Corneal Ulceration

My pet’s eye is half-closed and there seems to be something in their eye

What is a corneal ulcer?

A corneal ulcer is damage to the corneal surface, which is the thin, clear covering of the eye. The cornea is made up of three layers: the outer epithelium, the stroma (which is thickest and acts as the scaffold) and the Descemet membrane. All three layers are transparent, allowing light to enter the pupil and create an image that our brain interprets as the sights we see around us.

How does a corneal ulcer occur?

The most common cause of an ulcer on the cornea is due to trauma. Damage may occur from a sharp object like a cat scratch or from your pet rubbing their eye on a rough surface. Damage can also occur from chemical irritation like getting shampoo in the eye or even if something rough gets caught under the eyelid, scratching the eye every time they blink.

Infections from viruses or bacteria can also lead to corneal ulceration. There are some systemic diseases that can lead to corneal ulcers such as diabetes mellitus, Cushing’s disease or low thyroid hormone levels (hypothyroidism).

Corneal ulcers can also occur due to lack of sufficient lubrication of the eye. This is a medical condition called keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), commonly known as ‘dry eye’.

Some breeds such as the boxer can inherit a degenerative condition called epithelial dystrophy. Epithelial dystrophy causes a weakening of the outermost surface (epithelial layer) of the cornea, easily leading to corneal ulceration.

How bad is a corneal ulcer?

Damage to the cornea is characterised into three parts depending on the depth and severity of the injury.

The superficial injury to the outermost surface (epithelium) is called a corneal abrasion or erosion.

Damage that extends past the epithelium into the stromal layer is termed a corneal ulcer.

Injury that extends through the stroma and affects the final layer of Descemet membrane is called a Descemetocele. If this final layer is damaged and the outer surface of the cornea is ruptured, the globe of the eye will lose its structure the animal will lose their eye.

How do I know if my pet has a corneal ulcer?

Corneal ulcers are painful. If a pet has a corneal ulcer, they will usually keep their eye tightly closed, often tearing excessively and often pawing/rubbing at their eye. When the eye is opened, the white of the eye (the sclera) is often red and the area around the eye known as the conjunctiva may be pink due to the irritation and may be swollen. In the cases of large ulcers a depression or even a crater-like cavity can be seen on the surface of the eye. The outer edges of the ulcer absorb moisture from the tears and can appear cloudy or even white. This change is called corneal oedema and is sometimes the only sign that there has been damage to the surface of the eye.

Can a corneal ulcer be treated?

Yes. Corneal ulcers should be treated, even if they appear small and insignificant. Once the outer epithelium of the eye has been damaged, bacteria often take advantage of the opening and can start colonising the now vulnerable second or stromal layer. Once bacteria have a foothold they cause the ulcer to degenerate and enlarge, potentially to the point of loss of the eye. Corneal ulcers are not to be scoffed at.

What will the vet do if my pet has a corneal ulcer?

When the vet examines your pet’s eye they will use a fluorescein dye that will cause a colour change to show the presence of damage to the cornea. With a special ophthalmic light, this allows the vet to visualise the extent of the damage and also monitor the ulcer size once treatment has begun.

Corneal ulcers are usually treated with antibiotic eye drops and the vet may also prescribe eye drops or oral medication for pain. The vet may also include anti-inflammatory eye drops to reduce the swelling and inflammation in and around the eye. There are some eye drops for animals that contain cortisone, which should never be used when an animal has corneal ulceration. It is really important that you don’t just get drops from a friend whose animal had an eye condition and start putting that your animal’s eyes. Similarly, you should also not use just any human eye drops, as this medication may be contra-indicated. In South Africa, as a result of the pet population being significantly smaller than the USA or European markets, some pharmaceutical companies do not register their products here. This means that in some instances, the vet may have to rely on a human medication. This is called extra label use, and the vet will take care to use a product that is compatible with your pet.

Antibiotic eye drops are only active for a few hours and as such need to be applied often. Depending on the severity of the ulcer, this can be from every hour to every four hours. Other eye drops, such as Atropine eye drops are active for much longer and usually only need to be applied once or twice a day. The vet will give you proper instructions as to how often to use the medicine prescribed.

It is important to continue treatment as per the veterinarian’s recommendations and not discontinue treatment too early, even if you see improvement. Speak to the vet if you are unsure.

The vet will most likely demonstrate to you how to apply the eye drops during the consultation for the eye problem and ensure you are comfortable applying them yourself before you go home.

The vet may advise on the use of an Elizabethan collar, known as the ‘cone of shame’, to prevent your pet from scratching and doing more damage to an already injured eye. This prevents paws and sharp nails from reaching the eye and is recommended until treatment is complete or the pain is under control.

Will my pet need another visit after treatment has started?

Yes, most vets require a check-up one week after treatment is started unless an earlier one is needed. This is to re-stain the eye to monitor the progress of healing. Pet owners must keep a close eye on injured eyes. If your pet’s eye seems more painful or if a pus-like discharge develops, rather see the vet sooner.

Most ulcers and erosions heal quickly while others require a bit more time. If there is minimal improvement after two weeks, the vet may advise on additional treatments or surgery. Depending on the case, you may be referred to a veterinary eye specialist.

Can eye drops have negative side effects?

