Whizz-bang or whizz-gone? How to help cats cope with fireworks.

While fireworks displays can really brighten up an autumn evening for us, for our cats, they can be really, really stressful! Unfortunately, the way a cat responds to sudden fear is all too often to run away and hide – but in a busy city, running away from home can result in becoming lost, attacked by other cats or dogs, or having an accident on a road. In this blog, we’re going to look at how we can help our cats to cope with the scary noises outside, and how to keep them safe when the rockets do fly.

How do cats respond to fireworks?

It does, of course, depend on just how scared they are. If the fireworks are totally unexpected, very close or very loud, then panic sets in. The cat may:

  • Try to hide – for example, under furniture, or in a cupboard, anywhere where they think the scary “monsters” outside can’t find them.
  • Attempt to escape by climbing to a high, safe place where the “monsters” can’t follow. Typically this might be up the curtains, or onto shelves, or into the loft – even up the chimney in some cases.
  • A cat running in a blind panic just keeps going, and easily gets lost, attacked, or hit by a vehicle.

Less severe fear usually shows itself as signs of stress or anxiety. These may include:

  • Spending more time safe, hidden places.
  • Urine spraying and leaving faeces around – often near doors and windows.
  • Reduced time playing or socialising.
  • Overgrooming (this can sometimes be mistaken for a flea allergy, and can also cause hairballs).

 How can we help them be less afraid?

The best approach is to teach them that firework noises aren’t anything to be afraid of. There are two components to this – desensitisation and counter-conditioning, but the best results are usually from doing both together. As early as possible (i.e. NOW!) get a series of audio-clips of scary firework noises. We can supply a CD, or you can download them – it really doesn’t matter where you get them from. Then start playing them at a very low volume. If the cat ignores the noises, or responds in a non-fearful way, give him or her a favourite treat (tuna, prawns, cheese, whatever it is they really love!). The next night, turn up the volume by one click ONLY and repeat the exercise. Before long, they’ll come to associate fireworks with treats (and then you’ve only got to worry about them raiding the fridge on fireworks night!).

Using pheromones to reduce their overall anxiety levels is also invaluable – we recommend using Feliway, which is a synthetic version of Feline Facial Pheromone, and reassures them that they are safe, in their own territory, and not under any imminent threat.

There are other products available that may also help – the milk-protein tablets Zylkene are widely used to reduce anxiety. Unfortunately there haven’t been many good studies into their effectiveness, however, they may be worth trialling as part of a programme for reducing total stress levels.

Is there any way to help keep them safe during the fireworks season?

Ultimately, the best thing you can do if your cat is still scared is to minimise the harm they can come to.

The most important single intervention is to keep them inside when fireworks are expected. In fact, in an urban environment, it’s often good practice to keep cats indoors overnight anyway if possible – most cat fights and road accidents seem to happen during the hours of darkness. So get them used to coming in for a meal, and then staying in overnight, making sure all the doors and windows are firmly shut (to prevent escapes, but also to keep the noise outside). If they’re indoors, they can’t get lost, or hit by a car, or into a fight with a dog – they are much, much safer.

They can still get afraid though, so make sure you provide them with a suitable den that they can retreat to – a comfortable nest, hidden away, and ideally in the quietest spot in the house. Some cats prefer to be raised up, so you could put a cat basket, lined with comfy blankets, on a worksurface, for instance; but your cat will let you know where they feel safest!

Finally, try as far as possible to stick to your normal routine, and not to make an excessive fuss of them – any change in routine might only make things worse by making them feel less safe in the house.

If you need more advice, please feel free to give us a ring – our vets will be more than happy to advise and help you and your cat.

 

 

 

Top Tips For Keeping Your Pet Safe During The Summer

Summer can bring many happy pet memories, but it can also bring some extra challenges. Here we highlight some, so while still enjoying summer with your pets you can make sure they stay healthy too.

 

Heatstroke and sunburn

 

Heatstroke is common and potentially fatal. Because our pets have a fur coat and are only able to lose heat through panting, they are much more at risk of heatstroke than us. Short-nosed breeds (brachycephalic) such as pugs, bulldogs, Persian cats and lionhead rabbits are more prone, as are elderly or overweight pets. At first, they appear agitated but this can quickly lead to collapse and can be fatal. Dogs can die if left in cars in as little as 15 minutes, with signs of heatstroke in just a few minutes. With open windows, a car still becomes as hot as an oven quickly, even when it doesn’t feel that warm. When it’s 22 degrees outside, in a car it can reach an unbearable 47 degrees within the hour.

 

If you think your pet is showing signs of heatstroke contact us immediately. Remove them from the heat and offer cool water. If possible, soak them in cool water. Cold water produces shivering, making them hotter so should be avoided – go with cool but not icy! Get your pet to the closest vet (even if it’s not us) as soon as possible.

 

Our pets’ fur gives some protection from the sun. Areas that are hairless or sparse can suffer sun damage and sunburn. White breeds with pink skin – such as bulldogs – often have sensitive skin. White cats especially are prone to sunburn on their ears and sometimes nose which can progress to skin cancer. It is important to keep your pets out of the sun as much as possible. Pet sun cream should be used on hairless or sparse areas around the head and ears.

