Please help our hedgehog population!

hedgehogDid you know that you might have a prehistoric creature living in your garden? Hedgehogs are one of our oldest native species – they shared the earth with sabre-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths 15 million years ago, and now they snuffle about in our gardens helpfully eating the slugs and snails that damage our plants. Sadly, hedgehog numbers have declined sharply over the last 50 years, with the estimated population dropping from 36.5 million to just 1.5 million. Habitat loss has played a big role in their decline as the hedgerows they call home are destroyed.

Despite their reduced numbers we still see plenty of hedgehogs here in the practice, particularly as autumn turns to winter and those which are too small or unwell to hibernate are often found wandering about in daylight, a common sign of illness in this nocturnal species. When a hedgehog is brought to us, our first task after examining it for injuries is to warm it up as they are often hypothermic. We weigh the hedgehog – they need to weigh around 550-600g to survive hibernation, and many of the youngsters found at the beginning of winter are barely halfway to this goal. We will also often take a faecal sample to examine under the microscope – wild hedgehogs almost always have some internal worms which don’t usually bother healthy adults, but if the number of worms becomes too high the infestation can make the hedgehog very ill and is sometimes fatal. We examine the sample to check how many worm eggs and larvae are present and to identify the species so that we can begin the appropriate course of treatment, which usually involves daily injections for 2 weeks.

Signs that a hedgehog may be unwell include disorientation (being out in daylight, walking in circles or staggering, not noticing when humans approach), excessive parasites such as ticks, noisy laboured breathing, leaving food uneaten and not curling into a ball when touched. If unsure, it’s best to leave it where it is and call your vets for advice before moving it. If you are going to handle a wild hedgehog, put on gloves or use a towel – not only are they prickly but they are also often carrying fleas and ticks! Place the poorly hedgehog in a box with a hot water bottle wrapped in a thick towel, and call your vet to arrange to bring it in.

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society website has lots of tips for making your garden hedgehog-friendly, and instructions for making a hedgehog feeding station so that you can put out food for your garden visitors without it being eaten by neighbourhood cats or foxes (cat food is a favourite among hedgehogs, although steer clear of any containing fish, and dried mealworms are also popular). Avoid using slug pellets or other poison, as this can be lethal to the hedgehogs that eat the slugs. If you are looking for a more hands-on way to help, we do have details of local hedgehog charities that may be in need of volunteers to look after baby hedgehogs until the spring arrives and they can be released.

Urinary Blockages

blocked catOver winter time many cats prefer to stay indoors rather than go outside into the cold and who could blame them. So this then tends to be the time that we see a fairly common problem especially in male cats (though it can be seen in female cats too), and it’s the blocked bladder.

In male cats the tube leading from the bladder to the outside is quite narrow, much narrower in males compared to females, and it can easily get blocked with plugs of tissue,  infection, mucous and even tiny crystals at can form into stones like grains of sand. Initially what you see is your cat straining to pass urine in his litter tray and only managing a few drops or even some blood. Occasionally he will cry as he is trying to pass the urine or he’ll even pass urine elsewhere in the house when he’s a normally clean cat. If the blockage is complete then he can’t pass any urine at all and the bladder fills very full and can dam back to the kidneys. Totally blocked cats strain to pass urine but nothing comes out at all. Eventually they become very depressed and can die within a few days so this is a real emergency.

So what has this got to do with the weather? There is still not a complete picture as to why cats block. Sometimes it is infection, at other times it is stress and also possibly diet. If your cat doesn’t go out to the toilet as frequently in the winter as in the summer then it is easier for infections to form in the bladder. Also at the end of winter is the cat breeding season and many cats are upset by the changes in territory going on at this time so are more reluctant to go out and pass urine frequently. Dry diets used to be implicated in this problem many years ago as they had a high salt level but nowadays the good quality diets are usually fine.

If your cat is straining and not producing urine contact your vet immediately. We usually have to pass a catheter to relieve the blockage and leave this in for a few days for the inflammation to go. Occasionally we have to do surgery to relieve the blockage and create a larger tube for urine to pass through. In many cases by using special diets we can dissolve the crystals that form but your cat needs to be on this lifelong.

At this time of year it is good to present your cat with several litter trays so they can chose to empty their bladders wherever they want to. Also using sprays like Feliway can prevent your cat becoming tense at this time of year. But remember, if your cat, especially a male cat, is struggling on the litter tray, phone your vet immediately – it is that urgent.