There may be negative side effects, but this occurs rarely. If your pet is sensitive to an ingredient in the eye drops, you may see a marked response of swelling and irritation around the eye. If your pet’s eye appears more angry and painful after the eye drops than before, stop using them and speak to your veterinarian about an alternative.

Atropine eye drops if prescribed will cause the pupil to dilate in the eye in which it is applied. This is a normal and expected response. This also means that the eye is more sensitive to light and your pet may squint when in bright light.

You may notice that your pet salivates a bit more after application of eye drops, especially cats. This is because eye drops are bitter and may drain into the sinuses and sometimes into the back of the throat. This is not an allergic reaction, but rather the response to tasting the bitter eye drops.

If ever your pet keeps their eyes half or totally closed when not sleeping, get them to the vet sooner rather than later as a deep corneal ulcer can destroy the eye.



Corneal Ulcers in Dogs by Ernest Ward, DVM, Viewed on 29 September 2020.

Corneal Ulcers and Erosions in Dogs and Cats by Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP, reviewed 10 Oct 2018, viewed on 29 September 2020.

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Chronic diarrhoea in dogs and cats

What is chronic diarrhoea?

Chronic refers to a disease that has been ongoing, either persistently or intermittently for three weeks or more. Whereas diarrhoea, as many of us can relate, is the passing of soft or loose stool. This stool is usually soft enough that it needs to be scraped up rather than picked up. It can range from the consistency of thick porridge to watery like soup.

What causes diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea occurs when the food and liquids consumed undergo an increased rate of passage in the gut, leading to poor absorption of nutrients, electrolytes and water. This leads to the expulsion of only partially digested, watery stool

There are many causes of diarrhoea and they can be simple to complex. Infectious causes such as parasites, viruses and bacteria are often to blame. Some animals have a more sensitive digestive system that tends to revolt whenever they eat something unusual, whether it is something they have stolen out of the garbage or from your plate. Even sudden changes in diets such as changing a food brand can cause a reaction.

Autoimmune diseases due to an overactive immune system or even allergies can cause a problem too. Other causes of diarrhoea include systemic illness (liver disease or thyroid disorders) or even from medications that can have diarrhoea as a side effect.

Diarrhoea is often categorised into three groups: small bowel (affecting the small intestine), large bowel (affecting the large intestine) or mixed. The classification depends on the characteristics of the diarrhoea.

Causes of small bowel diarrhoea:

  • parasites (hookworms, roundworms and Giardia)
  • pancreatic disease
  • inflammation of the liver and biliary system, the pancreas and the intestine also known as triaditis
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • feline hypothyroidism
  • feline leukaemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus (feline AIDs)
  • fungal enteritis (Histoplasmosis)
  • cancer; alimentary lymphosarcoma
  • bacterial overgrowth, dysbiosis and enterotoxicosis

Causes of large bowel diarrhoea:

  • parasites (whipworms, trichomonas and Giardia)
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • immune mediated disease  (plasmacytic lymphocytic colitis, histiocytic ulcerative colitis) and eosinophilic colitis
  • allergies and food sensitivities

When will I know if my pet’s diarrhoea is a problem?

A bout of the squirts is not usually a problem if it is short lived and resolves on its own. This occurs in most cases. However, when animals have a more serious underlying cause, or are very young, diarrhoea can turn serious pretty quickly.

Any case of diarrhoea that does not resolve on its own after a few days is considered a problem that should be addressed. This is even if your pet is still lively and eating well. Pets with chronic diarrhoea lose important nutrients and electrolytes, which leads to their own long term consequences.

The most important thing to consider with diarrhoea is dehydration, which in young and old animals can happen quickly with fatal results. If they also have other symptoms, such as vomiting, then they can lose water a lot faster.

It is important to keep an eye out for other symptoms aside from the diarrhoea, such as vomiting, poor appetite, are more tired than usual or any other changes in behaviour. Be sure to mention these to the vet.

What should I do if my pet has chronic diarrhoea?

If your pet has diarrhoea that has been ongoing for some time without resolving, or even if it waxes and wanes but never really stays away, it would be wise to consult the veterinarian. We will often ask you to bring along a fresh stool sample to your appointment.

What will the vet do if my pet has chronic diarrhoea?

The first thing the vet will do is to perform a thorough physical exam on your pet. This is to check if they have a fever, are dehydrated, see if they have any pain in their belly or show any other symptoms that can be used to build a more complete picture. The vet will gather as much information as possible to treat the cause of the problem, rather than just the symptoms.

They will require as much history on your pet’s condition as you can give.

Questions sure to be asked include:

  • How long has the condition been going on?
  • Has the problem been persistent or intermittent?
  • When did you first notice the diarrhoea?
  • Did your pet eat or do anything out of the ordinary shortly before the diarrhoea began?
  • Were there any recent changes in diet or environment, recent travels or sources of stress?
  • Are there new family members or pets at home, or has a family member or pet recently passed away?
  • Is your pet on any medication, or have they had access (intentional or not) to any medications at home, cleaning materials, chemicals, toxins or even household plants?

Characterising the diarrhoea will also be very important as this will allow the vet to narrow down where the diarrhoea is coming from, and whether it’s in the small or the large intestine. This is important as treatment will differ depending on the cause and location of the problem.

