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Puppy Farms Must Face Tighter Controls

[caption id="attachment_1248" align="alignleft" width="199" caption="These puppies are healthy and well socialised, but not all puppies bred in the UK are as fortunate."]These puppies are healthy and well socialised, but not all puppies bred in the UK are as fortunate.[/caption] When we buy a new puppy, we would like to think that it has had a good start in life and will be healthy and well socialised. Unfortunately for many puppies bought in this country, whether purebred or crossbred, the reality is much less pleasant. At present a licence is required to run a dog breeding establishment (with 5 or more breeding bitches) in England, Scotland or Wales. Licensed premises are inspected by the local authority to ensure they meet certain minimum standards, but it is thought that there are many illegal unlicensed premises, the so-called “puppy farms”. It has been widely reported in the media recently that the Welsh Assembly is considering steps to close down or regulate Welsh puppy farms which churn out high numbers of puppies for profit, with little regard to their health or welfare. The proposals being considered include compulsory microchipping of puppies, to allow traceability, an improvement in the ratio of staff to dogs and more regard to conditions including behaviour and socialisation. Stricter licensing laws could be in place by 2011. Many organisations have campaigned against the existence of puppy farms, including the Kennel Club, the RSPCA and the Dogs Trust. Puppy farms keep breeding bitches under intensive conditions. Bitches are bred from too frequently, too young and regardless of suitability. Often there is a lack of cleanliness, bedding and health care, so sickly puppies result. Puppies leave their mothers when they are still too young and unvaccinated. The conditions which a puppy experiences in the first six weeks of life are absolutely crucial to the dog’s development and behaviour in later life, so a puppy which has little human contact is very likely to have problems. Record keeping can be inadequate, so although pups may have pedigree papers, they may be meaningless. Some puppy farms go to great lengths to make themselves appear to be reputable breeders, and the buyers of the pups will never see the actual conditions in which the pups have been reared. If pups are sold over the phone or on the internet and then transported to another location to be handed over, the new owner may not even be aware that their puppy was bred under these conditions. [caption id="attachment_1257" align="alignright" width="206" caption="Visit the breeder to see the litter and check the housing conditions."]Visit the breeder to see the litter and check the housing conditions.[/caption] The ideal way to avoid this is to find a breeder by personal recommendation or by using the Kennel Club list of accredited breeders. Visit the litter while it is still with the mother (or both parents if possible). Insist on seeing the pup in the conditions in which it is housed so that you can judge for yourself whether the conditions are clean and appropriate. The offer to deliver a puppy to your home or to a halfway service station may sound convenient, but should be resisted. What has the breeder got to hide? Beware of sellers who advertise several or many different breeds. Expect a breeder to ask questions about the sort of home you would be providing for their puppy. The most difficult thing of all is not to buy a puppy because you feel sorry for it. If a buyer accidentally finds themselves viewing a puppy which is unwell, or in poor condition, the big temptation is to buy it to remove it from that situation. In the short term, that will help the individual puppy, but more money going to the puppy farm will just perpetuate the trade. Bad conditions should be reported to the local authority or to an appropriate charity or organisation with the powers to investigate. That way more puppies will be helped in the future by closing down or cleaning up unscrupulous puppy farms.
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“No, Radioactive Iodine Therapy Will NOT Make Your Cat Glow In the Dark…”

[caption id="attachment_1241" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Your cat will not glow after Radioactive Iodine Therapy!"]Your cat will not glow after Radioactive Iodine Therapy![/caption] I had to laugh as I answered my client’s child’s innocent question.  But it certainly wasn’t the first time a cat owner had expressed surprise and concern when I first mentioned this treatment for feline hyperthyroidism (see my previous blog for more information on hyperthyroidism).  Radioactive Iodine Therapy (RAIT) certainly does sound scary and this has resulted in some strange misconceptions, but actually it is a fantastic option for the treatment of what can be a frustrating long-term disease of older cats. What is Radioactive Iodine Therapy? It’s an increasingly popular treatment for hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland) in cats.  It works because the thyroid gland is the only place in the body that uses iodine, so it all concentrates there.  Iodine that has been made radioactive is injected into the cat and finds its way to the thyroid gland, effectively shutting it down without hurting any other organs.  The radioactive iodine (also known as I-131) is then excreted from the body over the next few weeks.  The urine and faeces of a treated cat are therefore considered radioactive and need to be managed accordingly, which includes a stay in the hospital.  Because of the obvious health and safety concerns, this treatment is only offered at a few places in the UK with special facilities, your vet can give you more information about where your cat could receive this treatment. What are the benefits of this treatment?
  • It is practically painless and very safe for the cat.  Over 95% of the time it only takes a single subcutaneous (under the skin) injection, which is no more traumatic than an ordinary vaccine!  The cat is not otherwise affected by the radiation, it is merely for human health and safety that they must be kept in hospital.  No anaesthetic is required (unlike surgery to remove the affected glands), although occasionally some sedation may be given if the cat is particularly grumpy.  Side effects are minimal and mild, and thousands of cats have been treated successfully without any problems at all.
  • It’s easy, and offers a complete cure for the disease.  No more tablets and a lot fewer blood tests, and peace of mind knowing that your cat won’t ever have to suffer the symptoms of the disease again.  He’ll definitely thank you for that!
  • It’s usually the most effective form of treatment.  Other options currently available include daily tablets or surgery to remove the thyroid gland.  Tablets merely mask the problem because as soon as the tablets are stopped, the symptoms return and the gland continues to grow despite treatment often requiring higher and higher doses of medication.  Surgery does remove the affected gland, but there is a risk that you may damage the delicate parathyroid glands at the same time.  Also, two surgeries are sometimes needed to remove both glands, and that means two anaesthetics and twice the cost.  Occasionally the thyroid tissue is located in a place that can’t be reached surgically, which is not a problem when radiation is used.
What are the disadvantages of this treatment?
  • It is quite expensive, around £1000-1500 for the whole treatment.  However, this needs to be measured against the cost of other forms of treatment, which can be nearly as or even more expensive in the long run.  Also, many pet insurance companies do cover this treatment, so be sure to ask!
  • Treated cats have to stay in a cage at the special facility until their radiation drops to a safe level for humans.  This can be a concern for both cats and their owners, as sometimes the hospital stay can last up to 2-4 weeks (much shorter in the US and other countries where the human health and safety rules are not so strict).  It is not much different from putting your cat in the cattery whilst you go on holiday, though the accommodation may not be as posh!  Most cats tolerate this time without issue, it is their concerned owners who find it to be more of a problem.
  • Cats must be suitable candidates for treatment.  This means that they cannot have certain other medical problems such as kidney disease or diabetes, and they must be friendly enough to be handled by the hospital staff.
  • There is often a waiting list for treatment, as only a few facilities are licensed to perform radioactive iodine therapy in the UK.  You may have to wait several months for treatment.
  • A few special precautions may need to be taken after your cat returns home, such as washing your hands after handling your cat and avoiding prolonged contact, disposing of your cat’s litter properly, and limiting access to pregnant women.  But these only last a few weeks at most, then life can return to normal.
All in all, Radioactive Iodine Therapy is a fantastic option for hyperthyroid cats of any age, particularly older cats who may not tolerate anaesthesia well or any cat that hates tablets (which, let’s face it, is most of them!).  If you think this might be the right option for your cat, please do speak with your vet as it must be arranged as a referral from your regular veterinary surgeon.  I’ve had two of my own cats go through the procedure, and all three of us have been very pleased with the results.  And I can personally guarantee that neither of them glow in the dark!

