The Veterinary Centre’s 10 Top Tips for Happy, Healthy Pets

1. Invest time in training early on. Well trained animals are far more compliant and easier to handle. Additionally, a major benefit for the pet is that they tend to be far more confident and relaxed and are more able to cope with stressful situations.

2. Vaccinate. We still regularly see animals with diseases that are easily prevented through routine vaccination. Several of these diseases are expensive to treat and commonly fatal, so prevention is certainly more desirable than treatment.

3. Neuter if you don’t intend to breed. Aside from preventing unwanted pregnancy, being speyed or castrated has a number of health benefits - it helps to prevent or reduce the risk of several forms of cancer, prevent pyometra (which is a common and potentially fatal infection of the uterus), and reduces some behavioural problems.

4. Feed good quality food. A lot of research goes in to high quality food to ensure that it contains optimal nutrients for each stage of life. It is not hard to imagine that a fast-growing Labrador puppy would have significantly different nutrient needs to a geriatric Chihuahua or a high energy working dog. High quality foods are made for these different life stages using good quality ingredient sources (e.g. animal rather than cereal-based protein) with specifically added nutrients (e.g. glucosamine and chondroitin for large breed dogs) to ensure optimal health and wellbeing.  

5. Avoid obesity. Unfortunately, obesity is extremely common in our pets. Just like humans, obese pets are more prone to a number of illnesses including diabetes (particularly cats), arthritis, heart disease and breathing conditions. Avoid overfeeding (especially with human food and treats) and make sure your pet gets plenty of exercise.

6. Look after their teeth. This is particularly important in small breed dogs and cats as they are far more likely to have dental issues than larger dogs, with many of them losing numerous teeth throughout their lifetime. Check teeth regularly for signs of tartar and gingivitis (brown discolouration on the teeth and red or inflamed gums). If this is developing you can substantially reduce it by brushing their teeth, or by feeding special dental diets or chew bones/toys.

7. Learn to recognise signs of pain. This is commonly missed or misinterpreted by owners and can cause a lot of unnecessary suffering. Limping, reluctance to exercise or jump into the car or onto the couch/bed, being slow to get going in the mornings, reduced appetite and just generally slowing down with age are all signs of chronic pain and can be treated.

8. Learn to recognise signs of illness. Any change to normal activity or appearance can indicate possible illness. This includes (but is not limited to) changes in eating or drinking habits, weight changes, coughing, excessive itching, vomiting and diarrhoea. Any of these signs should prompt you to get them checked out.

9. Consider pet insurance. Insurance may not be for everyone but there are several companies now offering pet insurance. Financial considerations are often one of the most stressful parts of having an unwell animal – taking this out of the equation can really make it easier on everyone when your pet gets sick.

10. Love them! Our pets are called “companion animals” for a reason – they love companionship and will give their owners a lot of love in return.

If you have any questions or would like any advice about any of these tips, please feel free to ring and talk to our vets. We hope you all have a very happy holiday season.

Fleas.....

With the recent mild winter we have experienced and forecast of a long hot summer, experts are predicting the perfect conditions for a massive flea outbreak this year!

It is the ideal time to start implementing an effective flea control strategy for your pets now, before numbers start to grow out of control as the weather warms up.  Fleas are the most common external parasite of cats and dogs.  They feed off blood by biting through the skin and injecting a substance in their saliva to stop the blood from clotting. A single flea can consume 15 times their body weight in blood in just one day!

Excessive scratching, nibbling and grooming can cause patches of hair loss, most commonly in a triangle along the back and hindlimbs of cats and dogs.  Some pets can be very sensitive to flea bites and their saliva, triggering an allergic reaction and severe skin irritation. In young puppies and kittens, anaemia due to the blood loss from heavy infestations can even be life threatening.

Surprisingly, only about 5% of the flea population lives as adults on a pet. The remaining 95% actually live in the environment as eggs, larvae and pupae that develop into adult fleas.  These like to hide in your pet’s bedding, carpets, between floorboards, and amongst the dirt and debris in the garden.

The Flea Lifecycle

Female fleas lay eggs, up to 50 a day, which then hatch into larvae.  The larvae crawl into dark spaces and spin a cocoon around themselves before developing into pupae.  Adult fleas emerge from these cocoons, before jumping onto your pet to start the cycle again.  In warm, favorable conditions this can all happen in as little as 2 weeks!

Tips for tackling fleas!

An ideal flea control strategy not only involves providing protection for your pet, but also eliminating all stages of the flea life cycle in your pet’s environment.

1.      Treat your pet

Regularly treat all pets in your household. Different flea control products provide varying lengths of protection, ranging from 4 weeks to up to 8 months, so be sure to check when selecting the best product for your pet.

