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Ask a vet online –‘2 yorkshire terriers sneezing for the last 2 days’

Question from Sharon Barrett: I think my 2 Yorkshire Terriers may have hay fever as the last 2 days they have been sneezing, they are 6yrs old can I give them antihistamines? Answer from Shanika Winters: Hi Sharon and thank you for your question about your two sneezing Yorkshire terriers and whether it  is safe to give them antihistamines.  The first thing I would advise is not to treat your pet without having discussed this with your vet or better still having had your pet examined.  I know that we often do not complete a course of medication for ourselves or our pets and end up with tablets left over which we keep just in case they may be useful.  We should really not use medications unless they have been prescribed specifically for an individual pet or under the direction of your vet. Why are my dogs sneezing?  Sneezing can be due to allergy such as hay fever (Atopy, allergic to an inhaled substance) but in dogs is more commonly due to infection or irritations from inhaled substance e.g. dust/smoke or a foreign body e.g. grass seed/thorn.  Less common but a possibility is also that some dogs can develop tumour type growths in their noses. The simplest way to make a diagnosis is to give a detailed history of what has been going on with your dogs for the last few days, where they have been and what they have been exposed to.  Your vet will then perform a full examination of your dogs, which may include looking up their noses, some pets will allow this to be done with or without some local anaesthetic spray and or sedation.  If infection is suspected then your pet might have an increased temperature which can be easily checked by your vet. Sometimes the type of discharge coming out of your pets nose can provide information, it is more likely to be clear and thin if simply allergy or viral infection however with bacterial and fungal infections the discharge may be thicker and yellow/green.  If blood is present then this suggests some ulceration of the lining of your dog’s nose may have occurred. A common cause of sneezing in an otherwise well dog is kennel cough infection (infectious trache bronchitis), this can sometimes show up as sneezing and a watery nasal discharge through to a harsh dry choking type cough.  Kennel cough is very easily spread by contact with other dogs or the droplets they cough or sneeze out.  Vaccination does exist for kennel cough via injection/nasal spray but it is not 100% effective as kennel cough is brought about by some bacteria and some viruses which can change (mutate) making them tricky to vaccinate against. What further test might be done? Your vet might suggest that blood tests, x-rays or rhinoscopy may be needed to help make a diagnosis.  Blood tests can be to check the general health of your pet and give an indication of infections or allergy. X-rays show a lot of detail of the nasal passageways, if they are symmetrical, and if there is anything abnormal present there.  X-rays will most likely be done under a general anaesthetic to allow the best positioning of your pet and a nasal flush can be performed too.  A nasal flush is when sterile saline is flushed up each nostril and then some of the liquid is sucked back out and can be examined under a microscope or sent to a laboratory for analysis.  Rhinoscopy is when a very thin tube or camera is inserted up the nostril to have a close and detailed look for any changes or foreign material. In some cases trial treatment may be opted for before major diagnostic tests are performed, the decision as to how things go is made between you and your vet. What treatment might be given for my sneezing dogs?  As mentioned treatment might be tried on its own if infection or allergy is suspected which could include antibiotics, steroid or antihistamines. The medications may be given as tablets or injections. Antibiotics can be used in the treatment of allergy if infection is also present.  Some allergies are treated using immunosuppressant medications or specific vaccines. If a foreign body is found this will be removed and then your dog may need some antibiotic and pain relief to allow the lining of its nasal passageways to heal. If a growth is suspected then this will have a small piece taken out (biopsy) which will then be sent for analysis to determine the best course of treatment, which may be surgical removal and or chemotherapy. The prognosis for your dog will depend on what has caused the sneezing and how effective the treatment available for that specific cause is. I hope that I have managed to answer your question and that your dog’s sneezing is soon under control and they are back to their normal selves.  It is really important to work with your vet to get the correct treatment for your pet to have a speedy recovery. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)

Caring for your new rabbit – essentials for proper bunny welfare

Did the Easter bunny come this year?  Not the imaginary kind that drops off chocolate, the real kind that lives for 10 years or more and deserves to have a better life than being trapped in a hutch at the bottom of the garden.  If they did, or you are thinking of getting one, here’s my guide on how to care for them.


