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Cats get Tetanus too.

Most people are aware of tetanus (“lockjaw”) either through having vaccinations at the health centre or perhaps if they own a horse which has to be vaccinated against the disease. Both humans and horses are genetically susceptible to tetanus and a particularly risky combination of events is when a gardener receives a wound whilst handling horse dung. The tetanus-producing organism (Clostridium tetani) is found naturally in soil and horse manure and can exist as spores for many years. Dogs and cats only rarely get tetanus. In fact most vets will only see one or two cases in their professional lifetime but once seen, never forgotten. Because of the years I spent in animal welfare practice with a high turnover of cases, I managed to see two dogs and two cats with the condition during a period of 37 years. Dogs get the condition much more seriously. The disease affects the nervous system by producing a toxin which causes all the muscles to eventually go into spasm so the dog becomes almost as rigid as a rocking horse and the muscles of the mouth are drawn back in what is known as a sardonic smile (risus sardonicus). Eating, drinking and even blinking become almost impossible and in dogs the condition is often fatal if intensive care is not administered early enough. [caption id="attachment_623" align="alignleft" width="270" caption="Amber showing her rigid hind leg."]Amber showing her rigid hind leg.[/caption] Cats are a different proposition. The tetanus bacteria are often introduced from a wound or a fight and the muscle spasm is usually localised in a hind leg. Over a period of a few days the leg becomes completely rigid and can only be trailed behind the cat. Amber was a three year old cat who enjoyed going out at night. Inevitably she got involved in a few territorial fights on her travels. Her owner brought her in because she was obviously lame. [caption id="attachment_628" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Amber's wound, the source of the tetanus infection, with the other cat's tooth."]Amber's wound, the source of the tetanus infection, with the other cat's tooth.[/caption] When I examined her, I found another cat’s canine tooth embedded in her back leg. This deep puncture had allowed the tetanus organisms to become established in her damaged muscle tissue and the toxin then affected the muscles of the whole leg. I started Amber on a combination of penicillin, a drug called metronidazole and diazepam to relax the muscles and reduce the discomfort for her. It took about a week for the treatment to start to work and then there was a gradual relaxation of the muscles. By three weeks after she had been diagnosed, there was no trace of stiffness. During all this time, Amber continued to eat well and was only inconvenienced by the lameness. After the first case I saw in a cat, I reported it to our professional journal, The Veterinary Record. A few people wrote to me to say that they had seen cases in the tropics where cats had been neutered in less than ideal surgical conditions and without the benefit of antibiotics. So while tetanus is a pretty rare occurrence in the cat and cannot be vaccinated against, perhaps this case will remind us that the potential for tetanus is always present in the environment and that we should make sure that our own tetanus vaccinations are boosted every ten years and that we get a dose of antitoxin whenever we have a contaminated puncture wound. Horse owners should consult their vet about keeping up booster vaccinations against tetanus. Intervals vary so ask your vet for advice. It is important to remember that the antitoxin given when a horse has treatment for a wound will only give up to three weeks protection if the horse has not been vaccinated against tetanus. If you are concerned about any health problems in your cat, please contact your vet or use our interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.

But rabbits are meant to be cuddly, aren’t they?!

