Browsing tag: dog

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

Ask a vet online –‘after the vet said she had gone she gave out a cry and her body jolted’

Question from Diane Stirk:

I had to have my little blind girl put to sleep Friday, she was 13 and had all symptoms off dementia, but after the vet said she had gone she gave out a cry and her body jolted, y did she do this does it mean she wasn’t gone, I’m heatbrocken over this,

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Diane firstly I am very sorry that you recently lost your pet, having a much loved pet put to sleep is always a very difficult decision.  I will try and explain what happens when a pet is put to sleep and to explain what can happen afterwards.  I hope that this can help to ease your upset over what happened with your pet.

The reason we call euthanasia of a pet putting them to sleep is because your pet is actually given a very high dose of anaesthetic (drugs which are normally used to bring us to sleep for an operation).  The dose of anaesthetic given will cause your pet’s heart to stop beating; they will also stop breathing which results in them passing away.

The anaesthetic drug is usually given by an injection directly into your pet’s blood stream.  With cat and dogs the injection is usually given into a vein on one of the front legs.  A small area of fur is first clipped away, the skin is then cleaned, and your pet’s leg will be supported by an assistant to enable your vet to put the injection into your pet’s vein.   You are still able to hold or hug your pet while the injection is being given if you want to.  In the case of rabbits the injection is often given into a vein on the ear, some smaller pets are given anaesthetic gas first followed by an injection.

In some cases if the blood stream cannot be accessed, as your pet may have a collapsed circulation then the injection may be given into the kidney or liver.  The anaesthetic will then be absorbed into the blood stream a little slower than when injected directly into a vein.

If your pet is distressed or generally frightened at the vets then they can be given a sedative before the anaesthetic injection.  The sedative is to calm your pet and reduce anxiety, which should hopefully make the process of losing your pet less stressful for both pet and owner.  Use of a sedative does however mean that the process will take a bit longer as the sedative will take time to work.  The sedative can be given as a tablet or injection into the skin or muscle.

Once the anaesthetic reaches the correct concentration in your pet’s blood stream, this will cause your pets heart to stop beating and them to stop breathing.  Your pet will no longer react to sounds or touch; your vet will listen to your pet’s heart, feel for its pulse and may check its reflex by gently touching the eye.  This is all to confirm that your pet has passed away.

After a pet has passed away as the muscles relax the bladder and bowels may empty, some pets also give a gasp as the air leaves the lungs.  In some animals there are jerky movements after death, called agonal movements.  These movements do not mean that your pet is alive or suffering.  The agonal movements happen as chemicals leak out of the body cells and allow muscle to contract.  Normally when alive these chemicals are kept in place until the body needs to use its muscles.

Understandably it can be very distressing for a pet owner to see or hear sounds coming from their pet after he/she has been put to sleep.  If you have any concerns either before or after losing a pet then make sure you contact your vet or veterinary nurse.  We will make time to discuss things with you and do our best to help put you at ease with this very difficult situation.

I hope that this answer has helped a little to explain what happened after you lost your pet and that your worries have been eased.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online vet)

Ask a vet online – ‘my dog has been weeing blood could it be infection or something more’

Question from Sharon Harris:

My dog aged 10 has on a couple of times been weeing blood he does one long one which is ok then just walks round weeing bits but that’s when the blood starts he is wanting to go out more often than he usually does ,drinking more still eating and his usual self but have noticed a lump that is inside lower stomach but has lumps all over his body but many wiems have these lumps could it be infection or something more

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Sharon, thank you for your question regarding your 10 year old dog who is passing blood in his urine (wee) this symptom is called Haematuria. It sounds like your dog is still bright and happy in himself, it is possible that his haematuria is due to an infection but can also be related to bladder disease, kidney disease or prostate disease.  It is really important to get your dog examined by your vet as soon as possible.

What will happen when I take my dog to the vet?

Your vet will ask a lot of questions to form a history of what is going on with your dog, including drinking and urinating habits which you have already listed in your question.  It is very helpful to bring in a urine sample in a clean container when the condition relates to the urine.  It can be tricky to catch a urine sample from your dog, especially if they prefer to wee when off the lead but a clean bowl and some perseverance should eventually mean you can get a sample.  Your vet can collect a sample by passing a urinary catheter (long thin soft plastic tube placed into the bladder) but this can be uncomfortable and may require sedation/hospitalisation for your dog.