 

Hazards in the garden

 

We see too many road traffic accidents in the summer when dogs escape through open windows and doors. Check your garden is fenced off so your dog cannot escape. Provide shade to rest in and water to drink at all times, and keep exercise to a minimum in the heat of the day.

 

Be aware that some plants are poisonous to pets. Daffodils, lilies, azaleas, laburnum and yew are a few. If in doubt, speak to a member of our team before planting anything new. Many pesticides and fertilizers can harm pets. Try safer, pet-friendly alternatives. Blue-green algae can be toxic if ingested. This is actually a bacterium but has an algae-like appearance when clumped together in stagnant water.

 

During BBQs, make sure your dog doesn’t have a chance to get at the scraps. Undercooked meat and fatty foods can make them poorly. Scavenging bones, skewers, or corn on the cob may end in risky surgery for removal. Use paper plates and cups, as broken glass and crockery can cause injury to paws. Make sure bins are secure.

 

Tips for travel with your pet

 

The effects of motion sickness can often be overcome by conditioning your dog to travel. Start in a stationary car, giving treats to form positive memories. Introduce a harness at this stage as it is important your pet is restrained for both their security and your own. Next, try with the engine running. Eventually, try driving just a few metres. Behaviour training takes time and patience and taking it extremely slowly is important. Small pets can travel in a carrier, wedged so it can’t tip over. Ventilation is essential. Don’t be tempted to fill the basket with comfy blankets in the summer, as this will increase the chances of your pet overheating. There are sprays that may have a calming effect on your pet, helping the training process.

 

Avoid long journeys in the heat. If unavoidable, then break the journey up and never leave your dog in a parked car. Remember that dogs die in hot cars. If you see a distressed dog in a vehicle please call 999, or either the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 or the Scottish SPCA on 03000 999 999.

 

Do not feed them for a few hours before travel, but small amounts of water can be taken while travelling. If your pet suffers from motion sickness placing them in a footwell can help so they can’t see movement. Our vets can discuss medications for sickness if needed.

 

If you plan to visit other countries in Europe, please discuss your plans with our vets before booking. There are diseases spread by mosquitoes, sandflies, ticks, and fleas to consider. Different parasites may need to be prevented in different countries, too. Your pet will need an up-to-date pet passport issued under the Pets Travel Scheme (PETS) and fulfil entry requirements to re-enter the UK. For details on how to get a pet passport, contact us. You can also visit gov.uk/take-pet-abroad or telephone DEFRA directly for further information.

 

Life’s a beach

 

If you’re lucky enough to be venturing on the beach, here are our handy tips:

  • Make sure your dog doesn’t eat too much sand, as large volumes can cause blockages. Drinking too much saltwater can also be dangerous. Offer them fresh water regularly and rinse the salt water off them when you can.
  • Remember not all dogs swim well. Take care of the tides, and introduce them slowly, especially if they have short legs (!).
  • With all the excitement your dog may not realise they’re overheating until it’s too late. Avoid the hottest part of the day and limit exercise.

 

Flystrike

 

Rabbits eat some of their faeces (caecotrophs) to enable them to recycle proteins. In summer this can make them attractive to flies, laying eggs that within 24 hours can hatch into maggots. Maggots chew through the skin causing flystrike, which is sadly often fatal. Check your rabbit’s bottom daily for urine staining and faeces. Speak to our veterinary team who can advise on how to prevent this and why your rabbit may be predisposed. Wounds on any animal can also be attractive to flies. Speak to our vets if you are concerned.

 

Have a good summer, and stay safe! Please do call us if you need any advice.

Pain management – what can be done?

A huge number of medical conditions can be painful; in addition, some treatments (for example, surgical operations) can also lead to discomfort. However, pain is an enemy that we can combat – and we have wide range of options for minimising and managing pain. In this blog, we’re going to explore this essential aspect of veterinary work.

What is pain?

Pain is defined as “the emotional response to actual or potential tissue damage”. So, it is indeed technically true that pain is all in the mind… just not very helpful! However, we can divide pain states into several categories:

  • Acute pain – this is the response to actual injuries, and is a sensible and protective response, to minimise further damage.
  • Chronic pain – this occurs with long-lasting injuries or disease processes, and in some cases may continue after the injury has healed. It is a “maladaptive response” in that it doesn’t actually help the patient.
  • Neurological pain – pain from damaged nerves is different from other types of pain because it isn’t “real”, being due to a malfunction of the pain receptor nerves. As a result, it can be very difficult to manage.

What are the consequences of being in pain?

Firstly, it’s a massive animal welfare issue! There is no good reason to leave an animal in pain nowadays – the old idea that it was somehow helpful for animals to suffer after operations, for example, is now considered to be both false and cruel.

Secondly, however, being in pain will slow down the animal’s healing, and prolong it’s recovery.

Preventing Pain

In some situations, it is in fact possible to prevent pain from starting. Obviously, avoiding injuries is one example (if not the most practical), but another is during surgery. Nowadays, we give pain relief before, not just after, an operation – because many studies have shown that the presence of pain (even if the animal is unconscious) makes subsequent pain even worse (this is sometimes known as the “Wind Up Phenomenon”).

Managing Pain

While humans tend to jump right for painkillers as soon as they get a headache, recent studies have suggested that this isn’t necessarily the best way forward – taking a drink of water, for example, can help manage tension and dehydration headaches.