Characterising the diarrhoea will look at characteristics such as how often your pet needs to go and if there is any urgency; if they strain when they squirt; if there is any blood or mucous in the stool as well as its colour and smell.

Diarrhoea that originates from the small intestine generally shows an increased volume of faeces, but the frequency is about the same, sometimes increased. They don’t generally show a real urge to go, but additional gas and sometimes a fatty consistency is seen. If blood is included, this is usually very dark, almost black in colour, rather than bright red. Because the job of the small intestine is primarily nutrient absorption and digestion, pets with chronic small intestinal diarrhoea tend to lose weight over time. These animals may also be nauseated or vomit.

Pets with large intestinal diarrhoea tend to have small deposits more frequently, often straining, are urgent for a deposit and appear uncomfortable. These animals may have a more mucoid diarrhoea with mucosal irritation. If blood is present, it is often seen as bright red rather than dark or black.

Can the vet test for the cause of the diarrhoea?

There are many tests available depending on what the vet is looking for. They will narrow down the list of suspects based on the character of the problem as well as any other symptoms seen. Usually they will start with some simple tests in order to gather more information before testing for a specific culprit.

The best place to start is generally the stool itself. The vet will analyse a sample by checking for parasites as this is one of the most common causes of diarrhoea in pets. This may include a faecal float to look for worm eggs, a faecal wet prep to search for parasites and in some cases, a stain will be made of the sample and checked under the microscope. If there is pain in your pet’s belly or if the vet can feel a bump or mass where there shouldn’t be one, they will likely recommend an x-ray or even an ultrasound scan of your pet’s belly.

Other testing that can be done includes blood tests, which look at the level of dehydration, levels of blood proteins (which can indicate autoimmune disease) and even blood loss through the gut. In older cats with chronic diarrhoea, testing their thyroid levels may be advised. Blood tests can also be used to test the function of the pancreas and liver, which may also play a role in chronic diarrhoea. Some viruses that can cause diarrhoea in puppies such as parvo and coronavirus, as well as feline leukaemia virus or feline AIDs virus in cats, can be tested within minutes with blood or stool samples.

When something abnormal is found at this base level, the vet may recommend biopsies or cultures depending on what they are looking for. These are sent to the lab and are usually focused on specific parasites or bacteria in the case of cultures, or specific autoimmune diseases for biopsies.

How can chronic diarrhoea be treated?

The treatment will depend on the cause. In most cases the vet will recommend a dewormer, even if no parasite eggs were found. The majority of diarrhoea cases respond very well to the use of a bland diet at home. The best would be a veterinary diet, which consists of highly digestible proteins and carbohydrates with low fats. These diets include increased omega oils to reduce inflammation and special prebiotic fibres to slow the transit time in the gut and promote the growth of good bacteria. Good old boiled chicken and rice work fairly well but obviously don’t have all the extras of a prescription diet. The vet will likely include a probiotic to quickly replace the good bugs that often get knocked out with gastrointestinal disease.

Infectious conditions may require antibiotics to treat, while autoimmune diseases will require immune suppressants. Cases of significant dehydration may require a drip and hospitalisation as their best course of action.

Irrespective of the cause, treatment will be tailored to each patient individually. Everyone is different and treatment will be adjusted based on test results and individual response to treatment.

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Acute Abdomen

Now and again pet owners are faced with emergency situations when their pets are suddenly in severe belly pain. Unexpectedly, both the owner and the pet are in a moment of anxiety and distress. So what could possibly be going on? This sudden severe belly pain is what veterinarians call an acute abdomen.

What is acute abdomen?

Acute means to happen suddenly, while the abdomen is the lower part of the trunk of the body, often referred to as the belly. The term acute abdomen refers to sudden pain in the belly. This sudden, severe pain in an animal’s belly should be treated as an emergency and requires immediate evaluation and response by the vet.

Pet owners will often report that their dog or cat was fine yesterday or earlier in the day before showing the sudden signs of terrible belly pain. The pain could arise from any of the following:

  • gastrointestinal tract (GIT) and inner lining of the abdominal body wall
  • other organs in the abdominal cavity (liver, pancreas, spleen, kidneys, reproductive tract, lymph nodes, diaphragm)
  • muscle and skin around the abdominal cavity
  • emanating from other systems outside the abdominal area such as back pain.

Acute abdomen can be life-threatening and should be considered an emergency.

What will I see if my pet has an acute abdomen?

Since there are so many possible causes of acute abdomen, it is not surprising that its symptoms will be equally diverse. Further complicating the situation is the fact that the symptoms may be non-specific to any one particular cause. So, how can a pet owner judge from home that their pet is in a crisis situation? To help pet owners reach the decision to take their pet to the vet for examination, below is a summary of possible symptoms of acute abdomen.

Pet owners should look out for:

  • restlessness
  • unusual panting
  • arching of the back
  • body posture changes such as assuming the praying position (with their front legs on the ground and their rear end in the air)
  • retching or trying to vomit without success
  • loss of appetite
  • marked sensitivity when owners attempt to stroke their pets in the belly area
  • distention of the belly such as with advanced pregnancy, or when there is a marked accumulation of fluids in the abdominal cavity

With very painful conditions or when shock sets in, the respiratory rate and heart rate might be elevated and there may be a loss of colour in the mucous membranes.