Diabetes Awareness

diabetesNovember is national pet diabetes month and with many illnesses, the earlier the problem is diagnosed and treated, the better.

Diabetes mellitus, the clinical name for “sugar diabetes,” is a condition that affects the concentration of glucose, or sugar, in your dog’s blood. Diabetes results when the dog’s body makes too little insulin or when the body has difficulty responding to the insulin properly. Canine diabetes is quite common—anywhere between 1 in 100 to 1 in 500 dogs develops diabetes and those numbers are expected to increase. Any dog can develop diabetes but breeds that are most at risk are thought to be; Dachshunds, Cocker spaniels, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, Toy poodles and Terriers. Diabetes in dogs is more common between the ages of 4 and 14 years old.

Knowing the signs of diabetes is the first step in protecting your dog’s health. If any of these signs describes your pet, speak with your veterinary surgeon about the possibility of diabetes: drinking more water than usual (polydipsia), urinates more frequently or has accidents in the house (polyuria), always seems hungry but maintains or loses weight (polyphagia) and has cloudy eyes (a sign of cataracts).

When testing for diabetes this can be diagnosed from a simple urine test which tests for glucose and ketones in the urine. If this is positive then the vet will monitor glucose levels with a blood test. Insulin is usually given to dogs and cats that have diabetes and this will be administered by either once or twice daily injections which you will shown how to administer by a vet or a nurse, sometimes it may be necessary for your pet to stay in the surgery for a few days to stabilize them depending how well they are when they are diagnosed and how they respond to insulin.

Diet plays a vital role in helping to keep your dog’s diabetes regulated. Ideally, your dog should be fed exactly the same diet every day and at the same times of day. A diabetic dog’s diet usually includes a source of good-quality protein, in addition to complex carbohydrates and dietary fibre to help slow absorption of glucose from the digestive system. It also usually has a low fat content.

Overall, a palatable and nutritious diet that minimizes fluctuations in blood glucose and helps your dog maintain a healthy weight is important for managing diabetes. Your veterinary surgeon can recommend a diet that’s best suited to the needs of your dog.

If you are concerned that your pet may have diabetes then please give us a call.

Your puppy or kitten’s first visit to the vets….

puppy and kitten packsGetting a new pet is an exciting time and there will be a lot to think about! Once you have collected your new arrival, please make sure you register him/her with a vet and book an appointment for an initial health check to make sure there are no problems. As well as giving your pet a check over, there are other things that will be discussed by the vet for you to have a think about.

Vaccinations are very important, in the very early stages of life, puppies and kittens gain immunity from disease from their mother’s milk. This protection starts to fade when they are about 6 weeks of age and without vaccinations, they are left vulnerable to some potentially deadly diseases. This is why it is so important to have your pets vaccinated as soon as they are old enough. Regular booster vaccinations, combined with a health check, are the best ways to protect your pet, plus at the same we can keep identify any emerging health problems.

Regular worming is vital in the early weeks of your puppy or kittens life. Not only are they more likely to pick up worms than adults (because of their curious natures) but they are also vulnerable to their effects due to their immature immune systems. A good breeder will worm their litters regularly from birth and you should continue this monthly until they reach 6 month of age, this can then be decreased in frequency.

Microchipping is law for puppies who are 8 weeks of age or older, the breeder should be the first registered keeper of the puppy so it is the breeder’s responsibility to have the puppy microchipped before homing. If for any reason this isn’t done then we can administer a microchip at the first vaccination appointment; this is a quick and relatively painless procedure and is vital to ensure your pet is permanently identifiable. For cats we advise microchipping either at the vaccination appointment or at the time of neutering if they are being kept indoors until then, which ideally they would be.

At the first appointment with your vet, they will also advise you on other topics such as diets and feeding, dental care, flea and tick control and pet insurance. We always look forward to meeting your new arrivals!

Does your pet have itchy ears?

cat scraching earEar disease is common in our pets and being able to quickly recognise the signs is very important. Anatomically, our pet’s ears are very similar to ours, with a canal extending from the ear flap into the skull and with a drum at the base protecting the middle ear. The main difference is that their ears are positioned towards the top of their heads rather than the sides and their ear canals are also longer than ours. Sounds travel down the ear canal and vibrate the ear drum, stimulating tiny bones in the middle ear, which in turn then transmit sounds into the inner ear and brain.

