Help! My pet has just drank some Anti-Freeze

Winter has arrived and many people, as a precautionary measure, are putting antifreeze into their cars’ radiators, to prevent the water from freezing.

Ethylene glycol is the main ingredient found in antifreeze. Antifreeze is not as commonly used in South Africa as on other very cold parts of the world, as we do not get the very cold temperatures found in some parts of the Northern hemisphere. It is however found in many other products, which are found in South Africa. It is found in lower, less harmful concentrations in hydraulic brake fluid, solvents, motor oils, paints, film-processing solutions, wood stains, inks and printer cartridges.

Ethylene glycol is a sweet, odourless liquid that dogs and cats may find quite tasty. Ethylene glycol has a very narrow margin of safety. This means that only a very small amount needs to be ingested in order for it to be toxic and very often fatal.

As little as a tablespoon may cause severe acute kidney failure in dogs and as little as one teaspoon may be fatal to cats. Animals are often attracted to ethylene glycol due to its sweet taste. It has a repulsive aftertaste but often the animal has ingested enough of the fluid by the time the aftertaste kicks in, to cause disastrous effects.

What are the signs that your animal may have been ingested ethylene glycol?

Early signs of intoxication may be seen from 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion and may include any combination of the following signs:

  • Drunkenness
  • Excessive thirst or urination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Panting
  • Sedation
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Muscle twitching
  • Fatigue
  • Coma

Ethylene glycol poisoning can be divided into three stages:

  • Stage 1: occurs up to 30 minutes after ingestion and includes fatigue, vomiting, incoordination, excessive urination, excessive thirst, low body temperature (hypothermia), seizures and coma.
  • Stage 2: occurs 12 to 24 hours after ingestion. Some of the clinical signs seen in the first 30 minutes may improve but during this stage, the animal may become very dehydrated and develop an increased heart rate and breathing rate.
  • Stage 3: occurs 36 to 72 hours after ingestions. There is generally severe kidney dysfunction at this stage. The dog or cat is generally in much pain and they do not produce urine (this is referred to as anuria). The patient may become more depressed and tired. They may lose their appetite and vomit. They may have a seizure or fall into a coma, which eventually leads to death.

How is ethylene glycol toxicity diagnosed?

If you suspect that your dog or cat may have ingested antifreeze or any other product containing ethylene glycol, it is important to seek immediate veterinary attention. If your animal is showing any of the clinical signs described, it is important to bring your pet to the vet immediately to be looked at. If there is any possibility that your pet may have been exposed to ethylene glycol but not showing any signs, they should still be brought to the vet.

If your pet has vomited or had diarrhoea, collecting a sample to bring to the vet may be beneficial in making a diagnosis. If a diagnosis can be made quickly and supportive treatment is given sooner, the prognosis, although still very poor, is that much better.

It is important to provide the veterinarian with a good history with as much detail as possible. The onset of symptoms may give a very important clue as to the potential cause. In some countries, there is a specific test for ethylene glycol toxicity but this is not widely available. The ethylene glycol concentration in the blood also decreases very rapidly so it is important to test as soon as possible after suspected ingestion. Diagnosis is usually made from history, clinical signs and laboratory data.

Ethylene glycol is processed or metabolised by the liver into toxic by-products that are damaging to the kidneys. Kidney function is measured by two main products in the blood, namely Creatinine and Blood Urea Nitrogen, both of which are nitrogenous waste products. If the kidneys are not functioning properly, these two products build up in the blood. These levels can be tested relatively easily. They are not a specific test for ethylene glycol poisoning, but they do indicate kidney damage. By the time these levels increase, it is unfortunately very often too late.

Looking at the urine may also assist in confirming exposure to ethylene glycol and subsequent kidney damage. The urine is often very dilute and contains blood, proteins and specific crystals. The urine is often acidic.

Is there a treatment?

Quick action and treatment are essential if there is any chance of survival. There is an antidote for ethylene glycol toxicity but it is very expensive and unfortunately not readily available in this country. The antidote also needs to be given within five hours of ingestion. Alternative treatment such as ethanol are available but animals need to be monitored closely as the drugs used for treatment have side effects. Sodium bicarbonate administered in the drip will assist with the metabolic acidosis.

In suspected cases, supportive treatment is essential and this will include intensive monitoring, fluid therapy to correct dehydration and correction of any pH imbalances in the body. Despite treatment, the prognosis is often grave to poor and many animals do not survive antifreeze poisoning.

The old saying, “Prevention is better than cure”, stands true here. It is important to be aware of any household products that contain ethylene glycol and store them safely, away from animals. Clean up any potential spills immediately and if you are unsure of potential exposure seek veterinary care immediately. There are many potential threats within a home of which the drinking of antifreeze is only one, and so it is important to be aware of them and take the necessary precautions to safeguard your animals.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty.) Ltd.

My puppy is trying to chew the cord of my laptop charger

Although this may sound like a very unusual topic to discuss it is something that happens far more frequently than we would like. The most common reason for our pets to get electrocuted is chewing on electrical cords. In general the age groups affected in both cats and dogs are approximately 2 months to 2 years of age – the young and the curious. During this phase of their development they tend to be curious about the world. Teething and growing creates the perfect atmosphere for chewing anything in their path. The incidence of electrocution can often coincide with the festive season with all the decorative lighting being put up but for most of us who work with a laptop from time to time and has to plug it in to charge, this could pose a risk for our pets.

Clinical signs and potential complications

Burns are a frequent occurrence following electrical shock. The severity depends largely on the time and intensity of the electrical shock sustained. Something to remember is that it is the amperes and not just the voltage that make the electrical current more (or less) dangerous, which is why getting shocked from an electric fence is painful but not deadly, whereas an electric socket in your house can be much more dangerous. The burns can vary from superficial burns to the upper layers of the skin and mucous membranes in the mouth, or may damage and kill deeper layers of tissue by leaving large open wounds. The effects of the electric burns may not be seen immediately after the incident and the tissue may even appear normal initially. The cells that are damaged first swell and then die off. This process can take hours to days, depending on the intensity of the electrical shock. The hair and whiskers around the affected area may also be singed. Some electrical shocks can produce enough energy to fracture teeth.

Electric shock can affect your pet’s heart immediately, during and after the shock. During the shock the heart may go into fibrillation (an excessively rapid heart rate where very little blood is actually pumped by the heart) and asystole (where the heart starts beating erratically and then stops beating). Both of these may result in death. Following the electrocution your pet’s heart may demonstrate other cardiac (heart) arrhythmias which need to be monitored by your vet.

