Browsing tag: dog

Ask a vet online-‘I have an 8 year old Maltipoo who has had teeth and gum problems for the last 4 years.’

Question from Mary Collins O’Hara:

I have an 8year old Maltipoo who has had teeth and gum problem for the last 4years. He had 8teeth pulled, including some teeth on the bottom front, so now he drools all the time and he has the worst breath. I have done several rounds of antibiotics, I brush his teeth but his gums are so tender, he cries. I don’t know what else to do. Please help.

Answer by Shanika Winters

Hi Mary and thank you for your question regarding your dog’s ongoing mouth problem.  An adult dog usually has 42 teeth which are made up of four different types:

12 Incisors which are for nibbling

4 Canines which are for grabbing and puncturing

16 Premolars which are for cutting and shearing

10 Molars which in theory are for grinding up food

Most dogs over the age of 3 years have some form of dental disease, this may be as mild as inflamed gums (gingivitis) and plaque through to infected tooth roots with gum recession.  Along with the functions listed above the teeth help hold the dogs tongue inside its mouth and keep the shape of its mouth by holding the cheek flaps out.  Many dogs cope extremely well after major extractions where they are only left with a few healthy teeth.

The diet may need to be changed so as to make it easier for the dog to eat it, in some cases wet food may be advised. Generally however we recommend some dry food is fed as this helps to keep plaque levels down just by the fact that the food is crunched and scrapes on the surface of the teeth.  There are specially designed dental diets which have fibres in each nugget arranged so as to have maximum scraping effect on the teeth.  As most dog owners are aware not all dogs crunch up their food it is wolfed down rather fast and in such cases dental diets may have little effect on keeping the teeth clean.

You have already mentioned that you are brushing your dog’s teeth, that is an excellent way to keep them clean by slowing down the build up of plaque.  It is important to use tooth paste that is designed for dogs, which is both palatable to them and not high in fluoride as are human toothpastes.  It is also advisable to use specially designed dog tooth brushes, these tend to have a smaller head with a longer handle so it is easier to reach all around the dog’s mouth.  Only light pressure should be applied when cleaning your dog’s teeth, it is easy to be too firm and hurt the gums.

Antibiotics are often used in cases of dental disease to reduce the presence of bacteria in your dog’s mouth.  The bacteria may be present; as part of tooth root infections, attached in the plaque, and even in what appears to be a clean mouth can still contribute to bad breath (halitosis).

Why does my dog have mouth problems?

In order to determine why your dog is drooling, has bad breath and sore gums it is essential that he has a full examination by your vet, there can be underlying diseases that are causing your dog’s symptoms such as poor immunity (ability to heal and fight infection), underactive thyroid gland (Hypothyroidism) and over production of steroid (Cushings disease) to mention a few.  Many of the underlying illnesses can be picked up on blood tests which are done on a sample of your dog’s blood collected by your vet and then sent to a laboratory for analysis.

What can be done to help my dog?

Once your vet has ruled out any underlying diseases, then a close look at your dog’s mouth is necessary, there may be further dental disease needing treatment such as further extractions, sometimes your vet will suggest performing x-rays to check if there are infected tooth roots where the piece of the tooth visible appears healthy.  Some dogs have skin folds around their mouths and these can trap saliva, the skin becomes inflamed, infected and smelly.  The skin folds can be treated by use of antibiotics, trimming the hair from the skin fold and cleaning with an antiseptic solution.

If there is no need for any further dental treatment, then some dogs benefit from the use of antiseptic mouth sprays or drinking water additives to help reduce bacteria levels in the mouth.

Regular courses of antibiotics can be used under the direction of your vet, in some cases this is the only way to keep some dog’s mouths clean and healthy.

So where there are any ongoing dental disease issues it is vital to work with your vet to find the best plan of action to keep your dog happy, healthy and comfortable.  I hope that this has helped to answer your question.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online Vet)

Ask a vet online – ‘Can you suggest a home remedy for mites in dogs please?’

