Archive for the ‘Dogs’ Category

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.

The life stages are:

  • Kitten/ 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/ 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/ 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/ 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, 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.

Can I Share Food With My Pet?

Our pets love to share our food. The act of hand feeding itself is a reward because of the attention. Also, the foods we offer often have high-fat content, making them super tasty. Having their own food in a bowl is much less attractive than a higher calorie feast that has been making the kitchen smell amazing while it cooks. Fat makes food more palatable and as we need more calories, our food is often much more tempting than theirs! The focus in human nutrition is to move away from pre-prepared foods and cook from scratch. Fresh ingredients with as much variety as possible (eating a rainbow every day) are hard work but yields long term health benefits. So, as we improve our own diet, we may feel that it would be better to feed our pets in this way rather than open a can or bag.

 

Unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as that. We know a lot about our calorie requirements, which nutrients we need, in what proportions and what vitamins and minerals are essential, but these are all different for our pets. All these parts of formulating a complete and balanced diet to promote health and long life are unique. If we feed a diet deficient in a specific nutrient this is likely to cause illness. For example, both cats and dogs need a protein called taurine in their diet, they cannot make it from other proteins as humans can. So, a human diet is likely to cause a taurine deficiency. Unfortunately, taurine deficiency, which used to occur more commonly before pet foods were generally fed, is now on the rise again in animals fed unbalanced diets. It is a devastating deficiency as it causes heart disease resulting in heart failure. Early cases can be rectified and then heart disease managed, it can often improve on a balanced diet. Taurine deficiency can also cause serious eye problems.

 

A balanced diet also varies within a single species depending on what age the pet is. An adult animal will be a lot better at compensating whereas a younger pet needs specific nutrients in exact ratios which feed the growth of muscle and bone. A trend to feed meat only without any other ingredients sometimes means that a growing animal does not have enough calcium to form strong healthy bones. Although diseases like rickets are in the past for humans, we see it in young animals fed on diets without enough calcium. These puppies and kittens develop deformed limbs or fractures of their back or limbs.

 

These are just two examples of the problems that can arise from a diet that is not designed for the animal concerned. In this blog, we will briefly review the differing diet requirements of pets. However, if you have any concerns about the diet or health of your pet, come and see us. Together we can discuss all the needs and requirements of your individual pet and find a diet that optimises their health and enjoyment.

 

Calorie requirements vary between species. We may need roughly 1500-2000 calories daily, but a cat needs only 250-350 a day and a small dog under 400. So, the volume of food and calorie density is important. Obesity is very common in our pets. This results in joint disease, osteoarthritis as they age and can lead to diabetes, and liver disease in cats. When we are investigating diets, it can be best to feed a low-calorie density food, so they feel full, especially if we are going to add in the odd treat. Sometimes our pets can’t get as much exercise. For example, if the weather is terrible our cat won’t go outside and exercise as usual, or if we have surgery and can’t walk our dog. In this case, we need to reduce the calories they eat for a short time.

 

Protein is an important part of any diet. Cats need twice the amount of protein in their diet that we or dogs do. They are called obligate carnivores as they need animal protein in their diet to supply all the amino acids they need. Vegetarian diets can be formulated for dogs, but it is important that the diet includes a source of every one of the amino acids they need. The proportion of amino acids varies with age – for example, a growing pup needs much more arginine than an adult dog, to avoid liver problems. Fat is essential in the diet for certain fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins which aid health and organ function. Carbohydrates need to be carefully considered in cat diets, some cats put on a lot of weight on high carbohydrate diets.

 

As cats are desert-adapted species, they have a low drive to drink. This can sometimes mean that they don’t feel thirsty and can become dehydrated or their urine becomes very concentrated. Some cats need some wet food in their diet to combat this. Otherwise, they can develop bladder stones. Many cats enjoy fresh water, and some will drink more if they have a water fountain.

 

Our small furry pets, rabbits, guinea pigs and rats love the odd high-calorie treat from us, but their dietary requirements are so different that we must take care not to make treats more than 10-20% of their diets. For rabbits and guinea pigs, it is important that the bulk of their calories comes from fibrous food so that their constantly growing teeth are kept in check. The small furry species have very small calorie requirements so can put on weight very easily, which prevents them grooming and can lead to skin problems.

 

We are always keen to provide the best preventative health care for your pet or pets and are always here to discuss their diet as part of keeping them well and happy. We can work together to choose the right diet that will contribute to a long and healthy life.

Leptospirosis – fact or fiction?