  • Spot-on treatment
  • Chewable tablet
  • Flea collar

2.      Treat the environment

  • Regularly clean your pet’s blankets and bedding in a hot wash
  • Vacuum your house regularly, as well as furniture, car seats and boots
  • Prevent pets from crawling in damp, dark spaces, such as under houses and decking.
  • Remove piles of plant debris, such as decaying leaves that pets may like to sleep on in the garden.
  • Prevent other animals, especially stray cats, from entering your house.
  • Products such as flea sprays and bombs can also be used in your home to help kill flea infestations quickly.

Preventing fleas now is always better than having to tackle an infestation, for you and your pet.

Do You Have An Itchy Pet?

Skin allergies are one of the most common conditions we encounter in our pets. They can drive both the pet and their owners crazy with the ongoing itching and can really impact on their quality of life.

Allergies can happen at any time of the year but are more prevalent over the spring and summer months. People often think that their pet has fleas or that the flea treatment they have hasn’t worked when in actual fact the animal has an allergy. Allergies are more common in dogs, especially in certain breeds such as the Labrador and German Shepherd but they can be seen in any breed of dog or cat.

Signs your pet may have an allergy

  • Itchy ears or recurrent ear infections
  • Persistent chewing on their paws
  • Scratching or chewing in their armpits, groin, around the muzzle and around their bottom
  • Red, thickened skin
  • Excessive dandruff or a dry coat
  • Hair loss, especially around the tummy/groin/back legs in cats
  • Recurrent “hot spots” (superficial skin infections)
  • A “yeasty” odour
  • Flea allergies generally cause patches of hair loss, red and infected areas particularly on the back above the base of the tail.

It is important to note that not all symptoms will occur in all animals – some dogs may only chew their feet, others may just have recurrent ear infections while some dogs or cats will show a range of signs.

Causes of allergies

Aside from fleas, allergies tend to fall in to one of two categories – those due to something in the diet (the most common being chicken, beef or wheat) or those due to environmental allergens (e.g. tree and grass pollens, dust mites, moulds etc).

So what can we do for allergies?

There are a number of things that can be done to help manage allergies and prevent the symptoms that can be really uncomfortable or irritating. Unfortunately allergies are generally a life-long condition meaning that it is not just a matter of giving tablets for a week or so.

Management strategies depend on what is causing the allergy so the first step is to try to identify the underlying cause. Once we have identified the cause we can either manage it by avoiding it (which can work well for food allergens) or by using a number of tools including oral medication, medicated shampoos, special diets and allergy desensitisation.

If you think your pet may have an allergy it is worth talking to a vet about what can be done to make them happier and more comfortable.

Looking After Pet Lambs

Every year orphaned lambs become a source of joy for many children around New Zealand, however people are often unsure or unaware of what these lambs require. Hopefully this helps!

 

The importance of colostrum

During the first few days of a lamb’s life the ewe produces colostrum rather than milk. This is rich in antibodies which help to keep the lambs healthy and prevent infections. Lambs that have not had this colostrum are far more prone to a number of conditions, including navel infections, joint infections, diarrhoea and death. Orphaned lambs have often had a pretty rough start, may already be weak or very small (e.g. triplet lambs) and on top of that are unlikely to have had much or any colostrum. For this reason, it is very important that all orphaned lambs get colostrum (you can buy it in powdered form, much like milk powder), ideally for the first 4-5 days of life. A good guideline is to give 15% of bodyweight over the first 24 hours (which is equivalent to 600mLs for a 3kg lamb, spread over 3-4 feeds).

 

Other feeding tips

Milk replacer: After the first few days, lambs can be switched to lamb milk replacer. Most milk replacers have good instructions on the packets about volume and frequency of feeding depending on age so just follow this.

Bloat: If you notice your lambs are getting a big puffy stomach after feeding they may be suffering from bloat. Lambs can die from bloat if severe enough so talk to your vet if this is happening – we have a great lamb yoghurt recipe which helps to prevent this (sorry too long to put here!)

Meal: Obviously lambs on their mothers are not normally fed meal, however feeding meal is a good idea for bottle fed lambs as it helps their gut to develop more quickly. This means they can be weaned a lot sooner and have less of a growth check when this happens. Ideally, offer meal from day 1 - you can wean your lamb off milk once they are eating approximately 200g of meal per day. Meal can be continued ad lib following weaning until 8-10 weeks of age.

 

General health

Tailing/docking: This is done to prevent their tails getting dirty which predisposes to fly strike (this can be deadly). It is a good time to castrate the males too. The most common way to do this is to use rubber rings. If you are unsure how to do this it is best to get someone more experienced to do it as it can be done incorrectly!

Vaccinating: As orphaned lambs are unlikely to have much in the way of antibodies from their mother, it is best to use a special vaccination for lambs at the time of tailing to prevent tetanus and pulpy kidney. A booster vaccination should be given at weaning.

