Browsing tag: pet insurance

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 Whippy’s broken leg (including a course of hydrotherapy) while fellow presenter Justin Webb admitted that it had cost £5000 to save the life of his dog Toffee after he’d swallowed a sock.
In both cases, the costs had been covered by insurance (as it is for around half of British pet owners), but the incidents provoked a debate about the size of vets’ bills, and the ethical dilemma about how much should be spent on treating pets.
As Davis put it: “When we got the dog, I thought… he’s like a watch – if the repair is going to cost more than the new one – he cost £500 … then you basically throw the dog away and replace it with a new one. But of course, once you’ve got the dog, you don’t think that way”. The presenters then discussed how much they’d be prepared to spend of their own money if their pets weren’t insured, and Davis summed his view up neatly: “If you compare the dog’s leg to the life of a small child in a poor country, obviously the child prevails. But if you compare the dog’s leg to a holiday, I would pay for the dog’s leg any day.”
I suspect that most pet owners would share this view. Dogs become part of the family, worthy of significant sacrifices in our personal lives.
Davis then came up with an interesting idea: just as the National Health Service has the National Institute for Care Excellence (NICE) providing national guidance and advice to improve health care, why isn’t there a pet equivalent – perhaps a Veterinary Institute for Clinical Excellence (VICE). The presenters pointed out that there is a financial temptation for vets towards to do unethical treatments at huge costs, extending the life by not very much, possibly causing suffering. So should there be some way of countering this temptation? Should there be some guidance body to make judgements on how far it is right to go?
The problem, of course, is that every case is individual. And the wisdom of proceeding with a case can only be judged properly with the benefit of hindsight, when it’s all over.
My parent’s cat was seventeen when she developed serious weight loss and vomiting. The question they faced was clear: should they treat her or should they simply accept that she was an elderly cat, in need of euthanasia? In the end, they chose to have her referred to a feline specialist: she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, underwent a £1500 operation to have her thyroid gland removed, and she lived until she was twenty three years of age. Another elderly cat might have only lived only for a few months despite treatment.
So if we had an advisory body on such matters, who’s to say that they would have made the right call in each of the above cases?
There’s no need for another layer of expensive bureaucracy. Owners just need to engage with their vets, asking simple questions.“What are the options for my pet? What will they cost? What is the likely outcome?”
And vets need to give honest answers. “These are the possible courses of action, which will cost this much. And this is what’s likely to happen!”
That’s as much as vets can do. The decision, then, on whether or not to proceed is over to the owner. And sometimes they’ll choose one way, sometimes another. Sometimes they’ll make the right call, sometimes they won’t. We will only ever know with hindsight.
It will always be like this. No Institute of Excellence, however well intentioned, would ever make it easier or more likely to find a better answer.

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.

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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.

Cute little face vs. Wisdom and grace – why you may want to consider adopting an older cat

Kittens are undoubtably cute, but can be harder work than you think.

Kittens are undoubtably cute, but can be harder work than you think.

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. 

11 year old Maddy

11 year old Maddy

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.

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!

An unusual tumour below the eye

Skitzo with the tumor on the edge of his bottom eyelid

Skitzo under anaesthetic, showing the tumor on the edge of his bottom eyelid

Vets are very used to dogs, cats and small furries developing growths on various parts of their anatomy. We very often take a small sample of the growth by means of a needle (known as a fine needle aspirate or FNA) before deciding what action to take. In most cases the growth is removed surgically.

Skitzo was a 9 year old cat with something of an attitude to being handled by vets (and sometimes his owner). A fast growing lump had come up beneath his right eye and was very close to the edge of the eyelid. A fine needle aspirate was impossible in this case without him being anaesthetised so we decided to remove the lump and send it off to the lab for the pathologists to tell us what tissue type we were dealing with.

