Browsing tag: food

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.

What NOT to feed your cat.

Gizmo eatingClients often ask me what they should feed their cats. It sounds like a simple question, but the answer is far from straight forward. The biggest debate amongst veterinarians at the moment is whether or not a cat should be fed dry food or wet food, or both. Personally, I tend to lean towards wet food as it seems to be the more natural option for a lot of different reasons that I won’t go into in this article. But I don’t necessarily recommend that to all of my clients. My own cat, for example, loves almost any dry diet but seems to hate wet food, so this is clearly not a good option for her. Being fussy creatures by nature, in most cases, the best food for your cat is the one that they will eat. But this isn’t always the case. Read on to see some examples of what NOT to feed your cat…

“I feed my cat only the finest fillet steak! Costs me a fortune, so it must be good for her, right?”

Short and long answer to that one – absolutely not. It’s true that in the world of well-balanced, scientifically formulated complete pet foods, you generally get what you pay for. More expensive foods, on the whole, tend to be of better quality than cheaper ones. But that only applies to complete, well-balanced pet foods. Just because a human food is expensive (ie, humans really like it and therefore are willing to pay a high price for it), doesn’t mean it’s going to do your cat any good at all. Sure, a bit of steak here and there isn’t going to hurt them, but by feeding your cat exclusively the muscle meat of any animal, they will quickly become deficient in a wide range of vitamins and minerals. There is, for example, very little calcium in muscle meat, to name just one. Other expensive human foods can even be dangerous for cats, even in small volumes. So if you ever feel like splashing out on your cat’s diet, put back the caviar and foie gras and ask your vet for their recommendation instead.

“But sometimes all she’ll eat are her treats, so I just give her those!”

The problem with this one is that unless your cat is extremely ill and you’re happy to get them to eat anything at all, this simply isn’t true. Cats are absolute masters when it comes to training their owners at mealtimes. And they’re not stupid. A normal, healthy cat will not starve itself. But they’ll certainly have you believe that they will. A normal cat (again, we’re not talking about sick cats here) who only eats treats, or some rubbish, unbalanced cat food, does so because their owner keeps providing it. Take it away and offer a balanced cat food, and eventually they will eat it. They may make you feel like you are the most horrible human on the planet for denying them their favourite food, but they will eat it. OK, you may have to try a few different flavours before you find one that they won’t argue about with you, but there is a good cat food out there that they will eat. And they will thank you with their good health, though not necessarily in any other way… Look at it another way, if somebody offered you a salad and a chocolate bar, you’d probably choose the chocolate bar. But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t eat the salad tomorrow if that’s all there was! A word of caution though, if you try to change your cat’s diet, always do so gradually by mixing it in for a few days to avoid stomach upset. And if they really do go for more than 24-48 hours without eating their new food, speak with your vet for advice because it can be dangerous for a cat to not eat for too long and there may be an underlying medical problem that you didn’t know about.

“My cats deserve a special treat, so I give them tuna for dinner every night”

And I’m not talking about a complete and balanced tuna-flavoured cat food here, but tinned tuna for humans. In this case, it’s not the tuna itself that’s the problem (unless of course your cat is unfortunate enough to be allergic to tuna), rather the fact that it is fed as a meal every night. Too much fish can have inappropriate levels of calcium and phosphorus, and could lead to other problems like thiamine deficiency if raw fish is fed too often. There can also be low levels of toxins like mercury in some fish that won’t harm you if eaten occasionally but can build up if eaten in large quantities. It’s also worth noting that it is particularly important not to feed more than just the very occasional small treat of liver, as eating too much liver can cause serious vitamin toxicities. Like most things, moderation is key. Again, you might enjoy eating pizza for dinner every night, but it probably wouldn’t do your body any good. If you’d like to give your cats a treat, try giving them a different treat each time, provided each one is safe and not too high in fat, and give just a small amount of it, not a whole meal’s worth.

“I’m sorry, did you say crisps?”

