The Covid-19 pandemic has swept the world into unchartered waters. As humans and as veterinarians, we are trying to adapt to the ‘new abnormal’, which requires navigating between providing the best care to our animal patients and ensuring the safety of their humans – you – and our staff. One of the solutions available to vets, which has quickly gained traction in the human healthcare sphere, is telemedicine: providing healthcare via the internet.

Changes in veterinary practice during Covid-19

In the midst of Covid-19’s early grip on South Africa, vets issued safety protocols for clients who needed to bring their pets in for consultation and examination. It was stipulated that only essential and emergency procedures would be conducted – the rest would have to wait. This put the onus on the pet owner to determine what type of situation is deemed essential and what constitutes an emergency.

In some instances, pet owners’ queries can fortunately be answered and resolved during a phone call to the vet, especially if the vet is already very familiar with the pet patient. Where home care is prescribed (such as bland chicken and rice as well as rest for non-emergency gastric upset), this ensures that pets’ health is taken care of while lowering the risk of Covid-19 infection for pet owners, vets and veterinary staff. 

The case for telemedicine during Covid-19 

The use of online video conferencing tools like Zoom and Skype can help to maintain social distancing protocols and reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection. In an ideal telemedicine situation, you would book an appointment with the participating vet, pay in advance for the consultation and then meet the vet on camera at the time of your appointment. No need to get your dog or cat into the car or sit in a waiting room with a restless pet. As with an in-person consultation, the vet would enquire after your pet’s health and hear your specific concerns. Being on camera allows the vet to see the ill pet in question, look at any suspect lumps or rashes (high-resolution photos can also be sent via email), and assess general behaviour. Discussing symptoms and narrowing them down to find a cause can lead to a diagnosis and prescription (if necessary), which you would then collect or have delivered. 

Over the last four months in the United States, veterinary telemedicine has already seen a sharp rise in the use of apps specifically developed to provide 24/7 access to professional veterinary advice. In most cases, pet owners rely on access to vet care professionals for advice and reassurance, especially in post-operative instances, or when pets have eaten something suspect or simply don’t seem like themselves. Most pet owners just want to know that they’re doing the right thing for their furry family members and are willing to pay subscription fees for access to vet care via these apps.

Emergencies, vaccinations and diagnostic tests, however, cannot be bypassed with telemedicine.

The benefits of telemedicine in veterinary care

Vet telemedicine may be a benefit to pet owners who are geographically or economically compromised – easier online access means less time and money spent on non-emergency vet care. It also (uncannily) performs a kind of natural triaging process, where pet owners and vets can decide together whether the pet in question qualifies as an emergency case. This keeps vet care capacity available for urgent emergencies. Telemedicine also allows easier access to specialists, and it allows pet owners to show vets behavioural symptoms as they occur in real time. How many times have you taken your sick or ‘off’ pet to the vet, only to have him act totally normal during the consultation?

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, vets have had to reduce their office hours and staff attendance, which means less capacity for routine vet visits. Telemedicine has the potential to fill that gap, especially in terms of providing peace of mind that pet parents are appropriately caring for their pets’ health and wellbeing, especially in such uncertain times. At best, telemedicine is the ideal screening tool to determine whether the vet should rather see the pet patient in person.

The major caveat in vet telemedicine

The provision of telemedicine as a veterinary service comes with a whole range of professional and legal implications. Appointments via video conferencing mean that consultations can be recorded – both for posterity and as part of the pet patient’s file. This may protect vets and pet owners from the liability of misdiagnosis or incorrect treatment, but if the pet’s health is compromised in a way that could have been avoided with an in-person consultation, telemedicine cannot be entirely supported as a reliable tool or protocol for veterinary care.

Telemedicine is not a responsible way to assess first-time patients. Vets need to establish a health baseline as well as a vet-pet-owner relationship in person. The vet also has to literally get a feel for the animal patient. Veterinary medicine is very hands-on, especially since their patients cannot tell them directly what’s wrong, and pet owners’ observation of symptoms and behaviour are only hearsay and may even be coloured by subjectivity.

