Archive for the ‘Dogs’ Category

Give your puppy a good start during lockdown

Many people will have got a puppy during this period of lockdown which makes socialisation training a little more difficult than it would be in normal times. However, there are a number of steps you can take despite this, to ensure they have a great start to their new life with you.

Between 12 and 18 weeks of age, puppies can be very sensitive to the world around them. They may feel scared of being away from their litter and in a completely unknown new environment. At this age they need to be introduced to any new people, environments and situations in as positive a way as possible. This will help their understanding of the world as they grow up.

Dogs may otherwise grow to be fearful of the world around them. This can lead to unwanted behaviours later in life such as guarding, aggressive responses and anxiety in certain situations.

Exposure to the outside world

It is very important that you differentiate between puppies who have been vaccinated and those who have not.

  • Those who have been vaccinated can walk around on the lead.
  • Those who have not yet been vaccinated should always be carried in your arms, in a bag or in a pram.

Puppies need to be exposed to the world outside their homes so that they can get used to sounds, sights, smells, situations and interactions with different people and animals.

Puppies who don’t experience this exposure can become easily frightened and, in a worst case scenario, can become agoraphobic. If your puppy has been vaccinated, take them for short walks to experience traffic, meet new people and other dogs.

Always carry treats, and, when they meet something or someone new, feed them a few treats so that they make a positive association. Keep exposure time short though. Only up to 10 minutes at first to prevent them feeling overwhelmed. ‘Over-socialisation’ can actually have the opposite effect.

Gradually building up their exposure by a few extra minutes each day will help. For those unable to leave the house, sitting and watching, listening and sniffing the air from the front door (on a lead or being held), or at a window will provide your puppy with important information about the life outside the home.

Learning to be alone

You need to be very mindful of ensuring that puppies learn to cope well with being left alone after the lockdown finishes, and when life returns to normal. Providing different activities every day will help with a puppy’s sense of independence.

You could provide them with stuffed toys, chews, safe things to destroy like cardboard or paper and activity feeders. There are hundreds to buy online and there are many websites that show you how to make homemade toys (something children can join in doing). This way your puppy will learn that they can have fun on their own.

Teach your puppy to be alone by using barriers, pens or crates but be careful to only leave your puppy alone for a few seconds at first. Then increase the time slowly, otherwise they may become frightened and develop separation anxiety.

Separation can also be practised when your puppy is very sleepy. Put them into their bed, pen or crate and quietly leave the room but always listening to check that they are not showing any signs of distress.

New things

Introducing puppies to something new each day will help to build resilience when encountering something out of the ordinary and help develop natural inquisitiveness about novel sights, sounds and smells. Finding and sharing all sorts of unusual items (hats, scooters, bags, balls, suitcases, shopping trolleys, gym equipment etc) is a great way of doing this.

You can also turn everyday objects, such as chairs or tables, upside down to make them look different and put normal things in strange places. For example, put a dining room chair in the garden or bathroom. Let your puppy explore by themselves and avoid forcing them to get too close to something they are unsure about. Let them take their time and do things at their own pace.

Sounds

Many dogs become fearful of strange sounds because they have not been exposed to them as puppies. Positive exposure to many different noises can help your puppy cope at times such as, for example, during the firework season. Being stuck at home provides an excellent opportunity to work on this! The Dogs Trust provides a great variety of sound effects and free booklets on how to work with puppies to lessen their sensitivity to sounds.

You can also use real noises at home by banging doors, dropping or banging spoons against pots and pans, shouting, vacuuming and introducing animal noises on TV etc. Always try to give a reward to your puppy when exposing them to a new noise in order for them to develop a positive association with it.

Clothing

Dogs can often find people wearing strange clothing, or looking different from what they are used to, quite frightening. Help your puppy get used to the ‘different’ by introducing them to things like fake beards, glasses, big floppy coats, umbrellas, woolly hats, scarves, walking sticks, sunglasses, long skirts, helmets and hi-visibility clothing.