Your vet will also take into consideration whether or not your pet has been neutered(castrated) as in older male dogs the influence of sex hormones(produced by the testicles) can affect the prostate gland which can lead to haematuria.  The prostate gland is found in male dogs around the neck of the bladder and it produces various secretions which go into semen (the liquid sperm is in).  The prostate gland is usually small and inactive in neutered male dogs, but in entire male dogs the prostate can become enlarged, infected and or cancerous.  Many of the diseases of the prostate gland can lead to haematuria.  Your vet can often feel the shape and size of your dog’s prostate gland by examining your dog internally and externally.

The kidneys are the organ which actually produces urine, your dog has two and they filter his blood to remove toxins and waste products which are then lost in the urine.  So haematuria could be blood coming from the kidneys either due to infection, kidney stones or cancerous changes in the kidneys or the tubing from the kidneys to the bladder (the ureters).

The bladder is a stretchy bag made of muscle and lined with a delicate membrane (layer) which stores the urine produced by the kidneys and empties out through a tube called the urethra.  Haematuria could be blood from the bladder or urethra due to infection, stones, polyps, trauma (accidents) or cancerous changes.

Your vet will thoroughly examine your dog paying extra attention to the back end of the abdomen, will also check your dog’s penis and likely examine your dog internally (via his bottom).  This helps to give information about the kidneys, bladder and prostate gland.

What will happen to the urine sample?

The first thing your vet will do is look at the colour of the urine sample, this may or may not show visible blood, sometime only tiny traces of blood are present in the urine sample and can be picked up on a dip stick. A urine dip stick is a card strip that has lots of little coloured patches on it; they each detect different chemicals and substances in the urine and give a quick result.  Most veterinary practices can also examine urine samples under the microscope to look for unusual cells and or crystals. If the result and rest of your dog’s examination suggests infection then your vet may suggest trying a course of antibiotics.  If however your vet thinks there may be more going on a carefully collected urine sample may be sent for laboratory analysis which involves culture and sensitivity, this looks at what bacteria are present and which antibiotics are likely to work on them.

What further test might my dog need?

Your vet may suggest blood tests to check that your pet has not lost too much blood, how its general health is and how well its body organs are functioning.  Blood tests do not always show up a lot of changes but this still gives us information as to how your dog is.

X-rays may be taken conscious or under sedation or general anaesthesia, this gives a picture of what is happening inside of your dog, in the case of the bladder and prostate gland we sometimes add a contrast (chemical or air) to help show up details of the tubing and bladder lining.

Ultra sound scans are another way of looking more closely at what is happening inside your dog, in order for these to be performed an area of fur will be clipped away, the skin cleaned and then a gel placed onto it to help p the ultrasound probe to make good contact and pick up details.  Ultrasound scans can be particularly useful for looking at the kidneys and bladder.

What possible treatments might my dog need?

The exact treatment your dog has will depend on what disease process is found in in what part of your dog it is.

Urine tract infection:
This is usually treated with a course of antibiotics and repeat urine samples tested to see when the infection has cleared.

Bladder stones/urine crystals:
This can be treated using special diets to reduce stone/crystal formation, surgery to remove stones, medications to help dissolve stones/crystals along with antibiotics and pain relief as required.

Bladder growths/polyps:
These can be surgically removed and analysed to give an idea of they are likely to return or cause further problems.

Kidney infection: 
This is usually treated by intensive antibiotics along with intra venous fluid therapy (drip line into your dog) to help keep the kidneys flushed through and functioning.

Kidney growth/abnormalities:
If the growth is cancerous and might spread then the kidney might be surgically removed. If the kidney is diseased e.g. polycystic then it will be left in place and your dog given medications and diets to help preserve what is left of its kidney function.

Prostate enlargement/growths:
If your dog is entire then surgical or chemical castration might be advised along with surgery to de bulk the growth if appropriate.

I hope that my answer has helped you to understand how complex something as simple as blood in the urine can be.  Hopefully with your vets help, your dog will be on his road to recovery soon.

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.

“Me and My Dog” – working together to eradicate rabies

Pete with his own dog, Kiko

Pete with his own dog, Kiko

Most dog owners adore their pets, and “pet selfies” are a popular way of expressing the joy of the bond between human and animal. A new campaign by a charity is using pet selfies to drive forwards an important goal: the global eradication of rabies.

