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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.  The flakes can however be yellow in colour if oily or even red/brown if they also have some scabs/dried blood in them. Why does my dog have dandruff? There are various reasons why your dog may be showing the symptom of dandruff including:
  • Diet
  • Excessive shampooing- dries out the skin
  • Parasites-mites such as cheyletiella or after effect of scratching due to e.g. fleas.
  • Skin conditions- such as underactive thyroid and seborrhoea
How do we work out why my dog has dandruff? The best way to get to the root of the problem if your dog has dandruff is to take him to your vet, where he can have a thorough examination, detailed history of how long the condition has been going on for including how it has changed and have appropriate test carried out. Your vet will ask general questions about your dog's health, diet, grooming regime and parasite control.  This will be followed by a physical examination, concentrating on the area of affected skin.  Depending on their finding your vet might then suggest some tests be carried out e.g.
  • Skin scrapes
  • Hair plucks
  • Sticky tape strips
  • Blood tests
  • See response to parasite treatment
  • Skin biopsies
  • Diet trials
Skin scrapes are when a sterile scalpel blade is used to scrape your dog’s skin usually until the point of light bleeding; this sample is then examined under a microscope to look for parasites and signs of infection. Hair plucks are when a clump of hair is pulled out and then examined under the microscope or cultured to see if any bacteria/fungi are grown. Sticky tape strips are literally when a strong clear sticky tape is applied to your dog's skin and it then removed taking with it surface loose hairs and skin which can then be examined under a microscope. Blood tests are performed on a sample of blood taken from either a vein on your dog’s front leg (cephalic vein) or the large vein on your dog’s neck (jugular vein).  The blood is analysed at your vet practice or may be sent to a laboratory.  Your vet will be looking for conditions that can affect the skin hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and Cushing’s disease (over production of steroids). If parasites are suspected as the cause of the dandruff, even if they cannot be seen then a response to a course of antiparasitic treatment can be used to make a diagnosis. Skin biopsies are when a sample of full thickness of your dog's skin is cut out and sent to a laboratory for analysis.  Often several sites may be biopsied and sent off.  Skin biopsies will usually be performed with your pet under some form of anaesthesia to provide pain relief and to keep your pet still. A diet trial is when your dog is fed a specific diet and water to drink but nothing else for a period of time, which could be 8-12 weeks.  This is to ensure that other food substances are out of your dog’s system.  Some animals will show a dramatic improvement in their skin condition as a result of a specific diet; this could be one which has avoided a substance your dog is allergic to or perhaps one with added ingredients to support a healthy skin and coat such as omega oils. How can we treat my dog's dandruff? This will depend on the cause of the dandruff.  A good starting point is to ensure good parasite control for your pet, in contact pets and the home environment followed by a good quality diet which is appropriate to your dog's age, activity level and general body condition.  We will also sometimes recommend dietary supplements to increase the good oils in your dog's diet as these can help the skin to stay healthy and move away from the itchy pathways. Certain fish oils and evening primrose oil contain a good balance of oils, please do not use products you get from health food shops or which are designed for people unless this is under the direction of your vet. Some dogs specifically benefit from a low allergy diet, this is one where an unusual protein and carbohydrate source are used or where the molecules of protein are broken down to a point beyond which they can trigger off allergic reactions.  Low allergy diets need to be stuck to strictly and given for a long period, 8-12 weeks minimum in order to see if there is any improvement before we can say they are not working.  Low allergy diets can be bought or home cooked. If a an infection is found then the correct antibiotic or antifungal medication will be prescribed, this may be in oral form such as tablets or capsules or could be as a shampoo.  Whatever form the treatment is in, it is very important to follow instructions closely to provide the best chances of successfully treating the condition. In cases of seborrhoea your pet will have a sensitive easily irritated skin that can have dry or oily flakes.  This can be underlying due to a dietary issue which will need addressing but it can also be massively improved by use of an appropriate shampoo.  It is important that you use the shampoo as directed, allowing adequate contact time with your dog's skin for the active ingredients to do their job. The shampoo will usually need to be used more frequently at the start of the treatment and this will reduce to less often as the condition starts responding and is being more controlled. Where hormonal imbalances have been detected via blood tests then appropriate medication will be given, in cases of Hypothyroidism supplements of thyroid hormone are given, the levels of which will be monitored in your pet’s blood.  Other conditions such as Cushing’s disease require treatment to stop the overproduction of steroids in the body, these too need carefully monitoring. I hope that my answer has helped you to understand how complex dandruff can be to get to the bottom. With the help of your vet then we hope that your dog's coat soon returns to its former glory and that he is much more comfortable. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet) If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.
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Caring for your new rabbit – essentials for proper bunny welfare

Did the Easter bunny come this year?  Not the imaginary kind that drops off chocolate, the real kind that lives for 10 years or more and deserves to have a better life than being trapped in a hutch at the bottom of the garden.  If they did, or you are thinking of getting one, here’s my guide on how to care for them.

