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I’ve found a stray cat, what should I do?

RSPCA figures show Greater London takes the top spot for most cats rescued, with 2,350 cats coming into RSPCA care last year. Whilst it is commendable to try and help our feline friends, first we need to decide if the cat is indeed a stray in need of help.


How can I tell if it is feral?

Feral cats are usually the offspring of stray, feral or abandoned cats that have missed out on early socialisation with humans, making them very wary of us. If they are adults already, they will not make good pets. If the cat is not friendly and approachable, it may be feral. These cats often (but not always) live in colonies rather than alone. They won’t come close, even with encouragement, and will avoid human contact. They may have a part of the ear tip missing indicating they have been trapped, neutered and released by a charity in order to keep feral populations down.

So long as a feral cat is healthy, they will live happily outside. They should be largely left alone. However if they appear injured or ill, then contact the RSPCA. Various national charities have neutering schemes so if you see a colony of cats without ear tipping, contact your local RSPCA or a local charity such as the Celia Hammond Trust for more advice.


I don’t think it’s feral – what do I do now?

If the cat is alone, approachable and friendly, it may be a cat that belongs to someone, that has strayed. Some owned cats will stray further from home than others, so we must take care not to mistake an owned cat out on their constitutional, for a lost cat. Cats may be greedy and take advantage of a well-meaning neighbour for an extra meal. They may be on a special diet at home that they’re less than pleased with, so in search of a tastier supper.

However, if you are regularly being visited by the same cat, looking for food and shelter, then action is needed.

Ive-found-a-stray-cat-what-should-I-do-copy

What can I do?

Firstly check the cat for a collar. If there is one it clearly has had an owner. If the collar has a contact number on it, then get in touch and explain your situation. There may be an owner frantically searching for their missing feline friend.

If there is no collar or contact details, then you could pop the cat in a basket and take it along to your nearest vet to be scanned for a microchip.

A microchip is a permanent method of electronic identification implanted subcutaneously under the skin between the shoulder blades. Each chip has a unique number, detected using a microchip scanner. The microchip number is recorded on a microchip database with details about the animal and owner. In the majority of cases, the microchip is registered to an owner and, hey presto — a reunion ensues.

If taking this cat into your nearest vet is not possible, there is no chip found on scanning, or the chip is not registered to an owner then next you could try:

  • Speaking to neighbours. News spreads fast. Word of mouth is often the best way of reuniting pets with owners.
  • Using a photo of the culprit and make a ‘found’ poster, putting them up in the local area.
  • Posting the kitty on on local social media sites and lost and found sites. This immediately magnifies your search.
  • Listing the cat on national websites such as Pets Located and the National Pet Register and look through the lost cat sections. You can list a found cat on the Battersea website here.
  • Contacting us and other local vet practices. Often owners missing their pets will think the worst and contact local vet practices first. Practices often keep a list of missing cats should one matching the description turn up.
  • Creating a homemade paper collar that you can attach around the cats neck (if you can get close enough). Ensure the fitted collar allows for two fingers to be placed between the collar and cat’s neck, to make sure the cat isn’t harmed. Write your contact telephone number on the collar strip and something along the lines of: Your cat has been visiting me and I am concerned it is a stray. Please contact me if it belongs to you.

None of this has worked, so what can I do now?

If there is still no sign of an owner then you could consider keeping the cat yourself. This is a big commitment of a potential 15 years or more, though, so must be thought about very seriously. If you are new to cat ownership, get in touch with us and we can run through the basics of cat care and what to expect so you can decide if it’s for you.

If you are not able to keep the cat then, unlike dogs, local authorities do not take in stray cats. Try contacting one of the charities below:

If you do not have any luck we may be able to provide more local charity details.


Is the cat injured or ill?

If you’re worried about the health of the cat, call the RSPCA on its emergency number 0300 1234 999 (UK). A lost cat might be nervous, especially if sick and injured, so approach them with caution. The safest way to move the cat is to carefully cover it in a blanket before picking it up. This keeps the cat safe as well as shielding you from claws and teeth.

If the cat is seriously injured, take it to your nearest veterinary practice immediately.

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. If you have any concerns, one of our veterinary surgeons or nurses will be happy to help.

Does my bunny need a buddy?

Yes – every bunny needs someBunny!

Rabbits are extremely social animals, they need company. In the wild, rabbits live in groups in warrens where they all look out for each other – they huddle together to keep warm and they warn each other if predators are about. Pet rabbits love to play, relax, sleep, eat and groom together.

