How to help stressed-out cats whose owners think they are “behaving badly”

One of the challenges for veterinary surgeons working in the media is that is that they are often asked about one specific patient, with a particular problem. While it’s helpful for the individual owner to discuss their own pet, it can be less enthralling for other readers.

Here are a couple of examples:

Ginger, a 5 year old neutered tom cat, had started urinating in his owner’s bathtub, and occasionally in the sink downstairs. He had always been a “good” cat, going out through the cat flap to do his business. Why would he change like this?
Harry, a two year old neutered male tabby cat, had recently started to suffer from injuries caused by cat fights. His owner…

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Growling terriers: a challenge for the vets who have to try to help them

When I first met Jacko, he growled at me. I had gone out to the waiting room to see who was next. Mr Malone, Jacko’s owner, smiled and said ‘Hello.’ I bent down to greet the little terrier dog, and that is when the growl started. It was a deep, throaty growl, and as I looked into his eyes, I could see no sign of friendliness. I realised at once that this was not a frightened growl. It was an angry, belligerent, trouble-seeking growl. His dilated pupils and flattened ears told me that he wanted to attack. He was keen to have a fight with me. I took two steps back, but the growl did not stop. Instead it grew louder.

On that occasion, Jacko was simply having his annual health check and vaccination. I had the advantage of being in control. and he did not know what to expect. He was walked swiftly into the consulting room and the door was shut behind him. A rapidly applied muzzle took him by surprise, and before he realised that he had been hoodwinked, he had been checked all over, injected and released. As his owner led him out of the consulting room, Jacko kept glancing back at me, as if he was imprinting my image in his memory for future reference.

One month later, Mr Malone was on the phone, in a panic. He had been out for a walk with Jacko, and two big collie dogs had approached them. The dogs had been friendly enough, but Jacko, with his usual impetuosity, had flung himself at the dogs, snarling and growling. The dogs reacted with defensive aggression, and one of them had picked Jacko up by the back of his neck and shaken him. The dog fight had lasted no more than half a minute, and there were no other injuries, but Jacko was now looking very sorry for himself.

When he arrived at the clinic shortly later, Jacko was dripping blood from injuries around his shoulders, and he was breathing very rapidly. It looked as if he might have serious injuries to his chest, with the risk of his lungs been punctured. Yet he still managed to growl as soon as he saw me.

He needed urgent medical treatment, and a full examination was essential. so a swift injection of sedative was the first stage. Jacko was soon deeply asleep. His breathing was comfortable, but he was not moving otherwise. Working quickly, a nurse helped me to clip away the fur from his injuries. There were several deep puncture wounds on both sides of his chest, and there was a large firm swelling beneath one wound. We took some X-rays of his chest, expecting broken ribs and possibly damaged internal organs.

Surprisingly, the X-rays showed that Jacko had escaped serious injury. He was simply very badly bruised, with torn skin and lacerated muscles. Treatment was simple. We flushed the bite wounds to minimise any infection, and he was given a course of antibiotics and strong painkillers. He was then placed back into the kennel for recovery.

We did not need to look at him to monitor his breathing for long, because as soon as the growl started again, we could hear from a distance that he was alive and ready for action.

Jacko has been healthy since that incident. He still comes back once a year for his annual health check. He is the same as ever, although the dog fight episode did change him in one way. Instead of just growling, Jacko has started to howl as soon as he enters our waiting room.…

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

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….

An introduction to Wikivet – a new and exciting veterinary educational resource

In the spirit of spreading helpful, good quality veterinary knowledge, VetHelpDirect will be working with Wikivet to bring you specially selected gems of educational material from the Wikivet website. The plan is to publish a regular Wikivet-sponsored blog, with information and links to the subject under discussion.

What is Wikivet?

Wikivet is an international collaborative effort between vet schools around the world, with the long term aim of placing the entire veterinary curriculum in an online database. The principle is similar to Wikipedia, but the theme is purely veterinary knowledge. The goal of the project is to enable students around the world to have ongoing, free access an up-to-date encyclopedia of all veterinary knowledge.
You can read more about Wikivet on Wikipedia  or you can visit the site yourself.
WikiVet was established in 2007 by a consortium of three UK veterinary schools…

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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


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:…

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Old cat, young cat: a bittersweet episode in the life of a companion animal vet

Mrs Kennedy was an elderly widow, whose only companion was a small seventeen year old cat called Puss. Mrs Kennedy had phoned me because she thought that Puss had broken her leg after chasing another cat.

