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All posts in February, 2011

Sharon writes:

‘Dear Visiting Vet- I have a girl cat who is 7 months old. She is ginger and someone told me that it’s very rare for girls to have ginger hair. I would like her to have kittens but my vet tells me she should have the operation to stop her having babies.
I know there are lots of kittens with no homes but I’m sure I could find homes for her kittens, especially if they are ginger too. What do you think? Should I listen to my vet?
Sharon

Dear Sharon,
Ginger female cats are uncommon, but not incredibly rare; about 25% of ginger cats are female. So the feline gene pool doesn’t need any help to preserve this colour at this point in time. Unless you make sure the tomcat involved is ginger himself, then you are unlikely to get female ginger kittens from her,
Thousands of unwanted kittens are abandoned and rescued by UK charities each year. If you purposely breed a litter, you are effectively taking away homes from these unwanted cats.
If you are planning to let your cat be mated randomly, you are putting her health at risk. She will wander while in season, putting her at increased risk of a road traffic accident and her ‘boyfriends’ may carry infectious diseases.Unspayed females are at risk of developing womb infections and are more likely to suffer from mammary cancer.
A cat in season is noisy and sometimes very alarming! And kittens are cute but if something goes wrong during the birth, or in the early days of life, then letting your cat have babies may prove to be an expensive, or even heartbreaking, whim.
So yes, you should listen to your vet and get your cat spayed.
Jacq

The Vet Is Listening (TVIL) is a sometimes weekly feature, where I respond to questions submitted by a reader or client. If you’d like your question answered please email it to me on jacq (at) thevisitingvet (dot) co (dot) uk or comment below.
Thank you.

It’s half term and I’m trying to entertain 4 kids, or at least keep them from killing each other. I don’t have time to go to the toilet in peace, let alone write something coherent for this blog.
We are spending a lot of time walking the dogs, even in THIS weather.
I’m sorry, but I will be back next week, I promise.

A recent RSPCA survey reports that almost a 5th of people who bought a puppy in the last 2 years no longer own it.


The survey also revealed that 40% of people looking to buy a puppy had spent less than a week considering their decision, researching what breed/ type of dog would suit their lifestyle and experience or calculating the cost and general responsibilities of caring for a dog. 

Check out this brilliant link from the RSPCA.
It’s one of the best instructional videos that I’ve seen about how to choose a puppy.
Other helpful links are also available from the Kennel Club, Puppyfinder and Raising Spot. 

If you watch and read through these 4 links, and pay attention to what they are trying to tell you, then you will be well on your way to choosing a dog that will suit your family and lifestyle.

Today I was driving one of my daughters to piano, when I spotted a lady walking a Jack Russell down the road.
I know the dog from walks in the local park, and he’s not known for his obedience, so I knew he’d be on a lead so close to the road..But here he was trotting along about 10 ft in front of his owner.
I could see the answer to my question in his owners hand; she was holding the handle of an extending flexi-lead. I wasn’t going fast but I slowed down further and it was just as well I did. His attention shifted from a nearby tree trunk, to something on the other side of the road and he lunged across in front of our car. I had been slowing down anyway, so I managed quite an impressive emergency stop. The kids were not impressed by my driving.
I caught sight of a cat as it disappeared over someone’s front wall while the owner reeled her furious pet in off the road.
The little dog was oblivious to the lucky escape he’d had. He was still yapping furiously in the direction of his intended pray but his owner was visibly shaken. I asked if she was okay and she nodded as she grimly shortened the lead to a  length where her dog was kept firmly at her side. And off they went around the corner, probably heading off to the park.

Different leads suit different dogs and owners but I’ve never got on with extending leads. I find them awkward  and heavy to hold and I’ve had some nasty burns from the retracting string. When on pavements, near roads or in crowds, they should only be used on the shortest setting. As in the lady above found out, a dog that is walking 10 ft in front of you can suddenly be 10 ft beside you, and in doing so may end up in the middle of the road. And the chances of traffic being able to stop as effectively as I did, is pretty low. Usually *I* couldn’t stop like that,but knowing what I know about these leads means I do tend to pass dogs on one slowly if I see them in time. I couldn’t tell you how many dogs I’ve seen killed or injured while being walked on these leads; probably about the same number of humans who have been injured ( if less severely) by them.

I suppose they have their place in a park or less populated area but I’d always advise dogs owners to buy a good quality training lead instead. These are strong leads with a series of rings and clips that mean they can be used at several fixed lengths. They are also useful for walking 2 dogs at once and you can clip one end safely and easily around a post if required.
And when your dogs are off lead you can sling the lead around your waist or over your shoulder, something else you can’t do with a flexi-lead.