The same principles apply in animals. In particular, there are three approaches we find really helpful:

  • Facilitation. Many animals (for example, after orthopaedic surgery, or those with arthritis) are unable to mobilise easily, and the effort of climbing stairs, or jumping into the litter tray, can cause an acute painful flare up. Providing ramps, controlled little-and-often exercise, and similar low level assistance can be very valuable.
  • Comfort. Many people have observed that pain is often worse in cold, wet conditions. While the theory behind this is deeply contested, it does appear to be a real phenomenon! So, we recommend warm, snug bedding in a draught-free area for painful patients.
  • Physiotherapy. Physio is an essential component of rehabilitation after surgery – but it is also a very potent method of pain management, by assisting with tissue circulation and even helping to “reset” the nervous system.

In addition, extra measures such as cold laser therapy can be quite effective in reducing local pain.

Treating Pain

In most cases, the mainstay of pain control is going to be medication. There are a number of different families of drugs that we can use:

1)        NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) (e.g. meloxicam, carprofen)

The most widely used painkillers are in this family, and include a wide range of injections, tablets and liquids or syrups. They work by blocking the chemical signals that cause pain and inflammation. While there are potential side effects – primarily affecting the stomach and kidneys – in most animals, most of the time, these drugs are well tolerated and very effective for mild to moderate pain. In addition, there are so many different drugs in the family available that if one doesn’t agree with a patient, another can usually be found.

2)        Paracetamol

This is an unusual drug, a sort of “cousin” to the NSAIDs. It has powerful pain killing activity, but is less powerful as an anti-inflammatory. However, it is also more dangerous – it is lethal to cats, and even in dogs the safe dose is much lower than in people, so it should NEVER be used except on veterinary advice (it’s also illegal to use human paracetamol in dogs).

3)        Opioids (e.g. buprenorphine, methadone, tramadol).

These are a family of drugs derived from morphine. They are excellent painkillers, but because of their addictive nature are tightly controlled in law (fortunately, we almost never see addiction in our patient – the concern is more for the humans who might have access to them!). At very high doses they can cause side effects such as sedation or even difficulty breathing, but this is uncommon in veterinary practice. Unfortunately, the majority of opioids are injection-only so are only really an option for hospitalised patients (although some can be given as a liquid under the tongue). One exception is tramadol, although the evidence for its effectiveness in dogs is quite weak.

4)        GABA-analogues (e.g. gabapentin)

These drugs work to “damp down” overactive nerves, and so are sometimes used in neurological pain states, although there is no license for their use in animals.

Does your pet have a painful condition? Are you concerned that their pain may not be as well controlled? If so, do give us a call and make an appointment to see one of our vets – pain management is something we’re really passionate about, because no animal needs to suffer nowadays.

Why do vets seem to always take bloods?

Examining a patient from the outside can be really useful – we can pick up a lot of information. Even more useful is what we call “obtaining a history” – finding out what they’re doing or not doing!) when they’re at home, what their symptoms are, when they started, and if there are any obvious triggers. However, the body of a dog, cat, rabbit or indeed any mammal is incredibly complicated.

For example, a simple symptom like vomiting has the following major (and fairly probable) causes: adverse food reactions, food allergies, eating a foreign object, eating something rotten (“dietary indiscretion”), sudden diet change, dehydration, drug reactions, drug side effects (especially painkillers), viral gut infections, bacterial gut infections, stomach ulcers, gut intussusception (where a loop of intestines turns inside out and gets stuck in itself), twisted gut, intestinal tumours, gut stasis, constipation, kidney failure, liver failure, septicaemia, systemic infections (e.g. with a fever), acidosis (where the blood is too acidic), low blood potassium, high- or low blood calcium, high- or low blood sodium, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), peritonitis (inflammation or infection of the abdomen), pyometra (a wound infection), Addison’s disease, diabetes, vestibular syndrome, meningitis, head trauma and concussion, worms, Giardiasis (another intestinal parasite), lead poisoning, antifreeze poisoning, mould poisoning, anaphylactic shock, heat stroke, motion sickness and pain.

And that’s only the common causes of acute, or sudden onset vomiting – the list of possible causes for chronic (ongoing) vomiting is even longer!

As a result, often the only way to find out exactly what’s going on inside the body is to look at the blood. Blood is a fascinating organ – it fights infection, maintains hydration, and has a host of other functions, but most importantly, it carries things around the body (nutrients, oxygen, wastes). As a result, it contains traces of chemicals released by every other organ – which means we can look for those traces, to tell us how well those organ systems are working.

Of course, there are so many thousands of different chemicals in a 1ml sample of blood that there’s no way we can test them all, so we concentrate on certain key “markers” – chemicals or other blood components that have been proven to demonstrate how well particular systems are working. In practice, what we’re usually running is a “screening” test – looking for common problems that might let us narrow down our search for a cause to your pet’s illness.

We can generally divide our blood test into two components:

Haematology

This is the study of the different blood cells; and nowadays we usually use a machine to count them, then use a good old-fashioned microscope to examine individual cells for signs of damage or disease.