The most important thing they can tell us is whether the tumour is benign or malignant. Sometimes growths can seem to be benign but still cause problems by recurring in the same place they were removed. The worst type of tumour is one which is malignant and which has the potential to spread (metastasise) to the lungs or other organs via the blood stream.

Skitzo’s tumour was a surgical challenge because it was so near to the margin of the eyelid. If too much tissue is removed, the lower lid will turn outwards (called ectropian) leaving a gaping pocket and encouraging infection, inflammation and an overspilling of tears. On the other hand, cutting too close to the growth risks tumour cells being left behind and the growth returning very quickly.

Skitzo after the operation, still under anaesthetic

Skitzo after the operation, still under anaesthetic

Dissolving stitches were used because Skitzo was never going to let us take them out when he was awake. We fitted him up with an Elizabethan collar so that he could not scratch or rub the stitches out. The plastic collars look unwieldy and owners are often tempted to take them off as soon as they get home but most animals adapt to them very well and it’s only a relatively short time before the stitches are removed and life returns to normal. Nylon stitches are usually removed in 8 to 10 days after the operation but this can be extended if the skin is especially thick, under tension or if the animal is receiving steroid treatment.

Skitzo’s tissue sample came back as a benign growth and there is every prospect that the surgery has been a complete success. Fortunately Skitzo’s pet insurance company paid the bill for the surgery and the laboratory tests which were needed.

If you are concerned about lumps or any other problems with your cat, please contact your vet or use our interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.

Diary of a Puppy’s First Year

The litter of puppies at 5 weeks old

The litter of puppies at 5 weeks old

Choosing our pup

We had decided the time was right to get a second boxer for all sorts of reasons. Most importantly, it was right for our older boxer to get a new companion while she was still young enough to enjoy her instead of finding her a chore.

We chose a breeder who owned both parents of the litter and went to see them all when the pups were 5 weeks old. We met both parents and found them to be lovely dogs. We wanted a bitch puppy and were lucky enough to have 4 to choose from. Luckily we both liked the same pup best, so we paid our deposit and went home to prepare for her arrival.

Tilly came to our house at 8 weeks old.

Tilly came to our house at 8 weeks old.

Tilly comes home

We had decided as a family on the name Tilly, although her full pedigree name is Milkyways Mad Discovery! The middle name is particularly apt. Like most pedigree puppies who are Kennel Club registered, she came with 6 weeks pet insurance cover and we made sure to take out our own policy before this expired. Although I’m a vet myself, I want to be sure that even if she needs specialist treatment one day, she will be able to have it.

House training

We chose to use a crate for Tilly, which worked really well. The idea is that because the puppy will not soil its bed area, as long as she is taken outside every time she wakes and after each feed, she will quickly learn to toilet outside. It’s vital that the puppy does not think of going into the crate as a punishment; it must be a comfortable den which becomes the pup’s own space.


I implanted a microchip as soon as Tilly arrived, to make sure she was permanently identified. Although she was not going to be out of our sight, we weren’t taking any chances! It was painless and she was as good as gold.


We chose a good quality proprietary puppy food and Tilly was a good eater from the start. Having another dog can encourage a healthy appetite!

Vaccinations & Worming

Tilly had her first and second puppy vaccinations at 10 weeks and at 12 weeks old. She had a full examination first and was completely healthy. She also continued her worming course, which is very important as most pups are born with worms even if the dam was wormed properly.

Tilly looks up to Martha and has learned a lot from her. Martha scolds her when she gets too big for her boots.

Tilly looks up to Martha and has learned a lot from her. Martha scolds her when she gets too big for her boots.

Training Classes

A week after vaccinations were finished, Tilly could start exploring the outside world and get used to walking on a lead. She didn’t like it at first, but soon grew in confidence when she saw that Martha liked it. We enrolled her in a puppy training class because we think that all puppies benefit not just from training but from the socialisation that goes with it. The first few months are a very formative time in a puppy’s life and an ideal time to learn from new experiences. With this in mind she was taken for walks in the country, in town and on the beach. We took her on a train ride and visited a dog-friendly café. It was also important to us that she should get used to young children.


