Feline Asthma

Feline asthma is a respiratory condition characterised by a cat having difficulty breathing, frequent episodes of coughing, retching and or attempted (unsuccessful) vomiting. The symptoms are triggered by environmental allergens like dust, pollen and other inhaled particles that activate the immune system. These symptoms are a result of the narrowing of airways due to inflammatory changes, as well as the thickening (hypertrophy) of muscles lining the airways and/or their constriction. Cat asthma can be acute (sudden onset) or chronic (progressive and long-term).

In this article, we want to shed some light on how pet owners can identify the condition in their cat households as well as the risk factors associated with asthma. We also discuss how feline asthma is diagnosed and treated and what an affected cat’s prognosis may be.  

Which cats get feline asthma?

Siamese cats seem to be more prone to developing feline asthma, and will often suffer the more chronic form. However, any cat of any age can be affected by the condition. The average age range of cats diagnosed with feline asthma is two to eight years old. An individual study revealed that female cats are more affected by the condition than male cats are. Overweight and obese cats as well as cats living in environments that have airborne risk factors are also prone to suffering from feline asthma. Roughly, 1 – 5% of the cat population is afflicted by this condition.

What can aggravate feline asthma?

Some cats are more prone to feline asthma than others, but there are also environmental factors that can aggravate an already sensitive immune system and make the cat asthma worse. These include cigarette smoke, cat litter that creates dust, home diffusors, and hair sprays. An often overlooked risk factor is lung disease due to parasites. The veterinarian’s knowledge of the prevalent parasites in the area is useful in the proper diagnosis and management of feline asthma. 

How long should my cat cough for before I worry about asthma?

If your cat is coughing, do not delay in taking her to the vet for an examination. Since this is usually a long-term condition that gets worse over time, experience shows that most clients bring their furry babies for a consultation when they notice the pattern and prevalence of the cough. However, if the condition is left untreated, chronic bronchitis (coughing and wheezing) can result in right-sided heart disease. It is therefore better to err on the side of caution and bring your cat in as soon as you notice any coughing – giving us the chance to assess her in the early stages of the condition.

How do I know if my cat has feline asthma?

The most commonly reported symptom of feline asthma is coughing – identified in approximately 80% of cases. Sneezing has been reported in 60% of asthma cases, while wheezing is observed in 40% of cases. Wheezing, however, is seen in more chronic forms of the condition that would have gone without treatment. Asthma can also present as difficulty breathing, characterised by forceful expiration (exhalation) that involves muscles of the abdomen and/or increased effort in breathing out. Similar to human asthma, feline asthma can be suspected whenever breathing difficulties are observed in cats.

How do vets diagnose feline asthma?

There are other respiratory conditions that cause difficulty in breathing, so the vet has to rule out infectious, parasitic and/or cardiovascular causes of breathing difficulties. It will help if you can provide the vet with an accurate history of your cat’s health – such as when you first noticed her cough or wheezing.

The vet may also perform blood tests, stool examinations, chest X-rays, urine tests, a heartworm test, FIV/FeLV test and airway sampling to evaluate of the types of cells seen. The tests help to rule out possible conditions that might cause similar respiratory signs. Most importantly, tests such as blood tests, chest X-rays and evaluation of cell types from airway samples are useful in reaching the correct diagnosis.

Is feline asthma treatable?

The good news is that feline asthma can be managed on the correct treatment. Managed is the better term, as treatment is usually instituted for life. Currently cortisone is the go-to drug for managing this condition. As always, care needs to be taken when dealing with this group of medications. Their use comes with strict instructions from the veterinarian, which need to be adhered to. Cortisone can be delivered directly to your cat’s respiratory tract via an inhaler – a method that has been proved to be safe and with good success. Bronchodilators are sometimes used in conjunction with cortisone in the management of feline asthma. However, their use is case dependent.

Lastly, nursing care is necessary in the event of an acute crisis where your cat’s breathing is significantly compromised. She will need to receive oxygen, which sometimes means being sedated to minimise movement.

What else can I do to help my asthmatic pet?

Pet owners of cats suffering from feline asthma are encouraged to ask as many questions as possible in order to get a good understanding of the condition. Being armed with accurate knowledge improves the quality of care you can give to your cat, which means a better prognosis for her.

A few nuggets for pet owners to remember:

  • Learn to identify current and new risk factors in your cat’s environment. Since most causes are chronic and progressive, removing your asthmatic cat from triggering environments is warranted.
  • Do not to stop therapy even when the symptoms have subsided. Stopping medication might result in the asthma getting worse in the long run, ultimately affecting other body systems such as the heart. As a rule of thumb, prompt response in the event of an acute respiratory distress incident is a must.
  • Once your cat’s condition has stabilised, regularly follow up with the vet so we can monitor her condition and make adjustments to her treatment to avoid a relapse. Always let the vet know when you notice a sudden increase in symptoms, and also watch out for possible side-effects of medications. Report these to the vet asap.   

What is the prognosis for my cat?

Cats suffering from feline asthma generally live long, healthy lives, as long as they are on medication and their symptoms are managed. Any changes to your cat’s environment must be taken into consideration – they can be affected by the literal air they breathe. Unfortunately, there are those unlucky few cats who have been reported to not respond to medication.

© 2023 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

Adverse Food Reaction in Pets

As logic would go, feeding your dog or cat a high-quality, premium pet food would ensure their nutritional needs are met and they would thrive and live a long and healthy life. This is every pet owner’s objective for their beloved pet. However, some pets – both dogs and cats – can experience what is called an adverse food reaction. In this article, we’ll explore what adverse food reactions are, what causes them, when to take your pet to the vet, and how adverse food reactions are diagnosed and treated. 

If you think your pet is experiencing an adverse food reaction, this article may offer clarity on your pet’s condition.

What is an adverse food reaction?

