Browsing tag: overweight

Weigh-in Wednesdays

Help your pet’s health with the Friends for Life campaign and Weigh-in Wednesdays.
Pet owners are often not aware of any problems with their pets, but research has shown a shocking statistic that almost half the pets seen in practice by vets are overweight.
There seems to be plenty of media coverage about human obesity and weight problems, but what effect does excess body fat have our pets? Not surprisingly many of the same health issues as humans. These include heart disease and circulatory problems, the increased risk of diabetes, joint disease and a poor respiratory system. Signs of these problems in an overweight animal could include not wanting to walk very far, pain on movement, breathlessness and coughing. Many pet owners are aware of these common problems, however, there are far more health issues associated with having an overweight animal: There can be poorer immune response, difficulty in giving birth, incontinence, heat intolerance and fatty changes can cause liver problems for cats.
If an overweight pet needs an operation, there is an increased risk of surgical complications, as there is in humans. An increased anaesthetic risk, slow wound healing and a greater risk of wound infection are some of the extra problems the veterinary team might face.
Because of these issues and the high number of overweight pets in the UK, the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PMFA) launched the ‘Friends for Life’ campaign in May 2013, with a fresh promotion in August. Working with leading experts in the field of pet food the constant focus is on helping the U.K.’s pet owners (and potential pet owners) improve the health and well-being of their animals.
The campaign encourages owners of dogs, cats, rabbits even birds to contact their vet or pet care specialist each Wednesday throughout August, to get advice on weight management and to keep a check on their pets health. These days are called Weigh In Wednesdays!
But the campaign doesn’t stop there – it can be ongoing at the vet surgery with regular checks on the pet’s progress. By monitoring the pet’s body size and health, research shows they could potentially increase the pet’s life expectancy by up to 2 years.
The Weigh In Wednesday campaign starts on 7th August and both pet owners and pet professionals can download all the tools they need from the PFMA website . The pet owner pack consists of a food diary, the pet pledge and a weight and condition log.
By working with the vets and pet health specialists, owners can make a real difference to their pets lives.
David Kalcher RVN

Help your pet’s health with the Friends for Life campaign and Weigh-in Wednesdays.

Pet owners are often not aware of any problems with their pets, but research has shown a shocking statistic that almost half the pets seen in practice by vets are overweight.

There seems to be plenty of media coverage about human obesity and weight problems, but what effect does excess body fat have our pets? Not surprisingly many of the same health issues as humans. These include heart disease and circulatory problems, the increased risk of diabetes, joint disease and a poor respiratory system. Signs of these problems in an overweight animal could include not wanting to walk very far, pain on movement, breathlessness and coughing. Many pet owners are aware of these common problems, however, there are far more health issues associated with having an overweight animal: There can be poorer immune response, difficulty in giving birth, incontinence, heat intolerance and fatty changes can cause liver problems for cats.

If an overweight pet needs an operation, there is an increased risk of surgical complications, as there is in humans. An increased anaesthetic risk, slow wound healing and a greater risk of wound infection are some of the extra problems the veterinary team might face.

Because of these issues and the high number of overweight pets in the UK, the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PMFA) launched the ‘Friends for Life’ campaign in May 2013, with a fresh promotion in August. Working with leading experts in the field of pet food the constant focus is on helping the U.K.’s pet owners (and potential pet owners) improve the health and well-being of their animals.

The campaign encourages owners of dogs, cats, rabbits even birds to contact their vet or pet care specialist each Wednesday throughout August, to get advice on weight management and to keep a check on their pets health. These days are called Weigh In Wednesdays!

But the campaign doesn’t stop there – it can be ongoing at the vet surgery with regular checks on the pet’s progress. By monitoring the pet’s body size and health, research shows they could potentially increase the pet’s life expectancy by up to 2 years.

The Weigh In Wednesday campaign starts on 7th August and both pet owners and pet professionals can download all the tools they need from the PFMA website . The pet owner pack consists of a food diary, the pet pledge and a weight and condition log.

By working with the vets and pet health specialists, owners can make a real difference to their pets lives.

David Kalcher RVN

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.

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.

What NOT to buy your pet for Christmas!

The nights have drawn in, Merry Hill is heaving and the carols have already been playing for weeks – it’s Christmas! If you are anything like me and leave everything to the last minute, you don’t have much time to plan the ideal gifts and sometimes you buy things that aren’t always that suitable. Now, I can’t tell you what not to buy for your Dad (although I’m guessing he doesn’t really want socks again) but I can tell you what not to buy for your pets!

