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Are you ready for the year ahead? – the pet calendar with a difference!

So, here we are, another year ahead! Are you ready? What might 2014 hold for you and your pets? January Let the dieting begin! With a third of pets in the UK carrying too much weight, many of us will have animals who could join us on the tradition post Christmas slim down! Have a chat to local vets about the different things you can do. Cutting down on meals and treats, changing the make of food you give, altering how you feed them (for example changing from a simple bowl to a puzzle feeder); are all small changes that can make a big difference! Also, encouraging your pets to exercise more will speed up their slim down, not always easy for cats but if you have dogs, more walks will be beneficial to you both! February For me, this is one of the most depressing months of the year. The long, cold nights have been going on for what seems like forever & Spring seems a long way away. It is often also the time of year snow arrives, which can cause our pets as many problems as our cars! Take care to ensure any rabbits or other pets kept outdoors are well insulated against the cold and check your dogs feet carefully for ice balls and grit after road walks, both of which can cause painful problems. However, the weather can be fun as well! Don’t forget to throw a few snowballs for the dog (and maybe the cat as well!) Also, what about Valentines day, will your pets be getting a gift?! March Spring is just around the corner! And summer ’isn't that far away! If you are planning a getaway abroad with your pets, now is the time to start thinking about rabies vaccines and getting their passport sorted, so you aren't on the last minute nearer the time. It is also a good times to book the kennels and cattery if they aren't coming with you, the good ones will get booked up quickly! April Now the days are getting longer, use it as an opportunity to go out for more walks with your dogs. I often see them a bit porkier at this time of year when the early nights and working days mean they can’t be taken out as much but most soon lose the pounds around now! Also, it’s Easter time! Which means chocolate eggs! Just remember to be careful and keep all these tasty treats out of reach of dogs. Chocolate is toxic to them, especially the dark kind, and can cause significant problems (and copious diarrhoea!) May Fireworks season may seem a long way away (and it is!) but if you have a pet who is scared of them, now is the time to start planning. One of the best ways of desensitising noise program. The best is SOUNDS SCARY, which is available as a download. It comes with full instructions, have been designed by a vet and can be very helpful! You won’t regret it! June Summer holidays are just around the corner! If your pets are not coming away with you, now is the time to check all their vaccinations are up to date, especially as if they have over-run it can take up to a month to get back on track. Also, most kennels will require dogs to have a kennel cough vaccine, which is most effective given a fortnight or more before they go in. June is also often Microchipping Month at many vet practices, so if your pets aren’t done, now is a good time! July The holidays are here! Why not use this time and the longer days to explore your local area with your dog. Websites like walkiees.co.uk and dogfriendlybritain.co.uk have lots of information on dog friendly walks, beaches and attractions on your area. Cats will also be spending more time outside (if it is sunny!) but some people worry about them wandering. Simple changes to your garden like planting cat nip, creating resting places in high positions and leaving areas over-grown for them to hide in will all encourage them to hang out in your back yard rather than doing too much exploring! August Hopefully the weather won’t let us down and we will have some sunshine! Warmer days are great for getting out and about with our pets but you do have to be careful, especially with dogs who have short noses. These breeds are particularly vulnerable to over-heating, which can be very dangerous, so should only be exercised during the cooler parts of the day. Also, make sure outdoor pets like rabbits get a chance to run about in the sun and that they have plenty of water and access to shade September Back to school - boo! As well as for kids, this can be a depressing time of year for dogs as well, who have been used to having the family around in the day and they can start acting out. Make the change less difficult by making sure they aren't suddenly left alone for long periods and use ADAPTIL collars for those who are particularly anxious. Also, why don’t they go back to school as well?! Dogs of all ages benefit from regular training classes and it is a great way of spending quality time with them. October Autumn is now well underway and the temperatures are dropping. Depressing but at least you don’t have to worry now about fleas, right? Wrong! This time of year is actually the worst for infestations because as the weather gets colder, our houses get warmer. By turning on our central heating we create tropical flea paradises for them to enjoy and reproduce at will, if we don’t keep out pets protected. So, if you haven’t treated your pets recently, now is the time to get to your vets for some spot-ons and if you do keep them covered, remember to continue, even in the winter months! November Fireworks season is upon us! Hopefully, if you started Sounds Scary in May, things will be better for scared pets but all benefit from some extra TLC when the sky lights up! Help indoor pets by drawing the curtains, preventing access to outside, creating a cosy den behind the sofa to muffle the noises and use ADAPTIL and FELIWAY plug-ins for particularly worried animals. Make sure outdoor animals are protected by ensuring their hutches are also well insulated against the noises and that they have lots of bedding to burrow in. December It’s Christmas! This can be a really fun time of year for sociable animals, with all the visiting and entertaining that goes on but others can find it very stressful, especially, if they are shy. If your pets don’t feel like greeting people, don’t make them, let them come round in their own time. Also, be careful with all the yummy food in the house! Chocolate is very tempting to dogs but can be harmful, as can anything with lots of raisins such as Christmas pud or mince pies. And if you have cats, make sure the tree is very stable! More than one kitty has been spotted peering out from between the branches or playing pat-a-cake with the baubles! Finally, don’t forget to buy your furry friends a gift for under the tree - but I don’t need to remind you about that do I! What will you get them?! My very best wishes to you and your furry families for a happy and healthy 2014! Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at www.catthevet.com
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So You Want To Be A Vet? – Getting into vet school and beyond

I did and I still do! Being a vet is a brilliant job; every day is different. I get to work with great people and use the skills I worked hard to gain to help animals and solve their problems. However, it is also involves long hours, regular challenges, with both pets and people, and it can be very stressful. The first hurdle to being a vet is actually getting into vet school and with an average of nine applicants for every place, it is one of the most competitive university courses there is. The standard of students is always extremely high and I know the selectors face a very difficult task in picking out those best suited for a career in veterinary medicine. First and foremost, you must get the right grades at both GCSE and A Level. Without these you won’t even be considered and rightly so; academically the vet course is tough. However, as well as being a geek (!), you also need to have excellent people skills, good practical skills and, I believe, bags of common sense. You can help to show you have these by ensuring your extracurricular activities are relevant and varied; music, sports, volunteering and Duke of Edinburgh all regularly appear on successful candidates applications. The other vital piece of the puzzle is completing a diverse range of work experience to demonstrate you really understand the veterinary industry. Trust me, it’s not all cuddling cute animals! The most obvious place to start is in a vet clinic but this can be difficult. Most practices receive a large number of requests but do persevere. You should also spend some time on farms getting your hands dirty. Helping out at milking time and lambing is not glamorous but will be rewarding & very useful. To stand out from the crowd you could also consider seeing other aspects of veterinary work such as zoos and exotic pets, abattoirs (all of which need a vet on the premises while they are operating) and scientific laboratories. Many vets are involved in research and during the course you will spend quite a bit of time in the lab! Wanting to be a vet for most people is a passion and very few probably give much thought to what working as a vet is actually like. It is a cliche to say it is more a way of life than a job but veterinary is certainly not 9-5! Many positions will include on call, meaning you will be working in the night and often the next day as well. A great deal of veterinary medicine, particularly for the farm and horse vets, is done alone, which can be stressful and even the small animal vets in a clinic will be expected to make their own decisions from day one and perform surgery single handedly. This is difficult when you first start and although it gets easier, it is always a challenge! It is also important to consider the salary you are likely to earn. This is often something students don’t consider important but it soon becomes so when you have a mortgage to pay and a family to support! As a vet you will always be paid a good wage but it is very much less than similarly qualified professionals. Trust me, you soon get tired of clients thinking you earn as much as a doctor when it is more likely to be a third of that! Being a vet is wonderful and I feel very fortunate to be in my dream job. However, I confess when I set my heart on it I gave very little thought to the practicalities of life with long hours, on-call, demanding owners and difficult cases. Although, to be honest, even if I had it wouldn’t have changed my mind! If you are sure you want to be a vet; have the drive, intelligence and I haven’t put you off (!), then my advice is work hard, go for it and maybe one day, I’ll see you in theatre! Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at catthevet.com
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Getting ready for an anaesthetic at the vets

At one time or another we all have to face our beloved pets having an anaesthetic which can be a scary process if it’s not properly explained. Fortunately most veterinary practices have a fantastic team of nurses that can help you understand the procedure. (NB. I have used “he” in the article for continuity but this goes for all dogs a Labrador crop and cats regardless of gender). To give you a head start, here are some top tips: 1. The number one golden rule for preparing for an anaesthetic is no food after midnight (this does not apply to rabbits or guinea pigs). Also, some practices may give you an earlier time say nine or ten o’clock but the principle is still the same, basically no midnight feasts and no breakfast. The reason for this is two fold. The main reason is to stop your pet vomiting and potentially inhaling it. This can also prevent nausea on recovery. Another reason is to try and prevent any ‘accidents’ on the operating table which increases the risk of contaminating the surgical environment although to safe guard against this, some practices routinely give enemas and express bladders before surgery. So, while it breaks your heart to tuck in to steak and chips with Fido giving you the big brown eyes treatment console yourself with the knowledge that you are actually acting in his best interests to help minimise the risk of anaesthetic. 