The concept is simple. Take a selfie of yourself with your pet, then upload it to the charity website. When you reach the uploading page, you’ll be asked if you want to make a donation: even a couple of pounds will do. The idea is to make this a viral campaign: if enough people do this, the charity will raise a game-changing sum of money, and the goal of rabies eradication will be a step closer.

There’s an irony to the idea of “dog and owner” pictures being used to counter rabies: 99% of human cases of rabies are caused by dog bites. If it wasn’t for the close relationship between humans and dogs, rabies wouldn’t be an issue.

The fact is that rabies is a big issue: over 150 people die of the disease every day, mostly in Africa and Asia. Scientists have worked out how to eradicate rabies. If 70% of all dogs in an area are vaccinated once against rabies, the disease dwindles and disappears. They’ve done it in South America over the past thirty years. In 1983, Latin America committed to mass dog vaccination: dog rabies cases in the region declined from a peak of 25,000 in 1977 to just 196 in 2011, and human cases fell by 96 per cent to only 15 across the whole continent. The aim of the Global Alliance for Rabies Control is to achieve the same levels of success in Africa and Asia.

While it sounds simple to vaccinate 70% of the dogs in an area, it’s difficult to do this in practice, on the ground, in real-life situations. A level of systematic organisation is necessary and in many parts of the world, it’s difficult to make dog vaccination a high enough priority for this to happen. But although it’s difficult, it’s not impossible.

Every year, more than 15 million people worldwide receive a post-exposure rabies vaccination, after being bitten by a dog, to prevent the disease – this is estimated to prevent hundreds of thousands of rabies deaths annually. This includes millions of people in Asia and Africa, and it’s a fact that may contain the seed of an answer to the problem. It’s much more costly to give post-exposure vaccination to a human than to give a one-off vaccine to a dog. If some of the funds used for human treatments could be diverted to vaccinate dogs, this would make it much easier to reach the goal of 70% vaccine coverage. If this was achieved, there would no longer be the same need for post-exposure vaccination: money spent would translate to money saved. On the ground, it’s difficult to move funds around like this: human health departments fund the human vaccinations, whereas animal health departments pay for dog vaccines.

Under the new concept of “One Health”, it’s recognised that human and animal health are closely intertwined. The human and animal health departments should be talking to each other, and funds should be easily transferred between them for projects like rabies control. Unfortunately, due to tradition and human issues of control, it isn’t easy to make this happen.

The Global Alliance for Rabies Control is doing its best to achieve this type of change, and the good news is that you can help them today. Go to this website: https://meandmydog.rabiesalliance.org/ and scroll down. You’ll see a blue box that says ‘Share’ and if you click on ‘choose file’, it will automatically launch a window that will allow you to select a photo from your computer.

You and your dog may only make a small difference, but if we all do it, we and our dogs together may be enough to change the world. Our generation can eradicate rabies and wouldn’t it be fitting if our own dogs joined us in that goal?

Ask a vet online- ‘my Bichon friese keeps goin for his side and making bald patchers’

Question from Shell Cottam:

My Bichon friese keeps goin for his side and making bald patchers, we are have in to keep his cone on to stop it, is there anything you can recommend to stop him doin this please

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Shell and thank you for your question regarding your dog going for his side.  I will discuss some possible reasons for your dog’s behaviour and then possible ways to tackle these.

From what you are describing it sounds as though your dog is biting and or scratching at himself to the extent that he is losing his hair.  I am sure that both you and your dog would be a lot happier if he did not have to keep a cone on his head long term to prevent his hair loss.  The first think we need to do is find out the history of how your dog is in general and how long the condition has been going on.  Your vet will ask you some of the following questions:

Is your dog generally well?

By this we mean is he eating, drinking, toileting, happy to exercise and generally acting as normal other than the condition you have brought him in for.  We ask this as underlying illnesses can sometime show up in unexpected ways, so something you may not at first think is linked to the hair loss could be.  An example of this would be if your dog was generally listless and not as keen to exercise along with hair loss this may suggest an underactive thyroid gland.

How long has the condition been present and has it changed?

Your vet will want to know when the condition first started and if there were any particular changes at this time e.g. getting a new pet, change of food, starting a new job all things that can help us to work out why your dog is losing hair and if the situation is stable, improving or getting worse.  It is really important to tell your vet if you have already tried any treatments even if these are over the counter shampoos or anti parasitic treatments.

