How that cute puppy came to cost you R 150 000

We are approaching that time of year when people are considering what to gift people for Christmas and as is often the case, a cute puppy or kitten comes to mind. Many people do the noble thing of going to a shelter or a welfare organisation to adopt a puppy or kitten for a mere R 650. What they fail to realise is that that cute puppy or kitten is not just a R 650 worth purchase but more likely a R 65 000.00 one, or in some cases up to a R 150 000. How is that possible or what do you mean, you might ask?

Primary healthcare

For starters, that cute puppy or kitten will need at least three- to four initial vaccinations to protect them from some fatal diseases. To that, you can add a required dose of monthly deworming, to ensure that the lifecycle of the worms is properly broken. The cost of this exercise could easily set you back anything from R 2000 to R 3000.

Depending on the season of the year you acquire your puppy or kitten, they are going to need regular (at least monthly) tick and flea treatments for at least three to six months, in succession. Depending on the products you use; and the size of your dog or cat, this exercise will likely cost you anywhere between R 500 and R 1200.

Pet Accessories

Recommended accessories when adopting a new puppy or kitten include a bed or basket, a sandbox for kitties, a collar and lead for your dogs, brushes, bowls, and toys. There goes another R 2000 to R 10 000. Indoor cats will need cat litter for the rest of their lives. The cost over your cat’s lifespan (20 years) will likely be in the order of R 18 000.00. Puppies that are kept indoors will need training pads for the first three to six months; these can cost you about R 1300.

Puppy training is a crucial part of socialising and integrating your dog into your family and society in general. The cost of a training program, including travel to and from classes once a week, will most likely set you back between R 5000 and R 8000.

Sterilisation

When your pup or kitten is six months old, they need to be spayed or neutered. In female animals, this is a full ovariohysterectomy and this procedure is heavily subsidised by most vets, assisting the public in preventing unwanted pregnancies. The true cost of this operation, which is a full-blown surgical procedure done under general anaesthesia and inside a sterile operating theatre, is in the order of R 4000 to R 4500. Most vets, however, charge somewhere between R 1200 to R 2500 for this procedure.

Food

By far the most expensive items for your puppy or kitten throughout their lives will be their food. Here, there is a range of prices depending on the quality of food you feed. The general principle here is that the more expensive the food is, the better the quality and usually the better condition your pet will be in and the longer they will live. Size really matters and the cost of a super premium diet for a small breed dog weighing 5 kg or less, will be in the order of R 80 000 over its lifetime (15 years) whereas the cost per day for a large breed dog 30 kg will be R 190 000 over its lifetime (12 years). The cost of feeding a premium diet to a small breed dog weighing 5 kg or less, will be in the order of R 53 000 over its lifetime (15 years) whereas the cost per day, for a large breed dog weighing 30 kg, will be R 180 000. Feeding a poor quality pet food is going to cost less, but your animal may, as a result, not be in optimal health condition and can be prone to diseases.

Annual Wellness exams

Dogs and cats age on average the equivalent of seven human years for every calendar year. When your puppy or kitten grows into a mature dog or cat, they will need to see the vet for an annual health and wellness exam and vaccination if required. This visit is the equivalent of seeing your doctor every seven years. Most people, especially ageing people, need to see their doctor more frequently. The same principle of frequent doctor’s visits applies to your pets too and these annual visits to the vet will set you back roughly R 15 000 over the lifetime of a pet with a 15-year lifespan.

Veterinary care

Veterinary expenses remain a significant contributor to the total expenditure on a pet. You may be lucky and have an extremely healthy pet that may only need to see the vet once a year for their annual wellness exam.

If however, you are unlucky and have a pet that sustains a severe injury that needs intensive veterinary intervention and care, like bite wounds, being hit by a car or tearing a knee ligament, the cost of treatment may easily set you back anywhere between R 10 000 and R 30 000.

If your pet develops a condition that either needs ongoing treatment or a therapeutic diet, the cost may be anywhere between R 5000 and R 50 000. Veterinary care, like human medical care, is not cheap. Vets study for six years and veterinary medicine happens to be one of the most expensive veterinary courses available.

Most veterinary hospitals or clinics have to have the same equipment you will find in most human hospitals like X-ray machines, fully equipped operating theatres, laboratories, dentistry suites and special care equipment and facilities. The cost of setting up and equipping a veterinary hospital can easily be between R 1 mil to R 2 mil, excluding the cost of the physical property.

Compared to what humans pay in private medical hospitals, the cost of having a pet admitted to a private veterinary hospital is minuscule. However, most people still don’t have medical aid for their pets like they do for themselves, which means that should disaster strike and intensive veterinary care is needed, all of those costs need to be paid from discretionary, “leftover” income, something which is indeed almost non-existent for most people.

Dental care

The recommended norm for humans to see a dentist is every six months. An annual wellness exam for your dog or cat will be the equivalent of a seven-year gap to see the doctor or dentist, in the case of humans.

As animals get older, most of them develop plaque that calcifies, forming calculi on the teeth. The only way to treat this effectively, other than preventing it by brushing your pet’s teeth daily, is to have it removed by ultrasonic dental descaling under a full general anaesthetic. The cost of this procedure is in the order of R 3000 to R 4000. Many vets also subsidise this procedure to make it more affordable for pet owners to have their pets’ teeth cleaned.

Summary

For the sake of this article, we have worked on an annual inflation rate of 5%. As rates fluctuate, so do prices, and it may either cost you significantly more to own a pet in times of high inflation or less in times of lower inflation. Either way, it should be clear to anyone wanting to adopt a pet to remember that it is not a R 650 transaction but more likely a R 150 000 transaction.

