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

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

Clinical signs and potential complications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


My 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.


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.


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. 


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.

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

I found a lump on my animal’s skin. Is it cancer?

Finding a lump or a bump in your pet which you have never noticed before, can cause serious worry for pet owners. This article will highlight what to watch out for when to take your pet to the vet and the process veterinarians follow when approaching any lump found on a pet.

Firstly, it is always important to remember that you can never tell how serious a mass on your pet is by simply feeling it and judging by its size. Dynamite can often come in small packages and some of the most aggressive skin cancers may present as a simple small raised area on the skin. Generally, lumps on a cat tend to be more dangerous and they are not something to be ignored. All growths have to start small but may grow very rapidly. Lumps come in all shapes and sizes and for that reason, it is always best to get any lump on the skin or underneath the skin checked by the veterinarian as soon as you discover it. This will provide peace of mind to you as an owner if it is simply a dermal cyst or a small wart-like growth, both of which will not cause any major health issues for your pet. Alternatively, if it is something more aggressive and dangerous, it is always better to start treatment as soon as possible. If it is determined to be a bad type of growth (malignant), the sooner it is diagnosed the better the prognosis for both removing it surgically or starting any other form of treatment.

When you bring your animal to the vet there are a few questions the vet will ask that are essential to determine when and if the lump will be removed.

1. When did you notice the mass and has it grown since noticing it? Masses that grow quickly will invariably need to be removed regardless of the cells that make up the mass. The reason for this is that it will only continue to enlarge and may eventually lead to impaired function of the area of the body it is growing from or may cause discomfort and become more difficult to remove later on.

2. Is the lump bothering your pet, are they scratching, biting or licking it? Any lump that bothers your pet is causing them discomfort and this is the last thing we want. It also predisposes them to infections in the area as the licking and scratching will traumatise the mass with a subsequent breakdown in the skin’s protective barrier.

3. Has your pet ever had any other masses that were of concern? Certain growths on the skin, mast cell tumours for example, do have a tendency to regrow or spread to other areas. Once the vet has gained sufficient information from the pet owner, a more in-depth assessment of the lump will commence.

Usually, a visit to the vet will start with the vet obtaining a history from you regarding the pet’s health which will then be followed by a physical clinical examination of your pet. The vet will then examine the appearance of the lump and determine if there are any other lumps present on or under the skin. The appearance of a mass may give a clue as to what the mass might be. A small round firm lump may simply be a cyst. Small superficial wart-like growths on the skin surface are often benign and only need to be monitored. If they are injured or bleed, they may have to be removed. A dermal cyst may eventually rupture discharging its contents and resolve on its own.  A dermal cyst may however re-occur and the only way to get rid of it for good will be to surgically remove it. Once the vet has had a look at the appearance of the mass they will then most likely perform a fine needle aspirate. This procedure involves placing a needle into the mass with a syringe attached to the needle. The plunger of the syringe is drawn back and with some luck, a small sample of the cells making up the lump will be drawn into the needle. Once this small sample of cells is obtained it is sprayed onto a glass slide for fixing, staining and observation under a microscope. It is rare for the vet to make a definitive diagnosis of what type of growth and how aggressive it is with a single or even multiple fine needle aspirates. However, the small sample of cells obtained may give the vet an idea of the type of cells making up the growth and how urgently it needs to be removed, if at all. There are three types of lumps which can generally be identified more accurately based on these small samples which are, lipomas (which is a benign fatty growth not considered to be a cancer), mast cell tumours (which is a bad type of cancer) and a melanomas (which is a really bad type of cancer). The exclusion of these three types of growths already helps somewhat in determining a prognosis. If it does turn out to be a mast cell tumour or a melanoma, the grade and the subtype of these masses will still need to be determined so just identifying it is not enough. Generally, the vet can determine the type of cells present, for example, a round cell tumour, which may be present in a number of specific growths, but the final diagnosis of which type of round cell tumour and the stage cancer can only be definitively identified by histopathology. Histopathology is where either the full growth or a portion of it is removed surgically and sent to a specialist pathologist who then examines the tissue sample sent with high-resolution microscopy and makes a definitive diagnosis. Round cell tumours generally have to be removed surgically as they grow quickly and are locally invasive into surrounding tissues. Other cell types that may be seen are spindle cells, epithelial cells, glandular cells, fat cells etc. If a cyst is aspirated then one will only see cyst material or debris and no obvious cells. If these lumps are subsequently gently squeezed, the contents of the cysts will be extruded.