By far the most common cell type is the red blood cell, or erythrocyte. Counting these will tell us if the patient is anaemic (low) or dehydrated or possibly polycythaemic (high). Looking at them and measuring them will also tell us a lot – different changes in blood cell shape may suggest immune anaemia(immune mediated haemolytic anaemia), certain blood-parasites such as Feline Infectious Anaemia or Babesia canis, some types of poisoning (e.g. onion poisoning), or iron deficiency. It can also tell us if any anaemia is regenerative (i.e. the body is able to make new red blood cells) or non-regenerative (if it can’t for some reason).

We can also count the platelets (usually by eye with a microscope – the machines aren’t very good at it!). These are the clotting cells – too few mean the body cannot clot properly.

That said, we’re often more interested in the white blood cells. Different ratios of the various types can tell us a lot –  very high neutrophil counts suggest an acute infection; low numbers of neutrophils suggests either that the patient is immunocompromised or that they are fighting a severe infection. Levels of lymphocytes may indicate infection, or sometimes leukaemia, while eosinophils suggest either an allergy or a parasitic infestation.

Biochemistry…

…is the study of the chemical traces in the blood – often, these are salts, nutrients or waste products, but some are proteins released from damaged cells, or parts of the immune system that give us an inkling as to what is going on at the cellular level in our patients. Our standard screening test is a “Chem-12”, which looks at 12 key substances:

  • Albumin (ALB) – This is the main transport protein in the bloodstream; high albumin suggests dehydration, whereas this is only low following severe blood or plasma loss, occasionally really severe gut or kidney disease (protein losing enteropathy or protein losing nephropathy), or liver failure. Usually, this is pretty stable – anything dramatic enough that it changes the levels of albumin in the blood is likely to be fairly severe.
  • Globulin (GLOB) – This is essentially all the other proteins in the body. A low globulin is really rare; a high globulin count is suggestive of inflammationinfectionimmune disease, or a tumour.
  • Total Protein (TP) – This is just the levels of the albumin plus the globulin added together.
  • Blood Glucose (BG or GLUC) – Animals need glucose in their blood for fuel – low glucose suggests insulin overdose or, rarely, septicaemia; high glucose may mean stress, Cushing’s disease or (most likely) diabetes.
  • Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) – Urea is the main waste product from protein metabolism. A low urea almost always means liver disease, whereas a high level generally indicates kidney failure, a blocked bladder or dehydration.
  • Creatinine (CREA) – Another marker for kidney function, creatinine is most commonly raised only in kidney failure.
  • Alkaline Phosphatase (ALKP) – this is an enzyme that is released from damaged cells – mostly liver cells and a raised level often means cholestasis(where the bile stops flowing). However, it can also indicate liver disease, treatment with some drugs (e.g. phenobarbitone), Cushing’s disease and even some bone disorders.
  • Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT) – This is another liver enzyme, but is only released from damaged liver cells. High levels indicate liver damage.
  • Total Bilirubin (TBIL) – Bilirubin is released from the breakdown of red blood cells; high levels cause jaundice. This may be prehepatic (caused by haemolysis, abnormal red cell breakdown), intrahepatic (caused by liver disease) or posthepatic (due to a bile duct blockage).
  • Calcium (CA) – if blood calcium levels change much, the muscles, brain and heart stop working – so it’s really important to monitor it closely! Alterations may indicate cancerexcessive milk productionkidney disease or bone disease, among other possibilities.
  • Sodium (NA or SOD) – Sodium is a key salt in the blood – it is very tightly regulated by the body. In general, it will only change in severe dehydrationor salt poisoning.
  • Potassium (K or POT) – Potassium is a salt usually removed by the kidneys; however, if the levels get too low, muscles stop working; if they get too high, it can stop the heart. Possible causes for altered potassium include kidney diseasesevere vomiting, and tissue death (e.g. in a torsion).
  • Cholesterol (CHOL) – In humans, doctors really worry about cholesterol counts. In animals, it isn’t such a big deal – we tend to use it primarily as a marker of how recently the animal ate, although in cats especially it can also be a sign of fatty liver disease.

Other specific tests do, of course, exist, for hormones (e.g. thyroid levels), signs of pancreatitis, EPI, certain infections (e.g. FIV, FeLV, Parvovirus), and many other possible diseases.

However, there’s nothing else out there that gives us as much information in a hurry as a simple Haematology and Biochem – a test which we can do in house in about 20 minutes!

Why do I have to vaccinate my dog every year?

This is a question that often comes up, because the WSAVA Vaccine Guidelines (issued by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association) are periodically updated, recommending longer vaccination intervals. This gets a lot of press coverage, and as a result, people often think that the standard vaccine protocols are in some way harmful; or that they can delay vaccination and it won’t matter. Unfortunately, the truth is much more complicated than that.

The confusion comes about because the WSAVA publishes general guidelines on vaccination protocols designed for vets across the world to use – they’re not definitive rules, set in stone! They are really useful, but (and it’s a big but) they need to be interpreted in light of local conditions in the UK, because what vaccines are needed here aren’t necessarily the same as those needed in California, or Siberia, or Uganda. That’s why you need to discuss any concerns you have about vaccination with one of our vets – whose experience and training will enable them to help you choose what’s right for you and your dog here in the UK.

Ultimately, there are three issues that we need to look at – what diseases you want to protect your dog from; how long the vaccine lasts for; and what the risks are.

What diseases do we vaccinate for?