© 2019 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

From Kitten to Cat

Tiny fuzz-balls of cuteness – the perfect description for every kitten. We cannot resist them creeping into our hearts. 

You have brought your new kitten home and realise it is dependent on you for its every need. For the kitten, the world is huge, brand new and can be a bit scary. Every sight, sound, smell, person and animal are a new experience. These first experiences are likely to influence their future behaviour.

Kittens learn first from imitating their mothers, then through trial and error. The bulk of their learning occurs from birth to six months, although learning and training is still possible as an adult.

The communication behaviours, specific to felines, are established early on in life. This is known as the socialisation period which starts from about 2 weeks after birth until about 16 weeks of age. 

During this time, it is important to provide the kitten with an ‘enriched environment’. In other words, they need different stimuli that will arouse their senses and spark their intelligence. 

Expose your kitten to different noises, textures and objects, much as you would a newborn human baby; and interact with them as much as you can. 

Good early socialisation leads to friendly, well-adjusted adult cats which are less likely to be scared. Sadly, without positive early experiences, cats can become nervous, which often leads to behavioural problems. 

It is good to choose a kitten that has had good socialisation from the breeder or owner of the litter. The kitten would normally still be at home with its mother and should have mixed with other people and pets, seen everyday sights and heard normal household sounds at the breeder- or owner’s home.

The Life of a Kitten

Let’s go through the life of a kitten from birth to 18 months.

Birth to 2 weeks: Your kitten learns to orient toward sound. Their eyes begin to open, they are usually open by 2 to 3 weeks of age.

2 to 7 weeks: Your kitten becomes social. By the third week, their sense of smell is well-developed, and your kitten can see well enough to find its mother. 

Cats can only detect the colours blue and green with certainty but require six times less light to see than humans. This is why they move excellently at night because they distinguish depth better than humans in the dark. 

Cats’ noses can detect a single molecule of odour whereas humans need several hundred. This makes for an extremely sensitive sense of smell. By the fourth week, their sense of smell is fully mature and their sense of hearing is well-developed. 

Feline ears can detect minute changes in frequency and tone making this an extra sensitive sense as well. Your kitten will learn to differentiate your voice from any other, adding to the bond between owner and pet. The kitten starts to interact with littermates and can walk fairly well. The teeth start to come in. 

By the fifth week, eyesight is well developed, and kitten can right itself, run, place its feet precisely, avoid obstacles, stalk and pounce and catch “prey” with its eyes. Kitten starts to groom itself and others. 

By the sixth and seventh weeks, kitten begins to develop different sleeping patterns, motor skills and social interaction abilities. Kittens are usually weaned at eight to nine weeks, but they may continue to suckle for comfort as their mother gradually leaves them for longer periods. 

Now is a good time to expose the kittens to different textured food to prevent them becoming fussy eaters. Orphaned kittens, or those weaned too soon, are more likely to exhibit inappropriate suckling behaviours later in life, such as sucking on blankets, pillows or your arm.

Ideally, kittens should stay with their littermates or other “role-model” cats for at least 12 weeks but it is safe to take them away from their mother by eight to nine weeks of age.

7 to 14 weeks: This is the age when your kitten will play the most. Social and object play increases kitten’s physical coordination and social skills. Most learning is by observation, preferably of their mother’s behaviour. Social play includes belly-ups, hugging, ambushing and licking. 

Object play includes scooping, tossing, pawing, mouthing and holding. Combined social/object play includes tail chasing, pouncing, leaping and dancing. 

Cats are generally curious creatures and quickly learn that food comes from refrigerators or countertops. Now is a good time to teach the kitten not to jump up. A stern “no” accompanied with a sharp sound like clapping will teach your kitten that this is unacceptable behaviour. 

It is difficult for felines to differentiate between which tables they are or aren’t allowed on to. For this reason, it should be an “all or nothing” rule. Remember to not hit your kitten as this may cause fear in your pet and lead to unwanted or aggressive behaviours. 

Toys come in handy at this stage of life. Any toy that encourages chasing and hunting-type behaviour is beneficial. It need not be expensive but can be as simple as a piece of paper folded in a block, tied to a string and dragged on the floor. 

Scratching, or ‘claw conditioning’ is a natural part of cat behaviour. It keeps their claws healthy and leaves scent marks. Try a scratching post for your cat to help prevent damage to your furniture or carpets. Ensure it's stable and tall enough for your cat to exercise at full body stretch.

3 to 6 months: Your kitten starts ranking the household and is most influenced by her ”tribe”, which may now include playmates of other species. 

Kitten begins to see and use ranking (dominance or submission) within the household, including humans. Your kitten will identify your home as its territory and will organise its life around this area. 

Kittens tend to prefer areas with a layout that offers opportunities to play, be up high and hide away, compared to a bare space. Within its territory, the kitten will have four distinct areas: the eating area, an area for rest, the toilet and a large area for play.

You should try to not disrupt this organisation, or your kitten could develop behavioural problems. The eating area should not be near the toilet area or your own eating area. 

If possible, avoid the kitchen or dining room so that your kitten does not confuse your meals with theirs, which could lead to a nutritional imbalance. 

The position of the rest area changes depending on where the best heat sources are and your kitten will probably choose to rest near a heater or in the sun. If you have a sleeping basket, position it in a warm place near you, as your kitten will enjoy being close to you. 