Hyperthyroidism in cats.

This is one of the most commonly diagnosed endocrine (hormonal) diseases in cats. Many older cats suffer from a variety of symptoms which might just be put down to ageing, or might previously have been attributed to kidney disease, but many of these will actually be in the early stages of hyperthyroidism. Over the last 20-30 years a great deal of research has been done on this disease, and treatment has improved as a result. The thyroid glands lie in the neck, one either side of the windpipe, with occasional extra smaller glands present in some cats. The glands produce thyroid hormones which are involved in regulating metabolism, so they have an effect on most systems of the body. The glands can become enlarged and overactive, producing too much thyroid hormone. This is usually because of a benign (non-cancerous) change in the thyroid gland, but more rarely it can be caused by a tumour called a thyroid carcinoma. Fluffy-BWThe typical cat with hyperthyroidism will be an older cat with some or all of the following symptoms:
  • loss of weight
  • increased appetite
  • increased thirst
  • increased heart rate
  • heart murmur
  • restlessness or hyperactivity
  • digestive upset
  • an unkempt coat
  • swelling of the thyroid glands in the neck
These sorts of symptoms will arouse suspicion that hyperthyroidism is the cause, but it can only be confirmed with a blood test to measure the levels of thyroid hormones. This would usually be combined with other tests to check kidney and liver function and to check for diabetes, as all these can have similar symptoms and of course there might sometimes be more than one problem going on. If hyperthyroidism is diagnosed, treatment usually begins with tablets. The drugs reduce the production of thyroid hormone. The dose and frequency will depend on which drug is used and on how high the thyroid hormone levels were on the blood test. After 2 or 3 weeks a second blood test will show whether the levels are becoming closer to normal, at which time the dosage may be changed. If this treatment suits the patient, it can be continued long term with regular monitoring by blood tests. However, some cats are harder to give tablets to than others, and a few will suffer from side effects. Another treatment option is surgical removal of the thyroid glands, which is usually very successful and offers a more permanent solution. The operation does involve some risks, particularly the risk of damaging other small structures next to the thyroids, like the parathyroid glands. (These are important in regulating the levels of calcium in the blood, and if damaged during surgery supplementation with calcium could be needed.) A cat with heart problems may be a poor risk for surgery, but often tablets can be used first to improve health so surgery is a better option, and additional drugs to control any heart problems may be given. In most cases, cats which have had their thyroids removed will not need to take tablets, but sometimes the problem can still return later, if for example the cat has some smaller gland tissue which was not removed with the main glands. This extra thyroid tissue, known as ectopic thyroid tissue, can be located anywhere in the neck or even within the chest. In some cats only one thyroid is affected at first so only one is removed, then some years later the same condition could occur on the other side. The other main treatment available is with radioactive iodine, which is a specialist treatment only available at some centres in the UK. Radioactive iodine is given to the cat by injection and it becomes concentrated in the thyroid gland, where the radioactivity destroys the damaged tissue. One of the disadvantages of this treatment is that the cat has to be hospitalised for several weeks because of safety issues surrounding the radioactive material used. It is not dangerous to the cat itself but has to be handled safely to protect people working with it. Decisions on which treatment would be best for an individual cat are best made in conjunction with the vet who knows all the details of the case. Where complicating factors like heart disease or kidney disease are present, these need to be treated as well. Once diagnosed, the outlook for a cat with hyperthyroidism is usually very good. Whichever treatment is used, it is likely to prolong life and improve the quality of life. If you are worried that your cat is showing any of the symptoms listed, talk to your vet or use our interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.