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Communicating with pets: body language versus speaking English

One of the biggest challenges for vets is our lack of ability to have conversations with our patients. This isn’t always a huge problem: for example, if a dog has a broken leg, or a cat has an abscess, the problem is very easy to identify just by examining the patient. But we could still learn useful information from a verbal discussion. I would like to ask “How painful is it?”, or “Which cat attacked you?”. Treatment would also be easier to give if we could give our patients verbal instructions, such as “You must not chew this plaster cast off” or “You must let your owner bathe the sore area twice daily”.

Pain is a specific area where communication would be particularly useful….

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The BBC is wrong to allow an unqualified person to recommend unproven treatments to animals

The Hay Festival is not a place where you might expect to learn about the treatment of animals: it’s an annual literature festival held in Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales, for ten days at the end of May every year.

Caroline Ingraham has written an interesting book – “How animals heal themselves” –  which is presumably the reason she was given the opportunity to give an account of her subject at the Hay Festival last week. The BBC have created a podcast from her talk,  but I believe that the editors were wrong to give her this uncritical forum to propagate her views. Caroline has a controversial belief in the ability of animals to choose their own medicine. There’s nothing wrong with her having these beliefs, but there is a problem when her views are broadcast without any “public health warning”. There is a serious risk that animals could suffer unnecessarily if members of the public follow her advice to the letter….

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Do vets charge too much for bitch spays?

As part of my work as a “media vet”, I’m a strong advocate for spaying and neutering pets as the best way to control the problem of pet overpopulation. Accidental pregnancies still account for a high number of unwanted puppies and kittens, and routine spaying/neutering of young adult pets is the best way to prevent these. This doesn’t meant that every pet needs to be spayed/neutered when young (there are some good reasons to delay or even not to do the operation for some individual animals), but it does mean that every pet owner should at least discuss the options with their vet around the time of puberty.

Why do people refuse to have their pets spayed?

People have a variety of reasons for not having the operations done on their pets, and the cost is a major factor. In a recent social media discussion, the following comment came in.

“Vets should reduce their fee to £120 for a female dog. A lot of people genuinely just can’t afford it.”

Why don’t vets reduce their fees?

This is a good point. Why don’t vets reduce the price of spaying?…

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Ask a vet online- ‘My dog has dandruff . Could it be his diet ?’

Question from Andi Jane William:

My dog has dandruff . Could it be his diet . What is best to feed him . He is a 7 year old border collie

Answer by Shanika Winters:

Hi, thanks for your question regarding your border collie and his dandruff. I will answer your question by discussing what dandruff is, possible causes and then possible treatment options.

What is dandruff?

Most people think of flaky white bits of dry skin usually found on the head and shoulders of a person when they hear the word dandruff. Dandruff is a word used to describe flaky bits of skin, they can be dry or oily, different sizes and come from any area of skin on the body.

Mostly we are talking about dry white coloured flakes when we use the word dandruff to describe the appearance of a skin condition….

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Elizabethan Collars – a necessary evil?

One of my clients was talking about his recently neutered bitch today. “She needs one of those Victorian Buckets” he said. I knew what he was talking about, but his terminology was not quite correct. The problem was that his bitch had been licking her operation wound, and he wanted to stop her. The item he was describing is an important tool to assist the healing of animals’ wounds. It is more correctly called an ‘Elizabethan Collar’, because it resembles the white starched lace collars that Queen Elizabeth I and her subjects used to wear….

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Ask a vet online-’Why do dogs find cat poop so alluring ?’

Question from Jayne Whybrow:

Why do dogs find cat poop so alluring ? How can I stop my pup sticking his head in the cat litter?

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Thank you Jayne for your question regarding your puppy and his interest in the cat litter tray.  I will answer your question by discussing why your dog is interested in the cat litter tray and possible methods to stop this unwanted behaviour.

Why does my dog find another animal’s poo so interesting?

Animals in general leave a scent marker where they pass faeces (poo) and this helps to mark out their territory.  Therefore faeces are naturally interesting whether it is of your own species or another.  The scents could indicate a possible mate, a possible threat to your territory and even predators/prey.

Even our domesticated pet animals have not lost these instinctive behaviours.  Unfortunately as humans/pet owners we find our dogs interest in the faeces of other animals very off putting especially when they may lick or eat it.  Not only do we worry about them passing germs onto us humans but also we are concerned about them getting ill from infections or even parasites.

So what we are dealing with when a dog is interested in e.g. cat poo is a bad habit/unwanted behaviour.

How can I stop my dog from investigating the cat litter tray?

In order to try and change a behaviour we have to firstly understand why it happens and then try and redirect the behaviour in a direction we are happy to encourage.  The first section of my answer goes into why the behaviour happens and now we can address possible solutions.

Types of litter tray:

Simple open litter tray-this is just a shallow plastic tray with sides but no cover

Covered litter tray-this is a shallow plastic tray at the base but then has a cove over the top, with an opening at one end to allow your cat in and out.

Covered litter tray with a door-this is as above but the opening has a door on it, this can help reduce the amount of litter that gets flicked out of the tray as well as helping to contain odours.

The more difficult it is for your dog to access the cat litter tray, the more masked/hidden the scent of the cat faeces are then the less likely he is to show interest in the tray and its contents.  Therefore if you place the cat litter tray in a place that is easy for your cat to reach but not your dog, use litter that helps to mask the smell of the faeces/urine and ideally use a covered litter tray with a door then this will all help to discourage your dog from being interested in it.