Question from Sharon Barett:

Hi can you suggest a home remedy for mites in dogs please? I used the spot on treatment off the vet for 3 months but it did not make any difference she still scratches it a King Charles Spaniel 5 months old thank you .x

Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, online vet

Hi Sharon and thank you for your question regarding your itchy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  In order to answer your question I will discuss the possible causes of the itch, how we work out a diagnosis and then some treatment options.

Dog Scratching Flea

Getting the itch!

Why is my pet scratching/itchy?

If your pet is scratching itself then something will be causing an irritation, most commonly this is due to the presence of external parasites such as fleas (Ctenocephalides canis or felis) or mites (e.g. cheyletiella, sarcoptes scabeii). Itchiness can also be due to the presence of an allergy to things you pets eats (food allergy), contacts (contact allergy) or inhales (atopic allergy).

How to diagnose the itch

It is really important to work with your vet to find out the cause of your pet’s itch. The first thing your vet will do is ask for a detailed history of your pets condition including how long it has been going on, any changes to your pets routine, any changes to your household, what treatments have already been tried and if they have had any effect.

The next step is for your vet to perform a full physical examination of your pet paying extra attention to the skin and coat, underlying diseases can have symptoms that affect the skin which include Hypothyroidism( under active thyroid gland), Cushing’s disease ( over production of steroid) and diseases of the immune system.

Finally your vet may suggest performing some diagnostic test on your pet such as skin scrapes, hair plucks, sticky tape strips, skin biopsies, wet paper test, swabs and blood tests.

Skin scrapes: these involve use of a sterile scalpel blade to scrape the surface of your pet’s skin to collect surface cells and debris, which is then examined under a microscope usually for parasites and or fungi.  For certain parasites such as Demodex mite (not usually itchy) a deep scrape has to be taken.

Sticky tape strips: a strong sticky tape is applied to your pet’s skin and then removed, again this is examined under a microscope looking at the surface cells and debris similar to above but it is a less invasive procedure.

Hair plucks: as the name suggests a clump of hair is plucked from your pet and examined as for skin scrapes and sticky tape strips, sometimes this can help to show up Demodex mites (which live down the hair shaft in the hair follicle) or ring worm (actually a fungal skin disease). Hair plucks can be cultured to try and grow bacteria and fungi; this is usually done at a laboratory.

Skin biopsies: this is usually performed under general anaesthesia or sedation as a full thickness sample of the skin is cut out, put into preservative and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Often several samples are taken from different sites.  This gives a lot of information about how the skin is reacting and what types of cells and changes are present.

Wet paper test: your vet will comb through your pet’s coat and collect the debris and put it onto a sheet of wet white paper, if small red dots appear this is suggestive of fleas, as the flea dirt contains digested blood and this turns red when wet.

Swabs: there are sterile cotton bud tipped sticks which are wiped in any discharges present on the skin (often in the ears), the material on the swab can then be stained and examined under a microscope or sent off for culture and sensitivity to grow bacteria and see which antibiotics are affective against them.

Blood test: these can be routine to check overall body function or very specific looking into what your pet is allergic to.  The test chosen will be a decision made with you and your vet depending on your pet’s condition.

What treatment will help my pet?

As external parasites are the most common cause of an itchy pet this is often the first treatment approach whether parasites have been detected or not.  It is important to use a product recommended by your vet that is safe for your pet and covers the suspected range of parasites.  It is also important to use the treatment correctly and repeat as advised. It can take several weeks to clear up some parasites.  Your vet may also advise you to treat other pets in your household and the home environment itself. Especially in the case of fleas as the majority of the flea population is living in the environment ant not only on your pet.

Parasite treatments come in tablet, injection, spot on and spray preparations. Your vet will help to direct you to the method which is most appropriate for you and your pet.

Food allergies are usually treated by feeding a low allergy or special diet (in which protein molecules are broken down so as not to cause reaction).  In some cases your vet may recommend a home cooked diet.  The diet needs to be stuck to strictly and can take 3 months or more to begin to allow improvement in your pet’s skin signs.