Any lump or bump which is cancerous should be surgically removed and sent for histopathology for definitive diagnosis and grading. This is also important to ensure that the surgical margins are clear which means that all cancer cells were removed and none of the growth was left behind. This is particularly important for very aggressive tumours such as mast cell tumours, as they invade the surrounding tissue easily and to a large extent. To remove these tumours, a margin of 3 cm around the entire mass, and 2 tissue planes deep have to be removed by the surgeon. The resulting wound to be closed after surgical removal of a tumour can be very extensive with a high risk of post-operative complications. It is with these masses, as you could imagine, that the smaller the growth, the better it is to catch it early.

Instances where you would not remove lumps and bumps include

  1. cases of wart-like growths on the skin called adenoma’s. Unless they have been traumatised by the animal scratching, biting or licking them or where they have grown too large, it does not have to be removed.
  2. dermal cysts come and go and unless the owner wants them permanently removed, they do not need to be surgically removed.
  3. the very common growth known as a lipoma, which is a soft lump underneath the skin which is usually not firmly attached to the underlying tissues and do not seem to bother the animal at all. A lipoma is, in essence, a tumour of fatty tissue, but it is benign and only grows locally.

Lipomas are generally benign, well-encapsulated growths which do not invade surrounding tissues and they can sometimes grow very large, sometimes up to the size of a rugby ball, without posing any systemic risk to the animal. The problem is that they become a physical problem which interferes with the animal’s sitting or lying down or movement. Smaller lipomas can initially be monitored and not removed, but should they continue to grow, it is advisable to get them surgically removed before they start to interfere with your pets ability to move and live a normal comfortable life.

In conclusion, when you find a lump or bump on your pet, rather take them to the vet to have it checked out so that it can be diagnosed and treated. If advised by the veterinarian to remove the growth, it is always better to do it sooner rather than later. Lastly, remember that no growth is too small to be ignored.

© 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

My cat is damaging my furniture by scratching it

Many people think that declawing a cat means that you cut the nails really, really short so that they do not have the capacity to grow again. Nothing could be further from the truth. When a cat is declawed, the greater part of the last digit of its toe is amputated. Cats’ nails are attached to the last digit on their feet and one cannot effectively remove the nail, without also removing the greater part of the digit itself. There are muscles and tendons attaching to the bone of the last digit and some of the bone should be left intact for the foot to function normally after the procedure. If one was to do a similar procedure in a human, it will be like removing the tip of your finger just in front of the first knuckle.


Declawing cats remains a controversial topic because of the views held by opposing parties. Those who argue for it have the view that as humans have domesticated animals, we have done some things to make the lives for both the animal and the human better. As an example, people may argue that zebras live out in the wild and never need shelter and therefore it’s close cousin, the horse, should also be able to withstand harsh temperature and exposure to the elements without having to be confined to stables. Some may argue that stabling a horse deprives them of the natural ability to roam around freely and enjoy not having to be confined. However, we know that providing stabling provides shelter and in turns improves the lives of horses in a harsh climate. More appropriately, some people will argue it is cruel to put a steel bit in a horse’s mouth to let them comply with what we want them to do. And this mostly for our own benefit.

So in the domestication of cats, those who argue for declawing will say that it is for the animals’ benefit that they are declawed because the alternative to having expensive furniture ripped up by a cat scratching it, is an animal shelter or even worse – death. They further argue that if the procedure is done with the animal receiving full general anaesthetic in a fully sterile operating theatre, and the surgery is performed by a competent and qualified veterinary surgeon, all should be fine. If one can provide the animal with appropriate painkillers in the post-operative period and prevent them from contracting an infection, and the healing process is closely monitored and managed with an outcome where the animal has no after effects, then it warrants doing the procedure and providing a loving and safe home for the animal. 

Clearly one can understand that this becomes a very emotive issue because those who argue against declawing will be quick to add that there are many alternatives to removing the cat’s digits and nails altogether. Firstly, they will argue that going to the extent of doing an amputation in an animal, merely for protecting furniture, is a form of mutilation and is going too far. Further to that, they may argue that you are creating an unnatural situation for the animal by taking away one of its primary self-defence mechanisms. Declawing the cat may also leave the cat exposed in a social environment where most cats never stay confined to the human residence only, but tend to venture outside, especially at night, and explore their territory. Many people forget that a cat’s territory is not defined by the boundaries set by humans. So, your high fence around the property, even if it has an electrified security fence on top of it, will in most cases not suffice to confine your cat to your own property. Their territory often extends three houses up the street, two down the street and even to properties across the road from yours. Leaving a cat without nails to defend itself is almost unthinkable, will those say who object to declawing.

