Browsing tag: dog

Elizabethan Collars – a necessary evil?

 

Elizabethan collars are named after clothing worn in the time of Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabethan collars are named after clothing worn in the time of Queen Elizabeth I

One of my clients was talking about his recently neutered bitch today. “She needs one of those Victorian Buckets” he said. I knew what he was talking about, but his terminology was not quite correct. The problem was that his bitch had been licking her operation wound, and he wanted to stop her. The item he was describing is an important tool to assist the healing of animals’ wounds. It is more correctly called an ‘Elizabethan Collar’, because it resembles the white starched lace collars that Queen Elizabeth I and her subjects used to wear. Most people have seen animals wearing these large, lampshade-shaped cones, fastened around their necks and extending up around their heads.

Animals have a strong instinct to lick their wounds. In moderation, such licking can be cleansing and beneficial. The problem is that animals do not know when to stop. Excessive licking causes redness, soreness and itchiness, and this makes an animal want to lick a wound more and more. It is a vicious circle – the more licking , the more sore a wound becomes, and the more the animal wants to lick it. In the worst cases, a wound can be completely prevented from healing. Animals have even been known to cause themselves serious open wounds by biting and chewing itchy areas.

Drugs can be used to ease the itchiness, but they are seldom adequate alone. The only sure answer is the Elizabethan collar. These were originally home-made by vets, using pieces of cardboard, or by cutting the bottoms out of buckets. However, it was not always easy to create a finished product which was effective.

Modern pet Elizabethan collars are custom-made from shiny lightweight plastic. They are manufactured in different sizes, to suit anything from a kitten to a Great Dane. They have become more sophisticated as time has passed, and there is now a range of different products available. The traditional collars are made from white plastic, but these restrict an animal’s vision, causing animals to crash blindly around the house, bumping into people and furniture. Some modern collars are semi-transparent, to allow animals to see where they are going. We often advise people to line the outer edge of the collar with elastoplast, to blunten the sharp plastic edge which can otherwise cause painful scratches on an owner’s legs as an excited animal barges past.

Attaching the collar to the animal can be a fiddle – buckles and slots are fitted into place and the whole construction is strung onto the animals normal leather collar.

Owners sometimes feel that it is unfair to inflict these collars on their animals, but you only need to see one example of the serious damage which self mutilation can cause to realise how important it is to stop some animals from reaching their wounds.

Animals cope with the imposition of an Elizabethan collar in different ways. Most accept their fate sadly but in a quietly resigned fashion. Some Labrador-types seem to enjoy their new ‘hats’, and they dash around the room enthusiastically causing chaos as they bounce off walls, people and objects. Some cats do what I call an ‘Elizabethan Dance’, when they twist, leap and pirouette in an effort to escape the collar. After an initial uneasy settling in period, most pets do not mind this odd looking, but very effective structure.

There are, of course, a number of modern alternatives, from inflatable life-ring type products to neck braces to soft floppy collars. Some of them are definitely worth trying, but as is often the case in life, I suspect that the reason there are so many alternatives is that nobody has yet found the perfect way of preventing pets from interfering with their own wounds.

Ask a vet online-’Why do dogs find cat poop so alluring ?’

Question from Jayne Whybrow:

Why do dogs find cat poop so alluring ? How can I stop my pup sticking his head in the cat litter?

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Thank you Jayne for your question regarding your puppy and his interest in the cat litter tray.  I will answer your question by discussing why your dog is interested in the cat litter tray and possible methods to stop this unwanted behaviour.

Why does my dog find another animal’s poo so interesting?

Animals in general leave a scent marker where they pass faeces (poo) and this helps to mark out their territory.  Therefore faeces are naturally interesting whether it is of your own species or another.  The scents could indicate a possible mate, a possible threat to your territory and even predators/prey.

Even our domesticated pet animals have not lost these instinctive behaviours.  Unfortunately as humans/pet owners we find our dogs interest in the faeces of other animals very off putting especially when they may lick or eat it.  Not only do we worry about them passing germs onto us humans but also we are concerned about them getting ill from infections or even parasites.

So what we are dealing with when a dog is interested in e.g. cat poo is a bad habit/unwanted behaviour.

