Friday 25 July 2008
I am off on holidays for a couple of weeks - so this blog is going to pause for that time. I am back on Monday 11th August, and don't worry - you will be hearing from me then.... I've been enjoying keeping this up to date - I especially like the way that a blog becomes a searchable information resource, although it is still very early days for my own blog to be anything substantial enough to be valuable in that way.
I look forward to getting back to this on my return
In the meantime, take care, and cherish those animals :-)
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Thursday 24 July 2008
Tuesday 22 July 2008
I am still working on putting my weekly television vet spot onto this blog - you can see some if you go to 15th June, and if you click on this link you should be taken to a recent broadcast....... There are still a few technological glitches involved in doing this - I could have just gone for a youtube link, but I want to try to get better quality, and that means doing it in a more complex way. I have some excellent technical assistance (thank you Brian), and we are working on getting this fully sorted by the end of the summer. So watch this space!
Pete Click here for full post
Monday 21 July 2008
Veronica McSwiney, the well-known concert pianist, from Bray, County Wicklow was concerned when Tara, her ten year old spayed female Golden Retriever started to leave wet spots on the carpet Veronica has always loved playing the piano, and there is only one hitch with her chosen career: she is often away from home, performing for audiences overseas in places as far off as Japan, Australia and South America. When she comes back to Ireland, her pet dogs and cats rank amongst her greatest pleasures.
She has a particular soft spot for Golden Retrievers, adoring their good looks and easy-going temperament. Tara is always delighted to see Veronica when she returns, rushing to the door, wagging her tail and barking in pleasure. There are only two problems with the breed: dog hair and arthritis.
The dog hair issue is very practical. Veronica also owns Persian cats, which add another hairy dimension to the problem. When Veronica comes in after an evening’s performing, wearing the formal attire of a concert pianist, she needs to time her interaction with her pets carefully. A rapid change into informal gear is sensible, to avoid the hours that will otherwise need to be spent de-furring her performance outfits.
The arthritis problem of Golden Retrievers is a more serious medical issue that Veronica has had to deal with in several dogs over the years. Tara first showed signs of arthritis in her hips when she was only three years old. She began to be slow and creaky when she was getting up first thing in the morning. X-rays confirmed that her hips were the cause of the problem. The condition, particularly common in some breeds, is known as “Hip Dysplasia”, with affected animals being born with hips that are abnormally shaped, and prone to arthritis. Tara’s problem has been well controlled over the years, with a combination of careful attention to weight control and regular anti-inflammatory pain-relieving tablets when she has had episodes of discomfort.
Six months ago, Tara developed a new problem that required a visit to the vet. She started to leave small wet patches on the carpet. It was not a house training issue – Tara was going outside to pass urine as normal. Instead, she seemed to be leaking in small amounts, and she was not aware that it was happening.
Urinary incontinence is common in older female dogs. The bladder sphincter tends to grow weak as animals age, and when the bladder is full, it is common for a small amount of urine to dribble out. If this is the cause, the problem often responds very well to a simple drug which tightens the bladder sphincter. A small dose of medication twice daily can be enough to permanently cure the condition.
In Tara’s case, there were a few other signs that suggested that she might have something more complicated than the common, simple mild incontinence. Firstly, the urine was more than just a few drops: she was passing small puddles. And secondly, she had started to drink more water than usual. This is often a sign of more serious underlying illness, and when this is noticed, it is always worth doing a work up to find out more about what is going on.
Blood and urine samples were collected and analysed. Everything was normal in the blood tests, ruling out a range of diseases including diabetes. The urine tests came up with more complex results: an abnormally high level of protein was present. Further investigations were warranted, so Tara was booked in for an ultrasound examination..
Ultrasound is used to provide a three-dimensional, moving image of the inside of the body. Most people are aware of its use to examine babies in the womb, but ultrasound is very useful in the investigation of a wide range of different illnesses. The technique allowed close scrutiny of Tara’s entire urinary tract. Subtle changes were found in the architecture of her kidneys that were suggestive of a long term, low grade bacterial infection.
A urine sample was collected directly from her bladder using a long needle under ultrasound guidance, and this was sent off for further analysis. The result provided the answer that was the key to curing the problem: her urine contained bacteria that were resistant to common antibiotics. Tara had a chronic urinary tract infection that required a long course of potent antibiotic treatment.