Dogs are intelligent, social, active creatures who are, and this is important, in possession of extremely efficient furry coats. This means that they do not need an extensive wardrobe of clothes! The range of outfits you can buy for them is truly astonishing and yes they might look cute dressed up as a Christmas fairy or in a t-shirt that says ‘The Dogfather’ (!) but who is it really for? Not the dog, who invariably looks miserable trussed up, but for their owner.
Brodie's toyThe irony of course is that although these outfits are bought as an expression of love for the pet, they are often over-indulged animals who, as a consequence of being spoiled, are not always that pleasant to be around. Of course, some dogs do feel the cold but a simple padded jacket is fine, or (and this is a ground breaking suggestion) once you are out, get them running around, they’ll soon be warm then! Doggy accessories that are worth purchasing are decent collars and leads, haltis for those who pull and a few sturdy toys to keep them occupied on walks or in the home.

Cats could not be more different to dogs (good luck to anyone who tries to put an outfit on their moggy!) but they are still valued members of the family and often have something under the tree! However, don’t buy them one big expensive toy, get them several cheaper ones instead. Cats will play with anything new that appears but once they have done this for a couple of days, they are likely to ignore it. So, having a box of lots of toys and changing them round regularly will ensure they always have something to keep them interested.
Loki fishingAlso, don’t buy your cats a double feeder of any variety, they are truly pointless. Not only will a cat rarely drink where they also eat (an instinct from hunting which stops them drinking from water near where they catch their prey, would you want to drink where a rat had probably wee’d?!), they also hate to eat with other cats and forcing them to share from a double feeder encourages them to gorge on their food so they don’t have to stay long and increases stress levels. Great buys for cats include activity toys like fishing rods or anything on a string, igloo beds (cats love to hide but make sure you put them somewhere high up) and water fountains.

Finally, rabbits. There are loads of great activity toys in the shops for rabbits so there is absolutely no excuse to fall back on the usual Christmas failsafe of treats! Obesity is a big health problem in bunnies and causes all sorts of issues from dirty bottoms to arthritis. Also, too many treats can mean they don’t eat enough hay which can cause problems with their teeth. Great gifts for rabbits include willow chew toys and the biggest cage and run you can afford! Alternatively you could give a gift to yourself and rabbit-proof all the wires if they are kept indoors, which should ensure there are no unexpected interruptions during the Christmas TV scheduling!

I hope you and all your pets have a Happy Christmas and a Healthy 2012!
If you have any questions about your pet, you should always contact your vet.

If you are worried about your pet over the Christmas period and are unsure whether your need to see a vet you can always call them for advice, or try our Interactive Symptom Guide to see how urgent the problem may be.

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.

Pain Part 2: Getting rid of pain

Pain and pain relief are massive topics which can – and do – fill several textbooks. It’s way beyond the scope of a blog to go into all of the detail surrounding the use of painkillers, and so all I really want to do is to outline some of the different types of pain control that we can use, both in the surgery and as day-to-day treatments.

Pain relief is one of the great success stories in medicine, and it’s no coincidence that some of my favourite drugs of all time are painkillers. Our advances mean that pain in our patients shouldn’t be accepted, and although sometimes we fail to control it, we should never stop trying.

We use a number of different types of painkiller:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Steroids
  • Opioids and opioid-like drugs
  • Others

NSAIDs

These are the most widely-used type of painkiller and include (for humans) aspirin, ibuprofen and paracetamol. They act by stopping inflammation.

They’re commonly prescribed for post-op pain and for joint problems and may be given for long periods of time. When you’re given painkillers to take home from the vets, they’re usually NSAIDs.

Three things to really take on board with these drugs:

  1. Human drugs are not always safe for pets, so never give anything to your pet without talking to your vet first: half a paracetamol can kill a cat, a big dose of ibuprofen can do the same to dogs and even a solitary aspirin can be a lethal overdose for a toy breed, designed as it is for a much bigger animal (us). This is why we have veterinary-licensed drugs for our patients.
  2. Increasing doses won’t give more pain relief, and may cause side effects. If they’re not working for your pet, talk to your vet about alternatives.
  3. NSAIDs are most effective when given before the inflammation starts. It might seem odd to suggest giving painkillers before the pain even begins, but this is important in treating chronic, repeated and predictable pain like arthritis.

