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Ask a vet online- ‘My dog has dandruff . Could it be his diet ?’

Question from Andi Jane William: My dog has dandruff . Could it be his diet . What is best to feed him . He is a 7 year old border collie Answer by Shanika Winters: Hi, thanks for your question regarding your border collie and his dandruff.  I will answer your question by discussing what dandruff is, possible causes and then possible treatment options. What is dandruff? Most people think of flaky white bits of dry skin usually found on the head and shoulders of a person when they hear the word dandruff.  Dandruff is a word used to describe flaky bits of skin, they can be dry or oily, different sizes and come from any area of skin on the body. Mostly we are talking about dry white coloured flakes when we use the word dandruff to describe the appearance of a skin condition.  The flakes can however be yellow in colour if oily or even red/brown if they also have some scabs/dried blood in them. Why does my dog have dandruff? There are various reasons why your dog may be showing the symptom of dandruff including:
  • Diet
  • Excessive shampooing- dries out the skin
  • Parasites-mites such as cheyletiella or after effect of scratching due to e.g. fleas.
  • Skin conditions- such as underactive thyroid and seborrhoea
How do we work out why my dog has dandruff? The best way to get to the root of the problem if your dog has dandruff is to take him to your vet, where he can have a thorough examination, detailed history of how long the condition has been going on for including how it has changed and have appropriate test carried out. Your vet will ask general questions about your dog's health, diet, grooming regime and parasite control.  This will be followed by a physical examination, concentrating on the area of affected skin.  Depending on their finding your vet might then suggest some tests be carried out e.g.
  • Skin scrapes
  • Hair plucks
  • Sticky tape strips
  • Blood tests
  • See response to parasite treatment
  • Skin biopsies
  • Diet trials
Skin scrapes are when a sterile scalpel blade is used to scrape your dog’s skin usually until the point of light bleeding; this sample is then examined under a microscope to look for parasites and signs of infection. Hair plucks are when a clump of hair is pulled out and then examined under the microscope or cultured to see if any bacteria/fungi are grown. Sticky tape strips are literally when a strong clear sticky tape is applied to your dog's skin and it then removed taking with it surface loose hairs and skin which can then be examined under a microscope. Blood tests are performed on a sample of blood taken from either a vein on your dog’s front leg (cephalic vein) or the large vein on your dog’s neck (jugular vein).  The blood is analysed at your vet practice or may be sent to a laboratory.  Your vet will be looking for conditions that can affect the skin hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and Cushing’s disease (over production of steroids). If parasites are suspected as the cause of the dandruff, even if they cannot be seen then a response to a course of antiparasitic treatment can be used to make a diagnosis. Skin biopsies are when a sample of full thickness of your dog's skin is cut out and sent to a laboratory for analysis.  Often several sites may be biopsied and sent off.  Skin biopsies will usually be performed with your pet under some form of anaesthesia to provide pain relief and to keep your pet still. A diet trial is when your dog is fed a specific diet and water to drink but nothing else for a period of time, which could be 8-12 weeks.  This is to ensure that other food substances are out of your dog’s system.  Some animals will show a dramatic improvement in their skin condition as a result of a specific diet; this could be one which has avoided a substance your dog is allergic to or perhaps one with added ingredients to support a healthy skin and coat such as omega oils. How can we treat my dog's dandruff? This will depend on the cause of the dandruff.  A good starting point is to ensure good parasite control for your pet, in contact pets and the home environment followed by a good quality diet which is appropriate to your dog's age, activity level and general body condition.  We will also sometimes recommend dietary supplements to increase the good oils in your dog's diet as these can help the skin to stay healthy and move away from the itchy pathways. Certain fish oils and evening primrose oil contain a good balance of oils, please do not use products you get from health food shops or which are designed for people unless this is under the direction of your vet. Some dogs specifically benefit from a low allergy diet, this is one where an unusual protein and carbohydrate source are used or where the molecules of protein are broken down to a point beyond which they can trigger off allergic reactions.  Low allergy diets need to be stuck to strictly and given for a long period, 8-12 weeks minimum in order to see if there is any improvement before we can say they are not working.  Low allergy diets can be bought or home cooked. If a an infection is found then the correct antibiotic or antifungal medication will be prescribed, this may be in oral form such as tablets or capsules or could be as a shampoo.  Whatever form the treatment is in, it is very important to follow instructions closely to provide the best chances of successfully treating the condition. In cases of seborrhoea your pet will have a sensitive easily irritated skin that can have dry or oily flakes.  This can be underlying due to a dietary issue which will need addressing but it can also be massively improved by use of an appropriate shampoo.  It is important that you use the shampoo as directed, allowing adequate contact time with your dog's skin for the active ingredients to do their job. The shampoo will usually need to be used more frequently at the start of the treatment and this will reduce to less often as the condition starts responding and is being more controlled. Where hormonal imbalances have been detected via blood tests then appropriate medication will be given, in cases of Hypothyroidism supplements of thyroid hormone are given, the levels of which will be monitored in your pet’s blood.  Other conditions such as Cushing’s disease require treatment to stop the overproduction of steroids in the body, these too need carefully monitoring. I hope that my answer has helped you to understand how complex dandruff can be to get to the bottom. With the help of your vet then we hope that your dog's coat soon returns to its former glory and that he is much more comfortable. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet) If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.
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June bugs – stopping parasites from bugging your pets!