Diet

The majority of problems that vets see in rabbits are related to an inadequate diet.  So, if you get their food right, you will give your pet the best chance of a healthy life!

The mainstay of a rabbit’s diet should be hay and every day they should eat a pile as big as they are. Rabbits have teeth that are constantly growing and chewing on hay keeps them in good shape.  One of the most common issues for rabbits is sharp, overgrown teeth that can be so painful they stop eating altogether. Hay is also vital for healthy digestion, particularly important in rabbits for whom diarrhoea can be fatal.

Rabbits should also have a handful of fresh food everyday and a small amount (a tablespoon at most) of hard, pelleted food.  Avoid the museli mixes as these allow your pet to pick out their favourites and become short on vital vitamins.  For the majority of their day, your rabbits bowl should be empty (just like a dog or cat!), so they only have their hay to nibble on.

Vaccinations

All rabbits should be vaccinated annually against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD).  These are both fatal and vaccination is the only protection.  The injections can be given from 8 weeks of age.  This visit to the surgery is also an opportunity for your vet to ensure your new pet is healthy and for you to ask any questions.

Neutering

Having your rabbit neutered is very important.  Females should be spayed when they are around 6 months and males can be castrated from 4 months.  Entire rabbits can be grumpy, prone to biting and often urine spray, so not great pets!  Also, 80% of entire female rabbits will develop uterine cancer in later life.

Training and handling

Rabbits are prey animals, so they are naturally nervous.  This can mean they can be flighty and startle easily.   As soon as you get your new rabbit, work with them to gain their confidence.  Sit on the floor with them, offer treats, encouragement and try to get them to come to you.  Don't pick them up until they are used to you and always handle them calmly but firmly.

Also, rabbits should never be kept alone.  For a social animal, solitary confinement is akin to torture.  Neutered pairs of the opposite sex work best and they can be bonded in later life, if they have previously lived alone.

Parasites

The most common parasite in rabbits is a fur mite. It causes flaky, itchy skin and is easily treated with veterinary ´spot-on´ drops. They can also get fleas, just like dogs and cats, and again these are easily treated with veterinary products.  They can also suffer from internal parasites (worms) but they are not common.

Fly Strike

Fly strike is a horrific, and often deadly, problem.  It develops when flies lay their eggs on the dirty fur around a rabbit’s backend.  These develop into maggots which burrow into the rabbit’s flesh, causing huge pain and damage, often within just a few hours.  This is why all rabbits should be handled and checked at least twice daily and there are preventative treatments available from your vets.

Pet Insurance

There are now several companies which provide insurance policies for rabbits and it is something all rabbit owners should consider.

Rabbit are entertaining, inquisitive and rewarding but they do need the similar levels of care and attention as other pets.  They are not the low maintenance, children’s pet  many people think they are.  Hopefully this article has helped you if you do have a bun and if it has inspired you to own one, get in touch your local rescue, they always have rabbits needing loving homes!

Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at www.catthevet.com

If you have any worries about your rabbit or any pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.

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Caring for older cats – Part 2 – helping your feline through old age