The response to treatment was dramatic. Within twenty four hours of the first antibiotic tablet, the wet patches had stopped. Tara also seemed to be much happier in herself, with more energy and cheerfulness. Veronica had thought that perhaps she had been growing slower because of her age, but she now wonders if the chronic infection had been the cause. Tara now seems like a younger dog again.
Chronic urinary tract infections can be difficult to diagnose, but in Tara’s case, the results of the tests were conclusive. She will need to stay on antibiotics for at least eight weeks, and even then, the saga will not be over. Repeated urine cultures will be needed to ensure that the infection has been completely cleared.
Tara is no longer leaving puddles on the carpet, but she is still shedding as much hair as usual. Veterinary science has not yet found that answer to that one!
+Urinary incontinence is common in older female dogs
+ It is very important to make a correct diagnosis of the underlying cause
+ Treatment is often highly effective, curing the problem completely
Veronica is performing in a lunchtime concert next Friday, 25th July in the John Field Room at the National Concert Hall in Dublin.
The performance takes place 1.05pm. She will be playing as part of the Eblana Trio, with her daughter Aisling on the violin, and cellist Julia Graham.
In the following week, the Eblana Trio will be performing in Tullamore, Wexford, Limerick, and Waterville
Click here for full post
Friday 18 July 2008
Pets often behave in idiosyncratic ways that make us laugh. Yesterday, I was called in to offer advice on RTE’s Mooney Show when a listener phoned in to describe the strange behaviour of her cat. To listen to this, click on this link and go to Thursday July 17th, where you can listen to it on a realplayer stream. The story about the cat begins at 32:30 if you move the realplayer counter along to that point of the show And here is the rest of it. Click here for full post
Thursday 17 July 2008
Audio file discussing the "kitten season", and in particular the problem of stray feral kittens, and what can be done to solve the problem. Discussion between Pete and Declan Meehan on East Coast FM.
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Wednesday 16 July 2008
Elsie is a ten year old neutered female terrier who suddenly started trembling all over. She refused her food, and she looked miserable. Sheenagh knew something was seriously wrong, so she brought Elsie in to see me. It was obvious as soon as Elsie walked into the consulting room that there was something wrong with her. She was moving slowly, and trembling all over, from her head to the tip of her tail.
When an animal is brought to the vet, the problem is sometimes very obvious. Other times, like with Elsie, it can be more difficult to identify what is wrong. This is a classical example of the difficulty caused by the fact that animals cannot talk. I could not ask Elsie to tell me what she was feeling.
Vets need to use other methods than speech to try to work out what is happening with their patients. We need to look for clues by asking owners questions, and by carrying out a series of examinations and tests. The process can be similar in some ways to solving a crossword puzzle, or a mystery in a detective novel, and it can be very rewarding to finally discover the cause of a problem.
First of all, I asked Sheenagh for a very detailed account of exactly how Elsie was behaving at home. I discovered that Elsie had been completely normal the previous day, so the problem had a very sudden onset. This fact immediately ruled out certain slow-onset illnesses. Elsie had very few physical symptoms apart from the dullness and trembling. She not coughing, her breathing was normal, and there were no signs of a digestive upset.
I also found out that there were some specific aspects to Elsie’s behaviour that gave useful clues about the cause of her problem. She would not bend down to eat her food, but if she was fed morsels by hand, she would take them. And she was able to walk around the room slowly, but she completely refused to do normal activities like going up steps or jumping into the car.
Next, I carried out a careful physical examination of Elsie. This is a standard procedure that vets do every day with each patient, checking everything to make sure that there are no abnormalities. I started at her head, looking at her eyes, mouth and ears, and worked back along her entire body. I took her temperature, and listened carefully to her chest with my stethoscope. Elsie seemed generally very fit and healthy, although her heart was beating more rapidly than normal, and she continued to tremble like a wobbling jelly.
The final part of my examination was to feel carefully along her spine, starting with her neck, and moving backwards. This was where I finally found out what was bothering her. She did not mind at all as I examined her upper back, but when I moved down and gently prodded her lower back, she yelped in pain, and stared at me indignantly with her big brown eyes. I had found the site of her problem.
Elsie was showing all of the classical signs of lower back pain. Her behaviour (such as not going up steps) was typical of a sore back, and the physical examination had confirmed the location of her pain.
