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Protect your dogs: lock up your Easter Eggs

[caption id="attachment_3340" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Dogs - small dogs especially - are easily poisoned by chocolate"]Dogs - small dogs especially - are easily poisoned by chocolate[/caption] Easter is a celebration of the Christian faith, but in our modern secular world, it's known more for the celebration of eating chocolate, in the form of Easter eggs.

Chocolate is a popular treat for humans, but it's also the most common poison to affect dogs: in the UK, there are nearly 2000 cases reported every year.

A small dog can die after eating a single Easter egg. The chemical in chocolate that gives humans a pleasant buzz – theobromine – has a highly toxic effect on dogs, rapidly poisoning the heart and brain.

A small chocolate indulgence that would be an enjoyable treat for a human can kill a dog, and the toxic dose is surprisingly small. Half a small bar of dark chocolate – around 50g (2 ounces) - is enough to end the life of a little terrier weighing 5kg. Milk chocolate is less dangerous, needing twice as much for the same effect. A standard Easter egg may weigh around 200g, which means that half an egg can be enough to kill a small dog.

Small dogs are much more at risk: the toxic effect is dose-dependent, so a 50kg German Shepherd would need to eat ten times as much chocolate as a 5kg terrier to be affected.

There is a misconception about the main source of risk to dogs: while it is not advisable to give morsels of chocolates as treats, it is rare for dogs to be poisoned in this way. Far more commonly, dogs die after stealing chocolate. Dogs love eating chocolate and they don't have an "off switch" when they are full. They just keep eating until the chocolate is finished.

Two years ago, my own dog Kiko managed to steal an unopened box of chocolates from the kitchen table when she was alone in the room. I had to give her emergency treatment to empty her stomach.

[caption id="attachment_3341" align="alignright" width="300" caption="My own dog broke into this chocolate box, eating half a trayful of tasty but dangerous chocolates"]My own dog broke into this chocolate box, eating half a trayful[/caption] I was fortunate that as a vet, I had the drugs available to cause her to vomit, but what should an owner do in a similar situation?

You need to act quickly. If the chocolate is removed from the stomach within an hour, there's a good chance that this will be soon enough to prevent serious ill effects of poisoning.

Work out exactly how much chocolate, and what type of chocolate, your dog has eaten, in grams. Write this down.

Weigh your dog, and write this down too.

Phone your vet and explain what has happened. If it is after-hours, then call the emergency vet. It's an urgent crisis and there is no time to waste.

The vet should be able to advise you whether or not you need to take action: this will be calculated from the quantity and type of chocolate and the size of the dog. If there is a risk, the vet may tell you how to attempt to make the dog vomit at home (this is not always possible) or may recommend that you rush the animal in to see the vet at once (the vet can give an injection that immediate induces vomiting).

The most important message is "DO NOT DELAY". Once the chocolate has been absorbed into the

dog’s bloodstream, there’s sometimes little that can be done to help. The signs of poisoning start within six hours of the chocolate being eaten, reaching a peak at around twelve hours. Classic signs include restlessness, vomiting and diarrhoea, with tremors, convulsions and heart failure following soon after. Even with treatment, some dogs survive but many don’t. I see dogs dying of chocolate poisoning every year.

All of the crises that I’ve seen have involved dogs stealing chocolate that has been left within their reach. This weekend, by all means enjoy your Easter eggs, but whatever you do, please keep them out of the reach of your dogs.

[caption id="attachment_3338" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="After her chocolate theft, I had to give my own dog an injection to induce vomiting ( it was a snowy day)"]I had to give her injection to induce vomiting ( it was a snowy day)[/caption]
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Ask a vet online – ‘Can any vet perform a liver biopsy or should my dog be seen by an expert?’