Drenching: There is no point in drenching until the lambs have been eating grass for 4 weeks (they have not had time to pick up worms before then). Weaning is a common time for their first drench and 4-weekly thereafter (although frequency may depend on the history of the pasture your lambs are feeding on).

Fly strike: This is where flies start burrowing into the skin and can cause death surprisingly quickly – it becomes a risk as we head into summer. Fly strike can be prevented by a pour on drench as well as tailing and regular drenching to reduce dirty bums.

 

We hope you enjoy looking after your pet lambs this season!

"Ewegene" and "Maartha", owned by one of our Waimate staff member

Preventing Unwanted Kittens

As cute as they may be, unfortunately every year we see large numbers of unwanted kittens. Nobody wants to see kittens that have been abandoned, so preventing cats from becoming pregnant is ideal. As you will read below, now is a great time to think about this.

When do cats come in to season?

Many people are unaware that there is a “kitten season “. Unlike dogs, cats only come in to season at certain times of the year. They are long day-length breeders meaning they start coming into season from August onwards - in the clinic we have certainly already seen cats that are showing signs of being in season. They cycle most strongly in late winter and spring, tend to have a lull over the peak of summer and then have another less intense period of cycling in late summer and autumn.

Cats are most certainly born to breed – they will continue to come back in to season every 2-3 weeks until they fall pregnant. Pregnancy lasts for 9 weeks so cats that are mated now will have kittens in mid-October and wean them by Christmas, just in time to get pregnant again in the autumn!

How do you tell if your cat is in season?

Owners often report that their cat has started acting very unusually when they are in season. Initially they become very affectionate and start smooching everything in sight. Later they become very restless, roll around on the ground, crouch with their bum in the air (especially when patted) and vocalize – it is not uncommon that owners even mistake this for pain.

When is the best time to get your cat speyed?

Now! In order to prevent unwanted kittens it is best to spey your cat now before they become pregnant. Ideally cats should be 5-6 months of age although they can be done earlier if necessary – just talk to your vet if you have any questions regarding this.

What should I do if my cat is already pregnant?

It is possible to spey cats that are already pregnant however the earlier this is done the better – as all mothers can appreciate, late term pregnancy is hard on the body and makes both the surgery and anaesthesia much harder to cope with. If you do end up with unwanted kittens, we also have a Tiny Tiger programme where we spey the mother at a discounted price and then neuter, vaccinate, worm, deflea and rehome the kittens.

Pyometra

What is a pyometra?

Pyometra is an infection of the uterus.  It is an emergency, life-threatening condition that commonly occurs in older female dogs that have not been speyed.

Each time an entire female dog has a heat (or season), she undergoes all of the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy, regardless of whether she becomes pregnant or not.  These hormonal changes increase the risk of an infection developing in the uterus following each subsequent heat.

Some dogs can have an underlying uterine condition (Cystic Endometrial Hyperplasia) that makes them more prone to developing a pyometra. Some hormone injections used to stop or delay a heat can also increase the risk of developing a pyometra.

 

What are the signs of a pyometra?

A pyometra more commonly develops in older female dogs (over 6 years of age), but can occur at any age.  Usually signs develop about 4-6 weeks following her being on heat.  In some cases she can appear to have a prolonged season.

Early signs you may notice:

  • Off-colour, lethargic, depressed
  • Reduced appetite
  • Drinking more than usual (urinating more)
  • Licking at her back end more than usual
  • Pus (yellow/brown/red discharge) from her vulva

These signs can progress to:

  • Vomiting
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Collapse

If left untreated she will rapidly deteriorate and death due to septic shock can occur.

 

Diagnosis and treatment of pyometra

Your vet will likely be quite suspicious of a pyometra based on the description her symptoms and following a thorough examination of your pet.

An ultrasound of her abdomen will often reveal an abnormally large, fluid-filled uterus – this will help confirm a diagnosis of a pyometra.

The best treatment is immediate surgery to remove the infected uterus. The operation is essentially the same as a routine spey procedure, however there is much greater risk of complications as the infected uterus is very fragile and the operation is being carried out on a sick animal.  One of the main complications is rupture of the uterus into the abdomen, prior to, or during surgery.  This can spread the infection and makes it much more difficult to successfully treat.

She will also be given an intravenous drip, antibiotics and pain relief to stabilise and support her through the surgery.

 

Prevention

If you do not plan to breed from your dog, or she is having no further litters of puppies, speying her will prevent a pyometra from developing.

If your female dog is not speyed, it is important to be familiar with the signs of a pyometra. If you notice her displaying any of these symptoms following a recent heat, contact your vet immediately. Early treatment will give her the best possible chance of a successful speedy recovery!