The vast majority of ear problems affect only the external ear canal but repeated infections and some growths will cause middle ear disease. Middle ear disease (which is more common in cats) can be a challenge to diagnose, and treatment is sometimes difficult. Signs of ear problems include; shaking their head and scratching and rubbing at their ears, discharge from the ears is also common with an ear infection and this can be black and waxy or creamy pus-like; this can also be a bit smelly!

Ear infections can be caused by objects getting into the ear canal (grass seeds are very common), skin allergies, excessive wetness after swimming, bacterial infections or ear mite infestations. Sometimes we may recommend sedating your pet to fully examine the ears and sometimes swabs sent to the laboratory are necessary. Treatments of ear problems usually involve topical liquids but these can be a challenge to administer in some pets! If these are prescribed and you think you may struggle then please talk to your veterinary surgeon or nurse about this as there may be an alternative.

To prevent ear problems it is important to identify the cause and start treatment as soon as possible to avoid longer term problems. Regular cleaning of the ears can help in some pets, once or twice weekly is usually sufficient, your vet or nurse will be happy to demonstrate how to do this at your pets next check-up.

How healthy is your dogs heart?

heart-disease-common-signs_enIt is estimated that heart problems can affect around 10% of all dogs in the UK. Some heart diseases may be present when the animal is born (congenital), however the majority of heart disease in dogs will develop in their adult years, with some breeds more likely to develop heart disease than others. The two most common types of heart disease we see in dogs are; Dilated cardiomyopathy and degenerative mitral valve disease. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle; the heart muscle becomes thinner and loses its pumping ability, this is most commonly seen in larger breeds. Degenerative mitral valve disease is the most common heart disease we see and is more commonly seen in smaller breeds. In this type of heart disease, the mitral valve in the heart changes shape and starts to leak which causes a heart murmur; this can be minor to start with but can develop into congestive heart failure over time. It is estimated that 90% of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s have heart disease by the time they are 10 years old, 50% of boxers, Dobermans and Pinschers will by middle age develop heart disease and all small breeds of dog have a 75% chance of developing heart disease during their lifetime.

Signs of heart disease can include; coughing, fainting, collapse or hind limb weakness, a swollen abdomen due to a build-up of fluid, poor appetite, weight loss, no energy for exercise, laboured breathing and the gums may appear paler in colour. If you notice your dog showing any of these signs then contact your veterinary practice for a consultation with the vet, who may conduct further tests to work out if heart disease is the problem; with early diagnosis most dogs can carry on for many years with medications and regular check-ups. Even for dogs who are not routinely seen by the vet for vaccinations should ideally have a check-up with the vet annually, so heart disease and other health problems can be diagnosed and treated early to keep your dog living a long, healthy and happy life.

Seasonal Canine Illness

autumnWe have seen rising cases over the last few years of what appears to be ‘Seasonal Canine Illness’ in dogs during the months of August through to November. Although the cause is not yet known we do know that these dogs have been walked in woodland. Most of the cases are seen in our Bourne practice and a few these dogs had been walked in Bourne woods and Sandringham a few days before clinical signs were present – usually 24-72 hours.

Dogs of all breeds, ages and sizes can be affected by this mystery illness and sadly this can prove fatal in some dogs, especially those with compromised immune systems and the older or very young dog.

Clinical signs mainly include vomiting, diarrhoea, trembling, loss of appetite and lethargy; if you notice this in any dog especially one that has been walked in woodland then please do contact your veterinary practice immediately. There have been far less fatal cases of this in the last couple of years as people are hearing more about it and becoming more aware of the urgency to seek medical advice.

With the correct treatment which can sometimes involve a hospital stay; most dogs will recover well within a few days with intravenous fluid therapy and drugs to control the vomiting and diarrhoea, this sometimes takes about a week but sometimes a bit longer depending on the individual dog.

The Animal Health Trust in Newmarket has been conducting research into this illness for the last few years and we hope that soon they may be a step closer to finding out how we can prevent this. Until then if you are walking your dogs in woodland please keep a close eye on them and watch that they don’t pick anything up to consume. As we don’t know if this could be from a mite picked up in these areas it is a good idea to use a preventative topical preparation against mites, fleas and ticks; please contact your vet to be prescribed the best product for this.

For any further information please contact your veterinary practice to have a chat with a vet or a veterinary nurse.