Question from Anita Bates Can any vet perform a liver biopsy or should Spud Theduff dog be seen by an expert? Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, Online Vet Hi Anita and thank you for your question regarding liver biopsy. I am assuming that your dog has already undergone some tests e.g. blood tests, x-rays and or exploratory surgery which have pointed in the direction of liver disease. So what is a liver biopsy? A biopsy is when a small sample of a body tissue is taken to be analysed. The liver is a large organ that is found in your pets abdomen (belly) just behind the chest. The liver has many functions which include processing and filtering all the nutrients absorbed from the gut after digestion, production of bile which helps with fat digestion, production of vitamins and storage of iron. Why would your vet advise a liver biopsy? A liver biopsy is advised to determine the exact type of disease that might be going on in your dog's liver. As mentioned earlier liver biopsy is usually discussed after the findings of blood tests, x-rays or ultrasound scan which suggest liver disease. Diseases of the liver include infections, tumours, inflammation and storage disease to mention a few. How is a liver biopsy performed? There are two main ways of collecting a liver biopsy either by opening up the dog's abdomen and cutting a small sample directly from the liver, or,  using a special biopsy needle that is inserted through the skin under the direction of an ultrasound scan. The more invasive method of opening up your pets abdomen does have the advantage of enabling your vet to examine the whole of your pets liver and the rest of the abdominal organs however there is a greater risk of infection and a longer recovery time. The needle method for collecting a liver biopsy is quicker to perform and recover from but does not allow the entire liver to be seen and requires specialist equipment and more experience. What are the complications of liver biopsy? The commonest complications after liver biopsy are haemorrhage (bleeding), infection and or pain. We minimise the chances of your pet bleeding after liver biopsy by performing blood clotting tests before we carry out the biopsy, blood clotting tests are done on a small sample of blood collected from your pet and give us an idea of whether or not your pet has enough blood clotting factors in its body and is able to stop it self bleeding. It is important to keep in mind that the liver is responsible for making blood clotting factors and so in liver disease blood clotting can be affected. To reduce the risk of infection good clean surgical preparation and technique plus or minus the use of antibiotics can be helpful. Pain can be reduced again by good technique and the correct use of pain relief medications. What actually happens to the sample from my pets liver? The sample of liver tissue is usually preserved in a solution of formalin and saline, this fixes the tissues and makes it easier for further analysis to be performed. The sample is then usually sent to a laboratory where it is prepared into very thin sections that are stained and exmained under a microscope, a report is then written and sent to your vet. The time taken for analysis of the sample can be anything from one day to one week depending on the laboratory used and how close it is to your vets. So in conclusion it is often the case that a liver biopsy may be performed by your regular first opinion vet, if your vet thinks it necessary they may advise the procedure to be performed by a specialist vet at a veterinary referral centre. This decision should be made after careful discussion between you and your vet, taking into consideration the individual circumstances for you and your pet. I hope that this has answered your question and helped you to make an informed decision for your dog. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)

The Spleen: What does it do and how will my dog manage if it has to be removed?

Dog Spleen Removal - Splenectomy Surgery The spleen is one of those organs of the body that most people have heard of but many are uncertain where it is and what it actually does. Although it has several important functions, dogs can manage to live a normal life without a spleen if it has to be removed. The most common reasons for removal (splenectomy) are if the spleen has ruptured (usually after a road traffic accident), or if it develops a tumour. Both of these can lead to very sudden illness which needs fast diagnosis and treatment to save the dog's life. [caption id="attachment_3300" align="alignleft" width="238" caption="Biggles in full flight, pictured before he had to have an emergency splenectomy"]Biggles in full flight, pictured before he had to have an emergency splenectomy[/caption] Biggles the Springer Spaniel has recently had his spleen removed and is recovering well. Although I am not his vet, I helped to care for him during his convalescence, and with his owner's permission I would like to tell his story. Biggles is a typically lively spaniel, who enjoyed a normal Sunday romping around with his companion. On the Monday morning, his owner found him collapsed and weak and had to rush him straight to his vets. After examination, blood tests and x-rays, his problem was diagnosed as a tumour of the spleen and Biggles was operated on the same day. Unfortunately his tumour was large and ulcerated which meant Biggles had lost a lot of blood from the circulation into his tummy, so he needed several days of intensive care including fluids by drip and drugs to prevent vomiting and infection. After several days of hospitalisation at the vets, Biggles began to feel so much better that the challenge was to stop him from doing too much. After major surgery he had to take it very easy, which was hard for him. Very short walks on a lead, away from his boisterous friends, were all that he was allowed during his recovery, but now he is beginning to get back to normal gradually. So, where is the spleen and what does it do? The spleen is situated on the left side of the abdomen, close to the stomach. It is smaller in size than the liver but larger than a kidney. It is sometimes described as being shaped like a slipper because it is long and narrow with curved borders and has a narrower part in the middle. It is a very vascular organ, meaning it is full of blood vessels and blood storage areas. The main jobs of the spleen are to act as a blood storage reservoir, to make red blood cells, to filter out and remove old blood cells and to fight infection as part of the immune system. Luckily, these jobs can be carried out elsewhere if the spleen has to be removed. [caption id="attachment_3301" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Position of a dog's spleen"]Position of a dog's spleen[/caption] If a tumour develops on the spleen, it may grow very slowly but sometimes the symptoms can become apparent very suddenly, as in Biggles' case. Symptoms can include tiredness, a swollen belly, anaemia (seen as pale or white membranes in the mouth and eyes which are normally pink) and loss of appetite. If the spleen is ruptured by an accident, or if a tumour bleeds heavily, the symptoms will be shock, collapse and possibly death. The treatment of choice for a ruptured spleen or a tumour on the spleen is surgical removal of the whole spleen. If there is a tumour, checks will be made as far as possible to make sure that it has not already spread to other organs. If there is no evidence of spread, the spleen is removed and a sample of the tumour sent to a laboratory for microscopic examination (histology). This will help to decide if the tumour is benign or malignant, and whether any further treatment such as chemotherapy might be needed. Not all tumours of the spleen are malignant. One of the more serious types is haemangiosarcoma, which can spread aggressively to other organs. Others can be local to the spleen and benign in character. I am delighted to say that Biggles showed no signs of tumour spread at the time of his operation, and his histology results were good. There is every chance that Biggles will need no further treatment and will soon forget the whole experience as he continues to enjoy his life.

