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What makes dogs lame, and how can they be helped?

Why is a lame dog lame? The obvious, but incorrect, answer to the question is 'because it has a sore leg'. The correct answer is more complicated, but also quite obvious when you think about it. Firstly, what is a lameness? Everybody knows what a lame animal looks like - they 'walk wrongly'. But what is happening to make them walk wrongly? There are three main reasons why lameness may occur. Pain is the most common and most important cause of lameness. If an animal damages a limb, any further pressure causes more pain, and so the instinctive response is to rest the limb, by carrying it, or at least by not putting full weight on it. The type of damage can vary widely from a bruise to a laceration. The damage can be anywhere in the limb, from the toe to the shoulder or hip, and the result is the same - a lame animal. Long term diseases such as arthritis can also involve considerable pain. The second cause of lameness is instability. It is common for dogs to rupture the ligaments of the knee, and when this happens, the knee becomes unstable. If the dog tried to put weight on the leg, the knee would collapse. So the dog refuses to put weight on the leg. Any other joint can be affected in the same way by damage to the supporting ligaments. The third cause of lameness is stiffness. When a dog develops arthritis, the affected joint becomes swollen and gnarled - like many older people's arthritic finger joints. The swelling of the joint is due partly to new bone which grows around the arthritic joint as part of the disease process. This new bone acts like rust seizing up a metal hinge - it stops full normal movement of the joint. An elbow joint may only be able to move through half of its normal range of movement. The result of this new bone is that the joint is stiffer and less mobile than it should be - and this means that the animal is unable to use the limb in the normal way. Hips, shoulders and knees are also commonly affected in this way. So lameness can be caused by pain, instability and stiffness. What can be done to help lame animals? Weight control, controlled exercise and physical therapy are all important aspects: this always has to be individualised, and the best answer is to ask your vet what your pet needs in these areas. The new generation of painkillers provide excellent relief from pain. Immediately after an injury, dogs can be given drugs which prevent short term suffering until the injury is treated. In addition, if a disease involves long term pain (such as arthritis), this can be dealt with very effectively by continual daily medication, as advised by a vet. Instability of joints can often be well treated using new surgical techniques which may involve inserting artificial ligaments, using metal implants or by other methods. The stiffness of arthritis can be helped by using regular anti-inflammatory medication, similar to that used for arthritis in humans. There is also an animal-only anti-arthritic drug, given by injection, which can help considerably in some cases. Other therapies including hydrotherapy and acupuncture can also play a role, as can daily food supplements such as glucosamine chondroitin sulphate, and even special high fish-oil diets designed for pets with joint disease. Owners should be warned that it can be very dangerous to give human drugs to their pets, unless their vet has given them permission to do so. Toxic reactions are common, especially when some of the more modern human painkillers and anti-arthritic drugs are given to dogs. If you have a lame dog, you should ask your vet for advice on the best way to relieve the problem.

Ask a vet online – “My dog has trouble peeing”

Question from Jaamal Dupas: I have a 7 month old female dog. When she squats to pee the first time it's normal. Then she tries again and only a few drops. And i noticed a drop of blood the last time she went. Could this be a UTI or her going into her first heat. I have a vet apt in a few days but was just curious. Answer: Pee Problems-dribbling and blood Hi Jaamal, thanks for your question about your dog’s urinating. To answer your question, I’m going to discuss the “symptoms” she’s showing, the possible causes, and then talk about how your vet will go about deciding which one of these conditions is the cause, and the treatment options. What are the symptoms? Technically, in animals they’re called clinical signs, not symptoms, but it means the same thing. In the case of your dog, she’s able to urinate, but it’s taking her two or more goes to empty her bladder. This is technically called “pollakiuria.” The other problem you’ve noticed is that there was a drop of blood in the urine last time she went-this is called “haematuria.” What are the possible causes? Before your vet can determine what the exact cause is, they’ll need to make what’s called a “differential list”-this is a list of the possible conditions that could cause the clinical signs observed. In your dog’s case, we can factor in her age and sex to narrow it down a little bit. So, what are the likely possibilities? 1) A urinary tract infection This is probably the most likely cause! Urinary tract infections in bitches are quite common (more so than in male dogs, because the urethra, the tube that leads from the bladder to the outside world, is shorter and wider). The typical symptoms are an increased frequency and urgency of urination, with some blood in the urine. Your vet may want to do some more tests to confirm it (see below), but it is the most likely explanation. 2) Bladder stones or crystals Sometimes, due to diet, infection or genetics, the crystals that can form in the bladder enlarge and become stones blocking the urethra. These can be very painful, and often mean it’s difficult for the dog to urinate. I don’t think it’s that likely in your dog’s case because it sounds like she passes urine quite easily, but it is a possibility. In dogs, many crystals and stones are actually due to untreated infections! 3) Her season (oestrus) As you’re aware, some blood from the vulva is quite normal in bitches during their season (usually every 6–8 months or so)-see here for more info on them: It isn’t usually associated with passing drops or dribbles of urine though, so although I can’t rule it out, I don’t think it’s the most likely cause. 4) Trauma or injury Obviously, anything that makes it uncomfortable to urinate may make her stop and start when she’s going. Cuts or bruises around the vulva would account for the signs, but I think there would be more obvious issues, such as obvious pain or swelling or visible wounds. 5) A womb infection A womb infection can leak brown or red pus that looks very like blood; however, if it occurs it’s usually a few weeks after a season, and you obviously don’t think she’s had her first yet. Although it’s unlikely, I’d always keep it on the list until it can be ruled out, because dogs can become very sick very fast. 6) A bladder or urethra tumour This is a theoretical possibility, but in a 7 month old I would have to have ruled EVERYTHING else out before I considered it! Where next? You’ve already made an appointment with your vet, which is very sensible. As we suspect a urinary infection, I’d advise you to catch a sample of urine before you go in (as fresh as possible, caught in a CLEAN pot), as your vet may well want to do some tests. Once you get to the vets, they’ll ask you some questions to determine if there are any other symptoms or signs (for example changes in drinking), then they’ll examine her. They may want to take a swab from her vulva to see if she is in fact in season or not; they’ll also have a good feel of her abdomen and bladder to see if they can feel any abnormalities; and look at her vulva for signs of infection or injury. My experience is that in simple urinary infections, there’s often nothing abnormal on the physical exam-quite often there won’t even be a temperature! That’s why the urine sample is so important. The vet (or their nurse or tech) will usually do a dipstick to look for blood, protein, acidity and so on, which can be suggestive of infection. If there are any abnormalities, they’ll often look at the urine down the microscope, looking for bacteria and white cells, which will confirm the presence of an infection; and for crystals which may indicate a problem with crystals or stones. If their findings suggest an infection, and there are a lot of antibiotic resistant bacteria in your area, the vet may choose to send away the sample to check which antibiotic is most effective. However, if it is a simple urinary tract infection, in most cases it will resolve quickly with a course of antibiotics and possibly some painkillers. I hope my answer has helped you understand the possibilities, and that with your vet’s help, she’s soon getting better! David Harris MRCVS If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.