We also wanted Tilly to be used to going into kennels from a young age. This was easy for us as we run our own kennels and we have made a point of boarding both dogs regularly. Luckily, she loves it. Sometimes when the kennel staff go back to work after tea breaks she tries to tag along with them!


Tilly has not been neutered because we have not yet decided whether to breed from her. We will only do so if she has a suitable temperament and is free of hereditary conditions common in boxers, so she will be seeing a cardiologist before deciding. If anything is amiss we will not breed from her and will have her spayed.

I would always recommend spaying a bitch which is not going to be used for breeding. Although spaying is a major operation, great care is taken to make sure that the risks involved are very small. The benefits are much greater than the risks. Spaying will prevent several serious conditions such as pyometra (infected womb), ovarian cancer and uterine cancer. It will also minimise the risk of mammary cancer and, importantly, will prevent unwanted pregnancies.

First Birthday

At one year old, Tilly has almost reached full adult size, but still behaves very much like a puppy. One minute we are very proud of her mature behaviour; the next she is chasing her tail like a whirling dervish, or doing a double take at her own reflection in the oven door. When the oven is opened, I think she half expects the dog that lives inside to pop out!

We are looking forward to many more years of fun with Tilly.

Tilly can’t understand how the cats manage to use this door

Tilly can’t understand how the cats manage to use this door

She has just a few favourite toys at any one time, but they have to be close to indestructible

She has just a few favourite toys at any one time, but they have to be close to indestructible

If you have any concerns about your puppy’s health, please contact your vet or use the interactive dog symptom guide to help you decide what to do next.

Cat Eye Operation

Joe Inglis BVSc MRCVS is the vet for the One Show, This Morning and BBC Breakfast. He runs his own line of natural pet food called Pet’s Kitchen

I often find myself sympathising with my patients, and feeling for their distress and pain when they are suffering from illnesses or injuries – and never more so than when their problem involves their eyes. There’s something about injuries and diseases of eyes that really affects me more than almost any other type of problem and I can really empathise with how my patient must be feeling. Having an ulcer or other injury to an eye must be horribly painful, not to mention the psychological impact of dealing with the loss of some or all of your sense of sight.

When Sylvester the cat came into the consulting room last week and clambered miserably out of his wicker basket, my heart sank and I felt an immediate sense of shock and distress when I saw his problem. His left eye was barely recognisable, with a large grey ulcer dominating the cornea and angry red blood vessels invading the usually clear surface of the eye from the sides. This was not Sylvester’s first visit to the surgery for this problem, but it was the first time that I’d seen him, and I immediately knew that we needed to do something drastic if we were going to save his eye – and bring his obvious suffering to an end. Looking at his records it was clear that this ulcer had been grumbling on for a couple of weeks by this stage, and despite ongoing treatment with medicated drops it was getting worse rather than better.

At this stage we had a couple of options to consider. One was to refer Sylvester to an eye specialist, but this was quickly ruled out by his owner on the ground of cost and lack of pet insurance cover. The second option would be to continue with medical therapy, taking a swab to find out exactly which bacteria were causing the ongoing damage and preventing the ulcer from healing and potentially changing the eye drops once these results were known. The downside of this course of action was that it would do little to alleviate Sylvester’s discomfort in the short term, but after talking to his owner and explaining that the only other option would be surgery to remove the eye, we agreed that we would try this first.

So I took a swab from Sylvester’s eye and sent it away to the laboratory to see what they could tell us about the infection. While we waited for the results we did what we could to manage Sylvester’s discomfort with painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and then as soon as the results were in we started him on an aggressive course of antibiotics that were targeted specifically at the bacteria the swab had isolated. At this stage I was still optimistic that we could save Sylvester’s eye, but unfortunately things didn’t work out as planned and despite our new treatment regime, the ulcer stubbornly refused to respond and after a week of treatment it became clear to me that we were left with only one option – to remove Sylvester’s eye.