Consider the following

The symptoms for pancreatitis in dogs include loss of appetite, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Sometimes, these are accompanied by increased or decreased body temperature, diarrhoea, lack of energy, dehydration and irregular heartbeat. How does a pet owner confirm this? A distance diagnosis via telemedicine may result in the misdiagnosis of food toxicity, which in many cases will pass without any major illness. The dog’s body has its own way of expelling toxins and restoring balance. Pancreatitis, on the other hand, is a very serious condition and needs fast emergency treatment. By the time the dog shows symptoms, the illness may already be very advanced and the dog may be suffering unnecessarily. The use of telemedicine in a diagnostic situation would not serve this dog quickly enough.

In conclusion

Telemedicine may make it easier and more efficient for pet owners to get advice from a veterinary professional in these unprecedented times. It may also be necessary as part of the screening process to ensure vet waiting rooms remain empty and Covid-19-free. But telemedicine is not an adequate substitute for real, hands-on care from a vet who is familiar with your pet and cannot be relied on as a failsafe way of diagnosing and treating disease in animals. If you have any concerns regarding your pet’s health and wellbeing, don’t hesitate to phone the vet to ascertain your pet’s need for a consultation. And then go and see them in person. 

© 2020 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

My dog is tilting his head to the side, and seems to be off balance

The vestibular system

The vestibular system is the body’s ‘balance messenger’ – giving mammals (including humans and pets) key sensory information that allows us to stay upright and properly orientated in the world. The vestibular system is made up of two main components: the inner ear and the brain.

In the inner ear, the vestibular system is made up of tiny sensitive bones, membranes and tiny hairs, all strategically positioned to send signals about balance and where your limbs are and how your body is moving also called your spatial orientation. An example of this will, for instance, be your brain sending and receiving messages about which way your head is moving. The different parts of the brain involved in the vestibular system receive the sensory information from the ear and other body structures and help them to all function together to give you a perception of balance. The eyes, the head, the body and the legs are all included, allowing for smooth, balanced and harmonised movement. The proper functioning of the vestibular system allows you to stand on one leg and touch your finger to your nose without falling over.

What is vestibular disease?

Vestibular disease shows up as the sudden onset of balance problems in your pet. The causes of vestibular disease can originate either from the inner ear (peripheral (outside)) or from the brain (central (inside)). How it is diagnosed and treated will depend on the cause (infection, trauma, structural changes or hormonal influence) and the location (inner ear or brain).

How does vestibular disease occur?

Most cases of vestibular disease occur as a result of infection and inflammation of the inner ear (peripheral vestibular disease). Long-standing outer ear infections can progress to middle and inner ear infection leading to vestibular disease in pets. Ear infections at the best of times are difficult to treat because it in itself have many different causes. The ear canal in dogs and cats is much longer than the human ear canal and consist of two parts, the vertical ear canal and the horizontal ear canal. The long ear canal can in many cases contribute to ear infections, but sometimes ear infections are not primarily related to the ears but can be as a result of general skin allergies which then causes ear infections as a secondary problem. Because severe ear infections can lead to vestibular disease, which is a really serious condition, it is important to treat ear infections as early as possible. Other causes of peripheral vestibular disease can be due to damage to the bones protecting the inner ear as caused by head trauma, abnormal growths in this area, certain medications and even hormonal abnormalities such as low thyroid levels.

Central vestibular disease, which affects the brain, is more serious and can be caused by abnormalities in the brain or the membranes protecting it. This can result from bacterial or viral infections such as meningitis, abnormal growths, toxins or even a stroke.

What symptoms will I see in vestibular disease?

The cause of the disease will determine the signs you will see. The most common sign of both peripheral and central vestibular disease is a head tilt to one side. The head tilt almost always affects only one side; with one ear up in the air and the other pointing down. The downward ear is usually the culprit for the discomfort.

The head tilt can vary in severity – from a barely noticeable tilt to tilting all the way to the side, where your pet looks like they’ll fall over. Some pets develop instability where they tend to lean to one side or even fall and roll to the same side as the head tilt. Sometimes pets will walk in tight circles, always in the same direction toward the problematic ear. In some cases, the vertigo and dizziness can cause nausea where pets drool, lick their lips or even upend their dinner. Pets with outer ear infections often scratch their ears and shake their heads with irritation. Some pets with inner ear infections can develop signs of Horner’s Syndrome, where one side of the face may droop, one eyelid hangs, the third eyelid partially covers the eye and there is a change in the size of the pupil. Sometimes one eye appears squint and looks in a different direction to the other, especially when the pet’s head is lifted up.  

