Author: vetstream

Corneal ulcers – a sore eye

The basic structure of a dog’s eye is much the same as a human’s eye. Consequently dogs can suffer a similar range of eye diseases to humans. Because the eye is complicated, delicate and easily damaged, all eye problems require immediate veterinary attention.

A corneal ulcer is a hole in the clear covering of the front of the eyeball (the cornea). Sometimes only the top layer of the cornea (the epithelium) is affected but in some cases the damage may go deeper and become more difficult to treat. On rare occasions a corneal ulcer can become infected with bacteria that may produce toxins. These toxins can destroy the surrounding normal tissue, leading to a rapid deepening of the ulcer that can cause loss of the eye unless treated quickly and appropriately.

Common causes include:

  • External trauma (e.g. by a thorn or cat claw).
  • A foreign body such as a piece of grit or grass seed caught under the eyelid.
  • Eyelashes or hairs growing in the wrong place on the eyelid.
  • Inherited/ breed-related problems such as in-turning of the eyelids (entropion).
  • Some bacterial or viral infections can also cause corneal ulceration, or exacerbate an existing ulcer.
  • If your dog is unable to produce tears (a condition known as ‘dry eye‘) the eye may also be more susceptible to corneal ulcers. In some cases the cause of the ulcer is uncertain.

Ulcers can be very painful and your dog may resent being touched around the affected eye. Your dog may blink frequently, keep the eye partially closed, or rub at the eye. There may be a watery discharge from the eye (if the corneal ulcer becomes infected this discharge may become purulent).

The white of the eye may become reddened and if the ulcer is particularly painful the third eyelid (a protective membrane under the main eyelids) may cover the surface of the eye when the eye is open (this can give the appearance of the eye ‘rolling up into its socket’).

Your vet will try to identify the cause of the ulcer in order to choose the best treatment. The eye must be examined carefully to make sure there is nothing rubbing against the eye. Your vet may check for ‘dry eye’ by using a small strip of filter paper placed inside the lower eyelid in order to check tear production. Local anaesthetic drops may be put in the eye to make your dog more comfortable whilst the eye is examined.

Your vet will then put a few drops of dye into the eye. This green dye sticks to the damaged areas and will show your vet how far the corneal ulcer extends.

The choice of treatment depends on the type of injury and how far it extends. If there is an underlying cause (such as a foreign body, eyelid abnormality, or dry eye) then it must be identified and treated.

For minor corneal ulcers your vet may prescribe antibiotic eyedrops or ointment. The aim of this is to prevent the ulcer becoming infected whilst it is healing. Uncomplicated corneal ulcers should heal within 5-7 days. If the ulcer takes longer than this to heal, there may be an underlying cause or complication that should be investigated.

More severe ulcers may require additional treatment and in some cases this may include surgery. Various surgical procedures are possible, depending on the type and severity of the ulcer. In difficult or protracted cases your vet may recommend referral to a specialist veterinary ophthalmologist.

During treatment, an Elizabethan collar may be necessary to prevent your dog rubbing the eye and causing further damage. As the eye heals, the area around the ulcer may become redder and small blood vessels start to grow across the eye surface to help the healing process.

When the ulcer has healed there may be a small indentation or scar left on the eye surface, but in the majority of cases this is unlikely to affect your dog’s eyesight.

Your vet is likely to ask you to put drops or ointment into your dog’s eye during the healing stage. This is relatively straightforward in most dogs with a bit of practice.

  1. Hold your dog firmly and tilt its head upwards.
  2. With the thumb and finger of the holding hand, the eyelids should be pulled gently apart and the medication given with the other hand.
  3. The tip of the tube should be held parallel with eye surface, not pointed directly at it.
  4. Expel a single drop onto the surface of the eye, taking care not to touch the surface of the eye with the tip of the dropper because this may damage the eye or spread bacteria from the eye back into the contents of the bottle.

Almost all corneal ulcers are treatable, as long as the cause and type of ulcer is identified and the correct treatment is given. Early treatment gives the best chance of a good recovery. If your dog’s eyes appear sore or red or if any abnormal discharges are present you should make an appointment to see your vet immediately.

Conjunctivitis in dogs

If your dog has a sore or red eye, or there is discharge from the eye, then it is important to contact your vet. Your dog may have an infection in the eye, but a discharge can also be caused by a foreign body (such as a grass seed) caught under the eyelid. It is important that diseases of the eye are treated quickly to prevent any permanent damage being done.

The conjunctiva is the pinkish surface surrounding the eyeball. The third eyelid is an extra protective eyelid in the dog and is also covered by conjunctiva. In normal dogs the conjunctiva is not readily visible. In conjunctivitis this membrane is inflamed and becomes red and swollen. Conjunctivitis can affect one or both eyes.

Dogs with conjunctivitis usually have a discharge from their eye(s). This can be clear and watery or thick and greeny/yellow in colour. The conjunctiva is often more visible and may be swollen, partially covering the eye. The eye(s) may be held half closed and the third eyelid is more prominent.

A number of different conditions will cause conjunctivitis. Many are sudden in onset and easily treatable. Others cause a long term disease which can be more difficult to control.

  1. Irritants, trauma (e.g. a cat scratch) and foreign bodies (e.g. grass seeds) can cause conjunctivitis. In most cases treatment is rapidly effective once the cause has been removed.
  2. Conjunctivitis in dogs usually occurs as a consequence of some other eye problem. In dogs with sagging skin, the deformity of the eyelids can make them more prone to eye infections. In some dogs the eyelids turn inwards and hairs on the eyelid can rub against the eye causing damage and increasing the risk of infection.
  3. A further problem in some dogs is abnormal tear production, inadequate lubrication of the eyes can result in damage to the eye surface.
  4. Disease of the immune system can also cause conjunctivitis. These diseases are not common but can be difficult to treat.