2. Give your pet the opportunity to relieve himself before coming into the surgery. Obviously this is easier with dogs but while we advise taking dogs for a walk before coming in we don’t mean a five mile hike on the beach with a swim in the sea, we mean a nice gentle walk around the block to encourage toileting. If you bring your dog in covered in dirt and sea water, you’re increasing the anaesthetic risk as we have to keep him asleep longer while we prep him. (See my previous article about how we prepare your pet for a surgical procedure). 3. Tell the nurse when she is admitting him whether you have noticed any unusual behaviour. Vomiting, diarrhoea, coughing or sneezing can all be indicators of problems and may need to be investigated prior to anaesthesia. Also tell the nurse if your pet is on any medication, when he last had it and bring it with you if you can. This way, if your pet needs to stay in after his operation, they will have everything he needs without adding extra to your bill. Harvey blanket1. Some pets get a little worried when in a new place so it may be helpful to bring in a jumper of yours or a blanket that smells like home. Be prepared for this to come home dirty! Some animals have accidents on recovery and with some of the larger practices getting through over fifteen loads of washing a day (with different people doing the laundry) it may not be possible to locate your blanket once it has disappeared into the washing room abyss. It does help tremendously if the blanket is labelled with your name. That way, if it does enter the washing room, it can be found again. Eventually. Obviously with smaller practices it’s much easier to keep track of individual items. 1. Give the practice a phone number that you can be contacted on. This is something that has surgeons and nurses tearing their hair out on a regular basis. All too often we’re given a phone number only to call it and hear a message saying that the mobile phone has been switched off or to hang on the end of a ringing phone. The reason behind this is sometimes we need to contact you during surgery because we have found something unusual or that we weren’t expecting and need to gain your consent to a change of procedure. It’s your pet and your decision and we want you to be involved every step of the way but we need to be able to speak to you to do that. I’m not saying you need to be sat by your phone from the minute you drop your pet off but please give a phone number that you or someone who can get hold of you will answer. Or at the very least, a answering machine that you check regularly. 1. Have faith in your veterinary team! If they suggest extra procedures such as intravenous fluids or blood sampling it’s because they think it would benefit your pet. I had one incident where a long haired cat was coming in to be sedated and lion clipped (shaved basically as his hair was matted). As he was over eight years old and hadn’t had a blood test I suggested a basic profile just to check what the liver and kidneys were doing. The blood tests revealed elevated kidney values which meant that there was some degree of kidney disease present. Finding this early meant that we were able to recommend a special diet to help slow the degeneration down (it’s never reversible) and the cat is now more likely to be monitored before he gets too ill. 70% of the kidney needs to be affected before clinical signs appear, wouldn’t you want to know before it gets to that point? Also, if we can see there’s an irregularity before we do the surgery, we can provide additional care to further minimise the risk. 1. Ask questions. We would much rather sit with you and explain away your concerns than have you sit at home or at work worrying. Also, if you are going to search the internet for information about the procedure your pet is having, please use reputable sources such as this one or ones written by the veterinary profession. The last thing you need to be reading is a blog by Joe Smith (fictional) about his one off experience about x, y or z and scaring yourself silly. The whole process is stressful enough, don’t torture yourself! Indie1. Bring your pet in suitably restrained. A cat needs to be in a cat carrier and a dog needs to be on a lead. A cat wrapped in a towel can easily become dinner for nervous, hungry German Shepherd. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it happen! Yes this is a minority case but why put your pet at risk? We can’t predict how our pets will react in stressful situations (and coming to the vets certainly counts) so keep everybody safe by having control over your animal. Putting a cat in a carrier usually minimises their stress anyway as they feel safer and more secure and having your dog on a lead means that you can prevent him from bolting out of the door and on to the road. 9. That’s it! You are now fully prepared! Give your pet to the nurse to settle in and walk out the door. That’s actually easier said than done but in order to make this a smooth transition for your pet you need to be calm about it. Animals are very good at picking up stress and will become more worried about the situation the more worried you are. Obviously if your pet is aggressive the nurses may ask you to pop him in his kennel for them but the majority of veterinary professionals are more than capable of handling any type of animal and if you hand them the lead and walk out the door, nine times out of ten the dog will stare out of the door after you for a second or two then follow the nice sounding nurse who is being very enthusiastic and telling him what a good doggie he is through the door to the surgery. Don’t forget that we nurses are masters of cajoling and soothing. We have to work with vets as well after all! If you are worried about a problem with your pet, please talk to your vet or try our Interactive Symptom Guide to check how urgent the problem may be.