If the cause is located in the brain there will be subtle signs such as poor appetite and sleeping more than usual; as well as more frightening signs such as weakness of the legs to paralysis and seizures.

Is vestibular disease treatable?

Treating vestibular disease depends on the cause of the problem. If the problem originates with an inner ear infection, the vet can usually treat it with anti-inflammatories and antibiotics. However, if the problem is more complex and affects the brain or is caused by abnormal growths, the treatment decision would depend on what is found. If your pet is nauseated or vomiting, your vet can assist with anti-nausea medication.

What do I do if I suspect my pet might be affected?

The best option would be to bring your pet to the vet for a full checkup. The vet could first determine if vestibular disease is a problem in your pet and pinpoint the source of the problem, whether it be peripheral or central. It is important to mention to the vet when you first noticed any signs and how it has progressed over time, as well as if your pet is on any medication.

The vet will do a full check on your pet. This may include examining your pet’s ears with an otoscope, test nerve and brain responses, and the vet may even recommend x-rays to have a better idea of what is going on in the inner ear. If a brain-based problem is suspected, a Computed Tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan (MRI scan) might be recommended. These procedures are highly specialised and most veterinary practices do not have the equipment to do these scans in house and you may need to be referred to a veterinary specialist.

When is vestibular disease a problem?

On the basic level, vestibular disease can be a problem if your pet is falling over and hurting themselves, or even falling into the pool and unable to get out. Ear infections are uncomfortable and often painful and will not come right by itself.

On a more serious level, a head tilt can be the tip of the iceberg and may be the first sign of a very serious problem. If your pet has vestibular disease, it is something that does require further investigation and treatment – it will not simply come right on its own.

Either way, if you see your pet persistently tilting their head to the side,  please make an appointment with the veterinary practice.

© 2020 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

Is my cat ill?

Thanks to the nationwide lockdown, we’ll all be spending the next three weeks in the constant company of our furry friends. As the days go by you may start noticing some behaviours or signs in your cat that you haven’t noticed before and may wonder if these are cause for concern. This article will outline the most common signs of illness that you may notice in your cat.

Changes in appetite or drinking habits

You may notice a sudden decrease or increase in your cat’s appetite. Your cat may eat less than usual, take longer to finish her meals or even refuse to eat at all. Conversely, your cat may become ravenously hungry and gobble down anything and everything she can find. You will easily notice any changes if you feed her set meals. However, if she’s used to having food out all the time or if you have more than one pet in your household, it may be trickier. Pay attention to how frequently you have to refill the food bowls – if it suddenly becomes more or less frequent than usual it may mean that something’s up.

If your cat is sick and stops eating, she may deteriorate even more if she’s not eating. Therefore you need to take your cat to the vet sooner rather than later if you notice any changes in her eating habits.

Similarly, your cat may start drinking more or less water than usual. If she starts drinking less than usual, she’s at risk of dehydrating. A vet visit will help to determine why she’s refusing to drink and address any dehydration that may have occurred. If your cat is drinking more water than usual, it may also indicate an underlying issue that needs to be addressed, especially if it’s accompanied by more frequent urination.

Litter box issues

If a cat that is properly litter box trained starts having ‘accidents’ outside the box, it means there is a problem. Also, urinating more frequently than normal is a sign of an underlying issue that needs investigation. Take your cat to the vet if you notice these signs. If you notice your cat straining, but not producing anything, there might be a blockage somewhere which, if left untreated, may be fatal. Take your cat to the vet immediately.

Similarly, changes in your cat’s stools may also be a cause for concern. On average most cats go to the toilet once or twice a day. You should already have an idea of what is normal for your cat. If your cat has diarrhoea the stools will be loose and watery and you may notice accidents around the house. If your cat is constipated it will pass small, hard stools infrequently or even no stools at all. Take your cat to the vet if you notice any changes in the frequency, colour or consistency of your cat’s stools. 