When your pet eats their food and it causes an abnormal response in their body, we call this adverse food reaction (AFR). One or more of the ingredients in their food causes uncomfortable symptoms indicating that something is wrong. The two most common sets of symptoms show up on their skin (dermatological symptoms) and in their tummies (gastrointestinal symptoms).

What are the symptoms of adverse food reaction?

Dogs and cats present the symptoms of AFR a little differently. 

Symptoms in dogs

In dogs, their skin symptoms can include:
•    itching
•    rashes
•    skin infections
•    thickening and pigmentation of the skin
•    alopecia (hair loss)

Dogs’ gastrointestinal symptoms can include:
•    abdominal pain
•    diarrhoea
•    vomiting
•    borborygmi (tummy gurgling)

Rare symptoms may include the following:
•    head and neck swelling
•    hives (itchy, raised welts on the skin)
•    life-threatening anaphylaxis (drop in blood pressure; narrowed airways, which affect breathing)

Symptoms in cats

Cats’ skin symptoms can include:
•    itchiness (especially around the head, ears and on the neck)
•    pulling out their hair (due to itchiness)
•    bald spots
•    rashes
•    skin infections

Cats’ gastrointestinal symptoms can include:
•    abdominal pain
•    diarrhoea
•    vomiting
•    borborygmi (tummy gurgling)

Rarer symptoms in cats can include:
•    ear infections
•    eosinophilic plaques (raised wounds on the skin, nose or lips)
•    wheals
•    conjunctivitis

What causes adverse food reactions?

There are two different conditions that can cause your pet to have an adverse food reaction:
•    food allergies
•    food intolerance

The symptoms for both conditions are the same, but the mechanisms by which they develop are different. When your pet has a food allergy, their own immune system is triggered by an ingredient or protein (or many of them), which then reacts in a way that causes their physical symptoms. Instead of seeing the ingredient as beneficial, their immune system sees it as an invasive threat and subsequently attacks it, resulting in any of the above dermatological or gastrointestinal symptoms.

Common food allergens in dogs include beef, gluten and dairy; while cats are most commonly allergic to beef, dairy and fish. Food allergies in pets can pop up at any time in their lives – even if they’ve been healthy all along. If they’ve been diagnosed with one food allergy, they can also suddenly develop a different food allergy at any time.

If your pet has a food intolerance, it’s an abnormal reaction to a variety of ingredients or even contaminants in the food. Many dogs and especially cats are lactose intolerant, so giving them any dairy can cause mild to severe tummy trouble – this is a good example of food intolerance as an AFR. They may have food intolerances to various proteins and carbohydrates, but also to contaminants like fungi and bacteria, as well as to food preservatives, colourants and flavouring that may be added to pet food.

How are adverse food reactions identified?

Unfortunately for pets and pet owners, testing methods like blood tests, serology and intradermal skin prick tests cannot accurately detect a food allergy, so your best bet is with a food elimination trial. The vet will recommend a prescription diet consisting of one protein and one carbohydrate. Hydrolysed proteins may also be present, which are proteins that have been reduced into particles too small to cause the body to react. A prescription diet also does not contain many of the preservatives and additives in commercial pet food, known to cause a reaction.

Your pet will need to be fed exclusively on the prescription diet for eight to 12 weeks. It is critically important to the diagnosis that there be no deviation from the prescription diet – no snacks, table scraps, treats or supplements. After this time, the vet will be able to see if the symptoms have cleared up. When you reintroduce your pet’s original food and they have a flare-up of symptoms again, your vet will confirm that your pet’s symptoms are indeed from an AFR.

How are adverse food reactions treated?

When the vet has confirmed that your pet does indeed have an adverse food reaction, your pet’s best bet for living a healthy life is to avoid the food that is making them sick. Fortunately, there are many pet food options on the market that cater to pets with AFRs, such as protein diets with carefully selected ingredients that don’t contain any of the common allergens. There are also those diets that contain hydrolysed proteins, which are distilled down to a form that should not cause any adverse reactions.

A word on nutritional treatments for AFR pets

Home-cooked meals

Some pet owners are prepared to serve up home-cooked meals comprising novel proteins. While this may seem like the healthiest option and could technically not trigger an AFR, this type of diet does not offer your pet balanced, complete nutrition. Home-cooked meals – while filled with love and good intentions – are often too low in essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. If you want to feed your pet home-cooked meals, this must be done in consultation with a veterinary nutritionist who can determine the right levels of vitamins, minerals, omegas 3 and 6, and other nutrients required for your pet’s health and wellbeing.

Commercial prescription diets

Commercial pet food diets are designed to meet all of your pet’s nutritional needs; and for those pets with AFRs, there are scientifically developed diets containing the right blend of additional or alternative ingredients to meet their needs and avoid allergic or intolerant reactions.

Commercial pet shop diets

Some commercial over-the-counter pet diets make claims about being hypoallergenic, yet traces of allergens can still be found in their food. This happens when the pet food factories don’t have measures in place to prevent contamination from regular pet food, which is made in the same facility. 

Based on your pet’s needs, the vet will recommend a prescription diet for your food-sensitive pet, and it’s in your pet’s best interest to follow the vet’s recommendation.

The long road to health

The food elimination trial can be a tricky process – just one step in the long road to correctly identifying, isolating and treating your pet’s adverse food reaction. No pet owner wants to see their pet in distress or decline, so it’s best to work closely with the vet, keep an eye on your pet’s diet, symptoms and progress, and follow the vet’s advice and guidance on your pet’s health and wellbeing.

© 2023 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

Pancreatitis in cats

The pancreas is an organ located near the stomach and alongside the small intestine. It is responsible for producing digestive enzymes and hormones (such as insulin) that regulate blood glucose. In cats, pancreatitis is a serious condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed leading to poor appetite, listlessness, dehydration and vomiting. It is also commonly diagnosed together with other diseases and can have life-threatening and severe long-term effects. In this article we will discuss the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis has been found to be very prevalent in cats world-wide and is often not diagnosed. This may be because the symptoms are vague and there is no single test to accurately identify it.