There are many causes of back pain in dogs, and I admitted Elsie to our hospital for further investigations. I took a series of x-ray pictures of her entire spine. These showed changes in her lower back that were consistent with a slipped disc, a problem that is as common in dogs as it is in humans.
Treatment of slipped discs in dogs usually involves a combination of pain relief and strict rest. In a minority of cases, spinal surgery may be needed.
It is difficult to force a dog to rest. As soon as Elsie was given pain relief, she would feel much better, and she would be as keen as ever to go for a long, energetic walk. Unfortunately, if she did this, her slipped disc would be likely to slip even further in the wrong direction, causing a severe aggravation of her pain, or even progressing to paralysis of her back legs. To prevent this, dogs with back pain need to be physically forced to rest.
Sheenagh bought a collapsible wire metal cage which became Elsie’s home for the next three weeks. She was only allowed out of the cage on a lead, for ten minutes twice a day.
Elsie stopped trembling within a few hours of being given pain relief. She brightened up and she started to eat normally. She soon grew used to living in her cage, and after two weeks of rest, she was allowed out to go for her first walk on a lead. Since then, she has gradually increased her activity, week by week. Elsie may have further episodes of back pain in the future, but for now, she has returned to living a normal, active life.
+ If your pet is unwell, be ready to answer lots of questions from the vet about your pet
+ Back pain is common in dogs but it is often not obvious to an owner
+ Modern pain relief for pets is very effective
+ Most sore backs recover with simple treatment, but strict rest is essential
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Monday 14 July 2008
Lotus is a female Shiba Inu aged 8 months. Ping is eleven years old, and her family bought Lotus after she had fallen in love with the computer game version of the Shiba Inu breed People make difference choices when getting a new dog. Many people choose a cross bred dog from their local pound or rescue centre, and this has much to commend it. Ireland has a huge surplus of unwanted dogs, with thousands being euthanased every year. If a home can be given to one of these individuals, then it can mean that one less dog is killed. But rescued dogs do not suit every situation. Sometimes, new owners feel that they need to know exactly what type of animal they are introducing into their home. Important characteristics of dogs are inherited, and if the parents of a puppy are unknown, it can be very difficult to predict how the adult version will turn out. A pedigree puppy gives new owners the possibility of having a reasonable estimate about the size, shape and personality of the adult version of their pet.
Whey paying money for a pedigree animal, people need to be aware of the risk of accidentally buying a dog from a badly kept puppy farm, and there are some rules of thumb to try to make sure that a new puppy comes from a good background. The Irish Kennel Club (www.ikc.ie) can be a useful place to track down a breeder of the type of animal that you are looking for. If possible, you should visit the breeder’s premises, rather than meeting in an anonymous car park. And you should meet the mother of the puppy, with her identity confirmed by looking at the puppy’s pedigree chart, and having the mother’s microchip identification demonstrated for you. Ideally, you should also meet the father of the puppy. If both parents are calm, obedient individuals, it is much more likely that the puppy will grow up to be the same type of dog.
When a family has chosen to buy a pedigree puppy, they may have a vague idea about which breed they prefer, but often the choice is based on whatever puppy is reasonably easy to find at the time. Breeds like Boxers, West Highland White Terriers, Labradors and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are very popular, and it is easy to find litters of puppies for sale.
The Ng family was unusual in that they knew exactly which breed of dog they wanted, and it was not one that was easily available. Ping is a big fan of a game called Nintendogs, on her Nintendo DS, featuring a breed of dog called a Shiba Inu. She adopted four electronic versions of the dog while playing the game, and she decided that this was the type of dog that she wanted in real life. The Shiba Inu is a very pretty dog, with a lovely long, deep coat. The breed originated in Japan, and is one of the oldest breeds in the world, with DNA analysis demonstrating that it dates back to the third century BC. Ping liked the idea that she was choosing an Asian dog, like herself. Ping was born in Ireland, with an Irish mother and a Chinese father. She visits China from time to time, to see family, and the Far East remains an important part of her personal identity.
The Shiba Inu is a rare breed in Ireland, and the Ng family had to do a lot of research before finding the right source. They eventually tracked down a breeder in Abbeyfeale, and they put in an order for a puppy a whole year in advance. They were kept in touch during the year and they were notified as soon as the puppies had been born. They collected their puppy when she was six weeks old, and she was christened “Lotus”. She was expensive, at €850, but Ping’s parents see her as a long term investment. Lotus will grow into an adult that will be “the” family dog, so that Ping and her siblings will grow up remembering her as an important, central part of their childhood. She has been microchipped, and she is not left outside alone in the garden, because of the risk that someone could try to steal her in the mistaken hope that she would be a valuable commodity to sell.
