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Ask a vet online – ‘Can any vet perform a liver biopsy or should my dog be seen by an expert?’

Question from Anita Bates

Can any vet perform a liver biopsy or should Spud Theduff dog be seen by an expert?

Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, Online Vet

Hi Anita and thank you for your question regarding liver biopsy. I am assuming that your dog has already undergone some tests e.g. blood tests, x-rays and or exploratory surgery which have pointed in the direction of liver disease.

So what is a liver biopsy?

A biopsy is when a small sample of a body tissue is taken to be analysed. The liver is a large organ that is found in your pets abdomen (belly) just behind the chest. The liver has many functions which include processing and filtering all the nutrients absorbed from the gut after digestion, production of bile which helps with fat digestion, production of vitamins and storage of iron.

Why would your vet advise a liver biopsy?

A liver biopsy is advised to determine the exact type of disease that might be going on in your pets liver. As mentioned earlier liver biopsy is usually discussed after the findings of blood tests, x-rays or ultrasound scan which suggest liver disease. Diseases of the liver include infections, tumours, inflammation and storage disease to mention a few.

How is a liver biopsy performed?

There are two main ways of collecting a liver biopsy either by opening up the animals abdomen and cutting a small sample directly from the liver or using a special biopsy needle that is inserted through the skin under the direction of an ultrasound scan……..

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The Spleen: What does it do and how will my dog manage if it has to be removed?

The spleen is one of those organs of the body that most people have heard of but many are uncertain where it is and what it actually does. Although it has several important functions, dogs can manage to live a normal life without a spleen if it has to be removed. The most common reasons for removal (splenectomy) are if the spleen has ruptured (usually after a road traffic accident), or if it develops a tumour. Both of these can lead to very sudden illness which needs fast diagnosis and treatment to save the dog’s life.
Biggles the Springer Spaniel has recently had his spleen removed and is recovering well. Although I am not his vet, I helped to care for him during his convalescence, and with his owner’s permission I would like to tell his story.

Biggles is a typically lively spaniel, who enjoyed a normal Sunday romping around with his companion. On the Monday morning, his owner found him collapsed and weak and had to rush him straight to his vets. After examination, blood tests and x-rays, his problem was diagnosed as a tumour of the spleen and Biggles was operated on the same day. Unfortunately his tumour was large and ulcerated which meant Biggles had lost a lot of blood from the circulation into his tummy, so he needed several days of intensive care including fluids by drip and drugs to prevent vomiting and infection.

After several days of hospitalisation at the vets, Biggles began to feel so much better that the challenge was to stop him from doing too much. After major surgery he had to take it very easy, which was hard for him. Very short walks on a lead, away from his boisterous friends, were all that he was allowed during his recovery, but now he is beginning to get back to normal gradually.

Biggles the Springer Spaniel has recently had his spleen removed and is recovering well. Although I am not his vet, I helped to care for him during his convalescence, and with his owner’s permission I would like to tell his story.

Biggles is a typically lively spaniel, who enjoyed a normal Sunday romping around with his companion. On the Monday morning, his owner found him collapsed and weak and had to rush him straight to his vets. After examination, blood tests and x-rays, his problem was diagnosed as a tumour of the spleen and Biggles was operated on the same day. Unfortunately his tumour was large and ulcerated which meant Biggles had lost a lot of blood from the circulation into his tummy, so he needed several days of intensive care including fluids by drip and drugs to prevent vomiting and infection……….

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Puppy Love! How to Look After your New Puppy

Puppy Love!

There are few things more exciting than bringing home a new puppy. No matter how big they eventually get, they are all cute bundles of fluff with wobbly legs and wagging tails in the beginning! The experiences and care a puppy receives in it’s early weeks have a massive impact on the rest of it’s life & behaviour, and it’s your job as their owner to ensure they grow up into happy, healthy and well adjusted individuals.

A pup’s introduction to the world around them begins from the moment they are born. The bitch and litter must live in the home, surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of family life; not in a shed or outhouse. Once they become more independent they should be handled regularly, allowed to meet different people, given a variety of toys and plenty of opportunities to play and explore. Finally, and most importantly, they should not leave the breeder until they are 8 weeks old. Although they will have been quite independent for some time by this age, they will still be learning vital social skills and doggy behaviour from their mum and littermates. A good breeder will understand all this and ensure their pups have the best start. They will also, if they are breeding pedigrees, have completed all the relevant health tests on the parents & have registered the litter with the Kennel Club at birth, meaning you will be given all the paperwork when you collect them.

Once you have your new pup home, allow them a couple of days to settle in before inviting everyone round to meet them! Ask the breeder what they were feeding and keep this the same for a week, after which you can change their diet but make sure it is good quality puppy food. This is also the time to instill good sleeping habits. It might be cute having a little pup curled up in bed with you but it won’t be so nice when they are fully grow and spent the day splashing in puddles in the park! Most pups will cry when they are left alone for the first few nights but they soon learn to settle and it is very important dogs learn to be on their own, otherwise they can develop serious problems such as separation anxiety. I am a big fan of using crates for young pups. You can shut them in at night and when you go out; the pup will feel safe and secure in the small, enclosed space and you know they are safe. Leave the door open when you are at home and then they can take themselves off to bed when they feel tired.

