Lost in translation – do you know what your cat is really trying to tell you?

‘Miaow!’ One simple word, so many possible meanings. Is she happy? Is she hungry? Is she scared? It’s all in the tone in which it’s delivered. And that’s just the miaow – researchers have documented 19 different vocal patterns in domestic cats ranging from purrs to chirps to growls, along with countless body language cues. Do you really know how to interpret them? Test your feline language skills below…

1) A deep, rhythmic purr
We’ll start with an easy one – a purr means she’s happy, right? Possibly, but that may not always be the case. In fact, cats purr for many reasons. Young kittens and mother cats purr during nursing, possibly as a way of maintaining contact and communicating contentment. Adult cats purr when they’re in the company of other cats or humans that they are friendly with, especially during grooming or petting or resting together. And as most cat owners probably already know, they also purr when they want something. This ‘solicitation’ purr contains some of the high frequency peaks also found in a human baby’s cry, and it is commonly thought that cats use this to their advantage when asking for food at 5am. But what many people don’t know is that cats will sometimes also purr when they are nervous or even painful. We don’t know exactly why they do it, but the important thing to remember is that purring doesn’t necessarily mean that a cat is happy, you need to look at the rest of their body language for clues. Think of it like a human smile – we do it when we’re happy, but also when we want something or when we’re nervous….

Ask a vet online – Which are the symptoms of liver shunts in yorkies? My 4 years yorkie changed his behaviour in the last year

Question from Ma Ma

Which are the symptoms of liver shunts in yorkies? My 4 years yorkie changed his behaviour in the last year, his afraid of a lot of things, is agressive with other dogs and looks quite tired all the time. Can be because of a health problem?? I thought is because we have a baby and we moved in a new house. Thank u

Answer from Shanika Winters (online vet)

Thank you for your question about liver shunts and the changes to your dog’s behaviour. It is possible that moving home and a new baby have had an effect on your dog’s behaviour but the symptoms you have listed are also found in cases of liver shunts.

What is a liver shunt?

Porto systemic shunt (PSS) commonly called a liver shunt is a condition where the blood vessels of the liver are abnormal; it is seen in dogs and cats. Miniature schnauzers and Yorkshire terriers are two breeds in which PSS seem to be found more often. The liver is a large organ found in the abdomen (belly) which processes and filters the products absorbed after food has been digested. The liver also produces vitamins, blood clotting factors and bile.

The blood full of nutrient and bacteria from the digestive system normally passes to the liver in the hepatic portal vein (large blood vessel) in cases of PSS the blood bypasses the liver via one or several vessels either inside (intrahepatic) or outside (extra hepatic) of the liver. The result of the PSS is that bacteria, unprocessed chemicals including ammonia stay in the blood and travel around the body leading to behavioural changes and poor body condition….

So You Want To Be A Vet? – Getting into vet school and beyond

I did and I still do! Being a vet is a brilliant job; every day is different. I get to work with great people and use the skills I worked hard to gain to help animals and solve their problems. However, it is also involves long hours, regular challenges, with both pets and people, and it can be very stressful.

The first hurdle to being a vet is actually getting into vet school and with an average of nine applicants for every place, it is one of the most competitive university courses there is. The standard of students is always extremely high and I know the selectors face a very difficult task in picking out those best suited for a career in veterinary medicine.

First and foremost, you must get the right grades at both GCSE and A Level. Without these you won’t even be considered and rightly so; academically the vet course is tough. However, as well as being a geek (!), you also need to have excellent people skills, good practical skills and, I believe, bags of common sense…..

Pedigree Dogs Exposed: five years on, do dogs suffer less?

It’s hard to believe that it’s already five years since the BBC documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, was first broadcast. The programme stirred up unprecedented controversy about the practice of breeding and showing pedigree dogs in the UK. In the aftermath, the BBC cancelled its long standing high profile coverage of Crufts, and major sponsors backed out of supporting the Kennel Club’s flagship event. Promises were made that “things would change”, investigating committees were set up and reports were issued.

Five years is a significant period of time, so it’s an appropriate benchmark to pause, and to ask the question: are things better than they were? After all the talk, have things improved?

Do you know when your pets are poorly?

It may seem like a silly question, of course you would know when your pets are sick wouldn’t you? They share your life, your home and you know them really well, just as you do other members of your family. However, what many people don’t realise is that our animals are extremely adept at masking signs of illness and often by the time we realise there is a problem, they have been struggling for a while.

This blog was inspired by a cat I saw last week. She was owned by some lovely clients; regulars with their other pets and they definitely have their best interests at heart. I didn’t blame them for not noticing sooner this one was poorly because a) felines are notoriously good at hiding illness and b), you know, I’m a vet, so really I should be quite good at spotting when animals are sick but I don’t expect others to be……..

Ask a vet online – Why is my staffy rubbing his bum on carpet after his glands were done? – Anal gland problems in dogs.

Question from Jo Padfield

Why is my staffy rubbing his bum on carpet after his glands were done?

Answer from Shanika Winters (online vet)

Hi Jo and thank you for your question about your dog’s anal glands. I will explain a little about what anal glands are, where they are and why dogs have them followed by a discussion of what can go wrong with them and how these conditions are treated.