How can I stop my dog from investigating the cat litter tray?

In order to try and change a behaviour we have to firstly understand why it happens and then try and redirect the behaviour in a direction we are happy to encourage.  The first section of my answer goes into why the behaviour happens and now we can address possible solutions.

Types of litter tray:

Simple open litter tray-this is just a shallow plastic tray with sides but no cover

Covered litter tray-this is a shallow plastic tray at the base but then has a cove over the top, with an opening at one end to allow your cat in and out.

Covered litter tray with a door-this is as above but the opening has a door on it, this can help reduce the amount of litter that gets flicked out of the tray as well as helping to contain odours.

The more difficult it is for your dog to access the cat litter tray, the more masked/hidden the scent of the cat faeces are then the less likely he is to show interest in the tray and its contents.  Therefore if you place the cat litter tray in a place that is easy for your cat to reach but not your dog, use litter that helps to mask the smell of the faeces/urine and ideally use a covered litter tray with a door then this will all help to discourage your dog from being interested in it.

It is also advisable to clean out the litter tray as often as you can, at the very least once daily but if possible after each time the tray has been used.  This will reduce the smells present which will mean that the litter tray will be far less interesting to your dog.

How to discourage your dog from his interest in the cat litter tray:

Distraction and deterrents are the next area I will discuss!

Generally when it comes to trying to modify an animal’s behaviour we try and focus on positive reinforcement, this is where you praise and reward a behaviour which you want you’re pet to show rather than punishing them for unwanted behaviours.

It would be great if you can provide your dog with as much distraction as possible to help lessen his interest n the cat litter tray and its contents.  Methods of distraction can include play, toys and training.  Playing with your dog whether it be throwing a ball or rolling around and tickling his tummy will give your dog mental stimulation as well as strengthen the pet owner bond.  Toys such as squeaky balls treat stuffed puzzles and chews are also good to give your dog something more attractive and interesting than the cat litter tray to investigate.  When choosing toys, make sure that they are safe, regularly inspect them for damage and replace before they become dangerous e.g. possible risk of them being eaten and getting stuck.  As regards food stuffed toys keep in mind your dog’s overall energy requirements and how you may need to reduce how much food you give him if he is getting extra calories from his treat stuffed toy.

Training either in the form of organised classes or quality dog and owner time can really help to give extra mental stimulation to your dog, build up the dog owner bond as well as distracting your dog form unwanted behaviours.  It is really important to remember that the more we put into our pets the more we will get back from them in terms of good behaviours and owner enjoyment.

Deterrents are verging on negative reinforcement to try and avoid/stop an unwanted behaviour.  If the deterrent is used carefully and we try and follow up other good behaviours with positive reinforcement then there is a place for this.  Most owners will have already told their dog off/shouted at him for unwanted behaviours.  The problem with this is that the negative focus then is directed at the owner.  If possible it would be better to remove yourself one step from the deterrent; one possibility is the use of a high pitch sounds device or a spray.  Ideally these negative reinforcement behaviours should be used as a last resort and under the close direction of either your vet or a trained animal behaviour specialist.

It is really important to remember to positively reward/praise your dog for all the times he does not show interest in the cat litter tray. The reward can be in the form of kind words, a pat/cuddle and at times treats.

I hope that my answer helps you to understand your dog’s behaviour and that you can make a start on discouraging his unwanted behaviour.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)

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

What makes dogs lame, and how can they be helped?

Why is a lame dog lame? The obvious, but incorrect, answer to the question is ‘because it has a sore leg’. The correct answer is more complicated, but also quite obvious when you think about it.

Firstly, what is a lameness? Everybody knows what a lame animal looks like – they ‘walk wrongly’. But what is happening to make them walk wrongly? There are three main reasons why lameness may occur.

Pain is the most common and most important cause of lameness. If an animal damages a limb, any further pressure causes more pain, and so the instinctive response is to rest the limb, by carrying it, or at least by not putting full weight on it. The type of damage can vary widely from a bruise to a laceration. The damage can be anywhere in the limb, from the toe to the shoulder or hip, and the result is the same – a lame animal. Long term diseases such as arthritis can also involve considerable pain.