Hurrah, it’s June!  Which means the weather is (hopefully) warming up and summer is just around the corner!  However, just as we enjoy the sunny conditions, so do the bugs and beasties that live on our pets.  A little forethought and treatment now, can save a whole lot of trouble (and maybe some vets bills!) in the future. Fleas These irritating little creatures are the ones everyone thinks about as the weather warms but here’s an interesting fact; actually the worst time of year for fleas is the Autumn.  Then the few fleas our pets have picked up over the summer move into our centrally heated houses and have a party.  However, what that means is by protecting our pets over the summer, we not only keep them from getting itchy bites now, we can stop a house infestation later! It can be surprisingly difficult to know if an animal has fleas, especially cats who are good at grooming out all the evidence, but you need to look for small black flecks of flea dirt in the coat, small red raised bites on the skin, excessive scratching and, of course, the insects themselves.  Rather than waiting for them to appear (especially as you will probably miss them anyway), treating against them preemptively is best.  There are various ways of doing this including spot-ons, tablets, sprays, injections and collars.  However, whichever you chose to use, make sure it comes from your vet, who will provide far more effective products (and better advice!) than pet shops. Scabies The more common name for Scabies is ‘Fox Mange’ and certainly most dogs (it is very rare in cats) who contract it are often those who enjoy rolling in fox poo (why DO they do that?!) or poking their heads down fox holes.  The Scabies mite is a burrowing kind; it digs through the skin causing a great deal damage.  The most commonly affected body areas are the head, ears, limbs and groin, where the skin will lose the hair, be very red and inflamed, is often extremely scabby and always very itchy.  It is easily treated, and prevented, using veterinary spot-on medications. Ticks Although these little blighters are most active in the Spring and Autumn, if the weather remains warm but wet (which pretty much describes our summers!), they can survive longer.  When they are attached, ticks look like small, grey beans stuck onto the skin.  They remain in place for a few days and get larger over this time as they gorge themselves on our pet’s blood.  Left untreated they will eventually drop off but while they are biting they can infect animals with some nasty diseases, are unsightly and can leave the skin very sore.  There are spot-ons which kill ticks but usually the best way to remove them is manually.  Tick pullers are cheap and easy to use, your vet can give you a demonstration! Worms Regularly worming your pets all year round is important, especially if you have young children, but it is particularly vital in the warmer months.  This is for several reasons; firstly, many of the worms that infect our pets are passed from prey animals, so hunters (and it is mainly cats but some dogs are very good rabbiters!) are more vulnerable when prey numbers are higher.  Secondly, worm eggs (which are microscopic & are passed in faeces in their millions) can survive in soil for a long time and although most pets get out and about all year round, most inevitably spend more time outside, and more time snuffling though flowerbeds and undergrowth, in the summer. Like fleas it can be very difficult to know if a pet has worms.  Many people know about signs like itchy bottoms & bloated tummies but, in fact, most infestations are symptom free, another reason why regular treatment is vital.  There are spot-ons, tablets and liquids available and, again, your vet is the best source for advice on which kind to pick. I hope I haven’t made your skin crawl too much thinking about all these little blighters!  Just remember, prevention is always better than cure and the best people to ask for advice on what is best for your pets is always your vet! Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at www.catthevet.com If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.
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Caring for your new rabbit – essentials for proper bunny welfare