What can cause an acute abdomen?

Acute abdomen can be caused by problems in any of the various systems located inside and/or (less frequently) outside the abdominal cavity. Potential causes of the syndrome range from injury, infection, swelling or inflammation, blockages in organ systems, to cancer.


The pet owner may have missed potential injury or incidents of trauma. Forces from a kick, bump or a fall can lead to organs shifting to unusual positions in the body, which would normally be impossible for a pet owner to realise. These incidents can cause excruciating pain. Examples of this include diaphragmatic hernias, where internal organs punch up into the chest cavity and cannot slip back out. This is commonly seen when a pet is bumped by a car.

GIT obstruction

Pain in the belly can also originate from the GIT. Blockages in the stomach or intestines can be caused when objects such as toys or bones are swallowed whole. Pain and injury to these organs can occur when the stomach or intestines twist around themselves or even ‘telescope’. Other organs such as the spleen can also twist in association with the stomach torsion – another emergency and cause of acute abdomen in itself.


Life-threatening inflammatory conditions affecting the liver or pancreas are also frequently seen as causes of acute abdomen. Pancreatitis or liver disease (abscesses or cancer, as examples) are also a common cause of acute abdomen.

Examples of other possible causes of this syndrome include peritonitis, stomach ulcers, kidney disease and infections and cancer of the reproductive tract – in both male and female patients. Disc disease (back pain) is an example of pain outside the abdomen that can present as acute abdomen. 

What should I do if I suspect my pet has an acute abdomen?

Severe belly pain should be treated as a medical emergency. Take your pet to the nearest vet ASAP. Any delay can have fatal consequences.

What can I expect when I get to the vet?

Sequence of events at the veterinary hospital:

Upon arrival at the veterinary hospital, the patient will be attended to as an emergency in line with the pet owner’s complaint. The vet will then seek to confirm if the symptoms are truly suggestive of acute abdomen.

To confirm the vet’s speculation of acute abdomen, the pet owner would need to give an accurate and detailed history of the pet’s condition and lifestyle. The vet will ask many in-depth questions to get a better idea of the pet’s medical history and what might be causing their discomfort. Information will be requested regarding the names of current medications the pet is receiving, recent abdominal surgery the pet would have undergone, time estimate of when they noticed signs of pain or distress as well as the progression of the symptoms. As much as it might feel like an interrogation by the vet, this detailed information assists in speeding up the process of providing the best care for the pet.

Depending on initial findings by the vet, some pets would require stabilisation before he can do a more thorough physical examination. Once this examination is completed, a diagnostic workup plan is designed by the vet and discussed with the owner. The findings from the diagnostic tests performed will inform the staff on how best to care for the pet patient. The best care for the patient with acute abdomen can only be achieved through in-hospital care for a couple of days.

Which steps will my veterinarian take in order to find the problem?

Acute abdomen affects other body systems apart from the gut. Systems that put the patient’s life at risk that are commonly affected are the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, central nervous system, renal (kidney) system and the hepatic (liver) system. Blood tests will assist in providing an overview of the state of health of most systems. Imaging (x-ray and ultrasound scan) of the abdomen and chest areas also forms part of the diagnostic tests.

Depending on what is found on these tests, the vet may recommend surgical intervention. This may include an exploratory laparascopy where all the organs can be visualised and surgically corrected where appropriate. A host of other tests might be ordered if deemed necessary for the survival of the patient. Some tests might be repeated in the days to follow as part of monitoring the patient’s response to treatment.

How is acute abdomen treated?

A good diagnostic workup informs the decision on how to treat or manage the case. Having a diagnosis helps to categorise whether the case will be managed medically, as a surgical emergency, or as a delayed surgical case requiring the patient to be stabilised before undergoing surgery. Fluid replacement in the form of a drip is generally advocated in all cases of acute abdomen as it aids in supporting the heart and blood pressure. Medical management entails the use of appropriate drugs to relieve the patient from pain, treat infections, and addressing other possible symptoms such as stopping vomiting and diarrhoea. Surgery is reserved for cases that require surgical intervention for survival.


Acute abdomen is a medical and/or surgical emergency in which time is of the essence. Early intervention improves the chances of the pet’s survival. Unfortunately, due to the broad possible causes of presenting signs, proper management of each case relies heavily on a thorough diagnostic workup. Good pet owner cooperation with the veterinary teams at the hospital is of paramount importance, and dare I say, could be the difference between life and death.

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My pet has put on weight and is acting slow and lazy. His hair is falling out and he has recurring skin infections. He also seems cold all the time. What’s going on?!

What is hypothyroidism?

As with humans, hypothyroidism is caused by low levels of thyroid hormone being produced by the thyroid gland, which is located on either side of the throat. Since the thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system, any decrease in thyroid hormone secretion has an effect on multiple systems in the body that rely on hormones to function properly – like the metabolism.

What are the symptoms?

There are many different symptoms of hypothyroidism because thyroid hormones affect so many different parts of the body. Deterioration of the thyroid gland and its functioning are gradual and progressive, so the onset of symptoms may not be immediately noticeable. If your pet is displaying any or all of these symptoms, they could be linked to hypothyroidism:

  • lethargy, inactivity or laziness
  • weight gain
  • mental dullness
  • hair loss/excessive shedding/thinning of the coat
  • dry and lustreless coat
  • excessive scaling of the skin
  • recurring skin infections
  • hyperpigmentation (skin darkening)
  • ear infections
  • cold intolerance (manifests as heat-seeking behaviour)

Sometimes hypothyroidism can also be associated with any of the following: generalised weakness, incoordination, head tilt, facial paralysis, seizures and infertility.