The next complication to discuss is the negative effect on the respiratory system. Swelling over the mouth and throat regions, spasm of the diaphragm (the main muscle for breathing in the chest) and pulmonary oedema (fluid on the lungs), are all potential complications of electric shock. During the shock breathing may stop, but generally once they are separated from the source of electricity they do start breathing on their own again. Clinical signs that the respiratory system may be affected include rapid harsh breathing, blue gums, coughing, or absence of breathing all together. The swelling is caused by direct injury to the tissue of the mouth. The fluid on the lungs is actually secondary to damage to the nervous system from the electrical shock which then causes changes in blood pressure and heart function with a build-up of pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs and leakage of fluid out of the vessels into the tissue of the lung. Within 24 to 48 hours this already starts resolving on its own and veterinary care is necessary until breathing stabilises.

The nervous system (brain, spinal cord and nerves) can be over stimulated and injured during an electric shock. This can lead to muscle tremors, seizures, limb rigidity and even death.

When bringing your pet to the vet inform us immediately that your animal has undergone electric shock, as this will guide further diagnostics and treatment. This allows the vet to work more efficiently. Some diagnostic that the vet will carry out may include an ECG (monitoring the electrical activity of the heart for arrhythmias), radiographs (X rays) especially of the chest to evaluate the lungs, and blood tests to assess the overall wellness of the patient’s body and its functions. 

Treatment of shock varies largely depending on the presentation of your pet. If they are in shock this will be treated aggressively with drip placement and monitoring of heart and blood pressure parameters. Fluid therapy is used to maintain and stabilise blood pressure and is very carefully used so as not to overload the system and worsen any fluid on the lungs that may be present. If the pet is presented in respiratory distress (breathing difficulty), the reason must be determined quickly and a source of oxygen supplied immediately. If there is excessive swelling around the face and neck then a tracheostomy (a hole directly into the trachea) may be performed and air supplied through the hole until the swelling can be treated. With fluid on the lungs, oxygen is supplied and medication can be given to promote the drainage of fluid away from the lungs and dilation of the airways. The first 24 hours are always the most critical. In very severe cases they may even have to be placed on ventilator to ensure adequate oxygen supply to the tissues.

Any burn wounds are treated conservatively with cleaning and topical treatment. Antibiotics may be necessary if there is any concern for infection. A very important aspect of any treatment is pain control. As far as we can tell, animals feel pain as much as humans do and we need to provide relief with oral or injectable painkillers. Once the tissue has healed enough to ensure good surgical success any major wounds can then be operated on without the risk of many complications. This may take a number of days as the damaged tissue may slough, so do not be too impatient. Premature surgery may lead to a wound pulling apart (dehiscence) which will then require further surgery and discomfort for the animal.  


Try to keep all electrical wires well covered and unexposed, especially around young pets. In the event the worst happens bring your pet to the vet immediately.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd


My dog makes a strange snorting sound with funny gagging movements almost like something is stuck in his/her throat.

What is reverse sneeze?

Reverse sneezing is repetitive, forceful inspiratory (breathing in) efforts generally caused by irritation of the lining of the naso-pharynx or area at the back of the mouth and nose where these two openings join into one. Unlike a normal sneeze where air is forcefully pushed out the nose to clear the irritation, a reverse sneeze involves air being pulled forcefully and rapidly into the nose. This is commonly seen in small and toy breeds breeds with long thin nasal passages like Miniature Pinchers, Toy Poms, Chihuahuas, Malteses, Dachshunds, Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers and other Terriers, etc., and brachycephalic (short nose) breeds like Pugs, Boston Terriers, Shih Tsus, Pekingeses, etc.

How to recognise a reverse sneeze:

It is a noisy forceful inspiration of air through the nose resulting in a strange snorting sound. When seeing a reverse sneeze for the first time it can be quite a startling event for owners who often think their dog is choking or even struggling to breath. During an episode of reverse sneezing the dog will often stand still, with elbows pulled away from the body, head and neck stretched out straight, with a backwards head motion, mouth closed and lips sucked in making a loud strange snorting sound. Their eye may even be bulging adding to the shock of an owner witnessing this. These episodes may last from seconds up to a few minutes. Although reverse sneezing can be startling to observe there is no real risk to the dog and they are generally normal after the episodes. Something to remember is that some dogs may even reverse sneeze throughout their lives with no untoward effects. This may be confused with the goose honking cough noted in tracheal collapse, a common condition in certain small breed dogs. It can also be confused with stertor which is commonly associated with activity and excitement; snoring occurring during sleep, and retching and gagging involving expectoration involving an open mouth. Another common condition it may be confused with is Kennel Cough with the major difference being that Kennel Cough causes a dry honking cough usually ending up with an open mouth gagging or retching at the end of the episode (as if there is a bone stuck in the dog’s throat), whereas with reverse sneeze, the dog’s mouth tends to stay closed and it is almost like they are trying hard to swallow something, which just does not want to go down the throat. Kennel cough is caused by a number of difference viruses and bacteria and is usually a condition which will clear up over time and disappear completely, whereas reverse sneeze often seems to be a lifelong condition.

Diagnosing reverse sneeze

If these episodes are something that happen frequently, are concerning for you, or seem to distress your pet, it is better that you take them to the vet for a proper clinical examination. Generally, the veterinarian will attempt to determine the cause of the symptoms by doing a thorough work-up which may include the consideration of the age and breed of your dog, a good history of the condition and the clinical signs seen, a full clinical examination from nose to tail, a nasal work up (X-rays, flush, biopsies etc.), endoscopy (with sample collection and visualisation) and response to treatment trials. The extent of the work-up is determined by clinical signs, frequency of episodes and your willingness as an owner to go through the process. A very important point to remember is that often despite the best attempts and in-depth work-ups, a final answer or underlying cause may never be found. This may be in part because this condition may have a behavioral component to it. Please read below under Causes for more information.

There are a number of other conditions affecting the throat, the heart and the lungs, which may mimic reverse sneeze and therefore it is important to rule out these conditions, as some of them may end up being life threatening and ignoring the symptoms and merely saying that it is a behavioral problem, may be too simplistic.


So what may be some of the possible causes? The consensus, given current knowledge available on this conditions, seem to indicate that this is a response by the body to some form of irritation of the upper respiratory tract. These can include rhinitis and sinusitis, which is an inflammation of the tissues of nose and sinuses. The cause of the inflammation may be infectious (bacteria, viruses and fungi), environmental (dust, irritant aerosols, cleaning agents, grass awns and seeds etc.) and allergic conditions, where it’s the body’s over response to normal environmental contaminants that causes the problem. Other causes may also be eating or drinking too quickly, pulling on the lead around the neck, and even excessive excitement. Even excessive vomiting may cause inflammation of the nose and throat.