Did the Easter bunny come this year?  Not the imaginary kind that drops off chocolate, the real kind that lives for 10 years or more and deserves to have a better life than being trapped in a hutch at the bottom of the garden.  If they did, or you are thinking of getting one, here’s my guide on how to care for them.

Diet

The majority of problems that vets see in rabbits are related to an inadequate diet.  So, if you get their food right, you will give your pet the best chance of a healthy life!

The mainstay of a rabbit’s diet should be hay and every day they should eat a pile as big as they are. Rabbits have teeth that are constantly growing and chewing on hay keeps them in good shape.  One of the most common issues for rabbits is sharp, overgrown teeth that can be so painful they stop eating altogether. Hay is also vital for healthy digestion, particularly important in rabbits for whom diarrhoea can be fatal.

Rabbits should also have a handful of fresh food everyday and a small amount (a tablespoon at most) of hard, pelleted food.  Avoid the museli mixes as these allow your pet to pick out their favourites and become short on vital vitamins.  For the majority of their day, your rabbits bowl should be empty (just like a dog or cat!), so they only have their hay to nibble on.

Vaccinations

All rabbits should be vaccinated annually against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD).  These are both fatal and vaccination is the only protection.  The injections can be given from 8 weeks of age.  This visit to the surgery is also an opportunity for your vet to ensure your new pet is healthy and for you to ask any questions.

Neutering

Having your rabbit neutered is very important.  Females should be spayed when they are around 6 months and males can be castrated from 4 months.  Entire rabbits can be grumpy, prone to biting and often urine spray, so not great pets!  Also, 80% of entire female rabbits will develop uterine cancer in later life.

Training and handling

Rabbits are prey animals, so they are naturally nervous.  This can mean they can be flighty and startle easily.   As soon as you get your new rabbit, work with them to gain their confidence.  Sit on the floor with them, offer treats, encouragement and try to get them to come to you.  Don't pick them up until they are used to you and always handle them calmly but firmly.

Also, rabbits should never be kept alone.  For a social animal, solitary confinement is akin to torture.  Neutered pairs of the opposite sex work best and they can be bonded in later life, if they have previously lived alone.

Parasites

The most common parasite in rabbits is a fur mite. It causes flaky, itchy skin and is easily treated with veterinary ´spot-on´ drops. They can also get fleas, just like dogs and cats, and again these are easily treated with veterinary products.  They can also suffer from internal parasites (worms) but they are not common.

Fly Strike

Fly strike is a horrific, and often deadly, problem.  It develops when flies lay their eggs on the dirty fur around a rabbit’s backend.  These develop into maggots which burrow into the rabbit’s flesh, causing huge pain and damage, often within just a few hours.  This is why all rabbits should be handled and checked at least twice daily and there are preventative treatments available from your vets.

Pet Insurance

There are now several companies which provide insurance policies for rabbits and it is something all rabbit owners should consider.

Rabbit are entertaining, inquisitive and rewarding but they do need the similar levels of care and attention as other pets.  They are not the low maintenance, children’s pet  many people think they are.  Hopefully this article has helped you if you do have a bun and if it has inspired you to own one, get in touch your local rescue, they always have rabbits needing loving homes!

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

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

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Ask a vet online – ‘Can you suggest a home remedy for mites in dogs please?’

