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10 things you need to know about puppy farming

Dear VetHelpDirect, I was planning on buying a new puppy, but since the recent media focus on Puppy Farms, I am concerned. How do I know that my puppy is coming from a responsible home, without it being too expensive? Can I trust the vets’ word for this? This enquiry follows the recent BBC documentary “Inside the UK Puppy Farm Capital”, which suggests that you are right to be concerned. The puppy-farming industry in the UK has been booming over recent years and the recent BBC exposé makes for harrowing viewing.
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Why is my dog scratching? He hasn’t got fleas!

Dogs do occasionally scratch, but if it’s frequent, incessant or distressing then something is amiss. Some dogs will lick or nibble rather than scratch. Many do this in private so watch out for red, sore skin, bald patches, or brown saliva staining where the fur has been licked. Itching (technically called pruritus) is a sign, not a diagnosis or specific disease. It’s probably the most common reason for owners to take pets to the vet’s, making up a large proportion of our consultations.
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Why Is My Cat Losing Weight?

It can be very worrying when you notice your cat to start to lose weight, especially if they’re an older cat. Weight loss conjures up terrible thoughts and googling often makes things worse - a symptom as vague as weight loss can mean so many different things it’s bound to be a scary page of results. We tend to notice problems in cats slowly. They’re masters at hiding signs of illness and disease and often live very independent lifestyles, some even going for several days without being seen. The fact that most cats toilet outdoors, unaccompanied, means that you may not notice symptoms such as diarrhoea or producing large volumes of urine. And since many cats have dried food down all day, changes in appetite can be hard to spot at first. This means that weight loss is often the first symptom that people notice in their cats, with other symptoms only coming after you start to keep a closer eye.
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Does Walking The Dog Count As Exercise?

I think we all know, deep inside, that we should be doing more exercise. The NHS recommend at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, but 40% of people are failing to meet that target. Activity is essential to prevent obesity, heart disease and other chronic illnesses, as well as to improve our mental health. But for those of us with dogs, does walking them count towards this goal?
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Why is my cat sneezing?

Cats, like many animals, will sneeze from time to time. An occasional sneeze, as with humans, is rarely of concern. If you notice that this sneezing becomes frequent, or there are other signs, then you may need to go to your vet’s for a pet check.  

What’s the most common cause of sneezing in cats?

Cat flu (upper respiratory infection).

Viral infections are the most common cause of excessive, but temporary, sneezing in cats. 90% of infections are due to feline calicivirus or feline herpesvirus with exposure to infected saliva, tears or snot causing it to spread. Although sneezing is a common sign, most have other signs such as coughing, runny eyes, conjunctivitis, a snotty nose and mouth or eye ulcers. Many cats lose their appetite and become lethargic and febrile. Bacteria such as Bordetella bronchiseptica can cause similar signs including sneezing but is a less common culprit. Older cats, kittens, and cats with reduced immune system function, can become very ill and develop secondary infections like pneumonia. In these cats, flu can be life threatening. A vaccine is available and used routinely in the UK to protect against these viruses. Treatment is aimed at the symptoms: giving intravenous fluids if there is dehydration; antibiotics if secondary bacterial infections are suspected; and steam and nebulizers to help breathing. Warmed tasty food is essential given their sense of smell is affected. Interferons (proteins produced by the body that fight viruses) have been produced but so far with limited effectiveness. There are some antivirals that may be helpful against oral and eye symptoms. Most cats infected with herpesvirus remain carriers. Some don’t shed significant amounts of virus, some shed intermittently when stressed and may or may not show signs themselves. Stress may include having kittens or going to a cattery, for example. Many kittens are infected by apparently well mums in this way. Cats with FCV remain carriers for a few weeks but usually eliminate it.  

My cat’s sneezing is not going away. What could be the cause?

There are a range of possibilities...

Post-viral or idiopathic rhinitis.

Some cats suffer permanent damage of the lining of the nasal cavity, or even the bone, after viral infection, leaving the nasal cavity susceptible to recurring bacterial infection. This post-viral rhinitis (nasal inflammation), is the most common cause of chronic nasal disease and sneezing. It can happen without viral involvement (idiopathic) but is less common and poorly understood.   As the damage is permanent, the aim is management not cure. This can be frustrating, with frequent vet visits and poor long-term quality of life. Antibiotics for bacterial infections are used but these infections can recur very frequently. Nebulisation can help to loosen secretions and allow more effective sneezing. In non-viral cases corticosteroid medication may help. Regular bathing of the face and nose, and warming food to make it more appealing, are basic considerations but important.  

Nasal tumours

Tumours are the second most common cause of long term nasal disease. There are several types of tumours, but 50% are lymphoma. Adenocarcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and fibrosarcomas make up most of the rest. More research is needed to explain how cats get nasal lymphoma. Exposure to tobacco smoke is implicated but evidence is lacking. Cats may sneeze, have noisy breathing, a snotty nasal discharge that can be bloody, and have nasal swelling. Vets may make a tentative diagnosis using signs alone but a biopsy is ideal. CT, MRI  and ultrasound scans are useful for detecting the extent and spread of disease but not always possible. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can be used for nasal lymphoma but are not always possible. Cats with treatment can survive an average of 12-30 months as it is often a localised disease.  

Nasal foreign body

Although more common in dogs, we occasionally see grass seeds or blades of grass lodged after attempted vomiting. Symptoms include sneezing and one-sided nasal discharge. Diagnosis and treatment is often by flushing the nose under anaesthetic, although some cases may be more complicated.  

Fungal infections

Dogs are more prone to inhaling fungal organisms. This is rare in cats. Signs may be very similar to other conditions so examination under anaesthesia is often needed and samples taken for culture if suspicion arises. Fungal infections can be challenging to treat and require specialist care, although some respond to antifungals.  

Polyps

Occasionally polyps (inflammatory swellings) can occur within the nasal cavity. Most come from the middle ear or eustachian tube (connects the nose to the middle ear) and grow into the back of the nasal passage (nasopharynx) causing sneezing, noisy breathing and nasal discharge. Surgical removal can be attempted but it may be hard to remove all tissue, so regrowth is possible and more specialist and complex surgery may be needed.  

Dental disease

Disease of a tooth root may affect the nasal cavity causing sneezing and often other signs such as nasal discharge. Dental radiography to check tooth roots is ideal, followed by removal of any diseased teeth.  

Allergies

These are a common cause of sneezing in humans. It’s an uncommon cause in cats. Persian cats that are extremely flat-faced may sneeze more due to their facial conformation which can be ‘normal’ for them.   Your vet may ask you questions in an attempt to hone in on the cause of your cat’s sneezing. Thinking about these in advance may help:
  • Did the clinical signs start suddenly or gradually?
  • Has the sneezing been getting progressively worse?
  • Is there ever a discharge from the nose or eyes? Is this one-sided or both sides?
  • Is this discharge clear, watery, mucus or pus?
  • Is there any blood present in the discharge (may be a sign of more severe disease such as fungal infection/neoplasia)?
  • Is there any facial swelling and change to the conformation of the face or nose (may be a sign of more severe disease such as fungal infection/neoplasia)?
  • Is there any evidence of involvement of the ears (sometimes seen with inflammatory polyps in particular)?
  • Has there been a change in appetite or weight?
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