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Fat pets: silently suffering due to their owners’ “kindness”

Here's a paradox: the biggest cause of suffering in pet dogs may be  people who believe that they love their pets the most. What am I talking about? Overfeeding and its consequence: obesity.

Over a third of dogs in the UK (2.9million) are overweight or obese while 25 per cent of cats (3 million) suffer the same problem. These animals have a serious risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and arthritis, and have a lower life expectancy than pets with a healthy weight.

Arthritis is probably the most common issue that causes physical suffering. As a vet, whenever I treat an older dog for sore joints, I write out a check list of the treatment plan. And the top of the list, in nearly every case, is "weight loss". For many animals, this is more effective than any medication.

The people at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home will be discussing this problem in tonight's episode of Paul O’Grady: For The Love of Dogs on ITV1 at 8pm. Prevention of obesity seems simple in theory, but for some reason, many pet owners find it difficult. Again, part of the problem may be that we see pets like little humans, and we feed them accordingly.

The Battersea team have put together some simple tips that may help owners understand how to keep their pets slim and trim.

The first aspect is to work out the amount that a pet needs to eat: this depends on its breed, age and size, but as a rough indication, a small dog only needs about 350 calories a day while for a cat, it's around 280 calories. So a slice of toast is equal to a third of the dog’s daily calories, equivalent to a human eating half a loaf of white bread. Other useful comparisons include a 3cm cube of cheese (equal to a whole cup of molten fondue cheese), one custard cream (half a pack of custard creams), and half a tin of tuna (a large cod n’ chips from the local chippie).

The second tip is to stick to a standard diet, without extras. It’s a common misconception that dogs and cats get bored with their food. When pets turn their noses up at their dinner, it's often because they aren't hungry rather than because they don't like it: they will often still eat interesting nibbles if offered. It's similar to the way that we humans will often manage dessert at the end of a meal, even if we're feeling comfortably full. This is a common cause of weight gain in pets, just as it is in humans.

Third, if you're worried about your pet's weight, consult your vet. There are medical reasons for weight gain that may need to be ruled out, and a regular (free) weigh in on your vet's electronic scales is the best way to monitor your pet's body condition. It's difficult to assess this by just looking, especially when you see your pet every day, because weight gain happens so gradually.

Pets don't get fat because they choose to eat too much: it's because their owners choose to feed them so much.

If you have an obese pet, there's no dodging it: it's your fault. The situation can be remedied, so don't despair. Take an action to do something about it today. Go on: pick up the phone, call your vet and arrange that all-important weigh-in.

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

Sammy catSammy is a lovely, and much loved, 13 year old moggie who has always been the picture of health. Healthy appetite, healthy weight and body condition – and he seemed pretty happy too. But a few months ago his owner noticed him at the water bowl more than she used to. At first she didn’t think anything of it, but with the extra drinking came extra urination, and it also seemed to be associated with an increase in appetite. But still she assumed that this was normal as the weather was getting colder and he was spending more time inside. However, at his next annual check-up with me, we found out that he had actually lost almost a pound in the past year. I recommended a blood and urine test and his owner agreed, and when the results came back the answer was clear – Sammy was diabetic. His owner was in tears. How could she possibly cope with a diabetic cat? She works full time and has two small children, and besides, she has no medical training so how on earth would she be able to give an insulin injection twice a day? She even thought about having him put to sleep because she simply wasn’t going to be able to handle his condition. But we had a nice long chat about what it means to be diabetic and what the treatment would and wouldn’t entail, and by the end of the conversation she was willing to give it a try. What is diabetes? This gets a bit complicated, but I’ll do my best to explain it. Sugar in the blood (also called glucose) is a very important source of energy for the body and without it the body’s organs (particularly the brain) run out of fuel and start to shut down resulting in lethargy, confusion, fits, coma and even death. Too much of it however can also be harmful and diabetes is a condition that results in the cat’s blood sugar being too high. Most of the time this is because the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, the hormone responsible for lowering and stabilising blood sugar. High blood sugar in turn results in lots of very sugary urine which leads to more frequent urination, and the increased urination causes increased thirst and drinking. A lack of insulin also means that the body’s cells can’t use the glucose, even if there’s lots of it in the blood, so the body starts to break down other tissues such as fat and protein for energy. This then causes weight loss, but also an increase in appetite as the body tries to compensate. Therefore, the four most common symptoms of diabetes are: Amber drinking 1. Drinking more than normal 2. Urinating more than normal 3. Eating more than normal 4. Weight loss Diabetes is not the only disease that causes these symptoms, but if all four come together, it puts diabetes at the top of the list. How is diabetes diagnosed? Diagnosing diabetes sounds like it should be pretty easy – if a cat has high blood sugar, it has diabetes, right? Not quite. Cats can have high blood sugar for a couple of different reasons, the most common being stress. And what cat isn’t stressed by the time it gets to the vet, let alone has its blood taken for testing? It is therefore important for your vet to make sure that it isn’t just stress causing the high blood sugar. One of the easiest ways to do this is to test the urine for sugar as well – if there is sugar in the urine, chances are the cat is truly diabetic but this still isn’t a perfect test. If your vet suspects that your cat may have diabetes, a second blood test will typically be run. This could either be, depending on your vet’s personal preference, a single test called fructosamine, or a series of glucose measurements over several hours called a glucose curve. Fructosamine measures the average amount of glucose in the blood over the past 2 weeks (thus making it a more accurate test than a single glucose measurement) whilst a glucose curve measures both the highest and the lowest blood sugar levels on a curve over the course of a day. Both tests are used commonly and both can help the vet diagnose and treat diabetes. And now the scary bit – how is diabetes treated? Because diabetes usually means the body doesn’t make enough insulin, the best way to treat diabetes is to give the body more insulin. This may sound easy, but unfortunately insulin can only be given by injection with a needle under the skin. And it has to be given every day, usually twice a day, at about the same time each day so a regular routine is essential. The good news is that the needles are very very small, and so is the volume that needs to be injected. Therefore most of the time the cat doesn’t even seem to notice, especially once they get used to the process. The bigger concern for the cat is having to go into the vet periodically for check-ups and blood tests to see how their body is coping with the treatment, but even that isn’t too bad and once their condition is stabilised these checks can often be done less often. Another thing that may help is a change of diet to something that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates (the nutrient that gets broken down into glucose after digestion). It is important to monitor your cat’s diet when they are on insulin, as if they do not eat regularly, the insulin could actually hurt them. Similarly, weight loss can help the body better regulate its glucose metabolism so losing excess weight in a controlled manner could make a big difference to their treatment and in some cases may even result in the disease resolving completely. If your cat is diagnosed with diabetes treatment is essential. It is not generally acceptable to allow the disease to go untreated as it can cause significant discomfort and severe problems for the cat. With insulin therapy, a well-managed diabetic cat can go on to live many healthy, happy years. Insulin, however, is not without risks itself, as giving too much of it can result in a condition called hypoglycaemia, or blood sugar that is too low. As mentioned above, this is a life threatening condition that can result in lethargy, confusion, fits, coma and even death. You should speak with your vet about what symptoms to look out for and how best to manage them should they arise and it’s very important that you let your vet know immediately if you think your cat may be hypoglycaemic. I am happy to say that both Sammy and his owner are doing very well today. His owner gives him two injections a day, which she has fit into the family routine and no longer sees it as a bother, just something else that has to be done. She has even offered to speak with other owners of newly-diagnosed diabetic cats to give them the confidence they need to get through the initial diagnosis and first few weeks of treatment. So if you find yourself with a diabetic cat, don’t be discouraged, it’s not actually that scary and yes, you can do it! If you are worried that your cat is showing the symptoms described above, please talk to your vet or try our Interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help decide what to do next.
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How can you tell if your pet is in pain?