The WSAVA regards three vaccines as “Core”, meaning that every dog should be vaccinated against them – and we agree entirely with them on this! These diseases are those which are likely to be fatal, are easily spread between dogs, and/or have a severe impact on quality of life –  DistemperParvovirusand Infectious Canine Hepatitis. However, we would add an extra disease to that list – Leptospirosis. This disease is very common in the UK, and although rarely life-threatening, it is easily spread, severe, and zoonotic (which means that humans can catch it).

Other optional vaccines available are for Parainfluenza and Bordetella (the major causes of kennel cough), Rabies (legally required if you want to take your dog abroad and then come back to the UK), Lyme Disease (mainly a risk in the south and west of Britain) and Leishmaniasis (an exotic infection only found in southern Europe). Which of these we’ll recommend depends on your dog’s lifestyle and their individual risk of infection – so, for example, if you never take your dog abroad, we wouldn’t recommend that you waste your money on Rabies or Leishmania vaccines.

How long do the vaccines last?

It depends on the vaccine and on the vaccine’s license. However, vaccines don’t last forever – eventually their effectiveness and therefore the protection they offer declines. As a rule of thumb:

  • DistemperParvovirusHepatitis and Rabies vaccines last 3 years.
  • LeptospirosisParainfluenzaBordetellaLyme Disease and Leishmania vaccines last only one year.

So, you can see where the confusion has come from – because the WSAVA regards Lepto as “non-Core”, they have said that dogs only need vaccinating every 3 years. However, in the UK, Lepto is so important that it needs to be kept up to date – meaning our dogs need annual vaccination.

The other complication is the legal situation – vets are, generally, legally obliged to use medications (including vaccines) in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines. If the manufacturer cannot prove that the vaccine lasts the full 3 years, it doesn’t matter what the WSAVA say – it’s irresponsible for us to recommend you only vaccinate every 3 years, as we could be leaving your dog unprotected.

At the moment, the major vaccine manufacturers are all happy with the durations of activity listed above, but vaccine protocols won’t – and shouldn’t – change until the manufacturers can prove their effectiveness over longer periods.

What are the risks of overvaccination?

Here’s where things get sticky. Theoretically, overvaccination could increase the risk of autoimmune disease (where the immune system goes haywire and attacks the body’s own tissues); and could lead to a range of other inflammatory conditions. However, there’s no actual evidence that this is an issue in dogs – no study has demonstrated a clear, unambiguous link between vaccine frequency and other diseases. That said, it is sensible to limit the number of vaccines given to the minimum required for protection (apart from anything else, it’ll save you money!).

On the other hand, undervaccination has a well established and proven link with developing severe and potentially fatal diseases!

So where do we go from here?

Our standard vaccination protocols are designed to protect our patients as safely and completely as possible. If you’re concerned about your dog, or think they may be at increased risk, give us a ring and talk to one of our vets so we can advise you on how best to protect them as an individual.

Why bladder crystals aren’t pretty…!

When we’re looking at urine samples down the microscope, we often see pretty little patterns forming, like snowflakes or tiny jewels. Unfortunately, these bladder crystals can cause serious disease in dogs and cats – but the good news is that by looking at their shapes under the microscope, we can often determine how best to treat them.

What problems can bladder crystals cause?

The biggest issue is that crystals don’t often stay microscopic! Eventually they grow, forming stones in the bladder (uroliths). These irritate the bladder lining, causing cystitis. However, the biggest risk is that the crystals find their way down into the urethra (urine tube leading from the bladder to the outside world) and get stuck there, preventing the dog or cat from urinating.

This is uncommon in females, because their urethra is relatively short and wide, so anything that fits into it tends to be passed (possibly after some straining). In males, however, the urethra is long and narrow, so obstructions are much more likely. A blockage is particularly likely to occur where the urethra bends around the pelvis, or in the penis where the penis bone causes a dramatic narrowing. The highest risk of all is in tomcats which were neutered early – towards the end of puberty in cats the penis dramatically grows, with the urethra becoming much wider. If the cat was neutered before this growth phase occurs, the penis and urethra stay small for life.

What types are there?

There are a number of different types of crystal, so let’s look at them in turn…

Struvite

Also known as magnesium ammonium phosphate and triple phosphatcrystals.

Look like “coffin lids” – rectangular crystals.

Caused by:

  • Alkaline urine
  • Infection (in dogs only)
  • Struvite crystals will often form in stale urine even in normal animals.
  • The stones can be dissolved with a proper diet

Cystine

Look flat, thin and hexagonal, a bit like a snowflake.

Caused by:

  • Acidic urine
  • A genetic disorder resulting in kidney disease (seen in breeds such as Newfoundlands, Bassets, Chihuahuas).
  • Can be dissolved with a suitable diet

Calcium Oxalate

Form small square crystals with an X in the centre.

Can form in alkaline or neutral urine.

Caused by:

  • Genetic predisposition (e.g. Yorkshire Terrier and Lhasa Apso dogs; Burmese and Persian cats)
  • Antifreeze poisoning
  • Excessively high blood calcium levels (in conditions such as hyperparathyroidism, some tumours)
  • Cannot be dissolved, must be surgically removed.

Urate

Also known as Ammonium Urate

Look like spikes or spindles, or occasionally spiky balls (“thorn-apples”).

Found in acidic and neutral urine.

Caused by:

  • Normal in Dalmatians!
  • Liver disease, such as a portosystemic shunt.
  • Can be dissolved with a proper diet.