Tumours of the oro- and nasopharynx (mouth, nose and throat) and even severe dental disease may be the reason behind reverse sneezing. Excessive vomiting may also cause inflammation of the nose and throat.

The behavioural component or cause of the condition is not yet well understood but there seems to be a school of thought which says that the condition starts as a result of one of the reasons above and may have been self-limiting, had it not been for the fact that the concerned pet owner immediately pays attention to their dog during one of these episodes, which lead to some form of attention seeking behaviour from the dog with future episodes. It is unlikely to be completely voluntary (i.e. the dog “taking its owner for a ride”) but it does seem like the concern an attention shown to a dog during some of these episodes may perpetuate the problem and cause it to recur. If other pathological causes for the condition have been ruled out through a proper clinical workup by the vet, it may actually be of benefit to ignore the dog during these episodes and not make a fuss of it at all. Please discuss this with the vet before you assume this is the case with your dog.


In general there is no specific treatment for reverse sneezing and in most cases no treatment is required. During the episode it helps to calm your pet, stroke them gently on the head and neck in an attempt to calm and sooth them. As mentioned previously these episodes often resolve on their own with no complications and ignoring an episode may in actual fact be a better treatment that to hold and stroke your pet and talk to them. Treatment deals with the underlying cause, if it can be found. Response to treatment is often used by the vet as a cost effect diagnostic tool for the more common reasons for reverse sneezing. Treatments prescribed by the vet may include anti-inflammatories, steroidal treatment, antihistamines and even decongestants. If a specific cause is found more direct treatments may include, dental therapy, antibiotics, or even surgery.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd.

My dog’s stomach is suddenly very bloated and he is very uncomfortable

Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) is a rapidly progressive life-threatening condition in dogs characterised by bloating and twisting of the stomach. Patients admitted with suspected GDV are treated as an emergency as the condition is life threatening. Treatment may require medical and surgical intervention. It is commonly associated with large or giant breed, deep-chested animals between 2 and 10 years of age. Some breeds affected are German Shepherds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Great Danes, Dobermans, Irish Setters and Basset hounds but any breed and age can be affected.

Factors that are believed to contribute to the development of GDV include genetics, rapid eating, ingestion of excessive amounts of food or water, delayed emptying of the gastrointestinal system, too much activity after eating and single daily feeding. In some cases, dogs affected by GDV have a history of gastrointestinal tract problems. These characteristics do not necessarily occur with all cases.

It is not known which occurs first, the dilatation (bloating) or the volvulus (rotation). Bloating of the stomach results from the accumulation of gas and food. Rotation of the stomach then does not allow the normal release of these contents, as the outflow passage may also be compromised. Because of the anatomic connection to the stomach, the spleen can also be caught in the twist or be the cause of the condition. This can lead to compromise of this vital organ if not already compromised by tumours or masses.

As pressure within the stomach rises the bloating stomach presses onto the diaphragm and other internal organs causing difficulty with the functioning of the heart and lungs. A number of emergency conditions arise including increased pressure within the abdomen, damage to the cardiovascular system and decreased blood supply to the rest of the gut and body, loss of fluid, and decreased intake of water, leading to dehydration and shock. Organs predominantly affected by the decreased blood supply and oxygen are the heart, stomach wall, the rest of the gut and the spleen.

Dogs will show signs of vomiting foam or trying to vomit with no success, excessive drooling, restlessness and having abdominal pain. An enlarged abdomen or bloated stomach is a tell tale sign but may or may not be present. Some animals can become depressed, lie down or collapse. Further physical examination may also reveal an extremely rapid heartbeat known as tachycardia, laboured breathing referred to as dyspnoea, a weak pulse, and pale mucous membranes (the moist tissues lining the nose and mouth).

The veterinarian will make a diagnosis by referring to the history of the patient, predisposing factors and clinical signs seen when entering the veterinary practice. Radiographs of the abdomen are almost always needed to confirm the diagnosis of GDV although in some cases the breed, history and clinical signs are so clear cut that the vet will make the diagnosis without having to do X-rays. Further blood tests may be needed to determine how compromised the patient is.

Aggressive treatment is required to ensure the animal’s survival. The primary goals of treatment are to make sure the volume of blood through the animal’s body is restored by administering fluids through an intravenous catheter (a catheter that is inserted into a vein for supplying medications or nutrients) and to decompress the stomach by passing a tube into the stomach through the mouth to release gas and draw out excess fluid. These processes are usually done under sedation. Once relatively stabilised, the patient is prepared for surgery to correct the torsion of the organs. In some cases the vet may decide to do the surgery almost immediately and in other cases the vet may suggest a period of stabilisation, before the surgery is done. The aim of treatment is to return the spleen and stomach to their normal position within the body. It may be necessary to remove the spleen if it is suspected to be the cause of the condition or if its blood supply is compromised during the ordeal. The surgical procedure to prevent the stomach from twisting again is called a gastropexy.  During this operation the stomach wall is attached to the body wall by the surgeon allowing for the permanent normal positioning and decreasing the chance of reoccurrence of the condition. Your pet will be given antibiotics, painkillers, and anti-nausea medication and the fluid therapy will be continued after the surgery. Sometimes, if the blood supply of the stomach is cut off to such an extent that certain parts of the stomach wall receives no blood, the stomach wall will begin to die off leading a major crisis where part of the stomach wall has to be removed during surgery. Other times, the bloated stomach can press onto the heart muscle to such an extent that the blood supply of the muscle wall of the heart is cut off leading to major heart damage. These complications can happen in a matter of hours and this is why this condition is always considered an emergency and why it is so critically important that no time is wasted to get such an animal to the vet. “Leaving the animal to the morning” to see if they will be better, is never an option with this condition as the damage done in  a brief number of hours is significant enough to cause death. In some cases the stomach may burst, which almost inevitably leave to death, even if the dog was still presented live at the vet.

It is best to hospitalise these patients for a few days after the surgery and to monitor their progress closely. Irregular heartbeats or compromised functioning of the heart, infection called sepsis and inflammation or infection of the abdominal wall called peritonitis may be some of the complications encountered. Even if the surgery was successful the animal may still die of these complications a few days after surgery. Post-operative care is paramount to the successful treatment of this condition.

Animals must be allowed time to heal at home once discharged. Remember to administer any tablets given by the vet and allow your pet to rest even if they are looking and feeling much better. While the exact causes of GDV are unknown, there are a number of risk factors that can be addressed including avoiding stress, feeding multiple smaller meals rather than large single daily meals and avoiding exercise or playing immediately after eating and drinking. 