Cat is the vet for; an on-line social networking site for pet lovers. Obesity is a huge (if you will excuse the pun!) issue in our pets and can lead to significant health problems. It is usually easy to tell if Rover or Kitty are getting porky, their large bellies are generally the giveaway, but it can be more difficult in pet rabbits, who often appear quite round anyway, especially if they are fluffy! However, it is an extremely common problem in the species and can lead to some very nasty illnesses if it isn't tackled. [caption id="attachment_610" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Rabbits come in all shapes and sizes, so it's not easy to see if they are overweight just by looking."]Rabbits come in all shapes and sizes, so it's not easy to see if they are overweight just by looking.[/caption] How do you tell if a rabbit is fat? It is difficult just by looking to tell if a rabbit is over-weight and while putting them on the scales is helpful, the healthy weight for each individual will vary. Getting your hands on them and feeling is the most reliable method. Firstly, you should be able to feel your rabbit's ribs when you place your hands on their chest, if you can't, or can only manage it by pressing very hard, then there may be a problem. Equally you should also be able to fairly easily make out their spine and hips. They should have an obvious waist and only females should have a dewlap and even then it should be fairly small. How did my rabbit get fat? Because it eats too much! Unfortunately it is easy to get the proportions of different foods in your rabbits diet wrong and this can lead to them putting on weight. Most rabbits are fed on some form of commercially prepared rabbit food but many owners don't realise that it is very calorie dense and must be fed sparingly; an average sized rabbit should eat no more than two tablespoons of hard food a day. Fruit is also a big culprit in making rabbits gain weight as the sugars it contains are very calorific, so keep fruit treats to a minimum and stick to vegetables for the regular fresh food in their diet. Also, rabbits are naturally active creatures but many are kept confined to small hutches or runs. This is also often a factor in any weight gain because they simply cannot exercise as much as they should and have nothing to do but eat. What are the problems obesity can cause? The most distressing problem seen in rabbits made much worse by them being fat is Fly Strike. If rabbits are over-weight, they are prone to becoming dirty and matted around their backends, mainly because they cannot physically reach round to clean themselves. The flies lay their eggs in the impacted faeces which quickly hatch into maggots. These will feed on the dirt but quickly start to attack the rabbit itself and, literally, eat it alive. It is a horrendous problem, very painful and often fatal. Obese rabbits are also vulnerable to pressure sores on their hocks due to their weight and bad skin because they cannot groom adequately. Arthritis is also a big issue in fat rabbits, their joints are under excess strain and their weight makes the disease even more painful. How do I diet my rabbit? Firstly, ensure their diet is not too rich. The ideal diet for a rabbit consists of 80% hay (everyday a rabbit should eat a pile of hay as big as it is) with a small amount of fresh vegetables and minimal rabbit food. The rabbit food is the biggest culprit in weight gain, so if they are fat and you want to diet them, cut it out altogether. It isn't a necessary part of the diet anyway so long as they have unlimited good quality hay and regular amounts of fresh food. Obviously they should have no human food at all. The second law of weight loss is exercise more and this can be done in rabbits fairly easily. They should all be allowed out in a run, the house or garden for at least 30 minutes twice a day. Rabbits are most active in the early morning and dusk, so if they can only have limited exercise then these are the best times to allow it. You can also encourage them to hop about by hiding tasty (but healthy!) treats around the garden or run, which also helps their inquisitive natures and keeps them mentally stimulated. Good choices for this are sprigs of herbs, edible flowers such as roses or carnations or weeds like dandelions or clover. You can even get special harnesses for rabbits and so can take them out for walks (as long as you don't mind the curious stares!) Obesity is a problem for all kinds of pets and owners should always be vigilant that their animals are not carrying extra weight. For rabbits this is especially important as they are very good at hiding any signs of illness and so keeping them in the best of health in the first place is vital. If you are concerned about your rabbit, why not pop them down to your vet? They would be happy to check them over and answer any questions you may have. If you are concerned about your rabbits health, please contact your vet or use our interactive Rabbit Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.