Pancreatitis is classified as either acute or chronic, based on the changes present in the tissues of the pancreas when examined microscopically. In dogs this is important, but in cats the distinction between these two processes is very unclear and not helpful in the treatment of these patients.

What causes pancreatitis in cats?

The development of pancreatitis is considered idiopathic, which means that we do not know exactly what causes it. It is often found in association with other inflammatory diseases, most notably cholangiohepatitis (inflammation of the liver and biliary system) and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). This disease complex is referred to as feline inflammatory disease or ‘triaditis’. Distinguishing these separate diseases is often not possible or useful, and patients suspected of having any one of these are often managed as having all three. Other diseases that are commonly associated with pancreatitis in cats are diabetes mellitus and hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver syndrome).

How does pancreatitis develop?

During acute pancreatitis the pancreas becomes inflamed when digestive enzymes are activated inside the pancreas instead of in the intestine, there is an accumulation of cellular waste products, and a decrease in blood flow. If this inflammation is very severe it can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

Chronic pancreatitis occurs as a long-standing inflammation of the pancreas that may not be detected. It can also develop after a bout of acute pancreatitis is resolved. This ongoing inflammation damages the cells leading to fibrosis and an inability of the pancreas to perform its function.

As previously mentioned, both acute and chronic pancreatitis can have complications and associated diseases that are potentially life-threatening, making distinguishing between them irrelevant in cats.

What are the symptoms of pancreatitis?

The symptoms of pancreatitis in cats are vague and include poor appetite, listlessness, dehydration and vomiting. Unlike dogs, cats do not often show signs of abdominal pain. Pancreatitis should be considered a possible cause of illness in any cat exhibiting these symptoms.

Other symptoms may be due to associated diseases rather than directly as a result of pancreatitis. Patients with IBD may have diarrhoea and weight loss. Diabetic patients will show weight loss or weight gain and typically drink large amounts of water. Patients with cholangiohepatitis and/or hepatic lipidosis may be icteric, i.e., having yellow mucus membranes (for example, of the gums and eyes).

How is pancreatitis in cats diagnosed?

Unfortunately, no single test can accurately identify pancreatitis in cats. Multiple tests will need to be performed. A full panel of blood and urine tests should be run on all cats presenting with symptoms suggestive of pancreatitis. This is important as it is often found together with other diseases. These tests will also help the vet to gauge the severity of the illness and know which treatments need to be added.

An abdominal ultrasound is a key part of the diagnostic process. Although the changes associated with this disease may not be detected on the ultrasound, it is useful for evaluating comorbidities and other possible causes for the symptoms. Referral for a specialist ultrasound may be needed in cases with subtle changes. A specific blood test called feline pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (fPLi) is also helpful in diagnosing the disease and monitoring the cat’s response to treatment. The presence of the associated diseases (cholangiohepatitis, IBD and diabetes mellitus) will also strongly point towards a diagnosis of pancreatitis.

How is pancreatitis treated?

Aggressive in-hospital treatment is indicated for cats who are collapsed and dehydrated, as this disease can rapidly progress to full organ failure and death. The cat will need to be put on a drip, and given medications for pain and nausea. Hospital stays for this condition can range from three to 10 days or even longer if the cat is severely ill. Feeding these patients is key to their recovery, but since they will often feel too ill to eat, they will need to have a feeding tube placed. Feeding them early on in treatment is especially vital in overweight cats, as they can develop fatty liver syndrome (hepatic lipidosis), which is a life-threatening complication in itself.

Patients that are not as ill can be treated on an outpatient basis. Medications for pain and nausea will be given as necessary. Pancreatitis is often associated with cholangiohepatitis, which can occur as a result of a bacterial infection in the gallbladder and liver. Therefore, these patients may be treated with antibiotics.

Any of the associated diseases (diabetes mellitus, cholangiohepatitis, IBD and hepatic lipidosis) may also require specific treatments over and above the treatment for pancreatitis.

How is pancreatitis managed?

All patients that have pancreatitis need a permanent diet change. A hypoallergenic diet is recommended and various prescription diets are available that have been specifically formulated for this reason. It is very important that these diets be strictly adhered to, which means no additional treats or toppings to their meals. Unlike dogs, fat-restriction for cats with pancreatitis is not indicated and can lead to deficiencies in essential fatty acids.

If a diet change alone is inadequate in controlling the symptoms, most other patients will respond to an immunosuppressive drug such as cortisone.

Repeat blood tests are necessary to monitor the recovering cat’s response to treatment.

© 2023 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

Gastric dilatation volvulus

It’s a scary situation when your dog looks like he has a bloated tummy, but he’s really experiencing a life-threatening medical emergency. Gastric dilatation volvulus or GDV is also called bloat, but it’s more than just a bit of air in the stomach. Its other name – gastric torsion – describes how, once inflated with air, the stomach can also twist around itself and cut off blood supply to other major organs. The body then goes into shock and the condition becomes life-threatening.

What causes GDV?

A dog does not suddenly develop gastric torsion or GDV – there are behavioural elements to this condition. It most commonly happens in dogs who eat one large meal a day or who eat or drink a large volume of food or water, gulping air as they consume it. The delayed emptying of the digestive system (potentially due to consuming oil-enriched foods) can also be a factor. Engaging in vigorous play or exercise after eating can trap air in the stomach and twist it. Add to this a dog who is prone to stress and the chances of them developing GDV increase.

After the stomach has already twisted and the contents of the stomach can’t be released, it can continue to distend, pushing up against the diaphragm and putting stress on the heart and lungs. All of this may be going on inside the dog, but what does it look like from the outside?