Two of the most common drugs we use are meloxicam and carprofen. Meloxicam usually comes as a syrup, which can be dosed very accurately, and carprofen is generally in tablet form. Both drugs may be used long term as a daily dose and both have been responsible for giving patients their lives back, sometimes for years. We’re also rediscovering paracetamol as an excellent addition to treatments in dogs.

Recently, newer NSAIDs have been introduced which are labelled either as cox-2 inhibitors (e.g. firocoxib), or else dual inhibitors (tepoxalin). Essentially, these are just descriptions of which bit of the inflammatory cascade they act upon, and they’re designed to reduce some risks of side effects that we see with other NSAIDs. It’s arguable, though, as to whether they’re better at relieving pain than some of the older drugs.

More recent still is Trocoxil, an NSAID for dogs which is only given once a month. The theory is that because it acts as a persistent block to inflammation, there’s no point where the vicious cycle of pain can really take a hold. The exact ins and outs of the drug are a bit too much to go into here, but as always, speak to your vet about this medication if you’re interested in finding out more. Do understand, though, that it’s not for every patient and your vet may have good reasons not to use it on your dog.

Steroids

Steroids are very powerful anti-inflammatories, which gives them painkilling properties. However, they also affect the immune system – many patients take them for allergies and auto-immune problems – and can have major side-effects when used long-term at high doses; they also can’t be given with NSAIDs and so for practical reasons their use as painkillers is limited. You may have experience of PLT (Predno-LeucoTropin), a medicine with a steroid component which can be great for chronic pain when other drugs seem to be failing. It’s been around for a long time, and many an experienced vet will recognise its usefulness.

Opioids

Opioids are a group of drugs which act to block the passage and brain detection of pain signals. The classic drug in this group is morphine, which still forms the basis for relief of severe pain in humans. These are very powerful painkillers indeed, although the degree of pain relief depends on whether they’re what we call a full-agonist or a partial-agonist.

Drugs like morphine, pethidine and fentanyl are full-agonists, and tend to be used only within the surgery. They are subject to close control and are never dispensed. Generally they’re given by injection, although fentanyl is available as a long-acting skin patch, which has been very successful for use in trauma patients like RTA cats.

Buprenorphine and butorphanol are partial-agonists and are often used as part of a pre-med before surgery. Buprenorphine is a great painkiller which is usually injected within the practice, but may occasionally be dispensed for oral, very short-term use. It is certainly useful in breaking pain cycles and allowing us to get onto more stable pain relief regimes. For in-patients where NSAIDs either don’t quite cut it, or else a combination therapy is needed, buprenorphine is an excellent drug.

A drug that we’ll often use long-term in out-patients is tramadol. This is a human drug which acts in a similar manner to opioids, and has a number of significant advantages:

  1. It’s usually pretty safe, although it can temporarily knock some patients a little flat. Your vet should tell you about this when prescribing.
  2. It’s a GOOD painkiller
  3. As it has a different way of working to NSAIDs or steroids, it can be used in conjunction with many other drugs to create a better painkilling effect

Others

Other drugs that we use act in novel ways, or else are designed for other purposes but just happen to help with pain control. These are important drugs, and whilst they’re described last they’re definitely not least in importance. In brief:

  • Local anaesthetics may be used in and around surgery, to numb the pain nerves. These tend to be injectable, although some creams are available which can be useful to pre-treat patients with needle phobias and the like.
  • Ketamine – yes, the horse tranquiliser – has been used for years in emergency medicine as a painkiller; it’s often included in battle packs for soldiers. Its use in our patients is quite specialised and confined to hospital environments.
  • Gabapentin. This is a very interesting drug indeed. It’s normally used as an anti-epileptic, but seems to have a great effect on pain of nervous origin (aka neuropathic pain), so can be useful for spinal and neurological conditions.
  • Cartrophen is an anti-arthritic drug (also sometimes used in bladder problems in cats) which has a number of effects on joints. It’s usually given as four weekly injections, followed by a variable period of remission. It can be very beneficial for some arthritis patients, but may need a little forward planning in its use, as its administration isn’t recommended at the same time as NSAIDs. It’s certainly a drug worthy of close inspection in long term arthritis cases.

Integrated methods of pain control

Whilst it’s obvious that we have some great drugs for relieving pain, reliance on drugs alone in any condition is generally a limiting approach, as adding in other treatment types – or modalities – may offer greatly increased success rates.