Leptospirosis can make dogs very ill, cause long-term damage, and even be fatal. Incidence rates vary depending on where you live, your lifestyle and the area where you walk your dog, but most dogs are at some level of risk. The disease is seen in veterinary clinics all over the country and has been labelled ‘re-emerging’ as it seems to be on the increase. It’s also zoonotic, meaning it can spread from animals to humans. The human form (Weil’s disease) is thought to be the most widespread zoonotic disease in the world. There were 87 cases confirmed in people in 2017 in the UK alone, an increase from the previous year. Although usually treatable, fatalities can occur. British olympic rower Andy Holmes died of organ failure after contracting Weil’s disease in 2010, days after competing in a marathon rowing event.

What causes it?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease caused by a complex group of closely related bacteria of the genus Leptospira. Only some strains cause disease, some affect certain species more than others (cats are rarely affected), and are more prevalent in certain areas. The bacteria survive well in warm, humid areas, and are often found in stagnant water like ponds.

How is it caught?

Wild animals can carry the bacteria for years without signs, spreading it via their infected urine. Once in moist soil or stagnant water, the bacteria can remain infectious for several months. Any pet of any age, going out in any area, can be infected, but dogs that spend lots of time outside, especially in areas prone to flooding and high rainfall, are at higher risk.

As well as being inadvertently swallowed, contaminated water can more rarely pass on the infection through broken skin, such as cuts or scrapes.

Although infected pet dogs’ urine can be a source for humans, more often it comes from contact with infected water, often during watersports.

What signs should I look for?

The signs are not unique to this disease and can be vague. There is often a fever. The bacteria most commonly affects the kidneys, causing tiredness, lack of appetite, vomiting, abdominal pain, and changes in urination. Dogs with a poor immune system may not survive this phase or may go on to have long term kidney damage. Some will have less severe signs. The bacteria often affects the liver instead of or as well as the kidneys, causing similar signs but accompanied by yellowing of the gums or skin. Some dogs have respiratory signs such as a cough, snotty nose or eyes, and less commonly, their muscles are affected causing trembling. The bacteria can attack blood vessels, causing nosebleeds or blood in their faeces or vomiting due to clotting issues, but this is rare.

How do you diagnose leptospirosis?

If a dog presents signs of kidney and liver disease, a fever, and is either unvaccinated or at high risk, leptospirosis will be high on the list of potential diagnoses. Blood and urine tests can confirm if there is any liver and/or kidney damage and changes to red and white blood cell counts and blood clotting tests may be helpful.

There are specific blood and urine tests looking for antibodies to the bacteria itself, but if treatment has already started these can be hard to interpret. Furthermore, if vaccinated, then the immune system will often have produced antibodies in response, so results are again hard to interpret. The most reliable test may be a repeated antibody test, 2 weeks after the first (in an infection, the antibody levels will be rising) – but obviously this does not help with initial management of the patient.

What treatment options are there?

An initial course of antibiotics is given, followed by a longer course of antibiotics to reduce bacterial shedding. Importantly, damaged organs must be supported, often via intravenous fluid therapy, and medications to address any pain and respiratory or gut signs.

In all but the mildest cases, infected dogs are usually hospitalised in an isolation ward. Whether in the hospital or at home, care is needed when handling infected dogs and their blood and urine to reduce the chance of infection. We can advise you on how to disinfect your home, and how to reduce spread as dogs may shed the bacteria for some time.Washing your hands after contact, ideally wearing gloves, disinfecting frequently, and disposing of any soiled bedding are important. Pregnant women, immunosuppressed people, children and other dogs should avoid contact with the dog until at lower risk. Anyone who feels unwell while looking after a dog suspected of having leptospirosis, must seek medical advice.

The outlook is very variable. Some dogs seem to have minimal signs, while in others it is fatal, or causes lasting damage.

What’s the best way to prevent it?

Fortunately, vaccines are available – we include them in the regular primary course in dogs. Unfortunately the immunity does not seem to last as long as with many other vaccines. The manufacturers recommend yearly boosters to keep immunity at a protective level. In the past, two main strains were responsible for most disease in the UK, but recently additional strains have been implicated. Vaccines are now available covering the four most disease causing strains in Europe (L4), compared to the previous two (L2).Vaccination may reduce bacterial shedding in dogs carrying the bacteria without signs, so are of value to public health protection.

If your pet goes outside, it’s hard to eliminate the risk. Avoid stagnant, shady water, especially after flooding, as the bacteria is rapidly destroyed by light and temperatures above 20C.

Is the vaccine safe?