This territorial movement and exploration of cats is to a large extent dependent on their ability to climb and jump up and down walls and trees. Their nails are a pivotal part of the ability to grab onto something, especially if they must jump very high, almost out of reach. Not even to talk about the risk of being chased by the next door neighbour’s dog and having to get away via the quickest and sometimes least accessible route.

One way to reduce territorial movement is to sterilise your cat either by neutering (castrating) your mail cat or by spaying (ovariohysterectomy) your female cat. Roaming and territorial exploration is significantly reduced in sterilised cats.

So, what then is the solution to removing the cat’s nails and front digits completely and permanently to save your furniture?

Firstly, we should acknowledge that scratching is part of the feline makeup and is a normal behaviour. It is a way for cats to remove the dead and broken parts (husk) of their nails. As with humans, cats’ nails never stop growing. As humans, we trim our nails and take really good care of them by manicures and pedicures. Because our feline friends’ nails also keep on growing, the excess should be removed in some way or other and scratching is the way this happens. A kid, seeing a cat scratching up against a tree or a scratching pole will sometimes make the remark: “Look mom, that cat is sharpening its nails”. Although cats do not consciously decide: “I need to sharpen my nails today”, the effect of scratching and removing dead and breaking pieces, is in fact that the nails stay healthy and naturally sharp. Scratching is also part of stretching and cats are notoriously supple animals and benefit from the anchoring that is provided by “clutching down” onto something and extending their stretch as far as possible.

Because scratching is part of cats’ normal behaviour, one should make provision for this necessary part of their health and wellbeing if you decide to keep a cat. It is as much part of feline care as providing food, fresh water, a sandbox, vaccinations, deworming and tick and flea control. If you decide to keep a cat, you must provide a means for them to scratch. This may be in the form of a scratch post, cardboard box scratch pad, a tree stump or log, preferably covered with some hardwearing, short length fibre carpet or hardwearing fabric, or a piece of wood or cardboard with rope tightly wrapped around it. There are all kinds of shapes and sizes and the vet will be able to give you advice on which one you can use if you are not sure.

If one provides for this normal habit in cats, it will often resolve the issue of the cat scratching your furniture. However, as luck would have it, sometimes you will provide all the scratch pads and posts needed, and that darn cat will still choose that favourite piece of furniture of yours, as its favourite scratch pad. In this instance, you may have to temporarily wrap something around that piece of furniture to protect is until you have dealt with the unwanted behaviour. Discouraging the cat from picking your favourite or expensive piece of furniture for scratching may entail putting a spray bottle with water near this point, and squirting the cat with the water every time it comes close to this point. This negative experience will hopefully deter them sufficiently. Alternatively, you can take an empty cooldrink can and put a few pebbles or marbles in it and throw it in the cat’s direction every time it gets close to the site you want to keep it away from (obviously missing the cat and not actually aiming for the cat itself). The noise is bound to make that part of the house less pleasant and to be avoided.

There are commercial products on the market which one can stick to the furniture which will deter the cat in some cases. Alternatively, there are nails caps which one can put over the cat’s nails which may protect the furniture. Some of these products are not readily available in South Africa and the long-term practicality of it remains debatable.

The best thing you can do is to discuss the situation with the vet and come up with a solution which will work for you. You may have to try several things before you find the solution which will work best for you and your cat.

Vets are the advocates of your animal and will suggest the solution which is in their best interest, as a priority. The South African Veterinary Council, the governing body of the veterinary profession in South Africa, has the following view: “If the benefit of a procedure outweighs the risk to the animal, then it is in the animal’s best interest to have the procedure done. If the procedure provides no benefit or a very small benefit compared to the risks, then the procedure should not be performed.” (

Declawing cats is a procedure which has not been “banned” in South Africa and in extreme cases, with the correct considerations taken, (usually a medical condition like a cancer of the nail bed), may still be performed. However, to do this procedure as a quick fix for a cat damaging furniture through scratching is certainly not the first option which should be considered. 

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My Boerboel with its long tail really looks strange. I much prefer a Boerboel with a short tail.

To start off with let’s define what we are talking about when we are talking about tail docking in dogs.