What are the symptoms of GDV?

A stomach filled with food and air may or may not present as a distended belly, although this is a common symptom. The following symptoms might also present, but again – not all symptoms will show in all dogs with GDV: 
•    Vomiting foam or retching without vomiting
•    Restlessness
•    Drooling
•    Look anxious
•    Pacing
•    Stretching with their front legs down and their hips up

If your dog shows any of these symptoms without an obvious cause, but you suspect gastric dilatation volvulus, get him to the vet immediately. If the condition worsens, his symptoms can progress to:
•    Shortness of breath
•    Rapid heartbeat
•    Pale gums
•    Weakness
•    Collapse and death

Which dogs are more likely to develop GDV?

Veterinarians and researchers have attempted to isolate the causes of GDV in order to reduce the risk of susceptible dogs from developing the condition, but not every dog with the risk factors will end up with this syndrome. GDV is most commonly seen in large breed dogs who are also deep chested. Think of Great Danes, German shepherd dogs, Dobermans, boxers, bassets, Gordon and Irish setters, St Bernards, Irish wolfhounds, Rhodesian ridgebacks and Weimaraners. Older dogs are more prone to developing GDV, however, it’s not impossible for any breed of dog at any age to experience this dangerous condition. Males are more commonly affected than females. 

Why is GDV a medical emergency?

The distension of the stomach is caused, in part, by its inability to empty its contents. Add torsion or twisting to this equation and suddenly there is increased pressure in the body, decreased blood supply to vital organs and damage to the cardiovascular system. Dehydration and systemic shock can ensue. There is no way for GDV to correct itself and it becomes life-threatening from a few minutes to a few hours. Some dogs go from having no visible symptoms to collapsing and dying, while others will show visible distress and need immediate veterinary attention.

How is GDV diagnosed and treated?

It’s important to tell the veterinarian that you suspect GDV, although in most cases, the dog’s distress will be evident. Looking at the breed, age and history of the dog can provide predetermining information that allows the vet to reach the GDV diagnosis. However, in this emergency situation, the vet’s first priority will be to relieve the pressure in the dog’s stomach to save the wall of the stomach (since there is always a risk of it bursting) and to remove pressure on other internal organs. They will attempt to insert a stomach tube, although this might be impossible due to the stomach torsion; in which case, the vet will insert a large needle through the skin to release the gas and relieve the pressure.

Treatment for shock can then begin (IV fluids and medicine to stabilise the dog’s vital signs) and as soon as the dog is stable, he can be placed under general anaesthesia so that surgical treatment can take place. The veterinarian may take X-rays to confirm the presence of gastric dilatation (distension) and volvulus (torsion) and to prepare for surgery. Some dogs will need a longer period of stabilisation before surgery, depending on how severe their condition was before treatment began.

The surgical intervention involves returning the stomach and spleen to their correct position in the body. If the spleen’s blood supply has been too compromised or if the spleen is the suspected culprit of the GDV, the whole organ may be removed. The vet may decide to perform a gastropexy to prevent GDV from happening again. This involves attaching the wall of the stomach to the wall of the dog’s body to position it permanently. 

If stomach torsion has cut off blood supply to the stomach wall to the extent that necrosis (tissue death) has begun to set in, it may be necessary for the vet to remove part of the dog’s stomach – a procedure called a gastrectomy.

What is the prognosis after treatment?

Gastric dilatation volvulus is a traumatic and life-threatening event, followed by surgery. The prognosis depends on the severity of the condition before medical treatment was administered, the cardiovascular stability of the dog before surgery, and the level of aftercare received. The survival rate of GDV is around 80%, although this may be reduced by certain factors such as pre-existing heart problems, the tissue damage incurred during the ordeal, and the necessity of removing the spleen. 

The dog must be hospitalised for a few days after surgery to keep a close eye on his progress and to catch any complications that may arise. There may be infections or sepsis, inflammation (peritonitis) or low blood pressure (hypotension) that could compromise his recovery and cause the dog to die.

Can GDV be prevented?

While no preventative steps can be 100% guaranteed, the following changes can be made to reduce the risk of your dog developing GDV:
•    Feed two or more smaller meals throughout the day, rather than one large meal
•    Give your dog time to rest after eating, before he engages in vigorous activity or exercise
•    Do not raise your dog’s food bowl off the ground unless instructed to do so by the vet
•    Ensure that your dog experiences a happy, relaxed environment – fearful, stressed dogs are more likely to develop GDV
•    Large dogs should eat large, high-quality kibble and not drink an excessive amount of water after eating

Address any concerns you may have over GDV with the vet and always have the emergency number for the vet on hand if your dog is susceptible to developing this condition.

© 2022 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd 

Heart diseases in cats

The American Veterinary Medical Association suggests that one in 10 cats across the globe is either born with or develops some form of heart disease in their lifetime. There are a number of different types of heart disease in felines, but all of them present with some kind of abnormal structure or function of the heart’s chambers, valves or surrounding muscle.

Types of heart disease

Cats can develop different types of heart conditions. Each one depends on the cat’s genetics, possible trauma to the heart muscle, or some other kind of influence that causes the cat’s heart health to deteriorate. Cats can have congenital or acquired heart disease.

Congenital heart disease

When a kitten is born with a heart problem, it is called ‘congenital’ and may very well be the result of its parents’ genetics. The heart problem can be in the form of a defective heart valve or a weakness or hole in the ventricle wall that separates the right side from the left side of the heart. Both types of malformations can negatively affect the way blood is pumped by the heart muscle and into the body, which can have a negative impact on health and cause some of the symptoms we’ll look at below.

Congenital problems are built-in and cannot simply be ‘medicated’ away; they may need lifelong treatment and sometimes result early death. Fortunately congenital heart disease is much rarer than acquired heart disease.

