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Microchipping Molly

Molly has moved house, and her owner wants her to have a microchip implanted in case she wanders off. Microchipping is an easy way to permanently identify an animal with details including the owner’s name, address and contact phone numbers. The chip itself is about the size of a grain of rice and is coated in a special material which enables it to stay below the skin without being rejected. It is implanted through a needle and does not need any anaesthetic. It is often done at about the same age as puppy or kitten vaccinations are given (8-12 weeks of age), but can be done at any age. [caption id="attachment_997" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="The equipment used for Microchipping"]The equipment used for Microchipping[/caption] The number encoded in the microchip can be read using a simple hand-held scanner which is passed over the animal and bleeps when it detects a chip. Scanners are found in all vets surgeries and many cat and dog homes and police stations. If a stray or injured animal is brought in, it can be scanned within minutes. If a chip is present, two phone calls will allow the animal and owner to be reunited, saving a lot of heartache. The needle containing the microchip can look like a syringe or can be shaped like a gun. Scanners also come in various shapes and sizes. [caption id="attachment_1034" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Molly is Scanned"]Molly is Scanned[/caption] Before implanting a chip, the scanner is passed over Molly just to make sure she does not already have one. In this case it would have been a big surprise since she has only had one owner. The chip is normally sited between the cat’s shoulder blades, but very occasionally they can move, or migrate, beneath the skin, so it is worth checking the whole cat. [caption id="attachment_1009" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Inserting the microchip"]Inserting  the microchip[/caption] Molly is held by the scruff of the neck and the needle is used to place the chip beneath the skin. It takes only a few moments from start to finish. Most cats and dogs do not find it painful although a few will squeak or jump. Any discomfort is little more than that associated with any injection, and is soon forgotten. [caption id="attachment_1013" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Molly has been microchipped, the wound edges are held together"]Molly has been microchipped, the wound edges are help together[/caption] With the needle withdrawn, the edges of the tiny hole are pressed together for a moment to help close it. Usually there is no bleeding from the site. When the paperwork has been filled in, one copy is sent to a national database which holds all the details of microchipped pets. It is this database which will be telephoned to obtain the details when an animal needs to be identified. These details need to be updated if the address changes later. [caption id="attachment_1034" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="The new microchip is scanned to check the position"]The new microchip is scanned to check the position[/caption] Finally, the chip is scanned again just to check its location. There is a very small risk that it could come back out again, through the same hole it went in, so it is always a good idea to have the chip scanned again after a week or two. If it hasn’t moved in this time, it is very unlikely to in the future. As well as helping to reunite lost or stolen pets with their owners, microchipping is also the first stage in the process of getting a PETS passport to allow an animal to travel abroad. At every step of this process the animal is scanned to check its identity. Dogs and cats are not the only pets which can be microchipped, and many zoo animals and horses are also chipped. Dog owners should remember that their dog must, by law, wear a collar with identification whenever it is in a public place, whether it is also microchipped or not. [caption id="attachment_1043" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Molly, happy and relaxed a few minutes after the microchip has been implanted."]Happy MollMolly, happy and relaxed a few minutes after the microchip has been implanted.[/caption] Molly has settled in well in her new home, and her owner has the reassurance of knowing that if she did go missing, she has every chance of being quickly identified and returned home. If you are worried about any problems with your pet, talk to your vet or try our Interactive Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.

What is Pyometra?

Bobbi cropPyometra is a condition affecting unspayed bitches (and less commonly cats) where the womb, or uterus, becomes infected. In mild cases it can come on fairly slowly with only slight changes in the uterus, but the worst cases happen very quickly and the womb becomes swollen like a balloon, but filled with pus. These are urgent and life-threatening. Pyometra happens when the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) changes under the influence of the bitch’s hormonal cycle. It nearly always happens a few weeks after she has been in season and is more common in older bitches. The use of certain hormonal drugs to postpone seasons has been linked with an increased risk of pyometra. Rarely, a spayed bitch can develop a similar infection in the remaining part of the uterus, called a “stump pyometra”, but this is uncommon. The first symptoms are not very specific, with the bitch appearing a little unwell and off her food. Usually the thirst will increase and there may be some vomiting, but not all symptoms happen in all cases. If the cervix (the junction between the uterus and the vagina) remains open, there is often an unpleasant vaginal discharge. If the cervix is closed, the discharge cannot escape and these cases are more serious. The temperature may be raised, and when toxins enter the bloodstream the bitch will become seriously ill. In a small number of cases, kidney failure and death will result. It is usually easy to diagnose a pyometra from a combination of the history and the physical examination. If there is any doubt, x-rays or ultrasound scans can help in the diagnosis. Blood tests can also help by confirming high levels of infection-fighting white blood cells. The treatment for pyometra is the surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries, also called ovaro-hysterectomy or spay. It is a more difficult operation in a bitch with pyometra than the regular spay operation in a young healthy bitch. The uterus is often enlarged and fragile. If it should leak or burst, there is a high risk of peritonitis. Having said that, the operation is nearly always successful. It is usually carried out immediately after diagnosis, unless the bitch needs to be stabilised first to allow her a better chance of coming through the operation. After-care would include antibiotics and possibly fluids by drip if the bitch was very poorly. Exercise will be restricted for a minimum of 10 days while the wound heals, and pain relief will be given. There have been attempts to treat pyometra with drugs rather than surgery, but it is unlikely that severe cases would respond to anything but surgery. In mild cases which improve for a time there is every chance that the condition will come back after the next season. It is often said by owners after the bitch has recovered from a pyometra operation that they are healthier than they have been for years. In these cases the condition had probably been grumbling for a long time but not enough to worry anyone until recently. The changes in the bitch’s behaviour which had been put down to advancing years are reversed, often giving a whole new lease of life. The best way to prevent pyometra is to spay whilst the bitch is young and healthy. Unless you really want puppies, with all the responsibility and expense that goes with them, it is best to spay either before the first season or about three months after it. Your own vet can advise on the best time for your particular bitch. The added advantages of spaying young are the reduced risk of mammary tumours and the avoidance of further seasons and unwanted pregnancies. There could be a slightly increased risk after spay of developing urinary incontinence, and some bitches develop a fluffy coat instead of a sleek shiny one. These drawbacks are greatly outweighed by the benefits. It is always a good idea to take note of changes in your dog’s behaviour or general wellbeing. Noticing small changes in appetite or thirst could be crucial in diagnosing this type of condition early. If you are worried about any of these symptoms, always ring your veterinary surgery for advice. Our Interactive Symptom Guide can help you check out any unusual symptoms and advise on how soon you should visit your vet. Earlier diagnosis usually means more successsful treatment.

