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Jo De Klerk

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  1. The eyes are two structures that are so vital to your dog’s ability to perceive their surroundings. On a normal basis, he shouldn’t be able to feel his eyes, but if there’s something wrong, they can be excruciatingly painful. The cornea (outside layer of the eye) has one of the most densely packed areas of nerves in the whole body. This means that even a tiny scratch can lead to excruciating pain, and needs swift medical attention. The eye is made out of several structures. As we’ve already mentioned, the outside layer is called the cornea. The inside of the eyelids is lined with the conjunctiva. When you look at the eye, the black part in the middle is called the pupil, which is not black, but instead a hole to the back of the eye where the light enters. Around this is a coloured part of the eye, known as the iris, and the function of the iris is to cause the pupil to get bigger and smaller, to let in more or less light. Across the pupil is a clear structure called the lens. This bends the light as it passes through, to focus it on the retina at the back of the eye. The retina is a layer which is full of nerve endings. This is the structure that converts the light into a signal to the brain for processing. Normally, all these structures work harmoniously together, but when there is a problem, it is very obvious to your dog. Here are the five most common conditions why a dog will need to see their vet about their eyes: Conjunctivitis Conjunctivitis translated means the inflammation of the conjunctiva. As we’ve already mentioned, the conjunctiva is a lining of the eyelids. When it becomes inflamed, it turns a dark pink or red colour and can be very sore. It can cause the eyes to produce mucus, which may be green, yellow or white, and collect in the inner corner of your dog’s eye. This needs to be cleaned away daily to prevent skin infections in this area. Conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by an infection, usually bacterial, although not always. A veterinarian will first check that the eye hasn’t had any trauma to it, that has got infected. He will do this using a stain. If the conjunctivitis has been going on for a while, he may also take a swab to send off to the laboratory to be cultured for bacteria, but for most conjunctivitis conditions, they will clear up with daily drops which your vet will prescribe. Corneal Ulcers A corneal ulcer is one of the sorest eye ailments that your dog can experience. Even tiny ulcers can cause great pain. Ulcers can arise for many reasons. The most common reason is because of a traumatic abrasion. This could be from something as big as a stick which your dog’s eye contacted on a walk, or as small as dust. Another common reason is because of an object getting stuck in your dog’s eye. Grass seeds are common foreign bodies, and they commonly get stuck under the third eyelid. Finally, if your dog has an underlying condition, such as Dry Eye (talked about in the next section), or protruding eyes, such as in Pugs and French Bulldogs, they can be prone to developing ulcers due to dryness. Like conjunctivitis, your vet will probably start by investigating the amount of damage to the eye with a stain. This will be orange or green in colour and fluoresce when he shines a blue light on it. If he thinks there might be something in the eye contributing to the damage, he is likely to also put in some local anaesthetic, and use a cotton bud to check underneath the eyelids. Most corneal ulcers will heal up very quickly with eye drops to prevent infection and promote healing, but in rare cases, surgery might be needed to remove loose flaps of the cornea which may be causing a problem. Dry Eye Also known as Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS), dry eye is a disease that some predisposed breeds of dog may go on to develop. The medical term essentially means ‘inflammation of the cornea and surrounding tissues due to drying out’. It is due to inadequate production of tears from the lacrimal gland and/or the tear gland in the third eyelid. This is usually due to immune-mediated destruction of the glands or in other words, the body’s immune system attacking and destroying the glands. Tears are needed to lubricate the eye and remove debris which may have come into contact with the eye surface. Tears are made up of water, mucus, and fatty substances. When there are not enough tears in the eye, your dog will have painful eyes and he may be red and squint or blink excessively. There is usually a discharge from the eye, which is the mucus part of the tears that no longer has water in it. In severe cases, as mentioned earlier, ulceration may also happen, which might lead to scarring of the eye or increased pigmentation. If it is very extensive, the eye may also have a blue hue to the outside of it. The eye will also have numerous tiny blood vessels going to the area where it is ulcerated to try to bring nutrients to the area to heal it. Both eyes are usually affected, however, one is often worse than the other. Dry eye can be easily diagnosed based on the history, clinical signs and a test called the Schirmer tear test. Any veterinarian can carry out this test in a matter of minutes at very little cost. It is a simple test, where a strip of blotting paper is placed under the bottom eyelid for one minute, and it measures the volume of tears produced and absorbed within that time frame. There are two aims of treatment for dry eye; firstly, to increase tear production and secondly to replace the tears. There are several types of eye drops available that stop the body from attacking the tear glands, thereby allowing them to function again to some degree. These are usually used in combination with replacement tears to keep the eye moist. These drops require lifelong administration, although once any ulcers have healed up and the eye is less painful, the drops can usually be reduced to just several times per day, rather than every few hours. Cataracts and Nuclear Sclerosis Both cataracts and nuclear sclerosis are conditions of the lens. Normally the lens is clear, but in these cases, it appears cloudy. The difference is, with cataracts the cloudiness is opaque, whereas a dog with nuclear sclerosis will be able to have some vision. Nuclear sclerosis is a normal part of aging and is of no concern. It is when the fibres of the lens condense together. Cataracts, on the other hand, are not normal, and underlying medical conditions such as high ocular pressure or diabetes should be investigated and ruled out. Some dogs don’t have underlying issues, but instead, their cataracts are related to genetic predispositions. There are no medical options for the treatment of cataracts once they form, however, it is possible to surgically replace the lens under the treatment of a veterinary ophthalmologist. Glaucoma Glaucoma is when the pressure of the eye is high. This can be due to many reasons. The most common reason is because of high blood pressure, however primary eye problems can also cause glaucoma, such as eye tumours pressing on the eye or luxation of the lens. Glaucoma is extremely serious, and while drops can be given by your veterinarian to reduce the pressure, the underlying cause should be investigated and treated. Glaucoma might not be externally obvious, but in some cases, the eye may be cloudy and there may be excessive tears from the pain. If the drops do not work, and addressing the underlying issue does not make a difference, then in some cases, the eye might have to be removed. How Do You Give Eye drops? Your vet is likely to prescribe some eye drops to treat your dog’s eye. Before applying the drops to your dog’s eye, ensure that you read both the package instructions and your veterinarian instructions. Some drops may require storage in the box, out of light, and some may require storage in the fridge. Ensure that you apply the drops to the eye as frequently as your veterinarian advises. You can do this by cleaning the discharge away from the eye, then tilting your dog’s head upwards and applying the drops to the centre of the open eye. If you do not see a marked improvement in 24-48 hours, then you should revisit your vet, because luckily for your dog eyes heal quickly, and therefore they should have made an improvement by then.
  2. My poor girl is so itchy! I have a 6-year old Westie called Misty, and she’s been itchy since a very young dog. The vet has always told me it is allergies, which make sense because the summer is the worst time, but I just can’t get on top of it. Help! – Sasha Sorry to hear Misty is so itchy Sasha. It’s a very common problem for Westies to have skin allergies. But nevertheless, it’s always worth ruling out parasites first. Just double check it’s not fleas, and if you haven’t given a flea preventative treatment recently, then pop one of those on her. You have quite a lot of options with treating allergies, which may sound like a good thing, but actually that means there isn’t really one particular treatment which works best. The first thing to start with is to make sure she is on a good quality hypo-allergenic food. Most allergic dogs have multiple allergies, and that can be to food or allergens in the environment. So, removing the allergens in the food is a good start. Next, make sure she is receiving a good quality omega oil supplement. This should ideally be one which is specifically formulated for itchy dogs as then it will have the correct ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 oils. When these are in a ratio of 1:3, then they have wonderful anti-inflammatory effects. In addition to this, they help improve the quality of the skin barrier. Then, there are medications you can try. You should try to avoid steroids if possible. Yes, they are cheap, and very effective at bringing down the itchiness, but they have horrible side effects. They can have major impacts on the liver and the kidneys, as well as make Misty feel very hungry and thirsty. There are other medications though, such as Atopica, which bring down the immune reaction to the allergens, and as a result help with the itching. Like with allergies in humans, you can also give anti-histamines to help with the itching. Your vet will be able to prescribe you what he thinks is best though. Finally, there is also the option of allergy testing to see what she’s allergic to. This is usually done with a blood test, but it can sometimes not be very accurate. But with the results, you should be able to decide whether it is possible to avoid the allergens. If not, a vaccine can then be made against what she is allergic to, using these results, which your vet can give to her at regular intervals. The vaccine can be costly, and not 100% effective, but for some animals, it is an excellent solution to their allergies. So, as I’m sure you’ve gathered from this, there are lots of different options, and most work great for some dogs and not others, and so it is a matter of trial and error to see which ones will work for Misty.