Travelling in the car

If you have a car then this is a good time to get your puppy used to travelling. The safest place for a dog to travel is either by being suitably restrained in the cabin with a seat belt or pet carrier, or in the boot of a hatchback with a dog guard. Give your puppy their meal in the boot/crate, sit next to them, providing treats from the back seat. Do all of this initially with the engine off. When your puppy grows comfortable with this, switch the engine on and do the same. Then go for very short trips – just around the block to begin with.

If there are two of you, one can sit in the back, dropping treats whilst the other drives. If there is only one of you give the pup a stuffed toy for the journey for comfort. Increase the frequency and length of trips very slowly, by no more than a few minutes at a time and until your puppy is completely at home with car travel.

Being handled

It is important for a puppy to learn to be handled by humans. They need to get used to being handled for veterinary examinations, bathing, towelling, grooming, nail clipping and general everyday husbandry.

Every day, for a couple of minutes, handle a different part of your puppy’s body whilst giving them treats. Keep it short and if they wriggle, let them go. Never pin them down, force them or hold them too tightly as this will make them fearful and may lead to fear aggression in the future.

Aside from stroking you could tickle them between their toes and in their pads, hold their claws gently, lift up their ears, lift up their lips and eyelids and lift up their tail.

For getting used to bathing and grooming, first gently brush and/or towel them. Put your puppy first into an empty bath and throw treats into the bath. Then turn the shower on and give them treats. You could also pick up your puppy and put them on a table and let them eat treats there too whilst gently introducing a brush or towel.

Children

Children will often see puppies as new toys and can overwhelm your new arrival. Keep playtime with children very short, for no more than a couple of minutes. Don’t let the children just carry the pup around with them and avoid all rough and tumble play.

Puppies need a lot of sleep and must be allowed somewhere quiet where they are undisturbed for naps every couple of hours at the most. Make sure that children understand this and leave your puppy alone when asleep.

Encourage children to play appropriate games such as find it or gentle fetch and also encourage them to take part in basic training.


If you need further advice or would like to book your puppy’s initial vaccination with us, find and contact your local Goddard vet today. 

Tick Bites: When to worry, and how to prevent them

Ticks are widespread in the UK. They are actually arachnids rather than insects and, like spiders, adult ticks have 8 legs and vary tenfold in size from 1 millimetre to 1 centimetre.  Ticks hatch from eggs and develop into larvae, then nymphs, and finally into adults. At each stage ticks have to attach onto and feed from an animal (their host), to develop into the next stage. The younger stages of ticks, like larvae, prefer to feed on small animals like birds and rodents. However, the older stages can attach onto and feed on larger mammals, such as dogs and cats, and also humans. For this reason, these unwelcome hitchhikers are something you should be aware of.

How do animals get ticks?

Whilst they could be found in some gardens, particularly in more rural areas, ticks are most commonly found in vegetation in areas such as woodland, meadows and moors.  When they are looking for a new host to attach to, they are described as ‘questing’ and will wait on low branches and leaves to attach to any animal brushing past.

Is there a particular time of year that my pet is likely to be affected?

Ticks are most active in spring and early summer, and then again in early autumn. They are generally dormant in cold weather. However, with global temperatures on the rise, they are likely to be active for a greater proportion of the year.

Why should I worry about ticks biting my pet?

The majority of the time, tick bites will not harm your pet. Rarely, bacterial infections or abscesses will develop at the site of a bite. This is more likely to occur if a tick has been improperly removed, with part of the tick being left in the skin. However, the main reason for wanting to prevent tick bites in dogs is that they have the potential to act as vectors (spreaders) of infectious disease.

What diseases can be spread by ticks?