Tail docking from a veterinary perspective refers to a surgical procedure done to puppies between the ages of 3 to 5 days old, where a portion or partial length of the tail is amputated or cut off with a scalpel or surgical scissors, bleeding is stopped by cauterisation or tying off of bleeding blood vessels with absorbable suture material, and placing a suture or sutures in the skin to close off the wound.

This is quite an invasive procedure and involves cutting through the skin, muscles, ligaments, blood vessels, nerves, bone and cartilage. The idea of doing it to puppies of such a young age was that it would be less painful. Yet, we now know that puppies, even at that very tender age, has a fully developed nervous system and research has shown that the level of pain experience may be even higher than in young or adult animals.

Sadly, in the past, in an effort to save costs, some people opted to do this procedure themselves by cutting the tail off with a knife and then burning the tail to stop it from bleeding. Alternatively, some people used constrictor rubber bands which caused the bottom part of the tail to die, rot and fall off. This is actually a very painful and cruel way to remove a puppy’s tails and certainly was not a method advised or supported by vets in the past.

Almost all dog breeds are born with tails and most dog breeds will have long tails, although there are some breeds which are naturally born with short tails.

Dogs have tails for a reason. Two of the most prominent functional uses of the tail in the dog is for communication and for balance, The tail of a dog will in many instances, even from a distance, convey its body language. If you have a dog, think of when the dog is glad to see you when you return home in the evening after being away at work all day. Some dogs wag their tails with so much enthusiasm that their whole body moves along with it. From a dog owner’s perspective, this makes for one of the best moments of your day. Equally, if your dog is afraid, it may clutch its tail firmly between its hind legs showing its fear. If you have ever observed dogs who meet other dogs in the park you will most likely observe an upright and very active tail, communicating along with the rest of the body and face how it perceives the meeting. The longer the tail, the easier it is to read a dog’s body language. Removing the tail, in fact, to some degree, stifles the ability of dogs to communicate.

If you ever have the opportunity to look at a slow-motion movie of a dog running at high speed, you will notice that its tail is being used as counterbalance when it takes a sharp corner or makes quick turns. From a posture point of view, dogs use their tails in many ways to help balance the rest of their bodies. Removing the tail may in actual fact contribute to injury because the balance of the body is changed somewhat.

So if dogs’ tails are such an important part of their lives, the question arises, why was tail docking done in the past? The question following up on that is, why do vets not do it routinely anymore?

In the past tail docking was an intentional procedure, requested by pet owners and mostly performed by vets and the main reason for it was because of breed standards. What do we mean when we say “breed standards”?. Over many decades, as certain dog breeds evolved, the people who bred those dogs developed a view as to what the length of this breed’s tail should be. Breeders of husky dogs preferred long bushy tails which curl around, and breeders of Boerboel dogs preferred a very short stump of a tail. The main reason given for a Boerboel to have a short tail was that a long muscular tail like that of a Boerboel whose tail has not been docked, is much more prone to damage and injury, even just when the dog wags its tail when it sees the owner or gets excited. This sounds like a sound and plausible reason, but on deeper investigation, one may find the incidence of tail trauma, is actually quite low and does not warrant this invasive procedure. One study done in the United Kingdom showed that the risk for tail injuries in dogs with intact tails is only 0,23%. This is a very low risk compared to the benefit of removing the tail completely. The main thing is that we just got so used to seeing that a Boerboel or Boxer dog has a short tail, that it became the breeds standard or norm, and a Boerboel with a long tail started looking strange to people before the beginning of the new millennium.

So apart from this very practical argument offered as a reason to dock a dog’s tail, one wonders why else would people have started to cut dogs’ tails to a shorter length. Some investigation into the background of tail docking shows that some of the reasons offered why tail docking was done historically are that it helped prevent Rabies, strengthen dogs’ backs, increase their speed, and absurdly enough even reduced paying tax. Seems like there was a time when owners of dogs with long tails were taxed and therefore people started docking their dogs’ tails. Whether this is true or not, there seems to be a myriad of reasons why people started docking their dogs’ tails which, with the benefit of hindsight, holds absolutely no truth and has no value.