The Importance of Dental Care

There are two types of dental care for pets: that given by the owner at home, and that given by the vet in the surgery. Both are very important to the wellbeing of our pets. It is thought that two thirds of dogs and cats over 3 years old suffer from dental disease. This is not a cosmetic problem, although the appearance and smell from an affected mouth can be very unpleasant! More importantly, it is a cause of pain and ill health. The most important type of home dental care is brushing the teeth. This is best started when the dog or cat is very young, even though we hope there will be no tooth problems at that age. This means that brushing will not hurt. Special veterinary toothpaste and a soft brush are needed, and it is important to brush every day. It might take time to get your pet used to the idea of tooth brushing, but at this age you can start gradually with paste on a finger and work up to introducing the toothbrush. Human toothpaste is not suitable for animals as they contain additives like fluoride which are meant to be spat out and not swallowed, but animals will lick their teeth and swallow the paste. Some diets are specially formulated to help reduce dental plaque. The hardness and shape of the kibble help reduce formation of plaque and tartar. Other products that can be used at home include mouth rinses and gels to rub into gums. Carefully designed chews and toys can also help to provide some mechanical cleaning of the teeth, but daily brushing is the most effective preventative. Bacteria are present in all mouths, but only some of them cause a problem. They cause most problems when there is plaque on the teeth or in little crevices between the teeth and the gums. Plaque builds up over time in all mouths and is made up of substances contained in the food and the saliva. Over time, plaque hardens and mineralises to form hard calculus (or tartar). In some breeds there is a higher likelihood of dental disease because of the shape of the head or overcrowding of the teeth. Another factor is the way the animal’s own immune system responds to the problem in the early stages, so you could have two animals with the same lifestyle and diet but with different amounts of dental disease. This immune response is particularly important in gum disease in cats (gingivitis). Broken or cracked teeth provide a focal surface for plaque and bacteria, and so do retained temporary teeth. The so-called “baby teeth” usually fall out by about 6 months of age, to be replaced by the adult set. If a first tooth does not fall out and an adult tooth erupts alongside it, there is a crevice which traps food debris and allows bacteria to multiply. Gum changes occur alongside dental disease, starting with redness and inflammation and mild discomfort, which can progress to the formation of pockets between the gum and tooth which will eventually destroy the attachment of the tooth. When your vet examines your pet’s mouth, he or she will be assessing a number of things. After checking the general shape and health of the whole mouth, they will look for any lost, loose, broken or retained teeth. They will assess the teeth and gums for inflammation and calculus, and may need to use a probe at the gum edge. In cats in particular, they will also be checking for resorptive lesions, which occur when the surface enamel is lost, followed by the deeper structures of the tooth, eventually exposing the sensitive nerves. If dental treatment is recommended, it will be carried out under general anaesthetic. Even in the most co-operative of patients, it is not possible to reach every surface of every tooth with the animal awake. It is also difficult to predict whether any extractions or x-rays will be needed until the teeth have been thoroughly cleaned. This also makes it notoriously difficult to estimate the cost in advance, but your vet should be able to give you a rough estimate or a range of possible costs if you ask. As with any anaesthetic it is usually advised to have a blood test to check the pet’s general health, and in particular how well the liver and kidneys are working. This is because they are required to metabolise, or break down, the anaesthetic drugs. However, it does not mean that anaesthetics cannot be given if there is a problem with liver or kidney function; it usually means extra precautions will be taken, the choice of drugs may be different and intravenous fluids may be given. Most patients needing dental work tend to be middle-aged or older, but this does not make it too risky to give an anaesthetic. As long as the animal has been fully examined and blood-tested, the risks of the anaesthetic are often smaller than the risks from the dental disease itself. Sometimes owners want to delay this type of treatment for as long as possible, especially if the dog or cat still has a healthy appetite, but this can make matters worse. If the animal is off its food because of dental disease, it is already quite advanced and will need much more treatment, and the animal’s general health may have deteriorated during the delay. Antibiotics are often needed before and after a dental procedure. If bacteria from the infected mouth enter the bloodstream, there is a risk that they may settle in places like the heart valves. The equipment used in a vet’s surgery for dental work is very specialised. An ultrasound descaler is used to remove calculus from teeth and another attachment is used to polish the teeth. Several hand held instruments are needed to do simple extractions. More complex extractions, where teeth have several roots, may need a full surgical kit. An x-ray machine and developer is needed for many dental cases so that hidden structures can be visualised. All of this equipment has to be sharpened or maintained and sterilised between each procedure. Although the most common dental procedures carried out by vets are descaling, polishing and extracting teeth, dentistry for animals is becoming more sophisticated all the time and there are specialists available to deal with the most complex cases. Regular examination of your pet’s mouth, both at home and in the surgery, is important in spotting problems early and planning the right treatment. As well as dental disease this can also help with early detection of mouth and throat tumours, which are not uncommon. Ideally the mouth should be examined at least once every 6 months. A week or two after a dental procedure, when everything is healed, is a great time to start brushing teeth again, or for the first time if it wasn’t started as a puppy/kitten. If unsure about the brushing technique, ask your vet or nurse for advice or a demonstration. 3PDM5FDM42PY
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Why does it matter if my pet is thirsty?