It has been shown that animals treated within the first 6 hours after the onset of the condition have the best chance of survival. Even so, the mortality rate is 25 to 30% with an incremental increase after this time. This is an emergency condition and needs to be treated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. If you suspect your dog of suffering with this condition never ever wait to see if it will improve by itself. Always get it to the vet as quickly as you can and if it happens after hours and the vet is closed, take it to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic. 

 © 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

My pet was hit by a car on its hindquarters

This article gives a simple overview of what to expect when a pet has a pelvic fracture, what are the most common causes and associated injuries, and what treatment options are available.

Pelvic Fractures are a fairly common occurrence and it is something veterinarians in private practice are faced with almost on a weekly basis. The pelvis is an essential part of a pet’s skeletal structure and forms the framework around which their hind limbs move and function. Not only is it essential to our pets ability to walk but there are some very sensitive and important structures that lie in and around the pelvis which can easily be damaged in the event of a pelvic fracture. This will be explained in more detail later on in the article.

Understanding the structure of the pelvis and how it interacts with the surrounding bones and soft tissues will help to put the various fracture types into perspective. The following demonstrates the basic anatomy of the pelvis:

Now that a picture can be formed in the mind about which part belongs where, understanding pelvis fractures is made easy. The first thing to note is that the pelvis forms a box with the left and right parts being equal. For this reason the pelvis will not displace if only a single fracture has occurred, if one half of the pelvis is displaced then at least 2 fractures must have occurred. The pelvis must fracture in three places for displacement to occur. All areas of the pelvis may be affected. The most important regions of the pelvis that may be affected is the acetabulum (the socket of the hip joint) as well as around the sacro-iliac joint region. These areas have many important nerves from the spine and blood vessels enter the hind limbs exposing them to injury should pelvic trauma take place.

As mentioned before there needs to be at least 3 fractures for displacement to take place.The advantage is that should there only be a single fracture, provided no other complication is present, it may in certain cases, once a proper assessment has been done by the vet, be left to heal without surgery as the remainder of the pelvis will act as splint keeping everything where it should be. With a fracture through the joint socket or acetabulum and where the joint is affected, the advice of a specialist surgeon may be sought because if it is not fixed correctly, the development of arthritis in that joint is inevitable. If there is severe displacement of the pelvis, surgery will have to be performed to correct the malalignment and stabilise the pelvis. Separation of the pelvic symphysis (area where the 2 halves of the pelvis are joined) is a fairly common fracture seen in young dogs and cats where this symphysis has not completely calcified. Separation or dislocation of the hip from the spine (sacrum specifically) can occur, but as mentioned before, this displacement may only occur if there is at least 1 other fracture present or both sacro-iliac joints have been dislocated. Displacement of the pelvic girdle can occur with both sides of the pelvis separates at the sacroiliac joints from the spine or with fractures of the pelvic bones in three sites, or a combination of the two. This is only a very brief overview of some examples of pelvic fractures and there are many different variations with different outcomes that can occur.

The most common cause for pelvic fractures is when our pets get hit by cars. Other potential cause include any trauma severe enough to break bones, including falling from heights, bite wounds or trauma (especially small dogs and cats attacked by large dogs), falling off moving vehicles, abuse and just about any traumatic incident severe enough to cause that amount of damage. As trauma is the major cause of pelvic fractures and the intensity of that trauma is severe enough to break bones, there is usually a lot of damage to the associated soft tissues both around the hips and in distant areas such as the lungs. Important tissues to pay careful attention to in the pelvic region include the nerves running form the spinal cord, the bladder, the urethra (tube running from bladder to genitalia), rectum and anus as well as all the surrounding muscles. Nerve damage is a very unfortunate complication of pelvic trauma and if severe enough cannot be corrected. This may leave your pet paralysed in one or both hind limbs (although this is relatively rare), or may cause a loss of anal or bladder tone, resulting in urinary and faecal incontinence (loss of bladder or anal control). Should the bladder or urethra be damaged or ruptured there can be leakage of urine into the surrounding tissues with severe complications due to the irritant nature of urine. In these cases surgical correction is often required. Bleeding and bruising of surrounding tissues may be the result of ruptured blood vessels or severe tissue trauma and this can be very painful and debilitating to your pet. Lastly whenever an animal is hit by a car or severely traumatised the lungs may also be affected with lung contusions (injury), pneumothorax (air in chest cavity) and bleeding into the chest being a possibility. Some studies have shown that there is a high occurance of lung trauma (up to 58%) when there is pelvic trauma. The vet may therefore suggest that chest X-rays (radiographs) are taken and a patient be treated with oxygen and carefully monitored. If the animal isn't hospitalised the vet may request that the animal be brought back for follow-up chest radiographs 48 – 72 hours after the incident, as lung contusions may only show up later. One should be careful not to only focus on the fractures in the pelvic bones themselves, as there is a large amount of soft tissue (muscle, nerves, organs) in the body that may also be affected.

The treatment of pelvic fractures, unless stable and minor, will require surgery of some sort. In some instances where there is only a single fracture or minor displacement, strict cage rest may be recommended by the vet. This is a long term process as bone can take up to 6 weeks to knit properly at a fracture site and even then complications may still be present. If the knitting has taken place properly, remodeling of the bones take another 6 to 12 weeks depending on the age of the animal. Should the acetabulum be involved or there is severe displacement, surgery is the only treatment to be considered. Whichever course of action is to be taken it is always wise to consult with a specialist surgeon when making the appropriate decisions. Surgical repair of pelvis fractures is by no means a quick fix and it is important to understand from the start that it is a long term and costly procedure that you as a pet owner should be prepared for.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty.) Ltd.  

Is your pet safe?

Fatal Diseases that can easily be prevented

There are some fairly common fatal diseases in animals which can and should be prevented wherever possible. This article looks at how these diseases present, what they lead to and most importantly how they could be prevented. Today we have more information about our animals and the diseases they may suffer from than ever before. With this knowledge comes the means of preventing these conditions that years ago would have meant certain death to our beloved pets. The most important means of disease prevention readily available to us is vaccination. A simple annual health check and vaccinations can help ensure your pet lives a long and healthy life. Other important means of prevention includes regular deworming as well as tick and flea treatment.