Which pets are more likely to be affected by hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism in cats is rare and is usually caused when the thyroid gland is removed or by the over-treatment of hyperthyroidism.

Hypothyroidism is common in medium to large breed dogs, with the average age of diagnosis being between the ages of four and 10 years old. Some breeds are more predisposed to developing hypothyroidism, such as golden retrievers, Doberman pinschers, Irish setters, Great Danes, Airedale terriers, dachshunds, Old English sheepdogs, miniature and giant schnauzers, cocker spaniels, poodles and boxers. Sterilised dogs have a higher risk of developing hypothyroidism, but vets are unsure why this is the case – it certainly is not a reason to not sterilise your pet!

What causes hypothyroidism?

Approximately 95% of hypothyroidism in dogs is caused by outside factors that have a negative influence on the thyroid. Very rarely are animals born with a faulty thyroid; similarly, it’s also rare for hypothyroidism to be the result of thyroid cancer. Many cases of hypothyroidism are ‘immune-mediated’ or caused by the immune system attacking the thyroid gland (lymphocytic thyroiditis), while in other cases, thyroid tissue is replaced by fat tissue (idiopathic thyroid atrophy).

Secondary acquired hypothyroidism, which is also rare, is caused by a dysfunction of the pituitary gland, which secretes thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and affects how the thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones.

What will my vet look for if hypothyroidism is suspected?

Hypothyroidism influences several body systems including the metabolic, skin, behavioural, neuromuscular, reproductive, gastrointestinal, ophthalmic, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. The vet will thus need to piece together a rather complicated puzzle made up of the pet’s history, the symptoms they are showing, the vet’s own examination and blood tests. To rule out thyroid tumours, the vet may take an X-ray. The blood tests will reveal low thyroid hormones in the blood, non-regenerative anaemia, and sometimes high levels of TSH. Most dogs with hypothyroidism will also have high levels of cholesterol, while half will have anaemia.

The vet will also look for thickening of the skin, which – when it occurs around the face – causes a sagging face and a sad or ‘tragic’ expression.

Can hypothyroidism be treated?

Unfortunately, hypothyroidism is an endocrine condition, which cannot be cured – it can only be managed, which must go hand-in-hand with a good quality of life for the affected pet. Managing hypothyroidism successfully relies on care in these four pivotal areas:

i. Diet

The pet’s diet must be properly managed to lower their weight until they reach a good body weight and thyroid hormone levels reach the normal range. Different pets will have different dietary needs, which is why it’s important to follow the vet’s recommendations and to give the affected pet a prescription diet to help with weight management.

ii. Client education

Pet owner education is critical in successfully managing hypothyroidism. You as the pet owner have to understand that treatment will be life-long, which means additional commitment to your pet for the rest of their life. When treatment begins, some symptoms may worsen before they improve, and may take between a few weeks to a few months to resolve, but don’t panic and please be patient. It’s important to stick to the recommended treatment as it will help in the long run. Abandoning the treatment prematurely will further reduce your pet’s quality of life.  

iii. Drugs

The use of medication is the easiest part in the treatment of hypothyroidism. The prescribed medication includes thyroid hormone substitutes. They need to be given daily for the rest of your pet’s life, at the vet’s recommended dosage. Any additional drugs would be used to manage any of the other symptoms, such as controlling skin infections.  

iv. Follow-up

Since hypothyroidism needs life-long management, routine follow-ups will be necessary, if not mandatory. Expect frequent follow-ups in the early stages of treatment, but as your pet’s symptoms begin to respond positively to treatment, these vet visits will become less frequent. In future follow-ups, the vet will examine the symptoms and perform blood tests to see how your pet’s hormone levels are responding, then adjust the medication and other therapies accordingly.


It may be stressful to see pets suffering from the symptoms of hypothyroidism, but once diagnosed, this condition is not a death sentence. It requires your commitment to proper treatment and giving your pet a great quality of life, all with the help of the vet and keeping them up to speed with your pet’s progress.

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My pet lost a patch of fur and developed a massive sore overnight. It looks like a burn wound.

HotSpot dog

Acute moist dermatitis is a skin ailment in pets that’s caused by a trigger like an itch or pain, and exacerbated by the pet’s scratching and licking until it becomes a large bare patch of painful skin lesion. Since the lesion is an open painful wound, it’s referred to more commonly as a hotspot.

What is a hotspot?

No, we’re not talking about public wireless internet. A hotspot is a skin condition seen far more often in dogs than in cats. It is an area of very itchy, wet, unhappy, infected skin that your dog keeps licking or nibbling at. It usually develops overnight; in a matter of hours, your dog’s healthy skin can develop a massive, sore, red or yellowish bald patch. It is constantly wet and raw as some dogs tend to lick this wound almost obsessively. These spots may have started out as something small and insignificant like a bump from an insect bite, but quickly grow larger in a short time. Usually only one spot is affected rather than several around the body, but there are exceptions to this rule.

