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Hot Dogs – do the cooling coats work?

The forecasters are predicting a serious heatwave this week, leading to people and pets getting hot under the collar. We are constantly searching for novel ways to cool our pets. In recent years cooling coats, collars and beds have appeared. The recent increase in people buying clothing and accessories for their pets increases their appeal.  

Why are dogs more prone to heat stress than us?

If we wore a thick coat on a summer's day like our pets do, we would struggle to keep cool, especially in a hot car, or on a run. Dogs have a few sweat glands in their pads, but they really only effectively lose heat by panting. This means their natural cooling mechanism is limited and more quickly overwhelmed than ours. Some breed characteristics may make cooling a challenge. Flat nosed (brachycephalic) breeds such as pugs, shih-tzus and bulldogs, are more at risk. Obese animals or those with dense fur are also more susceptible. Elderly pets or those suffering with breathing issues have a lower threshold for suffering heat stroke. However, any pet can suffer heat stroke if exposed to hot temperatures, a lack of ventilation, or drinking water. Pets can’t change their environment so it’s our responsibility to create a safe and cool environment. If they are exercising and having fun, they will often not stop when they get hot until it is too late. We must use common sense, reducing exercise on hot days. This is especially important if exercising with your pet.  

Can cooling coats and cooling beds help prevent heat stroke?

There are many different brands of cooling coats. Most work on the same principle of evaporation as panting or sweating. Most of them contain a comfortable cooling layer in contact with the dog that’s dry to touch. There is then an absorbent layer that takes on water when soaked for a few minutes. Lastly, there is an outer layer where water evaporates. As the heat of the day slowly evaporates the moisture from the coat, excess heat is drawn from the dog’s body, leaving them cooler even in high temperatures. Coats should be light, comfortable, well fitted, breathable, and machine washable. Cooling collars and bandanas often use the same design as cooling coats, although some use ice or frozen gel instead of water. Theoretically, as this area contains major vessels that supply the body and the brain, cooling this area alone will have a larger than expected effect on general body and brain cooling. Human studies suggest cooling the neck area reduces vasoconstriction of the carotid artery, helping to prevent heat stroke induced reduction of blood supply to the brain. Most dogs are less hairy around their necks giving better skin to collar contact. These collars may be more comfortable than full coats. Cool mats are also available. These usually work on a different principle using a gel which actively absorbs heat from the dog’s body and is activated by the pressure of the dogs weight.   What are the pitfalls to these products? There is little independent research on these products. Although some manufacturers have performed limited field studies, they are not validated and may be flawed. Until more research has been performed conclusions are based on theory, opinion, and common sense. Coats may not remain wet for long, so must be checked regularly. Once all the water has evaporated and the coat becomes dry, it’s effectively just a normal coat and will make your dog warmer. Beds also only cool for a certain length of time before they need recharging. Be sure to select a cool bed with a non-toxic filling, just incase your dog chews it. If your pet chooses not to sit on them they will clearly not help, but, on the flip side, if your dog feels chilly they can move, an advantage over cooling coats. Although cool coats and beds may aid cooling, over-reliance on them is dangerous. They are not a panacea for heat stroke prevention, and they are not a treatment for heat stroke. They can be used as part of a sensible strategy for heat stroke avoidance, alongside other possibly cheaper, easier, and more tried and tested tips:
  • Never leave dogs in parked cars. Dogs can die within 15 minutes in a parked car.
  • Make sure dogs always have adequate water to drink. They need more on a warm day, so always take water with you when travelling.
  • Avoid exercising dogs in the heat of the day.
  • Spray them with water to keep them cool.
  • Provide shade and ventilation. Move small pets to the coolest part of the house or garden.
  • If your pet has thick fur, consider a summer trim to help them keep cool.
  • Contact a vet immediately if they do not respond to efforts to cool them down.
  What signs may my dog have with heat stroke? Dogs will pant more, often with their lips curled back. They may drool or foam at the mouth and also appear anxious, restless, or distressed. As it progresses their gums may become bright red, and they may become uncoordinated. Eventually tremors or seizures lead to death.   What should I do if I think my pet has heat stroke? If you think your pet has heat stroke ring your vet practice immediately. They will want to see your pet in order to start to cool them gradually and give them intravenous fluids if needed. The vet may want you to perform first aid. According to one study those actively cooled before arriving at the vets had a lower mortality rate (19%) than those not cooled prior to arrival (49%). Heat stroke first aid:
  • Move them to a cool place.
  • Offer them cool water.
  • Pour cool water over them or hose them. It is important that the water is cool and not so cold as to cause shivering which would worsen the situation.
  • If possible put them in front of a fan.
  • Get your pet to the nearest vet.

Do I need to vaccinate my bunny?

!Rabbit Awareness Week might be over, but the Protect and Prevent motto is still just as important! Rabbits are great pets, however, looking after them is not as simple as just carrots, hutches, and hugs. Vaccinations are as important for rabbits as they are for dogs and cats - like all pets, rabbits can get ill, and there are a few dangerous diseases that you should always vaccinate against. In the UK, we most commonly vaccinate against two rabbit diseases: myxomatosis (or myxi) and rabbit haemorrhagic disease, RHD.  