Uric Acid

Usually diamond shaped.

Pretty rare, occasionally occur in acidic urine.

Calcium Phosphate

Long, thin rectangular crystals

Quite rare, occur in alkaline urine.

Calcium Carbonate

Cause the urine to appear cloudy – normal in rabbits and horses!

What are the symptoms of bladder stones?

Cystitis

Blood in the urine

Pain on urination

Passing urine little and often

Bladder obstruction

Straining to urinate

Passing very little or no urine

Uraemia

Depression

Dehydration

Vomiting

Collapse

Death

How can they be treated?

Many stones can be dissolved in a suitable diet; if, however, they are causing an obstruction they must be removed surgically. This is usually done by opening the bladder and removing the stones. For stones lodged in the urethra, the preferred technique is retrograde urohydropropulsion, whereby we flush the stones backwards into the bladder.

If you think your dog or cat may have bladder stones, make an appointment for one of our vets to see them as soon as possible. If they have an obstruction and are unable to urinate normally, we need to see them straight away, day or night!

Why are grass seeds so bad for dogs?

Summer time… Blue sky, bright sun, lush green foliage, grass waving in the wind like a green-gold sea… Well, perhaps not the first two in Britain! But there is one constant threat to our dogs in the summer months and that’s those pesky grass seeds.

The waving heavy heads of ryegrass, timothy, fescues and cocksfoot look lovely, and are an important feature of our countryside, but to dogs they are not just fun to run through, but potentially dangerous.

What’s wrong with grass seeds? Surely they’re just pretty?

Pretty, maybe. The trouble with them, however, is their shape. Because they taper towards one end, and have all those little barbs pointing the other way, once they get into something they don’t come out easily. In fact, they have a tendency to work their way further in. Some vets even refer to them (only partially as a joke) as “self forging”, like those bullets that dig their way through armour plate.

So what problems do they cause?

Well, it depends of course on where they end up. To explain why this is so bad, we need to look at how the dog’s body responds to a foreign body (the technical term for anything that gets in where it shouldn’t be).

All mammals, including dogs, have a really efficient immune system – the most ruthlessly xenophobic killing machine ever discovered or built. If it finds something that doesn’t match it’s built-in map of what proper dog cells should look like, it will attack it without mercy until the invading bacterium, virus, amoeba or worm is killed. And this is all very well and good, and why our dogs aren’t constantly dropping dead of colds. However, in the process, this inflammatory reaction (triggered to help kill the invader) damages the tissues nearby, causing pain, swelling, redness, heat and loss of function. If there’s a real invading disease or parasite, that’s a price the dog is willing to pay. However, a grass seed isn’t strictly speaking an invading organism – yes, it will carry some bacteria with it, but it cannot be killed or destroyed by the immune system. As a result, the inflammatory reaction goes on and on and on until either the seed is expelled, or the dog suffers severe symptoms, pain and distress.

So, where can grass seeds get stuck?

Pretty much anywhere! However, there are some sites where we tend to see them more often; dogs pick them up running about in the long grass.

  • Eyes – in the eye, grass seeds cause intense irritation, pain, usually with closed,  swollen, watering eyes, and dogs will often rub at them with their paws. Once in, the grass seed has three options.
    • Most commonly, it scratches or wounds the front of the eye, causing a corneal ulcer. It then falls out.
    • Sometimes, it can get trapped behind the eyeball.
    • Occasionally, it works its way into the soft tissues around the eye.
  • Ears – grass seeds are always falling down ears! The symptoms are of a really sudden onset ear infection with itching, rubbing, head tilting and often severe distress.
  • Nose – a grass seed up the nose is one of the most common reasons for a one-sided runny nose! Affected dogs sneeze and paw at their nose to try and dislodge it – but of course, the more they try, the deeper it goes.
  • Lungs – of course, if they inhale it and manage to dislodge it from the nasal passages, there’s a chance it will make its way down the windpipe. This can cause severe difficulty breathing and coughing as pneumonia develops.
  • Salivary glands – if the seed makes its way into the mouth instead of the nose, it can get stuck in the salivary ducts – the tubes carrying saliva from the glands to the mouth. This can make the blocked gland swell, becoming obviously enlarged and painful.

Paws – if a grass seed finds its way between the toes, it can penetrate the soft skin and dig its way deep into the foot, causing severe lameness.

How are they treated?

Sadly, there’s only one option – the seed must be found and surgically removed.

If you think your dog may have a grass seed stuck somewhere, make an appointment to see one of our vets!

What’s all this about tick-borne diseases in the news?

You may recently have read the scary headlines in the newspapers about “deadly new ticks” and “fatal dog diseases” new to the UK – especially if you live in the South East, where local media have picked it up and run with it. But what’s really going on? Is there really anything to worry about, or is it another case of a media scare story that’s going to blow over in a few weeks? Let’s have a look at the evidence, and at what’s really going on here…

What’s all the fuss about?

A disease called babesiosis, that has been diagnosed in 4 dogs in Essex. One of them has since died of the infection.

What’s that?

Think of it as a bit like malaria for dogs. It’s caused by a single-celled parasite called Babesia canis that gets inside the dog’s red blood cells, damaging them. Unfortunately, the dog’s immune system then gets in on the act, and in trying to kill the Babesia parasites, starts destroying red blood cells willy nilly.