For example, in heart disease drugs may help to keep the cardiovascular system going, but are much less effective when used by themselves than in an overall strategy including lifestyle change, weight loss, exercise programmes, regular monitoring and support networks.

Similarly, drugs may form the heart of a pain relief strategy, but shouldn’t be used as an excuse to avoid other measures that can help – and there are even times when non-drug pain control is good enough that painkillers are not needed. Whatever the non-drug modality used, the decision on when not to use painkillers is a simple one:

  1. The pain is being completely controlled by non-drug methods.
  2. That’s it.

Remember that phrase – pain is not acceptable in our patients. If nothing else, these blogs should have explained both why pain is a bad thing in the long run, and the sheer number of drugs that fight pain. Treating pain completely without drugs is a brilliant solution, but simply taking the edge off the pain is not enough. Equally, though, finding a number of ways to help with the pain will almost certainly mean that your pet gets more relief and is happier.

Treatment modalities which can help in chronically painful conditions include:

  • Acupuncture – there’s a reasonable body of evidence for the physical effects of acupuncture and theories of how it may ‘close the gate’ on pain. It’s now widely available around the country, but must be performed by or under the direction of a vet.
  • Supplements – for joint problems, there are a number of supplements containing combinations of glucosamine, chondroitin and green-lipped mussel extract, which protect the cartilage and may even get rid of the need for painkillers in early arthritis. Additionally, essential fatty acid supplements and vitamin E are both mooted as aids to tissue repair and free-radical scavenging.
  • Herbal remedies containing Devil’s Claw are widely available, but be warned that the supplement can cause side effects and that clinical trials have produced highly variable results.
  • Weight loss – whilst it’s obvious that in arthritis, every excess ounce is another ounce of pain, recent work has suggested that body fat has a chemical pro-inflammatory effect which may exacerbate pain generally. Reducing body fat may reduce the body’s pain responses, particularly in chronic conditions.
  • Surgery – for many painful conditions, surgery is the obvious treatment to permanently remove the pain at source.
  • Physiotherapy – hydrotherapy, mobilisation, massage and PROM are all very useful in promoting recovery and dealing with chronically painful conditions. Access to these services is usually by referral from your vet, and animal physios are highly qualified professionals.
  • Mood enhancement – pain is depressing, so elevating mood helps patients to cope, and also makes new pain easier to deal with. A number of products are available, from pills (including zylkene, a natural extract, and amitryptilline) to pheromone sprays and diffusers (feliway, DAP), but equally, promotion of routine and enjoyable activities can be very successful.
  • Prevention –as the best pain relief is prevention, a word should be said about how we avoid seeing dogs with arthritis or cats with pancreas issues in the first place. Also perhaps timely, as the Animal Health Trust, in conjunction with Edinburgh Vet School, have just announced a project into genetic testing for hip and elbow dysplasias in Labradors. Being able to breed the conditions out of our patients will have a major impact on the wellbeing of future generations (so, if your Lab is KC registered and hip scored, the AHT might just want to hear from you).
  • Magnet therapy – to this day, I still don’t know if this really works, but plenty of my clients are convinced – including a large proportion of horse owners, who are about the most hard-bitten, unpersuadable people out there.

There are, of course, countless other integrated therapies, like Reiki or Homeopathy, and each will have their champions and detractors. The important factors with any of these are choice and inclusivity – it’s fine to explore all of the possibilities, but not to the detriment of the patient. As a general rule, the vet who prescribes you meloxicam won’t demand that you stay off the Reiki during treatment, and this should work both ways.

The mainstay of pain relief will always be drug therapy, but its effectiveness can be massively enhanced by looking at integrated treatments. Pain is such a debilitating problem that anything which can help to remove it has got to be worth exploring. If you feel that your pet may be in pain, especially if you’re already giving treatment, then speak to your vet about what you can do – there are so many ways to target pain that there’s bound to be something to help.

And do remember that phrase: pain is not acceptable in our patients.

If you are worried about your pet’s health, talk to your vet or use our Interactive Symptom Guide to help assess how urgent the problem may be.

Neutering dogs – Bitch spay operation: a step by step guide

Deciding whether to spay

Spaying or neutering a female dog is not a small operation, so owners should think carefully about all the pros and cons before deciding.

The main advantages of spaying are preventing pregnancy, preventing infection of the uterus (pyometra), preventing ovarian or uterine cancer and reducing the likelihood of mammary (breast) cancer, all of which can be life-threatening. It also prevents the inconvenience of having a bitch in season with unwanted attention from male dogs.