The majority of problems that vets see in rabbits are related to an inadequate diet.  So, if you get their food right, you will give your pet the best chance of a healthy life!

The mainstay of a rabbit’s diet should be hay and every day they should eat a pile as big as they are. Rabbits have teeth that are constantly growing and chewing on hay keeps them in good shape.  One of the most common issues for rabbits is sharp, overgrown teeth that can be so painful they stop eating altogether. Hay is also vital for healthy digestion, particularly important in rabbits for whom diarrhoea can be fatal.

Rabbits should also have a handful of fresh food everyday and a small amount (a tablespoon at most) of hard, pelleted food.  Avoid the museli mixes as these allow your pet to pick out their favourites and become short on vital vitamins.  For the majority of their day, your rabbits bowl should be empty (just like a dog or cat!), so they only have their hay to nibble on.


All rabbits should be vaccinated annually against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD).  These are both fatal and vaccination is the only protection.  The injections can be given from 8 weeks of age.  This visit to the surgery is also an opportunity for your vet to ensure your new pet is healthy and for you to ask any questions.


Having your rabbit neutered is very important.  Females should be spayed when they are around 6 months and males can be castrated from 4 months.  Entire rabbits can be grumpy, prone to biting and often urine spray, so not great pets!  Also, 80% of entire female rabbits will develop uterine cancer in later life.

Training and handling

Rabbits are prey animals, so they are naturally nervous.  This can mean they can be flighty and startle easily.   As soon as you get your new rabbit, work with them to gain their confidence.  Sit on the floor with them, offer treats, encouragement and try to get them to come to you.  Don't pick them up until they are used to you and always handle them calmly but firmly.

Also, rabbits should never be kept alone.  For a social animal, solitary confinement is akin to torture.  Neutered pairs of the opposite sex work best and they can be bonded in later life, if they have previously lived alone.


The most common parasite in rabbits is a fur mite. It causes flaky, itchy skin and is easily treated with veterinary ´spot-on´ drops. They can also get fleas, just like dogs and cats, and again these are easily treated with veterinary products.  They can also suffer from internal parasites (worms) but they are not common.

Fly Strike

Fly strike is a horrific, and often deadly, problem.  It develops when flies lay their eggs on the dirty fur around a rabbit’s backend.  These develop into maggots which burrow into the rabbit’s flesh, causing huge pain and damage, often within just a few hours.  This is why all rabbits should be handled and checked at least twice daily and there are preventative treatments available from your vets.

Pet Insurance

There are now several companies which provide insurance policies for rabbits and it is something all rabbit owners should consider.

Rabbit are entertaining, inquisitive and rewarding but they do need the similar levels of care and attention as other pets.  They are not the low maintenance, children’s pet  many people think they are.  Hopefully this article has helped you if you do have a bun and if it has inspired you to own one, get in touch your local rescue, they always have rabbits needing loving homes!

Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at

If you have any worries about your rabbit or any pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.


Ask a vet online – ‘ have taken our cat to the vet at least 4 times regarding the fact that she has lost the hair on inside of back legs’