Vaccinating Your Dog

As we discussed last week, a vaccination programme for your puppy will start at 6-8 weeks of age, with a course of vaccinations at 4 week intervals until 16 weeks of age. Following this, vaccination needs vary depending on your dog’s risk but normally revaccination occurs every 1-3 years.

Last week when we discussed vaccinating your cat we talked about the concept of “core” and “non-core” vaccinations. This same concept applies to dogs.

The vaccination that we give as part of the initial puppy course and three-yearly after that protects against the following:

-         Parvovirus

-         Distemper

-         Hepatitis (canine adenovirus)

-         Parainfluenza (see below in discussion about Canine Cough)

Parvovirus is something that sadly we still see in our community. It causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea and is often fatal – even with treatment. It is highly infectious and commonly causes outbreaks, particularly in litters of puppies. As it lasts for long periods of time in the environment it is impossible to eradicate and vaccination is our only real form of disease prevention.

Distemper virus is also highly contagious, very often fatal and causes numerous symptoms including fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, pneumonia and neurological problems. Even if the animal survives they can be left with lifelong brain damage and neurological problems. While it is rarely seen in New Zealand now, there have been significant outbreaks in the past.

Hepatitis is again highly contagious and often fatal. It causes severe liver and kidney damage and clinical signs include jaundice (yellowing of the skin), abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and clotting disorders. Again this disease is not often seen in New Zealand due to the use of vaccinations but outbreaks are possible and to be avoided.

There are two “non-core” vaccinations available for dogs in New Zealand (well actually three – Rabies vaccinations are available in New Zealand however they are only given to dogs travelling to other countries that require it). The other two are:

-         Canine cough

-         Leptospirosis

Canine cough (previously known as “kennel cough”) is caused by several viruses and bacteria. The two we can protect against are Parainfluenza and Bordetella. While canine cough is rarely fatal, it is highly infectious and causes a debilitating hacking cough that can last for several weeks. Vaccination against canine cough is generally required for staying at boarding kennels. As it is spread through close contact, vaccination is also recommended for any dogs going where other dogs congregate e.g. parks, dog trials, shows, obedience classes and agility. Annual revaccination is required.

Leptospirosis causes liver and kidney failure and again can be fatal. Thankfully the variety that causes disease in dogs has not been diagnosed in the South Island. Only dogs that are travelling to the North Island need to be vaccinated, with revaccination occurring annually.

Hopefully this has helped to explain why we vaccinate our pets – from personal experience I know how awful it is to see an animal suffering with a horrible disease like parvovirus when we know it can be prevented!

Keeping your Pet Happy & Healthy with Vaccination

There are a number of infectious diseases that your pet can contract, and some are potentially life threatening. Fortunately, there are vaccinations available to help prevent many of these diseases.

When puppies and kittens are born their immune system has not yet developed, they rely on protection provided in their mothers colostrum. As this immunity gradually declines, puppies and kittens need to be vaccinated to help build up their own immune system and develop protection against various diseases.

A vaccination programme for your puppy or kitten will start at 6-8 weeks of age, with a course of vaccinations at 4 week intervals until 16 weeks of age.

Following this your pet should have an annual health check, and a vaccination depending on the programme we have tailored to suit your animal.

Outlined below are the main vaccinations recommended for your cat. Next week we will cover protection for your dog.

Vaccines can be divided into core vaccines and non-core vaccines.  The core vaccines are considered essential for all cats (including indoor-only cats) because of the widespread and/or severe nature of the diesases being protected against.  Non-core vaccines are only given to cats if there is a genuine risk of exposure to the infection and if the vaccination would provide good protection.

There are three main diseases that we vaccinate cats against in our core vaccines are:

1)            Panleukopaenia virus

2)            Herpes virus

3)            Calcivirus

Panleukopenia virus (also known as feline parvovirus) is a severe and frequently fatal cause cause of bloody diarrhoea, vomiting and it can cause low white blood cell levels.  Outbreaks of infection with this virus are common as the virus is highly contagious and can survive for long periods in the environment. 

Herpes virus and Calcivirus are the main causes of  ‘cat flu’ (upper respiratory tract infections) in cats.  Affected cats typically show sneezing, nasal discharge, conjunctivitis, eye discharge and mouth ulcers.  Signs can vary from mild to severe and other complications, such aspneumonia may develop.  With herpes virus, even after the clinical signs have subsided, most cats will remain permanently infected with the virus and some go on to develop recurrent eye infections or other signs (much like the human coldsore virus…). 

The two main diseases that we vaccinate cats against in our non-core vaccines are:

1)   Chlamydia

2)   FelineImmunodificiency Virus (FIV)

Chlamydia mainly causes conjunctivitis in cats.  Young kittens in mulitcat households are most likely to be affected and there may also be mild upper respiratory signs.  Vaccination of young cats against chlamydia can help prevent disease.