Here are just a few of the conditions our animals can be prevented from getting:

Rabies (affects dogs and cats)

Rabies is a viral disease affecting the brain and spinal cord of all mammals, including cats, dogs and importantly humans as well. This is a fatal condition for which there is no cure once infection has taken hold. It is important to remember that the idea we have of rabies and how an infected animal may present and act may only be half the story.  A rabies infected animal (domestic and wild animals alike) can present in one of two forms – the commonly known aggressive form, and the lesser known ‘dumb’ form. The aggressive form will be the animal that appears very aggressive, tries to bite and often is salivating at the mouth. The ‘dumb’ form is unusual and not well known because animals appear tame, calm, docile and even slightly sedated. These animals may have excessive salivation but not always. This animal appears calm until approached and then will just as easily bite you. Both forms have the same end result for the infected animal or human – severe inflammation and damage to the nervous system resulting in death. Rabies is transmitted through contact with an infected animal’s saliva, most often through a bite but other contact may also result in infection. In the event contact is made with any body fluids of an infected animal there is a risk for infection.

Treatment: None

Prevention: Vaccination

Distemper (this is a disease that only affects dogs)

Distemper is a serious viral disease that is highly contagious and for which there is no known treatment. This virus is transmitted through direct or indirect contact with infected animals, and may even be transmitted via the air. This virus first attacks the tonsils and lymphatic system (the body’s drainage and filter system) and then spreads to the gastrointestinal, respiratory, urogenital (kidneys and bladder system) and nervous systems. Initially the dog is feverish and un-well and there may be vomiting and diarrhea. Later there is progression to involve other internal organs and systems including the brain which may lead to seizures, behavioural changes, paralysis etc. Animals may also develop hard thickened foot pads. Most animals diagnosed with distemper need to be euthanised.

Treatment: None

Prevention: Vaccination

Parvoviral infection (CatFlu) in dogs

Parvovirus infection is mainly a problem in young unvaccinated puppies but can also affect dogs of any age if they have not been vaccinated. Initially is was thought that dogs contracted this disease from cats but this is not true and cats are not affected by this disease at all. The small and very tough virus that causes this disease attacks and destroys the intestines, resulting in vomiting, lack of appetite, and a severe watery bloody diarrhea. Even with intensive treatment puppies often succumb to dehydration with loss of nutrients and electrolytes essential for life. Treatment is costly, intensive and can still result in the death of your pup. Parvo is a preventable disease, with adequate vaccination of mom, ensuring she passes on essential protective antibodies to her pups. Once the pups are born they have to undergo a complete puppy vaccination program from 6 weeks of age onwards to ensure they remain protected at all times.

Treatment: Intensive therapy with intravenous fluids by having the dog on a drip, antibiotics (which cannot kill the virus but protect against bacteria infecting the animal whilst the virus is causing damage, drugs to prevent vomiting, electrolyte supplementation, nasogastric tube feeding and monitoring of electrolytes, proteins and blood counts

Prevention: Vaccination

Infectious Canine Hepatitis (affects dogs)

Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH) is a worldwide, contagious disease of dogs with clinical signs varying from a mild fever and red mucous membranes to severe depression, white blood cells deficiency, and bleeding tendencies. It is also carried by a number of wild canids (dog like animals) such as foxes, wolves and others. These carriers don’t often show clinical signs of the disease but are important in its spread to our dogs. As suggested by the name this virus attacks the liver primarily and results in varying degrees of damage which leads to clinical disease. The disease in a dog can vary from a mild fever from which they can potentially recover with supportive treatment, to death (especially in younger animals). The main route of infection occurs through ingestion (either directly/indirectly) of urine, feces, or saliva of infected dogs. Dogs that have survived infection shed the virus in their urine for more than 6 months. 

Treatment: Supportive and symptomatic treatment which includes fluid therapy (placing them on a drip), antibiotics to prevent secondary invasion of the body by bacteria and controlling the bleeding tendencies that result from the damaged liver which amongst other things produce the clotting factors which prevent an animal from bleeding spontaneously.

Prevention: In recent years there has been a reduction in the incidence of this disease as a direct result of active vaccination programs. Vaccination is the only sure way of preventing the disease and with the many carriers of the disease it is important our animals are continuously protected.

Feline Panleukopenia (affects cats)

Feline panleukopenia is a highly contagious, often fatal, viral disease of cats that is seen worldwide with kittens being the most severely affected. The virus is very resistant and can persist in the environment for a long time. Cats are infected by exposure to the stools or other secretions of infected animals or contaminated objects. The virus infects and destroys actively dividing cells in bone marrow, lymphoid tissues, intestinal cells, and in young animals the nervous system. It may also lead to abortions in pregnant cats. Animals infected with this virus may die acutely, or may present with fever, weakness and later vomiting and diarrhea. On examination they often have painful abdomens. They can also appear anemic (pale). Eventually affected animals become systemically ill and septic, eventually resulting in their death. In young kittens affected with the virus they can show a variety of nervous signs such as ataxia and tremors with increasing severity depending on the age of the kitten when infected and the extent of damage to the nervous tissue.

Treatment: Supportive and symptomatic treatment with fluid therapy, antibiotics (to prevent secondary bacterial infection), checking electrolytes and other body systems on an ongoing basis until the animal is better. Some animals may even require blood transfusions with severely anemia. The outcome of treatment cannot be guaranteed.

Prevention: Vaccination.

If you are in any doubt as to when your animals should be vaccinated or what diseases they should be vaccinated against, please phone the veterinarian to book an appointment and to make sure you keep your animals safe from potentially fatal diseases.

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Proptosis is defined, as the forward displacement of the globe (eyeball) out of the socket, with the eyelids trapped behind the globe.

Proptosis is an ophthalmic emergency. Any suspected trauma to your pet’s eye warrants a visit to your veterinarian immediately.

Let us first have a look at the normal eye anatomy:

Predisposing factors: Breed predisposition

Proptosis is a condition more commonly seen in Brachycephalic breeds (dogs with prominent bulging eyes, short noses and shallow eye sockets). Pekingese, Pug, Boston terrier and Shihtzu are over represented.

Common Causes

  • Trauma is the most common cause of proptosis. In small breed dogs this often occurs during a fight with a larger dog, wherein the larger dog bites over the scruff on the neck and starts shaking the smaller dog. The pulling of the skin back over the head allows for the eye to pop forward, out of the socket. Bite wounds directly to the face could also result in proptosis of one or both eyes but this is very rare.
    • Blunt trauma to the face or head, often seen when hit by a car.
    • Brachycephalic breeds have very shallow eye sockets, and very large openings of the eyelids, in these breeds even mild manual restraint can result in proptosis.
    • Space occupying lesions behind the globe e.g. tumours located behind the eyeball, applying pressure and pushing the globe forward.

Clinical signs

Often the first thing noticed by owners is a very prominent eye where the eyelids are unable to blink over the eyeball (globe).

Other signs include:

  • Swelling and inflammation of the tissue/muscles surrounding the proptosed globe
  • Bleeding inside the eye
  • Abnormal pupil (it may be dilated or constricted)
  • Rupture of the globe
  • Rupture of the muscles around the globe, the eye then deviates outward. These muscles are responsible for keeping the globe in place and are responsible for movement of the eye.