Which breeds are more likely to develop hotspots?

Retrievers and German shepherds with longer, thicker coats tend to have this problem more often than dogs with short coats. Hotspots are also more often seen in dogs who love to swim and are always in the water. This is because skin that is always wet tends to get more easily infected with bacteria and fungi that thrive in a warm, moist environment. Something triggers the itch, so when the dog begins to scratch, the bacteria is spread and the hotspot quickly develops. People with water-loving dogs often have their dogs clipped in the warm summer months to prevent this problem.

How do hotspots start?

The initial cause will vary from one pet to another. This condition often occurs as a result of the constant scratching at an itch, such as pets with fleas, allergies or even an ear infection. They can occur anywhere on the body, but usually on a spot they can reach with their paws or mouth to scratch and nibble. The typical places for hotspots to develop are the side of the face below the ears or on the upper part of the back leg. Some spots get a little more attention than others and these get infected, leading to an itchy and sore wound that your pet won’t leave alone.

Why do hotspots grow in size?

Irrespective of the cause, hotspots tend to become infected because they are always wet and the skin is licked raw. As you can imagine, your dog’s mouth is far from the most hygienic means to clean a wound. This infection then leads to swelling and pain on top of the initial itch or discomfort. In trying to alleviate the discomfort, your dog will constantly lick the area, but the more they lick, the more widespread the irritation and infection of the skin becomes.

What can I do if my dog has a hotspot?

The most important first step is to establish the underlying cause of the problem. Was your pet itchy to start with; were they shaking their head from an ear infection? Has your pet had persistent flea infestations? Take your dog to the vet, who will help to determine where the problem may have started. It’s important to not only treat the symptoms and the hotspot itself, but to find the cause in order to prevent the condition from deteriorating or returning.

How is a hotspot treated?

A hotspot involves infected skin, so it would be wise to have it treated and to get the infection under control. The vet will examine the area and determine the extent of the infection. The area around the hotspot will be shaved to make it easier to clean and treat. The area will then be cleaned and the vet will most likely treat it with antiseptic creams or even antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. Depending on the severity of the lesion, the vet may also prescribe systemic antibiotics. In severe cases this treatment may have to be continued over a number of weeks. In some instances this condition can be excruciatingly painful and may require sedation or even a full general anaesthetic to be treated properly.

While the hotspot is healing, your most important task will be to convince your dog to leave it alone. This is not always an easy task because he is probably used to licking or scratching to try to relieve the itch and pain. The most helpful tool is the Elizabethan collar (the ‘cone of shame’), which limits the access your pooch has to that spot. The cone needs to be big enough to stop your pet from reaching the hotspot, so the edge of the cone must be longer than his nose.

Most hotspots respond well to treatment, especially if the underlying cause is treated successfully, but finding the cause is usually the tricky part.

Will a hotspot getter better by itself?

The answer is no. In most cases, the condition keeps on spreading like wildfire and, if not treated sooner rather than later, your pet may end up with significant hair loss and infected skin over large areas of his body. If this happens, the treatment becomes a lot more complex and expensive. If you suspect your dog has a hotspot, the sooner you get him to the vet, the better. 

Why is my dog prone to recurring hotspots?

If the underlying condition leading to a hotspot is not successfully addressed or treated, it will most certainly lead to a recurrence of the condition. Ear infections are a common reason for dogs to scratch the side of their face. It may seem obvious that one should treat the ear condition, but an ear infection in a dog may often be a symptom of another underlying condition. Atopic dermatitis, which is skin irritation caused by the inhaling of allergens, is a common cause of ear infection. This can be a very difficult underlying cause to treat and, in many cases, may never be successfully treated; only managed. If your dog is one of the unlucky canines to have an overactive immune system that is negatively triggered by environmental allergens, it may take a lot more to address the underlying cause of a hotspot and prevent it from recurring on a regular basis. The vet will have to spend more time in such a case to work out a plan of action for future prevention.

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

Acral lick granuloma

Canine lick granulomaWhen a pet owner brings their animal in to the vet with a firm, raised, angry red bump on the pet’s leg or ankle, complaining that the animal (a dog more often than a cat) won’t stop licking at it, the vet knows that there is a potentially long road of diagnosis and treatment ahead. The symptoms and behaviour described here are common in what’s called acral lick granuloma

What is an acral lick granuloma?

An acral lick granuloma is a medical condition whose main feature is a raised, angry red bump on the pet’s leg. This angry bump is usually the centre of the pet’s focus, where they constantly lick the area until it is raw.

If we unpack the name of the condition, it gives us a better idea of what it is and how it is caused. Acral refers to peripheral body parts, so the extremities like legs, ankles and paws. This condition usually affects the furthest end parts of the legs; more commonly the front legs, but also the back. The lick part of the name defines the cause of the condition, namely long-term licking, which aggravates the skin and leads to irritation and ulcers. A granuloma is the body’s response to long-term irritation; in this case irritation to the skin. A granuloma comprises clumps of irritated tissue, which usually appear raised like a mushroom on the surface of the skin.

So an acral lick granuloma is a condition where the body creates a granuloma on the leg/s as a result of long-term licking.

What does an acral lick granuloma look like?