Usually your vet will be able to tell that your dog has conjunctivitis by a simple examination. Your vet will want to examine the eye carefully to be sure there is no damage to the eye itself. If there is no obvious traumatic cause most cases will respond to drops or ointment containing antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.

It is also important to be sure that tear production in the eye is normal. Your vet will be able to do a simple test in the consulting room to check this if necessary. If a foreign body is present then this obviously needs to be removed.

If the signs are not getting better after a few days of treatment, or appear to improve only to get worse again when treatment stops, more investigation is required. Your vet will want to take a swab from the conjunctiva to look for infection. In some cases a blood sample may also be required.

If there is no infection then it can be helpful to look at a sample of cells from the conjunctiva. This sample is obtained by gently scraping the surface of the conjunctiva with a cotton wool swab or spatula. If a larger sample is required, then a section of conjunctiva taken surgically may be necessary.

In most cases conjunctivitis is treated by application of drops or ointments to the eye. Sometimes with particularly stubborn infections antibiotic treatment may also need to be given by injection or tablet.

It is essential to treat any underlying causes of conjunctivitis at the same time – if these are not dealt with the problem will keep coming back. Treatment may be needed to control problems with the immune system and if the eye is too dry then replacement tears may be required. If the tear replacements are needed they are most likely to be required lifelong.

If you are able to treat your dog’s eyes this can be done at home but regular treatment is essential. Most drops or ointments need to be administered at least 3-6 times a day. If you have any doubts as to how to give the medication prescribed, please ask your veterinary practice to give a demonstration. If you are unable to treat your dog appropriately your vet may arrange to keep it in the hospital for a few days to ensure that effective treatment is given.

Cataracts in dogs

Cataract is a disease of the lens of the eye in which the normally clear lens becomes opaque or white. This interferes with vision and can result in blindness. Many owners confuse a less serious problem of older dogs eyes with cataract. In some cases an eye specialist may be able to operate on the eye to remove the cataract.

Light enters through the front of the eye and is focused by the clear lens onto the retina, which lies at the back of the eye. Information from the retina is transmitted to the brain where processing occurs.

For the lens to work correctly, it must be perfectly clear. In cataract, the lens becomes opaque (like frosted glass) or even completely white. Light does not pass through it well in this state and vision is reduced. Severe cataracts cause blindness.

There are several different causes in dogs:

  • Cataract development can be inherited from parents in many different dog breeds. Hereditary cataracts affect both eyes – usually, but not necessarily, at the same time. Hereditary cataracts can be present at birth (congenital) or, more commonly, they may develop in young adult dogs.
  • Cataracts are common in dogs suffering from sugar diabetes due to disturbances in the metabolism of the lens caused by abnormal blood glucose levels.
  • Cataracts can arise following severe inflammation in the eye, or as a result of poisonings or nutritional imbalances.
  • Cataracts can also be associated with glaucoma (increased pressure within the eyeball), disease of the retina (at the back of the eye) and when trauma has resulted in dislocation of the lens of the eye from its normal position.

Usually owners are alerted to the fact that their pet may have a problem with its eye when they notice a whiteness of the eye. If eye disease develops gradually, dogs are often able to adapt well and use their other senses to help them get around. Dogs have very good hearing and a sense of smell and can use these to compensate for poor vision to some extent. In familiar surroundings it may be almost impossible to tell that a pet cannot see. If you are worried about your pets vision you can test it yourself using some simple exercises:

  1. Observe your dog carefully in the home environment and out of doors
    Does he appear to be having any visual difficulty?
  2. Throw light, silent objects (e.g. a ball of cotton wool) in front of your dog’s eyes
    Does he see and follow these?
  3. Construct a small obstacle course in the home, or move furniture around and away from the usual positions
    Does he see and avoid these obstacles the first time?

Repeat the above tests in daylight and in subdued lighting.

If you are concerned about the results of the report them to your veterinary surgeon and ask for a check-up for your pet.

In older dogs, the lens of the eye may take on a bluish or grayish color. Many owners believe this is a cataract. However, a simple eye examination usually provides the necessary reassurance. This problem is called nuclear sclerosis and is part of normal ageing. Vision is preserved and no specific treatment is needed.

Diagnosis is usually straightforward, and based upon visual testing of the dog and examination of the eye by a veterinary surgeon/ophthalmologist. Additional tests may be required to check for diabetes and occasionally other causes and other eye diseases.

Cataracts are treated by removing the lens from the eye. The lens is surgically removed by a specialist. There are several different techniques but one of the most popular is known as phacoemulsification (the use of ultrasound waves to break up the cataract). Once the lens has been broken up fragments can be removed through a small incision in the eye. Other surgical techniques are also possible and may be indicated in certain cases, e.g. when lens of the eye has become displaced.

Following surgery the aftercare is very important. Eye drops may be required for several months and must be applied regularly at home. If cataracts are present in both eyes, they may be removed at the same time, thus avoiding the need for further surgery in the future.

BVA-KC-ISDS eye testing scheme

The BVA/KC/ISDS Eye Scheme is a joint scheme between the British Veterinary Association (BVA), the Kennel Club (KC) and the International Sheepdog Society (ISDS). It was first set-up to help eradicate progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and Collie eye anomaly (CEA) but now covers 11 inherited eye diseases in 59 breeds of dog.

The BVA/KC/ISDS Eye Scheme is the most popular inherited eye screening scheme in the UK and Ireland. Schemes in use in other parts of the world include those run by the ECVO (European College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists) and the OFA Eye Certification Registry.

The scheme was introduced to try to reduce the numbers of pedigree dogs affected by inherited eye diseases. Although the scheme was developed to test for inherited eye disease in pedigree dogs any dog may be tested.