In the UK the most common disease that ticks transmit is Lyme disease, caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Dogs that are bitten by an infected tick do not always become ill. We know this because many dogs in the UK have antibodies in their blood to the bacterium, suggesting they have been exposed, without ever showing signs of being unwell. However, some dogs do become ill, and this can occur weeks to months after being bitten. Signs of Lyme disease in dogs can include painful swollen joints, a fever and lethargy. It can also go on to cause glomerulonephritis, a condition affecting the kidneys.

Lyme disease can also affect humans, often showing as a characteristic ‘bulls-eye’ rash in the area of the bite. This rash is not generally seen in dogs.  Humans can initially suffer from a flu-like illness, but can also be affected by heart rhythm abnormalities, neurological problems and arthritis. In some people, this can become a long-term illness.  Whilst there is no evidence humans can be directly infected by dogs carrying Lyme disease, dogs could bring infected ticks into your home and garden.

Babesia is another parasite that can be transmitted by ticks to your dog. It can cause damage and destruction of red blood cells in the bloodstream, sometimes causing severe anaemia (low red blood cell count), as well as bleeding disorders and organ failure, and can be fatal. Until fairly recently, Babesiosis was a disease only seen in the UK in dogs that had travelled from continental Europe. However, in recent years, several cases of Babesiosis have been seen in dogs in the South East of England that have never travelled abroad, sparking concern that this infection is now beginning to establish in ticks in this country.

Dogs and humans can also contract a disease called Ehrlichiosis from ticks, though this is also rare in the UK.

How can I prevent my pet from getting ticks?

It is important to check your dog daily for ticks and remove any that are found, particularly at times of the year when ticks are most active and when your dog has been walked in areas that are high risk. Be sure to check them all over, including their feet, groin and armpits. Cats can also be affected by ticks but are quite good at grooming them off. If your cat gets ticks, they are most likely to be found on areas of the body they cannot clean so easily, such as on the head.

There are a variety of preventative tick treatments available that will repel ticks, kill them once they have attached, or both. Infected ticks do not spread infections such as Lyme disease until they have been attached to the host for around 48 hours. Effective tick treatments will kill ticks much quicker than this, meaning they are killed before they can transmit disease to your pet. Many of these treatments also prevent flea and other parasite infestations. Our practice staff would be happy to discuss with you what treatment would be best suited to use for your pet as part of their routine parasite prevention, so please do get in touch!

What should I do if I find a tick on my pet?

The easiest way to remove a tick is by twisting it off using a special tick remover. Properly removing a tick in this way reduces the risk of leaving the tick’s mouthparts still attached.  Ticks should never be removed by squeezing or pulling, nor by being burnt.

How do I look after my pets dental health?

Here at Goddard Vet Group, we see a lot of dental problems in both cats and dogs, and in fact dental disease is one of the most commonly diagnosed diseases throughout the UK. But is there any way to prevent this horrible disease? And how can we help your pets?


Dental Diseases in Pets

Dogs can have a variety of dental problems throughout their lives. When they’re young, problems with the deciduous (‘baby’) teeth can mean they’re left with too many teeth in their mouths. This leads to food becoming stuck and causing gum disease. Some dogs are mad chewers – they’ll break teeth or wear them down, which is not only painful but may result in a tooth root abscess. Most commonly, though, dogs suffer from periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease affects dogs of all ages, although it’s more common in older dogs as it takes a while to occur. It’s also more common in some breeds – generally the smaller breeds. Bacteria in the mouth live on the teeth and gums in the form of plaque, and over time they eat away at the gum and get down beneath the gumline. Here, they start to affect the periodontal ligament, which is the connection between the teeth and the jawbone. When this ligament is damaged the teeth become wobbly, which inevitably results in tooth loss.

Cats also get periodontal disease, but they’re also prone to resorptive diseases. This is where the body, for a currently unknown reason, breaks down and re-absorbs the tooth root, resulting in a painful tooth very prone to breaking.

How Can I Prevent Dental Disease at Home?