The main disadvantages are major surgery with associated risks, an anaesthetic with associated risks and the increased likelihood of urinary incontinence in later life. Fortunately, the risks involved in anaesthesia and surgery are very small indeed compared with the risks of the other conditions which are prevented by spaying. Urinary incontinence in later life is a nuisance but not very common, and can usually be controlled by drugs.

There is no medical reason to let a bitch have one litter before spay, in fact some of the benefits like protection against mammary tumours, are lost if the operation is delayed. Unless an owner is committed to having a litter, with all the work and expense that can be involved, and the bitch is also suitable in temperament and free of any hereditary problems, then breeding should not be considered.

Tilly GrinSome people expect that their bitch will get fat after spay, but in fact this is entirely preventable with a healthy diet and proper exercise.

My own opinion is that most bitches should be spayed because of the health benefits. My boxer bitch Tilly was recently spayed.

Deciding when to spay

It is not a good idea to spay when a bitch is in season or about to come into season, because the blood vessels supplying the uterus and ovaries are all larger and this will increase the risks of surgery. The other time we try to avoid is the 8 weeks after a season, when a bitch may suffer from a hormonal imbalance called a false pregnancy. If this happens, she may be acting as if she is nursing pups and the operation at this time would cause such sudden changes in hormone levels that it would be unfair to her. Also if she was producing milk, the enlargement of the milk glands would make it more difficult for the spay wound to heal.

For all of these reasons, the time chosen to spay is usually either before the first season occurs, or 3-4 months after a season. A physical examination by the vet will determine whether a 5-6 month old bitch puppy is mature enough to spay before her first season.

Before the operation

As well as timing the operation carefully to reduce any risks, it is also important that the bitch is not overweight. Because this increases the difficulty of the operation, it may well be advised that an overweight bitch should lose weight before the operation.

Another important way of spotting avoidable risks is by taking a blood test before the anaesthetic. This could be done on the day of the operation or a few days earlier. This is used to check the liver and kidney function (both vital when dealing with anaesthetic drugs) and to rule out any unsuspected illnesses.

Before going to the surgery

Before any anaesthetic the patient should be starved for a number of hours, according to the instructions of the surgery. This prevents any problems with vomiting which could be dangerous. It is also a good idea to allow the dog enough exercise to empty the bladder and bowels. Apart from that, it is best to stick as closely as possible to the normal routines of the day so that the dog does not feel anxious.

Being admitted for surgery

On arrival at the surgery, you can expect to be seen by a vet or a veterinary nurse who will check that you understand the nature of the operation and will answer any questions you may have. They will ask you to read and to sign a consent form for the procedure and ask you to supply contact phone numbers. This is very important in case anything needs to be discussed with the owner before or during the operation.

Before the anaesthetic

Your bitch will be weighed to help calculate the dosages of drugs and given a physical examination including checking her heart. If a pre-anaesthetic blood test has not already been done, it will be done now and the results checked before proceeding. If any abnormalities are found, these will be discussed with the owner before deciding whether the operation goes ahead or not. One possible outcome is that extra precautions such as intravenous fluids may be given.

A pre-med, which is usually a combination of several drugs, will be given by injection. This begins to make the dog feel a bit sleepy and ensures that pain relief will be as effective as possible.

The anaesthetic

There are several ways in which this can be given, but the most common is by an injection into the vein of the front leg. The effects of the most commonly used drugs are very fast, but don’t last for very long, so a tube is placed into the windpipe to allow anaesthetic gas and oxygen to be given. The anaesthetic gas allows the right level of anaesthesia to be maintained safely for as long as necessary.

Various pieces of equipment will then be connected up to monitor the anaesthetic. This is a skilled job which would usually be carried out by a qualified veterinary nurse. Apart from the operating table, the instruments and the anaesthetic machine, a lot of specialised equipment will be on “stand by” in case it is needed.

The area where the surgical incision is to be made will be prepared by clipping and thorough cleaning to make it as close to sterile as possible. The site is usually in the middle of the tummy, but some vets prefer to use an incision through the side of the tummy.

The operation

While the bitch is being prepared for surgery as mentioned above, the surgeon will be “scrubbing up” and putting on sterile clothing (gown, gloves, hat & mask) just as in all television surgical drama programmes. The surgical instruments will have been sterilised in advance and are opened and laid out at the start of the operation.