What are some possible causes for the biting and hair loss?

Top of the list is always parasites; they can sometimes be tricky to spot at first.  We would consider fleas(both cat and dog fleas) and mites(sarcoptes and cheyletiella) as possible causes, these can be diagnosed by examining your pet, and sometimes we need to take skin scrapes, hair combings or hair plucks to look at under the microscope.

Bacterial infections can sometimes lead to irritation and hair loss, this may be seen in the form of spots, scabs, crustiness and or areas of raw wet skin.  In some cases we would take swabs or biopsies from the skin to make sure we were treating with the correct antibiotic and for the correct length of time.  The samples can be looked at by your own vet but are sometimes sent away to a laboratory to be analysed.

Allergies can cause a dog to lose hair, these can be to something your pet has been in contact with such as shampoo/new bedding/plants, something your pet has eaten such as a new food or scavenged items or something inhaled such as pollen and dust (we call this atopy).

Hair loss can be due to a behavioural problem such as boredom or stress.

Hopefully the questions your vet asks will help narrow down the list of possible causes for the hair loss and will point to the answer or at least the most appropriate tests to carry out.

What tests will they do on my dog?

After the basic examination and history taking your vet may suggest doing skin scrapes, hair plucks or combings to look for parasites as mentioned above.  If examining the sample in house(at your own vets) did not give enough information they may ask if the samples can be sent away to an external laboratory, the results may take days to week to come back.  Blood test and or biopsies can give us information as to what is happening in your pet’s body/skin e.g. certain white blood cells are increased in cases of allergies, there may be bacteria present in the blood and or infection fighting cells. Specific blood tests to look for allergies and or hormone imbalances which could be causing the hair loss can also be useful.  Special diets, shampoos or medications may be tried and then the how well your dog responds to these can help us to work out the cause of the problem and if we are on the right track.

What treatments are there?

If parasites are suspected or detected then routine flea and mite treatment will be advised including treatment of the home environment.

For some bacterial infections shampoos are very effective but they may need to be used in combination with the appropriate antibiotics also.

Allergies can be treated by avoiding the substance if possible, anti-allergy drugs, special diets and special vaccines or a combination of these.

Behavioural conditions may need treatment by retraining your dog, strengthening the pet owner relationship, making the home environment more stimulating and sometimes the use of behaviour modifying drugs.

I hope that my answer has helped you to understand that we need to take a logical step by step approach to helping your dog, this would most likely start with ruling out parasites followed by a thorough examination and diagnostic work up by your vet.

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 cat is now 18 yrs old, bit loathe to help him on his way’

Question from Susan Banfield:

My cat is 18 yrs old, has lost most of his front teeth, bad breath, dribbles all the time, extremely skinny and has trouble keeping himself clean.  Bit loathe to help him on his way over the bridge as his coat still shines, bright eyes, eats well and still goes outside to toilet and explore.  Am I being fair?

Thank you

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Susan and thank you for asking one of the most delicate questions that a pet owner and vet will face ‘when is the right time to have my pet put to sleep?’

As our pets ages we are very aware that we do not want them to go on for too long and that our vet can put our pet to sleep so as to prevent unnecessary suffering.  This is however never a simple or easy decision to make and is very much specific to each individual pet, its condition and its owner.  I will go through the way in which we try to help an owner work out if that time has arrived.  Please remember that as your veterinary team we are here to help and support you any your pet through all situations even after you lose a pet we are here to talk to.

From what you are describing it sounds like your cat has done very well to get to 18 years of age and still be going out, toileting correctly and eating.  Loss of teeth is to be expected as pets get older, often as vets we may have extracted teeth due to infection or damage.  You mentioned that your cat was struggling to keep clean, by this I assume that we are talking about grooming of his coat.  Cats and dogs use their front teeth to almost comb through and nibble at their coats, as you mentioned most of these are missing then it would necessary to groom your cat using a comb, brush or mitt.  If an elderly cat is skinny yet eating well this tends to make us wander if the cat may have an overactive thyroid gland, which can be diagnosed by blood test and then  can be treated using tablets or by surgery/radioactive iodine.

Does my cat still have a good quality of life?

There is not a simple answer as to whether a pet still has a good quality of life, we need to discuss how your pet was at its prime and take into consideration that even though it may not be able to do all those things now he can still be leading a happy, pain free life.