Whilst resorptive lesions are hard to prevent, some simple changes to lifestyle can make a big difference to the other diseases. Since worn and fractured teeth are a result of dogs chewing on abrasive or hard materials, talk to one of our nurses about appropriate chews that are less likely to cause dental problems. Baby teeth that fail to fall out should be removed under general anaesthetic. They’re often still firmly attached and great care needs to be taken not to damage the root of the nearby adult teeth. This can often be done at neutering or as a separate procedure.

Tooth Brushing

Brushing the teeth is the single most useful thing you can do to prevent periodontal disease. Toothbrushing removes plaque before it has a chance to harden into tartar and cause gum disease. It’s also a great excuse to check your pet’s teeth daily (yes- daily!) for any problems. We always recommend trying to introduce tooth brushing to pets as soon as possible, and to start slow and build up – just like with anything new. Don’t forget, never use human toothpaste (it’s not good for our pets!). Our nurses are fantastic at giving you top tips for tooth brushing, so if you think you can make time in your day to brush your pet’s teeth, please give them a call or book in for a free dental check to go over it.

Dental Dog Chews

Some dental chews have been shown to reduce the level of plaque in the mouth. However, there are a lot of brands out there that may not have the same benefits. We recommend choosing from the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s list of approved products, or talking to our nurses. Don’t forget that these chews contain extra calories which should be accounted for in your pet’s daily allowance to avoid obesity.

Can Water and Food Additives Help?

Water and food additives to prevent plaque build-up do exist and some even have evidence that they help. Whilst they’re not going to be as good as tooth brushing, they’re a good added extra, especially in pets that won’t allow anything else. Again, the VOHC have a list of accepted products, so choose from this list or discuss with one of our nurses at your next dental check.

Diets for Dental Disease

For those animals very prone to dental disease, specific diets have been created to reduce plaque and tartar through a combination of ingredient choice and kibble that breaks up in a particular way. These diets are prescription diets, so if you think you’d like to try them please have a chat with our team.

How Can my Vet Help?

Despite doing some, or all, of these things at home, it’s still possible that your pet will suffer from periodontal disease. This is especially true if your pet is genetically predisposed or has already lost teeth to the disease.

Regular check-ups with your veterinary nurse can keep track of the level of plaque and tartar in your pet’s mouth and allow an early-warning sign if disease is starting. However, our animals are masters at hiding the signs of disease and sometimes a dental check-up under general anaesthetic is necessary to allow us to do a more thorough exam.

Problems such as fractured teeth, exposed pulp, wobbly back teeth and resorptive lesions can be missed on a conscious check-up, especially if your pet objects to the examination. Putting them under a general anaesthetic allows us to examine more thoroughly and even test the teeth for problems using a dental probe, just like a human dentist. And during the check-up, just like at the dentists, they’ll also get a scale and polish. This enables us to remove any tartar build up from the hard to reach places before it starts to cause a major problem.

For most pets, a scale and polish are necessary every 6-12 months. After all, we humans brush twice daily, but we still miss spots and need a professional clean at least annually. Whilst it is theoretically possible to clean the teeth conscious, the most important area to clean is under the gum line. This is uncomfortable for pets and the majority will not tolerate it without an anaesthetic, meaning that cleaning without anaesthetic results in a sub-standard clean.


When was the last time your pet had a dental clean? If they’re overdue, why not book for a check-up with our vet team and we’ll talk it all through with you!

What is ‘Lifestage’ feeding and why is it important for my pet?

‘Lifestage’ feeding is a relatively new term that means feeding your pet what they need at each stage of life. This blog should give you an insight into the interesting world of nutrition, help you to determine what stage of life your pet is in and how to tailor their diet to that stage.