  3. What is your take on pig ears? I’ve heard both good and bad things about them, and I can’t decide whether to give one to Tommy, my Labrador – Harry Thanks for your question Harry. There are plenty of pros and cons to pig ears, and to unpack them further, let’s just look into what the treat is made of first. Pig ears are exactly what they say they are; the ears of a pig. They are a natural dog treat, humanely harvested as a by-product after the slaughter of a pig for bacon or pork. This ensures less of the pig goes to waste. Once the ear has been harvested, it goes through a process of blanching in boiling water for 30 seconds, followed by rapid cooling in ice water. This removes all the remaining hair. After drying, they are then dehydrated either on a dehydration rack, in an oven at a low temperature, or in a smoker for extra flavour. This process can take between four and 24 hours, depending on which method is used. Because pig ears have a large hide content, they are tough to chew and require some effort to eat. With that being said, they are not as tough as cow hide, and therefore do not cause excessive abrasion on the gums. The toughness is a good thing as the continuous chewing action will remove plaque and tartar from your dog’s teeth. It’s a lovely natural treat to give your dog, that has no additives or preservatives, to help with preventing dental disease. However, there are some major downsides too. Because of the high fat content, dogs who are struggling with their weight should not be allowed to have pig ears. Obesity is a major welfare problem, and can be linked to diseases such as osteoarthritis, diabetes and liver failure. Also, a large amount of fat ingestion can trigger a disease called pancreatitis, in some dogs. There have also been Salmonella contamination scares in pig ear treats. Approximately 4% of commercially produced pig ears contain Salmonella. A Salmonella infection can cause vomiting and diarrhoea in your dog, as well as in humans. Nevertheless, if you source your pig ears from reliable places, such as butchers, reputable pet stores and veterinary clinics, then they are less likely to be contaminated. Finally, since they are hard, if your dog becomes over enthusiastic about their treat, then they might swallow large bits of it which can cause obstructions. So, what’s my verdict? I think pig ear treats can be nutritious and delicious treats for your dog to enjoy on a moderated basis. They can be beneficial to your dog’s dental health; however, they should be offered only with supervision to avoid your dog from swallowing pieces which could cause an obstruction. They should also be avoided if your dog is still a puppy, overweight or prone to bouts of pancreatitis, but if your dog is a healthy adult dog, then you can let him enjoy the occasional pig ear.
  4. I’ve just bought a little Patterdale puppy, and I know I must get him vaccinated. But what must I get him vaccinated against? I guess the vet will tell me at the consult, but I’d like to understand what my puppy is being injected with - Marcus I’m glad you’re looking into getting your puppy vaccinated Marcus, as there are a lot of deadly diseases out there. There are a lot of anti-vaccine campaigners, but the reality is, vaccines are exceptionally safe, and the risk is just not worth taking. The initial vaccine course will vary depending on the brand of the vaccine, but in general, it will require two or three injections, roughly 3-4 weeks apart. After that, an annual booster vaccination is all that is needed to keep up the immunity. The following diseases are routinely vaccinated against: Distemper – This vaccination is in the form of an injection. Distemper is a disease which causes coughing, sneezing, vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy and reddened eyes, before it spreads to the brain and causes symptoms such as seizures. It also causes hardening of the pads and the nose. Hepatitis – This vaccination is in the form of an injection. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by Canine Adenovirus. This causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, lethargy, diarrhoea, vomiting, enlarged lymph nodes, loss of appetite, swelling of the brain and eventually death. Parvovirus – This vaccination is in the form of an injection. Parvovirus is a life-threatening disease that is common among puppies. It causes profuse bloody diarrhoea and occasionally vomiting. Puppies die rapidly of dehydration. It is extremely contagious. Leptospirosis – This vaccination is in the form of an injection. Up to four strains are vaccinated against depending on the vaccine brand. Dogs come into contact with Leptospirosis through contaminated water. It affects the kidneys, liver, central nervous system and reproductive system and causes symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, fever and yellowing of the skin and eyes. Parainfluenza and Bordetella – These vaccinations are given in combination in a vaccine which squirts up a nostril of the dog. Not all vets offer this vaccine as standard, but it is worth opting for if your puppy is going to socialise with other dogs. Together they form a complex disease called ‘Kennel Cough’. This is a highly contagious respiratory disease which causes an inflamed trachea, a hacking cough and copious phlegm. Rabies – This vaccination is not required for the UK but is required if you travel. It comes in the form of an injection. Rabies is a very dangerous virus which can be transmitted to humans through bites. It causes excessive drooling, aggression and behaviour changes which rapidly progresses to death within a week for 100% of cases showing clinical symptoms. While this seems like a lot of vaccinations, most manufacturers will combine the first four into one injection, so that your dog does not seem like a pin cushion!
  5. Separation anxiety in our beloved pets is an all too common occurrence. So, if you are experiencing it with your dog, rest assured, you are not alone. Here, we will begin by understanding what separation anxiety is and why it happens, followed by some helpful tips for you to try at home to ease you pet. So, what is separation anxiety? Separation anxiety is the extreme stress state that a dog experiences after their owner has left them alone. This usually happens soon after the owner leaves the house, or even just the room. But what does separation anxiety look like? The following symptoms may be displayed by your dog if he is experiencing separation anxiety: Excessive drooling Pacing Barking Whining Scratching at doors Destroying objects such as toys or furniture The destructive aspects can lead to self-trauma, particularly the claws, paws and mouth. Is there anything that causes separation anxiety? There is still a lot unknown about the causes of separation anxiety, however it is believed that one possible cause stems from when the dog was still in the puppy stage of their lives. This is a prime time for dogs to develop over-dependence on their owner. Sometimes this might be from being weaned too early, sometimes not. But when an owner gets a new puppy, they often take the puppy everywhere with them. Whilst socialisation and exposure to different scenarios are imperative in the successful upbringing of the dog, the puppy comes to know you as their source of confidence and comfort. Once they are a little older, they are then left at home whilst the owner goes to work or out to the shops. They are not familiar with being left alone all of a sudden, and their comfort has left them. When the owner arrives home, it’s a common occurrence to greet their dog with a lot of fuss, as both the owner and the dog are glad to be together again. However, this unintentionally, reinforces the stress and concern the dog had when he was alone. For some dogs, the root of the cause is something different altogether. Separation anxiety is frequently displayed by rescue dogs, which suggests that abandonment or a major change in situation could also be a trigger. Other causes can also trigger the feeling of abandonment and anxiety, such as the loss of a member of the family, a change in routine such as a family member going back to work who usually looks after him, or a change in ownership. Finally, for some dogs it is simply their temperament and no specific situation was their trigger. Whatever the root cause for separation anxiety in your dog, the good news is you will tackle it all the same. So, how is it treated? There are many different options to reduce the anxiety that your dog is feeling when you leave. But before trying any of these methods, it is important that you check with your vet that your dog is truly experiencing separation anxiety, and there is not an underlying medical condition contributing to his behaviour. Neither punishment nor positive rewarding are suitable methods to reduce the anxiety of your dog, as both with worsen the anxiety he is feeling. However, here are some good tips which will help to gradually teach your dog that separation is not the end of the world. When you leave your dog alone, don’t make a big fuss saying goodbye. This will set his adrenalin racing. By ensuring you don’t do this, he will remain in his usual calm state. Likewise, as you return to the house, initially ignore him. Greeting him and making a fuss will reinforce his anxiety. When he has calmed down after a few minutes, you can calmly say hello. Before you leave the house, many owners find it effective to give a long-lasting stuffed toy. Kong® toys are particularly good. You can stuff it with wet dog food, pâté, or peanut butter (although check it is not one which contains xylazine as an ingredient). By having something to chew and lick, not only does this distract him, but it releases endorphins; the body’s natural relaxants. Here is a useful link on how to stuff a Kong® toy: https://positivepettraining.co.uk/a-quick-guide-to-stuffing-a-kong-for-your-dog/ In between times, you can practice leaving so that your dog gradually stops associating it with being alone for a long time. Start with just performing your leaving routine, but not actually going anywhere. Pick up and jingle your keys, or throw your handbag over your shoulder, even put on your coat and shoes. Once this doesn’t trigger any anxiety, progress to leaving the room, but only staying on the other side of the door for a few seconds. Remember not to make a fuss of him when you come back, even if he was good. You can gradually increase the time you leave him to a few minutes, and even jump in your car to drive down the road and back. Once you’ve reached the hour milestone without triggering his anxiety, you shouldn’t have any issues leaving for a whole morning or afternoon. Finally, there are some natural products on the market which have been manufactured into products such as tablets, sprays, diffusers and collars which will help your pet stay calm. These namely come in three different forms: Pheromones: Dog pheromones cannot be detected by our human noses but dogs are sensitive to their presence. ‘Dog appeasing pheromone’ or ‘DAP’ is released by the mother to help calm puppies for the first 5 days after birth. DAP has been manufactured into several types of products for you to use in your house, including a plug-in diffuser, a spray and a collar. Casein: Naturally occurring in the mothers’ milk, casein helps relax puppies, and when ingested by adult dogs, brings back the feeling of being comforted by their mother. This is available both in a tablet form, and a dry dog biscuit. L-tryptophan: This increases serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a naturally occurring chemical which stimulates happy feelings. However, it takes a few weeks to build up to levels which make a significant difference, so don’t expect to see an immediate change. Like casein, it is available both in a tablet form, and a dry dog biscuit, as well as a syrup for cats. What if none of this works? If you have tried all of the above and your vet has ruled out any ill-health, then the next step would be to seek the services of a dog behaviourist. The benefit of this is that they can witness exactly what is going on in your own home and give personalised advice to suit your specific scenario.