These days, well cared for and well fed pets are living longer and longer. With this increased lifespan, there comes an increase in the likelihood of so-called geriatric diseases and the most common of these, in dogs at least, is osteoarthritis, also known as OA.
In fact OA is no longer classed as an affliction affecting only older animals.1 in 5 dogs over a year old are thought to suffer from this chronic disease that affects joint causing pain and reduced mobility. Cats, rabbits, reptiles, birds and small rodents can also develop OA, although it’s harder to diagnose because of their smaller size and greater agility.
Larger animals are more likely to be affected than smaller ones, but if you notice any of the signs of OA mentioned below in any sized pet, you should mention them to your vet.
It’s thought that less than 1/4 of dogs with OA are being treated for the pain they are in, and in other species that percentage is certain to be much higher.
Most owners take their pet to the vet if they notice persistent lameness, but in it’s early stages the signs of OA may not be obvious.
Some early signs of osteoarthritis may include lethargy, clinginess and hiding in places they aren’t usually found. They may be uninterested in a favourite toy or even food. Some owners say their pet’s temperament has changed and they can seem depressed. Stiffness after exercise or reluctance to get up after lying down are more obvious signs and sometimes your pet may show uncharacteristic aggression or fear when touched. A common observation from owners is that their pet no longer climbs stairs or gets up on the furniture.
Any of these behaviours should be checked out by a vet as it’s not only osteoarthritis that can cause these signs.
But if your pet does have OA, it doesn’t have to suffer. There are many drugs out there that can help give them a better quality of life and your vet will be able to tell you which is best for your pet.
These drugs don’t just control pain; they reduce the amount of damage caused by the disease and improve the mobility of the affected joint. So it’s important not to stop giving the medication as soon as you see an improvement. Regular exercise, and a healthy weight will also limit the joint damage, so consult your vet if you need advice on either of these subjects.
Owners are often surprised at how much younger their pets act when their pain is controlled. They move around freely, enjoy their walks more and frequently start playing again.
So if you think your pet is slowing down due to ‘old age’, it’s worth consulting your vet. You may be able to give your pet a new lease of life.

I blogged about Henry last week. He was a ‘retired’ stud dog who was handed over to a breed rescue and rehomed with some clients of mine.

You can read about our first meeting here.
Yesterday, I visited to give him his second vaccination and it was lovely to see how happy and settled he was. He barked and wagged his tail at me, then allowed me to give him a really good rub along his side. He evidently enjoys human contact now as he leaned right into me as I patted him. His older ‘sister’ has completely accepted him now and he ran around the garden and house and played a lively game of tug-o-war with her while I was there. He wasn’t thrilled with the vaccination itself  and moved away from me for a while, but he forgave me quickly enough and let me give him an ear rub as an apology.
He does have a tendency to circle when he’s nervous or unsure about something, but this habit will probably disappear gradually as he forgets about his old life.
It’s a lovely happy-every-after ending for a sweet little dog and although I had no part in this tale, except to come along at the end and stick a needle in him, I feel stupidly self-satisfied with how life has turned out for Henry.
 His owners are pretty thrilled with the outcome as well.
From next week, one of my 3 blogs will take the form of ‘The Vet is Listening’. This will be an advice column where the vet will have time to answer your questions. If you have a problem with your pet or just an animal-related question, then email it to jacq(AT)thevisitingvet(DOT)co(DOT)uk or leave it as a comment. 
Obviously if  you are seriously worried about the health of your pet, you need to see your own vet as soon possible.

The seemingly random title of this post is actually a mnemonic for the tricky-to-spell ‘diarrhoea’. Of course, now you have to remember the sentence correctly which you may, or may not, find more difficult

 It’s a common enough condition amongst pets but can cause real concern for owners. Sometimes it’s a just an unpleasant bout of runny poo that will clear up by itself, given time, and other times it can be symptom of a more serious disease. But how do you tell the difference?
The ‘correct’ answer is you don’t. That’s what your vet is for, and if you are worried about your pet’s poo you should always consult a vet. A quick phone call to your clinic may be all that’s necessary to put your mind at rest, or you may be advised that you need to bring the patient in to be seen.
However, in a cat or dog, the sudden onset of diarrhoea is most likely to be due to something known as ‘dietary indiscretion’. In other words they have eaten something they shouldn’t have. This could simply be some human food that doesn’t agree with them, such as the kid’s dinner or the bread put out for the birds, or it could have been something disgusting from under a hedge somewhere. If your pet has a dodgy tummy but seems fine in themselves; still wants to eat and drink, seems as lively as ever and is not showing signs of pain, then 2 days cooked white meat and white rice fed in smaller, more-frequent-than-normal meals should sort them out. You can also get specially prepared tinned food from your vet for times like this, but chicken or fish, and rice will be fine. Make sure they have plenty of fresh water available at all times. After a couple of days, things should be more solid and you can gradually switch back to their normal food.
If the diarrhoea persists for more than 3-4 days, then go see your vet. There are various drugs that can help settle more chronic diarrhoea, and your vet might want to do a few tests to make sure there is nothing else going on.
If your dog or cat has diarrhoea accompanied by vomiting, pain or bloating, is not wanting to eat or is obviously less active than normal, then you shouldn’t wait but see your vet as soon as possible. Blood in diarrhoea should also be investigated sooner rather than later.
A puppy or kitten under 4-6 months old should be watched very closely if they develop loose stools. Even if they seem completely fine initially, they can go down hill quickly if they dehydrate.
Some pets develop diarrhoea intermittently. They are not unwell in themselves but they often need to ‘go’ frequently and with some urgency. It can be worth looking what is being fed to these animals, as a better quality pet food such as Burns often reduces the frequency of these episodes.

