renal failure occur, the prognosis for recovery is poor. Dogs that, for whatever reason, do not progress beyond the skin lesion stage have a better prognosis, assuming no further complications develop. Overall, half of the dogs affected will suffer abnormal bleeding (thrombocytopaenia); about a third may show some degree of jaundice (yellow gums and eyes); and one in five are anaemic (with pale gums and difficulty catching their breath). How do dogs get it? Firstly, it doesn't seem to be contagious from dog to dog, or to or from humans. The current thinking is that there is an environmental link – most cases are associated with walking in muddy woodlands, and it may be that there is a toxin in the mud that is absorbed by the dogs. How can it be avoided? As we don’t know the exact cause, avoidance is difficult. However, thorough washing of your dog’s coat after walking in woodland (especially if muddy… like everywhere this year!) is a sensible precaution that should reduce the risk. In addition, it is likely that certain places pose a higher risk than others; if there has been a case in your area, it is probably wise to avoid areas where the affected dog(s) were walked in the days before they were diagnosed. It’s also really important to check your dogs over regularly – not just for sores or ulcers, but also for cuts, ticks, mats of hair or other injuries. How do I know if my dog is affected? Fortunately, most dogs with skin lesions don't have CRGV! However, if your dog does have any strange or unexplained sores or wounds, it’s important to get them checked out by your vet – in the vast majority of cases, they’ll be able to demonstrate a far less worrying condition. They can also do blood tests to check for kidney problems – although as it is often several days before these show up, repeating the blood tests in 48 hours may be necessary. How can CRGV be treated? Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment. However, treatment of the skin ulcers will minimise the risk of secondary infection; and if kidney failure occurs or appears imminent, hospitalisation and intensive care will maximise the affected dog’s chance of survival. In some cases, referral to a specialist hospital may be suggested, to give your dog the best available care and therefore chance of recovery. How dangerous is it? As a rough estimate, the condition is fatal in 80-90% of cases. However, early diagnosis and treatment is thought to maximise the chances of survival. Fortunately, it is still a very rare disease – in the last three months, there have only been 4 cases (in Staffordshire, Hampshire, Greater London and Lancashire). If you are concerned your dog may be affected, contact your vet for advice – however, the majority of skin lesions and sores will be due to cuts, insect bites or grazes, and are nothing to worry about. It’s also important to remember that, even if your dog is affected, prompt diagnosis and rapid treatment gives them a much better chance of survival. For more information please visit Anderson Moores Veterinary Specialists who are taking the lead in treatment and advice on the condition.

Grapes and raisins can kill dogs. Read this to find out how to keep your pet safe this Christmas.

Does your dog enjoy mince pies and Christmas cake? Beware: you could accidentally poison them.

For many people, it seems unbelievable that grapes and raisins can poison dogs. They're harmless to humans. We've all seen dogs occasionally eating foods containing raisins with no apparent ill effects. How can they suddenly be poisonous?

Why are grapes and raisins not always poisonous to dogs, and never poisonous to humans? First, like all poisons, the poisonous effect depends on the dose taken per kilogram of animal body weight. Large dogs can safely eat some raisins without problems. Secondly, the toxic ingredient in raisins seems only to be present intermittently, so a dog may eat raisins without problems on several occasions, then fall seriously ill the next time. What is the toxic ingredient in grapes and raisins? The actual toxic ingredient is still a mystery. The fact that grapes and raisins can be poisonous has only been deduced by circumstantial evidence, with many dogs developing acute renal failure for no obvious reason, with the only common factor being the previous ingestion of grapes or raisins. Samples of the fruit in such cases has been analysed, but a toxic agent has not yet been isolated. The best guess so far is that it is a water-soluble substance, and that it's in the flesh of the grape/raisin, but not the seed. One theory is that it is a mycotoxin (i.e. a poison produced by moulds or fungi on the grapes). The problem in dogs was first highlighted after a year with high levels of rainfall. This had led to damp grapes which were more likely to develop fungal growth. But why should humans be safe from this toxin? It's well known that cultured dog kidney cells in the laboratory are exquisitely sensitive to other types of mycotoxins. It makes logical sense that dog kidneys might also be more sensitive to damage by another mycotoxin, even its identity has yet to be established. So how much do owners need to worry about grape/raisin toxicity? If a terrier steals a mince pie, is a visit to the vet needed? If a Labrador has a slice of Christmas cake, do they need to be taken to the emergency vet? This is always a judgment that is not black and white. It seems sensible to look at the lowest recorded doses of grapes or raisins linked to acute renal failure in previous cases of poisoned dogs. This allows an estimate of the probable toxic dose depending on the animal's body weight. Grapes The lowest toxic dose is around 20g grapes per one kilogram of body weight. A typical grape weighs 2 – 5g, making a toxic dose is around 4 grapes per kg. So if a 5kg terrier eats 20 grapes, or a 30kg Labrador eats 120 grapes, there's a high chance of a serious problem, and veterinary intervention is definitely indicated. Raisins The lowest poisonous dose in confirmed cases has been around 3g/kg. An average raisin weighs around 0.5g, making a toxic dose approximately 6 raisins per kg. So if a 5kg terrier eats 30 raisins, or a 30kg Labrador eats 120 raisinsthey need to see the vet. Some studies have suggested that the toxic agent is neutralised by cooking, so cooked raisins (e.g. in pies and cakes) may not present such a high risk.