The second cause of lameness is instability. It is common for dogs to rupture the ligaments of the knee, and when this happens, the knee becomes unstable. If the dog tried to put weight on the leg, the knee would collapse. So the dog refuses to put weight on the leg. Any other joint can be affected in the same way by damage to the supporting ligaments.

The third cause of lameness is stiffness. When a dog develops arthritis, the affected joint becomes swollen and gnarled – like many older people’s arthritic finger joints. The swelling of the joint is due partly to new bone which grows around the arthritic joint as part of the disease process. This new bone acts like rust seizing up a metal hinge – it stops full normal movement of the joint. An elbow joint may only be able to move through half of its normal range of movement. The result of this new bone is that the joint is stiffer and less mobile than it should be – and this means that the animal is unable to use the limb in the normal way. Hips, shoulders and knees are also commonly affected in this way.

So lameness can be caused by pain, instability and stiffness. What can be done to help lame animals?

Weight control, controlled exercise and physical therapy are all important aspects: this always has to be individualised, and the best answer is to ask your vet what your pet needs in these areas.

The new generation of painkillers provide excellent relief from pain. Immediately after an injury, dogs can be given drugs which prevent short term suffering until the injury is treated. In addition, if a disease involves long term pain (such as arthritis), this can be dealt with very effectively by continual daily medication, as advised by a vet.

Instability of joints can often be well treated using new surgical techniques which may involve inserting artificial ligaments, using metal implants or by other methods.

The stiffness of arthritis can be helped by using regular anti-inflammatory medication, similar to that used for arthritis in humans. There is also an animal-only anti-arthritic drug, given by injection, which can help considerably in some cases.

Other therapies including hydrotherapy and acupuncture can also play a role, as can daily food supplements such as glucosamine chondroitin sulphate, and even special high fish-oil diets designed for pets with joint disease.

Owners should be warned that it can be very dangerous to give human drugs to their pets, unless their vet has given them permission to do so. Toxic reactions are common, especially when some of the more modern human painkillers and anti-arthritic drugs are given to dogs. If you have a lame dog, you should ask your vet for advice on the best way to relieve the problem.

Ask a vet online – “My dog has trouble peeing”

Question from Jaamal Dupas:

I have a 7 month old female dog. When she squats to pee the first time it’s normal. Then she tries again and only a few drops. And i noticed a drop of blood the last time she went. Could this be a UTI or her going into her first heat. I have a vet apt in a few days but was just curious.

Answer: Pee Problems-dribbling and blood

Hi Jaamal, thanks for your question about your dog’s urinating. To answer your question, I’m going to discuss the “symptoms” she’s showing, the possible causes, and then talk about how your vet will go about deciding which one of these conditions is the cause, and the treatment options.

What are the symptoms?

Technically, in animals they’re called clinical signs, not symptoms, but it means the same thing. In the case of your dog, she’s able to urinate, but it’s taking her two or more goes to empty her bladder. This is technically called “pollakiuria.”

The other problem you’ve noticed is that there was a drop of blood in the urine last time she went-this is called “haematuria.”

What are the possible causes?

Before your vet can determine what the exact cause is, they’ll need to make what’s called a “differential list”-this is a list of the possible conditions that could cause the clinical signs observed.

In your dog’s case, we can factor in her age and sex to narrow it down a little bit. So, what are the likely possibilities?

1) A urinary tract infection

This is probably the most likely cause! Urinary tract infections in bitches are quite common (more so than in male dogs, because the urethra, the tube that leads from the bladder to the outside world, is shorter and wider). The typical symptoms are an increased frequency and urgency of urination, with some blood in the urine. Your vet may want to do some more tests to confirm it (see below), but it is the most likely explanation.

2) Bladder stones or crystals

Sometimes, due to diet, infection or genetics, the crystals that can form in the bladder enlarge and become stones blocking the urethra. These can be very painful, and often mean it’s difficult for the dog to urinate. I don’t think it’s that likely in your dog’s case because it sounds like she passes urine quite easily, but it is a possibility. In dogs, many crystals and stones are actually due to untreated infections!

