Browsing tag: diet

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.

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.

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.

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.

Keep Your Rabbits Gnashers Gnawing Gnaturally!

Bunnies cropThe most common cause of illness in rabbits is poor dental health, they suffer terribly with their teeth and problems can become so severe, it is not unusual for bunnies to be euthansed because of them. However, the news is not all bad because it is actually very easy to keep a rabbits gnashers gnawing gnaturally!

Rabbits have teeth that grow all the time and are kept short by both a natural diet of tough, woody grasses and also by the upper and lower sets grinding on each other. However, since bunnies have been domesticated their diets can be very different from the wild, often consisting of more soft rabbit food and vegetables than hay and grass, and this is what causes the problems. Firstly, because the teeth aren’t worn down by these softer foods and secondly because they can become calcium deficient; leading to the jaw bones softening, the teeth shifting and no longer being in alignment with each other. This problem is particularly prevalent when the rabbit is fed the muesli type diets, which they tend to selectively eat by picking out their favourite bits and so they don’t get a balanced diet.

When they over-grow, the molar teeth can develop sharp spikes that dig into the sides of the mouth or tongue and cause a lot of pain. The incisor teeth can become extremely long and curl out of the mouth (which makes them easy to spot) or, worse, into it and dig into the flesh and bone. Again this is very painful and makes it almost impossible for the rabbit to eat. Also, the roots of the teeth can become impacted because of the back pressure and as well as being very sore, can also become infected; causing nasty abscesses which can be extremely difficult to treat.

Spotting dental problems is not always easy because rabbits will hide when they are poorly but checking their weight regularly, examining their mouths and carefully monitoring their appetite are all good ways of picking up on issues. To check your bunny’s mouth, hold them on your lap and gently lift their lips up to have a look at the incisor teeth. These should be smooth, even and short. It is more or less impossible to check the molar teeth without a special scope but by feeling along the upper and lower jaw bones you can pick up abscesses and swellings.

If you are at all concerned you should take your rabbit to your vet. The treatment of over-grown teeth can be a challenge and once they have developed them, many bunnies need to go in regularly for them to be trimmed, which can require an anaesthetic. Over-long incisors can be removed, which is a good idea because it solves the problem and the rabbit will still be able to eat without problems.

However, by far the best thing is prevention rather than cure and this is done very easily by making sure your bunny’s diet is as similar as possible to that of their wild cousins; lots and lots and lots of chewy hay and grass!

Sammy’s Story – Feline Diabetes Isn’t As Scary As It Sounds!

Sammy catSammy is a lovely, and much loved, 13 year old moggie who has always been the picture of health. Healthy appetite, healthy weight and body condition – and he seemed pretty happy too. But a few months ago his owner noticed him at the water bowl more than she used to. At first she didn’t think anything of it, but with the extra drinking came extra urination, and it also seemed to be associated with an increase in appetite. But still she assumed that this was normal as the weather was getting colder and he was spending more time inside. However, at his next annual check-up with me, we found out that he had actually lost almost a pound in the past year. I recommended a blood and urine test and his owner agreed, and when the results came back the answer was clear – Sammy was diabetic.

His owner was in tears. How could she possibly cope with a diabetic cat? She works full time and has two small children, and besides, she has no medical training so how on earth would she be able to give an insulin injection twice a day? She even thought about having him put to sleep because she simply wasn’t going to be able to handle his condition. But we had a nice long chat about what it means to be diabetic and what the treatment would and wouldn’t entail, and by the end of the conversation she was willing to give it a try.

What is diabetes?

This gets a bit complicated, but I’ll do my best to explain it. Sugar in the blood (also called glucose) is a very important source of energy for the body and without it the body’s organs (particularly the brain) run out of fuel and start to shut down resulting in lethargy, confusion, fits, coma and even death. Too much of it however can also be harmful and diabetes is a condition that results in the cat’s blood sugar being too high. Most of the time this is because the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, the hormone responsible for lowering and stabilising blood sugar. High blood sugar in turn results in lots of very sugary urine which leads to more frequent urination, and the increased urination causes increased thirst and drinking. A lack of insulin also means that the body’s cells can’t use the glucose, even if there’s lots of it in the blood, so the body starts to break down other tissues such as fat and protein for energy. This then causes weight loss, but also an increase in appetite as the body tries to compensate. Therefore, the four most common symptoms of diabetes are:
Amber drinking

1. Drinking more than normal
2. Urinating more than normal
3. Eating more than normal
4. Weight loss

Diabetes is not the only disease that causes these symptoms, but if all four come together, it puts diabetes at the top of the list.