Ask a Vet Online – ‘I have got 2 staffies 1 is afraid to go out at night even on a lead. How can I help him?’

Question from Anji Bradley I have got 2 staffies 1 is afraid to go out at night even on a lead. How can I help him.He stopped going out after he heard a car back-fire and he thought it was a firework. Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, Online Vet Hi Anji, thank you for your question about your dog’s fear of going out at night. What you are describing would fit with being a noise phobia. What is a noise phobia? Noise phobia is a fear response which is triggered when a particular sound is heard, in this case banging sounds similar to those produced by fireworks.  Dogs are intelligent animals and soon make associations to a stimulus, in this case the stimulus is a sound and the response associated with it is a reluctance to go out for walks in the night for fear of hearing the scary sound. From what you have described I have assumed that your dog already was fearful of fireworks prior to hearing the car back-fire.  If this is the case then hopefully the following will be useful information. How can I help my dog with his noise phobia? In order to deal with a noise phobia you will need the help of your vet or someone trained in dog behaviour and plenty of patience. Having personal experience of a noise phobic dog (my old border collie Jack who was frightened of fireworks and thunder storms) and having used a desensitisation program I can definitely recommend giving it a go. So what is a desensitisation program? The aim is to get your pet to stop showing a fear response to the stimulus in question using a controlled program of exposure to the scary stimulus plus or minus the use of behaviour modifying medications. The desensitisation part is reducing the dog’s reaction, the controlled exposure to the sound is by use of recordings e.g. CD or MP3 and behaviour modifying medications include drugs similar to Valium (Diazepam) and antidepressants. The recording of the scary sound is played at a time when an actual scary sound is unlikely to be heard, starting with very short exposure and at a very low volume. Gradually the length of exposure, frequency and volume are all increased, provided at the previous session the dog did not show a fear response. The aim is that eventually the dog can hear the scary sound without showing a fear response. What are signs of fear and or distress in the dog? Dogs all express fear in different ways but the following list includes many of the common signs; cowering, panting, excessive salivation, vocalising, hiding, jumping up and trying to run away. What are the chances of success with a desensitisation program? It is difficult to predict how well a dog will respond to noise phobia treatment, but unless the noise itself can be totally avoided then it is worth trying the treatment.  It is worth keeping in mind that the desensitisation program may need to be repeated to ensure that the fear response is kept under control. In the case of fire work phobia it is best to start the program at least 6 months away from peak firework season to allow plenty of time for it to take effect before the dog is exposed to the scary sound. This is because unexpected scary sounds exposure outside of the controls of the program can set your dog back to square one, so good timing can help ensure you and your dog’s best chance of successful treatment. In conclusion phobias are a difficult thing to treat, but with patience and help, most animals will see a great improvement to their quality of life. I hope that you have found this answer helpful and good luck with treating your dog’s phobia.

Puppy Love! How to Look After your New Puppy

Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS There are few things more exciting than bringing home a new puppy. No matter how big they eventually get, they are all cute bundles of fluff with wobbly legs and wagging tails in the beginning! The experiences and care a puppy receives in its early weeks have a massive impact on the rest of its life & behaviour, and it’s your job as their owner to ensure they grow up into happy, healthy and well adjusted individuals.