  6. My dog loves to swim. In fact, I often can’t get her out the water. But last winter, after an episode of swimming, her tail went limp for a few days. I was talking to a friend, yesterday, and she said her dog once had that problem too. I was just wondering what causes it? – Theresa Thanks for getting in touch Theresa. There are a number of reasons why a dog’s tail might go limp, but the most likely reason for what you are describing is a condition called ‘rudder tail’. Rudder tail is also known under the names ‘limber tail’, ‘swimmer’s tail’, ‘cold water tail’, ‘limp tail’ and ‘broken wag’. Symptoms of a broken wag are quite obvious. The tail will be limp and your dog won’t wag it as it usually does. In some cases, the first part of the tail is in a horizontal position, while the rest of the tail is vertical. It can also happen that the tail extends a few inches from the body and then drops. Pain and swelling usually accompany the limp tail, particularly at the base. They might wimp, whine or lick and chew the tail because of the discomfort, and most dogs are also lethargic when they suffer from this condition. It’s still unclear what causes the tail to be hanging down all of a sudden, but there are certain situations after which it tends to develop. Usually, it happens after swimming, hunting, chasing or other forms of excessive exercise. Thus, overexertion is the most common cause. Other causes behind a ‘rudder tail’ are climate changes, inappropriate crate sizes or too long crate time, cold weather, warm or cold baths or overuse of the tail. Of all the situations, swimming, particularly in cold water, seems to be the most common trigger, which is probably why it happened in the winter for you. Even though the exact cause isn’t clear, it’s certain that it’s a muscle injury. Even though the tail looks broken, it’s not the bone that’s causing problems, but the muscle. More precisely, your dog is keeping its tail down because the coccygeal muscles near the base that are sprained. Fortunately, treating rudder tail is pretty easy when diagnosed. Most dogs recover on their own after a couple of days, but there are certain treatments that can speed up the process. It usually consists of the following: Warm packs at the base of your dog’s tail Anti-inflammatory drugs specifically for dogs, prescribed by your vet Rest Results can be seen pretty quickly. The worst pain usually goes away within 24 to 48 hours. However, sometimes it can take up to 2 weeks for the problem to disappear completely.
  7. I've always given Spark ice cubes on hot days going back many years but a recent post I saw on social media has me confused. What’s your take on it? – Lou This is a really common thing within the pet world, so it’s interesting that you brought it up Lou. There has been a lot of interest around this recently in the hot weather, and one veterinarian’s online post has gone viral; warning about how ice cubes are dangerous because they trigger the anterior hypothalamus to increase the body’s core temperature, not decrease it. So, is there much truth to it? In short, no. Or at least not via the hypothalamus. In theory, if a dog ate an awful lot of ice, it might have a small shivering response, which raises core body temperatures and possibly some momentary constriction of the blood vessels in the tongue, which reduces heat loss, but it doesn’t have an effect on the hypothalamus. This is part of the brain which only works to control core body temperature, and therefore stays relatively constant, while the body responds to peripheral temperatures. It’s easy to believe the advice though. Many people have heard the saying that a warm drink will cool you down, and so why would a cold drink not warm you up? Well this is only applicable to humans. A warm drink will trigger temperature sensors in the mouth and throat, not the hypothalamus, and will increase sweating. On the other hand, dogs do not use sweating as a form of cooling down, apart from through their paws. Instead they use panting. And so, this theory doesn’t work for them. So, are ice cubes actually ok for dogs? Yes, in moderation and under supervision. Ice cubes can come with their risks, such as damage to teeth, and some people believe that they cause bloat, but that is also not true. Gulping lots of water quickly causes air to also be swallowed, and that may cause bloat, but ice cubes themselves don’t. But if given in moderation, and under supervision, your dog may enjoy them and it may be beneficial to helping him cool down ever so slightly. In the hot weather, there are some other things you can do to help your dog which are more effective though. Firstly, a damp towel to lie on, or an ice pack wrapped in a towel to lie next to, will help cool him down very effectively. He may also love to play in a paddling pool, and splash around to cool off. It’s also important to remember to use pet safe sun cream where your dog has pink skin, to avoid burns, and finally, never leave your dog in a hot car, even just for a few minutes. I hope this has debunked some myths for you!
  8. Jo De Klerk

    Essential Oils

    I love to diffuse my house with essential oils, but recently I heard that dogs can be quite toxic to them. Which ones are dog friendly? I don’t want to upset my Labrador, Charlie. – Ulrica I’m glad you asked this Ulrica, as many people don’t realise that essential oils can have an effect on their dogs. In fact, essential oils can be highly potent to dogs. They are very easily absorbed through breathing them in, or through the skin, and the body removes them via the liver. This means any dog which has an underlying liver disease, or a puppy with an immature liver, should not come in contact with essential oils. So, what are they? Essential oils are compounds which have derived from plants. They are the aromatic substances found in these plants which give them their incredible smell. They can be used for aromatherapy, as it has been proven that essential oils stimulate the limbic system in the brain. This is the area of the brain which controls emotions, as well as some unconscious functions, such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. They have also been proven to have many desirable health benefits by topical application on the skin. These include anxiety reduction, anti-inflammatory properties, anti-oxidative, anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal effects. But you are absolutely right, some essential oils are toxic to dogs. The following essential oils should be steered clear of: Clove Garlic Juniper Rosemary Tea Tree Thyme Wintergreen If you are worried that your dog has come into contact with a toxic essential oil, these are the signs to look out for: Muscle tremors Lethargy or weakness Trouble walking or an uncoordinated gait Difficulty breathing Low body temperature Excessive salivation Vomiting Excessive pawing at mouth or face Drooling Redness or burns on the lips, gums, tongue or skin So which ones are good for dogs? The most popular oil used on dogs is lavender oil, as not only does it smell amazing, but it also has incredible anti-anxiety effects. Not only that, it is soothing and anti-bacterial, meaning that it helps with skin concerns, wounds, allergies and infections. Chamomile oil also has very similar effects to lavender oil. Another popular oil is peppermint oil. It can be used to cool sore muscles, energise tired animals, and soothe upset stomachs. It also refreshes the air when diffused. This oil can open the airways and promote a healthy respiratory tract, as well as soothe aching joints. Frankincense oil is considered a super oil, as it tackles so many different health ailments within the body. The most notable is its potent anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. It also helps to boost the immune system. Finally, Cedarwood oil is particularly useful if your dog has a cough. It is an expectorant, which means it helps to loosen the mucus, and is particularly good for phlegmy infections like kennel cough. There are many other oils that you can use on your dog, but it is always worth doing your research first and also asking you vet prior to applying or diffusing any oils.
  9. I heard through your dog chat page that daffodils are poisonous! I’ve got a little puppy and wasn’t aware of this. Luckily, he didn’t chew any while they were in bloom a few weeks ago. But what other plants must I watch out for around the garden which could be dangerous? – Katie Oh yes, Katie, you must be careful of daffodils around your dog. Luckily, the bulbs are the most poisonous part, however they can still become ill through eating the flower or by drinking the water from a vase. Signs of poisoning includes vomiting, stomach upset and salivation, but can escalate to dogs appearing sleepy, wobbly on their legs, or collapsing. In more serious cases it can result in changes to heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure, and even lead to a seizure. Here are some other plants to be cautious about: Tulips The toxins are particularly irritating to the mouth and digestive system, resulting in drooling, vomiting and diarrhoea. Crocus Most crocus species will only cause a mild stomach upset, but the Autumn Crocus can cause kidney and liver problems too. Tomato Plant The actual tomatoes are fine, as long as they are ripe, but the leaves and stems for the plant can cause stomach pain, weakness, difficulty breathing and a slow heart rate. Rhododendron These are highly toxic, particularly in small dogs, and can cause serious stomach upsets. Deadly Nightshade As the name suggests, this can be deadly. The plant, especially the berries, affect the nervous system. Foxglove This plant contains toxic cardiac glycosides, which means that it can cause heart disturbances. In addition to this, it can lead to nausea, diarrhoea and kidney problems. Poison Hemlock Even a small amount of this plant can cause a dog to die. It is also toxic to humans and livestock. It leads to respiratory paralysis. By no means it this an exhaustive list, and there are many other plants out there, both around the house and out on walks, so the best advice is not to leave anything to chance. If you think your dog has ingested any plant, then contact your vet immediately before symptoms appear.
