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Caring for your pet

What do I do in an emergency?

Stay calm and try not to panic. Either phone your vet yourself or get a friend to do so. By phoning your veterinary practice it allows them to have a vet or a nurse waiting to assess your pet when you arrive and to have ready any drugs or equipment that may be needed. They can also give you advice over the phone.

When you phone, your vet will need to know:

  1. If your pet is breathing? If so, does its breathing seem normal?
  2. If your pet is conscious? If so does it respond to you?
  3. Is it bleeding? If so where from and how much?
  4. Do you think it may have taken poison? If so, what poison do you think it is? And how long ago did it take it?
  5. How long will it take you to get to the vets?

What to do with your pet:

  1. If you think there is a broken bone (or bones) move your pet as little as possible.
  2. Be aware that if your pet is in pain he may try to bite, so take care when handling or moving him.
  3. Apply firm direct continuous pressure to the site of any bleeding.
  4. If you think you pet has taken a poison, do not try to make him vomit it can be the wrong thing to do with certain poisons. Do take the packaging with you to the vets.
  5. Contact your vet.

More advice about pet first aid and first aid kits can be found at:

How do I take my cat to the vets?

By taking a few simple actions we can make a trip to the vets less stressful for both ourselves and our pets!

First the cat carrier, it needs to be easy to clean and robust, cardboard is no match for a determined cat. A top opening basket is the easiest to get a cat in to and out of.

Ideally the basket should be regarded as normal furniture at home so the sight of it doesn’t become a signal of a trip to the vets. It needs to smell familiar and reassuring, so try putting in some clothing from the cat’s favourite person, spraying the basket and contents with Feliway or wiping a cloth around the cat’s face to pick up her scent and puting the cloth in the basket.

If your cat panics at the sight of the basket, keep it out of sight but close by and wrap the cat in a thick and familiar towel. You can then pop her and the towel into the basket quickly before she has a chance to grab the carrier and escape.

Next the journey, keep the basket covered as this helps to keep her calm, secure the basket either in the foot well or on the seat with the seat belt. Drive careful, so she’s not thrown around the car and refrain from loud music. Instead talk quietly and reassuringly, while staying calm yourself, cats are great at picking up your tension! Try to avoid rushing and bumping the basket as you carry it into the surgery. If your cat tends to be sick or soils the carrier then take spare bedding for the return trip.

In the waiting room, keep the carrier covered. Do use the cat only waiting area and put your cat on the raised areas between the seats, (your cat prefers to be high up), but avoid letting your cat sit face to face with another cat as this can be stressful too.

In the consult, put the carrier on the table and let the vet introduce herself to your cat. Don’t be in a rush to get your cat out of the carrier, even the shyest cat may come out if given time to get used to the new environment. Do ask for a nurse to assist if you are concerned about how your cat may react. Please ask  for a demonstration or advice if you are unsure on how to administer any of the medication your cat has been prescribed.

Going home, the worst is now over but do remember as much care needs to be taken on the return journey as on the outward journey.

Does my pet need vaccinations?

The simple answer to this is yes – most pets will require some vaccinations. If you are at all concerned with the vaccination status of your pet, get in touch. It’s never too late to be vaccinated!

Dogs

Dogs should be vaccinated against Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvo, Parainfluenza and Leptopirosis.

Puppies need to be vaccinated twice at about eight and ten weeks, and then they should have a first year booster. After that, full vaccination is done every three years for most diseases. Leptopirosis and Parainfluenza need to be done once a year.

Cats

Cats should be vaccinated against Flu, Enteritis and Leukaemia. Some cats who are older or will be only living indoors can cope without the Leukaemia vaccination.

Kittens are usually vaccinated against all three of these conditions at nine and twelve weeks. Adult cats need to be vaccinated again each year.