Did you know that cats age the equivalent of 24 human years in their first 2 years of life?  After that, each cat year is about equal to 4 human years.  So my 18 year old Maddy cat is the same age as my 88 year old grandmother.  Doing that calculation helps put her age in perspective, and makes you wonder, am I taking care of her as I would care for my grandmother?  In my last blog I talked about some of the signs that your cat may start to show as they get older.  Observations such as changes in behaviour, toileting issues or changes in sleep patterns are all relatively common in older cats, but could actually indicate an underlying medical condition.  Any changes in your ageing cat should be discussed with your vet so that if there is any concern, the appropriate diagnostic tests can be run and treatment can be started if necessary.  But if you and your vet decide that your older cat is physically well, there are still lots of things that you can do to help them age a bit more gracefully. Give them a nail trim Most cats, especially those that go outside regularly, don’t need (and don’t want) their nails trimmed.  Older cats, however, don’t tend to need them much for hunting, tree climbing or fighting with their neighbours.  Although feline claws naturally shed with daily activity, the nails of older, less active cats tend to get overgrown and can even grow all the way around and into the pad of the foot, a very painful condition.  Even if they’re not overgrown, they still frequently get stuck on the sofa or their bedding, particularly if the cat suffers from arthritis and has limited movement.  Trimming the claws is relatively straightforward and most of the time you can do it at home.  Ask your vet or vet nurse for a demonstration if you are unsure. Give them a toilet Would you want your 88 year old grandmother to have to go downstairs, out the back door and down the garden to use an outside loo in the middle of the night?  Do your older cat a huge favour and give them a litter tray in an accessible location.  Make it big and uncovered with low sides if possible, as these are easier to use for older arthritic cats.  If you have lots of stairs, consider one on each floor.  Not only will they appreciate the shorter trip and be less likely to have accidents on your carpet, but many older cats have trouble going through cat flaps so the less they have to use it, the better.  Cleaning the litter tray also gives you an opportunity to notice any changes in urine volume or blood in the stool. Give them a (gentle) brush Old, stiff cats often find it difficult to groom themselves as much as they used to.  Their bodies just don’t bend that way anymore, or if they do, it hurts.  They also tend to sleep more and that leaves less time for activities like grooming.  I think they also just plain forget sometimes.  Cats that don’t groom themselves, even those with short hair, can get matted fur and this hurts.  By brushing your cat daily, you can help them remove dead hairs and dirt and prevent painful matts.  Long haired cats need a more thorough groom.   Be gentle though, particularly over the spine and legs as these are the areas most likely to be affected by muscles loss or arthritis.  While you’re at it, take a look for fleas or any new lumps or bumps on the skin and bring these to the attention of your vet.  If your cat objects, try a grooming glove or very soft brush rather than the typical wire cat brush.  If they still won’t let you near them, speak with your vet about a possible underlying cause and consider having some of the fur trimmed and matts removed by a professional with clippers.  Whatever you do, never try to cut out closely matted fur with scissors – I have seen some horrendous injuries as a result and it is simply not safe. Give them what they want to eat You may notice that your older cat doesn’t have the same appetite that he used to.  While this can be due to a decreased sense of smell or taste with age, it could also be the result of an underlying medical problem so it’s very important to speak with your vet.  If your older cat ever needs some encouragement to eat, here are some things that you can try if your cat finds eating to be a bit of a chore:
  • Warm the food up slightly (beware heating cat food in the microwave, it gets very hot very quickly!) to just below body temperature.  Warm food generally smells and tastes better.
  • Giving your cat a good stroke before or sitting with them during a meal can encourage them to eat.
  • Don’t leave food sitting out all day - if they don’t eat it within an hour pick it up and put down fresh food at the next meal.
  • Trying a new brand or flavour can encourage them to eat.  But at the same time, try not to leave out several bowls of different foods for them to choose from as this can be overwhelming.
  • Wet food is almost always more palatable than dry, especially for older cats who may have dental problems, so consider changing the type of food you offer.  You could also try adding a bit of water to the food or mashing it with a fork.
Make it easy for them
  • If your cat prefers to sleep on your bed, put a chair next to it so they can use it as a step to get up and down.
  • Consider keeping a food and water dish in the bedroom or just outside it so they don’t have to go far for the things they need.  Older cats (particularly those fed dry food) can become dehydrated easily.
  • Keep their environment quiet and warm, and try to avoid letting the children grab them at every opportunity.
  • Offer a horizontal scratching post instead of a vertical one, and don’t forget, they may be old but they still need mental stimulation.  They may choose to play with different toys as they age, but things like open cardboard boxes or bags can give them something to investigate and a large catnip toy can be batted and kicked around the house.
  • Try to keep their routines as constant as possible, as older cats can take great comfort in knowing that things always happen when and how they’re supposed to happen.
As your cat starts to age, take a good look at their daily activities and see if there is anything you can do to make things a little bit easier on them.  Your vet or vet nurse may have other suggestions, so it’s always a good idea to ask for advice.  You could even try asking elderly members of your own family for ideas – you might be surprised by what they come up with!  And remember, if you wouldn’t want your 88 year old grandmother doing it, you probably shouldn’t expect your 18 year old cat to do it either.
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The truth about your dog’s food? Or sensationalist entertainment dressed up as “the truth”?

