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BBC’s Today Programme asks a profound question: how much is a dog’s life worth?

Dogs and vets' fees took centre stage in the UK media yesterday when they featured on the BBC's Today programme, the most popular show on Radio 4, with over 7 million listeners every week. One of the presenters, Evan Davis, brought his whippet, Mr Whippy, into the studio, and a discussion on vets' fees followed. Mr Davis recounted how he'd spent £4000 on fixing Mr
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Thinking of getting a puppy?

Bichon Frise puppyThis week I have seen two different families who each bought a puppy with very little thought or planning and then ran into problems that caused the animals to be rehomed (with one narrowly avoiding being euthanised), as neither could cope with or afford the issues they faced. What is particularly sad is that with a little forethought and planning, all of this could have been avoided. Before you decide to buy a dog (and tell the kids!) you must make sure you can afford them. As well as the day-to-day costs of feeding, you also have to consider vaccines, worming and flea treatment, neutering and training classes, not to mention vets fees if things go wrong. Owning a dog can cost many thousands of pounds over their lifetime, even if they don’t have any particular health problems. Pet insurance is vital but it won’t cover routine medications or surgeries. A lack of funds was what caused the problems for both the families I saw recently. milly puppySecondly, do your research into your chosen breed and make absolutely sure they are going to be suitable for you and your lifestyle. All dogs need a reasonable amount of exercise, aim for at least an hour a day, but some require much more than others. For example, Border Collies and Springer Spaniels are popular breeds but are not always suited to family life because they need large amounts of stimulation, both physically and mentally, and can become easily bored, and potentially aggressive, without enough. Dogs which make great family pets include Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and, contrary to popular opinion, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, as they tend to be very good with people, tolerant of small children and don’t require the high levels of exercise and interaction that some breeds do. You must also ensure that your new pet comes from a reputable breeder who has mated their dogs responsibly, ensured all the pre-breeding testing has been done, has brought their puppies up properly and are registered with the Kennel Club. The KC has come in for a lot of criticism recently but breeders who are registered with them are far more likely to be responsible that someone who has just bred their dogs for fun or, more likely, for the money. You must visit the pup at the breeders home, see where it has been living (which should be in the house and not in a shed outside), see it with the litter and the bitch (this is absolutely vital, if the breeder cannot or will not show you them altogether, it is likely they are hiding something) and good breeders will always be contactable after you have bought your dog to help with any questions or concerns you may have. If you have any worries about the breeder or feel in any way you are ‘rescuing’ a pup from them, you must walk away and, if you are really concerned, contact the RSPCA. Charlie puppyFinally, why not consider a rescue dog? Many rescue centres have pups that need homes and will have wormed, flea’d and vaccinated them, as well as being able to give you support for neutering costs if you need it. However, although puppies are adorable, they are a lot of work and they will also have lots of adult dogs desperate for their forever home! Deciding to buy a new pup is an exciting time but I have seen too many people rush into it, make the wrong decision and suffer heartbreaking (and expensive) consequences. By making the effort to buy as healthy (both mentally and physically) and well bred a puppy as possible, although you cannot guarantee you won’t have problems, you are giving yourself the best chance of gaining a family member who will be with you, in good health, for years to come! Please discuss any concerns about the health of your dog or puppy with your vet, they will be happy to help. You could also check on any specific problems with our Interactice Dog Symptom Guide to see how urgent they may be. If you enjoy reading our vet blogs, why not "like" our Facebook page via this link or the icon at the top of the page? You'll find out when new ones are published and can join in the pet releted fun! Or click like below to let your friends know about us.
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“No! Not on the carpet!” – Vomiting in Cats