Acquired heart disease

Acquired – or adult onset – heart disease occurs in older cats and can be caused by wear-and-tear, injury or infection. The most common type of acquired heart disease is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This name directly translates to the thickening (hypertrophy) of the heart (cardio) muscle (myo), which causes the disease (pathy).

Less common acquired types of heart disease include:

  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy – when scar tissue builds up around the heart’s lining and reduces its ability to fill up and pump out the blood;


  • Dilated cardiomyopathy – when the walls of the heart become thin and the heart enlarges, severely disabling its ability to pump

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

This is the most common type of acquired heart disease in cats, and even though it’s not congenital, it is thought there may be a hereditary link. This means that certain cats may be genetically predisposed to developing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) – either with age, or because of other triggers. The cat breeds that are more likely to develop HCM include Maine coons, ragdolls and American shorthairs. Rest assured, this doesn’t mean that they will; just that they have a higher chance of HCM than other breeds.

What are the symptoms of heart disease in cats?

When cats feel sick, they are very good at hiding their symptoms until the illness is quite severe or they go into hiding – a behaviour from their ancestors’ days in the wild, to protect themselves from predators. However, because of the way the heart functions and the other internal organs that depend on it for their own function, cats with heart disease may show the following symptoms:

  • rapid breathing – fast and shallow

  • laboured breathing – noisy or otherwise heavy

  • shortness of breath

  • fatigue

  • difficulty exercising

  • lack of appetite

  • weight loss

  • fainting/collapsing

  • abdominal swelling

  • coughing

  • sudden paralysis in the hind legs, accompanied by pain (caused by blood clots)

  • kittens may have stunted growth

These symptoms can also show in varying degrees, based on how sick the cat may be. When taken to the vet, the vet may detect a heart murmur and an elevated heartbeat (not the result of stress or discomfort, but as a baseline). If these symptoms are too far progressed, the cat may already be in a state of congestive heart failure, which is when the heart’s function is too poorly and there is fluid build-up around the lungs. The blood clots in the arteries near the hind legs can cause a thromboembolism or ‘saddle thrombus’, which is very painful and paralysing, and only about 40% of cats with this condition will have a good prognosis.

How are heart diseases diagnosed?

If a cat is showing any of the above symptoms, they may not necessarily be a sign of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, but they are distressing enough that the vet should take a look. If the vet suspects HCM, they will perform a cardiac examination. This involves an external physical exam, usually done with a stethoscope to listen for any sounds in the heart and lungs that may be out of the ordinary. A non-invasive ultrasound will also give the vet a good inside view of the cat’s heart and lungs – indicating any abnormalities in the blood vessels, heart chamber, valves and the heart muscle.

The vet will then take the cat’s blood pressure and also do a bloodwork analysis to get an idea of the cat’s general health (sometimes heart disease can be a symptom of hyperthyroidism, so if thyroid hormones in the blood are elevated, this is likely the case). X-rays reveal the heart’s size and position in the chest and show the condition of the lungs, while an electrocardiogram (ECG) can show whether the cat has a heart murmur or any abnormal beat, using the electrical activity of the heart.

Can heart disease be treated?

While there is no cure for HCM, and the damage it does to the physical structures of the heart is not reversible, if it is diagnosed early enough the vet may help to manage the symptoms, slow the progression of the disease and to lower the risk of the cardiomyopathy developing into congestive heart failure. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and the progression of the disease, the vet may prescribe medications that will relax the heart muscle, decrease the heart rate and take some pressure off the cat’s heart. They may also prescribe anti-clotting medication to reduce the risk of the cat developing blood clots or a thromboembolism.

Since these medications do make critical changes to the way the cat’s heart functions, it is crucial that cat owners follow the vet’s recommendations on when and how to administer the dosages. Cat owners may need to learn how to monitor their purry friends’ vital signs (like pulse, breathing, etc.), but since each case is different and may be more or less severe, it is best to follow the vet’s advice on each individual case.

What is the prognosis of cats with heart disease?

If the heart disease is caught early enough, the correct monitoring is performed and/or the correct medications are given, the cat may have a good prognosis and go on to live a fairly normal life. Some cats with a slight heart murmur do not show any symptoms for years; some have symptoms that show up immediately and progress rapidly, so that by the time they are diagnosed, their prognosis is poor.

If the heart disease has progressed to congestive heart failure, these patients can live anywhere from another six to 18 months.

Can heart disease be prevented?

As with many disease prevention protocols, the best way to limit the progression of a disease is through early detection or screening. Cat owners should take their cats in for an annual check-up and not wait for any distressing symptoms before they let the vet see their feline friend.

Feeding the cat a good, high-protein diet can reduce the risk of heart disease; balancing healthy diet with enough exercise and keeping the cat’s stress levels down also goes a long way to ensuring optimal heart health.

© 2022 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd


What is urolithiasis?

Urolithiasis is the long-winded Latin term to describe the development of bladder and kidney stones. The term ‘uro’ describes the urinary system, while ‘lith’ means stone.

The urinary system acts as the filtration system for the body. Waste products as well as excess fluid are excreted through the urinary system in the form of urine. The urinary system extends from the kidneys out through the little tubes known as ureters, which empty into the bladder, which in turn empties outside the body via the urethra.

Stones usually develop in the kidneys or bladder, but can get caught anywhere in between. These stones are technically termed urinary calculi or uroliths, but are more commonly known as kidney or bladder stones and are described based on their location within the urinary system. The problems that arise from these stones are determined by their location and the symptoms they cause.  Different types of urinary stones exist depending on the mineral composition of each stone.

How do uroliths develop?

Urolithiasis occurs when diluted minerals in the patient’s urine precipitate (solidify) to form crystals when there is a suitable environment for their formation. Uroliths can consist of one main type of mineral or a mixture of various minerals. Changes in urine pH (whether increased acidity or alkalinity) can promote the formation of stones that favour the particular environment. Struvite stones, for example, form in alkaline urine. 