Contact allergies usually are present on the paws and tummy, which are areas in contact with the ground.  Once the substance your pet is reacting to has been worked out it is then needs to be avoided or stop being used.

Atopic allergies are usually diagnosed by a combination of examination, skin and blood tests.  There are several treatment options which include medical therapy using drugs or special vaccines.  The drugs often used to treat atopy include antihistamine (reduce allergic reactions), steroid (anti-inflammatory and suppress the immune system from reacting), immunosuppressant (which suppress the immune system form reacting) and antibiotics may be used to treat any infection present on top of the allergy. Special vaccines can be made up in some cases to try and help desensitise your pet to the individual things that he or she reacts to; these are administered in gradually increasing doses over many months by injection.

I hope that I have managed to answer your question by explaining how complex an itchy dog’s condition can be.  I really recommend that you return to your vet and come up with a joint plan of attack to help your pet.  I hope that your dog is feeling much more comfortable very soon.

 Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online Vet)

If you are worried about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet or use our interactive symptom guide.

Is Paul O’Grady mad to spend so much money on his terminally ill dog?

Paul O’Grady, the comedian-turned-dog-advocate, hit the news this week when he talked about spending over £8000 in vets’ fees to treat his nine year old Cairn Terrier Olga for cancer of the kidney. The Daily Mail reports that Paul has ignored advice to have her put down, and instead he’s paying for intensive chemotherapy and surgery to keep her alive. The story has ignited a debate about veterinary fees and pet insurance: Judith Woods, a feature writer for the Daily Telegraph, has added her own tale of spending £3600 when her Manchester Terrier, Daisy, developed a rare form of kidney disease. She had her pet insured, so her feature extols the benefits of pet insurance for these unexpected occasions.
Paul and Judith are clear in their opinions, with no doubt that they have made the right decision for their own pets. It’s the online comments on the stories that are interesting, with members of the public sounding off with their own thoughts on expensive treatments for pets, and the pros and cons of pet insurance.

The Daily Mail readers’ comments to Paul’s story are mostly short and positive: “It’s lovely that he’s done this for his beloved dog”, “Good on you, Paul, you are a true dog lover” and “If I was as rich as him, I’d do the same”.
Telegraph readers have responded in a predictably more loquacious way to Judith’s feature.
First, of course, there are many “dog lovers” who are supportive of giving pets all reasonable treatment that can be afforded, accepting that high quality veterinary care can be costly, and agreeing that pet insurance can be a sensible way of budgeting for unexpected health crises. When completing a survey of attitudes to dogs on a recent trip to a slum in Delhi, I found that around 60% of the local population “liked dogs”, with 40% disliking them: I now find myself wondering if a similar proportion of attitudes exists in the UK population. For the 60% who care for their pet dogs, it’s hard to consider withholding treatment.

There are plenty of comments from the opposite side of the spectrum – perhaps the 40% who aren’t so fond of dogs. Some of these “anti-treatment” comments are worth discussing in more detail:
“All pet insurance does is persuade owners to consent to prolonged and possibly invasive treatment of their pet. Unless they own a valuable breeding animal they would be kinder and more sensible if they had a really sick pet put to sleep.”
While it’s true that it may make objective sense to have an ailing animal euthanased, when it’s your own pet, surely it’s wise to analyse the options available? Once a clear diagnosis has been made, vets are often able to give a reasonably accurate estimate of treatment, prognosis and life expectancy. If you are able to pay for the treatment (via insurance or otherwise), and if the vet can reassure you that your pet will not suffer during the process, many people conclude that the correct course of action is to give the animal extra life. Why should anyone else feel that they have the right to tell them otherwise?

“Look at the dog and think, ‘If that was me what would I want?’ Or, ‘Am I keeping the dog alive for the dog’s sake, for my sake or I do I lack the moral fibre to do the right thing?’”
I am sure that most owners look at their pet and ask these questions before making a treatment/euthanasia decision. And most vets take time to guide owners through this process. Most vets and owners would agree that if a pet has no hope of living a good quality life, euthanasia is the kindest option. And treatment for serious disease may not be as uncomfortable as people expect in pets. Treatment modalities like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment are often deliberately used in lower doses in pets compared to humans, so side effects are usually less severe. Nobody want animals to suffer pain or discomfort for the sake of a few more weeks or months of life.