  10. I’ve just bought a pug and I want to get her insured. What considerations must I make when looking at different policies? - Faye Great idea Faye. I’m glad you’re thinking about pet insurance. Pugs can be a breed of dog which have potentially lots of health problems, such as breathing issues, skin issues, and neurological issues. So, pet insurance will aid in covering potential veterinary bills which can cost thousands of pounds if you’re unlucky. Many people will not have that in savings and vets usually require payment upfront before discharge of the animal. There are several different policy types which are available and so reading the fine print carefully and selecting the option which works best for you will be in your best interests. Some insurance companies give you a sum of money per condition, which renews every year, whereas some companies will provide a sum of money per condition for the whole lifetime. Other companies will give you a sum of money for all health care which renews every year. In addition to this, the excess payment will differ from company to company, and a higher excess might reduce the annual payment, however it will require for you to pay more towards the claim. Also, some insurers will also require you to pay a percentage of the fee if your dog is over a certain age. Nevertheless, pet insurance will save you a great deal of money long term if anything happens to your dog, and will allow your vet to provide him with the gold standard vet care without financial concerns.
  11. My Collie is the most stoic dog ever. How do I know if he is uncomfortable if he never yelps or demonstrates that he is in pain? – Judy I can completely relate to your problem, Judy. Part of my line of work as a vet is to understand how comfortable my patients are. It’s particularly hard, because they can’t tell me where it hurts, and it is even harder when they are stoic, and won’t give me any indication at all. But there are some tell-tale signs to look out for, which even stoic dogs will demonstrate if they are in pain. A Change In Breathing Dogs in pain generally breathe at a faster rate. This can be shallow, or it can be panting. People often mistake it for their dog feeling hot or worn out, but it should not be forgotten that pain often causes this symptom. Behaviour Changes These can be changes such as increased aggression, avoiding affection, reacting when picked up, or generally being quieter than usual. Poor Coat Quality Sometimes when a dog is in pain or unwell, their coat becomes duller and greasier. This can be because of a lack of grooming, or because of internal ill-health. Struggling To Settle Lying down in a comfortable position can be a struggle for a dog in pain. You are likely to see him circle round and round before lying down, and once he’s down, it won’t be long before he’s up again. Licking One of the most common indications that somewhere is sore, is obsessive licking of the area. Dogs find comfort in licking areas of pain, whether the pain originates from the skin, musculoskeletal system or internal organs. Difficulty Passing Stools If your dog suffers from either back or hip pain, squatting to pass stools can be very uncomfortable. They may avoid passing a motion because of the pain, and as a result become constipated, or they may get themselves into an awkward position to do their business. What it comes down to, in stoic dogs, is to just know your dog very well and be on the lookout for subtle signs. If your dog is painful, they may show all, some or none of these symptoms, but if you’re in doubt, it is worth giving him the benefit of the doubt and getting a vet to check him over.
  12. What’s more lovely than a dog bounding up to greet you at the end of a busy day, with his mouth wide open, tongue flopping out and a bit grin on his face? But when he finally reaches you, the last thing you need is rotten breath in your face. Dental care is vitally important, not just to keep your dog’s breath smelling nice, but to keep their mouth pain free and teeth in good condition. It is a common misconception that dogs don’t need their teeth cleaned, as in the wild, dogs do not clean their teeth, and they are just fine. However, a domestic dog is not a wild dog. Wild ancestors were able to gnaw on bones to keep their teeth clean, whereas the diets that domestic dogs are fed very different. The Teeth The tooth is a bony structure, comprising of two parts; the crown, which you can see, and the roots, which are under the gum. Some teeth have one root, others two, and some molars have three. The first teeth to appear are the 28 deciduous (baby) teeth. These gradually fall out in the first year of life to be replaced with 42 adult teeth. The small teeth at the front are called incisors, and next to them are the large, pointed canines. In the wild, these teeth would be used by the dog to grab hold of their prey, as well as nibble pieces of meat off of the bone. Along the cheeks are pre-molars and then at the back, molars. These teeth are larger and flatter, and are used to grind harder food. Each tooth is made up of bone, coated in a protective layer of enamel. In the very centre of the tooth is the pulp. This is a fleshy section filled with nerves. If this becomes exposed, it can cause considerable tooth ache. Surrounding the tooth is the tooth socket. This is the area inside the skull in which the tooth root sits. It is held in place by a very strong ligament all the way around the tooth. This is called the periodontal ligament. Tartar and Gingivitis Tartar is a build-up of food and bacteria around the base of the tooth. This happens in all dogs who do not have their teeth brushed on a daily basis. Tartar leads to bad breath and a poor taste in your dog’s mouth. If your dog has tartar build up, they are also likely to have gingivitis. This is an inflammation of the adjacent gums, local to where the tartar is. The reason why the gums become inflamed is because the tartar is full of bacteria. Therefore, the body sends white blood cells to the area to fight the bacteria, but the influx of white blood cells causes the area to swell. Gingivitis can further progress to periodontal disease, whereby the periodontal ligament becomes weak from the inflammation, and no longer holds the teeth in place, resulting in tooth loss. Tooth loss does not happen overnight, and therefore the tooth is usually wobbly for an extended period of time before it finally falls out. This means whenever your dog chews on something hard, it causes significant discomfort in that area. For some dogs, this causes them to lose weight as they do not want to eat as much, whereas for other dogs, they will happily continue to eat, despite the discomfort and foul taste in their mouth. Tooth Care There is not one best method of keeping your dog’s teeth clean, but rather it is best to use multiple methods to maintain sparkly white teeth and fresh breath. Dental care should become part of a daily routine, started from the puppy stage, as this will prevent deterioration of the mouth. Routine Examination Examining the mouth for plaque build-up should be done on a monthly basis. Some dogs do not tolerate owners or veterinarians looking in their mouths, but this is usually because they are not used to it. If your dog doesn’t like it, try to make it a positive, fun experience. To examine the teeth, firstly lift up the front lips to look at the incisors. Tartar or plaque, which is a grey or brown sticky build-up at the gum line, decay, tooth discolouration or redness of the gums should be noted. Next, the corner of the cheek should be pulled far back to examine the premolars and molars for the same issues on both sides. Finally, the mouth should be opened wide from the front, to look on the inside of the teeth. Teeth Brushing Brushing teeth will help to keep them clean, reduce the amount of tartar, and keep the breath fresh. It will also ensure that you are checking the mouth on a regular basis and therefore any changes can be picked up early. To brush your dog’s mouth, you will need a toothbrush and toothpaste. You cannot use regular toothpaste however, as this can be highly toxic to dogs leading to erratic blood glucose levels and liver damage. Anyway, your dog will much prefer the meaty taste of a dog toothpaste, which you can buy off the internet, at veterinary practices, and many pet stores. Dog toothpaste works through enzymatic action. This is when enzymes in the toothpaste work to dissolve any new tartar build up on the surface of the teeth, thereby reducing bacteria and freshening breath. Dental Chews Dental chews are a nice way of keeping your dog’s teeth healthy, and a way which he is sure to appreciate. Your dog won’t be aware that this delicious treat is actually for his benefit. It is important to note that although giving dental chews is much easier than brushing, they are not a replacement for brushing. They should always be used in combination. Dental chews are formed to provide some form of abrasion or friction to the surface of the tooth so that tartar is broken or sucked off. As with all treats, they are not calorie free, and so calculating how many calories must be taken out of your dog’s normal food is important to do. Otherwise, you may end up with a rather overweight dog! Dental chews can be bought from pet stores and veterinary practices, however if you want a more natural option with fewer calories, deer antlers are an excellent option. Bones should not be given as they can shatter and cause obstructions. Mouthwash Like human toothpaste, dogs must never consume human mouthwash either. However, there are mouthwash-style products which can be used to help fight plaque in dogs. These liquid products are usually added in small volumes to drinking water, and work on the same premise as dog toothpaste; they are filled full of enzymes which aid in dissolving the plaque off the teeth or stop more plaque from forming. Dental Food Many of the top dog food brands have created dental diets. These are dry dog foods with large kibble bits in them. As the dog bites through the kibble, it helps remove the tartar from the teeth. The kibble pieces are usually a tiny bit softer than other dry dog foods, so that as the tooth is removed from the kibble, there is a small amount of suction. Dental Procedures If the mouth is in such bad health, your veterinarian may suggest having your dog in for a dental procedure. This is a day procedure where your dog will come home the same day. Once your dog is anesthetised, the vet will start by cracking off any large areas of tartar. He will then scale all the teeth to make them clean and white. Once they are clean, he will take a probe, and run it around each tooth. If the probe dips into the socket, then it means that the periodontal ligament has been damaged and the tooth must be removed. Some teeth have multiple roots, and some just a single root. This usually determines how difficult they are to remove. A sharp tool called an elevator is run around the root of the tooth to break the periodontal ligament before the tooth is pulled out. The socket is sometimes stitched closed afterwards, although some veterinarians prefer leaving it open. At the end of the procedure, the veterinarian will polish the entire mouth to remove any residual tartar. The end result is a mouth as shiny white as a puppy’s! Prevention is always better than cure, and so even though your vet can make your dog’s mouth look like a puppy’s again, keeping your dog’s mouth in good condition from puppyhood is always a better option. With diligent dental care from the outset, you can ensure your dog has a healthy, painless mouth with fresh breath.