Of course, there are some human foods that shouldn’t even be fed in moderation. You’d be amazed what some people will admit to feeding their cats as treats ‘because they really seem to like it’. Sure, your cat may love crisps, but they have absolutely no nutritional value for them (or us, really…), and are simply high in salt, fat, and carbohydrates. They may not necessarily hurt them, but they certainly don’t need them, and it’s not difficult to find them a more appropriate snack. Common human foods that probably shouldn’t be fed to cats in any quantity, no matter how much they seem to like them, include sweet or savoury biscuits, processed sandwich meat, and chips among many other things. You could also add milk and cheese to this list, although I haven’t had much luck convincing clients to give these treats up as they are used so commonly. Cats would not and probably should not naturally drink milk, and can in fact be allergic to it, it is only our domestication of them that has created this ‘need’. And then there are things like onions, chocolate, alcohol, tea, coffee, grapes and raisins that can be toxic in even small quantities so these should never be given to cats.

Daisy pinching foodWhether the problem is finding a food that your cat seems to like, your cat constantly crying out for food, or your own overwhelming desire to treat them to something you think is nice, it’s important to remember that as the carer of this domestic animal you are generally in control of your cat’s diet. If your cat is overweight, chances are you’re feeding it too much, no matter how much they tell you they’re starving. If your otherwise normal, healthy cat will only eat the most expensive smoked salmon, it’s because you offered it to them and they decided it was good enough to hold out for. And if you’re unlucky enough to have a cat that hunts you down and cries for a tasty treat even though you know they shouldn’t have it, be strong and walk away, or better yet, try some kind of distraction such as a toy or a good stroke. It’s not always food they’re crying out for, sometimes it’s the attention of being fed. But if it persists, be sure to take them to the vet for a checkup because constantly crying out for food can actually be a sign of hyperthyroidism or other serious illness.

Whatever the cause, if you find yourself with a feline feeding issue, speak with your vet because many times the solution is easier than you think. And remember, just because your cat wants it, doesn’t mean it’s in their best interest to have it!

If you are worried about any specific symptoms your cat may be showing, talk to your Vet or try our Interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help assess how urgent it may be.

Keep Your Rabbits Gnashers Gnawing Gnaturally!

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Years Petolutions!

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

Dog

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

Cat

Amber

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

Rabbit

Bunny

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

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

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

What Your Rabbit Really Needs

Bunnies crop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gastric Torsion in Dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Symptoms

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

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

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

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

Diagnosis & Treatment

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

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

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

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

Prevention

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

Martha with her young friend Tilly

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

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

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

Living in a Multi-Cat Household – Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Many people share their homes with more than one cat, and if all the cats get along they can provide everybody with companionship and entertainment.  Sadly, however, it isn’t always that way.  Cats are relatively solitary creatures by nature and serious problems can arise when more than one cat is asked to share a small living space such as a house and garden.  Acquiring the cats at the same time can help, even more so if they are siblings.  It also helps to introduce them while they’re young, and it’s often easier to get a male and a female kitty as opposed to two of the same sex.  Just like people, newly-introduced cats need some time to get to know each other so don’t expect everybody to get along from day one.  If you and your feline family are going through a bit of a rough patch, be it the occasional stare down or full on cat fights, read on…

Recognise the problem and try to identify the cause

  • Speak to your vet for advice, and to rule out any medical conditions that may be causing any excessive grumpiness.
  • Think like a cat.  Consider their how the world looks to someone their size, their likes and dislikes, and how they spend their days.  Understanding a bit more about their lives will help you recognise potential problems and come up with insightful solutions.
  • Observe their behaviour toward each other and toward you, and learn to recognise signs of feline stress (tense body posture, twitching tail, dilated pupils, hyper-vigilance or staring in an intimidating manner, etc.).
  • If you notice signs of stress after an interaction with you, try to alter your own actions accordingly.  For example, some cats love grooming, but most only appreciate it for a short period of time and on their own terms.  Also, very few cats actually enjoy being picked up and cuddled tightly although they may tolerate it well.  Trying to comfort your cat in this manner can actually add to their stress levels as they like to feel more in control of their interactions.
  • Never punish your cats for fighting with each other.  The fight undoubtedly started because of some sort of stress in the first place, and your punishment will only make the situation worse.  Stay calm and try to distract them rather than yelling or throwing a shoe at them.  Have a basket of toys at hand to distract them and break up any potential fights before they occur.