The most basic functions are eating, drinking and being able to go to the toilet.  As cats age we may need to offer them softer foods/smaller meals more often in order for them to get enough food.  Some cats need encouragement to drink, making sure we refresh the water in their bowls regularly, have the bowl near where they rest and some cats prefer running water so a water fountain may help.  Toilet function for a cat involves getting into the correct posture which is not always easy if there is any arthritis/pain in the legs/spine and also accessing the litter box( use of lower sided litter boxes can make it easier to get in/out of them).  Minimising pain can be achieved by treating any underlying arthritis and or use of joint supplements.

So even if your pet needs a few small changes to be able to perform its basic functions then it can still be having a good quality of life just with a little bit of extra help.

As owners we ask ourselves whether our pets are still happy.  How happy and responsive your cat is also needs to be considered relative to how it was when younger taking into account normal changes expected with age.  Not all animals are very responsive so cannot all be measured on the same scale, also there are natural changes at different life stages e.g. juvenile cats are very playful and this will reduce as they become adult cats.  Also obesity can affect how interactive a cat is, so helping your cat to reach its optimum weight will reduce risk of diseases such as arthritis and diabetes as well as help him to be more interactive with you.

Grooming is an activity which cats spend a lot of time doing, as they become older and potentially less flexible then this becomes harder for them, but as owners we can help.  If we did not brush our hair for days on end think how uncomfortable, itchy and sore we would feel. So this is a really simple area in which we can help our older cats to feel happier and more comfortable. But they may not appreciate that we are trying to help them at first so little, often and gently is the way forward.

I hope that my answer has helped you to work out how you can help your cat and that the final decision is always yours as the pet owner but that your veterinary team are here to help you make such a hard decision.  We are more than happy to give you the time you need to discuss matters with us to make sure we all do the right thing for your much loved pet.

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.

Is your doggy going doddery? – Cognitive Dysfunction in dogs

Cognitive Dysfunction, a condition similar to Alzheimer’s, is very common in older dogs.  50% over the age of 10 year will show some sort of symptoms and this only increases with age.  In the early stages these changes can be subtle and often the condition is only noticed when the pet’s behaviour becomes more severe.  However, recognising and treating the condition early is vital to have the best chance of halting or even reversing the changes in the brain.

The symptoms of cognitive dysfunction will vary between individuals but can include;

  • Confusion or vacancy – these are often the first signs to manifest but are also the most difficult to pick up on.  Affected dogs will have periods (which can initially last just a few seconds) of seeming confused or lost in familiar surroundings.  In the early stages a call or command can bring them out of it but later on it can be more challenging.
  • Pacing or circling – again this can begin as quite a subtle problem but gradually becomes more apparent.  Dogs will often move from room to room in the house, resisting all attempts to stop them or move in small circles.  They can appear quite distressed during the activity, panting and wide eyed, but they won’t stop.
  • Loss of toilet control – This is the change that is most obvious and most often prompts a visit to the vets.
  • Loss of sleep patterns – Whereas they previously slept without problems, affected dogs can be awake in the night and often will howl or bark as well.
  • Becoming withdrawn – Many dogs with cognitive dysfunction will gradually become distant from their family.  They may shy away from contact, deliberately choose to rest away from people or sleep more than normal.
  • Becoming anxious and clingy – Others will go the other way and become more dependent on their owners.  They can develop separation anxiety problems, which is distressing for both them and their owners.

Changes like these used to be just put down to ‘old age’ but now we realise they are a medical condition, similar to Alzheimer’s in humans.  The changes in the brain are similar between dogs and humans, which has lead to more effective treatments being developed.

There are no specific tests for Cognitive Dysfunction, so it has to be diagnosed on symptoms and the lack of other problems.  It is therefore important to rule out, or simultaneously treat, other issues common in older dogs such as arthritis and poor eyesight.

Treatment can be challenging and is aimed at improving the blood flow to the brain and so supporting and maintaining it’s function.  There are medications that achieve this but because of the nature of the problem, they have to be given for at least a month before it can be judged if they are helping or not.  However, in my experience improvements are usually seen well before then and they can be quite dramatic!

There are special diets available containing high levels of anti-oxidants and omega-3 oils, both of which have been shown to aid cognitive function in dogs.

