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

My pet is vomiting

Vomiting is one of the most common symptoms of disease seen in pets. It can be quite alarming to see your pet vomit up all his or her food or alternatively continuously wretch and only bring slime or bile. So should you rush your dog or cat to the vet immediately when you see them vomit, or is it safe to wait and see? Because there are so many causes of vomiting, we recommend that if you are ever in doubt, it is always better to visit the vet and have it seen to, even if it is just to put your mind at ease and prevent it from progressing to something more serious.

It is important to realise that vomiting is not a disease or medical condition in and of itself, but rather a symptom of many different underlying causes. Healthy animals should not vomit, so there will usually be some underlying disease process which causes your animal to vomit. This could be as diverse as a brain condition, kidney disease, liver disease, gastrointestinal tract problems or endocrine conditions. It may have an infectious origin, but the cause may not be infectious at all and may vary from a physical obstruction such as a lodged bone to something as sinister as cancer. Distinguishing between vomiting and regurgitation is important. While vomiting is an active process which involves contraction of the abdominal muscles to expel the gastric content, regurgitation is a completely passive process where food is expelled from the stomach or from the oesophagus without any abdominal muscle contractions. Regurgitation usually points to a problem in the upper gastrointestinal tract, like the oesophagus. Nauseous dogs will often lick their lips and start salivating. This “overproduction” of saliva is there to protect the oesophagus against the acidic vomit moving up from the stomach by neutralising it. 

During the clinical exam, the vet will try to establish why your pet is vomiting and will decide after the clinical exam to either carry on with further diagnostic tests if he or she finds anything out of the ordinary, or send your pet home with the appropriate treatment. A full history from a vomiting animal’s owner is often the most useful diagnostic tool, so try and answer any questions the vet may have to the best of your ability. Common questions your vet may ask are: 

  • How many times has your dog or cat vomited?
  • How long has the vomiting been going on for?
  • What did your dog or cat vomit up?
  • Has your dog or cat lost any weight?
  • Is your dog or cat still eating?
  • Has their diet changed in any way?
  • What does the vomit look like?

It is important to know if there is a runny tummy (diarrhoea) associated with the vomiting and if so, to establish your pet’s hydrations status. An animal that is not keeping any fluids down, and vomits throughout the day together with losing fluids through diarrhoea can dehydrate quickly. The vet will most likely feel (palpate) your animal’s abdomen to establish if there is any pain, or perhaps a foreign body stuck somewhere which may be palpable. Depending on the size or the location of a foreign body, it may not always be possible for the vet to feel it. Severe pain in the abdomen will alert the vet to a more serious problem like pancreatitis. Dogs and cats can swallow the strangest things which may cause a blockage in the narrower parts of the digestive tract. This can become a life-threatening condition depending on the type of blockage and the length of time the foreign body is entrapped. Some foreign bodies can perforate the gut which can cause the animal to go into septic shock.

The majority of pets presenting with vomiting is due to dietary indiscretions and will recover within 24 – 48 hours. In these cases, the animal will show minimal abdominal pain, and hydration status will be normal, and temperature will be within normal limits. They are usually not severely depressed, but stay bright and alert. If the animal is bright and alert and healthy in all other respects, the vet may recommend skipping a meal or providing a liquid critical care diet together with access to fresh water. Food can then be introduced slowly over the next 12 hours. A bland diet of chicken and rice can be fed, or a veterinary therapeutic diet that is easily digestible and which has a low-fat content. 

In some cases of animals vomiting, there will be certain things that indicate to the vet that there is a more severe problem than a simple dietary indiscretion. If the vomiting has been carrying on for more than a couple of days, continuous or intermittent, further investigation is always required. Severe weight loss, dry coat and general weakness are some of the danger signs. Raised or decreased body temperature, severe abdominal pain, and accompanying bloody diarrhoea should also raise concern. These animals should ideally be admitted at the veterinary practice and rehydrated with a drip. Animals that are losing fluids by vomiting and diarrhoea often also develop electrolyte imbalances. Glucose may be low due to anorexia lasting a couple of days, and the vet will need to assess what kind of electrolyte supplementation is required with the fluid therapy. While the animal is being treated symptomatically, the vet will start with further diagnostic tests. After a basic blood smear and microscopic examination, the vet may recommend a urinalysis and faecal analysis as part of a minimum database. If the diagnosis cannot be made with these basics diagnostic tests, more comprehensive blood tests may be required which will include a full blood count, biochemistry and electrolytes. If a definitive diagnosis cannot be made with these tests, further investigation with the help of diagnostic imaging which may include X-rays and or ultrasound may be recommended. Even with extensive testing and diagnostic aids, it may not be possible to make a definitive diagnosis immediately, and in these cases, the vet will discuss the merits of further diagnostic tests or procedures, or referral to a specialist vet, with you. 