Repeated vomiting

Many cats, especially those with long hair, will vomit up the occasional hairball, which is normal. Take your cat to the vet if you notice your cat vomiting more frequently than usual to or if the vomiting is accompanied by other signs of illness.

Blood in the urine, stools or vomit

Blood in any of your cat’s excretions is never normal and warrants investigation by the vet. Dark brown to black stools or vomit (which resemble coffee grounds) may indicate the presence of partially digested blood.

Unexplained weight gain or loss

If your cat suddenly starts losing weight it may indicate an underlying illness. It is also worth noting that the weight loss may not necessarily be accompanied by a loss of appetite – hyperthyroid cats (suffering from an overactive thyroid gland), for example, lose weight despite a voracious appetite. Remember that cats are a lot smaller than us humans, thus the loss of even a few hundred grams can amount to a significant percentage of your cat’s bodyweight. Take your cat to the vet as soon as you notice she has lost weight.

Conversely, weight gain can lead to obesity, which, in turn, can lead to health problems. The vet can help you determine why your cat is gaining weight and also help you come up with a plan to get her back to a healthy weight.

Changes in energy levels

Cats are generally lazy compared to dogs and you will probably already have an idea of your cat’s normal activity levels. Lethargy can be a very subtle sign, but if it’s noticeable, it can be a cause for concern. Take your cat to the vet if she seems more lethargic and lying around or sleeping more than normal. Conversely, if your cat becomes more active than normal it may also indicate illness. Take your cat to the vet, especially if she seems restless or paces around the house.

Changes in breathing

Although panting is normal for dogs, it’s not normal for cats. Cats sometimes start panting due to stress or excitement, but it can also indicate an underlying problem. Wheezing, shortness of breath and raspy breathing are all abnormal and should be investigated by the vet. If your cat is struggling to breathe – breathing with her mouth open, breathing very fast or taking very deep breaths – it is an emergency and she needs immediate veterinary attention.

Mobility issues

You may notice your cat limping, but also look out for the more subtle signs, such as not being able to jump up onto furniture anymore. This can indicate problems in younger cats while older cats, like humans, are at risk of developing arthritis. Your vet will be able to diagnose the problem and recommend medications or methods to make your cat more comfortable.

Behavioural changes

If your cat with an outgoing personality suddenly starts hiding all the time, or your friendly cat suddenly becomes grumpy it may mean there is a problem.  Also pay attention to how much your cat normally vocalises – if your chatterbox suddenly goes quiet or your quiet cat suddenly starts meowing a lot it may mean something’s up.

Discharges from the eyes and/or nose

These discharges may indicate an upper respiratory tract infection and may be accompanied by sneezing or sniffling. The infection may be contagious and may also make your cat feel sick and stop eating. Your vet can recommend medications to help her feel better and recover quicker.

Ear debris or discharge or changes in the shape or posture of the ears

Look out for a dark brown wax-like substance accumulating in or around the ear canal. Your cat may also shake its ears or scratch at them constantly. If your cat holds down one ear partially instead of having both ears perked as they normally are, it usually indicates a problem. If you notice these signs, your cat may have an ear infection or parasite infestation, which is very uncomfortable and sometimes even painful.

One condition that is more common in South Africa than other countries around the world, is when a cat’s ear tip is bent forward. This is usually a sign that the cat touched an electric fence with its ear. Cats do not honour the boundaries we have for our yards and will often creep through an electric fence to get into the neighbour’s yard. If they get ‘zapped’ on the ear, the tip of the ear will often become somewhat floppy and bend forward. It may take some time for such an ear to recover, if at all. 

Skin irritation, hair loss, coat changes and grooming patterns changing

Cats are susceptible to a variety of skin conditions, some of which may be painful, others itchy, or some others just merely uncomfortable. You may notice redness, scabs, bald patches, crusting or dandruff. Also look out for changes in the coat and grooming behaviour – this may indicate an underlying illness. A cat’s normal coat is smooth and glossy, so take your cat to the vet if her coat suddenly becomes dull and dry. A cat that develops a matted coat from a lack of grooming or a cat that spends more time than usual grooming itself (overgrooming) may also have an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

Bad breath

Remember that, unlike humans, cats don’t brush their teeth so a mild degree of ‘kitty breath’ is normal for them. Severe bad breath, however, is not normal, especially if it’s accompanied by drooling and bleeding from the mouth. 