  13. Most dog owners at some point in their dog’s life will have a moment of panic when they find a lump on their beloved pet. Lumps are extremely common on dogs and can be as benign as a wart or as sinister as cancer. Therefore, it’s important to understand what to look out for to understand when a vet visit is needed. What are the main causes of lumps on dogs? Infection Lumps caused by a local infection will go down as quickly as they came up. They can easily be caused by a small thorn getting embedded in the skin on a walk, or an infected tick bite, amongst many other causes. The lump is caused by an influx of inflammatory white blood cells into the area. The normal tissues cannot hold this number of cells, and therefore, since the skin is stretchy, it expands to accommodate them. As a result, a lump appears. Sometimes these white blood cells pool together to create an abscess, which if it is big, your vet may need to lance and drain it. Usually, small local infections can easily be dealt with by your dog’s own immune system, however, occasionally they may need antibiotics from the vet to heal it up. Cysts Cysts are fluid-filled structures within the skin layer. They can be as small as a pimple or as big as a plum. Most cysts in the skin originate from sebaceous glands which produce an oil-like substance. They are triggered when the gland becomes blocked. Cysts are simply a local nuisance, and not cancerous, so just because your dog has one, does not mean it will spread around the body. They are, however, sometimes difficult to treat, as draining the cyst does not eliminate the problem, and it will frequently fill back up again. Often, if they are large in size, they will need to be surgically removed. Warts and Skin Tags Warts and skin tags are extremely common on dogs and are completely harmless. They both look very similar and sometimes it is difficult to differentiate between the two. Both warts and skin tags are small lumps, of only a few millimetres. The main differences are that skin tags seem to dangle, whereas warts have a thicker base to them, also skin tags will always remain, whereas warts may slowly subside. The cause for skin tags is up for debate, however, some people believe it is from inflammation in the skin, overbathing your dog, or skin irritants. However, the reality is that they often occur randomly. Warts, on the other hand, are caused by a virus, however, there is no need to see your vet if you find a wart on your dog. Tumours Most people when they hear the word ‘tumour’ they immediately think of ‘cancer’, but not all lumps are nasty. For example, a common lump seen on dogs is a lipoma, which is a benign tumour originating from fat cells. These lumps can grow locally and may cause problems if they interfere with joints, but they will not threaten the life of your dog. Nevertheless, some tumours can be much more aggressive, and therefore it is always best to get them checked out by a vet. So, what are the signs of a benign or malignant tumour? The table below outlines the key points to look out for, although there will still be some exceptions. Benign Malignant Growth Slow growing Fast growing Size Any Any Pain Non-painful Either non-painful or painful Hair growth Hair present Bald Ulceration None None or broken skin Attachment Free moving Attached to underlying structures Shape Well defined, e.g. spherical Well defined or diffuse e.g. irregular Location Body Anywhere, including on the limbs Your vet will be able to determine the type of tumour by placing a needle into the lump and aspirating some cells. These cells can be put onto a slide and analysed under a microscope. If the tumour appears sinister under the microscope, then removal is usually the course of action. Sometimes an X-ray of the chest and abdomen is taken before surgery, to ensure it hasn’t spread anywhere else in the body. Removal of the lump is usually a day procedure, and the process has been described in Ask Dr Jo: My dog needs a lump removed .If the lump could potentially be aggressive, your vet will need to take a wide margin around it of at least 2cm, which means that underlying muscle may need to be taken out too. Most surgical sites heal very well, but there are some circumstances which may make healing more complicated. For example, a large tumour would leave a big void, and therefore there is potential for fluid to build up in the site. Also, a tumour removed from a mobile area may lead to slower healing of the incision because of constant movement. Therefore, following your vet’s advice for post-surgical care is vital. If caught early enough, removal of a tumour can be curative, however, if the tumour has already spread, then chemotherapy or radiotherapy might be indicated. Most vet practices will be able to offer chemotherapy, but radiotherapy must be undertaken in specialist hospitals. What is the take-home message? First of all, do not panic. There are many causes of lumps on dogs, and many of them are not of serious concern. Nevertheless, it is wise to get any lump checked out by a vet, as some lumps can be cancerous. That way, by just a simple test that can be done at your vet practice, it is easier to understand the prognosis and course of action to take.
  14. I have an old terrier, Franky. He’s 13 and up until now I’ve been very lucky. He’s been perfectly healthy. But now he’s getting older, what should I be looking out for on a routine basis to ensure I pick up on any health issues early? – Tom Well done Tom for getting Franky to 13, and I’m sure that since you are being diligent in his care, he will still keep going for a few more years. There are certainly some things you should look out for at home when you have an aging dog, as well as things your vet can check for, once or twice a year. An older dog will be more prone to heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, cancer and loss of senses, such as sight. Sometimes the symptoms of these can be very subtle early on, but the earlier you notice signs and visit the vets, the better the long-term prognosis. The following are symptoms that you should look out for: Heart Disease – Exercise intolerance, fainting, coughing, increased breathing rate and depth, increased heart rate, slow gum capillary refill time, pale or dark red gums. Liver Disease – Vomiting, loss of appetite, yellow gums, yellow stools, seizures or behavioural changes, lethargy, weight loss. Kidney Disease – Increased urination, increased thirst, weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, pale gums, dehydration, poor hair coat, smelly breath. Cancer – Visible lumps, swollen lymph nodes under the chin, in front of the shoulders, under the elbows, in the groin and at the back of the lack legs, general off-colour, lethargy, coughing, increased breathing rate and depth. Loss of senses – Cloudy eyes, knocking into things, not following a ball which has been thrown, not responding to commands or his name, being nervous of abnormal sounds. It is advisable to occasionally have a senior wellness check at your vets when it comes to Franky’s age. In fact, any dog over the age of eight will benefit. This will include a physical examination, checking the teeth, eyesight, heart, lungs, abdomen and temperature. Depending on how the physical exam is, your vet may wish to carry out a blood test and blood pressure test, to fully understand your Franky’s internal health. This is a good idea to carry out once or twice every year in very senior dogs, as organs can deteriorate very quickly.