Rabbits do enjoy human company when we can give this to them, but remember, with all the will in the world – our lives are busy, and even if we can spend a few hours a day with our rabbits that still leaves a huge 20+ hours when they are alone. What’s more, rabbits are often most active at dawn and dusk – just when we are hitting the snooze button on the alarm, or getting the dinner ready!

What is the best pairing?

The best pairing is usually a male and a female. It is important to have them both neutered (castrated for the males and spayed for the females). This can be done as soon as they are old enough – speak to your vet about when is the best time for your rabbits. Avoid just neutering one rabbit, as this may result in one calm bunny and one frustrated over-amorous one! Not only does neutering prevent unwanted pregnancies and prevents uterine cancer in females, it can also reduce fighting and is necessary when trying to bond your rabbits.

If you are looking for a companion for your bunny, consider rehoming a rabbit from a rescue centre. Often they have already been vaccinated and neutered, and you will be giving a home to a bunny in need. Some rescue centres will even help with introducing your rabbit to its new friend and will allow you to bring your rabbit along to meet a potential partner in a neutral territory. Some offer boarding to supervise the bonding process for you.

What is the best way to introduce a new bunny?

Bunnies are very sociable but they can also be quite territorial. Introducing two bunnies to each other requires supervision, perseverance and time.

First of all, put your rabbits in nearby enclosures – where they can see and smell each other but are separated by a wire fence.

Once they are used to the sight and smell of each other, place the rabbits together for a short period of time in a neutral space – somewhere new for both rabbits, to reduce the risk of any territorial squabbling. Ensure plenty of food, hay and distractions are available – enough for both rabbits, in separate piles. Provide cardboard boxes and tunnels for them to hide in. Supervise the rabbits while they are together, and if you notice any signs of tension then separate the rabbits and try again later.

Repeat this process until the rabbits are comfortable with each other. When they are grooming or lying with each other they can be left unsupervised. This can take anything from a few hours, to months depending on the rabbits!

Once they are bonded together, keep them together, as periods of time away from each other will cause them stress. If you need to take them to the vets, take both rabbits together so they can give each other company and comfort.

Housing

Ensure your bunnies have plenty of room; the Rabbit Welfare Association recommend a minimum hutch size of at least 6’ x 2’ which allows rabbits some room to move, stand on their hind legs, and enough space for the food, toilet and sleeping areas to be kept apart. They should be able to perform at least 3 consecutive hops or ‘binkies’ (not steps). Larger breeds will need more space than this. Importantly, a hutch should not be their only living space – it should be attached to a secure run of at least 8’ x 4’. Bear in mind, these are the minimum recommendations – as with most things in life, bigger is better!

There is pure joy to witnessing a bonded, loved up bunny duo together; you’ll never want to keep a solitary rabbit again. It’s never too late, even for bunnies in their twilight years.

Rabbit Vaccinations: Are they necessary?

In the UK we currently recommend vaccinating rabbits against two diseases; myxomatosis and rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (RHD). To understand why vaccinations are so important we need to know what they are protecting our rabbits against.

Myxomatosis

What is it?
Myxomatosis is a disease caused by the myxoma virus and has been present in the UK since 1953. There are different strains of the virus which can result in different forms of the disease some more severe than others (see below). In unprotected rabbits, the disease is usually fatal and so prevention is strongly recommended.

What are the symptoms?
There are two types of myxomatosis, nodular (lumpy) and oedematous (swollen) but the latter is the most common and the most lethal. Symptoms begin between 4-10 days after infection;

Oedematous (swollen) Type Nodular (lumpy) Type
  • Swelling around the eyes, mouth, bottom and/or genitals
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dull behaviour
  • Light sensitivity
  • Secondary infections (eyes, nose, lungs)
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing (end stage) and death
  • Lumps in and/or under the skin
  • Lumps become ulcerated (open wound) but can heal over
  • Secondary infections

It is possible for rabbits to get a mixed form with symptoms from both types of the disease which may be milder. The oedematous form acts quickly and after around 1-2 weeks of symptoms rabbits will die from starvation and difficulty breathing.


How do rabbits get it?

Rabbits can become infected with the virus from direct contact with other infected rabbits but also from being bitten by blood sucking-insects with the virus. These insects become carriers when they feed on infected rabbits but don’t become ill themselves, allowing them to move on and feed on another rabbit passing on the infection. Any blood-sucking insect can be a carrier but fleas and mosquitoes are the most common and because mosquitoes can fly long distances, they also help spread the disease to new areas.