Swelling anywhere on your cat’s body should not be ignored, especially if it’s hot or painful to the touch. Cats can develop abscesses from wounds, as well as a wide variety of tumours. The vet will be able to determine what the swelling is and treat it.

Emergency situations

  • Some conditions need urgent attention and, if not addressed promptly, can be fatal. It’s always a good idea to keep the contact details of your vet’s after-hours telephone or of a 24-hour facility handy in case you ever need it. If you notice any of the below signs, rush your cat to the nearest open vet immediately.
  • Trauma, such as falling off a balcony, getting hit by a car or being mauled by a dog, even if you cannot see any open wounds on the cat. Cats’ skins are loose and tough, and a cat can sustain severe injuries not visible to the naked eye, which is all hidden under the skin. 
  • Blue, white or very pale gums
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sudden inability to walk 
  • Moderate to profuse bleeding
  • Seizures or tremors
  • Dizziness, disorientation, circling or imbalance
  • Collapse, unconsciousness or unresponsiveness
  • Severe pain (crying out loudly or excessively or acting aggressive when touched)
  • Straining to urinate, but not producing anything
  • Rectal temperature above 40°C or under 36°C

If you notice anything in your cat’s appearance or behaviour that’s worrying you, it’s always better to rather be safe than sorry. Phone the vet and they will help you decide whether it’s an emergency. Better yet, make an appointment and take your cat to the vet, for your own peace of mind and the wellbeing of your kitty.

© 2020 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd



Services to be provided during lock down

During the 21 day lockdown period from 26 March 2020 onwards it will be business unusual at Birnam Veterinary Clinic.  Veterinary services have been announced to be an essential service.  Birnam Veterinary Clinic will be open and functional and we will provide consultations and diagnostic modalities like radiography, ultrasound and laboratory services for sick and also provide emergency clinical services like general anaesthesia and surgery for emergencies, as long as we have healthy staff to man the practice.

We will not be doing elective procedures, i.e. ovariohysterectomies (spays), neuters, vaccinations, cosmetic surgery, dentals, nail clipping, grooming, beak trimming etc., unless medically indicated.

If you need any chronic medication to be dispensed, please phone us with this request in advance to allow us to prepare it for you and limit your waiting time in reception. Normal Regulations determine we can only provide you with a month’s supply but given the current extra-ordinary situation we may be able to provide you with two months’ supply.

You can purchase pet food and veterinary healthcare products like tick and flea products (and much more) via our website and have it delivered to your home

To make an appointment to bring in your animal, please phone the practice on 011 887 8158.


We work on an appointment system only and we ask that you help us in this regard during the lockdown period. Appointments can be made by phoning 011 887 8158.

Upon arrival at the practice please stay in or at your car and phone our reception to notify them of your arrival. As soon as it is your turn, we will send a staff member outside to call you. This process will enhance social distancing and prevent many people having to aggregate and be in the reception area together. If possible only one human family member should come in with the animal/s.

We request that if there is a possibility that your health has been compromised ( i.e. have been diagnosed with COVID-19, been in contact with a confirmed case or even if you are displaying flu-like symptoms), that you notify our receptionists at the time of making the appointment so that one of our vets or nursing staff can phone you back to obtain the clinical history before the animal is brought in. You can e-mail pictures relevant to the animal’s condition to We also request that where possible your rather arrange for a relative or friend to bring your animal to Birnam Vet Clinic.

When the person bringing in the animal arrives for the appointment please phone us from the parking lot to notify us of the arrival and stay at the car until one of our staff members come to meet you at the vehicle. Our staff will bring your animal into the hospital. Once your animal has been examined, the doctor may come to the car or alternatively phone you to discuss the diagnostic and treatment plan and costs with you.

Should your pet require hospitalisation, we will send you the hospital admission form in electronic format via e-mail which will have to be accepted so we can proceed with treatment. If it is possible to treat your pet as an outpatient, and payment is required, we will bring the card machine to your car to make the payment.