Question from Margaret Duke: Have taken our cat to the vet at least 4 times regarding the fact that she has lost the hair on inside of back legs. Vet thought it maybe an allergy and we stopped allowing her milk. Vet gave her tablets which made her eat [she is a very fuzzy eater] This has gone on for months and she is just the same. Answer from Shanika Winters: Hi Margaret, sorry to hear that your cat has been suffering with ongoing hair loss on the inside of her back legs.  I will discuss possible causes for the hair loss and some treatment options. Why has my cat lost hair on the inside of her back legs? It is really important to have a full clinical examination of any pet suffering from hair loss by your vet to make sure that your pet is in good health, hair loss can be associated with conditions such as hormone imbalances, parasites and allergies .  It is also worth being aware that hair loss can be self- inflicted as a result of stress this is often referred to as ‘over grooming’. Could my cat have an allergy? Yes it is possible that the hair loss could be due to an allergy causing your cat’s skin to feel uncomfortable and then it licking and chewing away the hair on the inside of its legs.  Allergies can be to substances that your cat eats/drinks, breathes in or is in contact with.  Most cats are fed a commercially prepared diet with few treats, but if trying to rule out a food allergy a low allergy or specific protein diet (a protein your cat has not eaten before) can be tried. Diet trials need to be carried out for 8 weeks or longer to give meaningful results.  If the allergy is a contact allergy then you need to avoid your cat coming into contact with the suspected substance. Inhaled allergy or ‘Atopy’ is sometimes more challenging to avoid as it may be to for example house dust mite which would be difficult to avoid other than keeping your cat 100% outdoors. What tablets did the vet give my cat? From the side effect of the tablets your cat was put on it sounds likely that your cat was given a steroid treatment to try and treat the suspected allergy.  Steroids come in tablet and injectable forms and treat allergies by suppressing your cat’s immune system so as to stop it feeling uncomfortable in the first place.  Steroids also can stimulate the appetite which would explain why your cat was eating more when previously its appetite had not been so great.  Cats on the whole tend to tolerate steroid treatment well and your vet will try and reduce the dose to the smallest amount that works. Why did the tablets not work? There are a few possible reasons as to why the tablets did not work, the condition causing your cat to lose hair might not be allergic, and your cat might have needed a different dose of tablets or even treatment for a longer period of time. The next step would be to return to your vet and discuss how your cat’s condition has not improved and take further steps to find out the cause and then the correct treatments plan. How can a diagnosis be made for the hair loss? As much as examining the cat, the details you give to your vet about your cat’s behaviour, home environment and general activities will help to make a diagnosis.  Physical examination plus or minus skin/blood tests may be performed to look for hormone imbalances, parasites and signs of allergy.  Which tests are carried out on your cat should be a joint decision between you and your vet. Could the hair loss be due to stress? I always keep in mind with hair loss and cats the possibility of stress being the cause. Stress can cause some cats to lick and chew at their fur most commonly on the inside of their hind legs, on their tummy and on their front legs.  Some cats may lick excessively in between their feet pads making them, wet, red and sticky/infected. It is not often easy to tell if a cat is stressed as they tend to become quieter, hide away or simply over groom.  The smallest change to your household from new work hours through to a big change like a new pet or baby arriving can impact on your cat’s well-being. Hopefully a chat with your vet will help to work out if your cat could be suffering from stress leading to over grooming. Treatments for hair loss If an allergy is suspected the avoidance, medications to supress reactions to allergy or specific vaccines may be an option. Antiparasite treatment for your pet, the home and any other pets you have may be needed if parasites are detected. If a hormone imbalance is detected on a blood test then correcting this may then allow the hair to regrow. If there is infection present then your cat may need a course of antibiotics to help clear this. If stress is suspected then treatment may involve medications to help your cat feel more at ease such as antidepressants or hormones.  There are also pheromone products in plug in or spray form which can help to reduce stress levels in cats.  The obvious thing not to forget is to make changes at home to minimise stress to your cat such as giving it a space of its own to retreat to where no one else can bother it. I hope that my answer has helped you to understand some possible causes and treatment option for your cat’s hair loss and that she is soon feeling a lot more comfortable and that her hair regrows. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet) If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment to see your vet - or try our online Symptom Guide.
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Does your cat have dementia? – A guide for owners of older felines

It may sound like a silly question but I would bet most owners with older cats could recount multiple examples of ‘feline senility’.  Some are funny, some are sad and some are just plain unpleasant.  But as tempting as it is to be angry with your cat for, say, mistaking your bed for a litter tray, the truth is that more than 50% of cats over 15 years of age suffer from some degree of dementia, also known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS).  Is your cat one of them?

Let’s start with a couple of questions to get you thinking: 1)       Has your older cat started to urinate or defecate in inappropriate places? 2)      Does your cat demand more attention that she used to? 3)      Have you noticed your cat crying out more frequently, particularly at night? 4)      Is your cat less adventurous than he used to be, preferring to stay close to home? 5)      Is she behaving strangely – staring at walls, forgetting there is food in her dish or perhaps interacting differently with a housemate? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then your cat is in fact showing at least one of the signs of feline dementia or CDS.

What is Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome?