  15. I was shopping for treats for my Yorkie, and I saw the pet store selling dog chocolate. I thought dogs weren’t allowed chocolate? - Rosie I’m glad you brought this up Rosie, as dog chocolate and regular chocolate can easily be confused. It is actually poor marketing on the behalf of the manufacturers which produce dog chocolate, as those who have little knowledge about toxins, can inadvertently poison their dog by giving them real chocolate. The treats which you see in the pet store, that call themselves chocolate, actually contain no cocoa. This is the part of chocolate which is toxic to dogs even in small quantities. There are varying levels of cocoa in chocolate, depending on whether it is dark, milk, white, cooking chocolate, or cocoa powder, and the amount eaten and size of your dog will all factor in when it comes to calculating the risk. In the cocoa is something called theobromine. This is at a higher level in cocoa, cooking chocolate and dark chocolate. If ingested in small quantities, it can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, but in larger quantities, it can lead to tremors, seizures, heart irregularities and death. If you are concerned that your dog might have eaten chocolate, it is important to call your vet immediately so that they can induce vomiting to stop it getting into the system. If it is too late and your dog is already experiencing symptoms, your vet will be able to provide supportive treatment to help pull him through. Vets Now have provided an excellent online tool to measure the risk if your dog has ingested some chocolate, which can be found here: https://www.vets-now.com/app/chocolate-calculator
  16. I have been advised to get my dog neutered by the vets. He is 7 months old. I had him booked in at 6 months but cancelled as a lot of people were telling me he was too young and that it would affect his coat. – @Fourpaws Thank you for contributing this topic to the forum FourPaws. I thought it would make an interesting topic for me to answer for everyone to read. So, neutering is a time which is met with apprehension for a lot of owners. It is usually the first time their dog is away from them for a procedure, and the thought of an operation can be nerve-wracking. However, this is something that vets do on a day-in day-out basis, and so don’t worry, they are extremely experienced at it. Generally, I advise that if you are not wanting to breed your dog, then it is best to get him or her neutered. There are more health benefits than consequences to the procedure, but you must still weigh up the pros and cons for yourself. When a male dog is castrated, it will eliminate the risk of misalliance (unwanted mating) and testicular cancers. It will also almost eliminate the risk of prostate cancer and benign prostatic enlargement, which can lead to many further complications. If done before 18 months old, it can also calm your dog’s temperament, as well as stop unwanted hormone driven behaviours, such as marking and aggression. When a female dog is spayed, it will again eliminate the risk of misalliance, unwanted pregnancies and attention from male dogs. It will mean that your dog will not have any seasons, which means much less mess! It also eliminates the risk ovarian cancers and of a pyometra; a potentially fatal uterine infection, and if done before the second season, almost eliminate the chance of mammary cancers. So, what are the down-sides? As you mentioned, it can cause a change in the coat of your dog. For some dogs, it may become more coarse or wavy, but for others you might notice no difference. For most dogs, neutering slows their metabolism, and so they will be more prone to putting on weight. This can easily be avoided by adjusting the amount you are feeding your dog. Finally, the only major downside of spaying a female dog is increasing the risk of urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence (USMI). The urethral sphincter is a band of muscle which closes the bladder. It increases in tone, the more oestrogen there is in the body, and therefore spayed female dogs are at a higher risk of leaking urine later in life. All in all, I personally think the pros strongly outweigh the cons, so I encourage owners to neuter their pets if they have no intention of breeding with them. For males, this can be done from any age that they have two descended testicles, although, I prefer them to be over 6 months, as they handle the anaesthetic a little better compared to when they are younger than this. As for females, the prime time to neuter is either at 6 months, before the first season, or three months after the first season. This can fall anytime between 6 and 18 months. So, in answer to your question, 7 months is actually an excellent age to neuter your dog. I hope this has helped in you deciding whether to go ahead or not!
  17. My Springer Spaniel keeps scavenging out on walks and gets an upset stomach. Is there anything I can do to make her stop? And are there any home remedies for vomiting or loose stools? – Victoria Oh Victoria, I know your dilemma. I also have a Springer Spaniel, and she is an absolute hoover. It’s impossible to stop her snatching disgusting things off the floor during walks. The only remedy would be to put her on a lead to ensure you have full control during a walk, but in reality, I wouldn’t do that with my dog on a walk, so I wouldn’t expect you to do it with your dog. So, if she ends up with vomiting or loose stools from snuffling up something rotten, then there are a few things that you can try at home before rushing to the vets. With that being said, there are some important circumstances where a vet visit is needed. Look out for the following symptoms: Blood in the stools or the vomit Vomiting or diarrhoea which is not improving with home remedies after 3 days Extreme lethargy Not being able to keep down water Vomiting excessively with no stools being produced Vomiting or diarrhoea in puppies But if your girl is still happy and bouncy, and has an appetite, then you can try to get her through the episode at home by following these steps: Starve her for 24 hours. This will give her guts a complete rest from having to work. After starving, introduce a bland food for 5 days. This should ideally be a ‘gastrointestinal’ food, available from your vets, but if you wish to home cook something, boiled chicken and rice is a suitable alternative. If your dog hasn’t had a dewormer in the last month, be sure to give one that covers both tapeworms and roundworms. Introduce a probiotic. You can buy sachets or pastes over the counter at your vet practice. If she is struggling with diarrhoea, you can buy probiotic pastes which also include kaolin, which helps to bind up the stools and reduce inflammation in the guts. I hope this has helped. If you are concerned at all, it is always best to take your dog to the vets for a check over, but for a simple gastrointestinal upset, most cases can be dealt with effectively at home. Just remember to ensure she is fully vaccinated and dewormed regularly.
  18. There will inevitably come a time when you will need to take your dog to the vet, for one reason or another. But in this day and age, many owners are exploring options to reduce the intake of medications by their dogs. As a result, many veterinarians and animal therapists are now offering complementary therapies for dogs and other animals. Responsible vets and therapists will only offer these services as complementary therapies, and not as alternative therapies, as conventional medicine is still the most proven effective method of treating many ailments. A complementary therapy is a type of therapy offered by a veterinarian or animal therapist which improves the dog’s response to a medication, procedure or rehabilitation process. It, therefore, improves comfort and healing time. Some complementary therapies have been used for hundreds of years, with plenty of scientific backing, whilst others are relatively new on the scene or do not stand up in rigorous scientific research. Nevertheless, if they are used in conjunction with conventional medicine, as long as they do no harm, they can only do good or nothing at all. Physiotherapy Physiotherapy in the UK is carried out by professional veterinary physiotherapists. To become a veterinary physiotherapist requires extensive training to first become a human physiotherapist, then pursue postgraduate qualifications in the veterinary physiotherapy field. Physiotherapy is a therapy which helps improve the function of muscles and general mobility. It is often used for orthopaedic and neurological cases; however, the application of it can be endless. There are several types of exercises which are commonly carried out in physiotherapy sessions. The first type of exercise is general massage. There are many different types of strokes which can be used in a massage session; however, the general aim of the massage is to improve blood flow and relaxation of tired, overcompensating and injured muscles. The mainstay of physiotherapy sessions are exercises which encourage movement and functional use of limbs or balance. This can be done by using inflatable exercise balls to lean over, or inflatables to stand on so that the body has to react and judge its position. This improves balance and tones postural muscles. Other common exercises, which can easily be carried out by owners at home too, are exercises which build up muscle. These include ‘passive range of movement’ exercises, which involve bicycling legs when they are not bearing weight, and exercises such as sit to stand, and weaving in and out of cones. Finally, many physiotherapists also make use of laser or light therapy. This uses infrared light to activate an enzyme called cytochrome C. This, in turn, causes a chemical reaction which releases energy and results in blood vessels dilating. Consequently, there is improved blood flow to the area which aids in the healing of injuries. Acupuncture In the UK, acupuncture can only be carried out by a veterinarian, or a veterinary nurse under the supervision of a veterinarian. There are two types of acupuncture; Chinese and Western. Chinese is still widely practiced; however, the explanation of the therapy is now fairly outdated. There have been some major scientific advancements in the acupuncture world, which has given rise to Western acupuncture. This type of acupuncture is backed up by a great deal of verified scientific research. It is now known that acupuncture works through stimulation of nerves, rather than by the flow of energy through meridians. There are many nerves in the body, some of which travel as bundles. These nerve bundles are thick, and can be targeted at certain points by acupuncture needles. If stimulated by a needle, the body will release a large amount of endorphin, which is like a natural morphine. This causes profound pain relief, as well as relaxation, minor sedation, improved blood flow, and a general happy feeling. As a result, acupuncture is usually used for painful conditions. The endorphins are initially released in the area of the needle placement, but they gradually make their way back up the nerve to the spinal cord as well. Once they reach the spinal cord, they travel both up and down for a short distance. From there, the endorphins then travel down any nerve which originates at that part of the spinal cord. As a result, there is a local, spinal and regional pain relief. This enables the acupuncturist to target painful sites without directly placing a needle in them. Many owners are apprehensive about their pets receiving acupuncture; however, it is not a painful procedure. The needles are not much thicker than a strand of hair, and once inserted, the only sensation is an aching feeling similar to that which is felt after heavy exercise. Hydrotherapy Another popular rehabilitation therapy, now widely used, is hydrotherapy. This is more than just an expensive swimming session. Hydrotherapy is usually carried out by canine hydrotherapists, veterinary physiotherapists or veterinary nurses, all of which will have had extensive training. Most people running hydrotherapy sessions will only do so on the referral from a vet. The wrong type of exercise can exacerbate conditions, rather than help them, and so a full history from the vet is important. A hydrotherapy session will not just be in a general swimming pool. Usually, there will be a purpose-built pool and underwater treadmill, specifically for canine hydrotherapy. Floats will often be used to aid dogs to stay in a good position in the water, and toys may also be brought out to encourage a positive experience. Hydrotherapy is most commonly used for dogs that need to build up muscle without putting stress on other anatomical parts of the body. For example, a dog with arthritis will have sore joints, and the force of gravity when moving will put pressure on those joints. However, when a dog moves in water, there is very little pressure on the joints, meaning that muscle can be built up without exacerbating the condition. Herbal Therapies and Homeopathy Some veterinarians will also provide options for herbal therapies and homeopathy. These two therapies are very different, yet are commonly confused. Herbal therapy has a large amount of scientific research behind it. Most modern drugs have derived from plants, and therefore, medications made out of plants and herbs can be extremely effective. Unfortunately, even though herbal therapy is a more natural way of treating your dog than synthetic drugs, there is no guarantee how much of the active component of the medication is in the herb or plant, and therefore, results can be highly variable. Synthetic medications, on the other hand, ensure that each dose is effective as the next. Homeopathy is another form of medication, however, there is not a great deal of scientific research to justify homeopathic remedies in place of conventional medication. Homeopathy is a treatment modality that treats like with like. This is done by taking the root cause of the issue, for example a toxin, and diluting it again and again until there is no more trace of the initial substance. What is left in the solution is the energy of the substance, which in turn is used to treat the condition. Whilst this sounds like it couldn’t possibly work, there are many compelling case stories in the world which promote its use. Regardless of how you choose to treat your dog, whether it be with conventional therapy or with complementary therapies, in the end, as long as you are doing no harm by withholding a required medication, you can only do good for your dog.