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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………

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High graduate debt, falling demand for pet health care & corporatisation. The veterinary profession is changing: is it for better or worse?

There’s a lot of debate going on right now about the future of the veterinary profession. Many vets are worried about the current trend which basically follows this path:

1) Huge demand to study veterinary, especially among young females (80% vet students are female)

2) Not enough places at vet schools: traditionally, the number of student places has been capped in order to avoid flooding the market with far more vets than jobs

3) The realisation by universities that there’s money to be made in teaching vet students, and that there’s a strong demand from students who don’t make it into the established vet schools. The first new vet school in over 50 years opened recently in the UK, and at least one more is planned. Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, veterinary courses are taught in English, offering entry to the vet profession with a lower academic barrier if students are prepared to pay the fees

4) This is linked to the rising cost of veterinary education, with students in England paying £9000 per year x 5 years plus living costs

5) The result is that new vet graduates are qualifying with large debts, in higher numbers than ever before

6) Meanwhile the veterinary market is contracting, with people spending less money on pets, and so there are fewer jobs for vets available

7) Result: increasing numbers of underemployed young female vets with large debts

8.) Next part of jigsaw: there are fewer young vets to buy into established vet partnerships, and an increasing trend for chains of vet clinics to go “corporate”, owned by shareholders whose main aim may be profit rather than the traditional broader professional view of a vet fulfilling a calling to earn a living

9) Result: vets become pawns in the animal care field, with young female vets desperate to pay back loans by working for corporations. As employees rather than part owners, they become subject to pressures common in other walks of life (“For your bonus, you need to sell so much food, book in so many dentals, see so many people every hour”)

10) The long term potential result: erosion of trust in vets as pet owners question whether something is recommended because it is really needed, or because the vet needs to reach a target. This erosion of trust has already begun in recent years, with consumers questioning everything that professionals do: the sequence that I’ve outlined above will exacerbate this trend.

This trend in the veterinary professions seems to be a global one, and as ever, the USA seems to be further down the path than the rest of us. An excellent article has just been published on this in the New York Times – read it here……………

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VetHelpDirect Best UK Vets 2013 – Based on Online Vet Reviews

Last night over 60 clients and the local press turned up to see Barton Lodge Vets being awarded their trophy & prize for winning Best UK Vets 2013!


Barton Lodge Vets pose for photographs with some of their clients (and a few of the pets they treat!) From left to right: Roger Wickenden, Cory and owner, Cathy Wickenden, Susie Samuel (MD of VetHelpDirect.com).

The evening kicked off with a formal presentation where one of Barton Lodge’s patients, Cory, helped present the award to the practice. After practice tours for clients the celebrations continued at a local hall, where clients shared their happy Barton Lodge experiences.

The hosts of the award, VetHelpDirect.com, said “The sincerity of the comments made by clients tonight reflects exactly Barton Lodge’s online reputation through their reviews. A good online reputation is so valuable to both local people looking for a service and to business owners. That’s why online vet reviews are at the heart of our vet directory.”

Best UK Vet 2013 - VetHelpDirect


Roger Wickenden, joint director of Barton Lodge, stated that he and all of the team had been very touched by the reviews left and were honoured to be awarded a prize that their clients were responsible for giving through the heartfelt reviews they’d left.


Roger Wickenden, joint director of Barton Lodge, says a few words of thanks.

The Background

Barton Lodge competed with veterinary practices across the UK to win the award which was judged based on the quantity and quality of reviews left on VetHelpDirect.com. Seventy-two of Barton Lodge’s clients went out of their way to leave a review for the popular practice.

“First Class, Patient and Understanding”, “5 Star service” and “The best in town by far” were just some of the comments received from their clients. Congratulations Barton Lodge Vets!

The Award & VetHelpDirect.com

The VetHelpDirect.com Best UK Vet awards 2013 are based on reviews left by owners over the course of the year 29/1/12 – 28/1/13. The number of reviews and average star rating was used to determine the winner.

At VetHelpDirect we are determined to provide a fair reflection of the vet practices in their directory, all reviews are subject to rigorous tests of authenticity, all are checked for duplicate IP addresses, email addresses and some reviewers are asked to provide evidence that they are recent clients of the practice.

They are soon launching the new and much improved Find Any UK Vet website Any-UK-Vet.co.uk which will also include reviewing functionality for every British veterinary practice, to aid animal owners in finding a trusted, local vet more easily.


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Urban foxes – could your pet cat be the next victim?