How is diabetes diagnosed?

Diagnosing diabetes sounds like it should be pretty easy – if a cat has high blood sugar, it has diabetes, right? Not quite. Cats can have high blood sugar for a couple of different reasons, the most common being stress. And what cat isn’t stressed by the time it gets to the vet, let alone has its blood taken for testing? It is therefore important for your vet to make sure that it isn’t just stress causing the high blood sugar. One of the easiest ways to do this is to test the urine for sugar as well – if there is sugar in the urine, chances are the cat is truly diabetic but this still isn’t a perfect test. If your vet suspects that your cat may have diabetes, a second blood test will typically be run. This could either be, depending on your vet’s personal preference, a single test called fructosamine, or a series of glucose measurements over several hours called a glucose curve. Fructosamine measures the average amount of glucose in the blood over the past 2 weeks (thus making it a more accurate test than a single glucose measurement) whilst a glucose curve measures both the highest and the lowest blood sugar levels on a curve over the course of a day. Both tests are used commonly and both can help the vet diagnose and treat diabetes.

And now the scary bit – how is diabetes treated?

Because diabetes usually means the body doesn’t make enough insulin, the best way to treat diabetes is to give the body more insulin. This may sound easy, but unfortunately insulin can only be given by injection with a needle under the skin. And it has to be given every day, usually twice a day, at about the same time each day so a regular routine is essential. The good news is that the needles are very very small, and so is the volume that needs to be injected. Therefore most of the time the cat doesn’t even seem to notice, especially once they get used to the process. The bigger concern for the cat is having to go into the vet periodically for check-ups and blood tests to see how their body is coping with the treatment, but even that isn’t too bad and once their condition is stabilised these checks can often be done less often.

Another thing that may help is a change of diet to something that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates (the nutrient that gets broken down into glucose after digestion). It is important to monitor your cat’s diet when they are on insulin, as if they do not eat regularly, the insulin could actually hurt them. Similarly, weight loss can help the body better regulate its glucose metabolism so losing excess weight in a controlled manner could make a big difference to their treatment and in some cases may even result in the disease resolving completely.

If your cat is diagnosed with diabetes treatment is essential. It is not generally acceptable to allow the disease to go untreated as it can cause significant discomfort and severe problems for the cat. With insulin therapy, a well-managed diabetic cat can go on to live many healthy, happy years. Insulin, however, is not without risks itself, as giving too much of it can result in a condition called hypoglycaemia, or blood sugar that is too low. As mentioned above, this is a life threatening condition that can result in lethargy, confusion, fits, coma and even death. You should speak with your vet about what symptoms to look out for and how best to manage them should they arise and it’s very important that you let your vet know immediately if you think your cat may be hypoglycaemic.

I am happy to say that both Sammy and his owner are doing very well today. His owner gives him two injections a day, which she has fit into the family routine and no longer sees it as a bother, just something else that has to be done. She has even offered to speak with other owners of newly-diagnosed diabetic cats to give them the confidence they need to get through the initial diagnosis and first few weeks of treatment. So if you find yourself with a diabetic cat, don’t be discouraged, it’s not actually that scary and yes, you can do it!

If you are worried that your cat is showing the symptoms described above, please talk to your vet or try our Interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help decide what to do next.

New Years Petolutions!

It is the time of year for New Year’s Resolutions but if our pets were to make them, what would they be…..?