There have been reports in the media questioning the safety of the L4 vaccines, however, there is a risk of adverse effect with any medication or vaccine. The incidence of L2 vaccine reaction is 0.015%, and is 0.069% for the L4 vaccine. Both are statistically low when you consider the risk of actual disease. Our team are always available to discuss the pros and cons of any decision regarding the health and welfare of your pet, so if you have any further questions, please do get in touch and we’ll be happy to help you.

Do we need to fear the flea?

Do we need to fear the flea?

“All dogs have little fleas, upon their backs to bite ‘em,

And little fleas have littler fleas, and so ad infinitum!”

We often fondly imagine that the flea is a summertime parasite, and that in the depths of winter he disappears somewhere, leaving us and our pets in peace. Sadly, this is a profound mistake.

Why are fleas an all-year-round problem?

One simple answer – central heating. Fleas require a certain temperature for their life-cycle to continue, with the optimal being a little over 20C. Unfortunately, the optimal temperature for modern humans is also just over 20C, and so if we’re comfortable, probably so are our unwanted little house guests.

The adults are much less fussy of course – because they spend much of their lives clamped to a nice furry hot water bottle (called Rex, or Fido, or Puss) and can therefore endure surprisingly cold temperatures. However, if the house is warm, the flea larvae continue to develop into adults, and the infestation continues all year round.

But are they really a problem?

Most of the time, fleas are merely an irritant – their bites cause itching, but no more. However, the immune systems of many dogs and cats (as many as 40% according to some studies) see flea saliva as a dangerous foreign invader, and mount some degree of response to it. In approximately one in sixtydogs and cats, this alone is sufficient to trigger itching, scratching, discomfort and suffering as the pet develops Flea Allergic Dermatitis.

However, they pose other threats as well. Fleas may transmit Feline Infectious Anaemia to cats and are the main source of infection with the common Dog Tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum, confusingly enough a parasite of both dogs and cats).

Furthermore, in young puppies and kittens, a heavy infestation of fleas can even consume so much blood that the animal develops a serious anaemia, without enough iron in their blood to oxygenate their tissues.

To make the creatures even less friendly, the Cat Flea (Ctenocephalides felis) is far from fussy as to what, or who, it feeds on. While the Dog Flea (C. canis) is generally content to feed on its namesake, the Cat Flea will sample the blood of any warm-blooded mammal that is rash enough to come within jumping range. Cats, dogs, rabbits – even humans, they’re all just a buffet for the flea.

How do we kill them?

This great task is easier said than done. The adult fleas are relatively easy to kill – there are a wide range of medications available on prescription that are highly effective, and even over the counter drops are usually sufficient to decimate their populations.

However, the larvae are hard to find. Being soft, vulnerable, grub-like creatures, they hide themselves away in the dark, warm, sheltered places in your house – typically in the carpets and soft furnishings, the cushions and blankets, and in the dust between the floorboards. Here they feed and grow, until they are ready to pupate. Of all the fleas in your house, approximately 95% exist as eggs, larvae, or pupae hiding in the environment. This is why killing the adult fleas is insufficient – there will be another batch along in five minutes, and then another, and another.

Instead, we must be smarter than them. There are three main options for breaking the life-cycle of the flea.

Firstly, we can use environmental treatments – insecticidal sprays that kill the larvae where they cower. Unfortunately, however, the pupal or chrysalis stage is resistant to this – but we can fool them into emerging, by vacuuming the environment they lurk in. The warmth, air movement, and vibration trick the flea hidden inside into thinking that a tasty meal is walking past. Then, as they emerge, we hit them with the sprays, exterminating them.

Secondly, we can treat our pets with medications that make the fleas infertile or unable to reproduce. Indeed, many of these medications will also prevent even the larvae that have already hatched from growing to adulthood, as the larvae have the unpleasant habit of eating their parents’ and older siblings’ droppings.

Finally, we can use a modern drug that will kill the fleas so fast that they have no time to reproduce. In this case, the flea problem usually disappears with the fleas in a few weeks, unless the house is swarming with the little beasts, in which case it may take longer. 

What’s the best option?

For that, we strongly recommend that you speak to one of our vets or nurses. They will be more than happy to advise you on the best way of committing widespread insecticide and protecting your pets from the Fearsome Flea.

IMHA in dogs – what do you need to know?

IMHA stands for Immune Mediated Haemolytic Anaemia. It’s a bit of a mouthful so is often known as its less tongue-twisting abbreviation. It’s not as complicated as it sounds and here we will attempt to demystify it.

What is IMHA?