I knew it was going to be a rough day when I walked in and saw that three of my ten morning appointments were vomiting cats.  Second only to the chronically itchy dog, vomiting cats can be one of the most frustrating things we have to deal with as vets because there are so many possible reasons why it can happen.  Anything from what the cat had for dinner last night to metabolic diseases that may have been brewing for years could be the cause, and distinguishing between them can take a lot of time, money and effort.  And that’s just for the vet – as the owner of a cat that vomits frequently myself, I understand how unpleasant it is to walk downstairs in the middle of the night and step in a pile of cat sick.  Be it on the new white carpeting or the beat up old sofa, it’s not pretty.  It may be a harmless hairball, but it can also be a sign of serious illness in your cat so it’s definitely worth getting it checked out by your vet.  If you are unlucky enough to have a vomiting cat, here are some things you may want to consider. Why do cats vomit so much? Amber prowl cropVomiting in cats is extremely common, but that doesn’t mean that it’s normal.  Some cats are simply prone to hairballs, especially long-haired cats or those that groom excessively.  Others are particularly sensitive to the kinds of food they eat and may not be able to tolerate a particular protein such as beef or additive such as wheat gluten.  Intestinal worms can cause vomiting sometimes, and you may even see them wriggling around after they come up!  Poisonings are rare (cats have a much more discerning palate than dogs) but do occur.  Sometimes playful kittens will swallow things such as pieces of string which can be very dangerous indeed.  Metabolic disorders such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes and liver problems can all cause vomiting too as can tumours of the intestinal tract such as lymphoma.  Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas, an organ which secretes digestive enzymes) or inflammatory bowel disease are other common causes which can present themselves in a wide array of confusing ways.  And of course there is one of my favourite terms, “dietary indiscretion”, which can describe the ingestion of anything from rancid rat remnants to last week’s chicken chow mein from the bin.  With such a huge range of possibilities, it’s easy to see how difficult it can be to find the underlying cause. What should I do if my cat vomits? Amber-drinkAs with any medical condition, the best thing to do is contact your vet.  They may tell you to simply starve your cat for a few hours (cats should never be starved for long periods of time though, and should always be brought to the vet if they go more than 24 hours without eating, as this can lead to other serious problems) and reintroduce a bland diet such as plain boiled chicken, as this may fix many acute cases of vomiting.  As always, fresh water should be available at all times.  Or, if your cat is displaying other symptoms such as lethargy, inappetence or diarrhoea they may recommend you bring him straight down to the clinic.  The vet will do a physical exam and take a detailed history, so try to remember as many details as you can about your cat’s behaviour in the past few days.  They may take a blood test or check the urine to rule out metabolic diseases.  Depending on the symptoms they may also choose to take some x-rays of the abdomen to look for anything that the cat may have swallowed, or perhaps perform an ultrasound scan to check for any tumours or other problems with the internal organs.  Because there are so many possible causes for vomiting, sometimes many different tests will be needed so it can become quite expensive at times.  Yet another case where pet insurance is a real plus! How is vomiting treated? As previously mentioned, if your cat is otherwise well, you may be asked to feed him something bland such as chicken or white fish with no flavourings or fats added.  Although dogs often appreciate rice or pasta mixed with their meat, cats usually do better without the addition of a carbohydrate.  Or, if you’re not up for cooking, there are a number of prescription pet foods available that can help as well.  If hairballs seem to be the problem, there are special pastes and foods that will help them pass through the body instead of being vomited up.  A worming tablet or liquid may be prescribed if there is evidence of worms.  An anti-emetic (medication that stops vomiting) can be given to help calm things for a bit, and sometimes other medications such as antibiotics or steroids are used as well.  If a foreign body is found (in other words, your cat ate something that got stuck), surgery will be performed to remove it.  Surgery can also be used to remove some types of tumours, or to take biopsy samples of different parts of the intestinal tract to help diagnose the problem. Some cases of vomiting will resolve on their own, while others can require weeks of intensive diagnostics and treatments.  If left untreated, excessive vomiting can make the cat very ill and you also risk missing any underlying medical problems so make sure you talk to your veterinary surgeon right away if you are at all concerned.  But please be patient with your vet if they can’t fix the problem right away – and remember that we can be just as frustrated by it as you! If you are worried about your cat vomiting, talk to your vet or use our interactice Cat Symptom Guide to check how urgent the problem may be.
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Cute little face vs. Wisdom and grace – why you may want to consider adopting an older cat