Breaking this news to his owner was not easy, but she did appreciate that it wasn’t fair to let him continue to suffer as he was doing given the now very slim chance that we would be able to save his eye. After a couple of long – and emotional – consultations, we agreed to go ahead and last Friday Sylvester came into the surgery for his operation.

Sylvester the cat after the operation to remove his eye

Sylvester the cat under anaesthetic after the operation to remove his eye

Removing an eye is an operation I really don’t enjoy, as I can’t help but really feel for the poor animal that is losing such a crucial part of their anatomy, and the operation itself is also technically tricky and pretty gruesome. Sylvester’s operation went as well as I could expect, but it was not one that I finished with a sense of satisfaction – I felt good that we had brought Sylvester’s suffering to an end, but I also felt as though we’d failed him by having to resort to such a procedure.

If you have any concerns about your cat’s eye please contact your vet or use the interactive cat symptom guide to help you decide what to do next.

Cat Pelvis Operation – Vet Orthopaedics


Joe the TV vet performs difficult pelvis surgery on a cat.

Cats lead dangerous lives, dodging traffic, fighting over territory and being chased by dogs, so it is not surprising that we vets spend a reasonable proportion of our working lives patching up the results of their adventures. Whether it’s repairing serious damage caused by road traffic accidents, or patching up less severe injuries from bite wounds, cats that have been in the wars certainly keep us vets busy everyday of the week.

Most of the time these injuries are not too severe – cat bites, and bruises and strains from over-energetic leaping and climbing usually heal well and require nothing much more than antibiotics and painkillers to help the cat recover. Sometimes, however, cats are less fortunate and that is when things get much more serious and the outcomes can be less positive. Road traffic accidents are by far and away the main cause of these more serious injuries, and repairing the damage that a tonne of car can do to 5 kilos of fragile cat can be a very involved and difficult process.

Thankfully there are now many highly specialised vets who can offer amazingly hi-tech operations and treatments that can quite literally put broken cats back together. A friend of mine from university, Toby Gemmill, is now an eminent orthopaedic surgeon in Birmingham and I truly believe that provided the pet’s head and chest are in one piece, there’s not much he couldn’t put back together successfully. Using all manner of techniques, including external fixators (metal frames that hold shattered legs back together from the outside rather than the inside), bone grafts and much more, vets like Toby can work wonders on even the most severely injured animals.

There is a problem though, and that’s the age-old issue of money. The state-of-the-art treatments that Toby and other orthopaedic vets carry out are understandably expensive with costs often reaching many thousands of pounds. This puts them out of the reach of many pet owners, unless of course they have pet insurance, leaving them faced with some very difficult decisions – should they try to beg, borrow or steal the money required for a potentially life-saving operation? Or should they simply call it a day and opt to have their pet put to sleep? These are terrible decisions to have to make, and it is one of the reasons why vets like myself, who are general practitioners rather than specialists, end up tackling complex operations that are well outside our comfort zone.

Take Portia the cat underneath the drapes in this picture for example. She was hit by a car and suffered severe injuries to her pelvis and back legs, and required a major orthopaedic operation if she was going to have any chance of surviving. However, her owner had no pet insurance and could not afford to consider visiting a specialist – but she was desperate to try and save her beloved cat, so I offered to try my best and have a go myself.

The operation Portia required was something I have attempted before, but it really is not something I’m that comfortable with, so it was a very long and stressful operation. The end result was pretty good – definitely not as good as if Toby had done the procedure, but a whole lot better than nothing and I think there’s every chance that she will pull through as a result. In fact it’s me that I’m more worried about – I need a stiff drink and a lie down to recover from the stress!

Joe Inglis BVSc MRCVS is the vet for the One Show, This Morning and BBC Breakfast. He runs his own line of natural pet food called Pet’s Kitchen

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