Other factors that have been attributed to the formation of urinary calculi include the weakening of the patient’s natural abilities to minimise the formation of stones; the presence of excess salts in the patient’s urine as a result of any of the diverse pathologic processes; delays in urine transit from the body; and the presence of a nidus around which crystallisation can concentrate, such as in urinary tract infections.     

What types of uroliths are there?

Struvite stones are the most commonly observed calculi in dogs, accounting for approximately 50% of all urolithiasis cases of their lower urinary tract. In cats, struvite urethral plugs account for an estimated 80% of all urethral plugs in the species. Struvites favour alkaline urine conditions and constitute magnesium ammonium phosphate. Urinary tract infections are a major contributing factor for the development of this stone. If a pet eats more protein than their recommended requirements, they will be predisposed to developing this stone. Evidence also suggests that incidences of struvites are higher in pets who eat throughout the day – this is thought to promote the continuous presence of high levels of minerals in the urinary bladder. The distal urethral diameter in tom cats predisposes them to the higher incidences of struvite urethral plugs.

Calcium oxalate stones represent approximately 35% and 55% of stones in the lower urinary tract of dogs and cats respectively. Miniature schnauzers, Lhasa apso, shih tzu and Yorkshire terriers are the most commonly affected breeds of dogs, while in cats, the Burmese, Himalayans and Persians are over represented. These uroliths develop in an acidic environment in the urinary bladder. Calcium oxalate stones form when there is excessive calcium (hypercalciuria), oxalates (hyperoxaliuria), or low citrate (hypocitraturia) in the urine. Often, as a result of this type of urolith, patients will have distended bladders with complete blockage of the urethra.   

Urate stones and cystine stones are two other types of less frequently encountered urinary stones in small animal medicine. They readily form in acidic urine. Dalmatians, which have defects in uric acid transport systems in the liver, are commonly affected by urate stones. Cystine stones are thought to be a result of inherited kidney defects which lead to excessive elimination of cysteine in urine. Male dachshunds are commonly affected by this type of stone. Both stones are generally not visible on direct x-rays, so ultrasonography is the better method of their diagnosis.  

Other types of uroliths not described in this article also do exist in practice however.

What can I expect to see if my pet has a problem with bladder or kidney stones?

Signs of urolithiasis vary greatly in practice according to the area the stones are found. Typically, signs can range from inappropriate voiding, difficulties in urinating, frequent urination in small volumes, and/or blood in the urine. When the urethra is completely blocked, a patient can be seen straining several times without successful urine voiding. A blocked urethra can present as a medical emergency. On abdominal palpation, a distended urinary bladder will be identified with complete blockage. In other instances, abdominal palpation will only reveal pain in the abdominal area as well as hard stone masses. In scenarios where there are complications as a result of the presence of stones in the kidney, systemic signs will be evident to the veterinarian.

How will the vet diagnose urinary stones?

The vet will use imaging to confirm their suspicion of the presence of urinary calculi. Radiographs, ultrasound scans and sometimes contrast radiography are the most commonly used imaging tests in practice. It is important to remember that not all stones will be visible on a simple x-ray; hence the pet owner must be prepared for the possibilities of a false negative result. Once a stone is identified, its characterisation ensues. Knowing which type of stone the patient has informs how they will be treated. Blood tests are useful in detecting other predisposing factors such as elevated blood calcium levels with calcium oxalate stones. It’s also important to ensure that the patient does not have an underlying urinary tract infection.   

My pet has uroliths, what now?

The treatment and management of uroliths in pets will depend on several factors, namely the severity, location and type of stone involved. Treatment can be classified as either medical or surgical, oftentimes a combination of both. Not all urinary stones require surgical intervention. With modern science, correcting the urine pH as well as correct dietary management have been shown to dissolve certain uroliths successfully. Due to the high risk of recurrence of the condition, a good maintenance diet is often prescribed for life. Access to other types of foods must be prohibited when dietary management is undertaken.

Surgical management is employed for those stones that do not respond well to diet management alone, and for emergency situations caused by the stones. At times surgical intervention will involve structural changes to the urinary system in order to reduce the risk of repeat blockages – particularly of the urethra in males. Laser therapy (lithotripsy), a highly advanced procedure, can also be used to dissolve uroliths. Lithotripsy is minimally invasive for the patient. Proper post-surgery aftercare improves the chances of surgical success. Regardless of how small the procedure might look for the patient, adequate rest and adherence to the discharge instructions post operation is of critical importance.  


Prognosis is good when accurate treatment is given in time and before the development of other complications as a result of urinary stones. However, most stones have a high probability to recur within three years of treatment. Maintenance on the best food is thus required in a bid to minimise the chances of recurrence.

© 2021 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

Eclampsia in pets

What is eclampsia?

Eclampsia is a life-threatening condition in dogs and cats that have recently had a litter of puppies or kittens. It has been seen in pets that are pregnant or giving birth, but more commonly occurs one to four weeks after giving birth. It is a medical emergency caused by a sudden drop in blood calcium levels, usually due to calcium loss during pregnancy and nursing.

Eclampsia in pets is most commonly seen in small breeds of dogs (Chihuahua, miniature pinscher, Pomeranian and toy poodle) with large litters or large pups. It can, however, occur in any breed with any size litter and at any time from pregnancy to weaning. The drop in calcium levels in the blood can cause changes in behaviour and weakness to muscle spasms and full-blown seizures.

Eclampsia in pets is also known as puerperal tetany or hypocalcaemia.

What does eclampsia look like?

