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Ask a vet online-‘what age do seasons stop?’

Question from Julie Wilshaw: at wot age do staffies.stop having seasons? Answer from Shanika Winters: Hi Julie, you have asked an interesting question for all owners of entire (unspayed) female dogs.  In short entire bitches (female dogs) do not stop having seasons.  I will discuss what seasons are, signs that your bitch is in season, when seasons tend to start and what happens as your bitch gets older. A season is what we call the time when a bitch is able to get pregnant (reproduce).  An average season lasts approximately three weeks, during this time the vulva (outside part of the bitches vagina) becomes pink and swollen, there is often a bloody discharge for around 9 days, this is followed by ovulation (eggs being released from the ovaries) and after this time things start to settle back to normal. Bitches usually have one to two seasons a year.  During a season bitches give off pheromones which attract entire male dogs from a long distance away, also at or near the time of ovulation the bitch may stand with her tail held up and to the side to allow herself to be mated.  Some bitches can become aggressive during their season others more clingy.
  1. Anoestrous - not in season, around 6-8months
  2. Proestrous - around 9 days, vulva swells, vaginal bleeding
  3. Oestrous - around 9 days, usually stop bleeding allows mating
  4. Dioestrous - around 2-3months, high levels of the hormone progesterone which can sometimes lead to false pregnancies
The above is just a simple example of an average season, there can be lots of variation in how a bitch behaves and shows its season and of the length of the individual parts of the season. Seasons usually start at around six months of age but can be as late as one year to eighteen months.  It is often thought that small bitches usually start their seasons sooner than larger bitches of dog as they take longer to mature. As your bitch gets older it seems reasonable to assume that they will stop having seasons, in humans what we call the menopause.  However in the case of bitches this does not happen; female dogs continue to have seasons for their entire lives and therefore could potentially get pregnant. So why do so many dog owners think that their bitches have stopped having seasons?  This is because as bitches get older they do not always show the external or behavioural signs that they are actually having a season, this can sometimes be referred to as a ‘silent season’.  It is important to remember that even though your bitch may not be showing signs of being in season that she could still get pregnant if mated by an entire male dog. Why is it worth considering getting your older bitch spayed (neutered)? The obvious reason would be that you did not intend to breed form your bitch but it is also worth considering hormone related disease processes that can happen in older entire bitches; such as pyometra9(womb infection), uterine cancer(womb tumours) and mammary tumours(breast cancer).  The diseases mentioned are all influenced by the female sex hormones which will still be produced on a regular basis if your bitch is entire. A lot of dog owners are worried about having surgery carried out as their dogs become older, this should always be discussed with your vet or veterinary nurse and all the risks weighed up against the potential benefits to your dog. I hope that my answer has helped to explain why even though it may seem like your bitch has stopped having seasons that she actually is still having them and will continue to do so for the rest of her life. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet) If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.
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Antifreeze, the killer chemical of pets – don’t let yours be a victim.

Antifreeze, which often contains ethylene glycol, is very good at doing what it says on the bottle.  If you have ice on your windscreen or want to keep various pipes and water features from freezing up, then adding antifreeze will do the job.  What the bottle DOESN’T always say, however, is that antifreeze is so toxic to cats, dogs and other small mammals and that it takes only about a teaspoon in a cat or a tablespoon in a dog of the substance to bring about a rapid and unpleasant death.  In fact, a recent news article has highlighted the fact that around 50 cats a month in the UK are killed by antifreeze poisoning.

Why is it such a big problem?

Antifreeze is a commonly used chemical, especially in the winter months, but many people are unaware of the danger it poses to animals.  Even small children are at risk, because ethylene glycol has a sweet taste that most mammals wouldn’t think twice about consuming.  It can leak out of damaged car pipes and onto the drive where cats then lick it up, or perhaps a small amount of the substance was left in the bottle and left open after use.  Ethylene glycol can be found in radiator coolant, windscreen de-icing agents, motor oils, hydraulic brake fluid, paints, photographic chemicals and various solvents.  A worrying new trend is for people to use it in their garden water features to keep them from freezing – an extremely dangerous action as many cats and also wildlife use these features to drink from.  Unfortunately, some heartless people also use the substance to intentionally poison cats that get into their garden, and there are several cases of this under investigation at the moment.

How does it affect cats?

Initial signs include behavioural changes, such as looking groggy or ‘drunk’, which makes sense because the chemical binds to the same receptors as alcohol in the body.  These initial signs may only last for 1-6 hours, then they seem to recover but although they may appear to temporarily feel better, the real damage has already begun.  Ethylene glycol causes crystals of calcium oxalate to form within the kidneys and because these crystals cannot be dissolved once formed, the damage is irreversible and rapid kidney failure results.  Within hours to days the cat may start urinating more, then not at all as the kidneys shut down.  This results in a build-up of toxins within the blood causing severe lethargy and lack of appetite, panting, vomiting, oral or gastric ulceration and sometimes coma or seizures.  Death almost always occurs within a few days.

Is there any treatment?

