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Why do dogs wag their tails?

There are few things more cheering than the sight of a wagging tail but what is your dog actually trying to tell you?  Certainly, it can indicate happiness but also a lot of other things as well!

  • A tail held high and vigorously wagged from side to side indicates its owner is happy and ready to play.
  • A tail held level with the body and wagged more slowly shows that the dog is in a situation where they are not quite sure what is going on but are interested and paying attention.
  • A tail held low and wagging only a little or twitching, is often showing that the dog is feeling threatened and you should approach and handle them with caution.
  • A tail tucked up and under the body means that the dog is frightened and showing submission.  With reassurance they may start to feel more confident but again, you should take care with them to ensure they don’t progress to growling, or even biting, to make the perceived threat retreat.
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Ask a vet online ‘vet found a soft lump underneath one of my puppies’ – what next?

Question from Eileen Murphy Hi I have a set of pups.all at 7wks old.took them for there vet check an she found a soft lump underneath one of the girls were her tummy is the vets said it is nothing to worry about! It is a hernia an won't see to it unless.she gets.spayed but I am still worrying these pups.are bitchions Answer from Shanika Winters (Online Vet) Hi Eileen and thank you for your question regarding your puppy’s hernia, I will start by explaining what a hernia is and then discuss the treatment options. When your puppy had her routine health check with your vet the soft lump that was felt underneath her tummy (abdomen) is what we call an umbilical hernia.  A hernia is a gap or opening that should not be there. You have most likely heard of people with a hernia, this will be describing a diseased disc in their back or an area of muscle separation leading to weakness. The abdomen of most animals is made up of the organs inside it, a layer of fatty tissue and then three layers of muscle. These muscle layers are joined by a white strip of strong tissue called connective tissue, which forms the Linea Alba, which runs along the mid line of your pet’s abdomen just underneath the skin. In some animals like your little puppy this strong white line is not complete and there is a gap of varying size, anything from a few millimetres up to a few centimetres.  Through this gap some of the contents of the abdomen may poke through and be felt as a soft lump around the region where your dog’s belly button (umbilicus) would be found. Umbilical hernias are often first noticed when your puppy has its first check at the vets, provided the lump that can be felt is small, soft and easily pushed back into the abdomen then your vet will tell you not to worry about it.  If however the lump is large, not readily pushed back into the abdomen, changes colour, texture or is painful then urgent action need to be taken. The small soft variety of lump is often left and the owner asked to feel at it every day at home and report any changes to their vet, as you have mentioned the other option is that the gap can be surgically closed under general anaesthesia specifically to treat the hernia or when your puppy is being spayed. It is very rare for a small umbilical hernia to become an emergency situation, I have only encountered this once where the hernia became strangulated, the small amount of abdominal fat which had pushed through the gap had twisted on its self and lost its blood supply leading to a purple firm and painful lump being felt underneath the dog.  The dog came in as an emergency appointment and had surgery to remove the diseased tissue and repair the gap, she made a full recovery. I hope that this has helped you to understand what the umbilical hernia your puppy has is and how and why we treat them.  Please remember to contact your vet immediately if there is any change to the lump that worries you, we are here to help.  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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Ask a vet online ‘How old does a pupy have to be before moving them onto adult food?’