Some of the more common conditions that can present with vomiting are:

  • “Garbage disease” – where the animal eats leftover food or other items from a knocked over garbage bin 
  • Foreign bodies varying from stones to clothing garments, to anything other than pet food which the animal may have chewed and accidentally swallowed part or all of. Depending on the size and the type of foreign body it may either cause a partial obstruction or alternatively could cause a complete obstruction of the intestinal tract, which may only be rectified with surgery. 
  • Hairballs in cats
  • Pancreatitis or pancreatic tumours
  • Chronic or acute kidney disease
  • Chronic or acute liver disease including liver tumours
  • Inflammation of any part of the intestine including the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine or large intestine 
  • Megaoesophagus which may be due to auto-immune disease or other causes
  • Any tumours pressing on to, or causing an obstruction in the digestive tract
  • Gastric ulcers

The most important thing to remember is that vomiting is merely a symptom of an underlying problem which may or may not have anything to do with the intestinal tract. If your animal is vomiting and does not stop after a single episode, it is worth a visit to the vet to have it checked out.  

©2018 Vetwebsites The Code Company (Pty) Ltd

 

My older German Shepherd Dog seems to be getting weak in its hindquarters

This article outlines a genetic disorder that mainly German Shepherd dogs are prone to. There are other breeds affected by this condition too like Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Corgis, Boxers, Wirehaired Fox Terriers and Rhodesian Ridgebacks, however, the disease is mostly seen in German Shepherds.

If one breaks down the name of the disease it describes what happens with the disease. Degeneration refers to a breaking down or deterioration of something. That “something” in this case is myelin which is the insulating sheath around neurons in the spinal cord. Neurons are the “electrical wires” of the nervous system and one can compare myelin to the insulating plastic around the wires, almost like one would find with an electrical cord. Whenever a term is followed by “pathy” it refers to a disease or disorder in a certain part of the body. In this case the spinal cord.

Degenerative Myelopathy is a debilitating condition for which there is no cure but only the potential to slow down the progress.

The occurs typically in older German Shepherd Dogs. The average age at which clinical signs start and progress is from 8 to 12 years of age. This is not a condition with rapid onset but instead is slowly progressive with clinical signs worsening with time. Degenerative myelopathy starts out as a very slowly progressive hind limb weakness and loss of function of the back legs called paresis. It is commonly confused with hip pain because the symptoms can mimic hip dysplasia, another debilitating condition with a high incidence in German Shepherds.

The condition is the result of a demyelination (loss of protective cover) and nerve degeneration of the spinal cord in the region of the mid to hind back. This degeneration is something referred to as an ascending lesion meaning that it starts at the tail end of the spinal cord and works its way towards the head. The underlying cause of the disease is thought to be a genetic mutation (change) of the SOD1 gene. This gene is responsible for the protection of cells against certain particles that damage the DNA of cells. The name given to the damaging particles are free radicles. Under normal circumstances the SOD1 gene produces a free radicle scavenger i.e. it helps to clean up the system and prevents damage to the sheath surrounding the nerves.

The way in which the defect is inherited determines whether a particular dog is at a high risk of getting the disease or if they are a carrier of the genetic mutation without showing clinical signs. An individual dog has to carry 2 copies of the mutation in the genes of the cells of their bodies for it to cause the disease. There is no sex predilection, so male or female dogs may be affected equally. What is interesting about the disease is that even if an individual dog has both copies of the mutated gene and they are at very high risk of developing the disease, there are still other factors that influence whether or not they do contract the disease and to what extent they do.  

As mentioned previously this a slowly progressive condition that has a time frame of about 3 years before severe debilitating disease sets in. The clinical signs noticed in dogs include the following:

After 6 to 12 months of contracting the disease, you will notice weakness and partial loss of function of the back legs. Your dog may seem weak and wobbly on the back legs and they may struggle to get up or be slower to get up that what they used to be. When they run, their back legs may sway abnormally.