Create a less stressful and more cat-friendly environment

  • Cats like options, especially safe ones, so provide several of each resource (litter trays, feeding stations, beds etc.) around the house for them to choose from.  This will help reduce competition and therefore reduce stress.
  • Ensure there is plenty of vertical space (such as cat trees, accessible tall furniture or cat-friendly shelves) for everybody to use.  They often feel safer when they can observe things from above and it will allow them a place to escape to if they feel stressed out.
  • Home renovations and frequent visitors can be very stressful for cats so provide hiding spaces at ground level too, and even in the garden if necessary.
  • Scratching posts can be placed in particularly vulnerable areas like doorways and the top/bottom of the stairs.
  • Provide plenty of toys to play with inside the house and entertain them yourself when you’re at home, but otherwise try to keep their environment as a whole as constant as possible.
  • Create a playground of cardboard boxes, paper bags (with handles removed) or other safe objects and rotate them frequently to keep things interesting.
  • Feed cats in separate rooms, or at least on separate sides of the same room, as feeding time is a major source of competition and disagreement.
  • And last but certainly not least, try a calming pheromone product such as Feliway.  This comes in a spray or a plug-in diffuser and can really help to reduce overall stress levels in the house.  Some cats don’t seem to respond to them and it certainly won’t stop every fight, but many owners find that it makes a big difference.

Of course sometimes, in rare cases and despite your best efforts, things just aren’t going to work out.  If they simply cannot stand the sight of each other and frequently act on it to the detriment of everybody’s health and happiness, then you may have to consider finding a new home for one of them.  Some cats will solve the problem themselves by leaving home and moving in with the kind little old lady next door, but other times you may need to arrange alternate accommodation.  Don’t be too hard on yourself if this happens, as long as you’ve made every effort to fix the problem that is.  Some cats, just like some people, will just never get along and it’s better for everybody if they go their separate ways.  But if they used to get along well and have just had a falling out, be patient and work with them to try to resolve their issues.  In the vast majority of cases a reasonable harmony can be achieved and you can all once again enjoy each other’s company.

Cats and Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

A joyful yet stressful time for all

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

“No! Not on the carpet!” – Vomiting in Cats

I knew it was going to be a rough day when I walked in and saw that three of my ten morning appointments were vomiting cats.  Second only to the chronically itchy dog, vomiting cats can be one of the most frustrating things we have to deal with as vets because there are so many possible reasons why it can happen.  Anything from what the cat had for dinner last night to metabolic diseases that may have been brewing for years could be the cause, and distinguishing between them can take a lot of time, money and effort.  And that’s just for the vet – as the owner of a cat that vomits frequently myself, I understand how unpleasant it is to walk downstairs in the middle of the night and step in a pile of cat sick.  Be it on the new white carpeting or the beat up old sofa, it’s not pretty.  It may be a harmless hairball, but it can also be a sign of serious illness in your cat so it’s definitely worth getting it checked out by your vet.  If you are unlucky enough to have a vomiting cat, here are some things you may want to consider.

Why do cats vomit so much?