3) Her season (oestrus)

As you’re aware, some blood from the vulva is quite normal in bitches during their season (usually every 6–8 months or so)-see here for more info on them: http://www.vethelpdirect.com/vetblog/2014/12/16/ask-a-vet-online-what-age-do-seasons-stop/. It isn’t usually associated with passing drops or dribbles of urine though, so although I can’t rule it out, I don’t think it’s the most likely cause.

4) Trauma or injury

Obviously, anything that makes it uncomfortable to urinate may make her stop and start when she’s going. Cuts or bruises around the vulva would account for the signs, but I think there would be more obvious issues, such as obvious pain or swelling or visible wounds.

5) A womb infection

A womb infection can leak brown or red pus that looks very like blood; however, if it occurs it’s usually a few weeks after a season, and you obviously don’t think she’s had her first yet. Although it’s unlikely, I’d always keep it on the list until it can be ruled out, because dogs can become very sick very fast.

6) A bladder or urethra tumour

This is a theoretical possibility, but in a 7 month old I would have to have ruled EVERYTHING else out before I considered it!

Where next?

You’ve already made an appointment with your vet, which is very sensible. As we suspect a urinary infection, I’d advise you to catch a sample of urine before you go in (as fresh as possible, caught in a CLEAN pot), as your vet may well want to do some tests.

Once you get to the vets, they’ll ask you some questions to determine if there are any other symptoms or signs (for example changes in drinking), then they’ll examine her. They may want to take a swab from her vulva to see if she is in fact in season or not; they’ll also have a good feel of her abdomen and bladder to see if they can feel any abnormalities; and look at her vulva for signs of infection or injury.

My experience is that in simple urinary infections, there’s often nothing abnormal on the physical exam-quite often there won’t even be a temperature! That’s why the urine sample is so important. The vet (or their nurse or tech) will usually do a dipstick to look for blood, protein, acidity and so on, which can be suggestive of infection. If there are any abnormalities, they’ll often look at the urine down the microscope, looking for bacteria and white cells, which will confirm the presence of an infection; and for crystals which may indicate a problem with crystals or stones.

If their findings suggest an infection, and there are a lot of antibiotic resistant bacteria in your area, the vet may choose to send away the sample to check which antibiotic is most effective. However, if it is a simple urinary tract infection, in most cases it will resolve quickly with a course of antibiotics and possibly some painkillers.

I hope my answer has helped you understand the possibilities, and that with your vet’s help, she’s soon getting better!

David Harris MRCVS

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

Ask a vet online-’How do you stop your dog jumping?’

Question from Jacky Brosnan:

How do you STOP your dog jumping up when anyone comes in or when we come back in

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Jacky, thank you for your question about your dog’s jumping behaviour when anyone comes into your house.  To answer your question I will try and give you several strategies to put into place to try and improve your dog’s behaviour as regards the jumping up at people.

Why is my dog jumping up?

Most dogs that jump up at people are doing this as they are excited to have company but there can also be an element of dominance in jumping behaviour.  It is important to try and reward the good behaviour your dog does and try to play down or ignore the unwanted behaviours.  In order to help reduce an unwanted behaviour we need to look at the whole of your dogs day and what it involves.

A typical day for a dog

Most dogs will start their day with their owners waking up, letting them out to toilet and then giving them their breakfast.  This is usually followed by some form of exercise and then the owner leaving to go to work or on the school run.  At some point later in the day the owners will return and again let the dog out to toilet, which may also involve some exercise.  If your dog is fed twice daily then they will have another meal, followed by another toilet outing before everyone settles down to bed/sleep.

Some dogs are very happy with their own company or that of another animal or people.  However not all dogs get enough mental stimulation with a typical day as described above.  It can really help a dog’s behaviour to have more mental stimulation.

How do I provide my dog with mental stimulation?

Even if your dog is now an adult dog going over basic training such as sit, stay, down, recall and fetch can be a very effective way to stimulate them as well as strengthening the bond between dog and owner.  A simple ten to fifteen minutes a day of training behaviour can soon make a big difference to your dog’s behaviour.  For those owners who have the time then agility or flyball are other excellent ways to train your dog and stimulate them at the same time.