The first question that often comes to mind is whether or not it is related to human dementia and in fact the answer is yes, there are many physical and behavioural similarities between CDS in cats and Alzheimer’s disease in humans.  Both diseases are likely caused at least in part by physical changes related to decreased blood flow to the brain and an increase in nasty little molecules called ‘free radicals’.  They may have a funny name, but the damage these molecules do to living cells is hardly a laughing matter.  The older the body gets the more free radicals it produces and when combined with decreased blood and oxygen flow, these molecules wreak havoc on the particularly sensitive and fragile cells in the brain.  All this damage also leads to the deposition of protein ‘plaques’ around the nerve cells, making it even harder for signals to make it through.  The end result is a collection of tired, damaged and dirty cells trying unsuccessfully to maintain normal brain function.  A pretty distressing thought! The longer this process goes on, the harder the cat finds it to do the simple things that used to come so naturally.  They may forget where the litter tray or cat flap is, resulting in poor toilet habits.  Changes in sleeping habits and activity levels can lead to increased stress, which in turn can result in loud, seemingly pointless crying.  Meals are forgotten and relationships with both human and animal housemates may suffer.  Nobody wants to see their cat experience this kind of stress, yet in reality, most of the time the symptoms of CDS either go unnoticed or are simply put down to ‘getting older’ and as a result, nothing is done about it.

What CAN be done about it?

The first step to treating Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is actually diagnosing it in the first place.  CDS is a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that it cannot be diagnosed directly but rather by ruling out other conditions.  There are many other conditions which can cause similar symptoms though, so it’s important to speak with your vet to try to figure out what’s really going on.  The disease that most closely resembles CDS in terms of symptoms is arthritis, and in fact there are many similarities between the two conditions as both the underlying causes and the treatments are quite similar.  Other conditions that result in some of the same symptoms as CDS include kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, deafness, blindness or brain tumours.  As some of these are easily treatable, it is definitely worth trying to get to the bottom of it. If your vet diagnoses your cat with cognitive dysfunction, there are several things that you can do to help your feline friend as they learn to cope with their illness.  The first is to feed a high-quality diet, and preferably one that is particularly high in antioxidants (which kill off those free radicals) and other supportive compounds such as vitamin E, beta carotene and essential fatty acids.  Several other vitamins and molecules have also shown promise in treating the condition and this has led to the development of several therapies including special diets and nutritional supplements. Perhaps equally if not even more important than changing what goes into a CDS cat’s body is changing their environment to support their condition.

Some of the things that owners can do at home to help cats with dementia (and, incidentally, arthritis as well) include:

  • Feed your cat according to a routine schedule so they know what to expect when
  • Increase the number of food bowls, water dishes and litter trays to make them more accessible from wherever the cat may be in the house.  Litter trays should be wide with shallow rims to allow easier access and sand-like litter may be kinder to older toes.
  • Try to keep their environment otherwise unchanged (especially for those cats who may also be blind or deaf) as change creates confusion which increases anxiety and stress.  If changes do need to be made, try to introduce them slowly and gradually.  A Feliway or Pet Remedy plug-in or spray can help anxious cats cope with daily life
  • Provide several deeply padded and comfortable resting/hiding places throughout the house and make them easily accessible by building a ramp or steps up to those that would otherwise require a big jump.
  • Give your cat the attention and reassurance they seek but do not overdo it as they also appreciate time to themselves.  Don’t rush to get a new kitten thinking they need companionship, as this usually causes more stress than it is worth.
As with so many diseases of older cats, Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome may be common, but it isn’t normal so if you think your cat may be showing some of the symptoms, the first thing to do is speak with your vet.  Together you may be able to significantly improve the quality of your cat’s life with a few simple changes.  It can also help to think about your cat’s schedule and environment from their point of view rather than your own, as you may discover other ways to make their lives a bit easier.  Next time your cat has a ‘senile moment’ and wakes you up at 3am with a howl, spare a thought for their ageing brain before getting cross!

Banning no-stun slaughter in the UK: a step forwards for animal welfare or a populist anti-religious minority measure?