Lotus is exceptionally well bred. Her half sister was in the top five at Crufts this year, but the family is not going to breed from her- she is just a pet, and she has already been spayed. Lotus has grown into a dog that has a close resemblance to a fox, and when she is taken for a walk, people often stop to ask why a fox is being kept on a chain. Her coat is magnificent, but it does need frequent brushing to keep it looking good.
Lotus is an intelligent, but independent-minded dog. She is very quick to learn, and Ping is currently undertaking a series of dog training classes with her. She can already sit, stay and walk to heel. She loves playing too, and she is quick to chase a ball that is thrown for her.
Ping still has her four computer dogs, but nowadays she spends much more time playing with her real-life version.
+ For most people, a cross bred dog from the local animal rescue centre makes a good choice of pet
+ For different reasons, a specific pedigree breed of dog can have an appeal to some families
+ If choosing a rare breed of dog, you need to spend time and money to make sure that you get it right
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Friday 11 July 2008
Have you ever seen photos of battery hens in cages? The birds live in conditions where they can scarcely move, yet they still produce eggs, and so still make a profit for their owners. But it is obvious from photographs that the hens do not have a quality of life that would be envied.
Did you know that in Ireland, it is perfectly legal to keep dogs in the same conditions? I have heard of situations where dogs live in wire cages, measuring three feet wide, by two feet high, by two feet deep. The cages are lined up in long rows, with a second storey of cages on tope of them. Each cage contains a bitch, either pregnant or nursing young puppies. The cages are in a large dark shed, in a large muddy field. The shed can be seen from a nearby road, but passers-by would have no idea about what is happening inside. And even if people did know what was happening, little could be done about it. As long as the animals are not actively suffering from pain, it is very difficult to prove that “cruelty” is taking place.
The term “puppy farm” is used to describe such dog breeding establishments. Puppies are valuable commodities, and it is possible to make large amounts of money by producing high numbers of puppies. In Ireland, this can be done with no regulation or intervention by anyone. Puppy farmers can just do exactly what they want, as long as they are careful to avoid actions that could be described in a court of law as “cruelty”.
Last year, another puppy farm was raided by animal welfare workers, this time in County Wicklow. The story is a familiar one, but it is still shocking.
Eighty dogs were rescued, and up to twenty of those may need to be euthanased because they are in such poor condition. Most of the dogs were Yorkshire Terriers, or terrier crosses, and they were kept in cramped conditions, with no access to light, food or clean water. They were covered in fleas, and they had matted coats, soaked in urine and encrusted with faeces. Some of the dogs were kept in containers so small that they could not even stand up, so that they were in a permanent crouched position. Their nails were overgrown because of the enforced inactivity.
I am not at all surprised about this news story. I am quite sure that there are dozens more of these puppy farms across Ireland, hidden behind closed doors. For the past eight years, animal welfare groups have been urging the government to take action to stop this abuse of animals, but nothing has changed.
Most countries control such large-scale dog breeding enterprises with regulations and inspections. Not Ireland. Here, anybody can set up a “puppy farm”, keeping as many breeding animals as they wish, with no restriction and no external monitoring.
As a result of the lack of regulation, Ireland has become known as the “puppy farm capital” of Europe. Puppies are produced here in large quantities, crammed into vans and transported to the bigger, busier puppy market of the UK. Our international image has been suffering as a result.
The Irish government did begin to address this situation, and a Working Group was set up four years ago to assess the best way to deal with the problem. A comprehensive report with simple recommendations to introduce a form of inspection and licensing for the large-scale breeders was produced in October 2005.
In May 2006, the Minister of Environment announced that he was introducing new regulations as recommended by the Working Group. All premises with more than five bitches would have to be registered with the local authority. There would be strict limits on the number of times and the frequency with which a bitch would be allowed to have puppies. A higher licence fee would be introduced for large scale dog breeders to cover the cost of inspections.
At the time, animal welfare groups welcomed this announcement, but celebrations were premature. Over two years later, the recommendations have still not been implemented. The consequences of this lack of action can be seen in the video on my blog. Animals continue to suffer so that humans can make profit from them.