After 9 to 18 months on contracting the disease, the back legs start to get even weaker and collapse under the dog from time to time. If one assesses the reflexes in the back legs like the patella reflex, you will find that they are abnormal and weakened.

After 12 to 24 months of contracting the disease, the front legs start to become affected and you may notice that your dog starts losing their normal co-ordination and function. By this point, the hind legs are very weak and your dog may struggle to stand and use their legs correctly. Unfortunately, the nerve degeneration also influences bladder and bowel control and they will start to urinate and defecate involuntarily. This is known as urine and faecal incontinence.

After 24 to 36 month of contracting the disease, and if the dog was able to come this far and still cope with the disease, they develop tetraplegia or quadriplegia which is a paralysis that causes partial or total loss of use of all their limbs and body. The loss is usually sensory and motor, which means that both sensation and control are lost, or put a different way, the dog does not know where its legs are and even if they did, they do not have the ability to correct it. Clearly a very unhappy situation.

The way in which this condition is diagnosed by the vet is through a number of tests as well as the typical clinical signs and also the breed of your dog. These, together with the thorough history of the condition, should provide the veterinarian with some very important clues to what is going on with your dog. The important diseases or differential diagnoses to rule out are spinal disc disease (like a slipped disc) and conditions affecting the lower part of the spine where the hips meet the spine, like hip dysplasia or joint disease. The biggest difference with degenerative myelopathy and the other conditions is that degenerative myelopathy is painless because it is the loss of sensation and function which underlies this disease. Special tests such as MRI’s may be done to visualise the damage within the spinal cord and there is also a DNA test available to check if your dog has the genetic mutation discussed earlier.

Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment available. Certain supplements can be used in an attempt to slow down the condition, such as vitamin E and aminocaproic acid. The vitamin E is an essential vitamin which helps various systems in the body to protect it from these damaging free radicles. The aminocaproic acid is an agent used to prevent the breakdown of clots in the bloodstream. The reasoning behind using this is that it is believed that the spinal cord may be indirectly attacked by the body’s own immune system. Antibodies in the bloodstream attach to the foreign material within the bloodstream forming complexes and these stimulate a response from the immune system. These complexes are usually removed by the liver and spleen. Sometimes they can stick to the walls of blood vessels, damage the walls and stimulate the formation of blood clots. The breakdown of these clots are associated with inflammation and this may result in damage to the surrounding tissues, so-called collateral damage. If this happens in the sensitive tissues of the spinal cord, the damage is devastating because the nervous tissue is not able to regenerate and repair itself. The thinking behind using aminocaproic acid is to inhibit clot breakdown in these delicate tissues.

Lastly and most importantly, the most effective treatment for this condition and the only one proven to actually slow down the progress is the use of physiotherapy and hydrotherapy. Another key factor is, the sooner the dog is diagnosed and treatment started, the better the progress of the disease can be slowed, and the more time the vet can give you with your dog. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that eventually, the disease will lead to complete paralysis and eventually, in most cases, euthanasia.

Genetic disorders like degenerative myelopathy can only be prevented by not breeding with animals where there is a family history of the disease. Make sure if you buy a puppy, that you get references on a breeder before you buy.

©2018 Vetwebsites The Code Company (Pty) Ltd

My dog is ravenously hungry all the time and eats like a beast but is as thin as a rake.

Why is the pancreas important?

The pancreas is a small, light pink, glandular organ that is situated between the stomach and the duodenum (part of the small intestines). It has many important functions, all of which can be classified into two main categories namely endocrine and exocrine.

The endocrine function of the pancreas refers to its hormone-producing cells. Hormones are small chemical messengers that are released into the bloodstream. Two important hormones produced by the pancreas are glucose and glucagon, both of which are important in maintaining blood sugar levels.

The exocrine function of the pancreas refers to its ability to produce enzymes. These enzymes are important in digestion and breaking down larger substances into smaller particles or molecules that the body can absorb and use. The digestive enzymes include amylase to digest starch, protease to digest proteins and lipase to digest fats. These digestive enzymes are stored in the pancreas in the inactive form (called zymogens). They are released through a small duct into the duodenum and break the food down into small molecules as it moves through the small intestine. If these enzymes are not present, food is not broken down and the nutrients in the food cannot be absorbed and utilised.