Rabbits

Rabbits should be vaccinated from six weeks of age, every six to twelve months against Myxomatosis, depending on the risk. VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease) is seen less commonly in our area but your rabbit can be vaccinated from twelve weeks of age and should be vaccinated against VHD annually. However the myxomatosis vaccine and VHD have to be given 2 weeks apart.

Myxomatosis is spread by blood sucking insects, including ticks, mosquitoes, mites, lice and fleas. So your rabbit does not have to mix directly with other rabbits or even go outside to catch it. If your rabbit is a house rabbit they are still at risk, as fleas can be brought in to the house by your dog or cat. The symptoms of myxomatosis include swelling of the head, face, ears, lips and bottom. In the wild over 90% of rabbits which contract myxomatosis die. With intensive veterinary treatment some pet rabbits may survive.

VHD is a virus which is spread directly between rabbits, but also on contaminated bedding, hutches and clothes. Again house rabbits are still at risk as you can bring the virus home on your clothes after handling affected rabbits.

The symptoms of VHD include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, collapse, convulsions, paralysis, breathing difficulties and bleeding from the nose. The rapidness of the disease may mean the rabbit dies within 24 hours of developing signs of disease. In approximately 10 % of cases they show no signs of infection prior to sudden death.

There is no treatment for VHD and most rabbits die within days. If a rabbit does survive it remains infectious and can spread the disease.

Travel

All species should be vaccinated against Rabies if they are travelling to an infected country. All countries vaccination requirements are different, so please contact us before taking your pet abroad. You may find the information from DEFRA about the Pet Travel Scheme useful.

Does my pet need neutering?

We recommend neutering dogs. Neutering prevents unwanted pregnancies, so reduces the number of unwanted dogs in rescue centres. It reduces or prevents disease and cancer of the genital tract in older age in both sexes. Neutering can help with specific behavioural problems. However it can make certain behavioural situations worse, so do always discuss any behavioural problems with your vet prior to deciding on neutering.

We advise neutering male dogs after 8 months of age. Female dogs we prefer to have had their first season prior to neutering. However we do understand that all individual‚ circumstances are different so please discuss any issues with us prior to arranging the date for your pet to be neutered.

When your dog comes in to be neutered we administer a general anaesthetic, males have the testicles surgically removed through 1 incision in front of the scrotum. Females have the ovaries and uterus removed from a wound on the tummy. Both males and females are usually fine to go home the same day and have stitches which will need removing after 10 days.

We recommend neutering all cats. Neutering cats will prevent accidental pregnancies, which will reduce the numbers of unwanted kittens. It also has health benefits and makes them better companions. By neutering male cats, it reduces their tendency to fight which reduces the risk of several viruses, including Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) both of which are fatal. Entire male cats roam long distances, are more aggressive to other males and scent mark their territory, often this includes the inside of your house, by spraying urine. Female cats are in season “calling” approximately every 3 weeks once they reach sexual maturity. This is a very noisy affair and can be difficult to live with. Neutering females also prevents the risk of cancer of the genital tract as they get older. Neutering both sexes prevents sexually transmitted diseases.

We can neuter kittens from five to six months of age. For male kittens we administer a general anaesthetic and remove the testicles surgically through 2 small incisions in the scrotum. For female kittens they also have a general anaesthetic and we surgically remove the uterus and ovaries from a wound in the flank. Usually both male and female kittens can go home the same day. The females will have stitches which will need removing after 10 days.

We recommend that all rabbits are neutered; this improves their behaviour and allows house rabbits to be litter trained. Both male and female rabbits can become aggressive after reaching puberty. Neutering prevents health problems, female rabbits are at risk of developing cancer of the uterus (womb) and males risk testicular cancer. It also prevents accidental breeding.

Male rabbits can be neutered from three months of age and female rabbits from five months of age. Neutered males should not be placed with un-neutered females until four weeks post surgery to ensure no accidental pregnancies.

To neuter either sex rabbit we administer a general anaesthetic, the males then have the testicles surgically removed through an incision just above the scrotum. The females have the ovaries and uterus removed through a wound on their tummies. Both will stay with us until they are eating and defaecating normally, usually this takes 24 hours post surgery.