Many of the conditions covered by the eye scheme can lead to painful and/or blinding eye conditions. Generally, dogs with hereditary eye diseases should not be used for breeding.

The scheme is updated on January 1st each year so it is important to check regularly whether new breeds or conditions have been added.

The routine eye test can be performed on any dog over the age of 12 weeks. It is important that the eye test is carried out prior to breeding and, because many of the eye conditions do not develop until later in life, it is recommended that actively breeding dogs are tested annually.

An additional test called gonioscopy is performed in those breeds at risk of primary glaucoma (high pressure within the eye). Gonioscopy can be performed from 6 months of age. Traditionally, the test was only performed once in a dog’s lifetime. However, because the condition can be progressive in the Flatcoated Retriever, it is now recommended every 3 years in this breed. It is likely that the advice for other breeds will change in time as more information comes to light about this disease.

Litter screening of puppies is also available under the scheme. This is best performed when the puppies are between 5-8 weeks of age. The litter screening looks for evidence of congenital hereditary eye disease.

The Panellists appointed by the BVA are vets with postgraduate qualifications who specialise in eye examinations (ophthalmologists). They are accredited on a regular basis to ensure they have the necessary experience and skills to perform the examination. Since they examine so many dogs’ eyes on a regular basis they are very familiar with all the possible appearances of eyes (whether normal or abnormal) and thus are best placed to perform the Eye Test.

The BVA provides a list of contact details for vets (Panellists) who are qualified to do eye testing in the UK and Eire. This list can be found on the BVA and the Kennel Club websites. You can make an appointment to see a panellists yourself – you do not need a referral from your vet. Alternatively, many breed societies organise eye testing sessions at dog shows. The cost of testing is fixed by the BVA and price lists can be found on their website.

As from January 1st 2010 permanent identification (usually microchipping, although permanent tattooing is acceptable) has been required for all dogs, other than Border Collies registered with the International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS), before they can be examined and certified under the eye scheme.

If your dog does not have permanent identification then it cannot undergo eye testing under the eye scheme. It is worth checking that your dog’s microchip is readable on a regular basis because, if it cannot be read by the Panellist, the eye test cannot be completed.

You will need to show your original KC or ISDS owner registration documents so make sure you take these with you. The Panellist cannot issue an Eye Test Certificate without checking and stamping these.You should also take along any previous eye certificates issued to your dog.

For the routine examination, drops need to be applied to dilate the pupils so that the back of the eye can be examined. The drops can take up to 30 minutes to take effect and you will need to wait until the eye test can be performed. The Panellist will examine your dog’s eyes with a range of ophthalmic equipment that allows them to examine in detail the structures within the eye.

In some breeds of dog that are at risk of developing glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye) the vet will do an additional test before the routine examination and dilation of the pupil. This is called gonioscopy and involves placing a specialised lens onto the surface of the eye, following application of local anaesthetic eye drops.

The Panellist will tell you the results of the examination at the time of the test and you will receive a certificate of eye examination for each dog examined. The certificate consists of three sections. The first section records the details of the dog and owner, and requires an owner signature. The second section describes any eye abnormalities noted during the examination. The third section is a list of inherited eye diseases which will be ticked as either affected or unaffected for those known to affect the breed under examination. This section is only completed for dogs registered with the KC or ISDS and only for those with conditions currently certified under the Eye Scheme.

Your dog’s registration document will be stamped and signed by the Panellist. You will receive a copy of the certificate and additional copies will be sent to the Kennel Club, to your own vet and a copy kept by the ophthalmologist.

You are entitled to lodge an appeal against the results of an eye examination. This must be done in writing to the BVA within 30 days of the examination. You may then take your dog, along with the certificate in question, for examination by another Panellist (who will charge the normal fee for the eye test).

If the second Panellist agrees with the first, the appeal is deemed to have failed. In such a case, no further appeal is allowed. If the second Panellist disagrees with the first Panellist, the dog is referred to the Chief Panellist for further examination without an additional fee to the owner. The decision of the Chief Panellist is deemed final.

There are a growing number of inherited eye conditions for which DNA tests are available. An up to date list is included on the KC website ( Many of these tests can be performed on material collected on a swab from the dog’s mouth, although others require a blood sample to be taken.

These tests are very helpful in breeding schemes, especially in the case of recessively inherited diseases as they are able to identify carrier dogs (i.e. those which do not develop the disease in question but can pass the underlying gene mutation to their offspring).

However, although these DNA tests are very accurate for detecting abnormal genes they are very specific. Each DNA test can only look for one condition whereas the eye examination covers all possible eye diseases and is critical in the detection of emerging inherited eye diseases. Thus, DNA tests will never replace the need for the eye examination.

Further information


Poisoning can occur if a poisonous substance is swallowed (solids or liquids), breathed in (gases) or absorbed through the skin (normally liquids). Poisons are substances that damage the cells in the body. In order to cause harm they must enter or come into contact with the body.

Many poisons are products we use every day and can be found in food, medications, household and garden substances. Accidental poisoning in dogs is usually caused by substances we commonly have around the house, e.g. human medications and pest control products.

Almost all cases of poisoning are accidental so the best way to prevent poisoning is to ensure that all poisons are kept out of sight and reach of your pets (and children):

  • Dispose of unwanted medicines safely.
  • Read the product label and follow the instructions for correct use.
  • Ensure lids are replaced correctly to prevent spillage if the container is knocked over.
  • Clean up drips and spills promptly.
  • Dispose of empty containers and waste food safely.
  • Put pest control products in pet-proof containers before putting them out.
  • Be vigilant when walking your dog to ensure it does not pick up any unusual things.

Younger animals are more likely to be affected as often chew strange objects.