Domino-sleeping It seems a simple enough task, to be able to tell when your pet is in pain but actually it can be a lot harder than you think. Animals have been programmed over millions of years of evolution to hide when they are sore or in discomfort, otherwise predators and competitors would pick up on the signs and target them. So, as owners, we need to be vigilant to quite subtle changes in our pet’s behaviour that could indicate they are in pain, and ensure they don’t suffer in silence. Depression Most of us assume that if an animal is in pain they will cry out or whine but actually the opposite is true. Chronic (low grade and continual) pain is very depressing and often animals learn to cope with it and show few outward signs of a problem, other than maybe being quieter than normal or sleeping more. The problem with is that this sort of pain is common in older pets, for example with arthritis, and this is what we expect them to do anyway. However, even in excruciating pain our pets can be very quiet and withdrawn. I once saw a cat with a very badly broken leg who had managed to drag himself home, curl up in his basket and was so calm his owner didn’t think he was in any discomfort, until she saw the x-rays! Often with this type of pain, it is not until you give your pet some pain killers, and see the difference in their behaviour, that you realise how sore they were in the first place. Lameness A very common sign of leg pain, from pulled muscles to arthritis, is limping. Other than this the pet can seem quite well and cheerful, and often won’t respond to the leg being moved about or felt, which can lead to their owners thinking they aren’t in any pain, when nothing could be further from the truth! Lameness is a very common problem and if it lasts more than 24 hours (even if it is intermittent) the pet should always be checked over by a vet. Smelly Breath All pets have smelly breath to some degree (!) but halitosis can often be the only sign, without looking in their mouths, which some pets are reluctant to let their owners do, of painful teeth problems. Often people assume if their pet is eating then they aren’t in any dental pain but this isn’t the case, as an animal’s drive to eat will always overcome any soreness. In fact, if a pet does stop eating because of mouth pain, it is likely to be excruciating and will have been there for some time. Other signs of mouth pain include tartar build up on the teeth and swollen gums. If you are concerned, most vets run free dental clinics, so give them a ring and pop along. Weight Loss Bunnies Our smaller pets, like rabbits and guinea pigs, are even better than cats and dogs at hiding when they are sore because, as prey animals, if they show any signs of being ill, they will be quickly singled out by predators. So their owners have to be even more vigilant to spot problems. In fact, it is not uncommon for these pets to be brought into our clinics close to death, their owners distraught that they have missed signs of a problem or thinking they have fallen ill very quickly, when it is more likely they have been poorly for a while but have managed to hide their symptoms. However, one thing which always happens if these animals are in pain or poorly is that they will lose weight, even if they appear to be eating normally. So, weighing your small pets regularly is a great way of monitoring them and any changes in a downward direction should always be taken seriously. Our pets can’t speak for themselves and in many cases are too brave for their own good; trying to pretend that everything is fine when in fact they are in pain and suffering. So, all good owners should be alert to the small changes that could indicate a big problem and make sure they get them treatment they need and deserve. If you are worried that your pet may be in pain, please contact your vet. If any other symptoms are present why not check the urgency of the problem by using our Interactive Symptom Guide?
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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.
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