FIV is quite common among young cats, especially outdoor cats that are involved in fighting (infection is spread mainly through cat bites).  It is the feline alternative to the HIV virus.  A blood test can help determine whether or not your cat has the disease – if not, vaccination can help protect your cat. 

 

Ensuring a Safe Home for our Pets

We regularly see animals that have become unwell due to eating something toxic or otherwise dangerous. Often this could have been avoided but the owners were unaware of the potential dangers. While this is not an exhaustive list, it gives some of the more common dangers that we see.

Pesticides – Rat bait and slug and snail bait are widely used and both can be deadly to cats and dogs, even in small amounts. It is important to be very careful when storing and using these compounds to make sure your pets cannot get access to them.

Bones – People commonly feed their dogs bones as they can help to keep the teeth clean, keep dogs entertained and can be a good source of certain nutrients. Unfortunately if the bone is swallowed it can cause a blockage requiring emergency surgery which can be very expensive. Even if the bones are well chewed they can still cause constipation. If you want to feed bones, the best thing to do is to give large bones that can be gnawed on but not swallowed. Once the bone gets to the point where all the meat and gristle has been removed and there is a risk of bone fragments coming off the bone should be discarded.

Human food – Bones are not the only food that can cause problems. There are a number of common foods that we eat that can be toxic to our pets. Chocolate is one that a lot of people have heard of. It can cause vomiting, restlessness and in advanced cases an irregular heart beat and even death! Less well-known toxins include onions, grapes and raisins. Additionally, while they aren’t toxic, corn cobs are another common cause of gut obstruction – usually when they are scavenged from the compost heap!

Medications – There are a number of human medications that can be incredibly toxic to our pets. Anti-inflammatories and pain killers are something that we often see owners give to their pets but unfortunately this can lead to severe gut ulceration and kidney failure. We recently had a case of a dog that was given a human pain medication which lead to such bad gut ulceration that the dog needed a blood transfusion! Similarly cat medication is not always appropriate for dogs and vice versa. The moral of the story here is to make sure you only give medication that has been prescribed for your pet.

If you are ever concerned that your pet may have eaten something that could cause them harm, it is always best to be safe and ring the vet clinic for further advice. Often if we can treat them early we can prevent many of the nasty side effects before they become an issue and it is also far cheaper!

Looking After My Geriatric Dog

Nobody likes to see their pets getting old. Last week our Labrador cross “Bella” turned 7 – officially geriatric! Despite what I know, I am desperately hoping she will live forever. In my more realistic moments I realise that won’t happen and that the most important thing is to make sure she stays happy and healthy for as long as possible. So what will I be doing to make sure Bella stays fit and well over the next few (many!) years?

Signs of good general health

There are a number of everyday things which can be monitored to provide an early sign that the health of an older animal may be declining. This includes:

  • Appetite – a reduction in appetite is a common early sign that our pets aren’t feeling their best and further investigation may be needed. It can be caused by nausea, oral pain (like a rotten tooth), more generalised pain (like arthritis), cancer and many organ diseases common in older animals
  • Drinking – Excessive drinking occurs in numerous conditions including kidney disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. As a rough guide, a fox terrier drinking more than 1L, a Border Collie drinking more than 2L, or a Labrador drinking more than 3L would give us cause for concern and should be investigated
  • Weight – sudden changes in weight are an important indicator that things are not as they should be and should always be investigated
  • Toileting – changes to “bathroom” habits, whether it be due to diarrhoea, constipation or an increasing need to pee can all point to ill health
  • General activity levels – one very common thing we hear from owners is that their cat or dog is slowing down or sleeping all the time because it is getting old. While it is true that we don’t expect older dogs to be as active as puppies, “slowing down” is a very common sign of many illnesses – arthritis is an especially common cause. Being slow to get going in the morning (particularly in this colder weather!), reduced enthusiasm or tolerance of exercise and reluctance to jump into the car or onto higher objects such as the couch can also indicate pain associated with arthritis.

Annual check up

While I am more aware than most of the signs of ill health in animals, it is still very important that Bella is properly examined at least once a year to check for early signs of illness. An annual check-up would include:

  • Checking all over for lumps and bumps which may be cancerous
  • Listening to the heart and lungs - both heart and lung disease is very common in older dogs and can be managed for a long time if treatment is started early
  • Palpating the abdomen to check all the organs feel normal and there are no unusual lumps present
  • Checking the teeth – dental disease is common in older animals and can cause significant pain if left untreated

Annual blood test

Unfortunately, an examination does not pick up everything and an annual blood test to ensure that all of Bella’s organs are functioning normally is helpful – the sooner a disease is picked up the quicker it can be treated and the less long term complications will occur as a result of it.