Dog

Grey-Collie-dogOh! A New Year’s resolution? That sounds fun! I can I do one? Can I, can I, please?! Right, OK, what should I try? How about slobbering less?! Could do but that would be VERY difficult and I think Mum would miss it, she always shouts with delight when I give her a big kiss, especially first thing in the morning when she hasn’t seen me for AGES! I love walks, what about going on more?! With Dad obviously, that time I tried it on my own wasn’t so successful. A lady caught me and I ended up at the VETS, yuk! But Dad soon came to collected me and said it was a good thing I was chips (I think!). I like chips, they let me eat the crunchy ones they don’t like. Anyway, yes, walks, I love them but wish I could go off the lead more (that’s why it was SO much fun when I went on my own!). Dad doesn’t let me much but I love to run. I know he gets a bit cross when I don’t come back straight away but it is so BRILLIANT to run, it’s what we dogs are made for! I suppose I would go back if he made things more interesting, like playing games or having some treats. Also, I am not very good at commands but then again we don’t practice them much and my doggy brain needs to be reminded otherwise I forget stuff. So, more walks where I can run, yes, that would be it! Now, where’s Mum, I feel a good slobber coming on!

Cat

Amber

A New Year’s resolution? That sounds like hard work, can’t I just lie here and sleep? I like sleeping, I am very good at it, maybe I should resolve to do it more, I think I could just about manage another hour or so a day, it is a very busy life you know. I used to run around when I was younger but it is much easier now to lie still now, the staff say that is because I am slightly larger than I used to be but I know that I am perfect. There is always a full bowl of biscuits down, but what is a cat to do, ignore them? I don’t think so! Obviously I don’t always eat everything I am given, sometimes I just lick the gravy or jelly from the meat course but that is mainly to keep the staff on their toes and the menu varied. I did hear mention if I stay this cuddly I could get problems like arthritis or diabetes, which don’t sound very nice, so maybe I should try to slim down a bit. Hmm, I shall sleep on it, zzzz.

Rabbit

Bunny

Well, yes, a New Year’s resolution, I think I could manage that. Let me just clean my paws while I think. It would be nice to nose twitch to a friend about it but I don’t have one. nibble nibble I do get lonely on my own, the people come to see me every day, especially the little one, but it isn’t the same as having somebun here all the time. nibble nibble We bunnies naturally get on together well, think how many friends I would have if I lived in a burrow! One thing I know I should do is eat more hay, it is good for my teeth and tummy, nibble sniff nibble, but when there is a full bowl of yummy pellets around all the time, it is very difficult to resist them and then I don’t have any room for hay! nibble, clean ears, sniff, nibble So, I will try to eat more hay, but what I would really love is a friend! nibble, nibble, nose twitch, big sigh!

Our pets have simple needs and wants and it would be so easy in most cases to help them! Maybe that could be your New Year’s Resolution and then everyone’s a winner!

Why not take a look at our Pet Care Advice pages? Or if you are worried about your pet, check the problem with our Interactive Symptom Guide.

What Your Rabbit Really Needs

Bunnies crop

Rabbits are really popular pets in the UK, second only to cats and dogs, and they can make great companions. However, despite peoples best efforts their needs are often misunderstood and rather than being treated as the intelligent, social animal they are, many are condemned to a life of loneliness and boredom in a cage at the bottom of the garden. It is not difficult to look after rabbits in a way that will keep them both healthy and happy, so what do they really need?

The most important thing you can do to keep a rabbit healthy is feed them a balanced diet. The most common problems that vets see in rabbits are over-grown teeth, tummy upsets and obesity related disease, all of which are directly related to them being fed incorrectly. The vast majority of a rabbit’s diet, at least 80%, should be good quality hay. As a rough guide, every day a rabbit should eat a pile of hay as big as it is. Rabbit’s teeth grow continually and without hay to grind them down, they can develop painful spikes, which rip into the tissues of the mouth, and nasty abscesses in the roots. Hay is also required for good digestion (rabbits can easily die from upset tummies) and helps prevent them getting fat. In addition to hay rabbits should have a small amount of fresh vegetables every day, half a handful is enough and a small amount of pelleted rabbit food, no more than a tablespoon twice a day. This is often where people go wrong, leaving the rabbit with an over-flowing bowl of rabbit food, which, because it is high in calories and very tasty, it is all they eat, giving them a very unbalanced diet.