I do appreciate that it is not always as easy as it might seem to introduce new licensing arrangements and regulations. There are many practical issues that can cause complications. There is no point in rushing to put regulations in place if they cannot be enforced properly. It is quite possible that the Department of Environment has been busy behind the scenes, finalising the details of how the new regulations will be implemented. But it has been over two years since the announcement was made, and to date, there has been no visible sign of anything happening.
If you want to know more about the issue of puppy farming, you can read the full report of the Dog Breeders Working Group at www.environ.ie. (just type “dog breeders” into the search box on the site). Ask in your local library if you are unable to access the internet yourself.
If nothing is done, you can be sure that dogs will continue to be treated like battery hens to make profit for their uncaring owners. In six months time, there will be another news report about the appalling conditions on another puppy farm. How long do we have to wait before action is finally taken to sort this out?
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Thursday 10 July 2008
Wednesday 9 July 2008
Caroline found Harry the hedgehog walking across her garden in the middle of the day. When she picked him up with gloves, he curled up at first, but then he poked his head out and sneezed at her. She could see that he had a runny nose, and he just did not look well.
The last three months have been busy on the hedgehog front. Hedgehogs across the UK and Ireland came out of hibernation from late-March onwards, and they have been busy eating as much as possible since they emerged. After starving during their four or five winter months of hibernation, hedgehogs are voraciously hungry, and they need to replace their fat reserves, which have been severely depleted. (They lose a third of their body weight during hibernation).
In the wild, hedgehogs eat beetles, caterpillars, earthworms and bird eggs. They also nibble on such delicacies as slugs, snails, small mammals, earwigs and bees. Most hedgehogs manage by finding enough food in the wild, but some individuals become so weakened from hunger that they end up in difficulty. Hedgehogs are normally nocturnal, and if a hedgehog, like Harry, is out and about in broad daylight, it is a sign of desperation, and they need human help.
When Caroline brought Harry to me, it was obvious that he was small and very thin. When I put him on the electronic weighing scales, he weighed only 400g. A normal adult hedgehog should weigh at least 600g at the end of hibernation. It is difficult to tell the exact age of a hedgehog, but I suspected that Harry was a very young adult, perhaps born at the end of last summer. The mortality rate of such young adult hedgehogs during hibernation is very high, and Harry had been very lucky to survive.
Hedgehogs are difficult animals to examine. Their natural instinct to curl into a prickly ball makes simple tasks very complicated. Normal veterinary procedures like temperature-taking, examination of eyes, ears and mouth, and listening to the chest with a stethoscope are not easy to accomplish. In Harry’s case, a darkened room, and plenty of patience were necessary. Soon he began to feel more relaxed, and he uncurled for long enough to allow me to examine him thoroughly.
Harry had runny eyes, a dirty nose, and I could see that his breathing was laboured. He was suffering from a respiratory infection, probably brought on by his weakened state from hunger and hibernation. Hedgehogs are prone to internal parasites, and it was likely that he might have some type of lungworm as well as a bacterial or viral infection.
He was hospitalised for intensive treatment, and placed into a cage with a hot water bottle (double wrapped in towels for protection against his sharp spines). He was fed by hand, using a syringe, with special high-energy high-vitamin liquid food, designed for helping cats recovering from serious illness. I prescribed a worming dose, a course of antibiotic injections, and some antibiotic eye drops to treat his sore eyes. One of our nurses was designated to give him special attention, spending time with him four times daily, using moist cotton buds to keep his eyes and nose clean.
He made good progress over a few days, and soon he was eating normal tinned cat food. Hedgehogs are very messy eaters, and the newspaper on the floor of his cage needed to be changed after each meal because of the widely splattered food. He put weight on, and he began to grow stronger. He also grew used to his human handlers, and it became easier to examine him.
After a week of treatment, his eyes were bright, his nose was black and shiny, and the discharges had disappeared. His breathing was normal, and he was eating well. He was ready to leave our animal hospital.
Caroline took him back home with her, and put him in a large cardboard box in a utility room. She has been feeding him twice daily with a high quality dried cat food, soaked for an hour so that it is soft and mushy. His antibiotic course has been continued with drops mixed with his food. Later in the summer, when he is bigger, she will release him into her garden, but continue to feed him every day. Hedgehogs are known as “the gardener’s friend”, providing a natural form of pest control by eating slugs, snails, caterpillars and other plant-eating creatures.