Toys and sounds can also help to stimulate a dog, sounds can be provided by having a radio on in the back ground when no one is at home with your dog.  Toys come in many varieties, hard chews through to soft squeaky ones.  If you are leaving your dog alone with toys make sure that they are safe and cannot pose a risk if swallowed or parts are eaten.

Rewarding good behaviour

When anyone enters the house it can be helpful to have some treats which are out of the dogs reach.  When you enter, ask your dog to sit, when he or she is sitting nicely then gently offer him a treat along with praise for his/her good behaviour.  If this is repeated each time someone comes into the house, hopefully your dog will soon learn that good behaviour leads to praise/rewards.  Eventually you will not need to use treats and the praise alone will be enough reward for your dog.  At times your dog may go backwards in his/her behaviour and use of treats may be necessary again.  If your dog is very excitable then it may be the case that as well as asking them to sit, someone will need to hold them gently in the sitting position to encourage them.

Try your best not to shout at your dog for his/her unwanted behaviours, it is best to try and ignore them, play them down or substitute them with a good behaviour. The problem otherwise can become a cycle of bad behaviour being reinforced through owner reactions even if the reactions are bad.  The dog will just see that he/she is getting a reaction from his/her owner.

I hope that my answer has given you a few ideas of how to try and discourage your dog from jumping up and that they are soon behaving in a much happier and better way.

Shanika Winters MRCVS ( online vet)

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

Ask a vet online ‘symptoms to know if your dog has kidney failure’

Question from Susanne Hayward:

how come no symtems to know if your dog has kidney failier

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Susanne and thank you for your question about how to know if your dog has kidney failure.  I will answer your question by discussing what kidney failure is, how we diagnose it and what signs you can look out for in your dog.

So what is kidney failure?

The kidneys are two bean shaped organs present mid way along the back of your dog’s abdomen (tummy); they have a large blood vessel going in and another large blood vessel coming out of them.  The job of the kidneys is to filter your dog’s blood and remove toxic/waste products but make sure that the important useful chemicals e.g. proteins, nutrients (sugars and fats) and blood cells remain in the blood.  The kidneys are also involved in breaking down some chemicals such as medications.  The Kidneys are also important when it comes to keeping the correct amount of water in your dog’s blood, this ensures that all the body cells are adequately hydrated and can function at their best.

Kidney failure is a term used to describe a stage of kidney disease once more than two thirds of your dog’s kidney function has been lost.  That means that out of the function of your dogs two kidneys there is a third or less now working.  Kidney disease is a broader term used to describe any problem with the kidneys this could be infection, neoplasia (tumour), polycystic (disease where kidneys are taken up by lots of cysts or cavities) or loss of function with age.

So how does my vet look for kidney disease?

Whenever you take your dog to see your vet they will ask you questions regarding how your dog is doing in general including how they are eating, drinking, urinating (weeing) and defecating (pooing).  These along with other questions will give your vet an idea as to your dog’s general state of health and is called a history.

The answers to the questions your vet asks along with anything they find on physically examining your dog along with the reasons as to why you brought your dog to see the vet will help your vet to try and work out what is going on with your dog.

Some specific findings in kidney disease:

Whether your pet is young, middle aged or elderly the following may be found:

Anorexia

Some dogs either completely stop eating or have a reduced appetite due to the build-up of toxins in their blood which makes them feels under the weather.

Weight Loss

Most dogs will start to lose weight as they are eating less but also as they are losing important substances such as proteins from their blood as these are not reabsorbed by he kidneys and end up being lost into the urine (wee).

Polydypsia/Polyuria

This means increased drinking and urination, and happens as the kidneys try to remove more waste products and toxins by flushing them out by producing more watery urine.

Change in kidney size

The kidneys can become small and hard or even large.  With some tumours or polycystic kidney disease the kidneys can become larger.  In cases where the kidney function has decreased and the working part of the kidneys has become replaced by fibrous tissue then the kidneys can become smaller and harder.  Usually the size of the kidneys is something your vet will try and feel or look at on a scan or x-ray.

Halitosis

Some dogs may show a strange unpleasant smell on their breath, this can happen when waste products such as urea build up in the blood and can give off a smell.