Harvey’s Retained Testicle

Joe Inglis BVSc MRCVS is the vet for the One Show, This Morning and BBC Breakfast. He runs his own line of natural pet food called Pet’s Kitchen SpanielWhen Harvey the spaniel came in for his routine 6 month check up he looked the picture of health - tail wagging, eyes bright and full of enthusiasm – so neither his owner nor myself were expecting anything other than a straightforward check over. And for the first five minutes of the examination, I found nothing untoward whatsoever - Harvey was clearly a fit and healthy young dog with a strong heart, clear eyes, wet nose, healthy lungs and a good coat. However the final stage of my examination did show that he wasn’t quite 100% perfect and there was a problem that was likely to require treatment, as I explained to his owner, Mrs Mann; ‘Hmm,’ I started as I straightened up from the final stage of my examination at the back end of Harvey’s wriggling body, ‘I’m afraid to say Mrs Mann that there’s a bit of a problem here – Harvey’s only got one descended testicle.’ ‘Oh dear,’ exclaimed Mrs Mann, obviously taken aback by the suggestion that all was not right with her beloved dog, ‘only one testicle – is that a serious problem for him, I mean I’m not planning on breeding from him so it shouldn’t really matter should it?’ ‘Well, it’s not a major problem but if the testicle doesn’t come down in the next few months it will need to be surgically removed as there is a risk of cancer developing if it is left inside his body long term,’ I explained. ‘What I’d advise is that we check him again in 2 months time and see what’s happened. If it’s still not down then I would strongly recommend that we do operate to remove it at that stage.’ Two months later and Harvey was back, this time with less of his puppyish enthusiasm and a little more grown up dog suspicion of vets in his demeanour. And unfortunately my examination revealed that there had been no change and he still only had one testicle descended. I explained to Mrs Mann that there was a tiny chance that he did only have one testicle, but it was far more likely that there was a second testicle stuck in his abdomen – where it would be at high risk of developing cancerous growth in later life if left in place. The reason for this risk is that testicles usually sit outside the abdomen where the temperature is lower, which suits sperm production. If they are left in the abdomen the higher temperature leads to a high risk of the testicular cells turning malignant and cancer developing. After a long discussion about the risks involved and the surgical procedure that he would need, Mrs Mann agreed to book Harvey in for the operation the following week. The operation is far more complex than a straightforward neutering procedure as it involves a game of hide and seek for the missing testicle which can be anywhere in the abdomen from the kidney right down to the groin. Finding testicles in these situations can be a real challenge and I have known operations like this one take hours as the elusive organ evades the surgeon. Thankfully in Harvey’s case the missing testicle was relatively easy to find and the whole procedure was over in a little under half an hour. Despite this relatively speedy operation, it was still around three times as long as a routine castration, and Harvey’s recovery will be slower and more uncomfortable that normal. I suspect that when I see Harvey for his post op check his character will have become even more suspicious where vets are concerned – but for me saving him from a risk of cancer later in life is well worth any grudge he may bear me personally! If you are concerned about your dogs health, please contact your vet or use our interactive Dog Symptom Checker to help you decide what to do next. For more information about insurance which could ensure the cost of operations like this one are covered, please see our pet insurance pages.

Parvovirus: a deadly threat to dogs.