Life stages are broken up into the following:

Kitten or Puppy

This is the first 1-2 years of life, the major growth period. The larger the adult weight, the closer to 2 years this will be. For example, a large breed dog will be in this stage for 2 years whereas a cat or small dog will only be in the growth period for a year. Sometimes, this is divided into ‘puppy/kitten’ (the first half) and ‘juvenile’ (the second half, roughly analogous to the human teenager phase).

Adult

This is from the end of the kitten or puppy stage and until their senior years.

Senior

In cats this is over 7-9 years old. In dogs, there is a bit more variation due to the big variation between breed life expectancy (small breeds have a longer life expectancy, so the senior period starts later than in larger breeds) but in general:

  • Small dogs – this stage begins at 12 years old
  • Medium dogs – this stage begins at 10 years old
  • Large dogs – this stage begins at 8 years old

Pregnant or Nursing

This stage is obvious, but it is very important that it has its own category. In the last trimester of pregnancy, and throughout the lactation period, there is a much higher demand for calories on the bitch/queen. If she is not fed to account for this, then she can lose a lot of weight and she may not be able to produce plenty of high-quality milk.


Now you know which stage of life your pet is in, let’s move onto the nutrition side of things…

Puppy and kitten food is high in calcium and phosphorus which promotes good bone health. It is also high in calories which is needed for growing. These diets are perfect for a growing animal because they prevent any deficiencies and you know that they are getting everything that they need. They can also be used in the last trimester of pregnancy and lactation, as the extra calories make sure that Mum has all the energy she requires, and this diet gives her the extra calcium needed for milk production.

Adult food is a well-balanced diet that contains everything that a healthy adult cat or dog needs. This has fewer calories than the puppy/kitten food so that they can maintain a healthy weight. Neutered animals have lower energy requirements, so they may need to go on a ‘diet’ or “neutered pet’ food to maintain a healthy weight. It is worth the investment so that they don’t pile on the pounds during their adult life.

Senior food is usually reduced calorie but with a blend of vitamins, minerals and supplements to support the immune system and promote healthy kidneys and joints. The reduction in calories is because our senior pets are less active than they used to be, if we also reduce the calories this should reduce weight gain (and more importantly, excessive weight on old joints).

On a side note, for many conditions (such as liver or kidney problems) there are also specific diets. If your pet has any long-term conditions, ask one of our vets if they would recommend a diet to help manage the condition.

But the question you are all asking is – does it actually matter? Yes it does! The most important stage is the growth (puppy/kitten) stage; if you feed an inappropriate diet the animal will likely have stunted growth and some deficiencies. So, if you take anything away from this at all, feed your puppy/kitten right so they develop properly.

Maybe the question you should be asking is – why not? These diets are formulated to give your pet everything they need and support them in whatever stage of life they are in. If there is a diet better for your older pets, why not give it a try? Hopefully, you will see the difference it can make and never look back.


Our vets and nurses are always happy to discuss and recommend diets that would be best for your pet. Call us or drop in to discuss it anytime, we think nutrition is very important and will always make time to talk to you about it. Find your local Goddard practice here.

How Can I Tell If My Pet’s Overweight?

It can be hard, we know! However, our vets and nurses can weigh your pet and assess their body condition score (BCS) which is a method of categorising weight, ranging from 1 (very thin) to 5 (obese), with 3 being normal and healthy. You can also do some checks at home:

  • Look from above. Your pet should go in a little at the waist. If not, they may be overweight.
  • Feeling along the side of the chest, you should be able to feel the ribs. They should not be under a thick layer of fat, but they should also not be sticking out.
  • Feeling along the back of your pet, the spine and hip bones should not be sticking out but should be easy to feel.
  • Look and feel underneath your pet for any bulges.

It’s estimated that around 60% of dogs and 39-52% of cats in the UK are overweight or obese. A report last year found 80% of dog owners stated their pet was an ideal weight, but 40% knew neither their pet’s weight nor body condition score. 74% of cat owners believed their cat was an ideal weight, but nearly two thirds (65%) acknowledged not knowing their cat’s current weight and/or body condition score.