Blood changes

Your vet may suggest doing blood tests of your dog, this is to identify changes to chemicals in your dogs blood such as increased levels of urea, creatinine, potassium and phospahate but also decreased levels of proteins and blood cells.  The blood results can be used to monitor how your dog’s kidney disease is going.

Urine changes

Dogs with kidney failure tend to produce large quantities of very dilute urine which can contain protein.  As kidney disease progresses the actual amounts of urine produced can sometimes decrease as the kidneys are no longer able to filter out and flush out the waste products from the blood.  Testing your dog’s urine is a non-invasive way for your vet to monitor your dog’s kidney disease.

How can my dog’s kidney disease be treated?

Depending on the stage of your dog’s kidney disease the following treatment options are available:

Diet

There are specially formulated diets for dogs with kidney disease which have the correct balance of protein, fat, carbohydrate and minerals to ensure your dogs body can function with minimal extra work for its kidneys.

Medications

There are a wide range of medications available for dogs with kidney disease starting with drugs to improve the blood flow to the kidneys, some to decrease blood pressure (high blood pressure can be damaging to the kidneys), some to bind harmful chemicals and also some to decrease fibrosis (a change where functional kidney tissue is replace by scar tissue).

I hope that my answer has helped you to recognise some of the signs of kidney failure/disease in dogs and that along with the help of your vet we can now give dogs with kidney disease the best chance possible when disease is detected early.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online Vet)

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

Ask a vet online – ‘my puppy has watery eyes’

Question from Eileen Murphy:

Hi, I have a bichon x poodle. She has been really poorly. She was born with a skin infection. She pulled through it and her fur is growing back on her face but since this she has been suffering with very watery eyes. Do I need to be taking her back to vets? She is healthy and very playful. I have no other worries from her.

Answer from vet Cat Henstridge

Excessively watery eyes are a common problem in both the Bichon Frisé and Poodle breeds, so it seems like your baby is following the trend!

However, it is important to have her checked over.  Although dogs like her can have watery eyes as a ‘normal’ issue, it can also be caused by problems which are painful and need fixing.  The most common of these is conjunctivitis.  This is an inflammation of the sensitive tissue around the eyeball and is often triggered by infections, which in her case could have spread from her skin.  Other issues include ingrowing eyelashes or ulcers on the cornea.

If nothing abnormal is diagnosed with the eyes themselves then she may have blocked tear ducts.  Poodles are pre-disposed to this but it should be considered in any young dogs with very watery eyes.  These are positioned at the lower inner corners of the eyes and drain away the tears.  Often the opening hole doesn’t form properly and instead the tears fall onto the face.  Once it has been diagnosed it is often easily rectified.

If everything is fine, in a dog like yours, with short noses and thick, curly coats, it is not uncommon for hairs to rub the eye.  This causes a mild irritation leading to them watering more and also wicks the tears onto the face.  Something simple like this can be improved by your groomer trimming the fur on the face nice and short and regularly wiping around the eyes.

Depending on how old she is, you may be making trips to the vets for puppy vaccinations anyway and she can be looked at then but I would advise you have her seen.

I hope this helps you!

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

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

Euthanasia – one vets opinion.

People often tell me that they think putting pets to sleep must be the worst part of my job but in many ways, it is one of the easiest. Yes it is sad, letting a beloved animal go, but in the majority of cases we are doing it for very good reasons; releasing them from a life that has become more about pain and suffering than the joy it should be.

A couple of years ago it was time to put our family labrador to sleep.  Molly had reached the grand old age of 14 and had been struggling with arthritis for many years.  Although her mind was still willing, her body had let her down and no amount of drugs would help her to be able to walk again.

What was interesting was my mother’s attitude.  She is a GP and admitted that in her job death can be seen as a failure, rather than a release.  She agreed with my decision but it was a totally different mind set to the one she was used to.

When patients come towards the end of their lives, in many ways the decisions that doctors and vets take are very similar, it is just that vets have an extra option; euthanasia.