Is that like anaemia?

Yes, exactly – the dog doesn’t have enough red blood cells left to carry oxygen.

So what are the symptoms?

They vary a bit from dog to dog, but usually include shortness of breath, tiredness, pale gums, discoloured urine (often sort of coffee-coloured) and sometimes jaundice.

Jaundice? Does it attack the liver too then?

It can, but the jaundice is is usually due to the breakdown of the red blood cells. Other possible symptoms include fever, enlarged glands, kidney failure and in severe cases or if left untreated it is often fatal.

OK, it’s bad, but surely now the infected dogs are treated the problem has been fixed?

No – babesiosis is transmitted by ticks. The unusual thing about this outbreak is that the dogs all became infected in the UK – all previous cases have contracted it abroad. This means that there’s a population of ticks living in the UK that are carrying the infection, and spreading it to every animal they bite.

So it’s going to spread?

Exactly – foxes will carry the infection to other areas, and be bitten by ticks there, infecting them. It’s probable that eventually ticks across the UK will be infected.

What, every tick?

No, that’s one bit of good news – Babesia can only be carried by the (pretty uncommon) Meadow Tick, Dermacentor reticulatus. The common Sheep Tick (Ixodes ricinus) doesn’t carry them. Meadow Ticks are most common in the south-west of England, west Wales and (you guessed it) Essex and Kent.

Can the disease be treated?

Yes, it can – special anti-babesia medications are available to kill the parasites, and with intensive care and sometimes blood transfusions, most infected dogs will survive.

So how do I protect my dog? Is there a vaccine?

Sadly, no there isn’t a vaccine in the UK – however, ticks can only transmit the disease after they’ve securely attached themselves to the dog – a process that takes about 24-48 hours. So, any treatment that repels them or kills them before this process if complete will make it really unlikely they can infect your dog. Give us a ring, and one of our vets will be able to recommend a suitable spot-on, collar, or tablet for your dog. If you do see any ticks – use a tick hook to remove it! One of our nurses can show you how, if you like.

What about me? Am I in danger?

Probably not – Babesia canis, as the name suggests, usually infects only dogs; cases in humans are very rare and usually involve people with a weakened immune system.

What should I do if I think my dog’s infected?

CALL US – straight away! The sooner a case is diagnosed and treatment started, the better the chances that they’ll make a full recovery.

What to do when a pet becomes scared by noise

Most pet owners anticipate spending at least part of the night of 5th November attempting to coax their dog or cat out from under the bed. It is an evitable response to the loud bangs, whistles and crashes of fireworks. However, many pets react equally as badly to more year-round sounds such as thunder or car alarms. It is actually quite a common occurrence and can be quite distressing to witness depending on the severity of the reaction.

It can sometimes be difficult to establish what triggers the fear response in animals, particularly dogs, who often hear sounds outside of our human hearing range. Sounds that may seem perfectly normal to us can be painfully loud for a dog. Age can be a factor too. Some puppies can show a marked fear response while other dogs can develop the problem as they get older. There is even some evidence of a breed disposition with typical herding breeds such as collies being more likely to suffer from fear of loud noises.

Signs to watch out for

  • Shaking or trembling
  • Being more clingy than usual and getting under your feet
  • Hiding under beds or behind sofas
  • Panting or ‘smiling’, the drawing back of lips over the front teeth
  • Whining
  • Urinating or pooing in the house
  • Panicked running or digging at the carpet or rug

It is important not to try to console your pet during this time. As odd as it sounds it can be counter-productive and your nervousness can make them think they are right to be scared. If you behave normally, they will take cues from your behaviour and begin to respond better themselves. Puppy training from an early age exposes a young dog to a wide variety of environments and novel stimuli, making them less likely to develop fear of new things in the future.

Some of these signs can be misinterpreted as ‘naughty’ behaviour and owners may not be aware that they are associated with fear. Do not to punish them as they will be unable to understand why they are being told off. Equally, forcing them to face their fears is not the right thing to do, it is ineffective and very unfair.

What can I do about it?

Luckily, there are some tricks you can try to help reduce your pet’s anxiety. Create a safe haven for them. If they regularly sleep in a crate, then cover it with blankets to make it cosy and dark. The blankets will also help muffle sound and bright flashes. It is a good idea to let them decide where their safe place will be, even if it’s under your bed. Forcing them into somewhere they are unfamiliar with will only increase their anxiety. Be sure to keep their favourite toys handy as well, the more familiar items they have near them, the more comforting the haven will become.

Play music or have the tv volume up a little higher that normal. Sometimes simply drowning out the frightening noise is enough to calm them down. This often works with older dogs as their hearing starts to wane with age.

If you know of any potential hazard in advance, for example, bonfire night, then taking them out for a good long walk before dark can help. Just being physically tired can reduce their response level. Distraction is a good idea too; play is a good way of diverting their attention away from what is going on outside the house.

These ideas are good starting points for helping your pet cope. The next step could be desensitisation training, exposing them to low-level noise in a controlled environment and slowly increase the volume over time. This can be effective but great care must be taken not to traumatise your pet and cause more suffering.  Due to this risk, it is usually only recommended on the advice of an animal behaviourist. There are also medications, anxiolytics, that a vet can prescribe in extreme cases of noise aversion but they are often ineffective on their own and many owners prefer not to drug their animals if it can be avoided.