The operation involves removal of the ovaries and uterus (ovario-hysterectomy). The surgeon carefully opens the abdomen by cutting through the various layers. The first ovary is located and its blood vessels are tied off before it can be cut free at one end, then this is repeated with the second ovary. It is a delicate and fiddly job, needing great care and attention. The main body of the womb or uterus is then tied off as well before the whole thing can be cut free and removed. After checking for any bleeding, the layers of the tummy can then be sewn closed again. A dressing might be applied to the wound. Further drugs may be given now as needed.

When the operation is finished, the gas anaesthetic is reduced and the bitch begins to wake up. She will be constantly monitored and the tube removed from her windpipe when she reaches the right level of wakefulness.

Recovery

Like humans, dogs are often a bit woozy as they come round, so she will be placed in a cage with soft warm bedding and kept under observation. Usually they will wake up uneventfully and then sleep it off for the rest of the day.

After-care

The bitch will not be allowed home until she is able to walk and is comfortable. Full instructions should be given by the surgery concerning after-care. The most important things would be to check the appearance of the wound, to prevent the bitch from licking it (with a plastic bucket-collar if necessary) and to limit her exercise by keeping her on the lead. Any concerns of any kind should be raised with the surgery.

Any medication supplied should be given according to the instructions. Pain relief can be given by tablets or liquid on the food. Antibiotics are not always needed, but may be supplied if there is a need for them.

Usually there will be stitches in the skin which need to be removed after about 10 days, but sometimes these are concealed under the surface and will dissolve by themselves.

tilly's wound with text

After a couple of weeks, if all goes according to plan, the bitch can be allowed to gradually increase her exercise levels. This is the stage that Tilly has now reached and she is thoroughly enjoying a good run again now that she is feeling back to normal.

Fly strike in rabbits

By Jenny Sheriff

In warmer weather there is also another very important reason to spend time checking your rabbit carefully at least twice daily. Fly strike can become life threatening within hours

In warmer weather it is important to spend time checking your rabbit carefully at least twice daily. Fly strike can become life threatening within hours

 Rabbits are becoming more and more popular as pets in this country. A well-cared for rabbit can offer a family years of fun and companionship. Rabbits are living longer, healthier lives as the care offered to them improves. They can be vaccinated against diseases which could otherwise kill them (myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease) and operations, including neutering, are very much safer than they used to be. This is partly because they are more regularly carried out and partly because safer anaesthetics are constantly being developed.

Although a rabbit does not need taking out for walks like a dog, it would be wrong to think of a rabbit as a pet which does not need much time spending on it. Feeding the right diet is essential to prevent obesity and to reduce the risk of dental problems. Keeping the hutch or run clean is important. Handling the rabbit daily and grooming it if long-haired are also necessary. In warmer weather there is also another very important reason to spend time checking your rabbit carefully at least twice daily.

Rabbits are particularly prone to a condition called fly strike or myiasis, which happens when flies lay eggs on the rabbit and these develop into larvae (maggots). Usually eggs are laid where the skin is broken or soiled, especially if there is any faecal matter around the anus or any urine soiling of the coat. It can develop into a life-threatening infestation of maggots within a few hours. Particular care needs to be taken if a rabbit has a wound of any kind if the weather is very warm. Obesity increases the risk because an obese rabbit cannot reach to clean itself properly, and diarrhoea also makes soiling and fly strike more likely.

When maggots are seen on a rabbit, the veterinary surgery should be contacted at once. Don’t attempt to wash off the maggots in case the skin needs to be shaved. It is a very serious condition which develops very quickly and needs urgent treatment. In a matter of hours a few maggots can eat away at the rabbit’s skin and flesh and cause a very severe illness. If untreated it leads to shock, weakness, depression and sometimes death.

If noticed early enough, the rabbit can be treated by your vet by removing all the maggots, probably with tweezers, shaving the area and using special washes or sprays. This can be very time consuming as some may be very tiny and more will develop so the process may need to be repeated. Sometimes it can only be done under sedation or anaesthetic. This is one of the most unpleasant conditions which vets have to treat.

Prevention is by keeping the rabbit’s environment free of flies and applying topical preparations available from your veterinary surgery.

To minimise the risk of fly strike:

1. Check your rabbit all over at least twice daily looking for wounds, soiling or maggots

2. Keep your rabbit’s weight right (ask at your surgery for advice on diet and exercise)

3. Avoid feeding too much rich grass or anything else which may cause diarrhoea

4. Have urinary problems checked out to avoid wet smelly patches on the coat

5. Use a fly repellent licensed for use on rabbits

6. Clean the hutch and run regularly

7. Seek immediate veterinary advice if you see maggots on your rabbit

 We are all hoping for a long hot summer, but if it does happen, please be aware of the extra risk to your rabbit.

