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Pet Advice

Hints and tips to keep your loved ones healthy

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Further information

Managing your pet's weight

50% of dogs and cats in the UK are overweight. Overweight dogs and cats have a slight excess of fat covering the ribs and have a discernable waist. When the ribs cannot be felt at all and there is no waist, the dog or cat is considered to be obese. Obesity is defined as being 20% overweight. A weight problem occurs when there is an accumulation of excess energy which is stored as fat. In other words the individual is receiving more calories than needed for body maintenance and energy expenditure. Obesity causes an increase in disease and mortality at all ages and is associated with sugar diabetes, certain types of cancer, impaired mobility and arthritis, high blood pressure and heart disease.
 
Weight gain in your pet should be taken seriously. If you were told that your pet was suffering from heart disease or kidney trouble you would know instinctively that this was serious. Obesity is just as serious.
Achieving and maintaining a pet's ideal weight not only reduces the health risks, but also can increase life expectancy, improve quality of life, and allow them to become more active.
 
What can I do?
Compare your pets weight with that at 12-24 months old. The weight should not have increased beyond this point.
Rapid weight loss should be avoided. An approximate time plan is as follows:

  • To lose 25% of the initial bodyweight takes 25% of the year.
  • To lose 33% takes 33% of the year.
  • To lose 50% takes 50% of the year.

Weight that is lost slowly is more likely to stay lost!
 
A special 'low calorie' diet is available from the surgery that is properly formulated for effective weight loss. The diet is more effective if combined with additional exercise.
Write down everything that your pet gets to eat during the day. You will often be surprised at the sabotage that goes on! You have to be vigilant!
Hill's prescription diet r/d is high in fibre and low in calories to ensure that the pet feels satisfied while encouraging weight loss.
 
Hill's prescription diet Feline m/d encourages weight loss through metabolic change. It is a low carbohydrate and high protein diet (similar to the Atkins diet which is ideal for cats) that encourages fat breakdown to provide energy.
Once the ideal weight is reached your pet can be changed onto Hill's prescription diet w/d to prevent obesity recurring after successful weight loss. It is reduced fat and high fibre and is lighter than the average "light diet".
Once weight returns to an acceptable level you will be surprised at the years that seem to have been shed. It really is worth persevering. We will do all we can to help. Do not hesitate to contact one of our veterinary nurses and book your pet in for free twice monthly weight assessments.

Managing dental health

Consider how your teeth and gums would feel if you failed to brush them everyday. Your dog and cats teeth are no different. 70% of cats 2 years and older and 80% of dogs 3 years and older show signs of periodontal disease.
 
Periodontal disease is simply infection in the tissues surrounding the tooth. Gum inflammation, or gingivitis, is caused by the build-up of a film of plaque on the teeth. Plaque is made up of saliva, food and bacteria that sits on the surface of the teeth. It is invisible and can only be seen using a disclosing fluid. If it is not cleaned off it begins to thicken and mineralise and forms a visible hard deposit called tartar. Tartar can build up until it totally covers the tooth, this can cause discomfort when eating and make the mouth smell. The gums gradually recede so that ultimately the socket is infected and the tooth is lost. As oral infection increases tonsillitis and pharyngitis can also occur. The bacteria can also be absorbed into the blood stream and can be carried to other organs leading to heart and liver infections.
 
The first signs of dental disease is often halitosis or bad breath. Gingivitis and plaque can both contribute to an unpleasant odour in the mouth. Often by controlling plaque, bad breath will subside. Other signs maybe that the cat or dog is reluctant to eat or play with toys and sometimes drooling can be seen.
 
Most cats and dogs do need dental treatment at some stage in their lives, but the more preventative treatment you can give your pet the less likely they are to need dental treatment.
 
The prime aim is to keep the mouth as hygienic as possible and to reduce the rate at which tartar builds up. Feeding a diet that promotes chewing stimulates the production of saliva that contains natural antibacterial substances and the mechanical action of chewing helps to scrape plaque off. Hills prescription diet t/d is particularly good at this, as are specially designed dental toys and rawhide chews.
 
Daily tooth brushing is the most effective way to reduce plaque and tartar.
We recommend that you use a specially designed toothbrush or a child's toothbrush with soft rounded bristles. Do not use human toothpaste as this is toxic to pets and most don't like the flavour or the foaming action. Pet toothpaste comes in a variety of flavours such as chicken, fish and malt and it is safe to be swallowed.
 