  19. "My old Vizsla girl keeps leaking urine in her bed. I don’t think she is consciously aware of it. What could be the cause?" – John Thank you for your question John. This is a common problem that is encountered by many dog owners of elderly, female dogs. There can be several reasons why this is happening and it is best to get your girl checked out by a vet to get a firm diagnosis, but I hope the following information is useful to you. The first, and most common reason, for unconscious urine leakage is a condition called Urethral Sphincter Mechanism Incompetence (USMI). The urethral sphincter is a muscular band closing the exit to your dog’s bladder. It has more tone the more oestrogen it has come into contact with. This means that female dogs who have been spayed, especially those which were spayed prior to their first season, have more risk of developing USMI later in life. The good news is that it can be successfully controlled with a daily medicated syrup, available from your vets. The second reason for urine leakage is a spinal issue. The nerves which control the bladder and urethral sphincter stem from the lower spine, and so anything impinging on this area will disrupt their action. This could include full or partial slipped discs, spinal malformations, and arthritis in the spine. There are various different treatment options depending on the cause, and your vet will be able to advise you further. Finally, leaking urine could be due to a primary urinary tract issue, such as kidney or bladder stones, infections or kidney disease. These issues may require tests such as a urinalysis or blood test to be done. It is always worth ruling out these things first, even though USMI is far more common, as if a urinary tract condition is overlooked it can have bad consequences. A urinalysis is easy and cheap to perform on a free catch urine sample.
  20. "I’ve just bought a new Great Dane puppy, and the breeder recommended a particular brand of puppy food. I have no idea whether it is a good food. How do I tell?" – Hannah Congratulations on your new puppy Hannah. How exciting! Great Danes are a huge bundle of fun! Getting the diet right for your puppy is really important, so I’m glad you asked this question. Most breeders are quite knowledgeable, and therefore there is a good chance the food that they started your puppy on is of good quality, but there are some things that you should certainly look out for when choosing a food for your puppy. First of all, you should feed your puppy commercial food. If the breeder has been using a raw food diet or home cooked diet, it is advisable to change this straight away. A commercial diet is important because if a food is on the market, it means that it has met stringent nutritional guidelines and be well balanced nutritionally. An imbalanced diet at this age can lead to many developmental health problems. The next thing you should make sure is that you are feeding a large breed puppy food. This is really important because puppies grow rapidly, especially large breeds, and therefore they need more protein, calcium and phosphorus than adult dogs. Finally, good dog food should have plenty of meat in it and minimal starchy fillers. If you look at the ingredients list, they are in order of weight. Therefore, the first food on the list should be a quality meat protein. There should also be plenty of vegetables. It is up to you whether you choose a dog food with or without grain in it. There is some anecdotal evidence that grains can lead to skin allergies and heart disorders, however, there is very little published scientific proof of this at this stage. If you do decide to change the food of your puppy, it is best to do this very slowly over the course of at least a week. Puppy’s stomachs are sensitive to sudden diet changes and so this way it will prevent any stomach upsets.
  21. Question from Julie. It’s always nerve-wracking when your dog needs to go into surgery, but don’t worry Julie, your dog is in the hands of professionals that do this day in day out. You haven’t elaborated on the type of lump or location, but assuming it is an easy to remove lump, of small to moderate size, your dog will just need to be at the vets for the day. It is best to drop him off first thing in the morning. He should have an empty stomach to ensure that he does not vomit whilst under the anaesthetic. He can, however, be allowed to drink water until you take him to the vets. When he arrives, a vet or vet nurse will give him a thorough check over to ensure he can have his operation. This is mainly to identify anything which may need to be considered during the procedure, such as heart murmurs, being overweight, or internal organ problems which may hinder how the drugs are filtered out of the system. If they find anything, they will discuss this in full with you prior to the procedure. Some vets will first run a quick blood test as well, to double check that your dog is healthy, whereas others may just run the blood test if the clinical exam was abnormal. Your dog will then be given a sedative and put on an intravenous fluid drip, to keep his blood pressure normal. About half an hour after the sedative injection, his anaesthesia will be induced. This is done with an injection into a vein in the leg. Once he is asleep, a tube will be placed down his windpipe which will provide him with anaesthetic gas and oxygen, as well as enable the anaesthetist to intervene and breathe for him, if for any reason he or she is not happy with his breathing. After the operation, the anaesthetic gas will be turned off, and he will be allowed to breathe pure oxygen for five to ten minutes, to help filter out the gas. It usually takes about ten minutes for a dog to wake up after an operation, however once awake, they then often fall back asleep to rest for several hours when put into a recovery kennel. Once the vet is happy that your dog has recovered enough from the anaesthetic, and had something to eat, he will allow him to go home. It is likely that your dog will be drowsy for the rest of the day, and it is best to just allow him to rest. Some bland food for dinner, such as a gastrointestinal food, or chicken and rice, is the most beneficial for him at this stage. Most vets require two post-operative checks; one at three days post-op and one at 10-14 days post-op. The first check is to ensure that the wound is not infected and is starting to heal nicely, and the second is to take out any stitches that there may be. Until the stitches are out, you should keep your dog as quiet as possible, as popping stitches may lead to complications and longer healing times. Good luck, and I hope he gets better soon.
  22. "I have seen many dogs in my life that were small and slow growing up but later they recovered. However, one pup of my dog has had a prolonged growth and unable to participate in games actively. Could this be a genetic disorder like Down Syndrome?" – Shavin, a question from the forums. This is a really interesting topic Shavin, and something that I expect any breeder or new puppy owner will be interested to know. Genetic conditions are always a worry when it comes to breeding puppies. They can happen for two reasons; either when the embryo was developing, there was a chance mutation in the DNA, which has resulted in abnormal development in one way or another, or it can be because both parents were carriers of a recessive gene unknowingly. Genetics are complicated, however, to put it simply, every animal has two sets of genes (also known as chromosomes); one from the father and one from the mother. Genes can either be dominant or recessive, which means that if the gene is dominant, it will cause the condition to be noticeable even if both genes are not the same. Whereas if it is recessive, both genes must be the defective gene to cause the visible condition. As an example, a parent of a puppy might have one normal gene (N) and one defective recessive gene (D). This would make her what is known as a carrier. She would not have the condition visibly, but she has the potential to produce offspring who would have it. So, if two carriers (ND) mate, the four possible outcomes of their offspring would be NN (normal), ND (carrier), ND (carrier) or DD (condition), i.e. a 25% chance that the puppy would have the condition. This means that it is easy to unknowingly breed dogs with defective genes for many generations before the condition is evident. Now, coming to your question about Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome is when a human has a third copy of chromosome 21, rather than a pair, but humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, whereas dogs have 39 pairs of chromosomes. Therefore, the DNA that makes up chromosome 21 in dogs is very different from that which makes up chromosome 21 in humans. If a dog was to have three copies of chromosome 21, it would not present like Down Syndrome would in humans. With that being said, there are many conditions which are very similar to Down Syndrome which we see in dogs, and two spring to mind which would fit the symptoms you are describing. The first is Pituitary Dwarfism, which leads to significantly stunted growth, as well as an occasionally increased pigment in their skin and coat, and hair loss. This is a recessive gene which causes the pituitary to produce less growth hormone (GH). The lack of GH also means that the thyroid does not develop properly, leading to dullness and slow intelligence. The second is Hypothyroidism. This can be a genetic or acquired condition, which leads to the thyroid gland underproducing triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), or not responding to thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). As a result, the dog will be mentally impaired, dull and prone to putting on weight. In addition to this, the legs and spine are usually shorter, leading to an apparent stunted look. I hope this has been helpful, and I’d just like to close with one comment; I always recommend that any dog who is not developing appropriately should be taken to the vet for a check over. They will be able to give a definitive diagnosis and appropriate treatment, which is important for your puppy to have a lovely long, healthy life. Good luck!