Osteoarthritis in dogs.

Stiffness in older dogs may be due to osteoarthritis which could be treated.

Stiffness in older dogs may be due to osteoarthritis which could be treated.

This week I met a lovely 12 year old Labrador called Amber, who has been suffering for some time now with osteoarthritis. She is on a combination of two treatments, which keep her quality of life good although her condition is getting worse.

This is a very common complaint in dogs, especially middle-aged and elderly ones, but the good news is that the treatments available are improving all the time.

One of the most common findings in a routine examination of an older dog is stiffness of one or more joints. On questioning the owner, we often find that there is occasional lameness or difficulty getting into the car, or stiffness for the first few minutes of exercise before the dog “gets going”. One of the most likely causes of such symptoms, although not the only one, is osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. Most people just call it arthritis, although there are other kinds of arthritis as well.

Medium to large breeds are most commonly affected by arthritis, but it can happen in any size of dog. Usually the onset is quite slow and may not be noticed at first by owners, or just put down to the inevitable process of ageing. Unfortunately this can mean that owners are not aware that their pet is in pain, or underestimate how much pain they have. Owners are often surprised when it is suggested that their dog has arthritis that would benefit from treatment, and equally surprised by the improvement they see when treatment starts. A very common reaction is that he/she is “like a new dog”. This is mainly because their joint pain has been removed or reduced.

Arthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints, where the cartilage overlying the bone becomes rough instead of smooth and movement of the joint becomes difficult and painful. The fibrous capsule surrounding the joint becomes thickened and restricts the amount of movement the joint can make. New pieces of bone called osteophytes can grow on the damaged surface, further restricting movement. The joints may make clicking or crunching noises when the dog walks, and the joints may also be swollen.

Diagnosis of arthritis is by a mixture of examination of the dog, history taking (asking the owner about the dog’s exercise tolerance etc) and further examinations such as x-rays. It may not always be necessary to take x-rays, but it can be very helpful to rule out other conditions which might also be treatable, but would require a completely different type of treatment. As well as helping to make the right diagnosis, the changes seen can help decide on the best treatment. While the dog is anaesthetised, the joints can be manipulated much more thoroughly than when the dog is awake, so a more thorough examination can be made.

Regular short walks are advised for affected dogs.

Regular short walks are advised for affected dogs.

Once the diagnosis of arthritis has been made, treatment can begin. Before even thinking about drugs, the vet will want to consider whether changes need to be made to the dog’s weight and exercise regime. Being overweight puts increased strain on all the leg joints, so slimming down if necessary should be considered as part of the treatment. Rest can also be very important. Regular, frequent, short walks will be tolerated much more easily than an occasional long run.

Often the first line of treatment involves “chondroprotective agents” like glucosamine and chondroitin. These can be given in tablet form or can be included in the diet. They help to repair the cartilage and maintain the lubricating fluid of the joint, the synovial fluid. Two points worth remembering about these are, firstly, that the full effects may not be seen until six weeks after starting, and secondly, the formulations on sale for human use may not be as effective in dogs as those formulated for dogs.

Another very common group of drugs used to treat arthritis are called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, or NSAIDs for short. These reduce pain and inflammation and can be given as tablets, liquids or injections. These drugs are generally very safe, but if used for a long time it is sensible to monitor the dog’s liver function as a healthy liver is needed to metabolise these drugs. A routine blood test is carried out every 6 months or as recommended by your own vet. Like all drugs there can be side effects, including the possibility of diarrhoea and vomiting in some dogs. If your dog develops any new symptoms while taking any drugs, it is advisable to seek advice from your veterinary surgery.

In some more serious cases other drugs may need to be used, such as steroids or strong painkillers.

Surgical treatments can also be used in the treatment of arthritis. Operations which have been common in human medicine for many years, like hip replacements, are now more widely available to dogs too. In severe cases of hip arthritis, this can allow enormous improvements in quality of life. In younger dogs where arthritis may be the result of a developmental problem in a joint, surgery may be recommended. Not all veterinary practices carry out these sorts of procedures so your dog might need to be referred to a local specialist in orthopaedics.

