Browsing tag: puppy

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.

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.

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.

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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Remember, remember……..it’s time to plan for fireworks night 2012. Cats and dogs that are scared of fireworks.

FireworksFireworks can be an enjoyable spectacle, but not for everybody. Many dogs and cats are very frightened by loud noises, and in some this fear is severe enough to be a noise phobia. For these pets and their owners, the days or weeks around November 5th each year can be a nightmare.

The sorts of behaviour shown by noise phobic pets when they hear fireworks (or thunder or gunshots) can range from mild anxiety to sheer terror. In between these two extremes pets may pace around, refuse to settle, whine, bark, chew things up, dig holes, urinate or defaecate indoors or run away. A pet which bolts when frightened is at risk of having or causing a road accident. As owners, naturally we all want to reduce the distress our pets are feeling.

There is a lot that can be done to help pets through these problems, and the key to this is to plan as early as possible. Seek advice from your local veterinary surgery, where your vet or nurse will be able to help you decide on the best strategy for your pet.

Harvey at the FiresideMaking your pet a safe “den” where they can retreat when they feel scared can help. Playing music or having the television on may reduce the amount of distant noise your pet will hear, but will not mask fireworks which are close by. Walk your dog early in the day while it is still light, when fireworks are much less likely, and provide your cat with a litter tray, allowing them to get used to it well in advance.

The way you react when your pet shows fear is most important, and probably the most difficult thing to get right. Our natural reaction is always to soothe and comfort our pet, but this will only reinforce their belief that there is something to be afraid of. The best way to help them is to ignore the fireworks yourself, try to act as you normally would and ignore your pet’s behaviour as much as possible. This does not come naturally to anyone who has a distressed pet, but it really can help.

Desensitisation to noise over a period of time by using special tapes or CDs can be very successful. It is time consuming and requires commitment on the part of the owner. This is a long term strategy, but can be used in conjunction with other methods. There are also other ways in which a behaviourist may be able to help your pet to react differently to stressful situations.

Alan and MavisPheromones are chemical substances which are released in nature by nursing bitches and have a calming effect on their young. Similar facial pheromones are produced by cats to communicate with other cats by rubbing against objects. These chemicals are not masked by smells as they are not detected by the nose but by a quite separate receptor. There are several ways in which synthetic pheromones can be used to calm animals in stressful situations. Synthetic pheromones are available as collars, as sprays or in plug-in diffusers, and your surgery can advise you which would be most appropriate and how to use them. They need to be used properly according to the instructions to be successful.

Many people assume that the only solution would be to sedate their pet so that they sleep through the noise, but there are several drawbacks to this. Firstly, sedatives are prescription only medicines which cannot legally be supplied to you over the counter unless your vet is satisfied that he/she has examined your pet recently enough to know what state of health they are in. Popping in to the surgery for some sedatives on November 4th is not likely to be successful. Secondly, different animals react differently to the same drug sometimes, so your vet may want to find the best dosage by having a trial run. Thirdly, if fireworks in your area go on for days or weeks, it is unlikely to be a good idea to sedate your dog or cat repeatedly.

If sedatives are used, there has been a change over recent years away from some types which may make the animal quite immobile but do little or nothing to calm its fear. More commonly used now are drugs which calm the animal but do not necessarily knock it out.

Top tips for coping with fireworks fear:

    1) Plan ahead & ask for advice at your vets.
    2) Make sure your dogs are walked early in the day and then kept in. Provide cats with a litter tray.
    3) Make a safe den where your pet can retreat.
    4) Play music or TV, try to act normally.
    5) Resist the temptation to soothe and comfort your pet.
    6) Follow instructions carefully for best results from pheromone products or sedatives.
    7) If you left it too late to plan properly this year, make a note in next year’s diary now.

If you are worried about any specific symptoms your pet is showing, talk to your vet or try out our Interactive Symptom Guide to see what you should do.

Puppy Farms Must Face Tighter Controls

These puppies are healthy and well socialised, but not all puppies bred in the UK are as fortunate.

These puppies are healthy and well socialised, but not all puppies bred in the UK are as fortunate.