Cat charities estimate 4.3m kittens born in UK this year!

kittens augIt’s kitten season again and we have had a few babies so far this summer bought into the practice after being found outside alone. It is so important to neuter your cats especially at this time of year when the females are in season and the males are out an about all the time. A female cat can give birth to around 5 kittens each time she has a litter and these kittens will next year also have kittens of their own if they are not spayed and castrated.

Most vets keep the cost of their neutering to a minimum to encourage owners to spay and castrate, there is also some help available through charities towards the cost if you are on benefits; this is not usually through the vets so you would need to contact them directly.

The procedure for both males and females is very quick; they are usually in and out of the vets on the same day. For males the procedure involves removing both of the testicles and he doesn’t tend to need stitches so after being kept in for a couple of days, he will usually be back to normal very quickly. For females the surgery is slightly more invasive and involves removing the uterus and ovaries, this is done by a small incision in the flank (side) of the cat but some vets prefer to make their incision on the underside of the abdomen. A small amount of fur clipped around where the incision will be made and some stitches will be in place, these are usually dissolvable but some vets still use non dissolvable stitches; these will then need to be removed in about 10 days. The females need to be kept indoors ideally until her stitches are removed and her exercise will need to restricted for a few days too.

Cats recover very well from these procedures and are usually much happier and healthier cats afterwards. For more information please contact your veterinary practice.

Stray Dogs

The law came into force in April 2016 that all dogs from the age of 8 weeks of age must be microchipped and the owner’s details must be up to date on the database that holds the microchip number for the dog. Ideally the breeder of the dog should be arranging to have their litter microchipped before homing them and their details should be the first details added to the microchip. The new owner will then add their details to the microchip as the ‘keeper’ of the dog.
We are still seeing a lot of dogs who are not chipped and having a few dogs handed into us as strays; without a microchip it can sometimes be hard to quickly trace their owners. When a stray dog is presented to our surgery we have a duty of care to that dog and we do our best to try and find the owners quickly. We feel that keeping the dog under our care is best in most circumstances as letting the dog leave again with a member of the public has in the past caused issues. If the owner of the dog comes to the surgery and we have let their pet go then rightly they will question why this was the case. Although it is lovely when people do want to take stray dogs home with them, they may not be easy to contact when the owners come forward, the dog may escape from their homes or something could happen to that dog accidently while in their care and ultimately if this happened the owners would be unhappy that we had let that dog leave the premises. If the dog is kept at the surgery for collection our staff can then microchip the dog when the owners come forward to avoid this happening again. We do understand that when a member of the public finds a stray dog they may be unhappy about leaving the dog at the surgery but we do feel this is the best for the dog and for the owner, if the owner doesn’t come forward and the person who presented the dog to the surgery wanted to take the dog home then we hand their details over to the dog warden and they are usually happy to arrange this. They have in the past carried out house visits so this can happen; this has to be a decision made by our local authorities and not by us as vets.
To avoid all this from happening and to avoid the possibility of a fine up to £500, please microchip your dogs!

The other side of the table

horseSeveral weeks ago one of our horses , an Arab called Sunflower, was diagnosed with sarcoids. She had quite a few of varying sizes in her pelvic and upper leg area . Sarcoids are common tumours in horses and are generally benign but can be locally invasive . One of these tumours was quite large and was getting bigger . In consultation with our horse vet we decided to have these masses removed by laser. This would require a sedation and a trip to the horse hospital.

As is the case for many people , this horse is very special to us, she really communicates and interacts with us and is very open to people. She had a fantastic upbringing at the stud that bred and backed her which has resulted in a horse that is not at all sceptical about any of life’s experiences.

We now had to hand our beautiful horse over to our vet and entrust her to his care. This reminded me that my clients do the same with me every day and the enormous responsibility that this is. Every animal I treat is somebodies special pet that we have to treat to the best of our ability .

We were very anxious during the wait for the surgery (we stayed with her before and after her operation ) and while she was being operated on. I have seen this same anxiety on the faces of my clients as the have waited for their pets surgery, now it was my turn.

All went well with her surgery and is now beginning to heal, she made it clear that this was painful for the first week and we had to extend her pain relief. Even though the treatment was needed we still felt upset that we had put her through all of this, which is a sentiment that many people feel after any traumatic surgery.

This whole experience has reinforced my understanding of what my clients experience when they entrust their pets to our practice.

(Photo for illustration purposes only)