Feeding your pet properly is one of the most important aspects of good pet care: in an online Twitter discussion this week, there was broad agreement with the statement that "Nutrition is the single most important environmental influence on a pet’s health and well-being" . But how should an owner choose the best way to feed their pet?  The much-anticipated programme on Channel Five this week, "The Truth About Your Dog's Food"  is bound to make people reconsider how they feed their pet pooches. There are many different types of pet food available, from a variety of sources, and it can be confusing for pet owners. There are many “right” ways to feed a pet, not just “one true way”, but it’s common for people to find a way that works for their pet, and then to believe that this is the best way for every animal. I believe that this is the reason why people sometimes become fanatically passionate about certain ways of feeding pets (such as “raw meat and bones”) I know that my profession - a veterinary surgeon - has been criticised for selling pet food, and there are conspiracy theorists out there suggesting that vets are influenced by the pet food companies that offer financial support to some educational programmes. If you are a believer in such wild nonsense, then don't read any further - it'll just be a waste of your time, because you already know that you are not going to agree with what I say. But to the rest of you, I can say that as a vet, I have been trained in nutrition, and I have been observing the way that my patients and my own pets have been fed for the past thirty years, and this blog is my genuine effort to try to put some common sense down in writing. There are broadly three ways to feed a pet animal. A) ‘Human’ food or home prepared. Some people choose to feed their pet on scraps from the table, on specially prepared ‘human’ type meals or on “raw” meat and bones. This method of feeding may be fine as long as the resulting diet is balanced, with the correct combination of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. It can be difficult to ensure that the best balance is attained, which is why most people choose to feed their pet on commercial pet foods which have been custom-made to provide all of the necessary nutrients. One recent study of home-made dog food recipes (from websites, veterinary text books, and pet care books) found that 95% were deficient in at least one essential nutrient. B) Commercially prepared food It's safer to choose a commercially prepared diet: members of the Pet Food Manufacturers Association follow European nutritional guidelines for pets, reviewed by independent experts such as vets, scientists and animal nutritionists to ensure that they are correct. You may not like the sound of what they put into your pet's food, but it does provide complete nutrition. Pet food manufacturers are bound by law to produce food that is nutritionally balanced for pets. The type of ingredients used vary, and while the raw ingredients may not look appealing to humans, the final product is carefully designed to appeal to humans as well as to pets. 1.Moist pet food. Tinned pet food is the traditional way to feed dogs and cats: in recent years, packaging has improved so that sachets and cartons are now also available a) A cat may be fed on tinned food (such as ‘Whiskas’ ) with perhaps a scattering of dry biscuits. b) A dog may be fed on tinned food (such as ‘Pedigree Chum’) combined in the bowl with dry mixer biscuits. Whilst this traditional way of feeding animals is perfectly adequate, it is not necessarily the best quality, most convenient or most economical diet. 2. Complete dried pet food. High quality complete dry biscuits have been increasingly used to feed pets over the past 20 years. These are effectively a combination of meat and biscuit rolled into one. In the past, ‘muesli’ type dry diets were very popular, but technology has enabled the production of so-called ‘extruded’ biscuits, which are meaty looking pellets of various sizes. These modern dry foods are popular for a number of reasons, including convenience and economy. A wide range of products is available, with considerable differences in price and quality. A good quality dry food is often the best way for most owners to feed their pets. Comparison of the three types of feeding Home-prepared or “raw meat” diets Moist Food
  • 80% water
  • Relatively expensive
  • Inconvenient – heavy tins/containers, need to buy every week, and can be unpleasant having open containers in fridge
  • Tends to be tastier/stronger smell than dry food, so pets often prefer it
Complete Dried Food
  • 5 – 12% water
  • Price depends on quality, but generally cheaper than moist food
  • Convenient – buy a big bag once a month. Keeps fresh for a long time if stored in a cool dry place
  • Palatability depends on price – cheaper dry foods less attractive to pets than more expensive, better quality products
  • Dry biscuits can be good for dental health – chewing helps to keep teeth and gums healthy, but replacing a portion of the daily meal with a custom-designed dental chew stick is more effective (and tooth-brushing is even more effective than this)
Controversies and conclusions The latest fad in pet nutrition is “raw feeding”, using raw meat, raw bones and raw herbage. Proponents claim that is a “natural” diet that allows dogs to achieve optimum health and longevity. These claims are not backed up by data. Last year, a team of Swedish researchers compared the genomes of wolves and dogs and found that a big difference is dogs’ ability to easily digest starch. At the time that dogs became close companions to humans, they adapted to be able to digest wheat, rice, barley, corn and potatoes. There is plenty of evidence that dogs thrive, and live long healthy lives being fed on complete dry or moist food produced by commercial pet food manufacturers. Yes, of course dogs fall ill, but there is no evidence of a link to modern commercial pet foods, despite the loud claims of many proponents of other ways of feeding pets. Many manufacturers of expensive dried foods also maintain that their products are made of better quality ingredients that are therefore better for dogs. And many vet clinics stock ranges of dried pet foods that are often more expensive than grocery products. Are these foods better for pets? My conclusion Every pet is individual and has different nutritional needs. You should choose a diet that is balanced and that your pet enjoys eating. If the diet suits your pet, they will thrive with a shiny coat, bright eyes, and good health. My experience is that if the cheapest foods, with the lowest quality ingredients, are fed, pets tend to have dry, unkempt coats, with dull eyes and they are obviously not thriving. If such pets are changed to a high quality, more expensive diet, their condition will often improve – not at once, but after around 6 – 8 weeks which is the length of time that it takes for nutrition to have a visible external effect. Additionally, more expensive dried foods, with high quality ingredients, tend to be more digestible, with less indigestible bulk, so that animals produce less faeces every day (which means you have to pick up less when out on walks). A new website has been set up to compare the 1200 types of dog food that are currently available on the UK market: some of the science behind the "expert rating" of the various foods may be debatable, but the website does provide an in-depth review of the various ingredients in modern dog food, and it's a useful way of gaining a better understanding of the subject.
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Ask a vet online ‘How old does a pupy have to be before moving them onto adult food?’