Eclampsia can seem to come out of nowhere. Affected animals are usually completely fine and healthy throughout their pregnancy and have an uneventful birthing. It is only once the milk production starts in earnest – usually from one to four weeks after giving birth – that problems arise. In dogs and cats eclampsia can start out very subtly. Pet owners may notice an unusual restlessness and pacing. Some animals may get unnaturally aggressive, are sensitive to light and sound, develop a high fever, whine and pant or even begin vomiting or have diarrhoea. This may progress to weakness then muscle spasms and twitches and eventually seizures. If left without treatment, these animals may fall into a coma and can die.

Eclampsia in dogs and cats can also occur during pregnancy, but this is not very common, though the symptoms will be similar. If an animal is affected while they are in the process of giving birth, you may notice that the contractions are not as strong as they should be. This may lead to a puppy or kitten getting stuck in the birth canal or simply unable to come out all the way. These animals need immediate assistance in order to save the litter.

What causes eclampsia?

Eclampsia is caused by low levels of calcium in the blood. This is most often due to a calcium-poor or poor quality diet during pregnancy. Other causes may be from calcium loss in pregnancy due to the development of the bones of unborn pups/kittens or even a problem with the parathyroid gland, which is responsible for calcium regulation in the body.

Calcium is a very important mineral in the body. It is not only found in the bones, but also in the blood where there is a constant flux between the two. One of the most important functions of calcium in the system is its influence at neuromuscular junctions. These are like little electrical circuits that control the ability of a muscle and nerve to communicate. The calcium manages this communication by allowing messages to pass through at the correct time. When calcium levels are low, like in the case of eclampsia, the messages come through without regulation and often without stimulus, leading to muscle twitches, spasms and even seizures and fits.

What should I do if I suspect my pet has eclampsia?

Eclampsia is a medical emergency and should be seen to immediately. First remove the puppies or kittens from suckling and keep them safe and warm. Mom should then immediately be taken to the vet. If the condition is diagnosed and treated in good time, recovery is fast and total.

What will the vet do if my pet has eclampsia?

The vet will get as much information about your pet’s history as possible. This background is important so that we do not miss any other potential causes of your pet’s symptoms. Some toxins and even epilepsy can present in the same way.

The vet will likely start by performing a physical examination and recommend bloodwork in order to check the calcium levels in the blood, blood sugar levels as well as other electrolytes. Where available the vet may make use of an electrocardiogram (ECG) to monitor your pet’s heart as eclampsia affects heart rate and rhythm.

If your pet is having a seizure, the vet will correct this with anti-seizure medication before administering any other treatment. Low levels of calcium are treated by replacing the calcium in the bloodstream. This is injected directly, but very slowly, into the vein. While low calcium levels lead to a high, erratic heart rate, replacing the calcium too fast causes slowing of the heart and possible arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), so this must be done with care.

 Giving the calcium directly into the blood usually has an immediate effect where muscles relax and seizures stop. Your pet may require hospitalisation and observation to ensure that the blood calcium levels have stabilised before being sent home. These cases will go home with calcium supplements to provide enough for the body in the long term.

Depending on whether puppies or kittens are old enough to start eating solids themselves, it is preferable to not allow them to suckle from mom for the next 12 – 24 hours after such a crisis. This is to prevent mom from losing too much calcium too fast in the milk, causing a repeat episode. Little ones should be fed milk replacer while mom recovers, and will likely need additional milk replacer supplementation until they are weaned. If the puppies/kittens are four (or more) weeks old, they should be weaned off mom, but if they are younger, they will need extra milk through milk replacer. Introducing them to solid food at three to four weeks of age will reduce the burden on mom and provide enough nutrients for the pups/kittens.

How can I prevent eclampsia in my pet?

As in all things, prevention is better than cure. The most important aspect of prevention is the provision of a high-quality, nutrient-dense, balanced and appropriate diet throughout pregnancy and lactation. Diets designed for lactating moms and little ones are ideal. The calcium to phosphorus ratio is very important and should ideally be 1.2:1.

Food and clean water should be available at all times during lactation. Removing the little ones for an hour a few times a day will give mom a break and let her eat and get enough calcium from her food. Most commercially available dog and cat foods have sufficient calcium. Do not supplement calcium during pregnancy as this will actually cause eclampsia rather than prevent it. Calcium can be supplemented after giving birth, especially in high risk cases or where eclampsia has happened before. This is most important when milk production is at its peak and the demand for calcium is at its highest.

Encourage puppies and kittens to start eating solids once they are three to four weeks old. They will start trying out mom’s food first. Once you see the interest, you can provide them with puppy and kitten mousses, which are easy to eat, and later providing them with a suitable puppy/kitten diet.

What is the prognosis for pets diagnosed with eclampsia?

If diagnosed and treated promptly any pet affected with eclampsia usually makes a full and complete recovery. Unfortunately if a pet has had the condition once, it can occur again. In this case, discuss with the vet any methods to prevent the problem from happening again.

Unfortunately once the condition has progressed to full seizure activity, this can lead to brain swelling. These cases do not respond as quickly as others as the swelling in the brain needs to be treated too. Not all of these animals go home and may have a poorer prognosis.

© 2021 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd


Coughing is one of the most common syndromes veterinarians all around the world encounter during consultations. Coughing in itself is not a disease, but a symptom of something else in your pet. The onset, type of cough, duration and production will help the vet to get to the bottom of what’s going on inside your pet.

What is coughing?

Coughing is an audible, forceful expelling of air from the lungs usually in an attempt to clear the airways. Forceful expulsion of air should follow forceful inhalation for the whole action to qualify as a cough. A cough is actually a protective reflex of the body, which signals the presence of an underlying condition. Coughing is generally classified into two main categories namely a wet/productive cough or a dry/non-productive cough. A wet cough is one in which there is an accompanying fluid or mucous discharge seen with each episode; while a dry cough has no discharge or fluid.  

What can cause a cough?

Just as there are many different causes of a cough in humans, so too are there myriad reasons why your pet would cough. To get to the cause, it helps to identify the area of the cough, whether it is an upper or lower respiratory cough, and/or a result of other causes outside the respiratory tract. 