Choose an area away from the kitten’s food for the toilet area. The litter box should be easily accessible. If necessary, have a few positioned around the house. Gradually move the litter closer to the door and then outside if you would like to train your kitten to eliminate outside. 

The play area is the largest of the four and ideally provides ample opportunities for playing, racing about and climbing up high. 

Cats adore places where they can be at the same level as your face and rub against you as they would another cat so your kitten will be prone to jumping on beds, couches, tables or cupboards to be closer to you.

6 to 12 months: Your kitten is an adolescent and will increase the exploration of dominance, including challenging humans. Sexual behaviour begins now if your kitten has not been spayed, if a girl, or neutered, if a boy.

Kittens orphaned or separated from their mother and/or littermates too early often fail to develop appropriate ”social skills” such as learning how to send and receive signals, what an ”inhibited bite” (acceptable mouthing pressure) means, how far to go in play-wrestling and so forth. 

Play is important for kittens because it increases their physical coordination, social skills and learning limits. By interacting with their mother and littermates, kittens explore the ranking process ”who’s in charge” and also learn ”how to be a cat”.

While these stages are important and fairly consistent, a cat’s mind remains receptive to new experiences and lessons well beyond kittenhood. Most cats are still kittens, in mind and body, through the first two years of life.

Remember to take your kitten for vaccinations at 6 – 8 weeks of age with a booster vaccination after a month. A 3-in-1 vaccine is given, which treats for the 3 most common and contagious diseases in one vaccine. 

At 3 months old, your kitten will receive their first Rabies vaccine with a booster required a month later. Deworming can be done from the time they are 2 weeks old and repeated bi-weekly (2-week intervals) until they are 6 weeks old. 

The vet will give a dewormer at every vaccination. This is a good time to get your little one used to go to the vet. Try to make it a positive experience as well using treats and play. Good associations at the vet could save stressful experiences for everyone later on. 

It is important to make it a lifelong relationship and the most pleasurable experience for all Involved. Do not hesitate to call your veterinarian for advice or questions on your new kitten.

© 2019 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

 

My dog is really getting old

Taking your elderly dog to the vet for an annual check-up can sometimes feel like a waste of time and a big inconvenience to the pet involved. The stress involved and the difficulty of transporting a big elderly dog, which is not so mobile anymore, may make you wonder if it is really necessary. The answer is a very big YES!

At what age exactly are dogs considered geriatric? You may find different views on the internet and as with humans, it does depend to a large degree on the individual animal. Some humans are sprightly and active at age 75 and others are tired and sickly at age 60. The same applies to dogs but there is a general consensus that small breed dogs generally have a longer life span than medium and large breed dogs. Giant Breeds are considered geriatric at the early age of 6 to 7 years, whereas breeds are only regarded as geriatric when approaching ten to twelve years of age.  The aim of an annual check-up for an adult dog is not just to update the vaccinations, but to give the veterinarian an opportunity to evaluate the dog’s general health and pick up any problems that might have gone unnoticed by the owner. The broad generalisation is that for each one year a human ages, a dog will age the equivalent of 7 years. If you look at it in this light, it will make sense that in older dogs, regular check-ups, as in humans, are vital. The vet will also ask the owner a series of questions to establish how the animal is doing at home. Things to start looking out for when an animal gets older is a loss of appetite, losing weight, struggling to get up and move around, as usual, drinking and urinating more than usual, and general signs like vomiting and diarrhoea.

As the animal’s body ages, it goes through normal changes and often it is an accumulation of these changes that result in health problems. The most common problem that old dogs deal with is arthritis, and as older animals become less active they tend to become overweight. Extra weight places extra stress on already painful and inflamed joints. These patients might need to be X-rayed to rule out any other causes of limping and stiffness. Once a diagnosis of arthritis is made, the vet may advise a change in exercise regimen, a change in bedding, potentially a change of diet or adding joint supplementation products on to, or into the animals' food, and often anti-inflammatory medication depending on the severity. The most important method of pain relief remains weight loss.

The organ function of old dogs often decreases as well. A common problem is decreased kidney function turning into chronic renal failure. As the kidney function decreases, it loses the ability to clear the animal’s blood of toxins. Some medications need to be excreted through the kidneys, and if the kidney function is already compromised, it can cause serious side effects. A good example of this is the anti-inflammatory medication mentioned for pain control in arthritic dogs. This group of drugs is excreted by the kidneys and will cause side effects if the kidneys are not functioning well. For this reason, vets will often test the liver and kidney function of old animals before placing them on chronic medication. It is also important to re-test every six months. Animals that suffer from kidney problems will show signs like weight loss and decreased appetite, as well as drinking and urinating more than previously. It is important to take your dog to see a vet as soon as these signs are noted.  These days there are blood tests which can pick up kidney disease much sooner than the blood tests that were available only a few years ago. Yet, sadly, even though these tests are a lot more sensitive, they only pick up kidney disease once 40 % of kidneys are damaged vs the old blood tests which picked it up after 75% of the kidneys were damaged. Veterinary research will keep on evolving to find means of detecting organ failure sooner, but a test with normal results does not necessarily mean that there is not kidney failure. The other important aspect with regards to kidney failure is that the kidneys do not have the ability to regenerate or repair themselves. So, once the cells are damaged, that is it for the kidney. The only way to support the kidneys once damage has taken place is to try and prevent further damage and lighten the load of the kidneys. This can be done by changing the diet and there are specific veterinary therapeutic and prescription diets available for this which the vet can advise you on. Heart failure, as well as liver failure, can also occur showing a various range of clinical symptoms. With heart failure, your pet might be exercise intolerant, start with a cough (especially at night), and breathe faster in general.