Can you treat it?
Treatment of the oedematous form is usually hopeless, particularly if the rabbit is already having difficulty eating or breathing. Due to this our vets sadly will most likely recommend euthanasia to stop the rabbit from suffering. Rabbits with a mixed form of the disease may be able to survive with supportive care if the disease is mild. Supportive treatment is typically aimed at maintaining adequate nutrition and alleviating other symptoms while the immune system clears the virus. This may include;

  • Fluid therapy
  • Syringe feeding
  • Antibiotics if there is a secondary infection
  • Anti-inflammatories for the swelling
  • Active warming

How can I prevent it?
Rabbits can be vaccinated against myxomatosis from 5 weeks old. This vaccine should be repeated every year to maintain adequate protection. Rabbits in high-density populations such as those used for breeding can be vaccinated every 6 months. Vaccinated rabbits can still become infected with the virus but the symptoms are normally very mild and treatable.

You can reduce the risk of infection further by ensuring your rabbit does not have contact with wild rabbits which may be infected, or eat food from areas where wild rabbits live. Protect your rabbits from insects that may carry the disease by using insect screens and flea prevention spot-ons. If you’re introducing a new rabbit, quarantine it for at least a fortnight to ensure it is not infected before exposing it to your current rabbit/s.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD)

What is it?
RHD is a deadly disease caused by a calicivirus which can be transmitted both directly and indirectly. The RHD virus is currently divided into subtypes including RHD1 and RHD2. The virus has been present in Europe since 1988 but a recent outbreak of RHD2 in the UK started in 2013 and has caused a large number of rabbit deaths.

What are the symptoms?
Sadly, one of the most common symptoms of RHD is sudden death, with many owners believing their rabbit died of “fright” or a heart attack. External symptoms are not always seen and so many rabbits dying from RHD are not known, meaning the disease is likely more widespread than we think. The disease acts so quickly (within 1-3 days of infection) that rabbits can look completely normal the day before. Possible symptoms include;

  • Sudden death
  • Bleeding from the nose/mouth/bottom
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever (early)
  • Seizures
  • Vocalising
  • Collapse

A mild form of the disease does exist but this is very uncommon and those rabbits are normally just generally unwell with non-specific symptoms which often mean we do not recognise they have RHD.

How do rabbits get it?
The virus can survive in the environment for many months, especially when it’s cold, allowing it to cause disease outbreaks year after year. RHD can infect rabbits directly through bodily fluids such as faeces/urine/saliva and mating as well as indirectly by contaminated objects such as clothing/cages/bedding/food/humans as well as insects, birds and rodents carrying the disease. There is even suspicion the virus can be carried on the wind. Blood-sucking insects such as mosquitoes and fleas can cause the virus to spread quickly and over considerable distances.

Can you treat it?
RHD is usually fatal and cannot be treated so vaccinating your rabbit is strongly recommended to prevent them from getting it. We may be able to provide some supportive care to infected rabbits but normally our vets will recommend euthanasia to alleviate suffering. Rabbits known, or suspected, of being infected should be isolated from all other rabbits and strict hygiene protocols used to prevent the virus from being transported elsewhere. All equipment and housing should be thoroughly disinfected and cleaned.

How can I prevent it?
Vaccines exist in the UK for both the RHD1 and RHD2 types of the virus. As there is no way of predicting when a rabbit may become infected with RHD, vaccination to protect every rabbit is the best-recommended action. Vaccines can be given from 4-5 weeks old and then a booster every 6-12 months is advised as the reported duration of immunity is 9 months-1 year. In the UK the RHD1 vaccine can be given at the same time as the myxomatosis vaccine, then the RHD2 vaccine is licensed to be given a minimum of two weeks later.

Where possible you can try and limit exposure of your rabbit to RHD by quarantining any new rabbits, using insect screens and flea spot-ons, and avoiding contact with wild birds and rodents. General hygiene is also important; we advise that all objects (e.g. water bottles, bowls, cleaning equipment) are cleaned and disinfected regularly as well as your rabbit’s housing. Bedding should be changed regularly and along with hay, should be sourced from a supplier where it has been grown with no known infected wild rabbits.