Important note

Please remember that the above doses mention quantities that have definitely caused serious kidney failure in the past. The decision on whether or not to take a pet to the vet is a personal decision, taken after balancing the possible risks. Many people prefer to take a conservative approach, to be as safe as possible. For example, if a dog has eaten even half of the above quantities, it may be safer to take them to the vet for “just in case” treatment.

What do vets do for dog that have eaten grapes/ raisins? 1) If ingestion has happened in the previous hour. This is the ideal situation: the vet can give an injection to cause the pet to vomit, emptying the stomach and removing the grapes/raisins before any toxic ingredients have had a chance to be absorbed into the bloodstream. 2) If ingestion has happened in the previous two days but the pet is still well Depending on the situation, vomiting may still be induced, activated charcoal may be given to limit absorption of the toxin, and intravenous fluids may be given to flush fluids through the kidneys in an attempt to minimise any damage. Blood and urine tests may be recommended to monitor kidney function. If the dog is well after three days, then the high risk period is over. 3) If ingestion has happened and the dog is unwell (e.g. vomiting, dull, inappetant) In such cases, the kidneys may have already been damaged by the toxin. Urine and blood tests will be carried out to assess the severity of the damage to the kidneys, and intensive care will be needed to save the pet's life, including high levels of intravenous fluids. The prognosis is guarded: unfortunately, some affected dogs die, despite the vet's best efforts.  Conclusion.
  • Keep grapes and raisins away from dogs.
  • If any dog eats them accidentally, phone your local vet (even if it's after-hours)
  • Tell your vet how many grapes/raisins were eaten along with the body weight of your pet.
  • Your vet will then advise you on the safest course of action.
No Comments

Antifreeze, the killer chemical of pets – don’t let yours be a victim.

Antifreeze, which often contains ethylene glycol, is very good at doing what it says on the bottle.  If you have ice on your windscreen or want to keep various pipes and water features from freezing up, then adding antifreeze will do the job.  What the bottle DOESN’T always say, however, is that antifreeze is so toxic to cats, dogs and other small mammals and that it takes only about a teaspoon in a cat or a tablespoon in a dog of the substance to bring about a rapid and unpleasant death.  In fact, a recent news article has highlighted the fact that around 50 cats a month in the UK are killed by antifreeze poisoning.

Why is it such a big problem?

Antifreeze is a commonly used chemical, especially in the winter months, but many people are unaware of the danger it poses to animals.  Even small children are at risk, because ethylene glycol has a sweet taste that most mammals wouldn’t think twice about consuming.  It can leak out of damaged car pipes and onto the drive where cats then lick it up, or perhaps a small amount of the substance was left in the bottle and left open after use.  Ethylene glycol can be found in radiator coolant, windscreen de-icing agents, motor oils, hydraulic brake fluid, paints, photographic chemicals and various solvents.  A worrying new trend is for people to use it in their garden water features to keep them from freezing – an extremely dangerous action as many cats and also wildlife use these features to drink from.  Unfortunately, some heartless people also use the substance to intentionally poison cats that get into their garden, and there are several cases of this under investigation at the moment.

How does it affect cats?