What are the diseases?

Myxomatosis is a viral disease of both pet and wild rabbits, and highly infectious - it is spread by direct contact between infected rabbits, or via a flea or mosquito bite. This means that it will be impossible for your rabbit to avoid the myxi virus entirely, particularly pet bunnies kept outside. It is important to recognise the symptoms of myxomatosis, so that any infected rabbits can be isolated. These include runny eyes or conjunctivitis, high fever, anorexia, lethargy, and general depression, ultimately leading to death. This can happen very rapidly, within 48 hours, or more commonly over several weeks. In either case, there is no cure. Should a rabbit sadly get myxi, they will usually have to be put to sleep. This is why the vaccine is so crucial - it cannot provide perfect protection (no vaccine can) but it heavily reduces the chance of catching myxi. And if a vaccinated rabbit still does, the symptoms will be a lot milder and the chance of survival much higher. The myxomatosis vaccine used in the UK protects against myxi for a year, so a booster will be needed every year for the rest of your rabbit’s life. It is important to remember this so your bunny is always covered.
Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease
Rabbit haemorrhagic disease, RHD, is also a viral disease found in both wild and pet rabbits, though it is only spread via direct contact with other infected rabbits. The symptoms of RHD can be much harder to spot than myxi, but include fever, anorexia, lethargy, difficulty breathing, blood around the nose, mouth and anus, seizures, and a quick death within 48 hours. Sometimes there are no symptoms at all, until the rabbit dies. There are actually two strains (forms) of RHD; RHD1 and RHD2. Both are slightly different, so different vaccines are needed. Many myxi vaccines protect against RHD1 too, so there is protection when you vaccinate for myxi. There are also, now, vaccines available against RHD2 as well, but they usually need to be given separately. Again, though, these vaccines only give immunity for about a year.  

When can we vaccinate?

All rabbits can be vaccinated from 5 weeks of age. We’d advise scheduling a first appointment as soon as possible after this, to ensure your rabbit will not catch either disease before they can be vaccinated. However, both vaccines will need to be spaced out, to leave time for your rabbit’s immune system to respond to the first one - most commonly, one would be given at about 6 weeks of age, followed by a 2 week break, and then the second.  

What happens in a vaccination appointment?

When you bring your rabbit into the practice for the first time, a nurse or the vet will usually check that they are healthy and fit, and give some advice on their care. After this, the vet will do a deeper exam to make sure all is well, and may check the bunny’s teeth too, before giving the first vaccination. This is a very simple and quick procedure, and your rabbit will likely not even feel the injection. However, the new environment, lights and noise can be distressing for your rabbit, so make sure your travel container is dark and warm. The calmer it is during the procedure, the safer it will be.  

Anything else to remember?

Remember, there will need to be another vaccine 2 weeks later. If you can, most vets will advise booking the boosters for a year’s time. The vaccines may seem expensive, but the protection they provide is priceless. If you are planning to get a friend for your bunny, it is important to check its vaccination history. Make sure that the new rabbit is fully covered for myxomatosis and RHD first, before you introduce them to each other. This is also a good time to check your rabbit is fully covered, as infection can pass both ways.  

Are the vaccines safe?

As with all vaccines, there are some risks. Sadly, no vaccine is perfect, and there is still a very small risk that your rabbit could still catch disease. But with a vaccine, this chance is much lower and the consequences of infection are usually much less dangerous. Your rabbit may be slightly quieter for the next few days too, as their body processes the vaccines. Very rarely, the skin can become inflamed at the site of injection. But overall, the vaccines are very safe and used every day, with little ill effect. Feel free to ask your vet if you have any more concerns.   Keeping pet bunnies can be a wonderful experience, and a healthy rabbit can live for 10 years or more. With even the greatest of care, no rabbit can be safe from all harm, but you can do your part! Vaccinating will dramatically reduce the risk from two of the worst rabbit diseases there are. Please do not forget vaccination to ensure that your rabbit will be happy, healthy and bouncy for years to come.
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Why is my rabbit not eating?

When rabbits stop eating, it’s usually serious. As prey species, they’re hard-wired to carry on as if nothing is wrong, to make sure they don’t look weak to a predator. Although there are lots of different reasons a rabbit may stop eating, they’re often very sick when this happens and I recommend taking them straight to a rabbit-savvy vet if you notice a drop in their appetite.
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Vet School and Me (Part 2)

Three Years Down…

In my last blog I talked about my life at Vet School, and how much I loved the course.  

Too Cool for Vet School

Despite such a great course, student life in general, for me, has not been wholly positive. This is partly down to the course itself, partly down to our campus, but I think mostly down to my own personality and life.
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Why is my rabbit scratching?

Although it’s no longer Rabbit Awareness Week, we thought we’d cover some extra rabbity things this month! Rabbits are quite fastidious creatures. They love to groom and will have the odd scratch. It is important to know what is normal for your rabbit, so you are able to spot potential problems quickly. Scratching more than normal, overgrooming, dandruff, or fur loss may be signs of a parasite infestation. Mites and fleas are the most common parasites affecting rabbits.