Most pet owners will have been asked by their vet, probably more than once, whether there has been any change in the amount their dog or cat is drinking. It is an important question because the answer can give us valuable information. Of course thirst increases naturally in hot weather, after exercise and when being fed a dry diet, but it can be much more significant than that. The dog or cat will probably spend more time at the drinking bowl, or the owner will notice that they have to refill it more often than expected. The amount of urine passed will increase as well, and this may be the first sign noticed by the owner. An increase in thirst can be a side effect of certain drugs, but can also be caused by a number of quite serious problems. It is always important to mention it to your vet. Some of the most common causes of increased thirst (polydipsia) are: 1. Fever, which can have many causes including infections or bite wounds 2. Kidney disease, where the kidneys lose their ability to filter waste products from the blood and control its salt content 3. Liver disease, which can take a number of different forms when the various functions of the liver are not being carried out as efficiently as normal 4. Diabetes mellitus, when there is a lack of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas which controls blood sugar levels 5. Diabetes insipidus, when the animal lacks anti-diuretic hormones so is unable to concentrate the urine 6. Cushing’s disease, when an excess of natural steroid hormones is produced by the adrenal gland 7. Pyometra (in unspayed females) is an infection of the womb (uterus) which can be sudden or gradual in onset 8. Urinary infection or bladder stones 9. Hyperthyroidism, more common in older cats, where increased thirst is only one of many symptoms caused by an excess of thyroid hormone. Other causes also occur, and sometimes there is more than one cause present at a time. To find out the reason for an increase in thirst, your dog or cat will need to have a full clinical examination. Small clues can be gathered from examination of every part of the body. For example, the colour of the “whites of the eyes” may change in liver disease. Weight loss or gain could be important. Feeling the abdomen may reveal enlargement of individual organs such as liver or kidneys. A discharge from the vagina could indicate a womb infection (pyometra) in an unspayed female. A heart murmur is often present in hyperthyroidism, and changes in skin and body shape occur in Cushing’s disease. These clues mean more when considered with the full history of the animal. The age, gender, whether neutered, breed, type of diet, previous illnesses and vaccination status are all relevant. Then the vet will need to ask about the increase in thirst. How long ago did it start? Was it sudden or gradual? Have any changes been noticed in the appetite? You may be asked to measure your dog or cat’s water intake over 24hrs to check whether it is abnormally high or not. Usually some lab tests will need to be carried out to diagnose the problem. A urine sample is useful to look for signs of infection, crystals or substances which should normally be removed by the kidneys, and to measure the kidney’s ability to concentrate the urine. A blood test is nearly always needed to distinguish between the various possible causes. The first test is usually a general screening test to narrow it down, followed by more specific tests to reach a diagnosis. To get to the correct diagnosis can take time. X-rays or ultrasound imaging can be used to visualise the internal organs and might be advised if the results of blood tests suggest they would be useful. Many of the causes of increased thirst are very serious if left untreated, but many are also very treatable. They require very different treatments, so it is well worth diagnosing the problem so that the right treatment can be given. If you are worried that your cat or dog may be drinking more, or about any other problems, talk to your vet or try using our Interactive Symptom Guide to help decide what to do next.
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