Rabbits are extremely social creatures, in the wild they live in large family groups, and they should never be kept on their own. The best thing to do is to buy sibling rabbits when they are young. You can introduce rabbits when they are adults but it has to be done with care as many will fight at first. However, it is important to persevere and get the right advice as rabbits are miserable when alone. They are also very intelligent, so make sure they have a variety of toys in their cages and runs to keep them entertained. These don’t have to be expensive, there are plenty of commercially available rabbit toys or just a couple of logs they can play on and nibble are fine.

All rabbits should be neutered, even if they are kept with others of the same sex, and this can be done from the age of 4 months for boys and 6 months for girls. Neutered rabbits make much calmer pets and are far easier to handle. They are also much less likely to fight with each other; 2 entire males kept together, even if they are siblings, can become very aggressive once their hormones kick in. Neutering also has huge health benefits, particularly for the females, of whom 80% will get uterine cancer if they are not spayed.

For most people the whole point of owning a rabbit is because they are cute and cuddly creatures but anyone who has tried to pick up a startled or poorly handled rabbit will know that they can do a lot of damage with their strong nails and back legs! So, it is important that they are played with and handled everyday so they are used to human interaction. Rabbits are prey animals in the wild and their only defence mechanism when frightened is to struggle and try to run away. This is why they don’t always make great pets for children, who can be, unintentionally, quite rough or unpredictable in their handling and it is a big reason why rabbits bought as pets for children end up forgotten and neglected at the bottom of the garden; because no child will play with a pet which has hurt it. However, with regular, careful handling from an early age rabbits can become great companions and members of the family.

Rabbits can make great pets but they need just as much care and attention as other animals and shouldn’t be seen as an ‘easy’ option. Although they are often bought for children they are not always the most suitable pet for young people and they should always be kept with at least one other rabbit. However, they can be real characters once you get to know them and really give back what you put in, provided, of course, you give them what they really need!

For details on examining a rabbit, neutering and vaccinations, take a look at our Pet Care Advice pages. If you are worried about any symptoms your rabbit may be showing, talk to your vet or use our Rabbit Symptom Checker to help decide what to do.

Gastric Torsion in Dogs

Also known as Bloat, Twisted Stomach, Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus or GDV, this condition is one of the most serious emergencies in small animal practice, and it can make all the difference to the outcome if it is recognised immediately.

There are two parts to this condition, the bloat and the torsion. Bloat is when the dog’s stomach fills up with gas, fluid, froth or a mixture of all of these, to a far greater size than normal. Torsion (volvulus) is when the whole stomach twists inside the abdomen so that it is closed off at both its entrance and its exit, just like a sausage which is twisted closed at both ends.

They may both occur together, or one may lead to the other. If bloat occurs first, the enlarged stomach is at greater risk of torsion. If torsion occurs first, bloating will definitely result. No food can leave the stomach, so it ferments, and no gas can be belched up.

Annie, a Gordon Setter, suffered with bloat but survived thanks to her owner spotting the signs

Annie, a Gordon Setter, suffered with bloat but survived thanks to her owner spotting the signs

The effect of the swollen stomach is that it presses on all of the other vital organs close to it. The breathing will become difficult and if the large blood vessels within the abdomen get squeezed so much that they cannot allow blood flow, then other organs will begin to shut down. The stomach wall and the spleen can become necrotic or dead due to loss of blood flow, and this releases toxins into the bloodstream. It is very painful, and if not corrected, the dog will die.

The reasons for this condition occurring are not fully understood, but there are some well known and definite risk factors. The condition happens mainly in larger breeds, particularly those with a deep-chested shape like Great Danes, German Shepherds, Setters, Wolfhounds and Boxers, but these are not the only breeds affected. It also happens more (but not exclusively) in dogs over 7 years of age, and it is more common in males than in females. The risks increase if the stomach is very full, either with food or with water, so a dog which is fed once daily and eats very quickly, or gets access to the food store and gorges itself, would be at higher risk. Exercising after eating or after a big drink also increases the risk.