Obviously with animals we don’t, and shouldn’t, take things to the levels that human medicine can.  It often isn’t appropriate to put a pet through painful surgeries or medical treatments, especially if it will only result it a short period of extra life.  Also, although it can be tempting to think an immobile pet could be kept going with nursing care, it simply isn’t fair.  We can’t explain why their lives are so restricted, they find it distressing and complications including urine scaling and bed sores are common and very painful.

End of life care in people is very different and is an extremely sophisticated process, often involving several teams of people, and usually relies on attentive and intimate nursing care.  It allows us to give our dying a peaceful, pain free end, often at home, with their family with them.

However, there are many people who believe this can sometimes prolong the inevitable and increase suffering and that we should have the option for human euthanasia in the UK.  Certainly I have lost count of the number of clients who comment “I wish we could do this for people” when I put their pets to sleep.

The debate surrounding this issue is a passionate one with contentious opinions on both sides.  I can certainly understand why some people diagnosed with degenerative or terminal conditions wish to be able to have control over their death and the option to end their lives before their suffering becomes extreme.

At least in veterinary medicine we don’t have this issue.  Animals have no understanding of their illnesses or how they will progress.  It saves them from the mental distress of their decline or the fact they will die. These are the burdens their owners have to bear instead.

Despite this I feel extremely fortunate to have euthanasia as an option for my patients.  It is never a decision taken lightly, is always upsetting but I know it is a peaceful, pain free process which brings an end to suffering and distress.

However, if it did become available for my colleagues in the medical profession, I would not envy them. Not only would it be the polar opposite of everything they trained for but to take that decision for another human being, even if they were supportive of it, would be a responsibility that I would not wish on anyone.

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

Ask a vet online-‘what age do seasons stop?’

Question from Julie Wilshaw:

at wot age do staffies.stop having seasons?

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Julie, you have asked an interesting question for all owners of entire (unspayed) female dogs.  In short entire bitches (female dogs) do not stop having seasons.  I will discuss what seasons are, signs that your bitch is in season, when seasons tend to start and what happens as your bitch gets older.

A season is what we call the time when a bitch is able to get pregnant (reproduce).  An average season lasts approximately three weeks, during this time the vulva (outside part of the bitches vagina) becomes pink and swollen, there is often a bloody discharge for around 9 days, this is followed by ovulation (eggs being released from the ovaries) and after this time things start to settle back to normal. Bitches usually have one to two seasons a year.  During a season bitches give off pheromones which attract entire male dogs from a long distance away, also at or near the time of ovulation the bitch may stand with her tail held up and to the side to allow herself to be mated.  Some bitches can become aggressive during their season others more clingy.

  1. Anoestrous - not in season, around 6-8months
  2. Proestrous - around 9 days, vulva swells, vaginal bleeding
  3. Oestrous - around 9 days, usually stop bleeding allows mating
  4. Dioestrous - around 2-3months, high levels of the hormone progesterone which can sometimes lead to false pregnancies

The above is just a simple example of an average season, there can be lots of variation in how a bitch behaves and shows its season and of the length of the individual parts of the season.

Seasons usually start at around six months of age but can be as late as one year to eighteen months.  It is often thought that small bitches usually start their seasons sooner than larger bitches of dog as they take longer to mature.

As your bitch gets older it seems reasonable to assume that they will stop having seasons, in humans what we call the menopause.  However in the case of bitches this does not happen; female dogs continue to have seasons for their entire lives and therefore could potentially get pregnant.

So why do so many dog owners think that their bitches have stopped having seasons? 
This is because as bitches get older they do not always show the external or behavioural signs that they are actually having a season, this can sometimes be referred to as a ‘silent season’.  It is important to remember that even though your bitch may not be showing signs of being in season that she could still get pregnant if mated by an entire male dog.

Why is it worth considering getting your older bitch spayed (neutered)?
The obvious reason would be that you did not intend to breed form your bitch but it is also worth considering hormone related disease processes that can happen in older entire bitches; such as pyometra9(womb infection), uterine cancer(womb tumours) and mammary tumours(breast cancer).  The diseases mentioned are all influenced by the female sex hormones which will still be produced on a regular basis if your bitch is entire.

A lot of dog owners are worried about having surgery carried out as their dogs become older, this should always be discussed with your vet or veterinary nurse and all the risks weighed up against the potential benefits to your dog.