In many cases of poisoning the owners are aware that their pet has eaten, or been in contact with, something unusual before signs of illness develop. You should be worried that your pet might have been poisoned if they suddenly develop severe clinical signs, or if they become ill with breathing difficulties, seizures or severe vomiting and diarrhoea.

Every poison produces different effects and a poisoned pet may show a number of signs such as:

  • Restlessness or drowsiness
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Salivation or drooling from the mouth
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Muscle tremors, twitching or seizures
  • Confusion, changes in behaviour or an abnormal reaction to sound or light
  • Hallucinations
  • Wobbly gait (ataxia)
  • Changes in gum colour to blue, pale or even very red
  • Unusual odours or smells (either on the breath or from contamination on the skin)
  • Bite marks – poison can result from a bite or a sting
  • Burns to the mouth or the tongue
  • Irritation or inflammation of the skin
  • Foreign material passed in the stools

A rapid response is critical in cases of poisoning. If you suspect that your dog may have been poisoned:

  • Protect your pet and remove it from the source of the intoxication
  • If you can do so safely, remove any suspect material from the pet’s mouth
  • Don’t let other people handle your pet (disorientated or frightened animals may become aggressive and other people may be contaminated with the poison)
  • Allow your dog to drink water, which may dilute ingested poisons
  • Contact your vet for further advice and be prepared to take your pet and the suspect material or product to the hospital

The sooner a poisoned animal receives treatment, the higher its chances of recovery. If you think that your pet has been poisoned then contact your veterinary emergency service immediately; your pet’s life may well depend on it. It is always better to phone in advance to warn the surgery that you are on your way. This will give them time to prepare everything they need and for you to check that there is someone available at the surgery to help you.

In most cases the best course of action is to get your pet to the veterinary surgery as soon as possible. However, in some cases you may be advised to give some immediate first-aid treatment at home. If your pet is already showing signs of poisoning do not attempt to make it vomit or drink anything but seek immediate veterinary care.

If your pet has a toxic substance on its skin or coat the worst of the contamination may be washed off to reduce further absorption. Protective clothing must be worn and only water should be used. Make sure you do not get contaminated in the process.

If a poison has been eaten in the last 2 hours it may be possible to remove it from the stomach by making the animal vomit. If your pet has swallowed a corrosive or petroleum-based substance, e.g. some solvent-based paints, some toilet cleaners, some drain cleaners, petrol, turpentine substitute (white spirit) do notinduce vomiting (as this may cause further damage to the throat if the substance is brought up). Instead wash the mouth and face with water and give milk or water to drink (within 10 minutes of your pet swallowing the substance).

It is only safe to make your pet vomit if it:

  • Is conscious
  • Is alert or only mildly depressed
  • Has an intact gag reflex, ie gags when you place your fingers at the back of its throat
  • Is known not to have ingested corrosive (caustic) or petroleum-based substance

Never induce vomiting if your pet:

  • Has already been sick
  • Is unconscious, very sleepy or depressed
  • Has eaten a corrosive (acidic or alkaline) product (highly corrosive products can do more damage if vomited up)
  • Has eaten a petroleum-based product (volatile products can do more damage if vomited up)

Do not try to make your dog vomit (unless specifically instructed to do so by your vet), particularly if the agent or timing of exposure is uncertain. If you are able to make your dog vomit or it has already vomited, collect a sample and take it to your vet in case it is required for identification of possible intoxicant.

Never give salt water to make your dog vomit; this is potentially very dangerous and can cause salt poisoning. Washing soda can be used on the advice of your vet – give as big a piece as you can get down the animal’s throat. Place the crystal over the back of your pet’s tongue so that it is swallowed. Your pet should vomit within 5 minutes – if not you can repeat this once. If your pet will not be sick do not keep giving further doses as soda crystals can themselves be poisonous.

Note: It is essential to use washing soda (soda crystals) and not caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) as this is very corrosive and will cause serious injury.

If you have any doubts – do not make your dog vomit.

On arrival at the veterinary surgery someone will assess your dog immediately and make sure that its condition is stable before any other treatments are instigated. Your vet will want to know:

  • If your pet has known access to possible poisons
  • If so, what poison – is a sample or container available?
  • When your pet had access to the poison – how long ago?
  • How much was eaten or drunk – how much is missing from the container?
  • Has your pet shown any signs of being unwell?
  • If your pet is receiving any medication or has any pre-existing medical conditions?

If you are able to take a sample of the poison or any packaging associated with it then this may help your vet to provide the best care for your pet.

One of the most common causes of accidental poisoning in dogs is owners giving human medication to their pet for pain relief. Never give medication to your pet unless instructed to do so by your vet.


Although this painkiller can be bought in any chemist for humans it is extremely toxic to dogs. Just one tablet can cause stomach ulceration, liver damage, kidney failure and death. It is one of the most common causes of poisoning in dogs.


In overdose paracetamol cannot be broken down safely and toxins quickly build up to dangerous levels.

Slug pellets

The most common active ingredient in slug pellets is metaldehyde. Dogs often find slug pellets attractive and will wander around the garden hovering up pellets from treated areas. The poison causes excitement and seizures followed by depression and collapse. Avoid the use of chemicals in the garden if you have pets or confine your pets indoors or fence off treated areas.

Rat poison

Many rat poisons contain anticoagulants (such as difenacoum or bromadialone). Dogs often eat the poison directly but can also be poisoned by eating dead or dying rodents. Animals remain well for several days after eating the bait as the poison takes effect. Repeated small doses are more toxic than a single large dose. Signs include depression, weakness, breathing problems, and prolonged bleeding from any minor wounds or abrasions. Poisoned animals can bleed to death without treatment.


Dogs quite commonly eat cannabis, and although they can show signs of toxicity for several days, it rarely causes serious side-effects. Most affected dogs become excited and may salivate a lot. Sometimes affected pets will seem disorientated and may hallucinate. Just as in people, appetite may be increased.