Overall, quality of life is the most important aspect with our aged pets. Check your pet out today for any of the red flags mentioned above – Bella will be getting her annual check-up and blood test this month too. Early intervention can markedly improve the life of our senior pets, and ensure they are around to wag their tails for a little longer.

What Should I Do With Flopsy?

There is no doubt that rabbits make adorable pets for children. They are relatively low care however a good diet and excellent husbandry will help to reduce the risk of many of the more common diseases we seen in rabbits.

Diet

Rabbits being fed an incorrect diet are prone to a number of diseases including dental problems (one of the most common reason we see unwell rabbits), obesity, hairballs and some behavioural issues.

So what is the best diet for a rabbit?

  • The most important part of a rabbit’s diet is grass and good quality hay. Clean hay should always be available (grass hay is best, avoid lucerne) as it is extremely important, both for gut health and to increase chewing activity –this is important to aid tooth wear and avoid dental disease (rabbit’s teeth continue to grow throughout their lives so they need to be constantly worn down)
  • Fresh vegetables should be provided once or twice daily which may include dandelions, kale, cabbage, lettuce, parsley and silverbeet. As a guide, do not feed more than 1 packed cup of leafy greens per kg of bodyweight per day. Treat foods such as carrots, apples, berries, pears and pineapple can also be given in small amounts
  • Commercial rabbit diets can be used but should only be a small amount of their diet. These diets are relatively high in energy and low in fibre so excessive amounts may lead to obesity and dental disease
  • Clean water should always be available – drinking bottles are best because they are easier to keep clean than water bowls and they avoid wetting the dewlap which may lead to skin infections.

General husbandry

Aside from diet, there are some important things to be aware of to help to keep your rabbits happy and healthy!

  • Rabbit Calicivirus or Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) is a deadly virus that was released in New Zealand in 1997 by farmers to control the wild rabbit population. It can be spread by wild rabbits to our pets and may cause death within a few days of infection. Approximately 90% of infected rabbits will die of RHD and once infected there is very little we can do. Fortunately, there is a vaccination available to protect our pet’s. It is normally given at 3 months of age with an annual booster and is relatively cheap too.
  • Breeding of rabbits is often what owners want to avoid. One option to prevent breeding is to avoid housing male and female rabbits together. We can also neuter rabbits at around 5 months of age to avoid breeding, and this will also reduce aggression and territorial behaviours.
  • Clean housing is important as rabbits are prone to respiratory disease which can occur due to ammonia fumes from their urine. Cleaning out their cages regularly and good air circulation will help to prevent this problem.

Do you own a podgy pet?

It probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that obesity is extremely common in our pets. What may surprise you is that the conditions that we as humans suffer from when we are overweight are just as big a problem for our pets.

Diabetes in cats is often secondary to consistently overeating and a diagnosis of diabetes unfortunately leads to a lifelong regime of twice daily insulin injections and a tendency for a number of other health concerns. Heart disease is especially common in small breed dogs – as you can imagine carrying around extra weight just puts more strain on an already overworked heart. Similarly, cats and dogs suffering from arthritis struggle significantly more when they are overweight. If an animal is 30% overweight (which is common!) they have 30% more force going through their arthritic joints too – it is not hard to understand why losing weight would lead to a better quality of life for these animals.

So how do you tell if your pet is overweight?

There are some human adults that would be significantly overweight at 70kg and others that would be significantly underweight at 70kg. The same goes for our pets – there is no ‘ideal weight’ based on breed. It all depends on body shape and the size of their frame. Rather than looking at the scales, we need to look at the animal to assess whether they are overweight. When looking from above there should be a drawn in “waist” between the back of the ribs and the hips -  it shouldn’t be a straight line and it definitely shouldn’t be bulging out!! When looking from the side the abdomen should rise up from the back of their ribs to their back legs – again we want to avoid the bulge!

Have a look at these photos of Flo modelling her healthy waistline:

Another thing to check is that you should be able to feel the rib bones relatively easily – you don’t want them to be visibly sticking out but you shouldn’t need to dig round to try and find them.

If I find that my pet is overweight, what can I do?

Excess food intake is by far the most common cause of obesity in pets – exercise can help but in order to achieve any significant weight loss the diet is the first thing that needs to improve. Weight loss does take some dedication but there are a number of things that can help the process:

  • Avoid feeding overweight cats by letting them graze all day – cutting back to two meals a day is ideal
  • Become more aware of the “extras” your pet is getting. You may well be feeding the appropriate amount but by the time they have then stolen the cat’s biscuits, had a few treats during the day and half a sausage that was left on someone’s plate at dinner time they could easily have added 50% or more to their daily energy intake. Just cutting out the extras can often make a huge difference.
  • If you don’t think there are any “extras” to blame, try measuring the amount you feed each day and reducing it by a quarter.
  • There are also many different forms of commercial weight loss diets available which are lower in calories so the dog or cat have a lower energy intake without feeling liked they are being starved.