Another common problem in geriatric animals is cancer or neoplasia. As the immune system defence mechanism decrease, the ability to recognise cancer cells decreases, and together with oxidative damage in old animals, cancer can occur more commonly. Organ enlargement and organ failure are often an indication of cancer and the vet may recommend an abdominal ultrasound as well as x-rays to pick up cancer. Even the slightest signs in an old animal can indicate a bigger problem. Owners will often complain that the pet has become fussy, and eats less. But this can be the first signs to indicate that a bigger problem exists. It is important to remember that it’s not normal when an animal that has always eaten well, become fussy out of the blue. In most cases old age, as in humans go hand in hand with less active and a lower appetite, but a major reduction in appetite is usually a sign of disease.

So how do you take care of geriatric animals?

  1. Feed a good quality diet: Old dogs cannot digest food as easily as young animals and they need all the nutrients and antioxidants they can get. There are various maintenance, therapeutic, prescription diets specifically formulated for older animals as well as animals with diseases like kidney failure, heart problems, and arthritis. These good quality foods help the animal cope better with their life stage or specific health problem. If there are no particular health problems, a good quality senior diet is preferred. Please speak to the vet to advise you and the best diet to feed your dog.   
  2. Keep their weight stable: With decreased metabolism and decreased mobility, older dogs tend to pick up weight quickly if they don’t have a chronic medical condition. Research has shown time and time again that obese animals have a decreased lifespan. Problems like diabetes and heart conditions are very common in obese animals.
  3. Encourage activity and moderate exercise: It is important to keep them active, but do not overdo this. Regular short walks are more than adequate and only do it if the animal is not in pain.  Swimming in most cases is a really good form of exercise for dogs but not all dogs love water so go with the flow in terms of your dog’s preference.
  4. Good dental care: Dental hygiene is essential in animals of any age. If the teeth are rotten and the gums are inflamed, they may suffer from pain when they eat. The plaque build-up supplies the body with a continuous source of bacteria to the bloodstream. These bacteria can lodge on the heart valves or in the kidney tubules leading to chronic heart and renal failure.
  5. Provide adequate bedding and shelter: Older animals are stiff and sore and will sleep much better with a softer surface to lie on. They also lose the ability to regulate their body temperature adequately and may need extra shelter against heat, cold and other weather conditions.
  6. The most important thing to remember with geriatric animals is to bring them to the vet for annual check-ups. If the vet can help to pick up a disease in the early stages, they might not be able to cure it, but they can definitely make your pet more comfortable and even add a couple of years to your pet’s life by recommending the right geriatric care for your specific dog.

 Old age is not a disease! So if your animal is not eating too well and slowing down, do not just blame old age. Rather seek veterinary advice, you may just save your old dog’s life for a couple more years.

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

My cat is really getting old

Due to improvements in nutrition, veterinary and home care, cats are living a lot longer than they did twenty to thirty years ago. In the past when a cat reached the age of 13 years old, we believed them to be really old. This is definitely no longer the case. We see several cats that are now reaching ages in excess of twenty years. Cats also tend to age a lot more gracefully than dogs and so it is not always easy to tell when they are starting to struggle or are showing signs of illness.  

Cats are considered elderly once they reach 11 years, with senior cats being between the ages of 11 and 14 years and geriatric cats being over 15 years.  As cats age,  they go through many behavioural and physiological changes and are more prone to developing certain illnesses in their last few years of life.  
 

What physiological and behavioural changes can you expect with your ageing cat?

As cats age, their sense of smell and taste becomes less sensitive. This means that food may need to smell a little stronger in order to appear more palatable to the cat. They also have a decreased ability to digest fat and protein so food needs to provide adequate nutrition but not be too rich. As well as sight, their hearing also diminishes and so extra care is needed to ensure they are out of the way of vehicles or they may need to be brought to their food. 

When considering their behaviour, they become less adaptable to changes in their environment and can become stressed more easily. Older cats tend to spend less time outside and more time sleeping inside.  Their appetite often decreases and they can become fussier due to their diminished sense of smell and taste. Other changes related to particular diseases may be noted. They may start to drink more water with kidney failure, or show pain and aggression due to pain and arthritis.
 

Are there any changes in routine care for your older cat?

As your cat ages, you may need to start doing a few things that weren’t necessary when they were younger and more active. Cat’s are naturally very clean animals and as they get older, grooming does become more difficult. Regularly checking your cat is advisable as problems can be picked up sooner and dealt with more efficiently.  
  • Pedicures – elderly cats are less able to retract their claws and they can become stuck on furniture and bedding. The claws also thicken with age. It is important to check them weekly to ensure that the nails are not growing into the paw pads. Some cat may need regular trimming. With advice and some training from the vet, this can be done at home and may help reduce the stress of a journey to the vet or parlour.
  • Grooming – Ageing cats may struggle to groom themselves due to athritits. Long haired cats, in particular, may need to be brushed several times a week to avoid matted fur. Their eyes may need to be cleaned occasionally with moist cotton wool. It is important to check around their “bottom” (perineum – the area around the anus and rectum) to ensure that there are no faeces stuck and there isn’t matted fur. Some cats may need to be trimmed.
  • Hairballs – The digestive system in older cats can be a little sluggish and so problems like hairballs can become more common. There are several different options when it comes to hair ball control such as food or supplements. If you are unsure if your cat is vomiting or bringing up hairballs then it is important to consult the veterinarian. 
  • Toilet habits – It is advisable to provide an indoor litter box, even if your cat normally urinates and defecates outside. As older cats are more slow and sedentary, they may not want to go very far and they are also more sensitive to the cold and wet. An indoor litter box also makes monitoring the frequency of urination and consistency of stool easier. An increase in urination may be a sign of an underlying condition such as diabetes or kidney failure. Older cats may also struggle with constipation and may need supplements or a change in food. In severe cases, the veterinarian may need to perform an enema.
  • Dental disease – As cats age, dental issues such as gingivitis (inflamed gums),  plaque build-up and loose teeth may become more of a problem. This may affect their appetite, their ability to eat, and may cause them pain. Bad breath (halitosis), drooling, loss of appetite, tooth chattering and pawing at the mouth may all be an indication that there is an underlying dental issue that may need attention. If you are in any doubt then consult the veterinarian.