We include a pamphlet from the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations (FECAVA) here which outlines the procedure. Hyperlink to Pamphlet


Procedure to bring an animal for a visit during lockdown

We work on an appointment system only and we ask that you help us in this regard during the lockdown period. Appointments can be made by phoning 011 887 8158.

Upon arrival at the practice please stay in or at your car and phone our reception to notify them of your arrival. As soon as it is your turn, we will send a staff member outside to call you. This process will enhance social distancing and prevent many people having to aggregate and be in the reception area together. If possible only one human family member should come in with the animal/s.

We request that if there is a possibility that your health has been compromised ( i.e. have been diagnosed with COVID-19, been in contact with a confirmed case or even if you are displaying flu-like symptoms), that you notify our receptionists at the time of making the appointment so that one of our vets or nursing staff can phone you back to obtain the clinical history before the animal is brought in. You can e-mail pictures relevant to the animal’s condition to We also request that where possible your rather arrange for a relative or friend to bring your animal to Birnam Vet Clinic.

When the person bringing in the animal arrives for the appointment please phone us from the parking lot to notify us of the arrival and stay at the car until one of our staff members come to meet you at the vehicle. Our staff will bring your animal into the hospital. Once your animal has been examined, the doctor may come to the car or alternatively phone you to discuss the diagnostic and treatment plan and costs with you.

Should your pet require hospitalisation, we will send you the hospital admission form in electronic format via e-mail which will have to be accepted so we can proceed with treatment. If it is possible to treat your pet as an outpatient, and payment is required, we will bring the card machine to your car to make the payment.

We include a pamphlet from the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations (FECAVA) here which outlines the procedure. Hyperlink to Pamphlet

How to get rid of fleas

Fleas love your pets almost as much as you love them – they feed off your pet’s blood and, once they have found a tasty food source, they move in and start reproducing. They climb onto your pet on neighbourhood walks, play dates, get carried into your yard by other animals or even hitch a ride on humans and jump over to pets when the opportunity arises.

How to tell if your dog has fleas

As previously mentioned, fleas feed off your pet’s blood and this feeding causes your dog to itch. You will notice your pet scratching, biting or licking a lot and losing hair, especially near the tail base. If you run your fingers through your pet’s hair you will find flea dirt (small black granules) or even the critters themselves darting through the hair. They leave red bumps or scabs where they bit your pet to feed off it. You may even notice your pet’s behaviour changing – your pet may become restless or even seem nervous due to the constant itching and scratching.

Once you find fleas on your pet, you can assume that your home has now become their home as well. Thus, to eliminate them for good, you will have to rid both your pet and the environment of fleas and discourage the fleas from coming back.

How to treat your pet

Firstly, treat all the animals in your household for fleas as all of them will be infested. There are several products available over the counter and choosing the correct one for your pet can be daunting – your vet or the staff will be happy to help you with this. There are tablets that can be given to your dog as a treat – these work from the inside out to kill fleas and they are effective for 1 to 3 months, depending on which product you use. Flea collars are effective for up to 8 months, provided they stay on your pet for so long! Spot-on preparations are applied directly onto your pet’s skin and spread over your pet’s entire body to kill off all the fleas. Certain shampoos and sprays are also designed to kill off fleas.

Before you run to the vet shop, pop your pet onto your bathroom scale, or, if you don’t have one, take your pet along to the vet so he or she can be weighed there. All the flea treatments are dosed according to the weight of the animal and it is very important that your pet receives the correct dose – under dosing your pet makes the product less effective (essentially wasting your money and effort) and overdosing your pet can cause ill effects. If your pet is still a puppy or a kitten, make sure that he or she is old enough to be treated with the product as most of them are only regarded as safe for use after a certain age.

The tablets are generally very tasty and many dogs will gobble them up, thinking it’s a treat. If your dog picks up on your bluff you can try hiding it in his food but make sure to check that the tablet has been eaten afterwards. The last option is to open your dog’s mouth and shove the tablet down his throat.

If you opt for a collar, follow the packaging instructions when putting it on. If your pet manages to get it off it can be replaced straight away; do not let your pet chew the collar.

Similarly, follow the packaging instructions when applying a spot-on treatment. Bathing and swimming can interfere with the efficacy of spot-on treatments – the package insert will tell you when and how often your pet can be bathed or allowed to swim.