I hope that my answer has helped to explain why even though it may seem like your bitch has stopped having seasons that she actually is still having them and will continue to do so for the rest of her life.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)

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

Antifreeze, the killer chemical of pets – don’t let yours be a victim.

Antifreeze, which often contains ethylene glycol, is very good at doing what it says on the bottle.  If you have ice on your windscreen or want to keep various pipes and water features from freezing up, then adding antifreeze will do the job.  What the bottle DOESN’T always say, however, is that antifreeze is so toxic to cats, dogs and other small mammals and that it takes only about a teaspoon in a cat or a tablespoon in a dog of the substance to bring about a rapid and unpleasant death.  In fact, a recent news article has highlighted the fact that around 50 cats a month in the UK are killed by antifreeze poisoning.

Why is it such a big problem?

Antifreeze is a commonly used chemical, especially in the winter months, but many people are unaware of the danger it poses to animals.  Even small children are at risk, because ethylene glycol has a sweet taste that most mammals wouldn’t think twice about consuming.  It can leak out of damaged car pipes and onto the drive where cats then lick it up, or perhaps a small amount of the substance was left in the bottle and left open after use.  Ethylene glycol can be found in radiator coolant, windscreen de-icing agents, motor oils, hydraulic brake fluid, paints, photographic chemicals and various solvents.  A worrying new trend is for people to use it in their garden water features to keep them from freezing – an extremely dangerous action as many cats and also wildlife use these features to drink from.  Unfortunately, some heartless people also use the substance to intentionally poison cats that get into their garden, and there are several cases of this under investigation at the moment.

How does it affect cats?

Initial signs include behavioural changes, such as looking groggy or ‘drunk’, which makes sense because the chemical binds to the same receptors as alcohol in the body.  These initial signs may only last for 1-6 hours, then they seem to recover but although they may appear to temporarily feel better, the real damage has already begun.  Ethylene glycol causes crystals of calcium oxalate to form within the kidneys and because these crystals cannot be dissolved once formed, the damage is irreversible and rapid kidney failure results.  Within hours to days the cat may start urinating more, then not at all as the kidneys shut down.  This results in a build-up of toxins within the blood causing severe lethargy and lack of appetite, panting, vomiting, oral or gastric ulceration and sometimes coma or seizures.  Death almost always occurs within a few days.

Is there any treatment?

If you are lucky enough to see your cat or dog ingest antifreeze and can get them to the vet within about 3 hours before the product has a chance to be metabolised, then treatment is possible though the recommended treatment is very expensive and most vets aren’t able to stock it.  Interestingly, one of the treatments for antifreeze toxicity is ethanol (aka the ‘vodka drip’ you may have heard about), as the alcohol prevents the ethylene glycol from binding to receptors in the body.  This treatment is dangerous in itself however, so the prognosis for recovery is still guarded.  If treatment is successful, affected animals will likely have to stay in hospital for several days on a drip to flush out any remaining toxins from the body and some degree of permanent kidney damage is likely.

What can we do to cut down on antifreeze poisonings?

The best thing you can do at home is to not use antifreeze that contains ethylene glycol.  Many newer products now contain propylene glycol, which isn’t nearly as toxic.  Have your car serviced regularly to ensure there are no leaks onto the drive, and if you do spot a leak, clean it up immediately and dispose of all waste or empty containers properly.  Many suppliers put bright fluorescent green dye into their products so it’s easy to spot in a puddle on the drive.  Most vets stock a UV or black light which makes this dye glow brightly and finding the dye on the cat’s paws or muzzle can be a good way to confirm exposure.  If your neighbour has a water feature in their garden, it might be wise to confirm that they are not using antifreeze and to inform them of the dangers if they are not already aware.  Another recommendation that has been suggested is to put a bitter-tasting substance (Bitrex) in the antifreeze so that any sensible animal or child would spit it out as soon as they tasted it, but not all companies regularly do this.  This would also cut down on intentional poisonings.  At the very least, all products containing ethylene glycol should be clearly labelled as being fatal to animals.

Spread the word – antifreeze kills!

Amy Bergs DVM MRCVS  - Visit The Cat Doctor website by clicking HERE

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