How often should you take your ageing cat to the vet?

The frequency of veterinary visits will depend on the general health of your cat and any particular illnesses that they may have. Older cats that have not had any issues, are eating and drinking well and do not appear to have any signs of weight loss or other health problems should be seen at least once a year. This gives your veterinarian a chance to assess them and decide whether any procedures or tests are needed. As your cat ages, blood and urine tests are an indispensable tool in detecting problems early, before the onset of clinical signs and severe disease. In the past few years, newer generation blood tests like SDMA, have become available which can pick up kidney disease months, to even years, before it is clinically visible. The levels of these biomarkers start increasing in the blood when there is 40% loss of kidney function compared to the older type of tests where 75% of the kidney function had to be destroyed before the levels of blood markers would increase in the blood tests available to vets. Even with these new and wonderful tests, it is still quite scary to think that we can only start picking up kidney disease by the time that almost half of the kidney function is irreparably damaged. 

Unlike the liver, the kidneys do not have the capacity to regenerate, and therefore once a certain percentage of the kidneys have been damaged, there is no way of repairing it. Therefore it is so critically important that these tests be done at an earlier age, or stage of kidney disease, in order to help protect the functional part of the kidneys. 

If your cat has been diagnosed with a particular condition, visits to the vet may be required more frequently to refill medication, follow up on weight checks or do blood tests.

The following sigs are an indication that your cat should be seen by the vet:

  • Any loss of or change in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Change in water intake- usually drinking more than normal
  • Struggling to jump, lameness or stiffness
  • Any lumps or bumps
  • Decreased energy levels
  • Balance problems
  • Difficulty in passing urine or faeces or messing in abnormal areas
  • Disorientation or distress or any change in normal behaviour
  • A coat which becomes dull
  • Any other signs of disease like vomiting or diarrhoea, change in vision, bad breath, weakness or anything else which is out of the ordinary

Detecting certain diseases early often helps improve the success of treatment so it is important to be on the lookout for any changes in your cat. Older cats will need more time and attention but with advances in veterinary medicine and care, they should be able to live their last few years in comfort and relatively free from stress.

Just like in humans, the life expectancy of animals are increasing and just as we care for the elderly in our human communities, we can show the same love and care for our geriatric pets and ensure a good quality life for them right up until the end. 

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

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 dog seems sore in its front leg

What is elbow dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia is the collective term that describes a number of conditions that affect the growth and development of a dog’s elbow. It is most commonly seen in large and giant breed dogs. Labradors, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Rottweilers are the most common breeds but it can occur in any breed. There are a number of different theories as to why elbow dysplasia occurs but it is often a combination of factors, which leads to the abnormal development of the joint. Defects in cartilage growth, trauma to the joint, genetics, exercise and diet may all play a role in the development and progression of elbow dysplasia.

The elbow is made up of three bones. The humerus is the top bone. It forms the connection between the shoulder and the elbow. The ulna and radius from the bottom part of the joint and connect the elbow to the metacarpals or wrist.  When there is an abnormal development between these three bones, they do not sit together as they should and there are abnormal pressures within the joint. This mismatch of growth and abnormal pressure can lead to a number of different conditions. The different conditions can occur alone or in combination and may include the following:

  • Fragmented medial coronoid process (FMCP)
  • Ununited anconeal process (UAP)
  • Osteochondritis dessicans (OCD)
  • Elbow incongruity

Some conditions are more common in certain breeds but any condition may occur in any breed.

Figure1: Normal flexed (bent) elbow of a dog

The above X-ray shows a normal elbow of a dog to illustrate the different bones and parts of the bone that make up the elbow. If the radius grows more slowly than the elbow it becomes shorter and this puts increased pressure on the medial coronoid process of the ulna. “Process” in this context means a pointy piece of bone protruding from the main bone. Directly translated the medial coronoid process is the “inside crown pointy bone”. With the ulna being longer than the radius this can cause cartilage damage in the joint and sometimes the tip of the coronoid process may fracture or break. This is referred to as the fragmented medial coronoid process. Labradors, Rottweilers and Boerboels are the most commonly affected breeds but it can occur in any breed.

If the ulna grows too slowly then the radius pushes the humerus (upper arm bone) against the anconeal process of the ulna. The anconeal process looks almost like the beak of a bird. If the radius grows too long, it puts pressure on this section of bone or “beak”, which prevents it from growing and maturing properly and may lead to the anconeal process being unable to unite or attach properly to the rest of the upper part of the ulna bone (called the olecranon). This ends up being like a “bird with a loose beak”, and needless to say is very uncomfortable and painful for the dog. The ununited anconeal process occurs commonly in German Shepherds and Boerboels.