The issue of  "no-stun slaughter" has hit the headlines in the UK press this week and there's a fair bit of confusion about what's going on. The current discussion has been prompted by the British Veterinary Association's petition to end no-stun slaughter in the UK. It's a debate that's long overdue: consumers should have a right to know the background to the meat that they're eating, and currently in the UK and Ireland, it's impossible to tell if an animal was stunned or not prior to slaughter. That's not fair to the consumer, and the absence of the need to declare the type of slaughter is likely to increase the number of animals that are killed without being stunned first, so it's unfair to animals too. Killing is by definition an unpleasant business, with physical trauma to a living creature and spilling of blood. For some individuals, animal slaughter is so abhorrent, that vegetarianism is the only answer (7 - 11% of the UK population is vegetarian, with twice as many women as men). But for the majority of citizens in the United Kingdom, meat is a desirable part of the diet, and slaughtering animals is seen as a necessary part of society. Legislation has been put into place to ensure that animals suffer as little as possible during the process, and this is enough to satisfy most people. To ensure that animals do not suffer as they die, the law insists that the animal is first stunned e.g. with a captive bolt applied to the brain, or via a strong electric shock to the head. This pre-stunning means that the animal is completely unaware when its throat is cut a few minutes later: there is no sensation of the knife passing through the flesh, nor the blood draining away. There is one exception to this rule: so-called ritual, or no-stun slaughter. When this is done, the throat is cut with a sharp knife with no preamble, and the animal is conscious for that short period as it bleeds to death. In the current media debate, the meat industry seems to be blurring the lines of what this means: a spokesman for the British Meat Processors Association is reported as saying “What kills the animal is having its vital arteries cut; it doesn’t die from stunning”.  He seems to be avoiding the fact that there's a gap between having the vital arteries cut and dying, and during that gap, the animal is conscious of what's happening to it. When an animal has been stunned, there is no such consciousness of what's going on. No-stun slaughter is an important part of some religious communities. Current animal welfare legislation requires all animals to be stunned before slaughter apart from exceptions for those religious groups: Dhabihah slaughter for Halal food as part of the Islam faith, and Shechita slaughter for Kosher food as part of Jewish beliefs. There is variation within religious communities, with some Muslims accepting meat pre-stunned electrically and some not. Around 80% of Halal meat is currently pre-stunned: this fact makes the debate murky when newspapers like the Daily Mail talk about "Halal meat" being the issue, rather than "no-stun slaughter". The Muslim and Jewish communities comprise just 4-5% of the British population. Around 3% of cattle, 10% of sheep and goats and 4% of poultry are killed by non-stun slaughter in the UK (pigs, or course, are never killed in this way because pork is not eaten by these religious communities). No-stun slaughter of sheep and goats increased by 70% between 2003 and 2011 to 1.5 million animals a year. Non-stun slaughter of poultry increased 300% in the same period to 32 million. Part of the reason for this increase is that non-stun slaughter meat enters the mainstream food chain without being labelled: it's more convenient for the food industry to have "no-stun" meat as a default: it can be eaten by all consumers, whereas pre-stunned meat cannot be eaten by religious communities. It is partly this increasing trend towards no-stun slaughter that has motivated animal welfare advocates to press for action on this issue. On the face of it, the argument is straightforward: if we have standards for animal welfare that we believe in, we should stick to those standards, even if it means stopping ritual slaughter. In practice, it is more complicated: bans of ritual slaughter target Muslim and Jewish minorities, so legitimate animal welfare concerns get mixed up with anti-semitic and anti-immigrant voices. This can make it difficult to be against ritual slaughter without being accused of being racist. And it can mean that the strongest political allies against no-stun slaughter include political parties with anti-minority views. After many years of debate on this issue, the British Veterinary Association (BVA), with the support of the RSPCA, has recently launched a government e-petition to end non-stun slaughter. The BVA hopes to achieve 100,000 signatures to the e-petition, which would mean that the government would have to have a debate on the issue in the House of Commons. Within a few days, over 11000 signatures were received and the number is rapidly climbing. No-stun slaughter is about to become an active political debate in the UK. So far slaughter without prior stunning has been banned in Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Sweden and Poland. Will the UK soon join this group?