A pup’s introduction to the world around them begins from the moment they are born. The bitch and litter must live in the home, surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of family life; not in a shed or outhouse. Once they become more independent they should be handled regularly, allowed to meet different people, given a variety of toys and plenty of opportunities to play and explore. Finally, and most importantly, they should not leave the breeder until they are 8 weeks old. Although they will have been quite independent for some time by this age, they will still be learning vital social skills and doggy behaviour from their mum and littermates. A good breeder will understand all this and ensure their pups have the best start. They will also, if they are breeding pedigrees, have completed all the relevant health tests on the parents & have registered the litter with the Kennel Club at birth, meaning you will be given all the paperwork when you collect them. Once you have your new pup home, allow them a couple of days to settle in before inviting everyone round to meet them! Ask the breeder what they were feeding and keep this the same for a week, after which you can change their diet but make sure it is good quality puppy food. This is also the time to instill good sleeping habits. It might be cute having a little pup curled up in bed with you but it won’t be so nice when they are fully grown and spent the day splashing in puddles in the park! Most pups will cry when they are left alone for the first few nights but they soon learn to settle and it is very important dogs learn to be on their own, otherwise they can develop serious problems such as separation anxiety. I am a big fan of using crates for young pups. You can shut them in at night and when you go out; the pup will feel safe and secure in the small, enclosed space and you know they are safe. Leave the door open when you are at home and then they can take themselves off to bed when they feel tired. Once the first few days are over and your new puppy has settled, it is time to start introducing them to the world! You will not be short of volunteers to come and visit and this is exactly what you need; lots of different people for the new family member to meet! Old, young, tall, short, with glasses, hats, walking sticks or wheelchairs, humans come in a great variety of shapes & sizes when you think about it! You can also carry them out and about (while they are still small enough!) and show them busy roads with lots of traffic, shopping areas with lots of people and the park with other dogs, joggers & cyclists. The school gates are also a great place but you will get inundated with young admirers! They can’t go on the floor until a week after their last injection but there is no harm in seeing the world from your arms for a couple of weeks. After their first vaccine you can also start introducing them to older, healthy, vaccinated dogs. There is nobody better to teach a pup good doggy manners than an mature, sensible canine! Short car journeys are also vital to ensure they are happy with travelling. Finally, don’t forget to bring them to the vet! All puppies need their vaccines; two injections given two to four weeks apart, starting from eight weeks old. These give protection against deadly diseases, so are vital. Your vet will give your new baby a thorough check over and make sure they are healthy. You will also need to worm them, every month from two months old until six months and make sure they are protected against fleas. This is also the best time to microchip them unless they are very tiny or they have already been done by the breeder. Lastly, don’t forget to insure them, the staff at your vet practice will be able to advise you on what the best kind of policy for you might be. Phew! That seems like a lot and maybe a bit of pressure to get it all right! However, don’t panic! Really bringing up a puppy well is mainly about common sense and doing your best, much like children. If you feel you need help and advice, just ask, a good breeder will always be happy to answer your questions, as will your local vet clinic.
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Ask a Vet Online – ‘I have a border collie he has progressive retinal atrophy and now he has a cateract, is there anything that can be done for him?’

Question from Anne Wood I have a border collie 5 years old. Hes a very frightened dog but he is completly blind in 1 eye and partly blind in the other the vet told me it was progressive retinal atrophy and now he has a cateract on top of his blind eye, is there anything that can be done for him please and thank you for taking the time to read this. Answer from Shanika Online Vet Hi Anne, thank you for your question regarding your dog’s eyes and behaviour. So what is progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)? As the name suggests it is a condition where there is gradual degeneration of the retina (layer lining the back of the eye). PRA is usually an inherited condition and sadly there is no cure for it, however on the positive side it rarely causes pain.  There is no treatment for PRA at present, there have been some trials of using antioxidants to slow down the degenerative process but the results of this are as of yet inconclusive. Cataracts are a common finding along with PRA; a cataract is cloudiness in the lens of the eye. The loss of vision caused by the PRA itself means that cataract surgery is rarely advised as there will not be much improvement to vision as a result of the surgery. How would I know that my dog has PRA and how is it diagnosed? Owners usually notice a loss of vision in the pet, most noticeable in low light conditions, their pets pupils may appear more dilated with an increased glow/shine (tapetal reflex) from the back of the eye. A diagnosis is usually made when your vet or ophthalmologist examines your dog’s eyes and notices the damage to the retina. What can I do for my dog with PRA? Sadly there is no treatment for PRA itself but as it is a painless condition then it is more a case of trying to help your dog to adjust to his gradual loss of vision. Generally the other senses smell, hearing, touch and taste increase to try and compensate for the one that is deteriorating. You can take steps to make your home environment easier for your dog with poor or no vision to get around. Keep large pieces of furniture in the same place, use stair gates to block off dangerous areas, when out and about use lots of vocal and physical clues to let your dog know where you are and to provide reassurance. Dogs are incredibly resilient animals and adjust very well to changes especially when they are gradual. I hope that this answer has helped you to understand a little bit about PRA and how both you and your dog can still lead a happy life together. Shanika Winters MRCVS If you would like Shanika to answer your question please Like us on facebook to submit your question If you are concerned about your dog please call your vet or use our interactive dog symptom checker