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‘I am NOT going in that box…’ – How To Successfully Get Your Cat To The Vet

Suddenly realise you’re late for your cat’s appointment at the vets. Run out to the garage and throw boxes around until you find cat basket. Scream as you remove spiders from cat basket. Look around the room for cat. No cat. Look upstairs for cat. No cat. Look in all closets for cat. No cat. Go back and look behind the sofa. Find cat. Move sofa, cat runs upstairs. Find cat under bed. Crawl under bed and grab cat by scruff and pull, dragging both cat and half of your carpet out from under the bed. Carry hissing and spitting cat downstairs to basket. Call for help as cat splays all four legs as wide as possible to avoid being put in basket. Finally get cat in basket. Drive howling cat to vet. Present cat, who has now vomited, urinated and defecated in the carrier, to the vet. Sound familiar? I would bet that most cat owners have had a similar experience. And there’s nothing you can do about it, right? Cats hate carriers, cars, and vets and that’s just the way it is. But it doesn’t have to be that way! By following a few simple steps you can make the whole procedure much easier on both yourself and your cat. Choose the right carrier. There are some really ridiculous cat carriers out there. I’ve seen everything from designer handbags to pink plastic spaceship-like contraptions. Just because they look cute doesn’t mean they’re going to be of any use when it actually comes to transporting your cat. Forget your own sense of style and choose one that works. • The most common cat carrier is either a plastic box or a wicker basket with a single wire door on the front. I don’t know who designed this, or why they thought it was a good idea, but they clearly never had to get a cat into one. Some young and curious kittens may jump right in just because they can, but most adult cats will be wary of walking into a situation that they can’t easily escape from, especially when they’re already stressed. • By far the easiest carriers to use are the ones that have both a side door AND a top door. This gives the cat more options and gives you a much greater chance of getting them both in or out. Another good choice would be one that just has a very large top door. • If you must choose one that has just one side door, at least make sure that it comes apart easily, with large latches that close securely but open easily with one hand. Most vets don’t keep a screwdriver in their consult room, so please don’t bring your cat in something that requires a degree in engineering to take apart. • Fabric carriers may seem nice and comfortable to you, but their flexibility and tendency to collapse actually makes for a very insecure and likely frightening journey for your cat. [caption id="attachment_2185" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Clearly our Kitties don't mind boxes in general!"]Clearly out Kitties don't have a problem with boxes in general![/caption] Use common sense. If you think about it, cats don’t actually hate boxes or baskets, they lie in them all the time at home. They don’t mind being in enclosed places, and they don’t mind the dark. So why do they hate their carrier so much? Because it’s not the carrier itself, it’s the fact that it’s new and different and scary, and if they’ve been in it before, they know the whole process ahead of them is even more different and scary. But you can help them be less afraid- [caption id="attachment_2203" align="alignright" width="224" caption="Indie doesn't mind his carrier as it is used all the time as an alternative bed with a cosy blanket."]Indie doesn't mind his carrier as it is used all the time as an alternative bed with a cosy blanket.[/caption] • Instead of keeping the carrier in a closet or garage, keep it in the living room. Ideally for a few days or even weeks, but at least the 24 hours prior to the appointment. This will give them a chance to check it out on their own time, even go in and out when no one is looking, so it won’t be so terrifying when they are put in it later. • Put treats or a catnip toy in the basket so they are more likely to explore it. • Reward your cat if he does go near or in the basket. • Put your cat’s favourite blanket or some of your own clothing in the carrier if it will fit, to make it smell like home. Alternatively, a calming pheromone spray (Feliway) may help them feel more secure. Be prepared. Make sure you think through every step of the process before you start. Cats are not stupid. They probably know what you’re planning before you do. • The day before the appointment (if you get that much notice), put the basket in one of the smallest rooms of the house, or the one with the fewest hiding places. Open the door to the carrier and leave it open, ready to go. • On the day of the appointment, and in plenty of the time so you are not rushed, collect your cat from their favourite spot in the sun and carry them as you normally would into the room with the carrier, and shut the door behind you. • Have somebody on standby in the next room to help if necessary. • Gently place your cat into the carrier. OK, it’s probably not that easy, but whatever you do, stay calm and don’t panic – they will pick up on your anxiety and then it will be even harder. If you know your cat won’t go into the basket through the door, you can try tipping it on its side so you lower your cat in instead of shoving them in sideways. Alternatively, take the entire top off the carrier and leave it off before collecting your cat, then put the whole thing back together once your cat is inside. If you don’t have a friend to help, make sure the side with the door is facing a wall so they can’t escape through it while you put the top back on. If they can get into the basket without getting upset, chances are the car ride will also go smoothly. There are some cats who simply hate the car though, and in this case, you can try loading up the carrier and car with more Feliway spray, and booking your appointment at a time when there is least likely to be traffic so the journey is a short as possible. Again, whatever you do, stay calm. Because a cat that is calm when it arrives at the vet is more likely to stay calm during the visit, making it easier for the vet to give them a complete physical exam and any treatments that are necessary. And if you can stay calm, you are much more likely to remember not only what questions you were meant to ask the vet, but also what the vet says during the consultation. All of which leads to better healthcare for your pet. Of course, if all else fails, you can always look for a vet that does housecalls... if you are worried about you cat's health please talk to your vet or try our Cat Symptom Guide to check out how soon you may need to see your vet (and so how soon you'll need to get the basket out!)