Symptoms

The onset of a gastric torsion is usually very rapid. The dog can appear quite normal one minute but once symptoms start they very quickly get worse. The most common symptoms are some or all of:

  • Restlessness, anxiety
  • Discomfort, followed by worsening pain
  • Arched back, reluctance to lie down
  • Drooling saliva or froth
  • Attempts to vomit (retching) with little being brought up
  • Swollen abdomen, often feels hard and if tapped feels like a balloon
  • Rapid breathing
  • Pale coloured gums and tongue
  • Collapse
  • Shock, possible death

It is vital to get veterinary attention as soon as possible if you suspect bloat or torsion. Always phone your surgery or your emergency service first as it will save valuable time if you go to the right place where the staff are prepared for your arrival.

Occasionally, there can be a slower onset. This may mean that the stomach has bloated without twisting, but there is still a high risk of torsion occurring so advice should be sought from your surgery.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosing the condition can be very straightforward if a dog is showing all of the classic symptoms. X-rays may be needed to confirm it. Blood tests will probably be taken to find out how serious the changes in the blood are, because changes in the circulating levels of salts in the blood can be life-threatening. These will be treated with intravenous fluids given quickly and at high volumes. A stomach tube may be passed, but this will not be successful if the stomach has twisted because the tube will not be able to get through the obstructed entrance. The vet may decide to decompress the stomach (let some gas out) by inserting a needle into the dog’s side. The order in which these procedures may be carried out will depend on just how ill the dog is.

A surgical operation will be needed to untwist the stomach, to check for damage to the organs and to try to prevent it from happening again. Some will need immediate surgery and others will need to be stabilised first to improve their chances of survival. Some dogs have to have part of the stomach or the spleen removed if the damage has been severe. The surgery is very high risk especially if the dog is already in shock because of the effects on the circulation and breathing.

When successful surgery is carried out, with the stomach and spleen returned to their normal position or repaired if damaged, it is common to perform a procedure to try to stop the condition occurring again, known as a gastropexy. There are different ways of doing this, but the aim is to anchor the stomach to the abdominal wall so that it is unable to twist. It could still bloat, but hopefully the consequences would not be so serious.

The survival rate following this condition varies a lot, but sadly, many dogs die each year from gastric torsion. The survival rate is better in younger dogs and if immediate treatment is given.

Prevention

  • Be aware of the signs to look out for
  • Feed larger dogs two or three smaller meals a day
  • Do not allow your dog to exercise after eating or after a big drink
  • Try to discourage rapid eating by separating competitive dogs at feeding time
  • Try a specially shaped feeding bowl designed to slow eating down
  • The effects of type of food and feeding from a raised bowl are under constant review and more research will show whether these are significant or not
Martha with her young friend Tilly

Martha with her young friend Tilly

I suspect that most vets never forget the first case of gastric torsion that they see. Mine was in a Great Dane, which I worked on all night with the help of two nurses. That one was fortunate and survived. It was a great moment for all of us when it left the surgery mid-morning the next day. The nurses jokingly told me that there was another one on the way in but I didn’t believe them, at least, not until I saw it walk in, arriving just as the first one left. Since then I have treated many dogs with gastric torsion and it is always memorable and always a challenge.

My own boxer Martha died of this condition last year despite very prompt attention and all preventative measures being in place. Sadly, her age was against her and our only consolation is that her suffering was very short-lived.

If you are concerned about your dog’s health, talk to your vet or use our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help decide what to do next.

Cats and Christmas

Yes, it’s true, Christmas is upon us yet again.  A time of fluffy white snow, happy children, beautifully wrapped gifts and exceedingly large meals.  Or, if you’re a cat owner, a time of missing ornaments, broken baubles, toppled trees, and shredded wrapping paper.  The antics of the family cat can be a welcome distraction when the discussion gets a bit too heated around the dinner table, but just as cats enjoy all the new toys there could be some hidden dangers too.  Here are some things to think about this holiday season.