If you are lucky enough to see your cat or dog ingest antifreeze and can get them to the vet within about 3 hours before the product has a chance to be metabolised, then treatment is possible though the recommended treatment is very expensive and most vets aren’t able to stock it.  Interestingly, one of the treatments for antifreeze toxicity is ethanol (aka the ‘vodka drip’ you may have heard about), as the alcohol prevents the ethylene glycol from binding to receptors in the body.  This treatment is dangerous in itself however, so the prognosis for recovery is still guarded.  If treatment is successful, affected animals will likely have to stay in hospital for several days on a drip to flush out any remaining toxins from the body and some degree of permanent kidney damage is likely.

What can we do to cut down on antifreeze poisonings?

The best thing you can do at home is to not use antifreeze that contains ethylene glycol.  Many newer products now contain propylene glycol, which isn’t nearly as toxic.  Have your car serviced regularly to ensure there are no leaks onto the drive, and if you do spot a leak, clean it up immediately and dispose of all waste or empty containers properly.  Many suppliers put bright fluorescent green dye into their products so it’s easy to spot in a puddle on the drive.  Most vets stock a UV or black light which makes this dye glow brightly and finding the dye on the cat’s paws or muzzle can be a good way to confirm exposure.  If your neighbour has a water feature in their garden, it might be wise to confirm that they are not using antifreeze and to inform them of the dangers if they are not already aware.  Another recommendation that has been suggested is to put a bitter-tasting substance (Bitrex) in the antifreeze so that any sensible animal or child would spit it out as soon as they tasted it, but not all companies regularly do this.  This would also cut down on intentional poisonings.  At the very least, all products containing ethylene glycol should be clearly labelled as being fatal to animals.

Spread the word – antifreeze kills! Amy Bergs DVM MRCVS  - Visit The Cat Doctor website by clicking HERE
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Ask a vet online-‘treatment for feline herpes virus’

Question from Carmen James: Best treatment for feline herpes virus flare ups? Answer from Shanika Winters: Hi Carmen and thank you for your question regarding feline herpes virus, I will discuss what the virus is, the disease process and possible treatment options. So what is feline herpes virus? Herpes is a virus that we are familiar with in people as it is associated with cold sores, herpes viruses are specific to a species that means human herpes viruses only affect people and feline herpes virus only affects cats. Feline Herpes Virus (FHV) can affect any cat, it is spread in discharges from eyes, nose and mouth. FHV is usually associated with cold like symptoms which include runny eyes, sneezing, coughing, corneal ulcers (ulcers on the surface of the eye) and general signs of illness such as increased temperature, weakness and appetite loss. How do I know if my cat has FHV? If your cat seems unwell and is showing any of the signs listed above then it is important to take him to your vet for a full examination. A combination of the signs listed and blood tests or PCR test (tests done on discharge samples from your cat at a laboratory) can confirm that your cat is likely to be suffering from FHV. Herpes viruses can remain in your cat even when they seem well and this means that your cat could spread the disease (your vet may refer to the virus as being latent). At times of stress the virus can be shed by your cat and this may also mean signs of illness appear. The severity of the signs of illness will depend on your cats level of stress and how strong its immune system is (that is its body’s natural defence against diseases) Can my cat be vaccinated against FHV? Routine cat vaccines offer protection against cat flu and FHV is one of the components of the cat flu part of the vaccine. Vaccinations give your pet protection against disease but this cannot account for factors such as your cat already being exposed to the virus before vaccinations. Why do cat with FHV get flare ups? The reason for flare ups in cases of FHV is due to the nature of herpes viruses, they remain in the cats body and when your pet is well the virus is ‘latent’. At times of stress however the virus is shed(released again) and this can lead to signs of disease again or a ‘flare up’. How can the flare ups be treated? Firstly it is really important to try and avoid flare ups of FHV by ensuring your cat is well, calm and up to date with his or her vaccines. However even with the best possible cat care flare ups will still occur. There is no licenced antiviral treatment available for cats with FHV, there are a few human antiviral medicines in the form of tablets, creams and ointments which have been tried on cats with some success. Most commonly it is antibiotics which are used to treat FHV signs, this is because when your cat has a viral infection they are more prone to bacterial infections on top of the viral infection. Antibiotics are effective against the bacterial part of the infection, and once this is cleared your cat will hopefully feel better, have less discharge from its eyes /nose and feel like eating and drinking. If it is only the eyes that are affected then treatment can be focused on the eyes alone, this avoids giving medications that may have side effects on the whole of your cat. How to minimise flare ups? Prevention of flare ups can be helped by keeping your pets environment calm, having a regular daily routine, strict hygiene when it comes to food dishes/water dishes and the litter tray. Isolate cats showing signs from other cats. Keeping your cat’s the eyes and nose clean and clear of discharges. The correct use of antiviral and or antibiotic drugs can also help keep flare ups to a minimum and shorten the lent hog episodes. I hope that my answer has helped you to understand how FHV works and that in order to keep flare up under control there are things you can do at home as well as with the help of your vet. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet) If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.
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