When we buy a new puppy, we would like to think that it has had a good start in life and will be healthy and well socialised. Unfortunately for many puppies bought in this country, whether purebred or crossbred, the reality is much less pleasant.

At present a licence is required to run a dog breeding establishment (with 5 or more breeding bitches) in England, Scotland or Wales. Licensed premises are inspected by the local authority to ensure they meet certain minimum standards, but it is thought that there are many illegal unlicensed premises, the so-called “puppy farms”.

It has been widely reported in the media recently that the Welsh Assembly is considering steps to close down or regulate Welsh puppy farms which churn out high numbers of puppies for profit, with little regard to their health or welfare. The proposals being considered include compulsory microchipping of puppies, to allow traceability, an improvement in the ratio of staff to dogs and more regard to conditions including behaviour and socialisation. Stricter licensing laws could be in place by 2011.

Many organisations have campaigned against the existence of puppy farms, including the Kennel Club, the RSPCA and the Dogs Trust.

Puppy farms keep breeding bitches under intensive conditions. Bitches are bred from too frequently, too young and regardless of suitability. Often there is a lack of cleanliness, bedding and health care, so sickly puppies result. Puppies leave their mothers when they are still too young and unvaccinated. The conditions which a puppy experiences in the first six weeks of life are absolutely crucial to the dog’s development and behaviour in later life, so a puppy which has little human contact is very likely to have problems. Record keeping can be inadequate, so although pups may have pedigree papers, they may be meaningless.

Some puppy farms go to great lengths to make themselves appear to be reputable breeders, and the buyers of the pups will never see the actual conditions in which the pups have been reared. If pups are sold over the phone or on the internet and then transported to another location to be handed over, the new owner may not even be aware that their puppy was bred under these conditions.

Visit the breeder to see the litter and check the housing conditions.

Visit the breeder to see the litter and check the housing conditions.

The ideal way to avoid this is to find a breeder by personal recommendation or by using the Kennel Club list of accredited breeders. Visit the litter while it is still with the mother (or both parents if possible). Insist on seeing the pup in the conditions in which it is housed so that you can judge for yourself whether the conditions are clean and appropriate. The offer to deliver a puppy to your home or to a halfway service station may sound convenient, but should be resisted. What has the breeder got to hide? Beware of sellers who advertise several or many different breeds. Expect a breeder to ask questions about the sort of home you would be providing for their puppy.

The most difficult thing of all is not to buy a puppy because you feel sorry for it. If a buyer accidentally finds themselves viewing a puppy which is unwell, or in poor condition, the big temptation is to buy it to remove it from that situation. In the short term, that will help the individual puppy, but more money going to the puppy farm will just perpetuate the trade. Bad conditions should be reported to the local authority or to an appropriate charity or organisation with the powers to investigate. That way more puppies will be helped in the future by closing down or cleaning up unscrupulous puppy farms.

The Importance of Dental Care

There are two types of dental care for pets: that given by the owner at home, and that given by the vet in the surgery. Both are very important to the wellbeing of our pets.

It is thought that two thirds of dogs and cats over 3 years old suffer from dental disease. This is not a cosmetic problem, although the appearance and smell from an affected mouth can be very unpleasant! More importantly, it is a cause of pain and ill health.

The most important type of home dental care is brushing the teeth. This is best started when the dog or cat is very young, even though we hope there will be no tooth problems at that age. This means that brushing will not hurt. Special veterinary toothpaste and a soft brush are needed, and it is important to brush every day. It might take time to get your pet used to the idea of tooth brushing, but at this age you can start gradually with paste on a finger and work up to introducing the toothbrush. Human toothpaste is not suitable for animals as they contain additives like fluoride which are meant to be spat out and not swallowed, but animals will lick their teeth and swallow the paste.

Some diets are specially formulated to help reduce dental plaque. The hardness and shape of the kibble help reduce formation of plaque and tartar.

Other products that can be used at home include mouth rinses and gels to rub into gums. Carefully designed chews and toys can also help to provide some mechanical cleaning of the teeth, but daily brushing is the most effective preventative.