Question from Tracie J Thorne How old does a pupy have to be before moving them onto adult food and not the PUPPY variety? Answer from Shanika Winters (Online Vet) Hi Tracie, thank you for your question regarding the age at which it is best to change a dog from puppy food over to adult dog food. I will start by discussing a little about pet food and then tie this in with each stage of a pet’s life and its nutritional requirements. Your pet dog needs a balanced diet to provide its body with all the ingredients (nutrients) to keep it functioning. The basic food components are Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat, Vitamins and Minerals. Your dog also needs to have fresh water to drink.  Pet food that you buy can provide some or in the case of complete diets all the nutrients your pet needs to maintain a healthy body. Dog food is available in many forms including: tinned, pouches, trays, semi moist and dry nuggets.  Which exact form of dog food you choose is a personal choice but may be influenced by how fussy an eater your dog is and the advice of your vet.  Some owners may choose to make a home cooked diet and there are also some people who like to feed a raw diet. If you are unsure as to what is the best diet for your dog then discuss it with your vet or veterinary nurse, they are trained to give nutritional advice and help find the diet that will suit your pet. At each life stage through from being a puppy through to an adult dog and then a mature dog your pet’s nutritional requirements will change. Puppies are still growing and require a higher protein, higher energy and specific vitamin and mineral balanced diet than an adult dog which is simply maintaining its body condition. Pregnant bitches and working dogs will also have a higher energy requirement from their diet than an elderly dog. This is one of the reasons that there are so many different dog foods available and labelled for each life stage. Different breeds of dog will finish growing at slightly different ages, larger breed dogs such as Labradors will finish growing later that smaller breed dogs such as Yorkshire terriers. As an approximate guide small breed dogs will need puppy food for the first 6-12 months, the larger breed dogs will need puppy food for approximately 18 months.  There are some puppy foods that are designed for different breeds/sizes of dog, and most bought pet foods will give you a guide as to which age to switch to adult dog food. As your dog moves from being a young adult dog through to a more mature dog then it may be advisable to change to a senior dog food which takes into account the changing nutritional needs of the older dog.  If your dog has a specific medical condition from being overweight through to joint disease there are specific diets formulated for each condition. I hope that this has helped to answer your question and that if you have any doubt then discuss your dog’s dietary needs with your veterinary surgeon. Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online Vet) If you are worried about your puppy or dog,  please book an appointment with your vet or use our online symptom checker.
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