For pets other than dogs and cats, diarrhoea is usually more serious, mainly due to their smaller body size. Smaller pets can’t afford to lose much fluid and a couple of loose bowel movements can leave them moderately dehydrated. They can get very sick, very quickly and the wait and see approach has much less leeway than it does with a larger animal. Unless you have some experience keeping smaller pets hydrated while they recover from diarrhoea, your vet is the best person to put together a treatment plan to help them recover.

Five things you probably didn’t know about your pets.


1/ Dog’s nose prints are as unique as a human’s finger prints and can be used to accurately identify them.

Photo by Flickr User Stuart R

2/ The domestic cat is the only cat species able to hold its tail vertically while walking.  All wild cats hold their tails horizontally or tucked between their legs while walking.

Photo by Flickr User Cheeseweese

3/ Rabbits are nearsighted and have a blind spot right in front of them.  
Photo by Flickr User Foxtongue

4/ Goldfish can live for 10 – 20 years. The oldest recorded goldfish was 41 years old.

Photo by Flickr User thephantomlio

 5/  A bird’s feathers weigh more than it’s skeleton does.

Photo by Flickr User Dhyanji


Last week I met Henry, a new patient of mine, who needed his vaccinations. He was a handsome dog, with a lovely coat and ‘puppy-dog’ eyes and if he’d been one of my ‘normal’ patients, I would have enjoyed giving him an ear rub and pat. As it was, I didn’t touch him at first.

As I took his history from his owners, I watched him very carefully and could see how frightened he was by his stiff pose and the way he was licking his lips. He was just back from the groomers, who is a friend of mine, and she said he’d been in a terrible state; his coat had been full of knots and worse. Despite his long fur, he’d obviously never been to a groomer before. She doubted he’d ever been washed or combed.

 Dogs like Henry can sometimes show aggression when faced with attention from groomers and veterinary staff. But Henry was literally scared stiff. As I examined him, I could feel him tense and trembling and I was alert for any signs that he might growl or snap. But although there was no hostility, there was no sign of canine friendliness either.

Henry seems healthy enough. He is a little thin, but it’s from underfeeding, not disease. He has very little muscle tone, probably from lack of exercise. Henry’s owners had only had him a couple of days and reported he seemed scared of everything new at first – the car, the doors, the garden, but was gradually getting used to it all.The only thing he showed any sign of pleasure towards was their other dog, an older bitch. She wasn’t too happy with his sudden appearance, but he was loathe to let her out of his sight. He watched her from a distance and copied everything that she did, she showed him how to behave and what was safe.
His new life will now be very different to his previous one.

Henry is one of the thousands of ex-breeding dogs handed over to animal rescues after their owners no longer have any use for them. He has lived in a crate for most of his life, and was allowed out to ‘work’ and run in the exercise yard with the other dogs only when no one was in heat. Henry probably wasn’t very good at his job, which might explain why he was given up so early in his life, he’s only 3.  He’s been lucky, most stud dogs are kept until they are too old to work.

There are lots of breeders who treat their breeding stock as pets and keep their retired dogs with them in comfort. But there are many more who discard their unwanted animals without a thought for what their future holds. The lucky ones end up in rescues, and find loving homes with patient owners who already have a resident dog.

Many Tears Animal Rescue is only one of many rescues that takes on ex-breeding dogs but they are one of the best known. Reading through the lists of dogs looking for loving homes may well break your heart a little but it’s something every dog lover should do.

 Remember these dogs next time you are looking for a new pet. Your family might not be suitable for an ex-breeder or rescue dog but please be aware of where these animals come from. Don’t buy from a puppy farm or from a breeder that has multiple breeds and litters for sale. These are the people responsible for keeping rescues full of unwanted animals. They are in it for the money and don’t care about their dogs.

Next week, I’m going back to give Henry his second vaccination. His owners tell me he’s like a different dog now; he loves his walks, the garden and the sofa. He is showing them signs of affection and I’m hoping he might wag his tail at me. If he doesn’t, there is always next year.

These things can take time.