Question from Tracie J Thorne How old does a pupy have to be before moving them onto adult food and not the PUPPY variety? Answer from Shanika Winters (Online Vet) Hi Tracie, thank you for your question regarding the age at which it is best to change a dog from puppy food over to adult dog food. I will start by discussing a little about pet food and then tie this in with each stage of a pet’s life and its nutritional requirements. Your pet dog needs a balanced diet to provide its body with all the ingredients (nutrients) to keep it functioning. The basic food components are Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat, Vitamins and Minerals. Your dog also needs to have fresh water to drink.  Pet food that you buy can provide some or in the case of complete diets all the nutrients your pet needs to maintain a healthy body. Dog food is available in many forms including: tinned, pouches, trays, semi moist and dry nuggets.  Which exact form of dog food you choose is a personal choice but may be influenced by how fussy an eater your dog is and the advice of your vet.  Some owners may choose to make a home cooked diet and there are also some people who like to feed a raw diet. If you are unsure as to what is the best diet for your dog then discuss it with your vet or veterinary nurse, they are trained to give nutritional advice and help find the diet that will suit your pet. At each life stage through from being a puppy through to an adult dog and then a mature dog your pet’s nutritional requirements will change. Puppies are still growing and require a higher protein, higher energy and specific vitamin and mineral balanced diet than an adult dog which is simply maintaining its body condition. Pregnant bitches and working dogs will also have a higher energy requirement from their diet than an elderly dog. This is one of the reasons that there are so many different dog foods available and labelled for each life stage. Different breeds of dog will finish growing at slightly different ages, larger breed dogs such as Labradors will finish growing later that smaller breed dogs such as Yorkshire terriers. As an approximate guide small breed dogs will need puppy food for the first 6-12 months, the larger breed dogs will need puppy food for approximately 18 months.  There are some puppy foods that are designed for different breeds/sizes of dog, and most bought pet foods will give you a guide as to which age to switch to adult dog food. As your dog moves from being a young adult dog through to a more mature dog then it may be advisable to change to a senior dog food which takes into account the changing nutritional needs of the older dog.  If your dog has a specific medical condition from being overweight through to joint disease there are specific diets formulated for each condition. I hope that this has helped to answer your question and that if you have any doubt then discuss your dog’s dietary needs with your veterinary surgeon. Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online Vet) If you are worried about your puppy or dog,  please book an appointment with your vet or use our online symptom checker.
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Ireland is living in the past: it’s about to become legal for members of public to dock puppies’ tails.

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Tail docking is a illogical, nonsensical form of puppy torture, and it looks set to become legal in Ireland.  The procedure is brutal: a pair of scissors, a sharp knife or a tight ring are used to chop off a young puppy's tail. There is no anaesthetic, and it clearly hurts a lot (they squeal loudly), but the pups are too small and helpless to do anything about it. The pup above was brought to me for treatment after the amateur tail docking job had resulted in a chronic non-healing wound. Tail docking has been banned in the UK since 2007: it's completely illegal in Scotland, and in England and Wales, it's only allowed for a small number of working dogs or when the procedure is needed for medical purposes under theAnimal Welfare Act 2006 or the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. It's also illegal to show dogs that had their tails docked after 2007.  The subject has been debated in detail elsewhere, but the evidence is clear: tail docking causes pain to puppies, and it does not reduce the incidence of tail injuries in adult dogs, even in working animals. Tail docking is also illegal in most European countries: the fact that it has not yet been banned in Ireland is the only reason why Ireland is unable to become the 23rd European state to ratify the Council of Europe’s European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. (In fact, the UK is also unable to ratify this convention because of the illogical "working dog" exemption on tail docking in England and Wales). Until last week, it seemed that tail docking was about to be phased out in Ireland. Suddenly, this has changed. A new Animal Health and Welfare Act is due to be brought in by the Irish Minister of Agriculture Simon Coveney in the next few weeks. The new law has been carefully drafted in conjunction with veterinary bodies and animal welfare groups, all of whom are strongly anti-docking. The Act specifically prohibits "surgical procedures for cosmetic reasons" and it also bans  "mutilated" dogs from being exhibited in the show ring. These clauses were introduced to stop old-fashioned and unnecessary procedures such as tail docking. So far so good. So it was a bombshell when it was made known last week that the Minister intends to allow tail docking by members of the public, by listing it in a Regulation under procedures that may be performed without the use of anaesthetics or pain relief. The other activities under this section are mostly agricultural tasks, such as ear tagging cattle, castrating sheep and removing piglets tails: these have been allowed to permit such traditional aspects of agriculture to continue (even though it can be argued that, logically, they too should be restricted). The official bodies representing animal welfare in Ireland are incensed at this news: it's worth reading the open letter that has been written to the Minister by Veterinary Ireland, the ISPCA and Dogs Trust. An online petition has been launched to gather public support against the new Regulation: you can sign it here. The petition was started on 10th November, and already has over 5000 signatures. It isn't too late to change the future for Irish puppies: the government must surely be listening to common sense and the voice of the people.
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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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