If the radius and ulna do not grow at the same rate of speed, a condition called elbow incongruity can occur. This causes wear and tear on the cartilage, as the humerus does not meet the appropriate surfaces on the radius and ulna. Thus, some points of contact are overloaded and this can lead to fragmentation of the medial coronoid process and other abnormalities.

Cartilage is the protective layer that is formed over the bone within joints. Cartilage helps lubricate the joint and reduces friction within the joint. Osteochondrosis is a condition where there is an abnormality of the cartilage and the bone underneath it. Osteochondrosis most commonly occurs in the inside part of the upper arm bone or the medial condyle of the humerus of the elbow joint. Osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) describes the condition where a flap of cartilage forms. This flap may stay attached or break off and float around in the joint. It is usually very painful. It is commonly seen in Labrador Retrievers suffering from elbow dysplasia.

What are the signs of elbow dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia can affect one or both elbows. No matter which condition is present, the clinical signs are generally the same. Most commonly, dogs show lameness on one or both elbows, particularly after resting and lying down. They may be reluctant to exercise and may struggle walking up and down stairs. Elbow dysplasia can present as early as five months, but signs are commonly seen in large and giant breed dogs between six to ten months. In some cases, elbow dysplasia may only be diagnosed when the dog is much older and the joint has become arthritic. The lameness is often worse after exercise and often will not resolve completely.

An orthopaedic examination in most cases reveals pain and occasionally swelling of the elbow with a restricted range of movement of the joint. Movement is reduced due to arthritis developing in the abnormal joint.

How is elbow dysplasia diagnosed?

Elbow dysplasia is diagnosed by a combination of a thorough clinical exam and diagnostic imaging. X-rays are generally the first diagnostic step in diagnosing elbow dysplasia. Certain conditions such as an ununited anconeal process are generally quite easy to visualise but other conditions may need further diagnostics such as a CT (X-ray computed tomography or CAT scan) or arthroscopy. Arthroscopy is keyhole surgery where a small camera is placed within the joint to visualise it. It is minimally invasive and, in some conditions, the joint is operated on at the same time.

What are the different treatment options?

The treatment undertaken depends on a number of factors. Age, clinical signs and degree of arthritis in the joint are all deciding factors. It is not possible to reverse the damage that has already been done to the joint, but the progression of the disease can be slowed. All dogs with elbow dysplasia will develop a certain degree of arthritis, even if they undergo surgery and so this should be taken into consideration beforehand. 

Surgery by a specialist surgeon vet may be recommended to help correct a step in the joint (elbow incongruity), remove any fragments of bone or cartilage, or to surgically alter the joint (arthrotomy).

Many dogs may be managed medically or conservatively, particularly if the changes within the joint are minimal.

Conservative management would include:

  • Strict weight control, which helps reduce the stress on not only the elbows but all the joints.
  • Controlling exercise is also an important factor, ensuring that exercise with lots of concussive forces, such as jumping for a frisbee are kept to a minimum. Controlled leash walks and swimming are examples of low impact exercise. Hydrotherapy (controlled swimming exercises) works the muscles without putting extra strain on the joints and is also beneficial in controlling the weight.  
    A veterinary prescription diet for the management of the joint disease or joint supplements has also been found to be beneficial. Omega-3s, chondroitin and glucosamine which are substances which feed the cartilage all help nourish the joint and can slow the progression of arthritis.
  • Medications such as anti-inflammatories and other pain medications may be required daily to control pain and inflammation, but other cases only require them occasionally.

Take home message

Elbow dysplasia is most common in large and giant breed dogs but can occur in any breed of dog. There does appear to be a genetic component to elbow dysplasia and breeds such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers and German Shepherds have been overrepresented. It is possible to have elbows graded and scored and it is advisable that dogs showing signs of elbow dysplasia are not bred with. This is done by X-ray under general anaesthesia after which the X-rays are sent to a specialist radiologist vet who does the analysis and scoring. Elbow dysplasia can be managed both medically and surgically, but it depends on the symptoms and syndrome present. A lot of dogs will be able to function very well however the long-term prognosis is guarded as most if not all of them will succumb to degenerative joint disease and arthritis in the affected joints.

© 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.  

Prevention

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 pet is battling to pass a stool

Ever notice your dog or cat in a hunched-up position either in the garden or in their sandbox and just not being able to “come right” with passing whatever it is they want to pass? In cats and female dogs, the posture of the animal when passing stool and passing urine is the same. It is therefore important to try and establish whether they are battling to pass a stool or alternatively if they are struggling to urinate. Both conditions may require veterinary attention and if the animal repeatedly hunches and strains with no apparent relief, it may be a sign that they need to see the vet.

Male cats are prone to an obstruction of the ureter which will cause this kind of repeated behaviour and if left unattended, can lead to death.

In this article, we will be looking more closely at constipation. Constipation is the absence of passing stool or struggling to pass stool regularly. This is not a disease in itself, but a cause of other disease processes, leading to constipation. It is always important to seek medical advice for this reason, as it is important to find the cause of constipation to be able to treat it correctly.

