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A Christmas story from a vet on call & a reminder that if you do have a pet crisis over the holiday, a vet is always there to help

It was Christmas morning. The phone rang at 6.30am. It was the Barrs of Lauder Hill. ' Sorry about this, but we've a heifer stuck calving'. I was in my car within 10 minutes, and carrying out the Caesarian operation to remove the calf within half an hour. The Barrs welcomed me into their farmhouse afterwards for a Christmas breakfast. The calf had been a strong, healthy bull calf, and the farmers were delighted with their Christmas present. We were settling down to enjoy the full glory of a Scottish farmhouse breakfast when my bleeper sounded. It was only 8.30 a.m. and already another emergency had to be dealt with - a calf with bloat 15 miles away, at the Buchanans in Melrose. By lunchtime I had seen a horse with colic, six calves with acute pneumonia, a dairy cow with severe mastitis and a dog with a sudden onset choking cough. The afternoon was just as busy, and I was finally able to sit down with the family at seven in the evening. Two hours later there was another call to another difficult calving. Veterinary surgeons have an obligation to provide a full time emergency service for animals in need of their care, all year round, 24 hours a day. If an animal is in distress, then help is needed - illnesses and accidents do not know that it is Christmas Day. The mixed veterinary practice where I worked in the Scottish Borders was busy - there were six vets. We worked an 'on-duty' roster, with duties shared equally between all of the vets, so at least a hectic Christmas day was only experienced once in six years. And the Christmas Day service was certainly not taken for granted by anybody - everybody who telephoned spent as long apologising for disturbing the vet as they did explaining the problem with their animal. Small animal veterinary practice is less frantic out-of-hours compared to large animal. People tend to stay at home on Christmas Day, so pets are generally safely indoors, curled up by the fireside. There are still unpredictable emergencies - from bitches whelping to dogs having epileptic fits to cats collapsing from kidney failure. In the past decade, many small animal vets have referred their emergency work to dedicated Emergency Clinics, where vets and nurses are employed specially to work all the time during after-hours periods: their “working day” means night time and bank holidays. If you phone your local vet, you will be given clear advice on the arrangements for emergency service. Most vet clinics are closed for routine service on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. This year, the fact that Boxing Day is a Saturday means that the bank holiday is taking place on Monday 28th December, so many vets do not start back with routine clinics until Tuesday 29th December. If you aren't sure whether or not your vet is open, visit their website or Facebook page, or phone the normal clinic number. If you are not transferred directly to the vet on call, there will be an answer machine message giving you details of opening hours. The first day back after Christmas tends to be a busy time, with a build up of cases that have accumulated over the holiday break. There are some typical seasonal cases that we expect to see at this time of year. First, there is the 'turkey tummy syndrome'. People do not like to feel that they are leaving their pets out of the Christmas celebrations. Dogs and cats enjoy eating turkey, and many people make up a Christmas Dinner for their pets, using leftovers from the family celebration. Animals' stomachs are not well adapted to dealing with a sudden flood of an entirely new foodstuff, and the consequences are often a severe tummy upset soon after Christmas. Second, there is the 'Walking It Off' syndrome. Many people feel an urge to expend some energy after Christmas Day - so what better way to do this than taking the dog for a walk. The result is that hundreds of dogs congregate in popular dog walking areas. Inevitably there are the usual incidents, such as dog fights, dogs lacerated by sharp objects in rivers and animals involved in road accidents. Public holidays can be busy times for vets. The important message to remember is that if you do have an animal in real distress, your vet is never closed. And if the vet has to do a house call on Christmas or Boxing Day morning, a Christmas breakfast will always be appreciated! For peace of mind over the holiday period, if you are not sure whether your pet needs a visit to a vet, the Symptom Checker can also help!
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Pets are not presents! – why giving bath salts is the best gift this Christmas

So, it’s Christmas, hurrah! Unfortunately that also means it’s time to start dashing round over-crowded, over-heated shopping centres with what seems like the entire population of this sceptred isle desperately trying to find the ‘ideal thing’ for relatives you never liked much in the first place, then giving up and buying bath salts on a three for two offer. Then it hits you, the perfect gift! A pet! Who can resist a small bundle of fluff and you will be in the good books forever! No! Bad idea! The Dog’s Trust’s slogan ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ is over 30 years old and yet it is as relevant today as it was back then. Sadly, many people still buy animals as gifts at this time of year (it’s not just dogs) and although I am sure many go on to be adored family pets, many are given up in the New Year. Most charities report a spike in abandonments in January and many close for rehoming over the Christmas period to discourage impulse rescues. If you are buying a pet as a gift, at any time of year, you have to make sure the recipient really wants one and has thought carefully about their care. Which, to be honest, rather defeats the point of it being a surprise and I think this is the part (the absolutely, flipping VITAL part!) that the gifter forgets. Dogs are probably the most labour intensive pet; they need walking, training (puppy poo on the carpet is never fun to clean up but is especially annoying on Christmas day when you have so much else to do) and most will live for at least ten years. They also need a lot of stuff; beds, collars, bowls etc - are you going to buy all that as well, or just dump the pup and run? All animals, from cats to rats and all inbetween, have to come with accessories, need a committed and knowledgeable owner and don’t forget you are signing them up for on-going costs; food, flea treatment and, of course, the dreaded vets bills! Will you be covering these as well, you generous present giver you?! Also, think about it from the animals point of view. Whether they are an adult rescue pet or, more likely, an innocent, wide eyed (so cute!) baby animal, they are coming into a new home and environment which is stressful at the best of times. Now add in a huge sparkling tree, decorations, relatives, over-excited children and it is hardly a calm and relaxing introduction to their new family. A new pet should be the focus of attention in their first few days but this does NOT mean being manhandled by every visitor though the door and dressed in a festive outfit! Look, I am all in favour of people owning pets (it keeps in me a job after-all) but I am more in favour of those animals being owned by people who really want them, who thought long and hard about having them and who can afford them. It may be that they were bought as a gift but, and this is an important distinction, not as a surprise. So, step away from the pet shop, put down the phone to the breeder, shut down rescue website and just give them the flipping bath salts!
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