Harry was lucky to find Caroline, but equally, Caroline feels she is lucky to have her own hedgehog to help her out in the garden in the future!
+ If you find a hedgehog wandering around during the daytime, it needs your help
+ Many vets are happy to give first aid to wildlife free of charge
+ If you want to encourage hedgehogs in your garden, leave a saucer of food out at night
+ Hedgehogs like eating cat food –either tinned or soaked dry food
+ Do not leave out bread and milk – this causes diarrhoea in hedgehogs Click here for full post
Tuesday 8 July 2008
"Working with animals" is the career dream for many people. The question is: what is the best way to get started? This audio segment, courtesy of East Coast FM, discusses some of the options available.
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Monday 7 July 2008
Emma Murphy, aged 13, has a dog, a cat,a rabbit, guinea pigs and hamsters. Last weekend. she gave talks for other children about pet keeping at the Pet Expo in Cork Emma has been “pet mad” for as long as she can remember. There have always been animals in her home, and in the past year, the family interest in pets has stepped up a notch. Emma’s mother, Marie, is the organiser of Pet Expo, which was launched in Dublin last October. The first Munster Pet Expo happened on the weekend of 5th/6th July in Cork, and Emma offered to help by talking about her favourite subject: pets.
Many children like the idea of pets, but often they don’t know what’s really involved. Emma has a “child’s eye” view of looking after her different pest, and she feels that she is in a good position to pass her knowledge on to other children.
“I have been looking after my rabbit, guinea pigs and hamster for the past five years” she says. “When parents tell children that it’s a lot of work, they don’t really believe them. When I talk about what I do, I think that they are more likely to listen to me”.
Emma’s favourite pet is her rabbit Thumper, who is now one year old. He is a male rabbit, and he is soon going to be neutered. Emma is quick to talk about the benefits of neutering for pets. “There are too many young pets around. I know people who have female rabbits who keep producing babies and they can’t find homes for them. Neutering stops female rabbits from having babies, like it does in dogs and cats. It will also make male rabbits like Thumper calm down a bit. He sometimes nips me, and he chases the guinea pigs if he gets a chance. The operation will make him into a much better pet.”
Thumper has a double-storey hutch with a big run, but he is not allowed out on his own in the garden, because he digs holes, and tries to escape. Emma has a lead and harness for him, and she takes him out for a walk every evening to the local green. She has Molly the dog on a lead in one hand, and Thumper the rabbit on his lead in the other, and she says that she does get some strange looks. She tells me that Thumper gets on well with Molly and with Yosha the cat too. Emma is very relaxed about his interaction with her bigger pets. “Rabbits are bigger and stronger than people think” Emma goes on. “Thumper is more likely to chase a dog or cat than to be chased by them”.
Emma is also a serious Guinea Pig enthusiast. “I love the way that they talk to me by making squeaky noises. They spend a lot of time talking to each other too.” Emma has two Guinea Pigs – Ben and Jerry - and they spend most of their time within squeaking range of each other. “They love each other’s company, and I would hate for one of them to be alone. If one does die eventually, I’ll need to get a younger friend for the one that is left”. Emma tells me that she has heard that Guinea Pigs and rabbits should not mix, and she wanted to know “Why not?” I explained that there are two reasons: firstly, Guinea Pigs can carry a bug that in theory can be passed on the rabbits, although there may not be as big a risk of this as people used to think. Secondly, some rabbits can be aggressive to smaller animals like Guinea Pigs, and they can hurt them. Many people do keep rabbits and Guinea Pigs together without any problem, and this can be fine as long as they are monitored closely to make sure that they are healthy and that no fighting is going on. Rabbits are social creatures too, and it may be better for their mental health to live amongst Guinea Pigs than to live alone.
Emma also has two hamsters, and these do like to live on their own. Hamsters are the exception to the rule: they are solitary creatures in the wild, and they tend to fight if forced to share a cage. Emma had a third hamster, but he died recently, and she had her first experience of losing an animal. She found it difficult, but she realises that when you have small pets that only live for a few years, you need to learn to get used to the fact that they die. She buried the hamster in the back garden, after a short funeral.
Emma was based in the Pets Corner at the Pet Expo in Cork, helping the show Animal Welfare Officer look after the small pets, as well as giving talks to small groups of children. She has done drama at school, so she was quite comfortable talking in public, especially to other children. And she is always happy when she is talking about her favourite subject of pets. See her again at the Pet Expo in Dublin in October.