I wasn’t expecting anything too serious. Cats commonly hurt themselves while fighting with each other. An owner may think that the leg is broken, but in most cases the problem is a simple cat bite abscess, which can be easily treated. However, this time it was different. The owner was right.

Mrs Kennedy explained how a neighbouring cat had sneaked into the kitchen, and Puss had leapt up to chase it away. Immediately afterwards, she’d started limping, and since then she had barely moved from her bed…

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10 tips for keeping your horse cool this summer

While the sun’s glorious rays may leave us jumping for joy, and our saddles, we must be vigilant about ensuring our horses’ well-being. Here are some top tips to avoid the dreaded heat stroke, and ensure our four-legged friends have as much fun in the sun as we do!

What is heat stroke?

Heat exhaustion is characterised by:
1. An elevated body temperature (hyperthermia; a temperature exceeding 41oC/105 F);
2. An elevated heart rate (tachycardia; the normal heart rate of a horse is 36 – 42 beats per minute, although this may be higher in smaller ponies)
3. An elevated respiratory rate (tachypnoea – exceeding the normal 8 – 12 breaths per minute);
4. A tired, unresponsive horse;
5. The horse’s gums will feel dry and tacky; if you press on them, the area under pressure will turn white, and the time to return to normal colour will be longer than in a non-thermally stressed horse. Vets may describe this as a capillary refill time in excess of 3 seconds.

If there is no intervention, the condition may escalate to heat stroke where the horse may stagger, appear depressed or, in extreme cases with central nervous system damage, collapse and have convulsions. This is a serious medical emergency that we have the ability to prevent….

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Kittens with passengers: ear mites

When a litter of rescued kittens were brought to see me recently, a careful examination of their ears was an important part of the check-up. I introduced the tip ofthe auroscope into each kitten’s ear, and by looking through the instrument I was able to see a magnified view of each ear canal. In normal animals, the pale blue-grey of the eardrum itself can often be seen. However, in these kittens, I could hardly see any normal ear canal. My view was blocked completely by thick, brown, sticky earwax. The cause of the excessive ear wax could be seen very clearly. Tiny white wriggling insect-like creatures could be seen swarming around the inside of each ear. The kittens were infected with ear mites.

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Ask a vet online – My pets breath is bad, but teeth are fine – help!

Question from Sarah Knight:

My Scottie has horrendous breath, teeth are fine, have changed her diet, she also has charcoal on her meals, any other ideas truly welcomed!

Answer: Bad Breath

Hi Sarah, thanks for your question about your dog’s bad breath. To answer it, I’m going to run through the possible causes of halitosis, along with any other symptoms they might show. I’ll then talk about the most likely reasons, and where to go next with diagnosis and treatment options.

Causes of Halitosis

Halitosis, or “bad breath”, is defined as an “offensive odour emanating from the oral cavity”. There are a number of possible causes, some of which are more common than others.

1) Diet

You say you’ve modified her diet, but a lot of dogs (especially terriers!) eat unpleasant things given half a chance – particularly faeces (those of other dogs, horses, livestock etc), or dead and rotting things (often mice or birds found lying in the undergrowth when out on walks). Inevitably, eating anything like this will lead to bad breath.

2) Metabolic disease

We’re particularly talking about diabetes or kidney failure here – both of which can lead to halitosis. In diabetes, the body produces ketones as a fuel supply for the brain, which have a strong smell (with overtones of pear drops – however, not all humans have the gene required to be able to detect this); in kidney disease, the build up of nitrogen waste products in the blood may result in oral lesions and/or smelly breath. In both cases, you’d expect to see increased thirst and possibly weight loss, but the signs can be pretty subtle in the early stages….

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Could your cat have high blood pressure?

High blood pressure is a common problem for humans but did you know that cats can get it too? High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is actually quite common in older cats, especially those with other diseases such as kidney disease or hyperthyroidism. The symptoms can be quite subtle or mimic those of other diseases so many cases remain undetected for quite some time. If left untreated, however, hypertension can lead to significant secondary health problems, so it’s definitely worth testing for.

What exactly is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure occurs when the pressure within the blood vessels exceeds a certain threshold. Think of the hosepipe used to water your garden. If you turn the tap on too strongly, the water shoots out of the nozzle uncontrollably, damaging your flowers. The same is true for the body – organs like the brain and kidneys need blood to survive but if the blood pressure gets too high….

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