If the pancreas is unable to produce the enzymes in sufficient quantities we get the condition referred to as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. This can also be referred to as maldigestion, which means that the food is not being processed and absorbed properly. The most common signs associated with the lack of digestive enzymes include a runny tummy or diarrhoea, which can sometimes be greasy and foul smelling and weight loss, despite an increased appetite. Other signs may include a poor coat, abdominal discomfort and increased borborygmi, which are the noises that can be heard when we say our tummy is grumbling.

What causes decreased digestive enzyme production?

There are three main causes of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, namely acinar atrophy, chronic pancreatitis and neoplasia. These are big terms and we will take the time to explain each.

Acinar atrophy refers to the condition where the glandular cells that produce the enzymes become shrivelled or small and are unable to function properly. This process is thought to have a genetic component and German Shepherds are the most common breed to suffer from this condition. They are not born with the condition but it develops later on in their lives, commonly around four years of age. Rough Coated Collies are another breed that may be affected by atrophy of the acinar cells.

Chronic pancreatitis refers to a long-standing inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas scars (this is referred to as fibrosis) and loses a lot of its function. 90% of the pancreas has to be damaged before signs of the disease are seen.

Neoplasia or cancer is the third cause of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and this is where abnormal, fast-growing cells overtake the pancreas.

In cats, chronic pancreatitis is the most common cause of the decreased production of digestive enzymes.

How is this condition diagnosed?

There are several different tests available to diagnose exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. The most accurate test available measures levels of trypsin-like enzymes in the bloodstream. This test is known as the serum trypsin-like immunoreactivity test. A blood sample needs to be taken after the dog has been fasted or starved for a certain period of time for it to be accurate. Only a single blood sample is required. There is a similar test for cats but it is not as freely available. There are tests available to measure enzyme levels in the stool but these are not as accurate as the blood tests.

How is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency treated?

Treatment of this condition requires supplementation of the digestive enzymes. If available, feeding fresh or frozen pancreas from cows or pigs is the first treatment employed. This works very well but fresh pancreas may be difficult to get hold of and not everyone likes the idea of handling uncooked animal products. There are commercial formulations available, some of which may be very expensive. Most of the supplements given are digested in the stomach but the little that is not is enough to help with digestion in the small intestine. Powdered enzymes appear to work the best. There are tablets available but their absorption and efficacy seem to be a little unpredictable. It will be important to discuss the best option for your pet with the vet at the time of diagnosis.

The supplementation of pancreatic enzymes will decrease the clinical signs of the disease but not completely control the diarrhoea. Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) may need to be supplemented. The intestinal bacteria in dogs and cats produce this vitamin. Often there is an overgrowth of bacteria and instead of producing more Cobalamin, they end up consuming what is made. This leads to a deficiency in the dog or cat. Cobalamin is supplemented by initially weekly and then monthly injections. Patients may also suffer from inflammatory bowel disease and may need treatment for this.

Can exocrine pancreatic insufficiency be cured?

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is a result of the loss of functional cells within the pancreas. It is rarely cured but can be managed with appropriate therapy. Treatment is for life. With appropriate management and monitoring, the animal often gains weight, the stools improve and they can often live a normal life with a normal lifespan.

If your pet is losing weight even though it seems to be hungry all the time, it will be a good idea to bring him or her to the vet for a checkup.

© 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.

When should I be worried about my cat’s coughing?

A cough can be described as a sudden, forceful expiration of air through the glottis (part of the throat). It is usually accompanied by an audible sound (something that can be heard), which is often preceded by an exaggerated inspiratory effort (a big breath in). Cats, just like humans, may cough occasionally to clear their throat or because they have an irritation but coughing can be a clinical sign for a varying number of serious conditions in cats.

History, as well as the breed of the cat, plays an important role in determining what is causing the cough. The type of cough is also important. A cough can be moist and productive, meaning that the cat brings up a lot of phlegm and mucous or it can be dry and non-productive. This means that the cat is coughing but isn’t bringing anything up. Despite what many people may think, cats are not just little dogs. Like dogs, there are many reasons why a cat may cough but the cause of the cough may be very different from dogs. It is important to take your cat to the vet if they have a persistent cough.

Upper respiratory infections or snuffles and asthma are two common causes of coughing in cats.