Not all acral lick granulomas look identical, but they all share some basic characteristics. They usually appear as thick, firm, raised, hairless areas on the top of the front or back legs. These areas sometimes have a ring of darker coloured skin on the edges. Pets who have this problem compulsively lick the area, even if you scold them or try to distract them. It’s as if they can’t help themselves. Acral lick granulomas develop as a result of long-term licking and develop slowly over time. Long-standing cases have ulcers that develop on the topmost surface of the granuloma. These areas often have an underlying infection, so they can appear red and angry, sometimes oozing a pussy, red or straw-coloured liquid. 

Which animals can get acral lick granulomas? 

Both dogs and cats can develop an acral lick granuloma, but it’s more prevalent in older animals than in younger animals. Retrievers and high focus breeds like Dobermans, Irish setters and German shepherds tend to get this problem more commonly than others.

What causes an acral lick granuloma?

There are several theories about what leads to the development of an acral lick granuloma. Many researchers believe that this condition is mainly caused by psychological factors; that it is stress-related. There is yet other evidence that suggests that there may be an underlying medical problem that starts the licking cycle. These conditions include pain, irritation, infection and discomfort. Conditions such as arthritis, pain related to bone conditions, infections, injuries and even itchy skin-related conditions such as allergies or parasites may kick off the animal’s need to lick.

When a pet licks the area of pain or discomfort, it releases feel-good hormones, making them want to keep licking. This soothing effect is most likely how the lick cycle is maintained once it has started, which results in compulsive licking.

In cases where an initial physical cause of the problem could not be found, studies found that many of the dogs with acral lick granuloma had a psychological origin. Many of these dogs started licking as a response to stress, anxiety or boredom. Many of them started licking after a change in their environment. Examples include dogs who were crated for longer than usual, a change in their owner’s working hours, or even the loss of a friend or family member.

I think my pet may have an acral lick granuloma, what can I do?

If you suspect that your pet has an acral lick granuloma, the best would be to discuss the condition with a veterinarian. It is important to find out what started the problem in the first place. The veterinarian will examine your pet and possibly recommend x-rays or even collect samples from the area to rule out bone or joint problems, parasite infections or even cancer. The cause of the problem needs to be addressed if there is to be any hope of a solution. Each case is unique and treatment administered will depend on the cause.

Possible treatment routes

More often than not there is infection hiding deep in an acral lick granuloma, which requires long-term antibiotic treatment. This may be for weeks or months, and requires diligent effort to maintain on the owner’s part. Resolving infection in these cases is the cornerstone to successful treatment. An important component of managing an acral lick granuloma is to limit your pet’s access to this area once treatment has started. This can be done by bandaging the area or by using a cone, or Elizabethan collar.

In cases where psychological stress is a major contributor to the condition, the veterinarian may recommend a consultation with a behavioural specialist who can assist in managing the stress-related aspect of this condition. 

Keeping an eye on when your pet licks may indicate the psychological contributor to the condition. Do they lick more when they are on their own or when surrounded by people? Do they lick when locked up in their crates during the day or night or when they are alone or bored? Do they show other symptoms related to separation anxiety, like not being able to leave your side when you are at home? 

An acral lick granuloma can be a frustrating condition to treat and manage. The granuloma develops slowly over time, so you may not know there is a problem until it is well established. An important part of treating these lick granulomas is finding and treating the initial cause. Without finding the initial cause, they tend to recur. Always speak to the vet about your concerns regarding your pets.

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


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 dog 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 notice some behaviours or signs in your dog 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 dog.

Changes in appetite or drinking habits

You may notice a sudden decrease or increase in your dog’s appetite. He may eat less than usual, take longer to finish his meals or even refuse to eat at all. You will easily notice any changes if you feed your dog set meals. However, if he is used to having food out all the time or 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.

Also make sure that the food bowls are kept out of reach of pigeons and birds – given the chance, they may eat all of your dog’s food and lead you to believe that your dog is eating well when he actually isn’t.

Similarly, your dog may start drinking more or less water than usual. If he starts drinking less than usual he’s at risk of dehydrating. A vet visit will help to determine why he’s refusing to drink and also address any dehydration that may have occurred. If your dog 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.


Another common sign of illness is lethargy – your dog may seem to have less energy than usual and spend more time sleeping or simply lounging around.

Changes in toileting habits

You or someone in your household will probably already have an idea of what toileting habits are normal for your pet. Diarrhoea in dogs occurs very commonly and has several causes, including a change in diet; chewing or eating something unusual, especially when digging into the garbage bin; parasites such as worms; stress and even organ issues. If your dog is constipated, he will pass small, hard stools infrequently or no stools at all. Phone the vet if you notice a change in the colour, consistency or frequency of your dog’s stool.

Similarly, you may notice a change in your dog’s urination habits. He may urinate more frequently than normal or your house-trained dog may suddenly start having ‘accidents’ in the house. Pay attention to how he urinates – is he straining or does the urine just dribble out? If it just dribbles out, is your dog awake/excited/asleep when it happens? Is he also drinking more water than normal? Is he showing any other signs of illness? The vet may ask for this information in order to guide them towards the correct diagnosis.