It is best to start a daily brushing routine when your pet is young, but it can easily be introduced at any age. First, introduce your pet to the toothpaste by applying some to your finger or a toy. Let them lick the toothpaste, they will love the taste. Make the session enjoyable and give lots of praise so they will look forward to next time. Repeat this for three to five days.
 
The next step is place your finger with the applied toothpaste into your pets mouth and gently massage the teeth and gums. You do not need to you're your pets mouth open to brush the teeth. Repeat this until your pet is comfortable with finger brushing. During this stage you can introduce a finger brush to help your pet get used to the brushing sensation. This stage can take up to two to three weeks - so persevere!
 
When comfortable with finger brushing you can introduce a toothbrush. Wet the toothbrush with a small amount of water and apply the toothpaste pushing well into the bristles to help it stay on. Begin with just a few teeth and gradually increase the number of teeth brushed. You need to lift your pets lips to allow you access to the teeth but you do not need to hold the mouth open. Brush from the back towards the front but leave the small teeth in the front as brushing close to the nose can irritate some pets. You do not need to brush the inside edge of the teeth.
 
Once tartar has formed it is necessary to remove it completely with a professional scale and polish under general anaesthetic. Under anaesthetic scaling, both by hand and using ultrasonic cleaning equipment will remove tartar, both visible and also that which is accumulating below the gum line. The teeth are then polished in order to try to prevent subsequent plaque build-up as much as possible. It may be necessary to carry out other procedures at the same time such as fillings, extractions etc.

Lungworm in dogs and cats

There has been a lot of press recently about the rise of Angiostrongylus vasorum also known as the French Heartworm or lungworm.   Interesting that the increase in awareness and prevalence of this worm coincides with a prescription drug receiving authorisation for treatment of this worm. There is a promotion of this problem by Bayer in April almost every year with media coverage and support packs sent out to vets to promote the problem and quite likely their drug sales.
 
You should only consider regular preventative treatment if your dog eats slugs and snails, most dogs don't. We have not seen a confirmed lungworm case in west Swindon in 5 years.
 
The truth is there is more than one type of lungworm and we have always been able to treat them. I hope this article gives you a more balanced opinion.
 
Dogs

There a 4 lungworms to consider and they vary in their prevalence but all are considered present in the south west of England.

  • Angiostrongylus vasorum, The French Heartworm

It inhabits the right side of the heart and the arteries of the lung.  There is anecdotal evidence that it is spreading but has always been present in our area.  The life cycle involves slugs and snails.  An infected dog has worms in the heart and arteries which lay eggs. The eggs hatch a larvae which burrows through the blood vessels into the lung and are coughed up, swallowed and end up in the faeces. The faeces are eaten by slugs and snails who become infected. Dogs eat the slugs or snails containing a larva and the larvae burrow through the intestine and hitch a ride in the blood to the heart where they mature into worms and start laying eggs all over.  It takes a month or two to complete this cycle.
 
Having worms in the heart and lung causes a variety of clinical signs with 47% of dogs coughing, 42% struggling to breathe, 29% having bleeding problems, 20% showing weakness and 9% showing signs of back pain. The severity often relates to how many worms are present.
Treatment involves killing the worms (which can cause other problems as the can block blood vessels) in the lung.  It's best done slowly and there are 3 treatments available, all effective.

  • Oslerus osleri

This lungworm is found worldwide and the adults live in the windpipe and airways. They lay their eggs and the hatch into larva which are coughed up and swallowed and end up in the faeces. These worms do not need slugs or snails and they are picked up by dogs directly from other dogs faeces. The larvae burrow through the intestine and hitch a ride to the lungs in the bloodstream wher the burrow into the airways and move up to the windpipe.
They cause coughing and difficulty in breathing. Some dogs struggle to exercise and others have no signs at all. Treatment is available and Fenbendazole is the drug of choice.

  • Crenosoma vulpis

This lungworm is found worldwide and is considered to be increasing as the fox population increases. The adults live in the lungs and lay eggs which turn into larva that are coughed, swallowed and end up in the faeces. This worm relies on slugs and snails and it infects them when they eat the faeces. The dog eats the snail, the larva burrows through the intestine and gets to the lungs via the blood stream where it burrows into the airways.
 
They cause coughing and retching and can appear to look like kennel cough infection. The can cause a severe bronchitis. Treatment is usually with Fenbendazole.

  • Filaroides hirthi

This lungworm rarely causes clinical signs and although considered to be unlikely to cause major disease we have seen a dog that had to be euthenased due to the severity of his chronic lung disease. The life cycle is the same as Oslerus osleri and clinical signs are either nothing or cough and difficulty breathing. Fenbendazole has been used effectively to treat this condition.
 