By Jenny Sheriff This week I saw a very young puppy, Bobby, die in the most unpleasant way after succumbing to suspected parvovirus infection. It was a reminder, if one was needed, of the importance of vaccinating dogs. Parvovirus is just one of the illnesses which can be prevented almost completely by giving a course of vaccinations to all puppies at the right age, followed by an annual booster vaccination. When this illness first occurred in dogs in the UK in the 1970s, I was a veterinary student spending my holidays in veterinary practices. There was an epidemic of parvovirus and many dogs died, especially puppies. As it was a genuinely new disease, probably a mutation of an existing virus, dogs had no immunity to it until a vaccine was developed. The main symptoms are severe diarrhoea with blood and vomiting, leading quickly to lethargy, dehydration and death. In young pups the virus can also affect the heart muscle, and this is another reason for the high death rate. There is no specific treatment for the virus itself so supportive measures like intravenous fluids, pain relief and intensive nursing are given, along with other drugs like antibiotics for secondary bacterial infection. No-one involved in trying to treat these cases will forget the suffering or the awful and characteristic smell associated with it. Some did survive, but most didn’t. Vaccination has now been given routinely for three decades, so the level of immunity in the dog population of the UK is much better, but we do still see too many cases in susceptible dogs. When a bitch has a litter of puppies, she passes on immunity to the puppies in two main ways: via the placental blood and via the milk. The antibodies the puppy receives will protect it for the first few weeks of life, but as the levels fall with time they need to be increased by vaccination. Unfortunately if the vaccination is given too early, the response will not be good because the antibodies from the mother interfere with it. If the vaccination is given too late, the puppy will be left vulnerable to infection in between having immunity from its mother and immunity from its vaccination. This is why vets recommend vaccinating within a fairly narrow age range which research has shown will give maximum benefits. Typically this would be between 2 and 3 months of age. The various component parts of the dog vaccination last for different lengths of time, so some parts will require a booster every year, some every two years and some every three years. So although your vet recommends an annual booster, it may not be against every disease every time. Parvovirus may not need to be given every year, but it depends on exactly which vaccine is given. Vaccination regimes can seem complicated and some people worry about possible over-vaccination. The best way to understand what is being recommended is to ask your vet what they are advising, and why. Don’t be afraid to ask so that you understand what is being given to your dog. There are of course some risks involved in vaccination itself, but these are outweighed many, many times over by the risks of not vaccinating. My puppy patient this week was very unlucky. His owner acquired him from a reputable source and intended to have him vaccinated at the right age, but before he could do so he was exposed to the infection when at his most vulnerable. Although he had not mixed directly with other dogs, the infection could have been brought in on a visitor’s hands or shoes. The virus is highly contagious and survives on inanimate objects for weeks or months. Sadly, Bobby died just a few days after moving to his new home, just when his new owner was starting to get to know him. There are many other causes of diarrhoea and vomiting. If you your dog has diarrhoea or vomiting, please contact your vet or use our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.
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Why cats go blind.

[caption id="attachment_565" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Blind cat showing dilated pupils"]Blind cat showing dilated pupils[/caption] One of the most common causes of sudden blindness in an elderly cat is due to high blood pressure (hypertension). The increased pressure pushes the light sensitive layer (retina) away from the back of the eye and this can happen literally overnight. The affected cat will have very widely dilated pupils even in bright sunlight and there might be some blood visible when looking into the eyes. They will appear to be disorientated, bump into things and might vocalise excessively. [caption id="attachment_569" align="alignright" width="320" caption="Monitoring a cat's blood pressure"]Monitoring a cat's blood pressure[/caption] The usual cause of raised blood pressure in cats is an excess of thyroid hormone (hyperthyroid) but it can also be due to kidney disease or diabetes. This is why it’s important for the vet to take blood tests to decide which condition to treat. We monitor cats’ blood pressure in a similar way to human doctors by inflating a cuff just above the paw on a front leg but we listen for blood flow with an ultrasonic probe rather than a stethoscope. Some cats are calmer if the cuff is placed around the tail base. A few readings are usually taken to make sure that the blood pressure has not been raised through stress. [caption id="attachment_573" align="alignleft" width="192" caption="Blood Pressure Monitor"]blood pressure kit[/caption] Drugs are very successful in bringing a cat's blood pressure down to normal but the blindness is usually permanent. Cats are extremely adaptable when it comes to finding their way around the house and finding their food but they are not safe to allow outside due to all the dangers out there. There are a number of other causes of blindness but these generally come on more slowly: Glaucoma is the same condition as people get where there is an increased pressure within the cat's eye. This is usually seen as a very angry painful eye and the white of the eye appears red due to the many new blood vessels. Drops can control the condition if caught early enough but if it reaches the stage where the eye is visibly swollen or ulcerated, then removal of the eye (enucleation) will usually be suggested. Glaucoma can be found in just one eye or both. Cataracts are much less common in cats than dogs and would be seen as a misty or pearly lens. Tests would be required to rule out diabetes which can be a cause. Tumours within the cat’s eye are occasionally discovered when the eyes are examined with an ophthalmoscope. Loss of vision would be slow to develop in these cases and often in only one eye initially. If you have a pedigree cat (particularly an Abyssinian) who starts to slowly lose vision early in life, there is a possibility of Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) which is a genetic disease, very similar to the condition in some pedigree dogs. There is no treatment but the cat usually has time to adapt to the slow loss of vision. Something we hardly ever see these days is Taurine (an amino acid) Deficiency. Modern complete diets have all the taurine a cat needs but it is just possible that a cat fed exclusively on tinned tuna could develop slow onset blindness due to this deficiency. If caught early enough, the loss of vision can be stopped or even reversed. Most cats adapt very well to blindness and go on to enjoy a good quality of life. Some adapt so well that it would be hard for a casual observer to know they were blind. If you are worried about any problems with your cat's eyes, please contact your vet or use our interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.