Pet food: what does the label tell you, and how much does it matter to your pet?

Do you ever wonder what actually goes into pet food? Everyone with a pet has to provide food for them every day, but most of us are unaware of the background to what we are feeding. That's not to say that we don't care about it: pet food manufacturers know that we want to do the best for our pets, so labelling and packaging tends to give a sense of wholesome ingredients and tastiness. But what's going on behind the scenes? There's an anti-corporate trend in the modern online world, with an underlying emotion of distrust in big companies. While this may sometimes be justified, the truth is that most companies are just bigger versions of small businesses, doing their best to provide products and services in an efficient, effective way. Pet food companies are no different: while some pet owners may dislike the idea of mass produced pet food, it's still the method that most pet owners use to feed their pets, and for the most part, it works very well. Pet food production is regulated by law to ensure that it's safe and nutritious. Recent research showed that 70% of owners and 85% of vets agreed that commercially prepared pet food provides optimum nutrition. Almost 60% of owners and 95% vets would go as far as to say pets are living longer as a result of advanced nutrition. Of course there are individual animals that have special nutritional needs, just as some humans do. But for most pets, commercial pet food does a good job. Pet food manufacturers produce products in line guidelines that are regularly reviewed by independent nutrition experts. There is also strict legislation governing what ingredients can be used, laid down by European law, but also applicable to imported commercially prepared pet foods. So what actually goes into commercial pet food? 'Ingredients' is the general term used for raw materials and additives in pet foods. Typical pet food ingredients include protein sources such as poultry, beef and fish plus vegetables, cereals, vitamins and minerals, all combined according to recipes designed by veterinary nutritionists to create a balanced diet. Many supermarket type pet foods seem to have ingredients that are easy to criticise: the classic example is "meat and animal derivatives". This may sound like a vague term, but it's actually precisely and legally defined in the Animal Feed Regulations 2010. Manufacturers are legally obliged to use this term because it accurately describes what goes into the food. In reality, the term refers to by-products of the human food industry that come from animals slaughtered under veterinary supervision e.g. heart, lung, or muscle meat, which may not be traditionally eaten by people in this country. The ingredients have been inspected and passed as suitable for human consumption, so there's nothing "low quality" about them. The term "ash" is also often criticised: after all, who would like a sprinkling of ashes from the fire mixed up in their food? In fact, again, this term is legally defined: it refers to the mineral content of the food and is determined chemically by the burning of the product. It is a legal requirement to include the ash content on a pet food label. What about more expensive pet food, sometimes called "premium" or "super-premium"? How is this different, and are these diets worth paying for? Such terms are not legally defined, and so they are more of a marketing term than a technical description. Factors include type of ingredients used, quality of ingredients and investment in innovation in the product. "Super premium" diets tend to include specific ingredients, such as particular types of meat, antioxidants for immune support and glucosamine for joint care. If you read the ingredients label yourself, you should be able to see what you are paying for. What about home-prepared diets? Many people do cook food for their own pets, but you need to be careful: it can be difficult to be sure that you are providing the right balance of nutrients without having a recipe checked by a qualified nutritionist. A simple rule of thumb is that 90% of a pet's diet should be commercially prepared, with just 10% as extras or treats. This will ensure that your pet does not suffer from any unexpected nutritional deficiencies. So what's the ideal food for pets? The answer, as for humans, is that it depends on the individual. Many pets fed on grocery-supplied standard pet food are in excellent health. Others thrive on premium type pet food, sold through pet shops and vet clinics. And some pets do well on a more "natural" type diet, such as home-prepared or "raw" diets. It takes up to six weeks for the effect of a diet to become visible in an animal: if your pets enjoy their daily meals, and have bright eyes, a shiny coat and a muscular, sleek body, then you can be sure that you are feeding a diet that suits them well.