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Choosing the Best Vet Practice for your Pet

Just what do you look for when you are choosing a vet practice for your pet?  For some people it is an easy decision as there is only one local vet practice in easy travelling distance, for others it can be a bewildering  choice. A good feeling about a vet practice counts for a lot but there are differences between clinics, understanding what these are can help you to make an informed decision.  The choice will not be black and white, local vet practices will be strong and weak in different areas, it is finding the vet practice that is right for you and right for your pet that matters. Word of mouth recommendation is a good place to start, pet owners in real life or on social networks are usually delighted to help. There is  a fairly comprehensive list of vet practices on the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons website, you can also look at the usual local directories and, of course there is the Vet Help Direct Vet Practice Directory. We are biased, obviously, but believe our directory is extra useful as we provide information, images and, in some cases, video of the vet clinics. You can also try googling the name of the vet practice as most have websites. Next you need to go and visit, don't be embarrassed to explain you are choosing  a vet practice, the staff should be happy to arrange a convenient time for you to look around. Its vitally important that you and your pet feel comfortable at your vets so make sure the staff seem friendly and approachable. Ask about the staff, do they have any special interests? Have they attended any courses recently? Are there any vets or nurses with extra qualifications? There are no right or wrong answers but it can help you to get a general feel for the vet practice. If you are the owner of an exotic animal you should check that there is a vet at the practice with experience of treating your species. Good facilities are certainly not the be all or end all of  a vet practice but they should have the basics and it should, of course all be clean and in good working order. If I was choosing a vet practice for my dog I would want one with an opreating theatre, x-ray, ultrasound, anaesthetic and dental machines, a microscope and in house bloods (or a same day arrangement with a local laboratory), separate kenneling for dogs and cats and an isolation area. Beyond that extra facilities are nice but they can always refer you somewhere else in the unlikely event that more complex treatments are required. The set up of the clinic is also important, are all the facilities there or do you have to travel further away if treatments are necessary? All veterinary surgeons are legally obliged to provide 24 hour cover for emergencies but it is worth asking how this is provided, is it the vets from the surgery or is the out of hours cover provided by a different practice? Whilst it may seem inconvenient to go further afield in the middle of the night don't forget there will be benefits in seeing vets and nurses that have not been working the day before, they will also be on site all night providing round the clock care for your pet. To save you having to look into the facilities and staff in too much detail the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons run a practice standards scheme . Inspectors regularly check they meet the standards for their level to give you peace of mind using the practice. If a practice is certified under the RCVS practice standards scheme you can feel confident using them, but a word of caution, some practices opt out so if they are not registered it doesn't mean that they have not passed, they may have chosen not to take part. Prices do vary from practice to practice, staff should be able to refer you to a list of the prices of the top selling products and provide you with the prices of consultations and vaccinations. Appointment times might also be important to you if you work long hours , many vet clinics now offer late night surgeries at least once a week. Once you have made your decision it is a good idea to register in advance to speed up care if your pet becomes ill. There should be no problem at all changing vets although its important to let both practices know what is happening so that notes can be transferred. Its perfectly acceptable and often sensible to change vets but its not usually a good idea to keep swapping around; its less stressful for the pet if they get to know the vet and premises and you can expect a better standard of care as the vet will get to know you and your pet personally.