Allergies to cats

What are allergies?

Allergies are your body’s immune system over-reacting to a substance or material that is innocuous and shouldn’t cause a reaction (referred to as an allergen). When the body then encounters this allergen it launches an excessive immune response resulting in symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, wheezing, itchy or swollen eyes, and rashes or hives.

How do cats cause allergies?

Allergies to pets are very common and allergies to cats are twice as common as to dogs. There are 8 allergens produced by cats of which secretoglobulin Fel d 1 is the most important. This substance is produced by sebaceous glands, anal glands and salivary glands in cats. It is found in the saliva and in cat dander and fur.

Which cat breeds are hypoallergenic?

These Fel d 1 allergens are present in all cats which means that unfortunately there is no such thing as a “hypoallergenic cat”. We do know however, that certain breeds of cats produce less Fel d 1, which means that they tend to elicit less severe symptoms in individuals allergic to cats.

It may seem counterintuitive, but many of the breeds that are considered less allergenic are long-haired cats. The theory is that the gene governing the production of Fel d 1 is associated with the gene for medium to long hair.

Studies have also found that female cats produce less allergens that males and that neutered males produce less than intact males.
Based on studies and owner experiences the following cat breeds are considered to be less allergenic:

  • Siberian
  • Balinese
  • Devon Rex
  • Cornish Rex
  • Abyssinian

How can I decrease my allergy symptoms with a cat in my household?

Apart from the breed you choose to own, there are also other methods to ameliorate symptoms of cat allergies.

  • Ensure that your cat is fed a high quality diet, particularly one high in Omega 3-and 6 fatty acids. These fatty acids help to promote healthy skin and coat and decrease dander being shed.
  • Ensure that your cats are treated against external parasites such as ticks, fleas and mites at all times to minimize scratching, which will release more dander into the air.
  • Consider choosing smooth flooring instead of carpeting and furnishings such as blinds instead of curtains. Carpets and soft furnishings, particularly those with a thick pile, are far more inclined to accumulate dander.
  • Vacuum clean your home regularly with a vacuum cleaner that filters fine particles (so that they are not simply recycled back into the air).
  • Clean hard furnishings and furniture with damp cloths, avoid feather dusters which will simply lift all the dust and dander back up into the air.
  • Air filters with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters will help to decrease allergens in the air.
  • Ensure good ventilation in the home.
  • Bathing your cat will decrease the amount of dander on their body and in the air. However the levels of dander will return back to normal on your cat within two days and the effect in the home is less than 24 hours. Bathing your cat every week or two may decrease the amount of allergens in your home over time.

Depending on the severity of your allergies, you can take antihistamines to treat the symptoms. Should you be planning on visiting a household with cats in, it would be beneficial to start taking antihistamines a few weeks before your visit.

If your symptoms are very severe, speak to your primary health care practitioner about allergen specific immunotherapy. This consists of periodic injections to gradually desensitize your body to a particular allergen. This type of gradual desensitization may explain why certain people with mild symptoms may develop tolerance to the cats in their household.

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

How to manage a pet that is having seizures

It’s a frightening experience to witness your dog or cat having a seizure. In everyday life, pets are conscious and aware of their owners, responding to your words and actions, but during a seizure, a dog or cat may be standing up or lying on their side, staring blankly, twitching, convulsing and drooling, or making some seemingly terrifying sounds. You may feel scared and helpless, not knowing what’s happening to your pet or what you can do to ease their seeming discomfort.

In this article, we’ll explore what pet seizures are, what the symptoms are, what triggers them, how they are diagnosed and what you can do to manage your pet’s seizures.

What is a pet seizure?

A seizure in a pet is a burst of abnormal brain activity or a temporary disruption of normal brain function. It results in the loss of control of an animal’s motor function, which is why their muscles stiffen and/or twitch or they experience convulsions. Having a seizure is fairly common in dogs, but rarer in cats. Seizures can be a once-off or they can happen fairly regularly, depending on the cause.

What causes seizures in pets?

Epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures in pets. When all other causes are ruled out, your pet may be diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy. ‘Idiopathic’ refers to the nature of the condition in that it happens spontaneously with an unknown cause. Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures in dogs younger than eight years old, but there may be other causes of seizures such as:

  • blood abnormalities: anaemia; low blood sugar; stroke; poor blood circulation in the brain; high or low blood pressure
  • head trauma
  • calcium deficiency
  • infectious disease
  • kidney or liver disease
  • brain tumour
  • poisoning/ingesting toxins

Most dog seizure conditions have genetic causes, while in cats, seizures are more commonly caused by disease, tumours, or traumatic head injury. Cat diseases that can cause seizures include feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), feline leukaemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), toxoplasmosis, and cryptococcus. Cats can also experience seizures when they’ve ingested toxins – such as pesticides or being given tick and flea medication that’s indicated for dogs – or due to metabolic disorders like diabetes.

What are the symptoms of pet seizures?

There may be different symptoms with different seizures, as no two experiences will be the same. Pets having a seizure may include some or most of the following signs and symptoms:

  • trembling, convulsing
  • standing motionless
  • running in circles
  • falling down
  • stiff legs/legs sticking straight out
  • paddling of limbs
  • staring/glazed look
  • drooling
  • persistent/rhythmic barking
  • loud vocalisation in cats
  • unprompted aggression
  • losing bowel control

What can trigger a seizure?