What if I have a cat?

Cats show similar fear response behaviours to dogs in many ways. They can be skittish and often choose to hide in dark places or get high on top of cupboards and bookcases. Again, let the cat choose its own safe spot or provide a few boxes covered in blankets in an out the way place. Laundry rooms or boiler rooms are often a favourite as they are dark, warm and away from the bustle of the house. Like a dog, familiar smells are very comforting to a stressed cat.

Trust can be a significant issue with our feline friends and, unlike dogs, they do not always want to be near us for comfort. Give them opportunities to be near you if they wish but do not force them. Keep your movements gentle and give them space to escape should they need it. Drawing the curtains, blocking the cat flap and keeping the radio on low will help distract them from what is going on outside.

What is Cushing’s Disease?

Cushing’s Disease, or Hyperadrenocorticism, is a condition caused by excessive production of natural steroid hormones (mainly cortisol) in the adrenal glands. It is most common in dogs, but does also occur (rarely) in cats (it’s also fairly common in horses and ferrets, but those are separate blog articles!).

What causes it?

There are three forms of the disease:

  • Pituitary Dependent Cushing’s – 85% of true canine Cushing’s cases are due to a malfunction in the pituitary gland. This is usually a benign tumour (adenoma) that sends the signal (a chemical messenger called ACTH) to the adrenal glands instructing them to keep producing cortisol, even if there is plenty already in circulation.
  • Adrenal Dependent Cushing’s is due to a tumour in the adrenal gland that constantly produces more and more cortisol. It is less common than the pituitary form.
  • Iatrogenic Cushing’s (sometimes called “False Cushing’s”) occurs when excessive amounts of artificial steroids (e.g. prednisolone) is given to a dog or cat, causing steroid overdose and the symptoms of Cushing’s. It is probably the most common, but is very easily cured by lowering the dose of medication!

In both dogs and cats, true Cushing’s is more common in middle-aged to elderly animals.

What are the symptoms?

Steroids have a wide range of different effects, and therefore Cushing’s has a lot of potential symptoms. The more common ones include:

  • Increased urination and thirst (steroids lead to more dilute urine being produced, so the animal must drink more to compensate, meaning they urinate more – a vicious cycle).
  • Increased hunger.
  • Panting and dislike of hot weather.
  • Lethargy.
  • Obesity and/or muscle wasting and a pot-bellied appearance.
  • Muscle weakness
  • Recurring urinary tract infections.
  • Secondary respiratory infections, especially in cats.
  • Increased risk of diabetes.
  • low healing of minor wounds.
  • Skin changes:
    • Hair loss, typically along the flanks.
    • Thinning of the skin.
    • Blackheads (comedones) in the skin.
    • Abnormal whitish calcium deposits in the skin (calcinosis cutis).
    • Skin infections.
    • Increased risk of Demodex mite infestation.
    • Increased skin frailty, resulting in easily bruised or cut skin.
  • Other possible symptoms (although they are rarer) include:
    • Increased blood pressure.
    • Abnormal clotting.
    • Heart failure.
    • Seizures or blindness.
    • Increased risk of cruciate ligament injury (especially in small dogs).
    • Shrinkage of the testicles.
    • Overgrowth of genitalia in the bitch.
    • Prostate overgrowth in neutered dogs.

How is it diagnosed?

The clinical signs are often very suggestive, but unfortunately there is no one test that is perfect for diagnosing Cushing’s – this is because there is a lot of overlap between normal dogs with naturally high cortisol levels, and dogs with Cushing’s with relatively low cortisol levels.

The three tests that are most commonly used are:

  • Urine Cortisol:Creatinine Ratio is a good screening test and can be performed on a urine sample collected at home, but although it will pick up most dogs with Cushing’s, it also has a high false-positive rate (so the test comes back positive in a non-Cushingoid dog).
  • ACTH Stimulation Test – a blood sample is taken to measure the blood cortisol, then synthetic ACTH is injected and another sample taken a little while later. The degree of response to the drug can be used to distinguish most Cushing’s patients from those with other illnesses (although there are quite a lot of false negative results as it doesn’t pick out all the Cushing’s patients).
  • Dexamethasone Suppression Test – the same basic protocol as the ACTH test, but an artificial steroid (dexamethasone) is injected instead. In a normal animal, the artificial steroid suppresses natural steroid production, but not in Cushingoid animals. Although this test also has a lot of false positives, it has the great advantage that some varieties can be used to distinguish between Pituitary and Adrenal Dependent Cushing’s.

Most of the time, we’ll use a combination of clinical signs and one or more of these tests to make a firm diagnosis of Cushing’s.

Can it be treated?

Yes, there are a number of different treatment options. In Adrenal Cushing’s where there is a single adrenal tumour, it can sometimes be surgically removed. There is also a drug called trilostane that permanently destroys adrenal gland tissue – however, there is a severe risk of causing Addison’s Disease (where the dog cannot make enough steroids), so this drug is rarely used nowadays.

However, by far the most common treatment option is a drug called mitotane, which suppresses cortisol production in the adrenal glands. This is given as a capsule by mouth once or twice daily and is very effective in the vast majority of affected dogs.

If you think your pet may have Cushing’s, make an appointment to see one of our vets.