Following reports of another attack on a baby by an urban fox in London, many people have been worried about the risk not just of foxes attacking children, but also pets. Cats in particular often spend much of their time outside, in the same areas as foxes. Is there a real risk of cats being attacked by foxes and what can owners do about it?
When someone asked me this question, my instinctive answer was that fox attacks on cats are exceptionally rare. Foxes are generally shy creatures that do their best to avoid contact with humans or other animals. I have heard more stories about cats chasing foxes out of gardens than cats being victims.
I have come across only two instances where foxes were seen to prey upon cats. In one case, a young kitten was snatched by a fox, around twenty yards away from her owner, and in another instance, a thin, elderly cat was grabbed. To me, the risk to adult pet cats seemed minimal but I decided to look further, to see if I could find some hard facts about the risk to pets from fox attacks.
Up until now in the veterinary world, it’s been difficult to find out the true incidence of problems like this. The good news is that a new database, VetCompass, has started to accumulate real, up to date information about health issues affecting pets in the UK. VetCompass is a collaborative not-for-profit research project run by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in London, in collaboration with the University of Sydney. The project aims to investigate the range and frequency of small animal health problems seen by veterinary surgeons working in general practice in the United Kingdom and to highlight major risk factors for these conditions. This is being done via the routine capture of first opinion clinical data via electronic patient records held with practices’ computerised Practice Management Systems. VetCompass now shares health data on over 400,000 companion animals from over 200 practices across the UK………….

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Dog Castration: a step by step guide to the operation

Deciding whether to castrate or not

Castrating or neutering a male dog is an operation requiring a general anaesthetic. Both testicles are removed. As with all operations, the advantages and disadvantages should be considered carefully before deciding. Your own vet is the best person to advise you about your particular dog, but the following general advice may also help.

The main advantages of castrating a male dog are prevention of breeding, prevention of testicular cancer, reduction in the risk of prostate problems (including prostate cancer) and modification of certain behaviours. Only behaviours which are related to male hormone levels will be improved, so castration is never an alternative to proper socialisation and training. For example, a tendency to escape and run away will improve if your dog is chasing the scent of a bitch in season, but not if your dog is just untrained and wilful. An aggressive dog can be improved by castration if the cause is related to his male hormone levels, but not if your dog has not been well socialised and is afraid of people and other dogs.

The main disadvantages of having your dog castrated are the risks associated with any general anaesthetic and any operation, but these are very small risks when compared to the potential benefits.

Dog owners often ask whether their dog’s character will be changed by castration. In my opinion it is unchanged unless it is a change for the better (as in certain behaviours mentioned above). Another common worry is that a dog will become overweight and lethargic after castration, but this is 100% preventable with the correct diet and exercise.

Deciding when to castrate

The best age to castrate depends on the reason for doing so. If it is a planned procedure, it might well be carried out at 9-12 months of age, if your vet is happy that your dog is physically mature enough. If castration is advised for behavioural reasons, it might not be obvious until 1-2 years of age that there is a need for it. When castration is carried out later in life, the positive changes might not be quite so great, but your dog is never too old to castrate if there is a medical reason for it, like a testicular tumour……….

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Owners Choice – The VetHelpDirect Best UK Vets 2013

The winner of the VetHelpDirect.com Best UK Vets 2013 is……. Barton Lodge Vets, Hemel Hempstead. Seventy two of their grateful clients logged on to leave a review giving them an amazing average star rating of 5! ‘First Class, Patient and Understanding’, ’5 Star service’ and ‘The best in town by far’ were just some of the accolades received from their clients. Congratulations Barton Lodge Vets!

In second place Goddard Veterinary Group – Gidea Park in London and in third place were St Georges Veterinary Group – Wolverhampton

The VetHelpDirect Owners Choice awards are based on reviews left by owners over the course of the year 29/1/12 – 28/1/13. The number of reviews and average star rating was used to determine the winner. At VetHelpDirect.com we are determined to provide a fair reflection of the vet practices in our directory, all reviews are subject to rigorous tests of authenticity, all reviews are checked for duplicate ip addresses, email addresses and some reviewers are asked to provide evidence that they are recent clients of the practice.

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Ask a vet online – “What can cause staining around mouth and on dogs paws?….”

Question from Ann Hutton

What can cause staining around mouth and on dogs paws? No change in diet and its come on in just a few weeks? Cavalier male aged 9.

Answer from Shanika Online Vet

Hi Ann,

Thanks for your interesting question about the recent staining you have noticed around your dog’s mouth and paws.

The staining you are referring to is most likely caused by a substance called Porphyrin. Porphyrin is a naturally occurring substance in the tears and saliva and tends to show up as a pink/brown colour where your pet has licked, dribbled or produced lots of tears. The discolouration from the Porphyrin is most obvious on light coloured fur.

The staining of the fur itself is of no actual harm to your pet however it is important to get to the bottom of why it is happening and I would definitely advise that you discuss this further with your vet.

There are many possible causes for the staining you have noticed which include: dental disease, other conditions of the mouth, allergies and stress……………

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