Upper respiratory infections or “Snuffles”

The respiratory tract consists of the nose, throat, sinuses, windpipe (trachea) and lungs. A cat’s nose, throat and sinuses are susceptible to a number of different viral and bacterial infections. Feline calicivirus and herpes virus are two of the most common viruses causing upper respiratory infections in cats. Both viruses are transmitted through sneezing, coughing, grooming or sharing food and water bowls. The viral infections can be complicated by secondary bacterial infections.

The symptoms of snuffles in cats are varied and may include sneezing, upper respiratory congestion, runny noses and teary eyes, coughing, gagging, drooling, fever, a loss of, or decreased appetite, rapid breathing, and ulcers in the mouth. Cats with sniffles may develop conjunctivitis in their eyes; have open-mouthed breathing and they may be depressed. Age, vaccination status and physical condition all play a role in a cat’s susceptibility, but multi-cat households and shelters are most at risk. Cats who have recovered from the viruses may become life-long carriers.

Taking your cat to the vet when you suspect snuffles is important. In severe cases, cats may become dehydrated and require intravenous fluids and antibiotics. Some cats may recover by themselves but some may require antibiotics and other medications. Cats should be isolated from others as the viruses are very contagious.

Feline asthma

Asthma in cats is very similar to asthma in humans and is basically a chronic inflammation of the small passageways in the lungs. These passages become thickened and constrict, making it very difficult for the cat to breathe. The cat may become very distressed, worsening the condition and in severe cases, an asthma attack may result in death. The lungs may release mucus into the airways and this often leads to coughing and wheezing. The most common symptoms of a cat suffering from asthma include coughing, wheezing, difficulty in breathing, open mouth breathing and overall weakness and lethargy. In some cases, cats may develop blue lips, gums and tongue due to a lack of oxygen.

It is thought that asthma develops as a result of chronic allergic bronchitis. Allergic bronchitis may be caused by different allergens such as pollens, moulds, dust and cigarette smoke. Parasites, stress and obesity may also be contributing factors. Asthma is most commonly noted in cats between the ages of two and eight years old and it appears to be more common in females than males. Oriental breeds such as Siamese and Burmese cats seem to be more frequently affected.

Asthma is diagnosed on a combination of history, a clinical exam and certain diagnostics tests. It is important to rule out other possible causes of coughing. There is no cure for asthma but it can be successfully managed.

Other causes of coughing

Other causes of coughing in cats may include a cat which accidentally inhaled dust particles, respiratory parasites, heartworm (which is a disease not currently found in South Africa), tumours in the chest and pneumonia. It is rare that cats with heart failure cough.

If it something as trivial as inhaling dust particles, for instance when someone cleans their house and have a curious cat around them when they dust off a very dusty shelf, the coughing should stop shortly after commencing, once the particles have been removed by the coughing bout. Persistent coughing in cats is something completely different and can be an indication of some serious conditions and diseases and so it is very important that a vet examines them. An accurate history and clinical exam are vital in making a diagnosis but often further testing such as X-rays and lung fluid samples may be required.

Any coughing that persists for longer than a few hours is a cause for concern and worry and is enough reason to have your cat checked out by the vet.

© 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.

Celebrating good times with your pets

South Africans love to celebrate with food and drink as do many other cultures. Being part of the family, we like to include our pets in our celebrations and with the best of intentions may harm them if we feed them the same things we enjoy eating and drinking when we celebrate. This article highlight some of the food and drinks we as humans enjoy, which may be harmful and even deadly for our pets.

The end of the year is a time when a lot of people celebrate Christmas. Christmas Cake is a favourite for many at this time of year. Although it is tasty and nice for us to eat, it should not be shared with pets. The reason for this is that most Christmas cakes contain raisins. Raisins and grapes are a definite no-no for pets. The exact substance causing the problems is not yet known but what is known is that it causes damage to the kidneys.

During the time of celebrations, many people enjoy alcohol. The dangers associated with alcohol use in humans is well documented.  Even though our pets don’t drink and drive, they should definitely not be sharing alcohol with us. Some folks will pour alcohol into a pet’s water bowl as a joke once the partying starts. Although most animals don’t like the taste of alcohol and will refuse to consume it, some animals, especially if they are very thirsty and the taste of the drink is acceptable to them, may actually drink it. An intoxicated animal may become aggressive or may have a change of character which may make its behaviour difficult to predict. As with humans a drunk animal will be off balance and have suppressed reflexes and this may expose them to being run over by a car or get injured by falling off heights or sustain similar injuries to humans who suffer a loss of co-ordination.