Cats

Cats have a single lungworm Aelurostrongylus abstrusus which is found worldwide and effects approximately 5 in 100 cats. It usually does not cause serious harm. It has a similar life cycle to Angiostrongylus vasorum with snails needed as an host for the worm to complete its life cycle. Birds and rodents then eat the snails and the cat eats them in turn.  
 
They usually do not cause serious harm but some cats can cough and have difficulty exercising. A few cats have had severe breathing problems and fluid on the lung. Treatment is with Fenbendazole.

H5N1 Avian Influenza in cats

What is avian influenza?  

Avian influenza is a disease of birds, caused by a type A influenza virus.

The subtype H5N1 avian influenza occurs primarily in birds and infection varies from mild disease with little or no mortality to a highly fatal, rapidly spreading epidemic (highly pathogenic avian influenza, HPA1) depending on the virus strain, host factors and environmental stressors.

Waterfowl are more resistant to avian influenza than domestic poultry,in which it is usually fatal.

Transmission to mammals, including humans, happens sporadically, and the infection then may cause disease with high morbidity and mortality rates.

It is extremely rare for cats to be infected and there are only very few confirmed reports of the disease in Europ.

Oestrus Cycle in Dogs and Cats

Dogs

Bitches reach sexual maturity between 4 - 18 months of age and come into season on average every 5-7 months. The cycle is divided into anoestrus, proestrus, oestrus and dioestrus.  
 
Anoestrus literally means "no oestrus" or "no heat" and this is the period of time your bitch is not in heat.
 
Proestrus is when a bitch comes into season and the vulva swells, a bloody vaginal discharge may develop. They can also show signs such as restlessness and frequent urination. This stage lasts on average 9 days (3 - 17 days variation). The bitch will attract males but be unlikely to stand for a mating.
 
Oestrus is the next stage and this is when the bitch is usually mated and falls pregnant. It lasts on average 9 days (3 - 21 days variation). She may stop bleeding at the start of oestrus although some bleed throughout the cycle.  The bitch will more likely stand and allow a mating while in oestrus.
 
Dioestrus lasts between 60 and 90 days in non-pregnant females and approx 58-64 days in pregnant females. During this time progesterone levels (the pregnancy hormone) are high in both pregnant and non-pregnant females. This is why false pregnancy can occur in non-pregnant dogs. Also, we prefer not to spay bitches until after dioestrus; therefore we wait 3 months from the last season before spaying.
 
The length of pregnancy in dogs can vary from approx 58-65 days. This is because canine eggs are not fertile when first ovulated and because sperm can remain viable for a long time in the female reproductive tract so fertilisation does not necessarily occur at the same time as mating.
 
The best way to tell if a dog is pregnant or not is by ultrasound scan which can be done from about 30 days after mating. Sometimes, if we cannot see a pregnancy we will suggest a second scan about a week later.
 
If a dog is accidentally mated the best course of action is Alizin injections. The dog will need 2 injections, 24 hours apart. This can be done up to 45 days from mating, but after day 20 there may be physical signs of abortion so we normally recommend that it is done as early as possible. Alizin has no residual action so if the bitch is mated again after the course it will not prevent her from becoming pregnant. Alizin is 95% effective but can cause some side effects, most commonly skin reactions at the site of injection. After Alizin injections the bitch will often come back into season very early (sometimes after 2-3 months) so the owners need to monitor closely for signs of return to season. Alizin injections are expensive. For a 20kg dog the cost is approximately £110.
 
 
Cats

Cats reach sexual maturity from about 5-12 months of age.
In cats the reproductive cycle is seasonal and controlled by daylight hours. They will cycle when there are 12 hours or more of daylight. Behaviour changes which occur when a cat comes into season include increased affection, purring and rolling around and yowling, they can also lie with their front legs on the floor and back legs up.The cycle lasts approximately 3 weeks. Cats will only ovulate if they are mated and if they are not mated they can cycle continuously. Pregnancy lasts approx 63 days.  
 
Cats will come into oestrus throughout the period that daylight hours exceed 12 hours until they fall pregnant!
Cats are induce ovulators which means they only drop their eggs if and when they mate.
 
Proestrus lasts 1 - 2 days and is often not seen.  Behaviour changes can start in proestrus.
 
Oestrus lasts on average 7 days (3 - 16 days variation) then subsides for an average of 9 days (3 - 14 days).
Behaviour changes are more pronounced in oestrus. This is when they can fall pregnant.
 