If solid waste stays in your pet’s colon for too long, the moisture gets absorbed by the gut and it leaves hard dry stool that is difficult to pass. It is commonly found in dogs and especially cats. The clinical signs to look out for are the following:

  • Listlessness
  • Anorexia (loss of appetite and not wanting to eat)
  • Vomiting
  • Straining in a hunched position
  • Arched back
  • Bloating and abdominal pain
  • Howling when trying to pass a stool

Seeing your animal in a hunched position, struggling to pass stool, or passing small hard balls of stool gives you a good indication that your animal might be constipated. Often animals can have diarrhoea, which is on the opposite of the spectrum to constipation where the animal has a loose or watery stool, and strain due to an irritated bowel, giving the owner the impression that they are constipated. Constipation can be acute or chronic. Chronic constipation can stretch the wall of the colon so much that it affects the movement of the colon permanently, leading to a condition called megacolon. This is often irreversible and can have a major impact on the animal’s quality of life. The causes of constipation can range from something as simple as insufficient fibre intake to more serious causes like tumours causing obstruction in the colon. By bringing your pet to the vet for a quick check-up, constipation can be confirmed relatively easily. If your animal is constipated, remembering that constipation is not a disease in itself but rather a symptom of the disease, the vet will then continue to look for the cause of constipation. This might require more advanced diagnostic procedures like blood tests and radiographs. Let’s discuss a couple of causes of constipation: 

Diet and water intake

This is the most common reason for constipation, and the easiest to fix as well. A shortage of dietary fibre can lead to constipation. Fibre adds bulk to the stool and causes the colon to increase its movement. On the other hand, too much fibre can give stool too much bulk and also lead to constipation. In these cases, an easily digestible diet will solve the problem.

Water intake is very important, especially in cats. Water intake can sometimes be too low when cats are on dry food only and adding wet food adds extra moisture to the diet.

Foreign material

Material like hair, sand, rocks, plant material or bones can dry out and form a mass in the large intestines, leading to obstruction and constipation.

Obstruction

Any mass in the colon or around the anus can cause an obstruction if it is big enough. Anything that decreases the space through the pelvic canal can push into the colon, causing constipation, for example, The prostate gland in intact male dogs can become diseased, increase in size and push onto the colon. These patients often find it hard and painful to pass stool. In small pets, any pelvic fracture that heals with scar tissue formation, can lead to a decrease in the pelvic canal diameter and cause constipation. Anal or perineal (the area next to the anus) masses and anal gland abscesses can also obstruct the rectum and anus enough to cause constipation.

Pain

To pass a stool, dogs and cats go into a hunched position with their backs and hips. In animals with chronic pain in the back or hips, this pain may prevent them from going into this hunched position. Old, large breed dogs often suffer from hip dysplasia and severe arthritis, leading to constipation due to pain. The severe pain from arthritis makes passing stool a painful process for these animals which lead to them retaining a stool rather than going when nature calls. The stool retained in the colon becomes dry and increases in size and as a result of this, they can become constipated. Anal gland problems, like anal gland abscesses, may be so painful that the animal does not want to pass a stool. 

Environment

Some animals will not pass a stool if not left alone quietly, or if they are not on grass. Pets that are staying at boarding facilities can often struggle with this problem. If exercise is reduced and they are kept in cages for long periods of time, bowel movements are slowed down tremendously. The stress and change of food can contribute to the problem. Cats can also get an aversion to their litter boxes, either to the location, litter type or cleanliness. They then retain their faecal mass until it leads to constipation. It is important to vary the litter type you use and make sure there are enough litter boxes in different areas of the house. Litter boxes need to be cleaned out daily.

These are a few of the many causes of constipation. It is important to realise that the cause has to be discovered first before treatment can be instituted. After the cause of constipation is resolved, treatment of the actual constipation is usually easily achieved depending on severity. This can vary from a change of diet and over the counter products to soften stool, to multiple enemas and faecal manipulation on awake animals, or in severe cases under anaesthesia. An enema is a usual treatment for constipation, and this can be done with warm water, lubrication material or soapy water. Never give your dog an enema at home before consulting your vet. This may worsen the situation and can cause severe damage. Some small changes at home can also prevent constipation:

  • Regular exercise
  • Plenty of clean water
  • Appropriate space to eliminate
  • Appropriate diet and making sure foreign material are not ingested
  • Avoiding medication that can cause constipation

If in doubt, rather seek veterinary advice before taking matters into your own hands.

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

Can I, or my dogs or cats contract bird flu from my pet birds?

The information provided here is not an official statement but is meant to provide some general information on bird flu because of the break out of bird flu in September 2017 in South Africa.

Bird flu or Avian Influenza (AI) is a family of influenza viruses that mainly affect birds. They are named according to two proteins on the surface of the virus (Haemagglutinin and Neuraminidase). The only ones of commercial concern are the H1, H5 and H7 types. There are dangerous (HP or highly pathogenic) and LP (low pathogen) strains. So when you see someone talking about HPAI H5N8 that means the dangerous type of H5N8 avian influenza.

These viruses have been around for a long time and are spread mostly via migratory waterfowl.

Many wild birds can have the viruses without becoming ill. Bird, swine and human flu are very similar viruses.

The panic at the moment is due to a HP strain of H5N8 spreading rapidly through South Africa.

This strain is rapidly fatal to chickens and ducks and could decimate our commercial poultry industry if left unchecked.

Also, one of the biggest concerns with bird flu is that it could mutate to become dangerous to people. The current strain doesn't affect humans and as far as we are aware cannot be transmitted to dogs or cats.

There have been recorded bird deaths all over South Africa, including in some of our best zoos and parks. Current government policy is to cull all poultry on an affected commercial premise, like a chicken farm, and to institute quarantine. The exact details depend on the situation.

Parrots can get bird flu but cases are rare. It is critically important that you minimise contact between wild birds and your pet birds or your bird collection to prevent infections. Keep birds indoors or under roof and prevent wild birds from getting near food and water supplies. Do not take in any injured or sick wild birds. Ideally, do not have chickens or ducks on the same premises. If you find a dead ibis, Egyptian goose etc, place it in two sealed plastic bags and send it for testing. Talk to the vet about how to submit dead wildlife to the State Vet.