Wally bites off more than he can chew

[caption id="attachment_529" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Wally relaxing at home"]Wally relaxing at home[/caption] Some cases stick in your mind because they are unusual or because the patient is a bit of a character, or both. One such case was Wally the collie, who needed a major operation a few years ago. Wally was well known at the surgery, partly because he had epilepsy, so he made regular visits for check-ups and blood tests, and his condition was well controlled. Despite a poor start in life before his present owner acquired him as a rescue dog from the Blue Cross, he had become a lovely dog with such a good temperament that he became a P.A.T. dog (Pets as Therapy), visiting residential homes for the elderly where I am sure he brought a lot of pleasure into the lives of the residents. Wally was 9 years old, well past the age when dogs normally chew things up, but he had a long history of such misdemeanours. Since his owner had him he had chewed up and swallowed many items. He had previously chewed the electric cable to the pump in an outside pond, even though the cable was encased in hosepipe and insulation. On the day in question Wally had taken a liking to another electric cable. This one was indoors, neatly coiled and secured with a Velcro band. Fortunately it was not plugged in to the mains supply. Wally’s owner knew that he had chewed it up but hoped he might be able to pass the bits naturally, as had always happened before. By the next day, however, it became obvious that Wally had problems as he started to vomit repeatedly. When Wally was examined there was nothing remarkable to find, but the history meant that an x-ray would be necessary, so he was anaesthetised. The changes seen on an x-ray can be very subtle or very obvious, but they are never more obvious than when a dog has swallowed an object which does not allow x-rays to pass through it (a radio-opaque foreign body). The picture immediately confirmed our strong suspicion that Wally had overdone it this time. In the stomach were large amounts of cable, unable to move on into the intestines. A few smaller pieces which had reached the intestines also showed up clearly. The only way to remove the cable was by opening up Wally’s abdomen (a laparotomy) and then deciding which parts of the stomach and intestines needed to be opened to remove all the cable. [caption id="attachment_533" align="aligncenter" width="590" caption="X-ray by kind permission of Corner House Veterinary Surgery."]X-ray by kind permission of Corner House Veterinary Surgery.[/caption] Wally was given intravenous fluids by a drip into his vein because he had been vomiting repeatedly and he had to face a long operation. He was also given antibiotics because of the risk of infection involved in this type of surgery and, of course, pain-relief. The smaller parts of cable had luckily reached the large intestine where there was a good chance that they would pass out naturally, but to make absolutely sure, they were carefully eased towards the anus by very gentle squeezing of the large intestine from inside Wally’s abdomen. A second vet assisted by working at the less pleasant end to receive each piece, making sure that there was no tearing of the delicate lining of the bowel. Then Wally’s stomach was opened (a gastrotomy) after applying bowel clamps to seal it off. A large tangle of cable was removed, complete with Velcro band! After a thorough search to make sure nothing remained inside that shouldn’t be there, the stomach wall was sewn up in two separate layers, and then the muscle layer and finally the skin. Then Wally was allowed to wake up. Wally made a good recovery and after spending a night at the surgery, he returned home. He had to have a light diet and reduced exercise for a while until all the internal and external stitches had healed. Fortunately he never needed another similar operation, although he did chew through the cable of the Christmas tree lights later the same year! Wally is sadly no longer with us, but will not be forgotten. If you are worried that your dog may have swallowed something inedible, or concerned about any other problems, please contact your vet or use our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next. For more information about insurance which could ensure the cost of operations like this one are covered, please see our pet insurance pages.
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