Most people will have the sensibility not to give their animals alcohol but some well-meaning people will not think twice to offer their animals soft drinks. Some soft drinks are not inherently dangerous to animals but artificially sweetened drinks, like many soft drinks, are these days because of humans beginning to understand the risk of the high sugar content in soft drinks, can be very harmful to your pet. Depending on which kind of sweetener is used, it may even be potentially lethal in certain cases.

Sweet things, especially cake, form a major part of the food consumed during festivities. As with soft drinks, one has to be especially careful with offering an animal cake containing artificial sweeteners. The major culprit here is Xylitol. Xylitol is a commonly used sweetener and is very dangerous to especially dogs. The reason for this is that xylitol causes a massive release of insulin from the pancreas, which in turn move glucose from the blood into the body’s tissues, leading to a sudden drop in blood glucose or hypoglycaemia. Glucose is the main fuel for the brain and a sudden drop in glucose will starve the brain of glucose leading to an animal which becomes disorientated and stable and may even start seizuring. Dogs that consume a lot of xylitol like what can be found in the icing on a cake can die, so do not feed your dog cake.

Even if no artificial sweeteners have been used, sugary foods are not good for pets because of the risk of dental problems and weight gain so rather avoid sugary foods for your pets altogether.

Another human favourite which is a definite no-no for your pet is chocolate. Chocolate contains theobromine which is a substance which can make your pet vomit or have a loose stool and in high concentrations can be toxic to the heart and nervous system. The darker the chocolate, the higher the risk.

In the same vein as chocolate which also contains caffeine, we should avoid giving our pets caffeine-containing drinks like coffee or tea.

To cut down on the sugar, many of us prefer healthier alternatives like nuts as snacks. Not all nuts are bad for your pet but some nuts like macadamia nuts have been proven to be harmful to animals, so rather stay away from sharing your healthy snacks such as nuts, with your pet.

Dairy products, especially cream, is an ingredient of many sweet treats during the festive season. As a general rule, your pets should not be fed milk, or dairy products because animals lack sufficient amounts of lactase, the enzyme which breaks down lactose in milk. As a result, a pet which drinks milk or consumes large amounts of other dairy products may develop a runny tummy.

In South Africa, we love to braai when we celebrate. To let our animals share in the celebrations, we tend to share with them when we braai. There is no problem with sharing with your pet when you braai as long as it is the right thing you are sharing. A small piece of meat from the braai is no problem. Be careful though of giving straight off the grill, as your pet may burn its mouth in its zeal to consume this very tasty treat. Do not cut off large chunks of fat from the meat you are braaiing and give that to your pets. The reason is that the high-fat content may lead to acute pancreatitis, a condition which progresses fast and can be lethal. Also giving your pets the leftover bones after everyone has eaten is a really bad idea. Bones from which the meat has been removed often have sharp edges which can perforate your pet’s intestines or get lodged anywhere from the mouth to the rectum. Some people believe that the soft carcase of chicken should not pose a problem because the bones will be digested. Vets from all over South Africa will tell you how they have had to operate and remove a chicken bone from a dog or cat who were fed leftovers. Rather remove a small piece of meat from the bone and give that to your animal if you want to treat them, but definitely do not give them any bones. T-bones, chop bones and spare ribs are the worst offenders and your pet may go and dig in the dustbin for it themselves if you don’t share, so be careful not to use shallow or unstable dustbins to scrape your leftover bones into after the braai.

A lot of people who braai will prepare onions in some or other way, either in salads, or shesheba to enjoy with pap, or just frying them to enjoy it with their meat. Raw onions are very bad for your pets as it can cause red blood cell damage and kidney damage, so never feed an animal raw onions. Even be careful with cooked onions. Garlic and chives fall in the same category and should not be fed to pets.

The best way to treat your pets and let them share in the celebrations is to feed them snacks available from the vet, which have been specifically formulated for your pet. We love our animals, who are part of our lives and families, to join in with the festivities. They can do so in a healthy and happy way by drinking healthy tap water and snacking on specially formulated pet snacks, endorsed by the vet.

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