Food stuffs (Raisins, Onions and Chocolate)

Pets can be poisoned by human foodstuffs and these poisonings can be fatal. Raisins (and sultanas, currants and grapes) cause damage to the kidneys, chocolate poisoning affects the brain and the heart, and onion poisoning can cause anaemia. In animals which are susceptible to these poisonings even a small amount (a piece of fruit cake, a few squares of dark chocolate) can have serious effects.

Adder bites

The only native venomous snake in the UK is the European Adder. Snake bites are most common in late spring and summer when the snakes are active. Dogs can become unwell very quickly after an adder bite with pain and progressive local swelling. Treatment often includes administration of antivenom.

Anti-freeze (ethylene glycol)

Antifreeze is palatable to dogs. The initial signs are very non-specific (vomiting, wobbliness/weakness, thirst) and are easily missed. These are followed by kidney failure, seizures and coma. Treatment with an antidote may be possible but only if started very soon after ingestion.

Toad poisoning

In the UK the common toad is relatively harmless but all toads have glands in their skin which secrete unpleasant substances. Animals that have put toads in their mouth show excessive salivation and may paw at their mouth. Usually the signs resolve without treatment (pets may appreciate having their mouth washed out with a hose). In more severe poisonings signs include weakness, limb swelling and seizures.

Heat stroke

We have all heard that ‘dogs can die in hot cars’ – the frightening thing is how quickly this can happen. A healthy dog can suffer fatal damage from heat stroke in only a few minutes in a car. The interior of cars can also reach damaging temperatures on days that do not seem very hot so great care should always be taken before leaving your dog in a car. Heat stroke also happens to dogs outside of cars. Whenever it happens it is a true emergency and veterinary attention must be obtained immediately.

A dog’s body temperature is normally maintained between 37.8°C / 100°F and 39.3°C / 102.7°F

In warm environments dogs regulate their body temperature by panting. If they cannot lose heat fast enough, their body temperature will rise. A rise in body temperature of just 3 degrees (to a temperature of 40.6°C / 105°F) can be very serious for your pet. If body temperature increases to 42.2°C / 108°F, the important organs like the heart, brain, liver and kidneys become damaged. Even immediate treatment and effective cooling can leave the dog with internal damage that may affect long term health.

Leaving your dog in a hot car is a sure way to bring on heat stroke as temperatures inside the car can rise to fatal levels within a few minutes. However, car temperatures can rise to dangerous levels even on days which appear cool. Whilst being locked in a hot car is an obvious cause of heat stroke dogs can be affected in other ways too. A dog left outside in the heat without adequate shade, or exercised in hot/humid conditions is also at risk.

Large dogs, especially those with heavy hair coats, understandably find it more difficult to lose excess heat and are more at risk of getting overheated. Brachycephalic breeds (those with short noses), e.g. boxers and bulldogs have inefficient panting mechanisms and may be more affected by environmental temperatures than other breeds.

Recognition of the early signs of heat strokes is very important. Initial changes include:

  • rapid breathing
  • dry mouth and nose (drooling can be seen later)
  • unsteadiness
  • fast heart rate
  • dull greyish or red gums
  • vomiting and diarrhoea are not uncommon

This is an emergency!

Even at the earliest stage of heat stroke, you may be fighting for your dog’s life. You must get your dog to a vet as soon as possible. These signs can be followed in minutes by collapse, seizures (fits), coma and death.

Do not delay in contacting your vet, but you may need to take steps to cool your dog whilst awaiting veterinary attention. Move the dog from the hot environment and start cooling by placing cool, wet towels over the back, neck and tummy/groin and also by applying cool water to the ear flaps and paws. Directing a fan onto the dog can also be helpful.

Do not use cold water or ice or overcool your dog – it is best to use water at cool tap water temperature.

Seek emergency veterinary help as soon as you can. Ask someone else to call the vet while you start to cool your pet.

Your vet will need to admit your dog for treatment. In the early stages the most important action is to reduce your dog’s body temperature. This can be achieved with cooling baths and fans and administration of cool fluids into the blood and cool enemas.

Once the body temperature has been reduced any additional problems caused by the overheating need to be addressed. Your vet will need to do many blood tests to monitor the function of organs such as the kidneys and liver.

Dogs that survive the initial few hours following over heating will often need to be in intensive care for many days. Clotting disorders are very common in the aftermath of heat stroke and your vet will want to monitor your pet closely.

Heat stroke is a very serious condition and sadly many dogs do not survive. However with prompt treatment some dogs will make a full recovery. Others may survive but may be left with permanent damage. Prevention is definitely the safest option!

Heat stroke is a very frightening condition and can kill a healthy animal in as little as 20 minutes. Prevention is your best protection but if you do suspect heat stroke in your dog then immediate veterinary attention is essential. If you have any questions regarding this or any other aspects of your dogs health please contact your vet for advice.

Fitting in dogs – an emergency?

If you have witnessed an animal or person having a seizure (convulsion or fit), you will know how frightening it can appear. An animal suffering a generalised seizure (also known as grand mal seizure) will be unconscious. They may show violent, rhythmic movement of their legs, excessive drooling and twitching of the face and jaws. Some animals cry out and it is not uncommon for them to lose control of their bladder or bowels.

Although time seems to slow down when you are faced with a seizuring animal most seizures only last for 2 minutes or less. Seizures are not uncommon in dogs, but many dogs have only a single seizure in their lifetime therefore do not be unduly alarmed if you witness your dog having a seizure. Remember your dog does not know what it is doing during a seizure so it is important to keep you and your pet safe.

The most important thing is to stay calm. Remember that your dog is not in pain or distressed during the seizure itself. The seizure is likely to be more distressing for you than your pet. Ensure your dog is in a safe place, i.e. not at the top of a flight of stairs and then do not intervene further or you may get hurt.