Amber prowl cropVomiting in cats is extremely common, but that doesn’t mean that it’s normal.  Some cats are simply prone to hairballs, especially long-haired cats or those that groom excessively.  Others are particularly sensitive to the kinds of food they eat and may not be able to tolerate a particular protein such as beef or additive such as wheat gluten.  Intestinal worms can cause vomiting sometimes, and you may even see them wriggling around after they come up!  Poisonings are rare (cats have a much more discerning palate than dogs) but do occur.  Sometimes playful kittens will swallow things such as pieces of string which can be very dangerous indeed.  Metabolic disorders such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes and liver problems can all cause vomiting too as can tumours of the intestinal tract such as lymphoma.  Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas, an organ which secretes digestive enzymes) or inflammatory bowel disease are other common causes which can present themselves in a wide array of confusing ways.  And of course there is one of my favourite terms, “dietary indiscretion”, which can describe the ingestion of anything from rancid rat remnants to last week’s chicken chow mein from the bin.  With such a huge range of possibilities, it’s easy to see how difficult it can be to find the underlying cause.

What should I do if my cat vomits?

Amber-drinkAs with any medical condition, the best thing to do is contact your vet.  They may tell you to simply starve your cat for a few hours (cats should never be starved for long periods of time though, and should always be brought to the vet if they go more than 24 hours without eating, as this can lead to other serious problems) and reintroduce a bland diet such as plain boiled chicken, as this may fix many acute cases of vomiting.  As always, fresh water should be available at all times.  Or, if your cat is displaying other symptoms such as lethargy, inappetence or diarrhoea they may recommend you bring him straight down to the clinic.  The vet will do a physical exam and take a detailed history, so try to remember as many details as you can about your cat’s behaviour in the past few days.  They may take a blood test or check the urine to rule out metabolic diseases.  Depending on the symptoms they may also choose to take some x-rays of the abdomen to look for anything that the cat may have swallowed, or perhaps perform an ultrasound scan to check for any tumours or other problems with the internal organs.  Because there are so many possible causes for vomiting, sometimes many different tests will be needed so it can become quite expensive at times.  Yet another case where pet insurance is a real plus!

How is vomiting treated?

As previously mentioned, if your cat is otherwise well, you may be asked to feed him something bland such as chicken or white fish with no flavourings or fats added.  Although dogs often appreciate rice or pasta mixed with their meat, cats usually do better without the addition of a carbohydrate.  Or, if you’re not up for cooking, there are a number of prescription pet foods available that can help as well.  If hairballs seem to be the problem, there are special pastes and foods that will help them pass through the body instead of being vomited up.  A worming tablet or liquid may be prescribed if there is evidence of worms.  An anti-emetic (medication that stops vomiting) can be given to help calm things for a bit, and sometimes other medications such as antibiotics or steroids are used as well.  If a foreign body is found (in other words, your cat ate something that got stuck), surgery will be performed to remove it.  Surgery can also be used to remove some types of tumours, or to take biopsy samples of different parts of the intestinal tract to help diagnose the problem.

Some cases of vomiting will resolve on their own, while others can require weeks of intensive diagnostics and treatments.  If left untreated, excessive vomiting can make the cat very ill and you also risk missing any underlying medical problems so make sure you talk to your veterinary surgeon right away if you are at all concerned.  But please be patient with your vet if they can’t fix the problem right away – and remember that we can be just as frustrated by it as you!

If you are worried about your cat vomiting, talk to your vet or use our interactice Cat Symptom Guide to check how urgent the problem may be.

Choosing a first family pet.


Most children love animals, and there are many benefits from owning one. Apart from the fun and companionship, caring for an animal can help give children a sense of responsibility.

On the other hand, children can become bored with things quickly when the novelty wears off, so adults always need to be prepared to take overall responsibility for a pet. Choosing the right pet for your family’s lifestyle can make it more likely that the children will stay involved and that their relationship with their pet will be a fulfilling one.

The basic welfare needs of all pets are that they should be provided with a suitable environment and diet, the right health care as needed, be kept with others or apart from others (depending on species), and be allowed to exhibit normal behaviour patterns. These basic rights are a legal requirement under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Different animals have very different needs however, so it is worth doing some research before deciding which pet would best suit your family.