Bacteria are present in all mouths, but only some of them cause a problem. They cause most problems when there is plaque on the teeth or in little crevices between the teeth and the gums. Plaque builds up over time in all mouths and is made up of substances contained in the food and the saliva. Over time, plaque hardens and mineralises to form hard calculus (or tartar).

In some breeds there is a higher likelihood of dental disease because of the shape of the head or overcrowding of the teeth. Another factor is the way the animal’s own immune system responds to the problem in the early stages, so you could have two animals with the same lifestyle and diet but with different amounts of dental disease. This immune response is particularly important in gum disease in cats (gingivitis).

Broken or cracked teeth provide a focal surface for plaque and bacteria, and so do retained temporary teeth. The so-called “baby teeth” usually fall out by about 6 months of age, to be replaced by the adult set. If a first tooth does not fall out and an adult tooth erupts alongside it, there is a crevice which traps food debris and allows bacteria to multiply.

Gum changes occur alongside dental disease, starting with redness and inflammation and mild discomfort, which can progress to the formation of pockets between the gum and tooth which will eventually destroy the attachment of the tooth.

When your vet examines your pet’s mouth, he or she will be assessing a number of things. After checking the general shape and health of the whole mouth, they will look for any lost, loose, broken or retained teeth. They will assess the teeth and gums for inflammation and calculus, and may need to use a probe at the gum edge. In cats in particular, they will also be checking for resorptive lesions, which occur when the surface enamel is lost, followed by the deeper structures of the tooth, eventually exposing the sensitive nerves.

If dental treatment is recommended, it will be carried out under general anaesthetic. Even in the most co-operative of patients, it is not possible to reach every surface of every tooth with the animal awake. It is also difficult to predict whether any extractions or x-rays will be needed until the teeth have been thoroughly cleaned. This also makes it notoriously difficult to estimate the cost in advance, but your vet should be able to give you a rough estimate or a range of possible costs if you ask.

As with any anaesthetic it is usually advised to have a blood test to check the pet’s general health, and in particular how well the liver and kidneys are working. This is because they are required to metabolise, or break down, the anaesthetic drugs. However, it does not mean that anaesthetics cannot be given if there is a problem with liver or kidney function; it usually means extra precautions will be taken, the choice of drugs may be different and intravenous fluids may be given. Most patients needing dental work tend to be middle-aged or older, but this does not make it too risky to give an anaesthetic. As long as the animal has been fully examined and blood-tested, the risks of the anaesthetic are often smaller than the risks from the dental disease itself.

Sometimes owners want to delay this type of treatment for as long as possible, especially if the dog or cat still has a healthy appetite, but this can make matters worse. If the animal is off its food because of dental disease, it is already quite advanced and will need much more treatment, and the animal’s general health may have deteriorated during the delay.

Antibiotics are often needed before and after a dental procedure. If bacteria from the infected mouth enter the bloodstream, there is a risk that they may settle in places like the heart valves.

The equipment used in a vet’s surgery for dental work is very specialised. An ultrasound descaler is used to remove calculus from teeth and another attachment is used to polish the teeth. Several hand held instruments are needed to do simple extractions. More complex extractions, where teeth have several roots, may need a full surgical kit. An x-ray machine and developer is needed for many dental cases so that hidden structures can be visualised. All of this equipment has to be sharpened or maintained and sterilised between each procedure.

Although the most common dental procedures carried out by vets are descaling, polishing and extracting teeth, dentistry for animals is becoming more sophisticated all the time and there are specialists available to deal with the most complex cases.

Regular examination of your pet’s mouth, both at home and in the surgery, is important in spotting problems early and planning the right treatment. As well as dental disease this can also help with early detection of mouth and throat tumours, which are not uncommon. Ideally the mouth should be examined at least once every 6 months.

A week or two after a dental procedure, when everything is healed, is a great time to start brushing teeth again, or for the first time if it wasn’t started as a puppy/kitten. If unsure about the brushing technique, ask your vet or nurse for advice or a demonstration.

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Give a dog a home?

by Cat the Petstreet vet.