“These poor animals haven’t a clue what is happening to them in the vets’ surgeries, all the pain, trauma and strange smells….. people aren’t doing it in the interests of the animals they are most of the time doing it for themselves. Better IMO to let the animal have a peaceful end – a right denied to humans. And don’t get me started on animals with limb amputations.”
Anyone who has owned an amputee dog will know at once that the person who made this opinionated comment has not known any animals with limb amputations (they often have marvellous lives, with no discomfort or visible disability). I suspect he’s also had a similar lack of experience of vets’ surgeries and sick animals recovering from illness.

“I have come to the conclusion that Veterinary Surgeons generally, are individuals who parasitically feed off pet-owners emotions. The fees they charge can bear no resemblance to costs incurred. Have their charges ever been investigated? I suspect this is yet another bunch of rip-off artists. They know you will pay to save a soulmate… So they take you for an expensive ride.”

I’m sorry that this person has such a negative view of my profession: what else can I say?

“As for vets, I told my son to be either a vet or a lawyer. They make the fees up as they go along, nobody really questions the amounts and they get paid even if the client dies.”

This person should really do some proper research before making recommendations to his son. Vets’ salaries are not as high as people may expect. In the USA,  $80460 (£50824) is the median pay, with veterinary graduates struggling to pay off huge university debts. In the UK , according to this website, “the average starting salary is between £21,800 to £33,500 a year, depending on experience. Further training and experience can increase salary to £36,500 per annum. Senior vets can earn around £44,000 to £53,000+” .
So while vets may earn a substantial salary, it’s nothing special compared to doctors (Salaried GPs earn between £54,319 and £81,969). solicitors (between £25,000 and £75,000)  or dentists (between £50,000 and £110,000). And did he tell his son about the high suicide rate in vets – higher than any other profession, and around four times the national average? The job of a vet is not the easy, money-spinning dream career that some people seem to believe.

“I have heard that vets in England charge more if you have insurance, but it wasn’t made clear if this is because they run every test necessary when the insurers are paying but stick to the bare minimum for hard up punters.” 
This person probably is closer to the truth than they realise. The reason why vets “stick to the minimum for hard up punters” is that these clients are unable to afford anything else. Is there anything wrong with this?

Something else needs to be explained: this odd statement in Judith Wood’s feature. ” Vet fees have doubled in a decade, and are rising at an annual rate of 12 per cent.”
Vets’ fees per item have certainly not “doubled in a decade”, nor are they rising at 12% per year. But more advanced tests and treatments are now available to those who can pay for them, which is why the amount spent on pets may indeed have “doubled in a decade” and may be continuing to increase.
The key truth that seems to have been missed by everyone writing on the subject is this: diagnostic tests are amongst the most expensive items on the veterinary menu. The specialised machinery needed to carry out laboratory tests, ultrasound scans, x-rays, MRI scans and other work-ups can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds. Yet these pricey investigations are often the only way to achieve an accurate diagnosis, which is the key fact that’s needed to decide on treatment and to predict the prognosis.

Do you want to be able to do the best for your pet if he or she falls ill? If you do, get your pet insured so that you can give your vet the go-ahead to carry out the tests needed to give you the best advice possible. And don’t listen to the “objective” scoffers who tell you that you would be better to have your pet euthanased: talk to your vet and make the decision for yourself, based on facts, not opinions.

 

 

A vet in Delhi – day 6: a selection of photos

I’ve been busy this evening working through my survey results so that I can give a presentation to ASHA about them tomorrow, so I have not had time to write a blog. But to give a sense of the past day here, I’ve put together a selection of photos. The captions should be enough to tell their stories….

01-DELHI 828

Local children interacting with a street dog. Excitable, uncontrolled close contact like this carries a high risk of dog bites. Education of the children in dog-human interactions could reduce incidence of dog bites.