Proptosis needs to be distinguished from

  • Bupthalmia: Enlargement of the eyeball (globe), often caused by Glaucoma or a tumour in the eye.
  • Exopthalmia: Abnormal protrusion of the globe forward, the size of the eyeball remains normal it is just the positioning that changes. Often caused by tumours behind the globe, abcesses in the tissues surrounding the eye or bleeding behind the globe.

What to do when you notice your pet’s eye has proptosed?

  1.  Keep the proptosed eye moist. You can use lubricating human eye drops, or sterile water, try not to use tap water as tap water contains micro-organisms which can be detrimental to eye health.
  2. If you have an old Elizabethan collar you should put it on your dog as a proptosed eye is very painfull and your dog will try to rub it or scratch at it using its paw. The Elizabethan collar will therefore aid in limiting further trauma to the proptosed eye.
  3. Do not give your pet any human pain medication or anti-inflammatories, your vet will treat it as soon as it arrives at the practice with the correct medication at the correct dosage.

Presentation to the vet

Your pet will be assessed for any other injuries or possible complications; this is a very important step especially if the cause of the proptosis was an accidental hit by car. The patient must be stable before any surgery can be attempted.

The vet will then examine both eyes to assess the extent of injury.

The vet will look at the cornea (thin see-through layer) by staining it with fourecein to determine if there are any cuts or scratches on the surface of the eye (this stain changes color from orange to green if there are any cuts or scratches on the cornea). Then also the muscles, skin and nerves (optic nerve) attached to the eye will be examined

Based on the severity of the injury two treatment options exist, either replacement of the eye back into the socket or enucleation (surgical removal of the proptosed eye).

The prognosis for vision in the affected eye is always poor and is often dependant on the extent of the trauma to the eye and how soon treatment is started. Even if vision is lost, rapid response could aid in salvaging the eye for cosmetic reasons.

When the patient is stable enough they are placed under general anesthesia.

If the eye can be salvaged it is lubricated and placed back into the eye socket. Sometimes an incision is made on the outer edge of the eyelid to allow more space and make replacement of the eye easier. They eyelids are then stitched closed – this procedure is called a temporary tarsorrhaphy. Often times the vet will dispense eye drops that needs to be applied daily, this promotes healing of the cornea. The stitches are removed after two weeks and the function of the eye is reassessed to determine if the vision in the eye was affected or not.

If an enucleation is required, the globe is removed, blood vessels and nerves are tied-off and excessive tissue is also trimmed away. The eyelids are permanently stitched closed.

In both instances the patient is sent home with pain medication and an Elizabethan collar to prevent further trauma to the surgical site.

The thought of imagining a beloved pet with only one eye is very distressing and traumatic to owners, but most often these patients recover really quickly and do lead normal happy lives.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty.) Ltd.


Hand Rearing Young Animals – A Basic Guideline

The birth of a litter is a very exciting event, but it is also a huge responsibility for the owner, as many things can go wrong. Besides the birth process itself, problems can occur with the young animals due to birth defects, infections, or insufficient mothering care. In these cases hand rearing may be necessary.

There is a huge amount of commitment required for hand rearing. The main principles of concern are providing correct nutrition; temperature control; good hygiene; and monitoring urination and defecation.

The first milk produced by the mother is called COLOSTRUM. This is thick and creamy milk that contains antibodies. In the first 24 to 36 hours of life young animals can absorb these antibodies directly (instead of digesting them like a protein would normally be). In this way immunity is passed from the mother to her offspring. It is VERY important that newborn animals ingest colostrum. If they do not, their chances of survival are dramatically decreased as they have inadequate resistance to infections. Colostrum intake is possibly the single most important factor in animal neonatal survival.

Very young animals may require feeding as often as every two hours. Newborn animals are very small and so their body reserves for energy are not well established. If food is not given frequently enough they can become hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar levels) and die. Some animals are able to suckle from a bottle and milk formula can be fed in this way. Sometimes the young animals are too weak to suckle, and so milk must be fed via a stomach tube. If it looks as if your young animal is not suckling vigorously then it is important to take it to the vet. It is not advisable to use a syringe for feeding, as this can increase the chances of spraying too much milk into the mouth. The same problem can also occur if the hole in the bottle teat is too large; or if the bottle is held at too much of an upward angle during feeding (it should be held only slightly higher than horisontal). When too much milk is in the animal’s mouth, the milk can go down the windpipe to the lungs, instead of down the oesophagus to the stomach, and cause pneumonia or inflammation and infection of the lungs. This lowers oxygen intake and decreases the young animal’s chances of survival.

To encourage suckling the teat can be held against the top of the animal’s mouth and then gently pulled backwards. This action stimulates the suckling reflex, and can be helpful if the suckling is very sluggish.

Milk formula is preferable to cow’s milk, because the milk for kittens and puppies should be higher in protein and fat than that which is produced for a calf. The milk formulae are made specifically for different species, as kittens and puppies have slightly different nutritional requirements. In the case of young rabbits, it is advised that kitten formula be used as it is richer, and more appropriate for this species than puppy formula. If no formula is available you can feed a homemade mixture made up of equal quantities of full cream dairy milk and egg yolk. It is important not to include the egg white as it causes a runny tummy (diarrhoea). It is important that the milk fed is given at body temperature, because food at the wrong temperature can also cause digestive upsets. It is advisable to boil the bottle and teat in water for a few minutes between every use to keep them as clean as possible.

The stomach capacity in puppies less than two weeks old is only about five ml per 100 grams of body weight. Therefore each feed should not exceed this amount or it will be more than the puppy can handle. The amount that young puppies require per day is about 20 ml per 100 grams of body mass in the first week; and 23 ml per 100 grams of body mass in the second week. This amount increases gradually every week.

Young animals can become dehydrated quickly, and a small amount of weight loss is significant. If a puppy loses ten percent of its birth weight in the first week of life then its chances of survival decrease. For this reason it is vital to get the young animal to the vet if it looks as if it is not eating properly; or if it is crying excessively; or showing signs of an upset tummy.

The small body size of newborn animals predisposes them to becoming cold. Besides this, they are not yet able to regulate their own temperature (this only begins at two to three weeks of age). It is necessary to provide a source of warmth that they can move closer to if they are cold, and move away from if they become too hot. A sign of cold puppies is when they huddle closely together, whereas puppies that lie far apart may be too hot. The ideal temperature for puppies and kittens in the first week of life is 29 – 31?C. In the second week this drops to 26-28?C, and continues to drop gradually as they grow older. Young animals must be kept out of draughts and if possible the air kept quite humid. This can be achieved by placing shallow pans of water around the area where the animals are kept.