The upper respiratory tract includes the nose, the sinuses and into the pharynx and the windpipe (or trachea). The lower respiratory tract involves all parts of the airways hidden in the chest cavity. This includes the lungs, which can cause pneumonia, and the smaller branches of the trachea called the bronchi. 

Other causes of coughing that are situated outside the respiratory system might involve the heart, oesophagus, chest cavity and other organs like the kidneys. 

The most common causes of a cough seen in the vets' practice are heart disease and lung disease. Heart disease causes the heart to stop functioning as it should, which leads to fluid build-up in the lungs. This fluid makes breathing difficult and leads to a cough. Lung disease such as pneumonia is also seen fairly often. There can be many causes – from infection to allergies and even irritation from smoke inhalation. The collapse or narrowing of the windpipe can also be responsible for a cough. Almost like asthma, the size of the airway narrows, making breathing difficult. This can cause irritation and swelling, which leads to a cough, one that sounds frighteningly similar to a honking goose.

Some other common causes of coughing that originate outside of the respiratory tract include swellings or tumours around the neck, which put pressure on the airways. This irritation can lead to coughing. 

As you can see, there are many different causes for a pet’s cough – each vet will need to examine and test each case to determine the cause, then implement treatment based on their diagnosis.

How do I know my pet is coughing?

If you notice your pet has repeated episodes of forceful expulsion following forceful inhalation of air, it’s very likely that this is a cough. You will be able to hear your pet doing this as well as see a change in their behaviour. If you see it happening, you may even notice a distinctive pattern of repetition. If you need to, write down everything you observe in your pet, or even better, take a video to show the vet. This may help in reaching a diagnosis.

As obvious as this may sound, owners often confuse coughing with other common syndromes. It can be confused with sneezing, reverse sneezing, and other processes including sinus inflammation, rhinitis, and regurgitation. Coughing and sneezing can actually occur simultaneously or be the result of a similar cause. 

When should I be concerned if my pet is coughing?

Just like with people, the occasional cough is not usually something to worry about. A little tickle in the throat or breathing in something irritating will start anyone coughing. It is when the coughing is occurring frequently (more than once a day) that one should be concerned. Even a regular occurrence should be noted and discussed with your vet. If, for example, your pet only coughs once or twice in the evenings, every evening, then this should be investigated. 

Coughing from irritation such as an allergy usually starts up fast and can be quite dramatic. On the other hand, coughing related to organ-specific disease, such as pneumonia or heart failure, may start slowly and increase over time. Owners often notice their pet’s breathing rate and effort increasing before the pets begin coughing hours to a day later.

What can I expect when I get to the vet? 

The doctor will require a detailed history of the cough: when it was first noticed, how it progressed, and whether more than one animal in the household has been affected. Kennel cough, for instance, is highly infectious, so if there are multiple pets in the household, it’s possible they would all get infected. This information is invaluable to the vet as it helps them in reaching the correct diagnosis.
Once the lightbulbs in a particular path of investigation are lit, the doctor will usually order a number of diagnostic tests depending on the nature of the cough, in order to get to the bottom of the case. The tests can be as simple as listening to the lungs with a stethoscope and tactful palpation on the animal’s body, to as complicated as blood tests, x-rays, swabs and culture. In more complex cases your vet may recommend trans-tracheal washes and aspirates, and/or invasive procedures such as using a scope to have a look at the pharynx, trachea and lungs. In some instances, the veterinarian may recommend thoracic ultrasound examination to rule out heart disease. The use of CT scans may be necessary on rare occasions. 

How is a cough treated?

Cough in itself is managed and not treated. It is the underlying cause that doctors will focus on, and when the cause is managed correctly, the cough should be resolved. 

First and foremost, physical resting of the patient will be enforced – either at home if possible or they will be admitted to hospital. Depending on the type of cough, the vet may prescribe bronchodilators (to open up the bronchi), coughing suppressants (if the coughing itself hurts the pet), and medications to break down the sputum (if it’s a wet cough). 

If the lungs are full of water, drugs to increase the elimination of the water will be used, but only administered with extreme caution. The vet will only perform surgery if the pet’s trachea has collapsed or if they need to remove a foreign body or a tumour. 

Patient follow-up after the initial consultation and treatment is important, and will often include follow-up radiography to reassess previously observed lung patterns or to rule out tumours.   

Can coughing and its causes be prevented? 

If the cough was caused by an infection, it can be prevented from happening again (or to other animals) by vaccinating all pets, employing basic hygiene and using prevention strategies. For conditions where vaccines are available such as kennel cough, pet owners are encouraged to visit their vet and have their pets vaccinated as a means of prevention. 

Once a diagnosis of an infectious condition has been reached, the sick pet/s need to be isolated to prevent any other pets from being infected too. Proper disinfection and ventilation of the pet’ environment and food bowls will also help to lower the rate of new infections. Pets must be housed in environments free of excessive dust and toxic gases. This also means that your pets shouldn’t be around smokers, especially in poorly ventilated areas. 

Recently, with the appearance of new diseases like the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), pet owners are encouraged to avoid unnecessary contact with their pets – particularly cats – if they or anyone else who has contact with their pets, have tested positive for Covid-19. Until they are tested negative for Covid-19, any contact such as kissing, carrying and touching of pets with contaminated and unwashed hands must be avoided. 

Are there any home remedies useful when a pet coughs?

Since coughing is an indicator of a serious underlying condition, it’s best to take your pet to the vet and seek out urgent vet care. The use of home remedies should never be done without veterinary consultation. Many home remedies that we use on ourselves and our families can be severely toxic to animals. This is especially true for very young or very old pets whose immunity may be compromised.
Coughing is a perfect example of when erring on the side of caution is the wisest thing to do!

© 2021 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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