[caption id="attachment_510" align="alignleft" width="211" caption="Kittens are undoubtably cute, but can be harder work than you think."]Kittens are undoubtably cute, but can be harder work than you think.[/caption] I walked into the house after a particularly long day at work and was greeted by the shredded roll of toilet paper that lay strewn across my living room floor like some sort of white paper carpet laid out to welcome me.  I followed the bits through the house and into the bathroom, where my kitten was proudly finishing off the cardboard roll.  Right then and there I swore I would never get a kitten again.  But then she looked up from her kill and gave me the most loveable little meow with a face that just oozed how happy she was to see me.  I was almost fooled but quickly regained my senses as I remembered that that was my last roll of toilet paper.  Never again. Then again, who can resist that tiny little fluffy wuffy kitten face when it looks up at you and mews, “I’m so cute, love me now!”? (which is approximately 3.7 seconds before it attaches itself to your trouser leg and claws its way up onto your shoulder and into your life for the next 20 years.)  However, I have recently had the privilege of adopting an older cat and must say I may have been converted.  [caption id="attachment_513" align="alignright" width="175" caption="11 year old Maddy"]11 year old Maddy[/caption] Maddy is an 11 year old tabby who walked gracefully into my home 4 months ago after her owner, one of my clients, found out that her baby was severely allergic to cats.  Maddy’s transition into my family has not been perfect as these things never are, but it has been significantly easier and less stressful than my most recent kitten acquisition.  And it is because of her that I thought I might mention some of the benefits of bringing an older cat into your life. Why adopt an older cat?
  • For starters, everybody else wants a kitten.  Kittens are much more likely to be adopted from shelters, leaving behind the equally lovely and cuddly but not quite so cute older cats.  The older the cat, the harder it is for them to find a new home.  They remember how nice their life used to be and may find life in a cage difficult, making them all the more grateful to the kind person who does eventually take them home.
  • Kittens are adorable, but crazy!  If you have nice things in your house that you would prefer to keep in one piece, a kitten running up and down your shelves may not be for you.  If you adopt an older cat, they have probably already matured beyond the curtain climbing years and you are much more likely to be able to sleep though the night without disruption. If you are looking for someone to share peaceful, quiet evenings at home, an older cat could be perfect for you.
  • Adult cats have already developed their personality, so you have a better idea of how they might fit into your family.  If you absolutely must have a lap cat, this is probably your best bet.
  • Contrary to what you may have heard, older cats are not usually given up to shelters because of undesirable characteristics like behavioural problems.  More often, it is due to real or perceived allergies to the cat, death of the owner, divorce, new babies, or moving house.  There are of course exceptions, but most older cats come from happy homes that just aren’t able to keep them anymore so the chance of taking on somebody else’s problem cat is not as high as you may think.
  • Adult cats have probably already been spayed or castrated and may be up to date on their vaccinations, sparing you the cost and stress associated with these procedures.
  • Kittens require constant supervision and attention, whereas older cats are much more self-sufficient.  They are usually already litter trained and used to going outdoors.  They know how to amuse themselves but can also be loads of fun and just as willing to play with you too.
  • Finally, an older cat may be the perfect option for an elderly owner.  Having a sensible, loving adult feline companion can help prevent loneliness and has even been shown to decrease stress levels.  Trying to keep a kitten from bouncing off the walls and ceilings may have quite the opposite effect!
Choose the right cat for you Adopting an older cat can be a very rewarding experience, but it is not always the right decision either.  There is always a chance that an adult cat may not adjust well if you already have a cat, dog or young children in the house depending on their previous experiences with these other creatures.  If they have already reached their senior years, they may have or soon develop medical problems.  Depending on their age, they may also be more expensive to insure for future medical expenses. But remember, an ‘older cat’ can mean anything that has outgrown that irresistible kitten phase, from 18 months to 18 years, boys and girls, tabbies to gingers, fluffy to sleek, lap cats to avid hunters.  The most important thing is that you choose the right cat for you and your own family, house and lifestyle, and that you consider all of your options before rushing into a life-changing decision.  You may still decide that you can’t live without that adorable little ball of fluff, which is certainly understandable, but I’d recommend you first take a look at the older cat next door who may not be able to live without you. And if you do decide to go for the kitten, make sure you keep an adequate supply of toilet paper! If you are concerned about your cat or kittens health, please contact your vet or use our interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.
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Holiday Time for Pets.

At this time of year many people are planning their summer holidays, and so need to make arrangements for their pets too. Some people use their family, friends or pet-sitters to care for their pets in their own home; others prefer to use a boarding service, either in a home setting or a kennels or cattery. The choice is a personal one and depends on the services available in the area. As pets are members of the family, it is important to make arrangements that you are happy with. Whichever type of service you decide to use, there are several ways in which you can help to make it a happy experience for your dog or cat: 1. Start when your pet is young. Puppies and kittens take new experiences in their stride. If it is too late to do this, or if your pet seems particularly shy, start with short stays and build up before a 2 or 3 week holiday. Most well-socialised pets will enjoy their holidays, allowing their owners to relax and enjoy theirs too. 2. Ask friends and neighbours to recommend a good place and then go and look round for yourself because not everyone likes the same things. Check for cleanliness and the general well-being of the pets. Respect the opening hours but beware of an establishment which does not allow inspection. If care is to be provided in your own home, interview the carer in advance, let them meet your pet(s) and check their experience and references. 3. Check that your chosen service offers everything you require. This could include grooming, collection and delivery, veterinary insurance, special diets etc. Check that your service carries proper insurance against unforeseen things like accident, escape, injury to third parties etc. If care is to be provided in your own home, check the position of your home insurance and be clear about whether the pet-sitter’s responsibilities include any elements of house-sitting, or if they are purely responsible for the pet(s). 4. Arrange necessary vaccinations in plenty of time and book early: good places will be fully booked at popular holiday times. If you go away frequently, make sure that the same service will be available all the year round so that your pet has a familiar routine on each occasion. 5. Discuss special needs or dietary requirements and medications at the time of booking. If your pet has a medical condition such as diabetes or epilepsy, it is particularly important that your chosen carer has the experience to deal with it. Make sure any tablets needed are clearly labelled, preferably in their original containers. 6. Ask if some of your pet’s familiar belongings can accompany them if they are not remaining in their own home. Bedding and bowls may not be accepted for hygiene reasons so ask what would be best to take.
It’s best to keep suitcases out of sight until cats and dogs have gone on holiday
It’s best to keep suitcases out of sight until cats and dogs have gone on holiday
7. If transporting your dog or cat, they may travel better on an empty stomach. Keep your cat in overnight the night before so that it cannot go missing, and provide a litter tray.
8. To avoid stress, try to pack AFTER the pets have gone if they are going away from home. 9. Try to take a relaxed attitude yourself, as your pet will quickly pick up on your mood. If you find it stressful to take your pet to a sitter or a kennel or a cattery, you will make them anxious and it will take longer for them to settle. Perhaps another member of the family could deliver them for you. If your dog trots off happily with his/her carer without a backward glance and your cat settles in without any problems you will know that all your planning and preparation has been worthwhile. They will still be delighted to see you when you get home. Enjoy your holiday!
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