  23. Raw food diets are becoming increasingly popular in the UK, despite their controversy. A recent discussion in the forums shows there is still some disagreement. Many people who feed their dogs raw food are firm believers in its benefits, and will strongly defend their choices for feeding such a diet. They claim improved health of the coat, skin, teeth and general energy and demeanour of their dogs, and first-hand experiences and pre- and post-diet change photos can certainly be persuasive. Nevertheless, the benefits of the diet are still very much in the anecdotal stages. So, what is a raw food diet? Raw food diets first came onto the scene in 1993, when a veterinarian called Ian Billinghurst, from Australia, suggested that it would be best to feed a diet closer to the natural food a dog would eat in the wild. The type of diet was called ‘BARF’ which stood for ‘Bones and Raw Food’ or ‘Biologically Appropriate Raw Food’. BARF diets tend to compromise of uncooked meat, whole or crushed uncooked bones, raw eggs, vegetables, and fruit. Billinghurst was adamant that this type of diet would be more beneficial for the health of domesticated dogs, and he was vocal about his views against commercial dog food. However, this is a view that most vets now take a negative stance towards. The British Veterinary Association has a relatively neutral opinion on the topic of raw food, stating ‘raw food and home-cooked diets are increasingly popular but it can be time-consuming to prepare them as well as difficult to ensure that they are nutritionally balanced and safe and that all risks are addressed.’. So, what are the risks? There have now been numerous studies on raw food demonstrating the high numbers of dangerous pathogens which can be transmitted to the dog, and the owner, from these diets. These pathogens include bacteria such as Salmonella, E.coli, and Campylobacter. Not only do they stay in the saliva of the dog, but they are also still present in the faeces and coat when the dog grooms himself. This, therefore, means they can be readily transmitted to people. At particular risk are those people who are more vulnerable, such as children and the elderly. In these age groups, infections with these pathogens can be life-threatening. On average, in the UK, there are over 200 deaths per year from Salmonella, and many more hospital admissions. Dogs also can develop illness from infections that derive from these pathogens, however generally the gastrointestinal system of a dog is significantly more robust than humans. Therefore, many dogs can withstand some level of contact without developing disease. It goes without saying that meticulous hygiene during preparation can mitigate some of the risks. Disinfecting the area where the food was prepared, your hands, and the dog bowl after every use will decrease these harmful pathogens in the environment considerably. There are other risks that come with BARF diets which contain whole bones. Bones can present risks of choking, damage to teeth, internal punctures, and internal obstructions. Most raw food advocates will argue that only raw bones are being offered, which are more flexible and digest better than cooked bones, but regardless, there is still some element of risk. Finally, the main concern of veterinarians is the lack of balancing BARF diets appropriately. In a study of 95 raw food diets, 60% were found to have a major nutritional balance. The majority of raw food feeders will not have consulted an expert veterinary nutritionist, but rather will have developed their dog’s diet through personal research or advice from breeders or friends who also feed their dogs raw diets. As a result, the diet is not balanced properly, and there are excessive levels of calcium and phosphorus or incorrect levels of other nutrients. This can lead to serious consequences in the dogs receiving the diets, and they can develop conditions such as rickets, bladder stones, and stunted growth, particularly if they are not yet fully grown. Nevertheless, there are some suppliers of raw food in the commercial market, which have started to produce products that can mitigate many of these potential pitfalls. A few years ago, there were only a handful of suppliers, but now over 80 companies are registered with Defra, of which nine are members of the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA). This is excellent, as the PFMA has set out stringent regulations: ‘Raw pet food manufacturing plants must be registered under the Feed Hygiene Regulations (EC) 183/2005 with their local authority and require approval under ABP Reg (EC) 1069/2009 from the APHA before they begin to manufacture raw pet food.’ Vets tend to universally agree that home-created raw food has the potential to be exceptionally dangerous, however, many will now accept these commercially produced products. This is because these products are tested to ensure that the nutrients are correctly balanced. Many also test their meat for pathogens and therefore can certify that they are pathogen-free and safe for consumption. The production of these commercial foods, therefore, have become more compelling for the veterinary industry to acknowledge safe raw food feeding, even if they cannot yet promote it. Despite the obvious risks, consumers are still driven towards home-made raw diets through anecdotal evidence, hype, and very persuasive pre- and post-diet change photographs. Unfortunately, a great number of these consumers are pedigree dog breeders, passing on their passion to ignorant first-time puppy owners who are not aware of the risks. So, what’s the future for raw food diets? There has been major growth in alternative husbandry practices in the animal world over the past few years, of which raw food is certainly one of those practices, and consumers are moving much closer towards requiring personalised diets and lifestyles for their dogs. Therefore, BARF diets have become extremely attractive. Whilst many veterinarians are hoping that raw food diets are just a fad, which will soon blow over, it appears that they are here to stay. Luckily the PFMA have recently updated their guidelines and factsheets regarding raw food, so commercially produced raw food diets can be excellent for dogs, and for the foreseeable future, they should only be getting better. With the commercial raw food market improving, it can be hoped that owners will now move away from homemade imbalanced raw food diets to safer, nutritionally complete commercial raw foods.
  24. Question from Brian. You’re not alone Brian. So many people have this exact problem with their dogs. It’s every so common. There are usually two reasons why this may happen; anxiety or nausea. Or sometimes anxiety from the idea of becoming nauseous. It may be a process of elimination to figure out which. In answer to your question, yes there are medications that you can give your dog prior to travel to help the situation. Your vet can prescribe one of three types of medications: Sedatives – These are usually only used in extreme cases of anxiety. The most common type of sedative to be given is a benzodiazepine, such as Valium. The reason for this is that it will calm your dog as well as allow him to forget the stressful event afterwards. Calmers – For some dogs, these work exceedingly well, without causing side effects such as drowsiness. For other dogs, they don’t work at all. But they are significantly safer than sedatives, and therefore they are the best thing to try first. Some calmers contain L-Tryptophan, which build up levels of serotonin in the brain, and helps your dog feel happy. Other calmers contain dog appeasing pheromone (DAP), which will make your dog feel comforted like a puppy. Anti-nausea medication – These are tablets which can be given an hour before travel, and are extremely effective if there is no anxiety element. You may wish to try these in combination with a calmer. There are also other non-medicated options, such as putting your dog in a Thunder Jacket® which will help him feel secure, or providing him with a long-lasting chew toy such as a Kong® as the chewing action releases endorphins which will help him to relax. Finally, if you think that nausea plays a role, travelling on an empty stomach will help with any motion sickness.
  25. Welcome to our very first ‘Ask Dr Jo’. In this series, Dr Jo, a companion animal veterinarian, will try to answer all of your dog-related health queries, no matter what they are. So, if you have a question you would like answering by a vet, please get in contact. Question from Meghan. Meghan, I think this is a worry of every dog owner out there! I regularly get clients asking me to clip their dog’s nails while they are at the consult, and that is something you can do too if you want; a vet, vet nurse or groomer will be very happy to assist. However, if you wish to do it yourself, there are some things you can do to ensure that you don’t hurt your dog. As I’m sure you are aware, each nail is made out of keratin, much like our own. This keratin covers a fleshy centre called the quick. Unfortunately for us who wish to cut nails, the quick is full of blood vessels and nerves, and is excruciatingly painful if you accidentally cut it, not to mention extremely messy. It is best to cut your dog’s nails with a specific dog nail clipper. You can purchase these from any pet store. Buy one appropriate for the size of your dog. A small one won’t be strong enough for the nails of a big dog, and a big one will be fiddly to use on a small dog. Next, have a look at the nails. If they are black and you cannot see the quick, then turn the paw upside down. Some nails do not completely meet underneath and therefore in some dogs, you will be able to see the quick this way. If you are unlucky, and have a dog with black nails, completely surrounding the quick, the best you can do is to just be cautious and take small amounts off at a time. Some people also have success in cutting diagonally, rather than directly across the nail, as you will catch less of the quick this way if you cut too deep. If you do make the nail bleed, do not panic. Your dog is not going to bleed out from a cut nail, although the mess may make it seem like it! Get a large wad of cotton wool, and apply a firm pressure to the nail for five minutes. Alternatively, you can purchase a silver nitrate pen, when purchasing the nail clippers, which is an excellent cautery device to have on hand for these situations. Finally, to avoid having to clip your dog’s nails too often, ensuring he regularly walks on hard abrasive ground, such as pavements, will help file down the nails and keep them short naturally.