We do not routinely neuter other species of animals, but we can do so if an individual circumstances indicate that it is necessary.

What is microchipping?

Microchipping is a very useful way of ensuring that your pet is identifiable – similar to a more high-tech collar tag. It carries an unique identifier number which is then registered in a national database with your pets details and address. If your pet is lost and has a microchip, the police, any vet or council dog warden and many charity rescue centres will be able to wirelessly scan the pet, get the registered details and then contact you, the owner.

Having a chip installed is very quick and easy as the chip itself is tiny, about the size of a grain of rice and sits just under the skin between the shoulder blades. Very occasionally there is a little pain or bleeding at implantation. Sometimes the microchip can migrate a small distance under the skin away from the original site but this does not cause any problems. Very rarely a microchip can fail, this means a second chip has to be implanted. For this reason we recommend that the microchip is checked when we vaccinate your pet and before your pet travels abroad.

When your pet is microchipped we register your chosen details with a central database. It is very important that you keep these details up to date. If your pet goes missing and your contact details are out of date then you will not be traced and reunited with your pet. It is your responsibility to notify the database of any change in your contact details. Visit the Avid website for more details.

If you are planning on travelling abroad with your pet on the Pet Travel Scheme with a Pet Passport your pet must be microchipped before anything is else is done. There are now cat flaps available which recognise your cat’s microchip number, allowing your cat in and keeping unwanted visitors out of your home.

Having a lost pet is very distressing and a microchip is a way of vastly improving the chances of your pet returning home safely and quickly.

If you would like to have your pet microchipped or have its details checked, please contact us.

Does my pet need worming?

The majority of owners will be aware that regular worming of dogs and cats is important.  However not everyone knows that rabbits and chickens also need regular worming.

New puppies and kittens should be wormed frequently from two weeks of age until six months old. This is because puppies acquire roundworms from their mothers during pregnancy and both puppies and kittens can acquire roundworms from their mothers whilst nursing.

Regular worming is recommended throughout a dog and cat’s life to prevent the common roundworm toxacara, which can also affect children; and tapeworms which they catch from fleas, raw meat or wildlife.

There are now a variety of worming products available, some are even in a spot on preparation for the pet who is more difficult to tablet.
As a general indication we recommend that dogs and cats who live with children are wormed at least every three months. If your pet does not have contact with children then usually worming every four months is sufficient. However the frequency your pet needs to be wormed varies with each individuals lifestyle. Please contact us to discuss your pet’s worming needs.

Dog and cat owners who travel abroad with their pets on the Pet Passport scheme will probably have heard of parasitic infections which can be contracted in Europe. These include Dirofilaria immitis, a mosquito-transmitted heartworm which is common in continental Europe but absent from the UK and Echinococcus multilocularis, which led to the mandatory worming treatment of dogs and cats before they re-enter the UK.

Worming for rabbits

More then half of all pet rabbits have been exposed to E.cuniculi and can carry it without showing any signs for months to years. Unfortunately after symptoms have developed treatment is not always successful.

By worming your rabbit regularly you can help prevent your rabbit from developing these dangerous illnesses. To book an appointment for this treatment please contact us.

As well as worming your rabbit frequently you should also follow good hygiene principles:

  • Avoid collecting fresh greens from areas where there are wild rabbits or rodents
  • Frequently disinfect food bowls and water dispensers
  • Use feed racks and drinking bottles to prevent contamination of food and water with urine
  • Use separate rather than tiered housing to help prevent urine splash
  • Minimise contact between pet rabbits and wild rabbits and rodents

We recommend that you worm your rabbit 2-4 times a year and at times of increased stress, such as when they first come home, when mixing with other rabbits for the first time and prior to surgery.