Initial signs include behavioural changes, such as looking groggy or ‘drunk’, which makes sense because the chemical binds to the same receptors as alcohol in the body.  These initial signs may only last for 1-6 hours, then they seem to recover but although they may appear to temporarily feel better, the real damage has already begun.  Ethylene glycol causes crystals of calcium oxalate to form within the kidneys and because these crystals cannot be dissolved once formed, the damage is irreversible and rapid kidney failure results.  Within hours to days the cat may start urinating more, then not at all as the kidneys shut down.  This results in a build-up of toxins within the blood causing severe lethargy and lack of appetite, panting, vomiting, oral or gastric ulceration and sometimes coma or seizures.  Death almost always occurs within a few days.

Is there any treatment?

If you are lucky enough to see your cat or dog ingest antifreeze and can get them to the vet within about 3 hours before the product has a chance to be metabolised, then treatment is possible though the recommended treatment is very expensive and most vets aren’t able to stock it.  Interestingly, one of the treatments for antifreeze toxicity is ethanol (aka the ‘vodka drip’ you may have heard about), as the alcohol prevents the ethylene glycol from binding to receptors in the body.  This treatment is dangerous in itself however, so the prognosis for recovery is still guarded.  If treatment is successful, affected animals will likely have to stay in hospital for several days on a drip to flush out any remaining toxins from the body and some degree of permanent kidney damage is likely.

What can we do to cut down on antifreeze poisonings?

The best thing you can do at home is to not use antifreeze that contains ethylene glycol.  Many newer products now contain propylene glycol, which isn’t nearly as toxic.  Have your car serviced regularly to ensure there are no leaks onto the drive, and if you do spot a leak, clean it up immediately and dispose of all waste or empty containers properly.  Many suppliers put bright fluorescent green dye into their products so it’s easy to spot in a puddle on the drive.  Most vets stock a UV or black light which makes this dye glow brightly and finding the dye on the cat’s paws or muzzle can be a good way to confirm exposure.  If your neighbour has a water feature in their garden, it might be wise to confirm that they are not using antifreeze and to inform them of the dangers if they are not already aware.  Another recommendation that has been suggested is to put a bitter-tasting substance (Bitrex) in the antifreeze so that any sensible animal or child would spit it out as soon as they tasted it, but not all companies regularly do this.  This would also cut down on intentional poisonings.  At the very least, all products containing ethylene glycol should be clearly labelled as being fatal to animals.

Spread the word – antifreeze kills! Amy Bergs DVM MRCVS  - Visit The Cat Doctor website by clicking HERE

E-cigarettes – Safe for smokers but not for our pets!

No-one could have missed the phenomenon of e-cigarettes. On every street, in shops, pubs and restaurants there are people sucking on the pen-like objects. The jury is still out on whether they are better for the smoker’s health than traditional cigarettes but they are undoubtedly very dangerous for our pets. Electronic cigarettes are battery powdered devices that vapourise a liquid, which is then inhaled. The fluid is held in a small chamber in the middle of the device and is a mixture of glycerin (a colourless liquid), flavouring and nicotine in varying concentrations. Nicotine is the substance which makes cigarettes so addictive but in the tiny quantities smokers inhale, it is not especially dangerous. It is the tar and other elements which are carcinogenic and this is why many people are opting for e-cigarettes. However, in large doses nicotine it is extremely toxic and can even be deadly. Many a curious pet, especially dogs and in-particular puppies, have been caught chewing things they shouldn’t. However, while gnawing on a pair of shoes won’t damage their health (unless you catch them!), it is a very different story with e-cigarettes. The nicotine concentration in e-cigarettes varies; the lowest is 60mg of nicotine in total, while the highest can be as much as 240mg. The toxic dose for dogs is only 4mg/kg and the lethal dose is 9mg/kg. Therefore even the least potent will be harmful to all but the largest dogs and for the average sized pet, most could be lethal. Symptoms of nicotine poisoning include vomiting, drooling, an increased heart rate and pale gums. These will progress to fitting, after which the dog can slip into a coma and die. It can take between 15 minutes and an hour an a half for these signs to appear, so even if your pet has chewed at your e-cigarette and seems fine, you must seek veterinary advice immediately. Also, make sure you have the device or packaging close to hand so you can tell your vet approximately how much they have ingested. It is vital that treatment for nicotine poisoning is started as soon as possible. Unfortunately there is no antidote, your vet can only support your pet’s system while their liver detoxifies the poison. Therapies will include; setting up an IV drip, using sedative medications to stop any fits and pumping out the stomach. Nicotine poisoning has always occurred in dogs but with normal cigarettes, they would have to eat an awful lot and they would most likely be sick before all the toxin was absorbed. However, with the e-cigarettes high concentration of pure nicotine, it’s rapid absorption into the body and their increase in popularity, it is likely both vets and owners are going to see more problems. Therefore, it is important that we are all aware of the dangers this new phenomenon poses and remember to keep e-cigarettes well out of the way of curious noses!