Remember that all these treatments are essentially pesticides – read the package inserts carefully before using the products, keep them away from children and wash your hands after using them. Always weigh your pet before buying a treatment so that you can make sure he or she receives the correct dose. The package insert will tell you how long the treatment is effective for and how frequently it must be used – stick to these time periods so you don’t end up overdosing your pet. Never use dog products on your cat and vice versa – some dog products contain substances that are poisonous to cats. Finally, do not use more than one treatment at the same time – it can be potentially harmful to your pet.

Brush your pet with a flea comb at least once a week to remove stragglers and dead fleas. Most local vet shops stock flea combs.

Make sure to keep the flea treatments up-to-date year-round. South African winters are not cold enough for fleas to die off so lapsing in your flea control at any time of the year poses the risk of the pesky critters coming back and you have to go through the entire process of eliminating them from scratch.

How to treat the environment

It is important to understand that the adult fleas you see on your pet are only 5% of the entire infestation – the other 95% are the eggs, larvae and pupae hiding around your house and yard. The adult fleas lay eggs on your pet’s coat, which then fall off onto your furniture, carpets, bedding and yard as your pets go about with their daily lives. Fleas like to hide where your pet spends most of its time and they prefer dark, cool environments, such as baseboards, upholstery and crevices.

Start by cleaning your house very thoroughly – think spring cleaning or in-laws-coming-to-visit cleaning. Vacuum all the floors, carpets, furniture, pet beds, nooks, crannies and crevices in your house and immediately empty your vacuum in the outside dustbin – you don’t want to give the fleas time to crawl back out. Steam clean carpets and spray flea spray onto all the areas that have been cleaned.

Machine wash all the pet beds, including covers, in hot water. Do the same for all the family bedding, bathroom rugs, towels, throw blankets and cushions. Also, tackle all the places where your pets like to sleep or lounge. Dry anything that can go into a hot dryer for 15-20 minutes.

Fog your home – buy a fogger that is effective against all flea life stages and follow the package instructions. Treat your yard with appropriate treatment and follow the package instructions. You can even consider calling in an exterminator company.

Accept the fact that it can take up to three months, or even more, of hard work to get rid of fleas for good -some unhatched eggs will, despite your best efforts, survive and hatch to start the life cycle again. Repeat the vacuuming, spraying and fogging regularly and thoroughly and wash pet bedding every week. Keep all your pets up-to-date on their flea treatments at all times and clean your car regularly – you never know how many flea passengers you may have.





How to keep flies off your dogs

In order to get rid of flies for good, you will have to treat both your dog and the environment he lives in.

Keeping your dog clean and healthy will go a long way in making him less attractive to flies. A dirty or matted fur coat will attract flies, while certain skin conditions and diarrhoea will worsen the problem even further. Regular baths and brushing will help keep your dog’s coat in top condition. If your dog is having diarrhoea, take him to the vet for examination and treatment and make sure to keep his perineum (rear end) clean during his recovery – you may need to wash the area or even consider clipping the surrounding hair if it is very long and troublesome. 

Flies are also most active during the hottest parts of the day – consider keeping your dog indoors during these times

Flies often target the ears to make painful wounds, which in turn attract even more flies. You can use some saline or dilute chlorhexidine to clean the wounds and apply a suitable ointment or repellent. Make sure the preparation is safe to use on your pet – your local vet shop or pet shop will be happy to advise you in this regard. As a general rule, never use dog preparations on cats – most of these preparations contain pyrethroids, which are toxic to cats. Also avoid any human products, essential oils or garlic (tasty for us but poisonous for pets). Some of these sprays can even be used on your dog’s bedding or resting areas – apply as often as required. Fly strips and fly traps may also help draw the flies away from your dog.

Remember that flies are scavengers – they are constantly looking for a meal in which to lay their eggs and continue their life cycle. Thus the best way of getting rid of them for good is to remove their food source, which means maintaining good hygiene in and around your home. Clean up all the waste in your yard, including food, faeces and half-chewed bones (though you shouldn’t be giving your dog bones), clean out your rubbish bins regularly so they don’t overflow and keep your dog’s food and water bowls clean. If you have a compost heap, keep it covered.