Repeated vomiting

Vomiting can be caused by a variety of conditions where the primary cause is not in the gastrointestinal tract as one would anticipate. As an example, kidney failure may cause an increase in the blood levels of by-products of protein synthesis, which can make your dog nauseated and cause him to vomit, with no inherent defect in the intestine. Puppies are sometimes prone to overeating or eating too fast, which may lead to vomiting. Dogs love chewing things, and foreign objects that have been swallowed and cause obstruction are a common cause of vomiting. Take your dog to the vet if you notice him vomiting repeatedly or more frequently than usual, and especially if the vomiting is accompanied by other signs of illness. Vomiting can be associated with many different underlying systemic diseases, and if gastrointestinal causes have been ruled out, further investigation will be required.

Blood in the urine, stools or vomit

Blood in any of your dog’s excretions is never normal and warrants investigation by the vet. Dark brown to black stools or vomit may indicate the presence of partially digested blood.

Unexplained weight gain or loss

If your dog suddenly starts losing weight it may indicate an underlying illness. It is also worth noting that weight loss may not always be accompanied by a loss of appetite. Take your dog to the vet if you notice he’s losing weight without a change in his diet or exercise patterns.

Conversely, weight gain can lead to obesity, which comes with its own set of health problems. The vet can help you determine why your dog is gaining weight and also help you come up with a plan to get him back to a healthy weight.

Changes in breathing

In dogs, panting is a normal process that aids in controlling their body temperature. Dogs can also pant due to stress or excitement. Hacking, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, shortness of breath and raspy breathing, however, are all abnormal and should be investigated by the vet.

Mobility issues

You may notice your dog limping, having difficulty getting up or seeming stiff and reluctant to play or go for walks. It is very important to note that just because a dog isn’t crying out, it doesn’t mean he’s not in pain. Dogs do not form an emotional connection to pain as we humans do; they simply accept the pain as their new reality and continue with their lives. Older dogs, like humans, are prone to developing arthritis, while younger dogs may be affected by any number of mobility issues. The vet will be able to diagnose your dog’s condition and recommend therapies to make him more comfortable.

Behavioural changes

Dogs are generally quite consistent with their behaviour, so if your friendly dog suddenly becomes grouchy, your boisterous dog suddenly becomes timid, your independent dog suddenly becomes needy and clingy, or your dog just seems ‘off colour’ it may mean there’s a problem.  Also pay attention to how much your dog vocalises normally – if he suddenly starts crying, barking or moaning more than usual there might be a medical reason for it, which should be ruled out before deciding it’s a behavioural issue.

Dry, red or cloudy eyes or eye discharges

Dogs are susceptible to a variety of eye issues, which can be diagnosed and treated by your vet. If the eye is sore your dog will typically keep it closed most of the time and may even rub or scratch at it. If this is the case, take him to the vet sooner rather than later – he may have an ulcer in his eye, which, if neglected, can result in the loss of the eye.

Discharges from the nostrils

Excessive watery fluid, a yellow discharge or blood are never normal nasal discharges and warrant investigation by the vet. Either one or both nostrils may be affected and the discharge may sometimes be accompanied by sneezing. You may have heard rumours of a cold, wet nose indicating a healthy dog and a hot, dry nose indicating illness. There is unfortunately no evidence to support this idea and it is nothing more than an ‘old wives tale’.

Ear debris or discharge

Look out for a dark brown or yellow wax-like substance accumulating in or around the ear canal as well as redness or swelling of the ears. Your dog may also shake his ears or scratch at them constantly. If you notice these signs, your dog may have an ear infection or parasite infestation, which is very uncomfortable and sometimes even painful.

Skin irritation, hair loss or coat changes

Dogs are susceptible to a variety of skin conditions, which can be painful, itchy or otherwise uncomfortable. You may notice redness, scabs, bald patches, crusting, dandruff, pimples or even blackheads. Also look out for changes in his coat – a normal coat is smooth and glossy. Take your dog to the vet if his coat suddenly becomes dull and dry, greasy, smelly or if the coat seems to thin out.

Bad breath

Remember that a mild degree of ‘dog breath’ is normal for dogs. Severe bad breath, however, is not normal, especially if it’s accompanied by drooling and bleeding from the mouth. Also look out for swollen, red gums, brown to green calculus build-up on the teeth and even loose teeth. These all indicate gum disease, which, if left untreated, can cause difficulty eating due to pain as well as long-term health effects.


Swelling anywhere on your dog’s body should not be ignored, especially if it’s hot or painful to touch. Dogs can develop abscesses from wounds as well as a wide variety of tumours. If your dog’s muzzle seems to swell up suddenly he may be having an allergic reaction to something. The vet will be able to determine what the swelling is and treat it accordingly.

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 the 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 dog to the nearest open vet immediately.

Trauma, such as a dog fight, getting hit by a car, etc.

Blue, white or very pale gums

Difficulty breathing

Sudden inability to walk

Moderate to profuse bleeding

Seizures or tremors

Dizziness, disorientation, circling, head tilt or imbalance

Collapse, unconsciousness or unresponsiveness

Severe pain (crying out loudly or excessively or acting aggressive when touched)

Distended, bloated abdomen especially in large breed dogs

Rectal temperature above 39.5°C or under 36°C

If you notice anything about your dog’s appearance or behaviour that’s worrying you, it’s always better to rather be safe than sorry. Phone the vet so they can help you decide whether it’s an emergency or otherwise take your dog to the vet.

© 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.

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