Worming for chickens

Worms are not always visible and infections may not always cause signs, but a worm infection can cause poor egg quality and reduction in numbers. It can also cause chickens to lose weight, have poor feather growth and even be fatal.
An infected chicken can shed thousands of worm eggs daily. Worm eggs can be resist to disinfectants and survive for years in contaminated soil or litter material. Other birds or insects can act as intermediate hosts and carry worm infections. Worm eggs can also be carried into an area on shoes or equipment. Free range chickens and those kept on deep litter are at increased risk of getting a worm infection as these systems favour worm egg survival.
We recommend worming all new chickens before they are introduced to your flock. Worming your flock before moving it to new pasture and in Spring, Summer and Autumn as a prevention to worm infections. There is now a wormer available for the urban chicken, it comes in a convenient pack size for smaller flocks and is added to the feed for 7 days. Please contact us for more information.

Treating your dog for lungworm

A previously uncommon but serious worm infestation has become more prevalent in Surrey recently.

There is a form of heart worm called Angiostrongylus vasorum or French Heartworm‚ which is found in the UK. It has been present in parts of the UK for the last 30 years, but until 1999 this was considered to be a rare problem, only really seen in Ireland and the South West of England. However over the last 5 years many more cases have been seen in the South East and Surrey, and this infection can be serious or fatal.

Certain breeds appear to be more susceptible, especially, Retrievers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and all spaniel breeds, including Cavaliers. Foxes can also carry the infection, and probably play an important part in its spread, especially as slugs and snails are an important part of their diet.

What is Angiostrongylus vasorum?

Angiostrongylus is a parasitic worm that lives in the heart and arteries of the lungs of the dog, fox and other animals that are affected by it. The worm has a lifecycle involving slugs and snails and dogs and foxes.

Infection happens when a dog eats an infected slug or snail that carries the larval form of the worm. Mature larvae in the snail migrate through the dog’s body from the intestine to the heart and lungs and develop into adult worms. The adults lay eggs, which hatch into immature larvae. These move from the blood vessels into the air sacs of the lungs, from where they are coughed up, swallowed and passed in the faeces. They will then infect another snail or slug and the cycle starts again.

Can my dog catch the worm directly from an infected dog or fox?

No, the only route of infection is from eating snails and worms.

Signs of infection

The commonest sign of infection is due to the inflammation caused to the lungs, and shows as rapid breathing and coughing, sometimes with blood. This can be similar to the signs seen with kennel cough or heart conditions, but especially in young dogs lungworm is another possible cause. The parasite can also interfere with blood clotting and cause damage to blood vessels, and symptoms can include any signs connected to bleeding. These can include anaemia, gastro-enteritis with blood, and sudden bruising. The most worrying is bleeding into the brain, which causes neurological signs. These can range from behaviour changes to weakness, paralysis, and loss of consciousness. Unfortunately the signs may develop rapidly and the outcome can be fatal.

Worm larvae can often be detected in faecal samples, although they are not passed all the time and more than one sample may need to be tested to find the parasite.

Treatment

If Angiostrongylus is identified early in the course of the infection anti-parasitic drugs can be used to treat it effectively. If complications have already occurred then treatment is less likely to be successful. If your dog is coughing please make an appointment to speak to a vet. Obviously there are many common causes of coughing, however if you have a young dog that is coughing or generally unwell, do let us know if he is fascinated by snails and slugs, especially if he mouths or eats them.

Prevention

Regular worming with an appropriate wormer will help prevent problems. Not all of the wormers we dispense routinely are active against Angiostrongylus. So if you know your dog eats snails let us know, as it could influence the choice of wormer used. If you would like to discuss your dog’s worming needs with a vet please contact us.

Are you feeding your rabbit the correct diet?

It is estimated that 80% of pet rabbits are not fed the correct diet. An incorrect diet is the commonest cause of health and dental problems.

Hay is the most important part of a rabbit’s diet. It maintains healthy teeth, rabbit’s teeth grow 2-3mm per week, so chewing hay keeps them ground down. The high levels of fibre in hay are vital for a healthy digestive system and foraging in hay will keep your rabbit entertained.