Conclusion: Is vaccination necessary?
There has been a lot of concern in recent years about over-vaccinating our pets and whether annual vaccination is needed. Given the large number of deaths reported for both diseases and the ability for these diseases to spread to different geographical locations we feel vaccination is essential to protect all rabbits as there are no “safe areas”. In rabbits, a single vaccine has only been shown to provide protection for 9-12 months when vaccinated rabbits are challenged with RHD2, which is why we recommend that you give your rabbits annual vaccinations. Additionally, one study showed that cross-immunity between RHD1 and RHD2 was minimal and so both vaccines are needed to ensure adequate protection.

The trouble with tapeworms

Tapeworms are a common problem. The infection can be caught from multiple areas and environments; however, some conditions make them more likely to be transmitted.

What is a tapeworm?

They are long, flat worms that live in your pet’s intestines. Most species can be infected and the larvae are often ingested by dogs while they groom, or from the soil or grass. They travel to the intestine where they attach to the mucous lining, using their strong mouthpieces, and grow into adults. They can grow up to 8 inches in length and, when mature, produce proglottids (segments) which grow from the end of the worm. Tapeworms are made from lots of segments, all of which have their own reproductive parts allowing their numbers to multiply rapidly as they constantly reproduce. These segments become gravid (pregnant with a pack of eggs encircled in a membrane) and are passed in the pets’ faeces, where they burst releasing tapeworm eggs onto the grass or material beneath them. These eggs are ingested by an intermediate host (normally a flea or a rodent), which is then eaten by your pets. The eggs are released and hatch into tiny tapeworm heads, which mature into adult worms inside your pet over 2 months or so.

Is my pet likely to get tapeworm?

There are lots of different types of tapeworm, each with different intermediate hosts, meaning tapeworm can be caught from various sources. The tapeworm eggs can live in the environment in grass and soil, carpets and dust, so it is hard to eliminate the process of infection as we cannot keep this permanently clean. The flea is a common intermediate host, so keeping your pets away from any fleas, or areas where you know there will be a high flea count can help to prevent your pet from becoming infected.

Fleas commonly live on cats so if your pets spend lots of time with cats they are more likely to pick up the infection. Fleas thrive in areas which are moist, humid and shaded. If your dog has fleas, they will be itching excessively so they may appear to have bald patches, redness of the skin, and potentially wounds, or even blood. Regularly treating your pet for fleas would be a good preventative treatment for this type of tapeworm. Reinfection can occur if a new flea (also infected) is ingested, so one preventative treatment will not usually be enough.

Mice and rodents can be carriers too so, if possible, reduce the access your pets have to areas which may be infested. If your cat likes to hunt or rummage through bins, they are more likely to pick up tapeworm from these sources. If you know an area is likely to be habituated by rodents, try to keep your dog on a lead whilst walking through these areas. This allows you to have more control over your pet, helping to prevent them from eating infectious material.

What are the symptoms of tapeworm?

Tapeworms can cause lots of different health problems. If your pet is infected, you may see small white objects, that look like grains of rice, around the tail or in the faeces. They may even be moving! These segments stick to bedding or rugs where your pet spends a lot of time so if you suspect an infection, be sure to investigate these locations and clean them thoroughly. Your pet may itch their rear end a lot as the larvae become stuck in the area, irritating it. If the burden is much larger, weight loss may be seen.

If your pet has worms living inside the intestines, they may show weight loss and have lower energy levels compared to normal. This is because the worms are stealing their nutrients. You may notice a difference in eating habits, as they often lose their appetite and then quickly become very hungry again. Their coat may become duller looking. Blood may be seen in the faeces, so careful investigation of the stool using gloves could be useful – or just ask us about it if you prefer! You may see worms or white eggs in the faeces. The heavier the worm burden, the more serious the symptoms become; it is therefore very important to treat this infection as soon as possible.

If any symptoms are seen, please call or visit the practice for more specific information on treatment and we can help return your pet to normal health as soon as possible!

Unfortunately, lots of animals show no symptoms.

Can I catch tapeworm from my pet?

People are rarely infected by tapeworm, but these infections do occur. You cannot catch the infection directly from your dog. The human infection occurs when the human ingests a flea carrying the infection. Fleas often live on animals, so if people are commonly in close contact with animals they are much more likely to become infected. This is more common in children compared to adults.

Summary – DO NOT WORRY ABOUT TAPEWORM, but DO TREAT IT. It is very common and treatment is available. If you notice a sudden change in behaviour or weight, contact one of our vets!