Interoestrus is the period between successive oestrus periods.  If the cat does not mate then she will cycle into oestrus every 2 - 3 weeks. The interoestrus period is approximately 1 - 10 days.
 
Dioestrus occurs if the queen ovulates (drops her eggs).  If she ovulates she is either going to be pregnant (as she has to mate to ovulate) or the mating will fail and she will not fall pregnant. If she does not fall pregnant then the dioestrus period is 35 - 40 days long and the cycle will start all over again.
 
Anoestrus occurs when the daylight level drops to <12hrs a day and the queen stops cycling until next spring.

Idiopathic Cystitis in Cats

An Owners Guide to Feline Idiopathic Cystitis

What is it? Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is a collection of conditions that affect the lower urinary tract (bladder and urethra) and cause similar clinical signs. There are several possible causes of FLUTD including bacterial infections, urethral obstruction, bladder stones, anatomical abnormalities and tumours. In most cases no underlying cause can be found and the condition is termed idiopathic cystitis. Cats that suffer from idiopathic cystitis can be prone to recurrent bouts of the condition.

What are the clinical signs? Signs vary between cases but generally include a combination of:  

  • Difficulty/pain when urinating
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Urinating in inappropriate places
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Overgrooming of the perineal area

How is it diagnosed?

Idiopathic cystitis is a diagnosis of exclusion. This means we must first rule out all the known causes of FLUTD above. Depending on the severity of your cats signs a variety of tests may be recommended including:

Examination of a urine sample. The urine is examined to look for the presence of blood, crystals, protein and bacteria. The concentration is also assessed.

Blood samples to rule out an underlying disease such as diabetes or kidney failure.

Xrays of the bladder (including contrast studies) and an ultrasound scan of the abdomen to rule out bladder stones and anatomical abnormalities.

If no underlying cause can be found then a diagnosis of idiopathic cystitis is made.  

What causes idiopathic cystitis?

So far research has failed to find a cause for idiopathic cystitis but many researchers believe that defects in the glycasaminoglycan (GAG) layer may be important. The GAG payer is a protective layer of the bladder which if damaged can lead to ulceration of the bladder wall. Stress is also thought to play an important role in idiopathic cystitis. There are other risk factors associated with FLUTD and idiopathic cystitis. These include:

  • Indoor cats and cats that get little exercise
  • Overweight cats
  • Cats fed dry food
  • Neutered cats
  • The condition is most often seen in young to middle aged cats

How can idiopathic cystitis be managed?

Whilst it can be very frustrating for owners when their cats are showing signs of idiopathic cystitis (especially urinating in inappropriate places and loss of litter training) it is important to remember that your cat is not being naughty. Idiopathic cystitis is a distressing condition for your cat and punishment for inappropriate urination causes additional stress and may exacerbate the signs.

Fortunately, although no one specific underlying cause has been found there are many simple ways in which you can help your cat to overcome the condition.

Increasing water intake: this will make your cat produce more dilute urine which dilutes noxious components in the urine and encourages more frequent urination. There are several ways to achieve this.

  • If your cat is fed of dry food change the diet to wet food
  • Offer water in a variety of bowls and locations. Different cats like to drink from containers of different textures and shapes and in different locations
  • Offer flavoured water. For example water from tinned fish can be added to drinking water (it is important not to use fish in brine as this contains high levels of salt). Some owners like to freeze ice cubes of flavoured water which can then be added to drinking water as required. Offer running water. Many cats like to drink from running water. Pet fountains are available to buy for this purpose
  • Add water to your cat's food

Reduce stress: stress can be caused by changes in diet, environment, weather, the introduction of new pets/people to the house and lack of stimulation. Stressors that are especially significant in idiopathic cystitis include competition for the litter tray, unsuitable positioning of litter trays and aggressive behaviour by other cats when trying to use the litter tray.

Practical changes that you can make at home to reduce stress include:

  • Changes to litter trays: provide an adequate number of trays (ideally enough for 1 per cat plus 1 extra) in different locations around the house. Try to avoid areas such as narrow hallways or near busy doorways. Try a variety of different litter substrates to find out which your cat prefers. Ensure that trays are cleaned regularly to encourage your cat to use them
  • Environmental enrichment: increase the time you spend interacting with your cat and invest in some cat gymnasiums or toys. Provide high perches for your cat
  • Use of pheromone therapy: use Feliway diffusers (a synthetic feline pheromone) which can help to reduce anxiety

Drug therapy: depending on the cause and severity of your cat's symptoms we may recommend medication. This could include GAG replacers to repair the GAG layer which appear to be beneficial for some cats or anti-anxiety medication.