Hopefully these tips can help your pets shed some unnecessary kilos – good luck! If you are struggling, we do run a programme for “podgy pets” to help with weight loss – just come in and see us!

The stressful life of a cat?!?

To most of us, the life of a cat sounds about as stress free as you could possibly get. Spending most of your day sleeping in a nice warm sunny spot, having your meals prepared for you by your servants (owners!) and only going out for a wander around the garden or maybe to do a bit of bird watching sounds like the lap of luxury. Surprisingly enough though, there are a lot of stressed cats in this world.

When we talk about cats and stress, we don’t mean “human” forms of stress such as worry about how we will pay our bills or that we are late for an appointment. Cats do not cope well with change, so stress in a cat most commonly occurs with changes in their environment. Examples of this includes:

  • A new cat in the household
  • A new cat in the neighbourhood that is encroaching on their territory
  • A new person or baby moving into the house
  • Changes around the home such as builders coming in to do renovations
  • Moving house
  • A visit to the cattery or (sadly) the vet clinic
  • Even cats that have been long term housemates can be an ongoing source of stress to each other if they don’t get on

Compared to their doggy counterparts, cats can be quite unusual with how they respond to stress. Most people would recognise that a cat was stressed if a new kitten was introduced to the household and the cat subsequently spent all day hissing or growling every time the kitten came within a 3 metre radius. Similarly spraying (where the cat backs up to an object, vibrates their tail and pees on the object) is a commonly recognised and unpleasant form of stress. What you may not know is that often a stressed cat will spend time pulling their own fur out, to the point that they will have a completely bald tummy. Some cats even respond to stress so dramatically that they will literally start peeing blood!

So what can we do to avoid or reduce stress in our cats?

  • Install a magnetic or microchip activated cat door to avoid any unwanted visitors
  • Give each cat in the household their own sleeping environment as well as their own food bowl and litter tray, plus a spare (if you use them)
  • If you are introducing a new kitten to the household make sure the cat has an area it can go to get away from the kitten (e.g. a room only the cat is allowed in or somewhere up high the kitten can’t get to)
  • For stressful situations that cannot be avoided such as moving house or during the introduction of a baby or new cat to the household, the use of cat pheromones can be very helpful
  • In particularly stressful situations medication may be used to help alleviate stress as well

There are many other things that can help depending on the specific situation so being able to recognise stress is the most important first step. If you are concerned that your cat may be displaying signs of stress, a discussion with a vet on environmental changes that can be made may be really worthwhile to avoid both a stressed cat and a stressed owner (especially one having to clean up cat pee all day!)

Life lessons for your furry children

Do you have a new puppy or are you thinking about getting one?  Just like children, the experiences a puppy has in its early life can have a dramatic impact on how they respond to experiences in adulthood. A poorly socialised puppy is far more prone to developing behavioural issues, including aggression with other dogs, aggression towards humans and separation anxiety. Once these behaviours have developed they can be very difficult to fix, so prevention is best.

The early “socialisation period”              

During the first 3 months of a puppy’s life they undergo massive brain development where they learn from experience what is considered normal or safe. New experiences that occur in adult hood are far more likely to result in fear or anxiety, which is probably the most common underlying cause of aggression in dogs.

How to socialise your puppy

Getting as much social interaction as possible during these first few months is critical in order to end up with a confident, well-adjusted dog. This includes:

  • Being handled by a range of different people e.g. children, men and women, people with beards, people with glasses etc. This may seem strange but we certainly come across dogs that are nervous of these things.
  • Get them used to being touched and examined. Touching in their ears, touching their paws, putting your hands in and around their mouths, and handling them all over are all important. It certainly makes things like worming your dog or checking a sore foot far less stressful!
  • Interacting with other puppies as well as adult dogs. Puppy preschool is a fantastic way of socialising with other pups in a positive environment. When interacting with adult dogs, ideally they should be vaccinated to avoid passing on infections to pups that are not fully immune yet.
  • Visiting the vet clinic to experience the smells and action without necessarily experiencing any negatives such as getting injections! Again puppy preschool is a great way to do this.
  • Travelling in vehicles, as this is a common source of stress.

There are special collars available which use a pheromone (kind of like a smell that is only detectable to dogs) that is emitted by the mother during the first few weeks of the pup’s life. It has a calming effect on dogs (even adults) and has been shown to have a dramatic effect on socialisation if used during those first few months, so is a great thing to consider when introducing a new puppy to the household.