It is a good idea to have a plan that you can enact every time your pet has a seizure. If everyone in the family knows what to do in advance they will be less alarmed when a seizure starts. Print out the seizure plan and pin it in a prominent place in the house so everyone can access it in an emergency.

During the seizure keep notes as these may be helpful to your vet later on – write down the time the seizure started and finished and what your pet did during the seizure.

If your dog stops seizuring within 5 minutes allow them time to recover quietly. Immediately following the seizure your pet may show some strange behaviours and may be abnormal for minutes to hours after. If this is the first seizure your dog has had you should contact your vet and let them know. Your vet may ask you to bring your dog into the next routine appointment for a check and some routine blood tests. It is far better for your dog to recover quietly at home rather than be bundled into the car and carted off to the vet right away.

If your dog continues to have an active seizure as described above for more than 5 minutes or fails to recover fully before another seizure starts, or has repeated seizures within hours of one another, then you should contact your vet immediately.

Your vet will give some advice over the phone. If your dog has a history of seizures your vet may have given you medication to keep at home for emergency use. Some drugs (diazepam or valium) can be given per rectum or nasally (i.e. up the nose) and this can be given during a prolonged fit and/or after individual seizures if the dog is predisposed to severe clusters. If you have to give medication by mouth wait until your dog is fully recovered and never try to put tablets in your dog’s mouth while it is still dazed. Your dog may not be sufficiently aware to swallow properly and you may get bitten.

If your dog has more than 3 seizures in a day you should contact your vet for further advice.

If your dog is still having an active seizure after 5 minutes your vet will probably want to see it straight away. Always call your vet’s practice before driving there to be sure that there is someone on hand who can help your pet.

Immediately after a seizure your dog may be very confused and could show strange behaviour such as aimless pacing, wobbliness or a desire to eat and drink excessively. You must be very careful during this time as they can become aggressive.

Most of the time epileptic dogs recover perfectly well after a seizure. A very small number of dogs die as the result of an injury that has happened because of a seizure. In some cases, dogs do die during a seizure without any obvious explanation. Sudden unexplained death in epilespy (SUDEP) also occurs rarely in people affecting 1 in 1000 epileptics. Non-one knows how rare this is in dogs.

These directions will help you manage your pet in a safe way during and after a seizure.

Before Seizure

1. Write your vets contact number here so you have it to hand

  • Vets contact details………………………………………….
  • Emergency contact number………………………………..

2. Know where emergency drugs are stored.
3. Instruct all adult members of household how to administer these drugs correctly.

During Seizure

1. Ensure your dog is in a safe place and if necessary move them away from hazards such as the top of stairs.
2. Ensure that any other household pets are shut up away from the seizuring dog. Other animals can become distressed seeing a companion having seizures and may get hurt if they go to investigate. In some cases dogs will attack a seizuring companion.
3. Write down start and finish time of seizure. If seizure lasts more than 5 minutes call your vet for advice.

After Seizure

1. Keep other household pets locked away from seizuring dog until it is fully recovered.
2. Keep human contact to a minimum until pet is recovered.
2. Immediately after seizure dogs may be hungry, thirsty or need to go out to toilet.
3. Allow animal to fully recover in a quiet peaceful environment but you should expect that your dog may be restless or agitated and may move around a lot so it is important that you provide a safe environment for this.

Fever – is it serious?

Often when you put a hand on your dog it feels warm, particularly on a patch of bare skin. This is because the normal body temperature of a dog is higher than that in people. Body temperature is maintained within a fairly narrow range (between 37.8°C / 100°F and 39.3°C / 102.7°F) although it varies slightly during the day, with lowest temperatures recorded in the morning and the highest in the evening. Fever is simply an increase in body temperature and can be seen with many disorders in dogs.

Body temperature is kept constant even when the dog is exposed to wide changes in environmental temperature. Any change in body temperature is detected by specialised receptors (thermoreceptors) that send signals to the body organs that are able to lose or generate heat.

If the body temperature goes up, blood flow through the skin increases so that heat is lost from blood flowing near the surface of the dog. In hot conditions the dog will pant and seek out a cool place to lie.

When the environment is cold shivering occurs (because muscle activity increases heat production), dogs curl up in a ball and their hair coat becomes erect to trap warm air against the skin.

Since body temperature is so closely controlled in the normal dog a fever is an indicator that something is wrong. In some diseases short fever ‘spikes’ occur (where the temperature is suddenly raised for a short period of time only to drop to normal and then rise again later). In other diseases persistent fever occurs and the temperature is always above normal.

A dog with a fever is usually depressed and may not want to eat but short-term moderate fever does not do any permanent damage to the body. If the fever gets very high (above 41ºC / 105.8°F) body tissues can be damaged and it is important to try to bring the body temperature down. Soaking the coat with cool water and using fans may help but veterinary advice must be sought immediately.

Fortunately it is very rare for body temperature to rise this high and such high temperatures are more often the result of heat stroke or serious seizures (fits) than infections.

Fever is caused by the action of ‘pyrogens’ – substances which change the level at which the body temperature is maintained. Once the ‘normal’ body temperature has been reset, the animal now tries to keep body temperature at a higher level. Pyrogens include bacteria, viruses, toxins, some drugs and natural substances released by the body in response to inflammation.

In many cases a moderate fever can be a good thing. Bacteria may not grow so quickly at higher temperature and so raising body temperature gives the dog a better chance of dealing with the infection. It is not always wise to suppress a fever without trying to find out what has caused it, and it is always better to try to treat the underlying cause if possible.

If you suspect that your dog has a fever you can check their temperature to be sure. Digital thermometers are easy to use and fairly reliable. If your dog’s temperature is high check it again a few hours later (if the temperature rises above 40ºC / 104°F or is persistently higher than normal contact your vet).