Question from Sharon Barett: Hi can you suggest a home remedy for mites in dogs please? I used the spot on treatment off the vet for 3 months but it did not make any difference she still scratches it a King Charles Spaniel 5 months old thank you .x Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, online vet Hi Sharon and thank you for your question regarding your itchy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  In order to answer your question I will discuss the possible causes of the itch, how we work out a diagnosis and then some treatment options. [caption id="attachment_3863" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Dog Scratching Flea Getting the itch![/caption] Why is my pet scratching/itchy? If your pet is scratching itself then something will be causing an irritation, most commonly this is due to the presence of external parasites such as fleas (Ctenocephalides canis or felis) or mites (e.g. cheyletiella, sarcoptes scabeii). Itchiness can also be due to the presence of an allergy to things you pets eats (food allergy), contacts (contact allergy) or inhales (atopic allergy). How to diagnose the itch It is really important to work with your vet to find out the cause of your pet’s itch. The first thing your vet will do is ask for a detailed history of your pets condition including how long it has been going on, any changes to your pets routine, any changes to your household, what treatments have already been tried and if they have had any effect. The next step is for your vet to perform a full physical examination of your pet paying extra attention to the skin and coat, underlying diseases can have symptoms that affect the skin which include Hypothyroidism( under active thyroid gland), Cushing’s disease ( over production of steroid) and diseases of the immune system. Finally your vet may suggest performing some diagnostic test on your pet such as skin scrapes, hair plucks, sticky tape strips, skin biopsies, wet paper test, swabs and blood tests. Skin scrapes: these involve use of a sterile scalpel blade to scrape the surface of your pet’s skin to collect surface cells and debris, which is then examined under a microscope usually for parasites and or fungi.  For certain parasites such as Demodex mite (not usually itchy) a deep scrape has to be taken. Sticky tape strips: a strong sticky tape is applied to your pet’s skin and then removed, again this is examined under a microscope looking at the surface cells and debris similar to above but it is a less invasive procedure. Hair plucks: as the name suggests a clump of hair is plucked from your pet and examined as for skin scrapes and sticky tape strips, sometimes this can help to show up Demodex mites (which live down the hair shaft in the hair follicle) or ring worm (actually a fungal skin disease). Hair plucks can be cultured to try and grow bacteria and fungi; this is usually done at a laboratory. Skin biopsies: this is usually performed under general anaesthesia or sedation as a full thickness sample of the skin is cut out, put into preservative and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Often several samples are taken from different sites.  This gives a lot of information about how the skin is reacting and what types of cells and changes are present. Wet paper test: your vet will comb through your pet’s coat and collect the debris and put it onto a sheet of wet white paper, if small red dots appear this is suggestive of fleas, as the flea dirt contains digested blood and this turns red when wet. Swabs: there are sterile cotton bud tipped sticks which are wiped in any discharges present on the skin (often in the ears), the material on the swab can then be stained and examined under a microscope or sent off for culture and sensitivity to grow bacteria and see which antibiotics are affective against them. Blood test: these can be routine to check overall body function or very specific looking into what your pet is allergic to.  The test chosen will be a decision made with you and your vet depending on your pet’s condition. What treatment will help my pet? As external parasites are the most common cause of an itchy pet this is often the first treatment approach whether parasites have been detected or not.  It is important to use a product recommended by your vet that is safe for your pet and covers the suspected range of parasites.  It is also important to use the treatment correctly and repeat as advised. It can take several weeks to clear up some parasites.  Your vet may also advise you to treat other pets in your household and the home environment itself. Especially in the case of fleas as the majority of the flea population is living in the environment ant not only on your pet. Parasite treatments come in tablet, injection, spot on and spray preparations. Your vet will help to direct you to the method which is most appropriate for you and your pet. Food allergies are usually treated by feeding a low allergy or special diet (in which protein molecules are broken down so as not to cause reaction).  In some cases your vet may recommend a home cooked diet.  The diet needs to be stuck to strictly and can take 3 months or more to begin to allow improvement in your pet’s skin signs. Contact allergies usually are present on the paws and tummy, which are areas in contact with the ground.  Once the substance your pet is reacting to has been worked out it is then needs to be avoided or stop being used. Atopic allergies are usually diagnosed by a combination of examination, skin and blood tests.  There are several treatment options which include medical therapy using drugs or special vaccines.  The drugs often used to treat atopy include antihistamine (reduce allergic reactions), steroid (anti-inflammatory and suppress the immune system from reacting), immunosuppressant (which suppress the immune system form reacting) and antibiotics may be used to treat any infection present on top of the allergy. Special vaccines can be made up in some cases to try and help desensitise your pet to the individual things that he or she reacts to; these are administered in gradually increasing doses over many months by injection. I hope that I have managed to answer your question by explaining how complex an itchy dog’s condition can be.  I really recommend that you return to your vet and come up with a joint plan of attack to help your pet.  I hope that your dog is feeling much more comfortable very soon.  Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online Vet) If you are worried about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet or use our interactive symptom guide.
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Ticks…little suckers! – how to identify and rid pets of these parasites