As well as hay, feed your rabbit small quantities of an extruded rabbit mix. Don’t feed a muesli mix as your rabbit will then just eat the bits they like and leave the rest, which gives an imbalanced diet. If your rabbit is overweight there are reduced calorie foods available.

Rabbits like variety so give your rabbit a selection of fresh fruit and vegetables each day, but keep the amounts small so not to cause tummy upsets. Make sure your rabbit always has free access to fresh clean water. For further information on feeding your rabbit see the Burgess Excel Feeding Plan.

Diet is such an important part of your rabbit’s welfare as they have a very unique digestive system. It is specially adapted to cope with a high fibre diet. It is continually pushing food into the hind gut where it is mixed and separated. Rabbits need high levels of two different types of fibre – indigestible and digestible – to keep the digestive system running.

Indigestible fibre is important because it acts as a stimulant for gut motility, with large particles passing quickly through the body before being excreted as hard nuggets. Digestible fibre serves a different purpose, fragments of digestible fibre enter the caecum, a pouch attached to the intestine, where they are fermented into paste. This paste is then expelled as soft faeces or caecotrophs, which a healthy rabbit will swallow whole as they are produced. These mucus-coated caecotrophs remain in the stomach for several hours to allow the bacteria they contain to keep working. Eventually, the acid in the stomach dissolves the mucus, releasing vital nutrients that are then absorbed.

This means a single item of food can pass twice through the digestive tract to deliver double the health and nutritional benefits.

If the diet does not contain high enough levels of fibre, this can result in gut stasis, where the food moving through the digestive system slows down. This leads to a proliferation of bacteria in the caecum as the caecotrophs are not expelled quickly enough, and puts the system at increased risk of blockage from hair or food. Gut stasis is extremely dangerous for rabbits, and can lead to an apparently sudden death – although if symptoms are noticed early, it can be successfully treated.

Symptoms of gastro-intestinal problems commonly include diarrhoea or constipation, lack of appetite, bloating, and lethargy. If you have any doubts about your rabbit’s health, contact us immediately.

For more information on how to look after your rabbit or possibly re-home a rescue rabbit either contact us or the Rabbit Welfare Association.

Extra care during cold weather

When the weather is cold, all pets need extra care to help them cope. The very young or very elderly have to be taken special care of as they are more sensitive to the cold.

Rabbits and Guinea Pigs, which are kept outside, need to be checked at least twice daily to ensure the water bottle has not frozen. Give fresh food in small quantities and remove anything that is left, so it does not cause tummy upsets if eaten when frozen. Increase the amount of bedding so they can nest build to keep themselves warm and offer more food as they will use more energy keeping warm. If the weather becomes very cold then they need to be moved indoors.

Keep cats indoors as they can become injured by seeking warmth and shelter from sitting on car engines. They may also drink from puddles which have been contaminated with salt from the roads and antifreeze from cars. Antifreeze is poisonous to both dogs and cats. The RSPCA have written an article about antifreeze poisoning.

Short haired or elderly dogs may need coats to help them stay warm. In snowy weather long haired dogs need their feet clipped to prevent snowballs forming between their toes, rubbing a small amount of Vaseline between their toes before going out can also help. All dogs should have their feet washed after each walk to remove any road salt from the hair which can irritate the skin. All dogs should be kept on a lead when near water, frozen ponds are dangerous incase the ice breaks. Prevent drinking from puddles as they may be contaminated with road salt or antifreeze.

Extra care during hot weather

We all like to spend time outside in the warm weather, but we do need to take extra care of our companions in the warmer weather. The young, elderly and animals with flat faces such as Pugs and Persians are particularly at risk but even healthy pets can suffer from dehydration, heat stroke and sunburn if over exposed to the heat. The symptoms of overheating include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor or even collapse. They can also include seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomit along with an elevated body temperature.