Also helpful is simple environmental enrichment for your pet.  In practical terms this means you need to keep interacting with them, training them and regularly give them new and interesting toys to play with.  You can teach an old dog new tricks!

It is distressing to see a beloved pet’s personality changing and, sadly, given how common it is, many dog owners will have to deal with it.  However, being aware of the symptoms, spotting them early, starting the right medication and making some simple changes to your pet’s routine will make a huge difference.

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.

Ask a vet online-‘ My chinese crested wanted to stay outside, saw today his penis is hanging and the end skin colour pink’

Question from Samantha Mihlo Grobler:

Hi. Hope you are well? My chinese crested wanted to stay outside for a week now which are very uncommen for him as he lies inside the whole day. Think somewhere in the block were a female in heat. Saw today his penis are hanging and the end skin colour pink. Could he have broken it or something??? Will send photo on request. Thank you

Answer by Shanika Winters:

Hi Samantha and thank you for your question regarding your male Chinese crested dog.  What you are describing sounds like a condition called Paraphimosis, this is where the penis cannot be retracted back into the prepuce (the skin in which it is normally found).  This condition is an emergency and your dog should be taken to your vet straight away.

There is a bone in the penis of the dog called the os penis, this can break but is very unusual.  However the resulting pain and swelling if the os penis was to break could cause paraphimosis.

Normally the penis is able to move in and out of the opening of the prepuce freely, this can however go wrong and the penis can be prevented from coming out Phimosis or from going back in paraphimosis.

If the penis becomes stuck outside of the prepuce then the tissue can become damaged, infected, cause trouble with urination and be very painful to your dog.

Why has my dog got paraphimosis?

In order for your dog to be unable to retract its penis then either the opening of the prepuce is too small, the tissue of the penis has become excessively swollen or there may be nerve damage preventing retraction.

In some cases we may not be able to identify a cause for the problem but your vet should be able to help relieve your dog’s discomfort and correct the position of the penis.

How will the vet treat my dog?

Firstly your vet will ask a detailed history on your pet’s general health including when he last ate, drank and went to the toilet. As this is an emergency situation your vet will also be physically examining your pet.  It is quite likely that your dog may need sedation or anaesthesia in order for your vet to be able to deal with the paraphimosis.

As the condition is painful your dog will be given pain relief, usually in the form of an injection so that it will be quickly absorbed and start to help your pet feel more comfortable.

In some cases the penis can be lubricated and gently eased back into the prepuce, as the condition may reoccur your vet might ask for your dog to be admitted to the practice for observation.

If the penis cannot be replaced easily then sedation or anaesthesia may be required to allow a urinary catheter (thin flexible tube) to be passed to allow urine to be flow out, followed by decompression (reducing any swelling) of the penis, lubrication and then replacement into the prepuce with or without the need for surgery to enlarge the opening of the prepuce.

It is likely the vet will send your dog home with antibiotics to treat/prevent infection, further pain relief, instructions on closely observing the penis for any further discharge/swelling and to closely observe that your dog can pass urine as normal.

Can I prevent paraphimosis happening to my dog?

Unfortunately there really is no way of preventing paraphimosis from occurring, the most important thing is to know what to look out for and to get your dog treated as soon as possible to minimise pain, distress and long term complications.  If the penis tissue remains outside of the prepuce and swells then its circulation may be affected and some of the tissue may become necrotic (die), which would then need surgically removing.  If your dog cannot pass urine for a long amount of time then this can lead to a backing up of urine from the bladder through the tubes (ureters) to the kidneys which can lead to kidney damage.

What should I look out for?

If your pet is paying extra attention to its penis, licking it, rubbing at it or there is any visible abnormal swelling, difficulty passing urine and or the presence of any unusual discharges then take a closer look. If you are in doubt then make an urgent appointment to see your vet.

I really hope that your dog is well and comfortable and that the condition does not re occur.

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 10 year old dog has a lump not sure if I should take him to the vet?’

Question from:

Sheree Lu

My 10 year old dog has a lump around the size between a 10-cent/20-cent (Australian) coin. It’s round, soft to touch and when I touch it, it didn’t seem to cause him any discomfort or pain. It’s located on one of his hind flanks, on his thigh-ish area. Like if he sits down, the lump would be on the ground but it’s not near his anus. I’m not sure if I should take him to the vet..?