Occasionally a falsely low temperature reading is recorded if the thermometer is accidentally inserted into faeces in the rectum – if you think this might have happened check the temperature again after your dog has just passed a motion.

  • Turn on the thermometer (usually by pressing the button on the side).
  • Dip the end of the thermometer into vasoline or similar lubricant.
  • Lift your dog’s tail gently and slowly insert the thermometer into the rectum.
  • Keep the thermometer in place until a steady temperature reading is recorded (most digital thermometers will automatically ‘bleep’ when temperature has been recorded).
  • Remove the thermometer and read the temperature displayed in the small window.
  • Turn off the thermometer and wipe clean before storage.
  • Record the time and date that the temperature was recorded.

Most fevers in dogs are caused by infections of some kind. Body temperature usually returns to normal spontaneously or with the help of antibiotics to control the infection. In some cases fever persists and despite simple tests no obvious cause of the raised temperature is found – in this case the condition is given the name Fever of Unknown Origin or FUO. There are many different diseases in which the only abnormal finding is a fever.

If your dog’s temperature remains high after a few days of treatment your vet may want to undertake further tests to try to identify the cause of the problem. Investigation of an unexplained fever will usually require blood samples, X-rays, and ultrasound, but there may be many more tests that need to be run.

Some tests will have to be repeated a number of times in order to confirm or rule out particular diagnosis. Unfortunately investigation often continues for several weeks, may cost many hundreds of pounds, and there is no guarantee that a specific diagnosis will be found. However once certain conditions have been eliminated from the checklist it may be possible to try medications to reduce the fever even if the diagnosis is not known.

Never give medications to your dog without veterinary advice because you may mask the signs of a more serious disease and make it harder for your vet to find out what is going on, and many human drugs can be toxic to pets unless used correctly.

In some dogs with unexplained fever the fever may resolve without treatment but may then recur months or years later, again with no apparent cause.

Emergencies – what to do

Immediate veterinary attention can mean the difference between life and death for an injured dog following all but the most minor of accidents. Getting your dog to your vet (where all the necessary equipment is on hand) is quicker and gives the dog a better chance than calling a vet out to the scene of the accident. The most important thing to remember in an emergency is – don’t panic! – this could cause further anxiety for an already frightened animal and it wastes valuable time.

If it is your own dog that is injured then you should take it to your own vet if possible. However, if the incident occurs when you are away from home you will need to find the nearest veterinary practice. If there are no passers by or local residents to help, find a telephone box and call directory enquiries or ask at the closest police station, post office, village shop, etc.

Whether you are near home or away, always telephone the veterinary surgery first as many practices have branch surgeries which are not open all day every day. Alerting the practice staff means that they can give important advice and are ready to deal with your dog immediately upon arrival, which may greatly improve its chances of survival.

Any dog in pain is likely to be unpredictable and aggressive. If it can still walk it will probably try to run away and hide. A proper travelling box of plastic or fibreglass is the best way to transport small dogs securely and prevent them escaping.

However, an animal which has collapsed or has been involved in an accident (and so may have spinal injuries) should be moved as little as possible to avoid causing further damage. A sheet of wood, heavy card or even a blanket held taut can serve as a makeshift stretcher. The dog should be lifted gently on to the stretcher and put carefully into the back of the car.

If the vet clinic is within easy walking distance, or if there is no way of getting there by car, it may be possible to carry a small dog with only minor injuries. However, it is very important to avoid getting injured yourself as a dog bite can be serious. Wrapping the dog in a blanket or coat will help to restrain it. If a dog is small its body should be held with one arm, supporting its weight with your forearm, while using the other hand to hold it firmly but gently beneath the chin. Two people will be needed to lift larger dogs securely.

The aim of any first aid is to keep your dog alive and comfortable until it can receive proper veterinary treatment. The most important tasks are to ensure that your dog can breathe comfortably, to keep it warm and to control any bleeding.

If the animal is unconscious, check its mouth for any obstructions such as chunks of food and pull the tongue forward. Be very careful not to get bitten while your fingers are in its mouth. Wrapping the animal in a blanket will prevent it losing body heat, but if no suitable material is available newspapers or kitchen foil, etc may be used instead.

Serious bleeding is more likely to occur inside the dog’s body and will therefore be invisible. Paleness in the membranes around its mouth and eyes will show there is a problem. Bleeding from a skin wound should be minimised by applying a pressure pad with a bandage and cotton wool. A tourniquet may help stem the flow of blood from an injured limb or tail. However, unless someone has some training in first aid, the injury may be best left alone until the dog arrives at the veterinary surgery.

Any accident or injury which threatens the dog’s life will constitute an emergency but three possible problems are:

Road accidents

If you see a dog hit by a car and it is still lying in the road the immediate job is to prevent it from being run over again. Despite the risk of causing further damage, the dog should be moved to a safe place although avoid putting yourself at risk (remember that it may be difficult for drivers to see you at night). Approach the dog slowly and deliberately to avoid scaring it even more.

Not all road accidents are witnessed but if you see a dog which is limping, dishevelled, possibly with oil marks on its fur it may have been in such an accident. It may have suffered severe internal injuries and need urgent veterinary attention.


Sudden attacks of violent vomiting and/or diarrhoea, dribbling from the mouth, staggering and sudden collapse are all possible indications that a dog has been poisoned. If you believe that you know what the dog has eaten, it may help to take the packet, a sample from the plant, etc. with you to the vets.

If you do not know what caused the problem, scrape a sample of vomit or diarrhoea into a jar and take it for tests. Keep the animal warm and quiet until you can get it to a veterinary surgery.