IMHA belongs to a group of diseases known as autoimmune diseases. These occur because the body’s own cells are incorrectly identified as foreign by the immune system. These cells are then attacked and destroyed. With each autoimmune disease, different cells are targeted. With IMHA, red blood cells are targeted and destroyed leading to reduced numbers (anaemia). Two thirds of dogs with IMHA also experience a similar destruction of platelet cells. Platelets are involved in clot formation, and a lack of them (known as thrombocytopenia) leads to abnormal bleeding and is known as Immune Mediated Thrombocytopenia (ITP). When the two conditions occur together we call it Evans syndrome.

What causes this?

Body cells have a protein on the surface called an antigen. The immune system uses this protein to identify its own cells. In IMHA, red blood cell antigens are falsely recognised as foreign which stimulates the production of an antibody by the immune system. The antibody attaches to the antigen and causes the cell to swell and burst. Cells also become more likely to clump (agglutinate) giving higher risks of abnormal clotting.

When the cause of a disease is unknown we call it idiopathic. This is the case in around 70% of IMHA, so we call it idiopathic IMHA, or primary IMHA.

In the other 30% there is an underlying cause called secondary IMHA. Certain infections, mainly spread by parasites like ticks, can lead to secondary IMHA. Most are uncommon in the UK, but should be considered, especially if your pet has travelled abroad. Certain medications have been known to trigger IMHA, such as some antibiotics and painkillers. Some forms of cancer can also trigger IMHA. Recent vaccination has been suggested to trigger the disease but lacks evidence at present. Vaccination prevents serious life-threatening diseases and in the majority of dogs the benefits vastly outweigh the risks.

There seems to be a genetic predisposition in cocker spaniels and Old English sheepdogs, but any breed can be affected.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms are largely due to the resulting anaemia. Signs may be vague such as weakness, lethargy and a poor appetite. Red blood cells are needed to carry oxygen around the body, so there is often a fast heart rate and breathing rate as the dog tries to compensate for the lack of oxygen. Usually we see pale gums, but there may be a yellow tinge to the gums as when red blood cells rupture they are broken down into a yellow tinged product called bilirubin.

Damage through lack of oxygen within any organ can cause varied signs and, as there is a tendency for red blood cells to clump, clots may form anywhere.

How is IMHA diagnosed?

After an examination and taking a history we may be suspicious.

Firstly we confirm the presence of anaemia. Anaemia has many causes so we need to further define the type of anaemia present. Most dogs with IMHA have a regenerative anaemia, where the body is stimulated to produce more red blood cells to make up for lost ones. In rare cases where the bone marrow is affected then a non-regenerative anaemia is possible.

Next we rule out other causes of regenerative anemia, and other rarer causes of haemolysis like onion poisoning or heavy metal toxicity, and identify whether your pet has had any recent medications or vaccinations. We may carry out further tests to identify infectious causes or cancers.

We often examine the blood under the microscope, looking for certain types of cells known as spherocytes, which are small, round red blood cells often associated with IMHA. We may see more immature red blood cells (reticulocytes) telling us the anaemia is regenerative. We often send samples to a lab for confirmation alongside other specific tests such as the Coombs test, which looks for antibodies on the red blood cells. A saline agglutination test looks for clumping of red blood cells when mixed with saline. It is quick and relatively inexpensive, but can be hard to interpret.

Can this condition be treated?

The first-line treatment for many autoimmune conditions is a corticosteroid called prednisolone, which suppresses the immune system. High doses may be needed initially, aiming to lower and possibly stop medication in the long run. A second immune suppressing drug can be tried in severe cases, or if prednisolone causes severe side effects or doesn’t work. Azathioprine is most commonly used as it is inexpensive, but takes time to work and requires handling precautions. Cyclosporine is licenced for use in dogs but expensive, has an unpredictable dose range and side effects.

A last resort is to help stop red cell destruction in the spleen by removing it (splenectomy). Pets by this stage are very sick and the procedure risky. Many owners would sadly have to consider euthanasia as an alternative.

If we think there’s a risk of excessive clotting we may prescribe medications such as aspirin to mitigate this.

A blood transfusion may seem obvious, but new cells may be destroyed quickly, worsening the signs. However, damage caused by the lack of oxygen in severe anaemia may be a bigger risk, so a transfusion may be recommended.

We would monitor the response to treatment with blood tests regularly. Hopefully once a response is seen, we can taper any medication gradually, whilst continuing to sample for any worsening in parameters. We may also want to monitor for any side effects of the medications.

What is the outlook?

The prognosis with IMHA is variable, carrying a mortality rate of 30% to 70% within 1-2 months of diagnosis. If patients suffer IPT at the same time, or if the bone marrow is affected, the outlook may be worse. The condition can come back, and some animals need lifelong medication.