Answer by Shanika Winters Online vet

Hi Sheree and thanks for your question, with any lump you find on your pet I would advise that you take your dog to be seen by your vet.  I will try and explain in my answer some of the possible causes for the lump and how it can be monitored, treated or removed.

Why has my dog got a small soft lump?

A small soft lump can be caused by an infection, reaction to a parasite/foreign body, swelling in response to an injury/allergy, a tumour or a combination of these.

Infection tends to lead to an area of reddened/hot (inflamed) skin, which may then swell up as it fills with fluid/puss.  An infected lump would usually appear over a few days, may be painful to the touch and might burst followed by crusting over.  An infected lump may be due to a skin infection, where a parasite has bitten, where a foreign body (e.g. a grass seed or thorn) has entered or is trying to exit or maybe on top of an existing lump.

Reactions to a parasite/foreign body will also lead to inflamed skin but can occur over a much longer time scale of days to weeks.  A common parasite that can lead to development of a lump like reaction is a tick.  On some occasions the lump that you see is actually the tick still attached to your pet’s skin, it could also be the reaction to a tick bite that looks like a small lump on your dog’s skin.  Tick bite reactions are more likely to lead to a firm lump (granuloma).  Common foreign bodies that can cause a reactive lump in your pet’s skin include grass seeds and thorns.  A reaction to a foreign body may also be infected and/or painful.  Grass seeds and thorns are easy to come across on walks, depending on what season it is and where you tend to walk your dog.

Allergy or injury can cause a lump to develop quite soon after encountering e.g. a stinging nettle or having a tumble.  Allergic lumps can be single or multiple and can come down themselves in time, but the concern with an allergic reaction is if it affects the airways or circulation then this becomes an emergency situation requiring urgent veterinary attention.  A lump which occurs after an injury such as falling over or bumping into something at high speed is something an owner can usually link to the incident occurring.

Tumours are abnormal growths that come about due to a mutation (change) in your pets cells causing unregulated growth and multiplication of cells.  Tumours can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous and likely to grow/spread).  The time scale of tumour development varies from slow growth to very fast and there are some tumours (mast cell tumours) that can vary in size due to the release of Histamine (reactive body chemical).

Should I take my dog to the vet?

Definitely take your dog to the vet if you find a lump, the urgency with which you need an appointment will depend on how long the lump has been present, how well your dog is and if the lump is changing.

Your vet will ask you a lot of questions such as:

How your dog is in general, eating, drinking and toileting?

How long has the lump been present?

Has the lump changed in shape, size, colour or texture?

Is the lump causing your dog any pain or affecting its normal bodily functions?

Your vet will also ask about any changes in diet, environment, medications and general routine.

The answers to all these questions combined with a full clinical examination will help your vet to work out what the lump could be and what steps should be taken.

What happens next?

In some cases your vet may send your pet home with medication such as antibiotics if the lump is thought to be an area of infection, or pain relief if it is thought to be a reaction to an injury.

If the lump is thought not to be harmful then your vet may ask you to monitor its size, shape, colour and texture on a weekly basis and return for a check-up should there be any significant changes such as the lump doubling in size or changing colour.

If however your vet is still unsure as to what has caused the lump then further tests may be advise, from a fine needle aspirate through to an excisional biopsy with or without x-rays.

Fine needle aspirate is when a needle is inserted into the lump (usually done in an awake pet) and some tissue sucked out into a syringe, this tissue can then be put onto a microscope slide or into a bottle of liquid to enable analysis to try and work out what the lump is.

Biopsy is when a small piece or the entire lump is cut out (usually under a general anaesthetic) and is then sent for analysis to try and work out what the lump is.  If your vet finds other lumps or enlarged lymph nodes which may be related to the original lump then samples may need to be taken from these too.

X-rays of the affected area, chest and abdomen (tummy) may be performed to show how deep the lump goes and whether it has spread to other areas such as the lungs or liver.  The reason why the chest and abdomen are x-rayed is that these are common sites for the spread of malignant growths due to their very good circulation.

If the lump turns out to be cancerous then even after cutting out the lump your pet may need further therapy such as chemotherapy to treat/prevent the lump spreading or re-growing.

I hope that my answer helps to explain the importance of having a lump checked out by your vet, hopefully your dog’s lump is nothing sinister and your vet can confirm this. But due to the many possible causes of a lump it is always safer to get your dog looked at by your vet and then make a joint decision as how best to proceed.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)

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

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