Rescue centres are over-flowing with ready trained and healthy adult animals

Rescue centres are over-flowing with ready trained and healthy adult animals

When most people consider getting a new pet, their thoughts turn to a cute bundle of fluff; a baby to join the family and grow up as part of it.  Certainly a puppy or kitten will provide hours of entertainment but they can also be a lot of hard work.  Just like a human baby they don’t come fully house trained and many won’t sleep through the night for some time!  Many people underestimate the amount of attention and time a young animal needs and so they are not ideal for everyone.  However, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a pet, with rescue centres over-flowing with ready trained and healthy adult animals, you could just find your perfect companion!

The first problem when you want a new, young animal is where to get one from.  There are loads of ways people advertise new litters; from the websites of the Kennel Club and GCCF (General Council of Cat Fancy) to the local bargain pages.  It can be difficult, especially if this is a first pet, to know how to find a reputable breeder who will have produced the pups or kittens responsibly, ensured they are as healthy as possible and looked after both their physical and mental well-being.  Sadly, many young animals are bred by those in it only for the money, the worst examples being the puppy farms, who make big efforts to hide themselves and who can catch even knowledgeable pet owners out.  This is an advantage of the rescue centres, many of whom will have litters of pups as well as adult animals, you know by homing an animal from them you are not supporting poor breeding practices and that they will have properly cared for in their early life.

Young animals, although lots of fun, can be very hard work to look after, particularly puppies.  In the early stages they can’t be left alone for long periods, which can be challenging for those who work.  Few also sleep through the night straight away, which can be tiring to say the least!  It can also take some time for them to establish good toilet training habits and this means not only do you have to be vigilant and consistent for the training itself, you also have to be prepared to clean up the regular messes which will be left behind!  You can’t be too houseproud at all with a young animal, not only do you get ‘presents’ on the carpet, some are prolific chewers and, particularly with the kittens, very adventurous in where they will explore.  Mantlepieces, curtains and even wall paper hold no barriers for the sharp claws and climbing skills of a young cat.  Also, don’t forget the garden, most pups have a natural instinct to dig, so often you have to wave goodbye to the years new seedlings and cope with various holes in the flowerbeds for some time!

Young pups also need training in general, ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ do not always come naturally (!) and, given the boundless levels of energy most young dogs have, they also need plenty of exercise, at least an hour a day, every day.  Most adult dogs will come with all this training already in place and, especially if you chose an older one, don’t need nearly as much exercise as younger dogs to keep them happy.  The best rescue centres will work with their residents to find out how much they know, they will also assess them for their suitability in different homes, for example how well they get on with children or other pets, and ensure they don’t have any significant behavioural issues.  Some also have a support team for once you have re-homed the dog, who will help with any problems that may arise.  They also tend to be careful about which dogs go with which people, meaning they will help you find a pet who will be best suited to your home and lifestyle.  Adult, rescue pets are particularly great for older people, who benefit greatly from the companionship an animal brings but who may not be able to cope with one requiring lots of exercise or care.

If you do want a kitten, talk to your local rescue centres , they will always have unwanted litters

If you do want a kitten, talk to your local rescue centres , they will always have unwanted litters

Kittens are usually less intensive as new pets than puppies.  Cats tend to be easily litter trained, most kittens having been taught good habits by their mother well before they leave her.  They can provide hours of entertainment as they zoom around the house, provided you don’t mind the odd ornament being knocked off the side.  They do, however, have very sharp baby claws and teeth, not a problem for young people and adults but they can cause a lot of damage to the delicate skin of older people, the same applies to puppies.  If you do want a kitten, you should be talking to your local rescue centres anyway, they will always have unwanted litters, especially in the Spring time and will be able to give great advice on the care of a young cat.

And what about rabbits?  They are now the third most popular pet in the UK but they are also one of the most likely to be dumped, a fact few people are aware of.  There aren’t many rescue centres for rabbits and those that do exist are always bursting at the seams.  Rabbits can make great pets but they do need to be well socialised and handled, and if they are neutered they tend to be much calmer.  The best rabbit rescues will make sure this is done and many will work with the rabbits to ensure they are happy with human contact.  Also, all rabbits are cute, so you won’t be missing out on the ‘arrr’ factor even if you get a grown up one!