02-DELHI 826

This street dog seemed friendly, but he has a track record of biting children such as the girl pictured below

03-DELHI 825

This girl was bitten on her right forearm a few months ago

04-DELHI 824

The scar is hard to see now but at the time she needed hospital treatment with post rabies exposure vaccinations

08-DELHI 787

This pup is being comforted by his mother after a frightening incident that I witnessed

09-DELHI 784

The pup had been barking ferociously at a local goat

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The goat was not impressed, giving a demonstration of punishment by butting

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ASHA works in the community, spreading information via a network of women from all over the area who come to the ASHA centre regularly to meet up and share knowledge

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The last questionnaires were done today, and the rabies/ street dog survey is now being analysed

Getting to the Heart of the Matter – Heart murmurs in dogs

February being the month of luurve I thought I would write about matters of the heart. The actual heart. Sorry if anyone got excited there!

Whenever you take your dog to the vet, your vet will listen to their heart and chest. They are checking to make sure the heart beat is strong, regular and that there are no murmurs. A heart murmur occurs when the clear drum beat of the heart (often described as ‘lub dub’) has a swooshing sound. This is caused by the blood not being pushed cleanly through the different chambers of the heart, most often escaping through leaky valves back the way it came. It is one of the commonest signs of heart disease and I am going to concentrate on them in this article.

The breed we see most often with heart murmurs is the gorgeous Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. They often develop them fairly early in life, between 4 and 6 years old is average, but don’t usually develop associated heart failure for at least a couple of years. However, they can occur in any dog and are occasionally heard in puppies (but most will grow out of them)

Heart murmurs are graded from 1-6, with 1 being the quietest and 6 being so loud the normal beating of the heart is drowned out completely. In general the louder the murmur, the worse the leaking of the valves and as the disease progresses the murmurs will get louder. Every time your vet checks your dog they will record the degree of murmur, which allows them to track its progress. They will also be listening to the pattern of the murmur and whereabouts on the heart it is loudest. Often there are no outward signs of a problem, which is why regular veterinary check-ups are so important.

It is very worrying when your dog is diagnosed with a heart murmur and you can feel quite helpless. However, although we cannot cure your pet’s problem there is a huge amount both we as vets, and you as an owner, can do to help them. The first thing to determine is whether they are in actual heart failure and this is a really important point. Just because a dog has a heart murmur it does NOT mean they are in heart failure! It does mean, however, that thire heart is inefficient and has to work harder than a normal organ to do the same job. This puts it under more pressure and essentially means it wears out more quickly.

When a heart murmur is diagnosed, it can be helpful to perform some extra tests to determine how the heart is coping and what exactly is causing the sound. Techniques include ultrasound scanning (although some vets may need to refer you to a specialist for this), using x-rays to measure the size and shape of the heart and taking your dog’s blood pressure. It can be very useful to repeat these regularly (once or twice a year) to monitor the progress of the condition.

There are also things you can do at home. I advise my clients to take their pets heart rate at least once a week when they are relaxed, so any increases (which can indicate a worsening of the disease) are be picked up quickly. I also advise regularly timing a short walk they do often. This allows them to pick up on the very subtle slowing down that will occur early in the disease. Believe it or not dogs are far more naturally athletic and fit than us humans (even fat little Cavies!) and although, like people, they will eventually become breathless & find exercise more challenging, they can hide these effects of heart failure for some time. Other symptoms can include a soft wet cough, collapsing or even going blue or pale at the gums. However, these usually occur only when the heart is in advanced failure and treatment will be more difficult.

Before heart failure develops the best thing you can do for your pet is ensure they stay slim. Being over-weight makes it much harder for the heart to function well. However, once it occurs, the sooner treatment is started the better, which is why looking for the more subtle signs of the problem is so important. The good news is there are many different medications that can help your pet, which will very significantly increase their length and quality of life.

So, if your vet finds a heart murmur in your dog, don’t panic! Keep them in tip top condition, be vigilant for the signs of heart failure and once they occur ensure they start on medication quickly. With this your best friend is likely to be with you for some time yet, which will keep both your hearts from breaking!