Does it matter if my pet is overweight?

Pets who are a healthy weight are more likely to enjoy a happy and healthy life. Here are some reasons why:

  • Older pets often suffer from degenerative joint disease (arthritis). Being overweight can speed the progression of arthritis and the pain caused, ultimately reducing the quality and quantity of their life. Simple mechanics mean a dog weighing 20 kg that should weigh 15kg will place 33% more force through each limb. Even a small weight reduction can make a huge difference to their quality of life.
  • Being overweight increases the chance of diabetes in dogs and cats. Diabetes shortens life, can come with complications, and usually requires lifelong insulin injections. This poses a significant time and financial commitment for owners.
  • Obesity is not known to increase the risk of coronary heart disease as in people, but it does have adverse effects on cardiac and pulmonary function and blood pressure.
  • Operations are more risky for all pets that are overweight.
  • Rabbits naturally eat a part of their faeces known as caecotrophs, which helps recycle enzymes enabling them to digest roughage. If they are overweight, they will not be able to groom or to reach their bottom to eat these caecotrophs.
  • Obese or overweight cats are more at risk of hepatic lipidosis and lower urinary tract disease, both of which can be very serious or even fatal.

What can I do?

We can check your pet’s body condition score and weight, and perform an examination looking for other health issues, especially ones that may be weight related.

We can recommend a regime to help your pet lose weight, but it is important not to lose weight too rapidly. We aim for no more than 1-2% of their starting weight each week.

If they are only slightly overweight then feeding a bit less, or changing to a lower-calorie food may be all that’s needed. Pets needing more drastic weight loss may need a special diet, as reducing their food too much may mean they go hungry or with insufficient nutrients. A food diary for a week may highlight where your pet is getting extra calories. Each weight loss plan we suggest is individual and would involve exercise as part of the weight loss regime, but here are some general points:

  • Good pet food companies produce food for varying life-stages, as a developing pup, for example, will have different needs to an ageing dog.
  • Take the nutritional information of your current food along to your appointment and our team can assess if it’s appropriate for your pet.
  • Feeding a complete commercial pet food is the easiest way to ensure your pet gets the nutrients they need. Use feeding guidelines and weigh the food out. It seems obvious, but pets that eat too much get fat.
  • Treats and scraps on top of a complete food will unbalance the diet and most likely be turned into fat.
  • Pet lifestyle makes a difference. In the same way, an elite athlete will need more calories than an office-worker, a working greyhound or sheepdog will need more calories than a sedentary dog.
  • If considering a diet change, do it slowly to avoid upsetting the gut.

Dogs:

  • Prefer regular mealtimes. Ideally, split your dog’s daily food into two equal-sized meals, meaning your dog will be less hungry and eat more slowly. It may also help them sleep and make it less tempting to treat.

Cats:

  • Are obligate carnivores, meaning they cannot survive without meat. They cannot produce an amino acid called taurine (a protein building block) which can only be found in meat. Without it, they can develop a severe heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy and even blindness. Their gut is not designed to digest a plant-based diet, just like a cow’s gut is not designed for a meat-based diet.
  • Prefer to graze, eating 8-16 times daily, so have food available all the time weighing out the daily quota. Most cats are very good at self-regulating but some are greedy, and with these cats, meals may be needed.
  • That drink milk often gets tummy upsets due to the lactose.

Rabbits should:

  • Eat around 50% of the time so they need at least their body size in good quality hay per day to keep boredom at bay, to keep their gut health and to keep their continually growing teeth worn down.
  • Have a handful of fresh vegetables, morning and evening. They love carrots, but as they are high in sugar, use them sparingly.
  • Have an eggcup of commercial rabbit nuggets (NOT muesli-type mix) once a day if under 3.5kg, or twice a day if larger. If fed too many nuggets, they may eat less hay and veg which are both vital for rabbit health.