Another important consideration when hand rearing young animals, is that they are unable to urinate and defecate without stimulation for the first three weeks of life. In nature a good mother will lick her offspring’s genital area, and other puppies may try to suckle here, which helps the puppy or kitten to pass stools (faeces) or urinate. Without these measures it is necessary to gently wipe the area under the tail and between the back legs with a piece of wet cotton wool. It is also advisable to hold the animal upright after feeding and stroke the back to encourage burping, as with a human baby.

It is clear that hand rearing a young animal requires a large amount of commitment and time, and even with the best care, survival of the initial period is not always possible. If you are concerned about your puppy or kitten it is important to consult the veterinarian sooner rather than later, as their resilience is less than an adult’s.

Finally, once the animal has gotten through the critical period and is eating successfully on its own, the next concern is ensuring adequate socialisation. The hand reared animal is not exposed to the natural environment of parents and siblings where hierarchies are established and normal behavior instilled, so extra care must be taken to ensure that your pet becomes a confident and well balanced survivor.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty.) Ltd.

Do cats bite for no reason?

Cats are often seen as less aggressive animals than dogs but they have five sharp ends that can be used at a moments notice. Cats may also be seen as more instinctive than dogs, mimicking some of the behaviour seen in their wild counterparts. This is obviously on a much smaller level. Aggression can be directed towards people, cats, other species such as dogs, rabbits and birds or inanimate objects, which would include toys or furniture. The most common causes of aggression in cats can be described under the following categories:

  • play aggression- this behaviour is often seen in kittens towards litter mates, toys and people. It generally does lessen with age. In some instances it may escalate in later life and become more of a problem.
  • predatory aggression- mimics the hunting behaviour seen in wild cats. An example would be a cat catching a bird and killing it.
  • territorial or social (status related) aggression – this type of aggression is seen in relation to different areas in the house and people may also play a factor. Often cats will have certain sleeping positions or eating places that are specific to them.  

The diagnosis of aggression in cats is relatively easy and often obvious to see but there are some key differences between cats and dogs.

Aggression in cats is less likely to be multifactorial as in canine aggression. This means that there are often not a multitude of factors that lead to a particular behaviour as in dogs. Passive aggression plays more of a role than learnt aggression in cats. Status related aggression does not occur in all situations in cats. It is often found that one cat in a household may become dominant around food and another around the owners or special places in the house. Management of inter cat aggression is very different from managing it in dogs.

Some cats may suffer from self mutilation which is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The cat may seem to pounce on and growl at offending body parts. This may be seen as aggressive behaviour but the behaviour appears to decrease and even disappear when the OCD is treated. OCD can be treated with a few different behaviour modification drugs, which requires a veterinary prescription. The medication may not need to be permanent but it often is required initially to break the cycle. Calming collars and pheromones available from most veterinary practices may also be beneficial in managing OCD.

As with dogs, medical conditions causing pain and irritability such as arthritis in older cats, trauma or wounds, or even conditions such as hyperthyroidism need to be treated and ruled out as a source of aggression. A painful cat will obviously respond to stimulus and touching of the affected limb or body part, but this behaviour should subside as the cat’s condition is treated and improves. Pain medication obviously plays a major role in managing this type of aggression. Status related aggression and territorial aggression are most likely to start around the time of social maturity (one to three years of age) or after a dominant cat has moved into the neighbourhood. Cats are very sensitive to change, even if the change has not occurred within their household. It has been found that some cats can patrol areas as wide as 2 km radius, which means that they can be affected by many changing situations in the surrounding neighbourhood. Predatory and play aggression are more likely to be present from kitten hood and can escalate later on in life.

An important aspect of managing feline aggression is diffusing passive aggressive situations. Cats in a household may have stand offs before actually attacking. It is important to try and break up a fight at this stage before it actually happens. Being aware of and being able to identify passive aggressive postures in cats is important. Cats that stare, hunch and patrol may be exhibiting such behaviour. Timid cats often seek out positions of safety in the highest possible space. They may also seek out entrances where they can detect the aggressor as soon as possible. In cats, unlike dogs, rolling onto their back is not a position of defeat and surrender. This position allows a perfect opportunity for an opponent to pounce with five sharp ends.

Managing inter cat aggression is very different from dogs in that the aggressor is demoted and the loser should be granted privileges. It is important that cats are reintroduced to each other when they are calm and under control. Calm behaviour should be rewarded. Feeding both cats in sight of each other often helps to ease inter cat aggression.

Other management aspects of feline aggression

It is important to remove the triggers of aggression if possible. Cats who tend to fight with each other may need to be separated when there is no supervision. Not giving attention to either cat when they are together may also help ease the tension. Preventing the behaviour before it starts may also be helpful. This can be done by punishing the aggressor or attacking cat as soon as it starts displaying passive aggressive postures. Punishments may include giving attention to the cat being attacked or placing the aggressor outside or in a different room. Desensitising the cat towards objects that it shows aggression towards is achieved by exposing it to the trigger in small, controlled amounts during pleasant interactions. One can provide safe toys that the cat can vent its instinctive behaviour and energy on. Most cat territories are larger than the average garden. Cats are natural hunters and fight with any competitors. It needs to be remembered that feline aggression is a natural behaviour if it becomes undesirable or problematic it needs to be managed as it cannot be cured.

Castrating a tom cat will significantly reduce the intensity of territorial aggression but cannot be used alone to manage aggression in cats. Castration removes the influence of reproductive hormones, particularly testosterone, thereby reducing aggression and undesirable behaviours such as spraying. Castrated tom cats also tend to wander less than their intact friends.

Some aggressive cats can be extremely dangerous so it is vital to seek experienced and professional advice before trying to deal with an aggressive animal, especially if one is not sure what the cause of aggression is.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty.) Ltd.

What causes back pain in dogs?


Intervertebral disc disease is a term that describes the condition in which the softer cartilage like material in between the bones of the spine, called an intervertebral disc, pushes onto the spinal cord, causing clinical signs that varies from slight back pain and discomfort to complete paralysis of limbs. Even with the slightest clinical signs, your pet should be examined by the vet to establish how serious the condition is and be treated accordingly. The earlier this is attended to, the better the overall outcome. 