Ticks are small parasites from the spider family.  They attach themselves to our pets and feed off their blood.  They can spend several days in this position, gradually becoming larger as they engorge.  They can also transmit diseases, some of which can be severe, but these are thankfully not very common in the UK. What are ticks? Ticks are from the spider family and feed by sucking blood from our pets.  They spend the majority of their lives in the environment and only attach to pets once or twice a year, so they can continue their lifecycle, which can take two to three years to complete.   They tend to be found in moorland type areas and are most prevalent in the Spring and Autumn.  The most common kinds of ticks found on pets in the UK are either Hedgehog or Sheep ticks. How to tell if your pet has ticks Ticks often get mistaken for warty growths or nipples (and vice versa!).  They look like small, grey beans attached to your pet's skin and will grow gradually larger over a period of a few days.  They are most commonly found on the head, ears and legs as they prefer sparsely haired areas. Generally ticks don't cause the animal any discomfort or irritation and are often found by accident when you are grooming your pet.  However, sometimes after they have dropped off they can leave a small sore patch where they have bitten. How to treat your pet for ticks If you find a tick on your pet, the most important thing to do is to never just pull them out.  Simply pulling on the tick is likely to leave the head still buried in the skin, which can cause a nasty reaction. If you do decide to remove it directly, the best thing to use is a tick puller, a small L-shaped tool designed to slip between the tick and the skin and 'twist' them out.  The twisting action keeps the head attached.  The tick pullers will be available from your vet and it is always a good idea to get a demonstration on how to use them first. Frontline spot-on, which is available from both your vet and over-the-counter, has an action against ticks and as long as your pet has been treated in the past month it will still be active.  However, although the tick will die within a few hours of attaching, it can still take a few days for it to fall off your pet.  It is comes as a spray but this is only available from vets.  There are other spot-ons active against ticks, ask your vet for advice on the best one to use.  There is also collars available which are impregnated with chemicals which stop ticks biting and are active for 6 months.  Again, these are only available from your vet. Tick borne diseases These are rare in the UK but with more and more pets traveling abroad with their owners, vets are seeing more  of the exotic tick borne diseases.
  • Lymes Disease – this is the only tick borne disease that is seen in the UK.  It is a bacterial infection and is usually passed by the sheep tick.  The symptoms are variable but can include; lameness, high temperatures, lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes and a distinctive 'bulls eye' pattern around the site of the tick bite.  It is treated with antibiotics and infected dogs generally do very well.
  • Ehrlichiosis – this is usually only seen in dogs who have traveled to Europe or the USA.  The symptoms include a high temperature, lack of appetite, weight loss and bleeding.  It is diagnosed by blood tests and although most dogs respond well to treatment, some will need hospitalisation.
  • Babesiosis – again this does not occur in the UK but is occasionally diagnosed in dogs who have traveled outside the country. Symptoms include lethargy, weakness, high temperatures and even collapse.  It can be challenging to treat.
These diseases are amongst the reasons why it is so important to protect your pet against parasites if they travel abroad.  The official regulations only require you to treat your pet just before you return to the UK but it is sensible to talk to your vet about protection for your pet during the whole length of your stay.  Tick borne diseases are very rare in cats.
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