Amber is a lucky dog in that her symptoms are well controlled even though her exercise is restricted. She has an examination and a weight check every 3 months and a blood test every 6 months. She spent a lot of our consultation lying on her back having her tummy tickled, and I had no doubts that she is still leading an enjoyable life.

If you are concerned about arthritis, stiffness or lameness in your dog, or any other health issues, contact your vet or use our Interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.

But rabbits are meant to be cuddly, aren’t they?!

Cat is the vet for petstreet.co.uk; an on-line social networking site for pet lovers.

Obesity is a huge (if you will excuse the pun!) issue in our pets and can lead to significant health problems. It is usually easy to tell if Rover or Kitty are getting porky, their large bellies are generally the giveaway, but it can be more difficult in pet rabbits, who often appear quite round anyway, especially if they are fluffy! However, it is an extremely common problem in the species and can lead to some very nasty illnesses if it isn’t tackled.

Rabbits come in all shapes and sizes, so it's not easy to see if they are overweight just by looking.

Rabbits come in all shapes and sizes, so it's not easy to see if they are overweight just by looking.

How do you tell if a rabbit is fat?

It is difficult just by looking to tell if a rabbit is over-weight and while putting them on the scales is helpful, the healthy weight for each individual will vary. Getting your hands on them and feeling is the most reliable method. Firstly, you should be able to feel your rabbit’s ribs when you place your hands on their chest, if you can’t, or can only manage it by pressing very hard, then there may be a problem. Equally you should also be able to fairly easily make out their spine and hips. They should have an obvious waist and only females should have a dewlap and even then it should be fairly small.

How did my rabbit get fat?

Because it eats too much! Unfortunately it is easy to get the proportions of different foods in your rabbits diet wrong and this can lead to them putting on weight. Most rabbits are fed on some form of commercially prepared rabbit food but many owners don’t realise that it is very calorie dense and must be fed sparingly; an average sized rabbit should eat no more than two tablespoons of hard food a day. Fruit is also a big culprit in making rabbits gain weight as the sugars it contains are very calorific, so keep fruit treats to a minimum and stick to vegetables for the regular fresh food in their diet.

Also, rabbits are naturally active creatures but many are kept confined to small hutches or runs. This is also often a factor in any weight gain because they simply cannot exercise as much as they should and have nothing to do but eat.

What are the problems obesity can cause?

The most distressing problem seen in rabbits made much worse by them being fat is Fly Strike. If rabbits are over-weight, they are prone to becoming dirty and matted around their backends, mainly because they cannot physically reach round to clean themselves. The flies lay their eggs in the impacted faeces which quickly hatch into maggots. These will feed on the dirt but quickly start to attack the rabbit itself and, literally, eat it alive. It is a horrendous problem, very painful and often fatal.

Obese rabbits are also vulnerable to pressure sores on their hocks due to their weight and bad skin because they cannot groom adequately. Arthritis is also a big issue in fat rabbits, their joints are under excess strain and their weight makes the disease even more painful.

How do I diet my rabbit?

Firstly, ensure their diet is not too rich. The ideal diet for a rabbit consists of 80% hay (everyday a rabbit should eat a pile of hay as big as it is) with a small amount of fresh vegetables and minimal rabbit food. The rabbit food is the biggest culprit in weight gain, so if they are fat and you want to diet them, cut it out altogether. It isn’t a necessary part of the diet anyway so long as they have unlimited good quality hay and regular amounts of fresh food. Obviously they should have no human food at all.

The second law of weight loss is exercise more and this can be done in rabbits fairly easily. They should all be allowed out in a run, the house or garden for at least 30 minutes twice a day. Rabbits are most active in the early morning and dusk, so if they can only have limited exercise then these are the best times to allow it. You can also encourage them to hop about by hiding tasty (but healthy!) treats around the garden or run, which also helps their inquisitive natures and keeps them mentally stimulated. Good choices for this are sprigs of herbs, edible flowers such as roses or carnations or weeds like dandelions or clover. You can even get special harnesses for rabbits and so can take them out for walks (as long as you don’t mind the curious stares!)

Obesity is a problem for all kinds of pets and owners should always be vigilant that their animals are not carrying extra weight. For rabbits this is especially important as they are very good at hiding any signs of illness and so keeping them in the best of health in the first place is vital. If you are concerned about your rabbit, why not pop them down to your vet? They would be happy to check them over and answer any questions you may have.

If you are concerned about your rabbits health, please contact your vet or use our interactive Rabbit Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.

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