The warm weather brings an increase in the number of insects including ticks and fleas. If you are uncertain on how to remove ticks, please bring your pet in for one of our veterinary nurses to remove it. If removed incorrectly a tick can leave parts behind causing a severe skin reaction. There are now flea and tick treatments available which kill and repel fleas and ticks, please contact us to discuss which are suitable for your pet.

Pets can get dehydrated quickly, so give them plenty of fresh, clean water when it’s hot outdoors. Make sure your pets have a shady place to get out of the sun, be careful to not over-exercise them, and keep them indoors when it’s extremely hot. Never leave your animals alone in a parked vehicle. On a hot day, a parked car can become a furnace in no time, even with the windows open.

Do not leave pets unsupervised around ponds, not all dogs are good swimmers. Introduce your pets to water gradually and make sure they wear life jackets when on boats. Never let your dog swim in ponds contaminated with blue-green algae as this is poisonous to dogs. Rinse your dog off after swimming to remove salt and irritants from his fur.

Be aware of the risk of cats and dogs falling out of open windows or off balconies, these falls can cause serious injuries. Consider fitting screens to all windows on the first floor and above.

Giving your dog a lightweight summer haircut helps prevent overheating. Shave down to a one-inch length, never to the skin, so your dog still has some protection from the sun. Brushing cats more often than usual can prevent problems caused by excessive heat. White dogs and cats need sunscreen applied to ears and noses to prevent sunburn, but be sure that any sunscreen you use is labeled specifically for use on animals.

Be careful walking your dog in long grass. The grass seeds can work their way into ears and between toes, causing pain and irritation. They usually reaquire a general anaesthetic to remove. By avoiding long grass, keeping the hair on ear flaps and feet clipped short and checking your dog thouroughly at the end of the walk, you can reduce the risk of it occuring.

Commonly used flea and tick products, rodenticides (mouse and rat baits), and lawn and garden insecticides can be harmful to cats and dogs if ingested, so keep them out of reach. When walking your dog, steer clear of areas that you suspect have been sprayed with insecticides or other chemicals. Keep citronella candles, oil products and insect coils out of pets’ reach as well.

If planning a barbeque remember that dogs and cats may burn themselves trying to steal food off the barbeque. Also the food and drink may cause stomach upsets, or even be dangerous to your pet. Onions, chocolate and grapes are poisonous to dogs and cats. Alcohol is toxic to all pets and bones can cause intestinal obstructions.

If you suspect your pet is suffering from heat stroke, contact us immediately.

Common dangers and poisons

We must remember that some of the foods and items we routinely have at home can be dangerous to our pets. Potential hazards include:

Decorations

If your pet chews electrical cables they can be electrocuted or start a fire. Eating tinsel at Christmas can fatally damage their intestines. Glass and china can cause cut pads if broken or they can be mistaken for toys and if eaten cause damage or obstruction to the intestines. Lighted candles also have a fascination for pets so never leave them unsupervised.

Plants

Lilly flowers, pollen and leaves are very poisonous especially to cats. Daffodills are very poisonous to dogs. Your pet should also be prevented from eating apple seeds, apricot and cherry stones, and avocado.

Christmas plants are frequently toxic so check before bringing them home.

This is not a complete list of all poionous plants, for a complete list of toxic plants for dogs and cats see the ASPCA website. If you see your pet eating any plant that you are not sure is completley safe contact your vet immedietly.

Food

Alcohol, cooked and uncooked bones, chocolate, coffee (including used grounds and beans), currents, garlic, onions, nutmeg, raisons, sultanas, uncooked yeast dough and certain nuts and seeds are all potentially poisonous to dogs and cats. In certain circumstances it only requires the smallest amount to be ingested so its best to avoid giving your pet any human food.

Aluminum foil and plastic food wrap can obstruct the intestines if eaten. Batteries if chewed release corrosive chemicals which can cause ulceration of the mouth and intestines. Antifreeze is very poisonous and its sweet taste is attractive to dogs and cats.

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