Cats are curious by nature and will want to investigate the tree at least!The Christmas tree

  • “What could be better?” says the cat.  “The joys of the outdoors in the warmth of my living room!”  Christmas trees are a cat’s dream come true.  Many cats, especially kittens, find climbing the tree irresistible and will stop at nothing to try to make it to the top.  You can try all sorts of deterrents, including aluminium foil around the base (cats hate walking on it) and keeping a water spray bottle close at hand, but it usually won’t stop them trying at least once.   Many cats also hate the smell of oranges, so some people say keeping orange peels under the tree can help deter climbing.  If your cat is particularly curious, you may simply have to lock them out of the room altogether.
  • The ornaments are another endless source of feline entertainment.  Make sure all expensive, fragile or potentially dangerous ornaments are placed at the top of the tree out of easy reach.  This includes glass baubles, things that look like small furry creatures, and anything that has a string or ribbon on it.  Make sure all wires and clips are attached tightly to the branch, and try not to have any ornaments that swing from side to side where the cat can see them.
  • Where possible don’t provide your cat with a launching ramp (i.e. keep the tree away from the sofa or other furniture).
  • Beware of electric cords and light bulbs, and watch your cat carefully to make sure they do not take a rather shocking interest in them.

Poinsettia and many other favourite Christmas plants are poisonous to cats.
Deck the halls, carefully!

  • As mentioned above, any decoration that swings or is otherwise attractive to the cat should be placed out of reach or avoided altogether.  Sharp, pointy decorations or those with small parts that could fall off should also be placed carefully.
  • Ribbons and string can be fatal to cats, so if you must use either in your decoration or whilst wrapping presents, make sure it’s well out of their reach and clean it up immediately after use.
  • The eating of pine needles should be discouraged whenever possible.  Citronella, Tabasco sauce, or bitter apple spray can be used on the bottom branches to discourage chewing.
  • Some plants including mistletoe, holly, lilies and poinsettias, are toxic to cats and cause serious problems if eaten so keep them out of reach or better yet, simply admire them in the homes of others.  The same goes for fake snow – best to avoid it altogether.
  • Make sure all human food is kept out of reach of your cat – they don’t need it and it could make them sick!  But if you absolutely must share, be careful with what you give them to sample as some foods such as chocolate are toxic to cats.  Never give cats (or dogs!) turkey bones as they could cause serious problems if eaten.

A joyful yet stressful time for all

  • You aren’t the only one who dreads the arrival of the in-laws.  Cats will not only pick up on your stress and act out accordingly, but can also be thrown off by all the extra activity in the house.   
  • Some cats will deal with this stress by displaying charming behaviours such as urinating on your carpet or guests’ luggage, scratching up the sofa, or becoming generally unpleasant and aggressive.  Others may spend the whole time hiding under the bed or outdoors.
  • To help ease your cat’s stress levels (and perhaps your own too!), try to spend a few moments with your cat alone each day and provide a quiet, calm area to which they can retreat if needed.  Make sure food and water bowls are well stocked and easily accessible to even the most timid kitties.  Calming pheromone sprays or plug-ins such as Feliway can be tried to help keep the peace.
  • Remember, some cats are particularly prone to urinary tract problems (such as infection or even blockage) during times of stress and cold, so monitor your cat for frequent or difficult urination.  They’re also more likely to pick up a case of the sniffles and go off their food, so ring your vet immediately if you have any concerns.   

But aside from the dangers, Christmas can be a wonderful time to share with your cat.   Some of your best photos will be of your cat interacting with the Christmas tree or popping their head out of a pile of wrapping paper.  A few devoted owners even give their cats their own stocking to open on the big day.  Do remember, however, that when buying your cat a gift, Murphy’s Law clearly states that the more expensive the gift the less interested they will be in it and the packaging is almost always more fun than the toy itself!Cat-in-the-wrapstocking-sleep

 

 

 

 

Many of the points above also apply to dogs. Also, you might want to take a look at the related blog published last Christmas entitled “The nightmare before Christmas” for more tips on keeping your pet safe at this time of year. 

If you are worried about the health of your pets over Christmas, talk to your vet or use our Interactive Symptom Guide to check how urgent a problem may be.

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