Burns and scalds

The damage caused by fire or hot liquids can be reduced by soaking the wound in plenty of cold, clean water to cool the skin as quickly as possible. Do not attempt to treat the injury with ointments etc.Get the dog to a vet as quickly as possible since delays can increase the pain and the risks from shock and loss of bodily fluids.

To prevent unnecessary suffering in animals, it was made illegal many years ago for unqualified people to carry out veterinary treatment. Therefore, dog owners can only carry out first aid on their animals to save life or prevent further injury until the patient can be cared for by a vet. However, it is sensible for a caring dog owner to keep a first aid box at hand to deal with minor scratches etc or to save time in a genuine emergency. This could contain:

  • a range of bandages and dressings of different sizes
  • a blanket
  • a length of soft cord
  • scissors
  • disposable gloves.

Unless instructed by your vet, it is not advisable to treat wounds with ointments or TCP as dogs will often lick off anything applied to the skin and can make themselves ill swallowing distasteful substances.

Ear disease in your dog

Ear disease is quite common in dogs and you should make ear examination part of a weekly health check for your pet. If your dog’s ears look red or sore on the inside, if there is a smell coming from the ears or if your pet is shaking its head excessively then contact your vet for advice. Ear disease can quickly take hold and is unlikely to get better without treatment. Ear disease left untreated can cause permanent damage to the ear canals and make your pet more likely to have further problems in the future.

A dog’s ear is quite a different shape to ours. Humans simply have a horizontal tube that runs straight from the side of the head into the inner ear (auditory canal). In the dog however, the outside opening of the ear canal is high on the side of the head. The canal runs vertically down the side of the head and makes a sharp right angle into the inner ear. Additionally, some dogs have an ear flap which can partially cover the canal opening. As a result, the ear canal can become very hot and sweaty.

There are a variety of things which may irritate your dog’s ear. Foreign bodies (usually grass seeds) can get stuck in the ear canal and infections may develop. There is even a type of mite which lives inside the ear canal. Often it is difficult to find the original cause of the ear disease but because your dog’s ear is itchy, he scratches at it and sets up an infection.

Ear disease rarely goes unnoticed when it is severe. Your dog will probably shake his head from side to side, and may be forever stopping to sit down and scratch his ears or rub the side of his head on the ground. Sometimes a dog will shake their head so much that they burst a blood vessel and develop a swelling in their ear flap – a haematoma. If this happens your dog will probably need an operation to drain the swelling. In many types of infection there is a smelly discharge or the ear canal may be full of black wax. Sometimes, dogs with sore ears will just sit with their head tilted to one side.

Even if your dog has repeated problems with his ears there is no guarantee that each episode is caused by the same thing. It is very important that your vet looks inside your dog’s ear with an instrument called an otoscope, to check for damage deep within the ear, and to look for foreign bodies such as grass seeds.

The inside of the ear is very sensitive and many dogs will not let your vet do this unless they have been sedated or even anaesthetised. Failure to remove a foreign body can result in permanent damage to the ear.

Once ear disease starts your dog will need some treatment to stop the irritation. Treatment will vary depending on the cause of the problem. Obviously a foreign body will have to be removed, and specific treatment may be required for mites or nasty infections. Your vet may need to take samples from your dog to decide which is the best treatment to give.

Your vet will probably prescribe ear drops and possibly also some tablets. However, unless the ear is clean the ear drops cannot work. It may be necessary for your vet to admit your dog to the hospital and flush out its ear canals before treatment starts. In less severe cases, your vet will show you how to use an ear cleaner on your dog.

Always make sure you follow your vet’s instructions carefully. You must complete the treatment course even if the ears seem to be much better within one or two days.

No! Never put anything into your dog’s ear without first consulting your vet. Even if the drops were prescribed for your dog in the past they may do more harm than good on this occasion. Many types of ear drop ‘go off’ once they have been opened, or it may be that the ear problem is caused by something different this time. Remember that ear disease is very itchy and can be very painful – you must always seek veterinary treatment sooner rather than later for the sake of your pet.

It is unlikely that the ear disease will get better on its own. The longer you leave it before starting treatment the harder it becomes to clear up the irritation. Each time ear disease develops, more damage is done and eventually the walls of the ear canal may become thickened. This makes further infections more likely as fresh air cannot get to the bottom of the ear canal. When ear disease keeps coming back, surgery may be needed to remove part of the wall of the ear canal so that treatment can get to the site of infection.

Unfortunately some animals are just more prone to ear problems than others. Dogs with long dangly ears like spaniels seem to have particular problems. This is probably because it is difficult for air to circulate in the ear canal. The ear becomes hot and sweaty, providing the ideal breeding ground for bugs. These types of dogs often have a lot of hair growing up the ear canal and this can become matted with wax and ear drops making the problem worse.

Dogs which spend a lot of time in water may also get regular ear infections. The water in the ear canal allows some bugs to grow more readily than normal.

Also, dogs with allergies frequently have recurring ear problems. The lining of the ear is like the skin on the rest of the body and can become itchy and inflamed in an allergic dog.

Unfortunately it is impossible to prevent ear disease coming back in some dogs. In fact, if your dog has had one ear infection, it is highly likely that they will have repeated bouts. You should check your dog’s ears regularly and contact your vet if the ears become red or sore looking.

Regular ear cleaning can be helpful in removing debris and wax within the ear, but excessive cleaning may damage the inside of the ear and make infection more likely. Unless advised otherwise by your vet, clean your dog’s ears about once a week. If your dog has hairy ear canals the hair should be plucked to allow good ventilation.

In most cases of ear disease the symptoms will clear up within a few days of treatment starting. Unfortunately this is not the end of the problem. It is highly likely that the problem will come back at some stage in the future and you should be on your guard for it. If the problem recurs, seek advice from your vet as soon as possible because if the disease is allowed to go untreated for any length of time, permanent damage may result.