Certain herbs also repel flies in addition to being useful in the kitchen – consider planting some basil, bay leaf, mint or rosemary in your garden. Other herbs, such as lavender, sweet woodruff and tansy also repel flies while being nice for people.

Products you can use to repel flies include ExSpot, Shoo-Fly Ointment, Shoo-Fly Spray and Vets Own Repellent Shampoo.  There are many more and you can get these from our online shop.

How to trim a dog’s nails

Most dogs don’t like having their feet touched and clipping their nails is sometimes stressful to both the dog and owners alike. For this reason, it is always a good idea to get your dog used to have his feet touched and handled from an early age – spend a few minutes every few days touching or stroking his feet and even introducing the clippers without actually cutting the nails.  Make sure to follow these sessions with lots of praise and even some treats. 

What you’ll need:

  • Good restraint
  • A pair of clippers
  • Lots of praise or a tasty treat for afterwards

Some dogs are happy to sit on your lap while you do the trimming, but in most cases, it’s easier to have a helper hold your dog for you – you can’t make an accurate cut on a moving target. 

There are several types of clippers on the market, with guillotine clippers and scissor clippers being the most common. The scissor-type is easiest to work with and can be bought at most vets or vet shops.

Salon Grooming Guillotine Clipper

Salon Grooming Nail Clipper

Choose a time when both you and your dog are feeling calm and content – remember that dogs are experts at picking up on how you are feeling and quickly become stressed if they notice that you are impatient, stressed, in a rush or otherwise dreading it – already not a good start!

Similar to your own nails, a dog’s nails also consist of the nail and the quick. The quick is the pink part that contains the blood vessels and nerves of the nail – if your dog has light-coloured nails you’ll be able to see the quick.

So how do you go about it?

Once you are ready, have your helper hold your dog for you and hold one of his paws firmly but gently in your non-dominant hand. Use your fingers to gently separate the toes to make clipping the nails easier. Hold the clippers in your dominant hand and clip the nail below the quick, taking off small increments each time. Aim to cut the nail 2-3mm below the quick. If the nail feels spongy, don’t cut – you’re probably cutting the quick. In most cases, you’ll be able to trim the nail to the level where the clipper starts lying flat against the footpad.

Always remember to cut the dewclaws as well, if your dog has them. The dewclaws don’t contact the floor surface at all and thus don’t get worn down like the other nails – if they are left to grow too long they will eventually start growing into the pad, which is painful.

If you cut the quick it will be painful to your dog and it will bleed. Keep in mind that it always looks more dramatic than it actually is – no dog has ever died from a nail cut into the quick. It is much the same as cutting your own nail into the quick. If this happens immediately give your dog a tasty treat and use an earbud or piece of cotton wool to apply pressure to the bleeding nail – the nail will stop bleeding within a few minutes. Even though you feel very bad about it, try not to dwell on it or make a fuss of it – your dog will pick up on how you are feeling, think that something very bad happened and develop a negative association towards having his nails trimmed.

Always give lots of praise and treats so that your dog associates nail trimming with good things. 

Many dogs are drama queens when it comes to trimming their nails – if you are struggling in any way don’t hesitate to contact your vet. He or she will be happy to show you a few tricks or even trim the nails for you.

Farewell Dr Jaco Viljoen

It is with a sad heart that we said goodbye to Dr Viljoen in March 2019. Dr Viljoen decided to emigrate to the United Kingdom where he will work as a veterinarian.

Dr Viljoen was certainly an asset to the practice where he brought his own charm and expertise to ensure all our patients were properly treated and cared for.

Birnam Vet wishes him and his wife all the best.

New client offer

As a way to introduce our family here at Birnam Veterinary Clinic to your family, we are pleased to offer a 50% discount on the initial consultation.


  • Fill in the form below.
  • Call us on 011 887 8158 to schedule your appointment.
  • Bring the promo code you received after you filled in the form with you to your appointment.


  • This special offer applies to first-time clients and for one pet only.
  • This offer does not apply to emergency or walk-in visits.
  • This discount extends only to the initial exam, not to any services or products associated with the visit.
  • This offer cannot be combined with other special offers.
  • This offer is only valid until 10 – 12 March 2020.