The Importance of Consistency

A last note on puppy training – it is important to be consistent! An example where inconsistency can lead to problems is with pups picking up items such as a pair of socks. When they are small and cute and pick up a shoe or a pair of socks it is easy to laugh and think they are cute – the pup enjoys the attention it gets and thinks of it as a positive experience. When the pup gets bigger it may pick up a pair of socks and run away to play with them but get told off. This causes mixed messages, and means that next time it picks up a pair of socks it will become defensive when someone comes near them with them – this can lead to unwanted aggression.

Claire with Bella who has been extremely well socialised since she was very young and is now often used for demonstrations by The Veterinary Centre

Claire with Bella who has been extremely well socialised since she was very young and is now often used for demonstrations by The Veterinary Centre

Doggy Breath or Dental Disaster?

Have you caught a whiff of something awful from your dog’s mouth recently? Have you noticed your cat is less interested in dried biscuits and would rather just eat soft jellymeat? Have you ever actually had a look inside your pet’s mouth?

Dental disease is extremely common in our pets, particularly in small breed dogs (under 10-15kg) and cats. Anyone who has experienced a toothache knows how painful it is, yet animals rarely display much pain when they have a sore tooth – in the wild their only options are to either carry on eating despite the pain or starve, so carry on they do. Often owners don’t see signs of dental disease in their pets until it is very severe. By this stage (something we see multiple times a week) we have to pull out rotten teeth, often in large numbers, because they are just too diseased to be able to fix them. Some animals barely have a tooth to their name by the time they reach their “teens”.

As with anything the best form of treatment is prevention! Checking your pet’s teeth every 3 months or so is a great idea to help prevent teeth getting to this point. There is no need to struggle around, trying to wrench open their mouth – most of the information you need is just under their lip. So have a go at “lifting the lip” and see what you find. Make sure you check the back teeth as this is where many of the problems occur.

Bella (one of our unofficial clinic mascots) is displaying here how to check your dog’s (or cat’s!) teeth.

Bella (one of our unofficial clinic mascots) is displaying here how to check your dog’s (or cat’s!) teeth.

Things you should be looking for include:

  • Brown/tan-coloured bits on parts or all of the tooth (their teeth should be as white as ours – the brown stuff is tartar)
  • Red/swollen/bleeding gums
  • Loose or infected teeth
  • Broken teeth

If you find signs of dental disease, the sooner you do something to reduce the tartar the better.

  • In animals prone to lots of tartar, brushing their teeth is ideal – using a soft children’s toothbrush and special animal toothpaste (which tastes good to them!) twice weekly is fantastic if you have the time and your pet will allow it.
  • For dogs that like to chew on things rawhide bones and large raw bones (which can’t be swallowed) are great as the chewing action actually helps to chip tartar off the back teeth.
  • If not, there are also special diets available that reduce the build up of tartar.

Unfortunately once teeth get to a certain stage, no amount of brushing or chewing will help – the only option is to have the teeth properly cleaned (just like going to the dentist, only the animals get to have an anaesthetic!). After a clean many of the above options will help to reduce the rate of tartar build up and make sure the dog or cat keeps their teeth!

Here are some before and after photos of some teeth we cleaned this month

How can I tell if my dog or cat is in pain?

No one wants their pet to suffer, so this is a really common question. It is often obvious when an animal experiences acute or sudden sharp pain (for example from a bee-sting or a broken leg) as they display many of the behaviours that we associate with pain – they may vocalise or yelp, turn towards the source of pain or try to “escape” it.

Chronic or long term pain, however, is far more difficult to identify, and is probably much more common. The most frequent cause of chronic pain in our pets is arthritis. Arthritic animals may be in a considerable amount of pain, however owners often put it down to "just getting old" as they believe that if it was bothering them they would cry out.

A good way to think about how chronic pain affects animals is to think about how it affects us. For example, if you have experienced back pain, you will know how debilitating it can be. For someone with chronic back pain, it is highly unlikely that they would cry out. Realistically they would mostly grin and bear it – they might avoid certain activities such as lifting heavy objects, or change the way they do things, and you wouldn't blame them if they were a bit grumpier than they otherwise would have been!

Now relate that to a dog with chronic pain associated with arthritis. A popular misconception is that they would yelp if it was painful but actually they mostly just grin and bear it too. They may avoid painful activities like jumping up into the back of the car, or change how they do certain things. Even something as basic as standing up from lying down can become a difficult task – it may be very slow and is often particularly bad when they have been lying down for a while, or have overdone things the day before. The pain associated with these basic activities often means that they would rather lie around sleeping than be up and active - hence the reason that owners think they are "just getting old". Certain dogs will become "grumpier" too, meaning they are more prone to biting if hurt.

As with humans, there are a lot of things that can be done to reduce this chronic pain. One of the most satisfying parts of our job is treating pain in an old arthritic dog who the owner later reports has begun acting like a puppy again! So next time you think your dog is "just getting old", take another look and see if you can identify any signs of pain as wouldn't it be great to have them acting like a puppy again?