Protect your dogs: lock up your Easter Eggs

[caption id="attachment_3340" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Dogs - small dogs especially - are easily poisoned by chocolate"]Dogs - small dogs especially - are easily poisoned by chocolate[/caption] Easter is a celebration of the Christian faith, but in our modern secular world, it's known more for the celebration of eating chocolate, in the form of Easter eggs.

Chocolate is a popular treat for humans, but it's also the most common poison to affect dogs: in the UK, there are nearly 2000 cases reported every year.

A small dog can die after eating a single Easter egg. The chemical in chocolate that gives humans a pleasant buzz – theobromine – has a highly toxic effect on dogs, rapidly poisoning the heart and brain.

A small chocolate indulgence that would be an enjoyable treat for a human can kill a dog, and the toxic dose is surprisingly small. Half a small bar of dark chocolate – around 50g (2 ounces) - is enough to end the life of a little terrier weighing 5kg. Milk chocolate is less dangerous, needing twice as much for the same effect. A standard Easter egg may weigh around 200g, which means that half an egg can be enough to kill a small dog.

Small dogs are much more at risk: the toxic effect is dose-dependent, so a 50kg German Shepherd would need to eat ten times as much chocolate as a 5kg terrier to be affected.

There is a misconception about the main source of risk to dogs: while it is not advisable to give morsels of chocolates as treats, it is rare for dogs to be poisoned in this way. Far more commonly, dogs die after stealing chocolate. Dogs love eating chocolate and they don't have an "off switch" when they are full. They just keep eating until the chocolate is finished.

Two years ago, my own dog Kiko managed to steal an unopened box of chocolates from the kitchen table when she was alone in the room. I had to give her emergency treatment to empty her stomach.

[caption id="attachment_3341" align="alignright" width="300" caption="My own dog broke into this chocolate box, eating half a trayful of tasty but dangerous chocolates"]My own dog broke into this chocolate box, eating half a trayful[/caption] I was fortunate that as a vet, I had the drugs available to cause her to vomit, but what should an owner do in a similar situation?

You need to act quickly. If the chocolate is removed from the stomach within an hour, there's a good chance that this will be soon enough to prevent serious ill effects of poisoning.

Work out exactly how much chocolate, and what type of chocolate, your dog has eaten, in grams. Write this down.

Weigh your dog, and write this down too.

Phone your vet and explain what has happened. If it is after-hours, then call the emergency vet. It's an urgent crisis and there is no time to waste.

The vet should be able to advise you whether or not you need to take action: this will be calculated from the quantity and type of chocolate and the size of the dog. If there is a risk, the vet may tell you how to attempt to make the dog vomit at home (this is not always possible) or may recommend that you rush the animal in to see the vet at once (the vet can give an injection that immediate induces vomiting).

The most important message is "DO NOT DELAY". Once the chocolate has been absorbed into the

dog’s bloodstream, there’s sometimes little that can be done to help. The signs of poisoning start within six hours of the chocolate being eaten, reaching a peak at around twelve hours. Classic signs include restlessness, vomiting and diarrhoea, with tremors, convulsions and heart failure following soon after. Even with treatment, some dogs survive but many don’t. I see dogs dying of chocolate poisoning every year.

All of the crises that I’ve seen have involved dogs stealing chocolate that has been left within their reach. This weekend, by all means enjoy your Easter eggs, but whatever you do, please keep them out of the reach of your dogs.

[caption id="attachment_3338" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="After her chocolate theft, I had to give my own dog an injection to induce vomiting ( it was a snowy day)"]I had to give her injection to induce vomiting ( it was a snowy day)[/caption]
No Comments