Another advantage of choosing an adult animal from a rescue centre is that, from the best ones, they tend to come to your neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, de-flead, de-wormed and with any health problems having been assessed and treated.  They are not an unknown quantity like a younger pet.  Although most centres will charge for their animals, these actions can represent a significant saving.  Some, if you take on a cat or dog with an on-going health issue, will continue to pay for their care.

Deciding to get a new pet is an exciting time and most people want a young animal, which is perfectly understandable.   Although they do require a lot of input, puppies and kittens are fabulous to have around and, if brought up well, can be proper members of the family for many years.  However, do consider a rescue pet before you start phoning local breeders.  Adult animals can make loyal, faithful companions, come to you with someone else having done all the hard work in training them and you have the knowledge that you have done something to reduce the huge population of unwanted pets in the UK.  And, even if you do have your heart set on a young animal, do think of rescue centres first, they will often have litters needing new homes.  So, want to feel good about yourself and get a great new pet into the bargain? Go on, give a dog a home!

Improving the health of future generations of dogs.

There has been a lot of discussion in the press and on television lately about the health of our purebred dogs, especially the number of inherited conditions which can affect them. Opinions are divided on whether dog shows are a good thing or whether they encourage breeders to place too much value on the appearance of dogs, compared with their health or temperament. With Cruft’s dog show taking place in March, we have all seen classes of pedigree dogs being judged according to a “breed standard” which states what the ideal size, shape, gait etc should be for each breed. Dogs which come closest to meeting this ideal standard will do best in the show ring.

If dogs were bred with only one objective in mind, namely winning prizes in the show ring, that could certainly have unfortunate consequences on their health. Good breeders will not only be concerned with the appearance of the puppies they produce, but also with making sure that they are free from any known inherited conditions and of good temperament.

Most breeds have associated health problems

Most breeds have associated health problems

Almost every breed has, unfortunately, some conditions which they are more prone to than other breeds. Some of these are known to be hereditary, so careful breeding could, over several generations, reduce or eliminate these conditions. These include problems affecting hips, elbows, knees, eyes, hearts, and skin, as well as some kinds of deafness, hernias and epilepsy, and many others. It is never advisable to breed from dogs which have any known inherited problems. In some cases there are screening tests which should be done before considering breeding from a dog or bitch. For example, the hip dysplasia scheme, which has been running for many years and has been successful in reducing the cases in several breeds. Hip dysplasia is a painful problem affecting many medium to large breeds, causing lameness and in some cases shortening lives. There are many other screening tests which can and should be carried out in particular breeds. These should be done whether breeding is on a large scale, or just one litter from a family pet. The decision to breed a litter of pups should never be taken lightly, because to do so properly involves commitment of both time and money.

In the past some breeders have attempted to “fix” the good points in their dogs by mating closely related animals to each other. Although known as line-breeding, this really amounts to in-breeding and will have the unfortunate side effect of also “fixing” any bad points such as inherited problems. The same applies to some characteristics which may define particular breeds such as short legs, big heads, long backs, wrinkly skin, or droopy eyes. These are often the features which we love most about a particular breed, but they can be taken to extremes and health can be threatened. It is far better to increase the size of the gene pool by mating only to unrelated or distantly related healthy dogs.

Boxer pups cropWhen buying a purebred puppy, we can all play our part by doing our homework first. Once we have decided which breed best suits our lifestyle (not always the same as the breed we most like the look of!), we need to find out what problems that breed might be prone to and whether there are any screening programmes available to detect these problems. This kind of information can be found by researching the breed in books, on the internet, from breed societies and from vets. Lots of different sources of information need to be considered to get a balanced view. Then when looking for a breeder we can ask if the parents have been screened, and what the results were. Some tests result in a numerical score being given, and it helps to know what would be considered a good or bad score for the particular breed.