+ Many children have a natural affinity with animals
+ Pets are good for children’s self confidence and social skills
+ Children of all ages can be taught about looking after pets
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Friday 4 July 2008
Cinders is an eleven month old female neutered black Domestic Shorthaired Cat. Her owner Orla was in the bathroom, when Cinders jumped up beside her and passed urine in the sink. Orla was shocked when she saw that urine was a dark red colour, and it contained small clots of blood. ABloody urine is always a very significant sign that should never be ignored. Pets with this problem need to be taken to the vet immediately to establish the source of the blood. There are many possible causes. Often a series of tests needs to be carried out to make the most accurate diagnosis, and to determine the most appropriate treatment.
When I examined Cinders, she seemed like a very healthy, contented young cat. She purred as I examined her, pressing her head against my hand in an affectionate way. Orla told me that apart from the urine incident, she was behaving completely normally at home. She was eating well, and had a normal thirst.
Her temperature was normal, and she allowed me to feel her abdomen very thoroughly, so I could tell at once that there was nothing painful inside her, and there were no unusual swellings or growths.
The most likely cause of Cinder’s problem was a condition known as “cystitis”, which means “inflammation of the bladder”. For different reasons, the inner lining of the bladder becomes bright red and sore looking, almost like a knee which has been grazed by a fall on tarmac. Blood oozes from the inflamed bladder wall into the urine. Many cats with cystitis also have increased urgency, and owners sometimes find small drops of bloody urine around the house, where the cat has been “caught short”. Cinders was a very smart cat – the bathroom sink was the perfect place to pass urine in a hurry. And doing it in full view of Orla was a good way of telling her owner “Look – something is wrong with me!”
Cystitis can be caused by a number of different underlying causes, and the treatment of each can be different, and so it was important to do some tests to find out more about what was going on. I admitted Cinders to our animal hospital for the day for a full work-up.
Cinders was sedated with a modern drug that caused her to become very sleepy while I did my tests, but that was immediately reversed with an antidote as soon as I had finished.
The first task was to take a radiograph (X-ray) of her abdomen. Some cats develop crystals in the urine, and these can gather into small stones in the bladder. If these are present, they can be seen on the radiograph, and sometimes surgery may be needed to remove them. In Cinders’ case, there was no sign of any stones, and the rest of her abdominal contents also looked completely normal.
Next, I needed to collect a urine sample for analysis. Cats are very private about their toileting habits, and it is difficult to get a “free catch” sample. Instead, I used a simple, safe technique called “cystocentesis” when Cinders was sedated. I could feel her bladder with one hand, and with the other, I pushed a needle connected to a syringe through her abdominal wall and directly into her bladder. As I pulled back on the plunger, the syringe filled with dark red, cloudy-looking urine.
I analysed the urine in our in-house laboratory. It contained lots of blood, but there were no crystals present, and it was a healthy urine sample in all other ways.
My final job was to collect a blood sample, also for analysis in our practice laboratory. A mini-panel was carried out, and this confirmed that Cinders’ kidneys were working correctly.
The work-up confirmed that Cinders had straightforward cystitis, which is a common condition in the cat world. Sometimes it can be caused by a bacterial infection, but more commonly, it happens with no identifiable underlying cause. It can be associated with stress, and it is more common in cats that eat only dried food, but it does also happen in unstressed cats, and in cats that do not eat dried food.
I sent Cinders home with three forms of treatment. Firstly, she was given sachets of a special food that is designed to make the urine less acidic, and less irritant to the lining of the bladder. Secondly, she was given a course of antibiotics to treat any bacteria in her bladder that could be contributing to the problem. And thirdly, she was given some simple pain relief in the form of drops to be added to her food, to minimise any discomfort that she might be suffering.
I texted Orla three days later to check up on Cinders’ progress, and she had returned completely to normal. It is likely that she may suffer from repeated episodes of cystitis in the future. Now that the initial work up has ruled out serious underlying causes, in future I will be able to simply dispense the same treatment as needed.
+ Blood in urine is a serious sign that should not be ignored
+ Cystitis is a common cause of bloody urine in cats
+ It is important to go to your vet to check that there is not a serious underlying cause
+ Treatment may include special diets, pain relief and antibiotics
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