What are anal glands?

The anal sacs (commonly called the anal glands) are a pair of sacs found either side of the anus (bottom); they are around 1cm across and open via a duct (tube) in the anus. As with your dog the anal sacs often become blocked and or infected and this is called anal sacculitis. The substance inside the anal sacs is produced by glands that line the inside of the sacs, this smelly substance should be passed each time your dog does a poo, and leaves a scent marker to other dogs.

What goes wrong with the anal sacs?

Diseases of the anal sacs include anal sacculitis as mentioned and less often tumours. Other conditions around the bottom include anal adenoma (small non-cancerous lumps around the anus), anal furunculosis (cracked infected skin around the anus usually found in German Shepherd Dogs) and perianal hernia (where muscles weaken and separate either side of the anus allowing pelvic and abdominal contents to push through, seen in older uncastrated male dogs)…………..

Difficult Diabetic Cat – Could Acromegaly Be To Blame?

I know, it’s kind of a funny sounding word. But if you have a diabetic cat that your vet just can’t seem to stabilise, it’s definitely not a laughing matter. Acromegaly has recently been found to affect up to a quarter of diabetic cats in the UK, many more than previously thought, so it’s worth talking about. It’s also probably underdiagnosed, which means your vet may not think to look for it, so if you’ve been told that your cat’s diabetes is particularly difficult to control, read on!

What is acromegaly?

The name acromegaly actually comes from human medicine, because in people, it causes abnormally large hands, feet and facial features. Although you can see similar signs in cats (a broad face with a protruding lower jaw and larger than normal feet), it’s much less common so another term you may see used is ‘hypersomatotropism’ which literally means an excessive production of growth hormone. It’s caused by a benign (ie, unlikely to spread to other tissues) tumour on the tiny pituitary gland, situated at the base of the brain. The pituitary gland secretes lots of useful hormones that control all sorts of functions in the body, but in this case it’s growth hormone produced in huge quantities by the growing tumour that causes the problem. The majority of affected cats are males unlike in dogs, where acromegaly is usually caused by changes in the mammary gland and is therefore seen almost exclusively in females that haven’t been spayed.

What’s the connection between acromegaly and diabetes?

Too much growth hormone floating around the body decreases its sensitivity to insulin, which is the hormone that controls sugar metabolism. If the body doesn’t respond very well to insulin, the blood sugar gets too high and the cat becomes diabetic…….

Weigh-in Wednesdays

Help your pet’s health with the Friends for Life campaign and Weigh-in Wednesdays.

Pet owners are often not aware of any problems with their pets, but research has shown a shocking statistic that almost half the pets seen in practice by vets are overweight.

There seems to be plenty of media coverage about human obesity and weight problems, but what effect does excess body fat have our pets? Not surprisingly many of the same health issues as humans. These include heart disease and circulatory problems, the increased risk of diabetes, joint disease and a poor respiratory system. Signs of these problems in an overweight animal could include not wanting to walk very far, pain on movement, breathlessness and coughing. Many pet owners are aware of these common problems, however, there are far more health issues associated with having an overweight animal: There can be poorer immune response, difficulty in giving birth, incontinence, heat intolerance and fatty changes can cause liver problems for cats…….

The Drugs Don’t Work – Or Do They?

Today I put to sleep a lovely old Collie owned by a lovely man. It was definitely the right decision, the dog was really struggling on his legs and had become very depressed and withdrawn. This is a common senario and very often the way that arthritic pets come to their end. In fact, a very similar thing happened to our beloved family Labrador, Molly, a few years ago and although she was still trying to get about and clearly happy to be with us, she was obviously in a lot of pain which could no longer be controlled. Euthanasia in these situations is a true kindness and although still desperately upsetting, is by far the best thing for the pet.

However, just as I was discussing the euthanasia of this dog with his owner, he said something that stopped me in my tracks.

‘Well, we did try him on some of your arthritis medication a few months ago but to be honest it didn’t seem to be doing anything more than the Asprin I was giving him, so we stopped it’

Now, at this stage in the process there was no point in me making any comment on this statement (or my thoughts on giving pets human medications!) and you may think it sounds like quite a reasonable thing to say but to be honest, I really had to bite my tongue.

Arthritis is a very common problem in older pets but it is also very under-diagnosed because the signs can be difficult to spot, mainly because our animals are so stoical in the face of chronic pain…………..

Animal experiments: numbers rising while studies show low levels of production of beneficial results

Vivisection is a controversial subject - I’ve written about this several times before in my Daily Telegraph blog.

There are two news stories this week on the subject.

First, figures released by the UK government show that animal  testing in the UK has increased by almost ten per cent,  with more than four million experiments taking place a year, the highest figure since 1982. These figures have been “spun” by both sides of the debate, with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection understandably describing them as “shocking”, while supporters of animal experimentation maintain that the overall trend of  ”experimentation” is downwards, with the apparent increase in numbers due to the recent development of genetically modified mice that have been bred to carry specific genes or to develop signs of human disease to assist progress towards cures. Whatever the truth, it’s clear that the figures deserve careful analysis before reaching sweeping conclusions: but who has time to wade through the reams of Home Office statistics?………………….

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.