Cross-bred puppies are likely to have a much smaller risk of inheriting some of these conditions because of their broader genetic origins. Unknown parentage might make a crossbred puppy an unknown quantity, but it does have advantages in terms of “hybrid vigour”. There is no guarantee that a cross-bred puppy will be healthier, but it stands a lower chance of inheriting a condition which is common in one particular breed.

As a result of recent controversy about the health of purebred dogs, the Kennel Club has commissioned a report by Sir Patrick Bateson into these and other related matters. The Kennel Club is also updating many of the breed standards against which show dogs are judged. Hopefully if breeders, owners, vets and the Kennel Club all work together, we can improve the health of purebred dogs.

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

Getting a good nights sleep – Helping your new puppy to settle in

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

Bichon FriseThis afternoon I had a consult with a women who had recently bought a Bichon Frise puppy and was at her wits end.  The pup was refusing to settle at night and she hadn’t slept properly for several days.  But, she wailed, as soon as she cracked and took the pup upstairs to bed with her, she settled down quickly and slept though the night with no problems. And there in lay the problem.

Leaving the litter and their mother is a very stressful time for a new puppy; not only have they been taken on by a completely new set of people and moved into a new home, it is also likely to be the first time they have ever been left on their own.  So, it is very common for them to not settle well for the first few nights.  However, there are several things you can do to help them; the most important of which is to NOT give in!  It may seem unkind, leaving the pup to cry but trust me, if you go to them just once, the whole process will be much harder and you may end up with a dog who never sleeps alone.  It might be cute to have a small puppy sharing your bed but just think what it will be like when they are fully grown and have been out in a muddy garden all day!

One of the most successful methods for getting pups to settle is to use a puppy crate.  These can be easily purchase from pet stores and come in various sizes.  They should be big enough for a bed, a water bowl, and a clear area for them to toilet if they need to.  Position the crate in a downstairs room, the kitchen is usually best, and leave the door open during the day.  The crate should be the pup’s own space, somewhere where they will go when they want to rest and somewhere where they feel safe and secure.  Encourage them to use it from day one by showing them the bed and giving treats and praise when they use it.  It is very important you never send a pup to the crate as a punishment, it must always be a positive space for them.  Crates help the pup to learn independence as they are on their own when they are in there and they can also be very helpful for toilet training as dogs will naturally try to not toilet where they sleep.  They are are very useful for you as an owner as you know when the pup is shut in the crate, they are safe when you leave them.

Another product which can be used very successfully to help puppies to sleep at night, or to settle whenever they are left are DAP diffusers.  DAP stands for Dog Appeasing Pheromone, it is a synthetic pheromone identical to the once which a nursing bitch releases from her mammary glands.  For a dog of any age, but particularly a pup, it is an extremely comforting and reassuring scent which makes them feel relaxed and secure.  DAP comes as either a plug-in diffuser (just like the ones containing household scents) or an impregnated collar.  The plug-ins should be positioned somewhere close to where the pup rests and last for about 6 weeks.  Humans cannot detect the smell so don’t worry!  The collars are also very effective for pups and research has shown that they can help them be more confident and out-going in all areas of their life, which can really aid their development into happy and well balanced adults.  Both the plug-ins and collars are available from your vet or larger pet stores.

All pups will give you some sleepless nights at the beginning, they are only babies after all and it is all part of the experience of being a new dog owner.  It is very important at these early stages to start as you mean to go on and this means, unfortunately, leaving them to cry if you want them to sleep alone.  Giving in, even once, will make things much harder as then the pup will know there are other options and, as dogs don’t have much concept of the passage of time, they will be able to keep crying for a very long while if they know that eventually you will come for them!  Also, learning to be independent and to cope on their own is an extremely important skill for a young pup and the dogs that never master this are often the ones which suffer from over-attachment and separation anxiety.  So, stay strong, right from the beginning, make sure everyone in the family knows the rules and it won’t be long before you are back to a full nights sleep.  However, it might be worth investing in some ear plugs, just for the start!

For more advice on how to look after your dog, please visit our Pet Care Advice pages. If you are worried about any aspect of your dog’s health, use our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help decide what to do next.

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