It is also advisable to clean out the litter tray as often as you can, at the very least once daily but if possible after each time the tray has been used.  This will reduce the smells present which will mean that the litter tray will be far less interesting to your dog.

How to discourage your dog from his interest in the cat litter tray:

Distraction and deterrents are the next area I will discuss!

Generally when it comes to trying to modify an animal’s behaviour we try and focus on positive reinforcement, this is where you praise and reward a behaviour which you want you’re pet to show rather than punishing them for unwanted behaviours.

It would be great if you can provide your dog with as much distraction as possible to help lessen his interest n the cat litter tray and its contents.  Methods of distraction can include play, toys and training.  Playing with your dog whether it be throwing a ball or rolling around and tickling his tummy will give your dog mental stimulation as well as strengthen the pet owner bond.  Toys such as squeaky balls treat stuffed puzzles and chews are also good to give your dog something more attractive and interesting than the cat litter tray to investigate.  When choosing toys, make sure that they are safe, regularly inspect them for damage and replace before they become dangerous e.g. possible risk of them being eaten and getting stuck.  As regards food stuffed toys keep in mind your dog’s overall energy requirements and how you may need to reduce how much food you give him if he is getting extra calories from his treat stuffed toy.

Training either in the form of organised classes or quality dog and owner time can really help to give extra mental stimulation to your dog, build up the dog owner bond as well as distracting your dog form unwanted behaviours.  It is really important to remember that the more we put into our pets the more we will get back from them in terms of good behaviours and owner enjoyment.

Deterrents are verging on negative reinforcement to try and avoid/stop an unwanted behaviour.  If the deterrent is used carefully and we try and follow up other good behaviours with positive reinforcement then there is a place for this.  Most owners will have already told their dog off/shouted at him for unwanted behaviours.  The problem with this is that the negative focus then is directed at the owner.  If possible it would be better to remove yourself one step from the deterrent; one possibility is the use of a high pitch sounds device or a spray.  Ideally these negative reinforcement behaviours should be used as a last resort and under the close direction of either your vet or a trained animal behaviour specialist.

It is really important to remember to positively reward/praise your dog for all the times he does not show interest in the cat litter tray. The reward can be in the form of kind words, a pat/cuddle and at times treats.

I hope that my answer helps you to understand your dog’s behaviour and that you can make a start on discouraging …

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What makes dogs lame, and how can they be helped?

Why is a lame dog lame? The obvious, but incorrect, answer to the question is ‘because it has a sore leg’. The correct answer is more complicated, but also quite obvious when you think about it.

Firstly, what is a lameness? Everybody knows what a lame animal looks like – they ‘walk wrongly’. But what is happening to make them walk wrongly? There are three main reasons why lameness may occur.

Pain is the most common and most important cause of lameness. If an animal damages a limb, any further pressure causes more pain, and so the instinctive response is to rest the limb, by carrying it, or at least by not putting full weight on it. The type of damage can vary widely from a bruise to a laceration. The damage can be anywhere in the limb, from the toe to the shoulder or hip, and the result is the same – a lame animal. Long term diseases such as arthritis can also involve considerable pain.

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Ask a vet online – “My dog has trouble peeing”

Question from Jaamal Dupas:

I have a 7 month old female dog. When she squats to pee the first time it’s normal. Then she tries again and only a few drops. And i noticed a drop of blood the last time she went. Could this be a UTI or her going into her first heat. I have a vet apt in a few days but was just curious.

Answer: Pee Problems-dribbling and blood

Hi Jaamal, thanks for your question about your dog’s urinating. To answer your question, I’m going to discuss the “symptoms” she’s showing, the possible causes, and then talk about how your vet will go about deciding which one of these conditions is the cause, and the treatment options.

What are the symptoms?

Technically, in animals they’re called clinical signs, not symptoms, but it means the same thing. In the case of your dog, she’s able to urinate, but it’s taking her two or more goes to empty her bladder….

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Pet food: what does the label tell you, and how much does it matter to your pet?

Do you ever wonder what actually goes into pet food? Everyone with a pet has to provide food for them every day, but most of us are unaware of the background to what we are feeding. That’s not to say that we don’t care about it: pet food manufacturers know that we want to do the best for our pets, so labelling and packaging tends to give a sense of wholesome ingredients and tastiness. But what’s going on behind the scenes?

There’s an anti-corporate trend in the modern online world, with an underlying emotion of distrust in big companies. While this may sometimes be justified, the truth is that most companies are just bigger versions of small businesses, doing their best to provide products and services in an efficient, effective way. Pet food companies are no different: while some pet owners may dislike the idea of mass produced pet food, it’s still the method that most pet owners use to feed their pets, and for the most part, it works very well. Pet food production is regulated by law to ensure that it’s safe and nutritious. Recent research showed that 70% of owners and 85% of vets agreed that commercially prepared pet food provides optimum nutrition. Almost 60% of owners and 95% vets would go as far as to say pets are living longer as a result of advanced nutrition. Of course there are individual animals that have special nutritional needs, just as some humans do. But for most pets, commercial pet food does a good job.

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Supporting The Brooke Animal Hospital and equine welfare

There are few professions that can carry such a range of emotions, than that of working with and caring for animals. Almost all animal charities will tell you of the amazing successes they have with cases, for animals of varying species. They can also tell you of the heart breaking decisions they have to make, on a daily basis.

Recently Vet Help Direct supported one such organisation, The Brooke Animal Hospital….

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