A bit of anatomy

The spinal cord is surrounded by a bony structure made up of vertebral bodies. They protect the extremely sensitive spinal cord from injury. They run from the head down to the tail tip and can be divided into cervical (neck), thoracic (chest), lumbar (mid-body) and sacral (tail) vertebra. The different vertebra all have different structures, but fulfil the same role. Between every vertebral body is an intervertebral disc that provides flexibility of the back as well as absorb shock when moving and jumping around. The intervertebral disc is composed of a soft gel centre that gives it its flexibility, and a harder fibrous outer layer, surrounding the gel centre. When the fibrous layer starts to degenerate, the gel centre follows the path of least resistance and starts to push upwards onto the spinal cord that runs directly above it. 

How does it happen?

This is a disease mainly seen in dogs, and cats are very seldom affected. Factors that increase the risk are breed or genetic predisposition, excessive weight and weak muscle development. Breeds with short legs and long backs like the Dachshund, Pekingese, Shih Tzu and Corgis are often affected. These breeds are also referred to as chondrodystrophic breeds. This term describes the condition in which the cartilage develops abnormally and tends to degenerate at an earlier age compared to other breeds. It is important to note though that disc disease is not exclusive to these breeds and can occur in many other dog breeds as well. There are two types of ‘slipped discs’, called Hansen type I, and Hansen type II. Hansen type I is the more serious one where the disc tears or ruptures and where the disc material almost “explodes” (also referred to as prolapse or herniate) up into the spinal cord, causing severe damage and subsequent paralysis. This typically happens in middle aged to older breeds mentioned above. This prolapse can happen at any point in time, and it may or may not be related to an event like a fall or a jump. As an owner of such a dog you may think that the dog was perfectly normal up to the point of the incident, but in most cases there would have already been damage or degeneration which may have started a long time ago. With Hansen type II, the onset is much slower, and the disc material only pushes up or protrudes and press onto the spinal cord -partially. This causes a variety of clinical signs ranging from low grade pain to instability in the hind quarters called ataxia or muscular weakness also known as paresis. Disc disease in non chondrodystrophic dog breeds is often a result of a specific event where the dog injures themselves by falling or jumping. A normal healthy disc only tears with severe abnormal force applied to it and is very uncommon. In most cases in other breeds where there is disc disease it is as a result of aging and or degeneration of the cartilage which make up the disc material. 

Clinical signs

The spinal cord consists of nerve tissue that conveys impulses to and from the body to the brain. It is extremely sensitive tissue that does not regenerate well after it has been damaged. When damaged, it heals by scar tissue formation and depending on the level of damage rarely regains its function. The damage done to the spinal cord when a disc pushes onto it are both due to mechanical compression, as well as secondary inflammatory changes to the nerve tissue. When the disc material presses onto the spinal cord, the pressure on the spinal nerves causes pain and it disrupts nerve impulses traveling to and from the body. The clinical signs will differ depending on where the compression happens. The disc material can prolapse anywhere from the neck down to the lumbar area. Due to the relative rigidity of the spine in the chest area and the extra support and protection provided by the ribs, disc prolapse will rarely happen in the chest area and is more likely to happen in the neck and at the lower body area. One area which is particularly vulnerable is the area behind the last rib where the chest and mid body or lumbar spine meets.  If a disc herniates in the neck, before the front limb nerves, both the front and the back limbs will be affected. If the protrusion happens in the area between the front and back limbs, only back limbs will be affected and front limbs will be normal. 

Signs usually seen are pain, weakness and instability of the back legs with the body swaying from side to side when the animal walks. In severe cases the animal may lose the ability to walk altogether and become paralysed. Dogs in pain will often yelp when picked up or moved and they may walk with an arched back and tucked in abdomen. If the neck is involved, the animal will walk with a stiff lowered neck, unwilling to move it from side to side or up and down. Ataxia can be seen as uncoordinated movements of the limbs. The back limbs will frequently cross over and affected dogs will not know where they are placing their limbs in space. In severe cases affected animals cannot use their back legs at all and might drag them along completely. 


A provisional diagnosis can be made by looking at the breed and age of the dog, the presenting clinical signs, and by doing a thorough clinical exam, which will include a neurological exam. The clinical signs will provide some clues to the vet of the type of disc disease. To make a definite diagnosis, further diagnostic imaging will be required, with an X-ray being the first step. Unfortunately an X-ray cannot show up the actual degree of protrusion of the disc due to the fact X-rays do not show soft tissue as well as bone. It does however show a narrowing in the disc space between vertebrae compared to normal healthy discs. X-rays are a necessary and useful step in the diagnostic process as it rules out other potential cause of back problems like spinal cord tumors and fractures. 

After an X-ray is done, a myelogram should follow. With this procedure a dye is injected into the space surrounding the spinal cord. If there is a compression of the spinal cord, it will show up clearly on the X-rays taken afterwards. An MRI or a CT scan can be done in place of a myelogram, but these procedures are often more expensive. The reason for doing a myelogram or an MRI is not just to make a definite diagnoses of a disc herniation, but also to localise the area where the disc is herniating and assess the degree. If surgery is a possibility, the exact location of the herniated disc is of utmost importance. 


It is important to get your pet to the vet as soon as possible if you suspect it to have a disc problem or if you see any of the symptoms described above. Keep it as quiet as possible in the meantime. There are two ways to deal with a dog presenting with disc disease, and the decision will depend on the presenting clinical signs. It can either be treated medically or surgically. In both instances the aim is to get the pressure off the spinal cord to prevent damage. It is important to realise that medical management is only reserved for patients showing very mild signs for the first time and this will be decided after a full clinical exam neurological evaluation and diagnostic procedures have been done. Medical treatment comprises of strict cage rest and anti-inflammatory medication to reduce swelling of the spinal cord. 

Probably more than 50% of cases presenting with disc disease require surgical treatment. A dog presenting with complete paralysis and with decreased sensation in the hind limbs needs to be treated as an emergency. There are different surgical techniques used, all of them taking pressure off the spinal cord to prevent further damage. Recovery can sometimes take long and adequate nursing care and physiotherapy is needed. The earlier the compression is fixed, the easier recovery will be after surgery. 

Prognosis and prevention

Prognosis after surgery depends on how severe the spinal cord has been damaged, and for how long. With rapid intervention and proper after care, prognosis is good. Unfortunately surgery cannot prevent another disc from herniating at a different location and 33% of dogs can have another slipped disc after surgery. Prevention includes regular exercise and a good diet, keeping dogs fit and slim. In dogs that are prone to disc disease, jumping on and off furniture must be restricted to a minimum. 

The importance of getting your dog to the vet if you suspect that it may have disc disease cannot be overemphasised. Sometimes even waiting and hour or two may mean the difference between life and death for your pet. If damage to the spinal cord has progressed to the point where your animal cannot feel deep pain when their toes are pinched, it is usually too late, even for surgery. 

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