Maximise your biosecurity by using F10, Virkon or other good disinfectants, and use footbaths and hand sprays before entering your aviaries. If not absolutely necessary rather do not handle your pet birds physically.

What about vaccination?

There are vaccines available overseas but vaccination is currently not allowed in South Africa. Using a vaccine in a commercial setting as with poultry could theoretically worsen the situation by increasing the chances of the virus mutating to affect people and could also theoretically adversely affect South Africa's ability to export poultry products. Some countries recommend vaccinating at-risk endangered species of birds.

Be careful of bringing wild birds that appear to be sick to the vet without a telephone call in advance to see that it is in order. This is because it may be risky if there are domestic/exotic birds which are hospitalised, which could lead to cross contamination. If you have an injured or ill waterfowl from your own collection or should you have a sick parrot that you may suspect may have bird flu, special arrangements may have to be made for seeing the bird, to prevent other birds being affected.

© 2018 Dr Dorianne Elliott – Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital Onderstepoort

 

I love the mean look a dog with cropped ears have

Ear cropping in dogs was a procedure done by vets in the previous century whenever dog owners requested it. Cropping is the removal of part, or all, of the outer ear, or the pinnae (externally visible flap) of the ear of an animal. Cropping the ears also involved taping the ears up after the surgery, to make the ears pointy.

Why was ear cropping done in the past?

Ear cropping was historically done on working dogs to reduce the risk of medical conditions like infections or haematoma. An othaematoma is when a small blood vessel in the ear bursts when dogs shake their heads (with ears flapping from side to side against the top and bottom of the dog’s head) and which causes the ear to “balloon” out with a blood-filled pocket in the ear. Although these initial reasons for doing cropping were sound, it turned into a cosmetic procedure over time and became more about “the looks” of the animal, rather than anything else. The surgical procedure of ear cropping was no longer done for functional reasons and was purely done for aesthetic reasons – “to give a dog that mean look”.

In a world where dogs are still kept as a security measure, one can sympathise with those who believe that the scarier the deterrent, the more likely it is to be effective. However, also living in a world where perceptions change continuously, the question has to be asked whether it is fair to an animal and more particularly to dogs, to remove a part of their physical bodies, which has no apparent benefit to the animal itself under normal circumstances.

Although an owner may desire their dog to look fierce and scary, this really does not help the already tainted reputation of some breeds. Breeds such as Pitbulls and Staffordshire Terriers (Staffies) are already seen as aggressive and scary, which is largely untrue. It is the people that use animals for fighting that cause them to have a bad reputation for being aggressive and unsafe animals. Ear cropping does these breeds no favours in the eyes of the public.

Another reason for ear cropping was, and still is, to reduce injury during dogfights. The “less ear” there is for an opponent to grab onto, the better the fighting performance of the dog. A few centuries ago, dog fighting was considered a sport and a normal part of society (as was public executions of humans), but, in our day and age, this practice is strongly condemned by veterinarians.

The debate on whether to allow ear cropping is a debate which has valid arguments on both sides. On a balance of arguments, the decision in South Africa has fallen to the benefit of the animal. The South African Veterinary Council, the regulatory and legislative body for the veterinary profession, decided after much consultation and debate over many years, to determine that ear cropping in dogs is unethical and is a procedure which should not be performed by veterinarians or lay people. If a part of the ear must be removed for medical reasons, then it is acceptable to do so. However, doing ear cropping as an elective surgical procedure for aesthetic reasons only, is now illegal, both for vets as well as non-vets.

The ears of all dogs are extremely sensitive and have an extensive blood supply and take a long time to heal if cut. Further to this the muscles and nerves of the ears in dogs, are in general more prominent than in humans because dogs can move and manipulate their ears in so many directions and, depending on which direction noise comes from, have to be able to perk up their ears or turn it into the direction of where the sound is coming from. Some of these nerves and muscles are severed during the ear cropping procedure and may actually be more exposed and sensitive after the procedure than before.

Some proponents of ear cropping will argue that doing a procedure where dogs whose ears naturally hang down next to the side of their heads like Boxers, Great Danes or Dobermans, will give the dog a better ability to hear if ears are lifted to be upright, as in the case of the German Shepherd. This is however not true. Firstly, a big part of the ear pinna or flap is removed during the surgery, leaving a much smaller part of the ear which is taped to stand up straight. This means that there is much less surface for sound to bounce against and be reflected into the dog’s ear for the dog to hear better. Secondly with dogs whose ears hang next to their heads, when they hear a noise and the ears perk up and they turn their heads and ears towards the noise, the ear makes sort of a cup, almost like a satellite dish, which allows sound waves to be reflected much more effectively compared to a small part of an ear which stands up straight and cannot “collect soundwaves”.

Ears are used for hearing but also form part of the communication and expression repertoire of all animals. We have all seen a friendly dog, that pulls back its ears when called or stroked. In the same way, when dogs communicate with each other, they read each other’s body language by looking at every aspect of the other animal’s body, including the ears. By having the ears fixed in an upright position, the ability of the animal to communicate effectively is stifled because of limitations in the movement of their ears. The apparent aggressive appearance of these dogs may be interpreted by a more dominant dog as a challenge for dominance and lead to an unnecessary fight.

As with tail docking in dogs, ear cropping in dogs is illegal in South Africa and no vet or layperson may perform this procedure any more unless it is for a valid medical reason.

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