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

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.

Are you ready for the year ahead? – the pet calendar with a difference!

So, here we are, another year ahead! Are you ready? What might 2014 hold for you and your pets?

January

Let the dieting begin! With a third of pets in the UK carrying too much weight, many of us will have animals who could join us on the tradition post Christmas slim down! Have a chat to local vets about the different things you can do. Cutting down on meals and treats, changing the make of food you give, altering how you feed them (for example changing from a simple bowl to a puzzle feeder); are all small changes that can make a big difference! Also, encouraging your pets to exercise more will speed up their slim down, not always easy for cats but if you have dogs, more walks will be beneficial to you both!

February

For me, this is one of the most depressing months of the year. The long, cold nights have been going on for what seems like forever & Spring seems a long way away. It is often also the time of year snow arrives, which can cause our pets as many problems as our cars! Take care to ensure any rabbits or other pets kept outdoors are well insulated against the cold and check your dogs feet carefully for ice balls and grit after road walks, both of which can cause painful problems. However, the weather can be fun as well! Don’t forget to throw a few snowballs for the dog (and maybe the cat as well!)

Also, what about Valentines day, will your pets be getting a gift?!

March

Spring is just around the corner! And summer ’isn’t that far away! If you are planning a getaway abroad with your pets, now is the time to start thinking about rabies vaccines and getting their passport sorted, so you aren’t on the last minute nearer the time. It is also a good times to book the kennels and cattery if they aren’t coming with you, the good ones will get booked up quickly!

April

Now the days are getting longer, use it as an opportunity to go out for more walks with your dogs. I often see them a bit porkier at this time of year when the early nights and working days mean they can’t be taken out as much but most soon lose the pounds around now!

Also, it’s Easter time! Which means chocolate eggs! Just remember to be careful and keep all these tasty treats out of reach of dogs. Chocolate is toxic to them, especially the dark kind, and can cause significant problems (and copious diarrhoea!)

May

Fireworks season may seem a long way away (and it is!) but if you have a pet who is scared of them, now is the time to start planning. One of the best ways of desensitising noise program. The best is SOUNDS SCARY, which is available as a download. It comes with full instructions, have been designed by a vet and can be very helpful! You won’t regret it!

June

Summer holidays are just around the corner! If your pets are not coming away with you, now is the time to check all their vaccinations are up to date, especially as if they have over-run it can take up to a month to get back on track. Also, most kennels will require dogs to have a kennel cough vaccine, which is most effective given a fortnight or more before they go in.

June is also often Microchipping Month at many vet practices, so if your pets aren’t done, now is a good time!

July

The holidays are here! Why not use this time and the longer days to explore your local area with your dog. Websites like walkiees.co.uk and dogfriendlybritain.co.uk have lots of information on dog friendly walks, beaches and attractions on your area.

Cats will also be spending more time outside (if it is sunny!) but some people worry about them wandering. Simple changes to your garden like planting cat nip, creating resting places in high positions and leaving areas over-grown for them to hide in will all encourage them to hang out in your back yard rather than doing too much exploring!

August

Hopefully the weather won’t let us down and we will have some sunshine! Warmer days are great for getting out and about with our pets but you do have to be careful, especially with dogs who have short noses. These breeds are particularly vulnerable to over-heating, which can be very dangerous, so should only be exercised during the cooler parts of the day. Also, make sure outdoor pets like rabbits get a chance to run about in the sun and that they have plenty of water and access to shade

September

Back to school – boo! As well as for kids, this can be a depressing time of year for dogs as well, who have been used to having the family around in the day and they can start acting out. Make the change less difficult by making sure they aren’t suddenly left alone for long periods and use ADAPTIL collars for those who are particularly anxious.

Also, why don’t they go back to school as well?! Dogs of all ages benefit from regular training classes and it is a great way of spending quality time with them.