Some of the more plausible reasons offered for tail docking are that it prevents injuries to dogs’ tails when used for hunting or fighting. Now if one looks at how the relationship between humans and dogs have evolved over time one can understand that at the time there may have been a case for tail docking. In previous centuries dogs were used for hunting from a subsistence perspective. People actually used their dogs to help them procure food. Jack Russel Terriers used for hunting only had half of their tails docked, unlike Boxers, where almost the whole tail was docked. The reason for leaving a longer piece of tails in Jack Russel Terriers is because when they were used for hunting rabbits and hares, their owners could pull them from a Rabbit’s hole by their tail if they managed to catch the rabbit and battled to turn around and come out of the rabbit hole with the rabbit in their mouth. In the case where the rabbit managed to get away and the Jack Russel being the hunters that they are, refused to back down and leave the one that got away and come back out of the rabbit hole, their owner could pull them out of the hole by their tail and pursue the next one. Today, very few Jack Russel Terriers are still used for hunting for food, but because we have become so accustomed to what they looked like with half a tail, this became the breed standard and the norm. This meant that as a routine, all Jack Russel Terriers had half their tail amputated, for really no reason at all.

One of the other reasons offered for docking dogs’ tails is that it gave the dog an edge during dogfights. A bite to a tail is a very painful thing and during a dogfight, if the opponent manages to get hold of the tail, it can be very painful and throw a fighting dog off balance making them more vulnerable to more lethal bites. So, therefore, it was “off with the tail” to make them better fighters. Even in the previous century dog fighting was a sport attended by many and on which people bet money with fervour. Today, in most civilised countries, dog fighting is illegal and although sadly it still continues in secret, it is certainly not considered a sport anymore but rather a criminal offence.

As the norms and needs of society changed, so the ways in which we treat animals have also changed.

In time, people started asking the question whether it is fair to dogs to put them through this very aggressive surgical procedure for no apparent reason other than looks. Sanity prevailed and in time the various breed societies started agreeing that it was not in animal’s best interest to persist with this practice. This did not go down without major resistance from many breeders who now felt that the animals looked silly, because they no longer conformed to the breed standards that everyone became so used to.

In the middle and latter part of the previous century the docking of tails by vets was advocated with the view that vets are professionals and will work in a sterile environment with the correct surgical technique and equipment, and the ability to deal with complications, should they arise. Although this is true, the uneasiness about the ethics of the procedure remained.

In South Africa the docking of tail, as an ethical procedure to be done by vets, were discussed in the veterinary profession over a long period of time (decades). Eventually through much discussion, research and deliberation, the decision was taken by the profession that unless there is a justifiable medical or therapeutic reason for docking a dog’s tail, it should not be done. This means that docking a dog’s tail for aesthetic reasons should no longer be performed.

The South African Veterinary Council, the governing body of the veterinary profession in South Africa, made a formal decision that as from the 1st of June 2008, it will no longer condone the routine tail docking of puppies by vets. This decision in turns means that should a vet dock puppies’ tails in the absence of a medical or therapeutic necessity, they can be prosecuted in terms of the Animal Protection Act no 71 of 1962 and may be found guilty of unprofessional conduct in terms of the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act, 1982 as Amended.

The interesting thing is that perceptions change, as norms change. Our children born in this century (the 2000’s) are growing up with dogs with tails. If you were to show a 10 year old child (in 2017), a picture of a Boerboel without a tail and they have grown up with a Boerboel with a tail, to them it will most likely look strange and they will wonder: “Why does the Boerboel without a tail look so strange, I much prefer a Boerboel with a long tail.”

Times have changed, and vets no longer do tail docking in dogs as a routine.

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

What is the brownish yellow discolouration on my pet’s teeth?

Just like humans, dogs and cats have two different sets of teeth. The first set, known as the deciduous teeth or “baby teeth", erupt between three to six weeks of age. The permanent or “adult” teeth start erupting around three months of age and are all present around six months of age.

The teeth are also very similar in structure to human teeth, with the crown that sits above the gum line and the root which is located below the gum line. All teeth are made up of an outer protective coating of enamel. Enamel is a very hard structure that protects the more sensitive dentin. The dentin sits over the even more sensitive pulp cavity which contains nerves and bloods vessels, which nourish the tooth.

A discoloured tooth is any variation from the normal colour. A normal and healthy tooth can be various different shades of white or cream and the gum should sit tightly around it. The normal colour can vary depending on the shade, thickness and translucency of the enamel. There are several different reasons for teeth to discolour and these reasons may be due to factors affecting the tooth from the outside or inside. Outside factors are referred to as extrinsic and mainly affecting the enamel. Inside or instrinsic factors affect the sensitive dental pulp or can affect the development of the tooth in general. Trauma or chronic wear, infection or inflammation, metabolic disease, some developmental conditions and certain drugs can all causes changes to the teeth.