Dogs

The most popular pet in Britain for many years (although now being caught up by cats), dogs are also amongst the most time consuming and expensive to keep. It is not fair to leave a dog alone at home for long periods, so this would make it unsuitable if everyone is out at work all day, unless a reliable dog walker was used. As well as needing company and exercise, dogs need time spent on training, and grooming if long-haired. Having a garden and somewhere close by for exercise would be ideal. Expenses would include food, vaccinations, neutering and other vets bills, grooming or clipping and boarding kennels or dog-sitters. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes so the traits of different breeds should also be considered. If a dog is your choice of pet, you can expect years of fun and loyalty.

Cats

The independent nature of cats means that they are not quite as reliant on humans as dogs. With a cat flap or a cat litter tray and food available, they can be left for a number of hours, but most cats still enjoy human company. Not all cats like to be lap cats though, so their enjoyment of your company may be on their own terms! This very independence of character is part of the appeal to a cat lover. They also exercise themselves, but long-haired cats need daily grooming. Expenses to consider would be vaccinations, neutering and other veterinary bills, cattery fees.

Rabbits

The number of pet rabbits in the UK goes up all the time, and many now live more like cats and dogs than in the traditional hutch. Rabbits can be litter-trained like cats and can make very good house pets. They are not always ideally suited for children though, as they may resent being picked up and scratch or kick. To keep them in good health they should have the correct diet, vaccinations and in some cases, neutering. They need daily attention to ensure they do not suffer from problems like fly strike or overgrown teeth.

Caged animals

In general, these animals take more time to look after than you might think. Cleaning out cages can be quite time-consuming and can reduce the amount of time spent handling and interacting with the pet. The smallest furry animals can be very quick and a bit nippy, making them less suitable for young children. My own personal favourites in this group would be guinea pigs and rats, but we are probably all influenced by which pets we grew up with ourselves.

Guinea Pigs

These make very good pets and are easy to handle and sociable. They need the right diet (especially a source of vitamin C) and as with all caged animals they need their home to be regularly cleaned. They like to have a companion of the same gender.

Hamsters

The biggest drawback with hamsters is that they tend to be nocturnal, so they may be asleep when you want to play with them and active during the night. They need to be handled very carefully and very frequently to keep them used to handling. If they get ignored for a while they become reluctant to co-operate and will bite. Cages need regular cleaning. A hamster’s lifespan is only about 2 years.

Ferrets

These are interesting and entertaining animals, which have a longer lifespan than many other small furries. They can have a strong smell, especially the males. Females need to be spayed to prevent health problems. Ferrets can be prone to disease of the adrenal glands requiring hormonal treatment.

Rats

Another animal which I think makes a great pet if well kept and well handled. They are intelligent and like to play and interact with humans. They do like to live with a companion rat of the same gender.

Fish

These can be enchanting and relaxing to watch but there isn’t any opportunity for handling as with other pets. The initial expense of setting up a tank is quite high. They can be ideal pets for a family with little space and no garden.

Birds

Many different species are kept as pets, either caged or in an aviary. Caged birds can be tamed and handled and allowed out of the cage to interact with the family, while birds kept in an aviary can enjoy having room to fly. Specialist knowledge is needed to offer the best conditions as different species of birds have very different requirements.

Exotic Pets

Snakes, reptiles and others require very special environments which are secure and have controllable temperature, light and humidity. They also require very special diets to keep healthy and should not be considered good first time pets. Some grow to a very large size which would make them impractical for many people to look after.

If you want to know more about the care needed by a particular type of pet, most veterinary surgeries will be happy to advise. It is also worth remembering that some of the worries about expense can be eased by taking out pet insurance. This is not just for dogs and cats but is also available for rabbits, birds and exotics.

Note from editor: The PDSA have a fun interactive ‘Pet Finder’ tool that is very helpful.

More Useful Information

Examining your pet

Simple ways to check the health of your pet. Vets use these techniques as part of their clinical examiniation.

Medicating your pet

Arming you with the same simple techniques for stress free pill giving.

Worming & Flea Treatment

Information and advice in treating your pet for worms and fleas.