October

Autumn is now well underway and the temperatures are dropping. Depressing but at least you don’t have to worry now about fleas, right? Wrong! This time of year is actually the worst for infestations because as the weather gets colder, our houses get warmer. By turning on our central heating we create tropical flea paradises for them to enjoy and reproduce at will, if we don’t keep out pets protected. So, if you haven’t treated your pets recently, now is the time to get to your vets for some spot-ons and if you do keep them covered, remember to continue, even in the winter months!

November

Fireworks season is upon us! Hopefully, if you started Sounds Scary in May, things will be better for scared pets but all benefit from some extra TLC when the sky lights up! Help indoor pets by drawing the curtains, preventing access to outside, creating a cosy den behind the sofa to muffle the noises and use ADAPTIL and FELIWAY plug-ins for particularly worried animals. Make sure outdoor animals are protected by ensuring their hutches are also well insulated against the noises and that they have lots of bedding to burrow in.

December

It’s Christmas! This can be a really fun time of year for sociable animals, with all the visiting and entertaining that goes on but others can find it very stressful, especially, if they are shy. If your pets don’t feel like greeting people, don’t make them, let them come round in their own time. Also, be careful with all the yummy food in the house! Chocolate is very tempting to dogs but can be harmful, as can anything with lots of raisins such as Christmas pud or mince pies. And if you have cats, make sure the tree is very stable! More than one kitty has been spotted peering out from between the branches or playing pat-a-cake with the baubles!

Finally, don’t forget to buy your furry friends a gift for under the tree – but I don’t need to remind you about that do I! What will you get them?!

My very best wishes to you and your furry families for a happy and healthy 2014!

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

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.

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!

Ask a vet online – ‘my dog only has one testicle down – what is the best age to have him neutered?’

Question from Pam Gilmour

Hi my chi(huahua) is 6 months , he only has one testicle. I will be having him done, what would be the best age to wait to see if it will come down?

Answer from Shanika (online vet)

Hi Pam and thank you for your Question regarding the best age to have a dog castrated which has a retained testicle.

I will start by explaining a little about the testicles, what they are, where they develop and what can go wrong along the way.

The testicles are two oval shaped structures normally found in the scrotum (loose sac of skin near your dog’s bottom). Testicles are male sexual glands and produce the hormone testosterone along with sperm and various other secretions which assist in reproduction.

The testicles start developing while the puppy is inside the mother’s uterus (womb); they are at first located inside the abdomen (tummy) and just behind the kidneys. A few days after your puppy has been born the testicles should be in the scrotum, they travel from their starting point down through the abdomen and through an opening called the inguinal ring in order to get to the scrotum.

When you take your puppy to the vets to have his first examination they will check for the presence of two testicles in the scrotum, if these cannot be felt then this will be checked again on future visits.  If both testicles are not present this condition is referred to as cryptorchidism (retained testicles), either one (unilateral cryptorchid) or both (bilateral cryptorchid) of the testicles may be missing from the scrotum.  In very rare cases on or both of the testicles has not actually developed at all.

What should you do if your dog has cryptorchidism?

Your vet is likely to suggest that you wait to see if the missing testicle comes down into the scrotum at a later date, this would usually be by 6 months of age but in some cases can occur up to 1 year of age.

What to do if the testicle does not appear?

Your vet will discuss a castration procedure with you in which both testicles are removed, it is a simple procedure to remove under general anaesthesia the testicle present in the scrotum, the retained one has to be located in your dog’s abdomen, and this can take some time. The surgical procedure to find and remove the testicle from the abdomen can be tricky as the testicle which has not found its way to the scrotum is often smaller and therefore not so easy to locate in amongst the contents of your dog’s abdomen.

Why should I have my dog castrated if he has cryptorchidism?

If the testicles are not in their correct location in the scrotum there is an increased chance of them becoming diseased, such as developing into cancerous tissue. Also a dog with cryptorchidism is likely to have reduced fertility and would not be an ideal candidate for breeding.

I hope that I have managed to answer your question regarding the timing of castration in a cryptorchid dog and have managed to explain some of the reasoning behind why it happens and what the best plan of treatment is.

Shanika Winters MRCVS(online vet)

If you are worried about your dog please book an appointment with your vet or use our online symptom checker.

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