If a tooth does not appear normal or changes in colour, it is important to have your pet’s mouth examined by the veterinarian to determine whether one or multiple teeth are affected. It is important to consider the pet’s age and stage of dental development and whether the dentition is deciduous, mixed or permanent. It is also important to note how long the tooth has been discoloured for. All these factors will help determine potential causes as well as treatment. Some conditions may need further testing, such as X-rays to help with the diagnosis.

What are the different causes of tooth discolouration?

Trauma – dogs can be quite persistent when chewing objects such as toys or bones. Some dogs get into a bad habit of chewing rocks or other very hard things. These can cause chips and fractures but can damage the tooth without breaking it. Accidents such as being hit by a car, or cats falling from a height, can also cause tooth trauma.

Initially the pulp becomes inflamed and bleeds. This results in a pink colour to the tooth and is referred to as pulpitis. The pulpitis may resolve and the tooth can return to normal but more commonly the tooth changes to purple, tan, brown, black or any intermediate colour. It can be painful initially but the pain usually resolves with time. The tooth often can become infected with bacteria and this infection can spread throughout the body.

Plaque – Just as with humans, animals can also suffer from plaque and calculi build up on teeth. Plaque formation is due to bacteria that naturally occur in the mouth that, together with the cells on the inside of the surface of the mouth which are replaced with new cells, create a film over the surface of the teeth. This film thickens and hardens with time. In very severe cases, it can cover the whole tooth. The bacteria present in plaque can penetrate below the gum line and start to affect the tooth root too.

Calculi – Calculi is the hard yellowish brown substance that “grows” on teeth when the plaque is not properly removed from the teeth and starts calcifying and hardening over a period of time. Imagine the results of not brushing your own teeth for months on end. The harder and more irregular the surface becomes, the more plaque tends to build up leading to a vicious cycle of the dental health deteriorating.

Foods and medications – some pigmented foods and certain medications can cause discolouration to teeth. Tetracyclines which is an antibiotic (which by the way is very rarely used these day any more) used in young dogs while the teeth are erupting cause a distinct yellow discolouration as they affect the formation of the enamel.

Systemic infection and fever – In young dogs and cats, illness while teeth are erupting can cause defects in the enamel. As the enamel is the protective layer of the tooth, any defect makes the rest of the tooth more susceptible to infection and damage. In some dogs, a distinct line in the enamel may be noted and this usually correlates to the time of infection.

Developmental conditions – amelogenesis imperfecta is a condition in which the enamel does not calcify enough and so is softer than it should be which may cause discolouration. Dentinogenesis imperfecta is a condition where the dentin does not develop properly and the structure and integrity of the tooth is compromised and once again may cause a change in colour of the affected teeth.

What can be done?

The treatment for discoloured teeth will depend on the cause. Sometimes all that needs to be done is a “dental” by the vet which entails an ultrsasonic scaling and polishing of the teeth to remove the plaque and calculi build up. Unfortunately with dogs and cats, this needs to be done under general anaesthetic as we cannot ask them to sit still and keep their mouths open. Brushing teeth with special pet tooth paste and giving dental treats and chews can delay the buildup of calculi but unfortunately some pets are more prone to developing dental calculi and plaque than others. In some cases, if the root is exposed or infected it will need to be extracted.

It is very important that if you do brush your pets’ teeth that you do not use human toothpaste but instead get a special veterinary toothpaste from your vet.

If the tooth is traumatised, some cases may require root canal treatment. This is where the pulp is cleaned out, disinfected and then filled with a hard substance that sets. This is not suitable in all cases and is considered a specialist dental procedure. In most cases the veterinarian will advise extraction of the affected tooth or teeth.

Defects in the enamel can be difficult to correct and manage. The vet should be equipped to deal with most of these conditions but may recommend that you seek a veterinary dental specialist’s advice for complicated cases. The veterinary dentist specialist may attempt to remove the affected enamel and apply a bonding agent but the success of this will depend on the extent of the lesions.

Discoloured teeth in animals instead of a “bright and healthy set of pearlies” in most instances indicate that something is wrong with the animal’s teeth. Always ask the vet for advice and rather be pro-active and have it addressed properly than wait and in the end let the animal lose their teeth.

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

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

What is reverse sneeze?

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

How to recognise a reverse sneeze:

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

Diagnosing reverse sneeze

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

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


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

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

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


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

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