Seizures can be triggered by conditions that change the pet’s brain activity. From a drop in blood pressure or blood sugar, to the effect of liver and kidney function on the brain, to a pet’s excitement, reaction to feeding time, or falling asleep – there are many situations that may trigger a seizure.

Seizures caused by poisoning or an acute condition may be a once-off, while epileptic seizures can occur regularly, but with no warning signs.

Are seizures painful for pets?

Pet seizures are generally not painful for pets, even though it may look or sound like it. Seizures may be potentially harmful if they cause the pet to fall down a flight of stairs, run into something, or knock something over that can cause injury, but the seizure itself is not painful. Your pet may get confused or panic, but rest assured that they are not in pain.

What to do during a seizure

As a pet owner, you may want to do everything you can to prevent your pet’s discomfort during a seizure, but we recommend the following:

  • remain calm
  • keep your hands and face away from your pet’s mouth – they may bite
  • sit near your pet, but don’t try to touch or comfort them – they may be confused or panicked when they ‘come to’ and accidentally bite you
  • speak in a low, calm tone if you need to offer comfort
  • don’t worry about your pet swallowing their tongue – this won’t happen
  • do not touch your pet unless this is required to move them away from stairs or any objects with which they might injure themselves
  • time the seizure – this will give the vet important information with which to diagnose or monitor your pet’s condition
  • film the seizure – it may be difficult to re-experience, but filming your pet’s condition during the seizure will once again offer the vet critical information that will help with a diagnosis or monitoring your pet’s condition

If your pet has not yet been diagnosed with epilepsy or you have not seen the vet regarding their condition, it’s time for a veterinary appointment. Your pet’s seizure may last a few minutes, after which they will need some time for recovery. If they experience a seizure cluster, one seizure will follow another with a short recovery period in between. They may appear confused or exhausted afterwards. Once they have recovered enough to be transported, make an appointment with the vet for a thorough examination.

How are pet seizures diagnosed?

It is vital that you give the veterinarian as much information as possible about your pet’s seizure/s as well as their history, diet and lifestyle leading up to their first seizure. The vet may ask questions such as:

  • When did your pet experience their first seizure?
  • How long did it last?
  • Do the seizures occur frequently?
  • Have you noticed a pattern in the seizures, such as they occur only when your pet is excited, or after a meal, etc.?
  • Is your pet’s parasite medication up to date?
  • Do you think your pet has ingested something toxic (such as a poisoned rodent, rotten food, another animal’s faeces, etc.)?
  • Has your pet shown any other signs of illness or poorliness?

The vet will perform a physical examination of your pet and may do a full panel of blood tests to rule out any other possible illnesses that may be causing the seizures. X-rays and other imaging tests may be necessary, depending on each individual case.

How are pet seizures treated?

Treatment options will depend on the diagnosis reached. In the case of idiopathic epilepsy – the most commonly diagnosed cause of seizures in pets – treatment will focus on the underlying condition and reducing the risk of triggering seizures as well as reducing their severity. It is vital to follow the vet’s instructions for medicating and treating your pet. Any sudden changes to medication may worsen your pet’s condition or trigger more severe seizures.

Keep the vet up to date with your pet’s condition and record their symptoms and any information relating to their illness/seizures that would be relevant at your next visit to the vet.

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

Feline Asthma

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

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

Which cats get feline asthma?

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

What can aggravate feline asthma?

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

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

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

How do I know if my cat has feline asthma?

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

How do vets diagnose feline asthma?

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

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

Is feline asthma treatable?

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

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

What else can I do to help my asthmatic pet?

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

A few nuggets for pet owners to remember:

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

What is the prognosis for my cat?

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

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

Gastroenteritis in puppies

Gastrointestinal problems are some of the leading causes of visits to the vet. Puppies in particular are extremely prone to tummy upsets, which can have various causes. Gastroenteritis is the technical term used to describe an upset tummy and symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, poor appetite and, in serious cases, lethargy and collapse. Let’s look at what causes gastroenteritis in puppies.

Viral infections

The most common viruses that cause gastroenteritis in puppies are parvovirus (also called cat flu), distemper virus and canine coronavirus. Puppies pick up these viruses in the environment and from infected dogs. They are very contagious, which is why it is best to not allow your puppy out of the home or near dogs with an unknown vaccination history until they have completed their full course of puppy vaccinations.

Parvovirus causes the most severe symptoms and is often fatal if not treated aggressively in hospital. Distemper virus infections are less common in well-vaccinated communities; however, distemper can also be fatal. It is accompanied by respiratory tract infections and can progress to seizures at which stage euthanasia is recommended. Canine coronavirus (not to be confused with the human strains of coronavirus causing COVID-19) typically causes less severe illness. Puppy vaccinations are very important to prevent them from getting parvo- and distemper virus infections in particular. Crucially, puppies will only have high levels of immunity against canine parvovirus after the final vaccination at 16 weeks or older. Therefore, your puppy will remain at risk to this infection until after their last shot.

Parasitic infections

Parasites are another very common cause of gastroenteritis in puppies. The two most important microscopic parasitic infections are coccidiosis and giardiasis. Both of these are caused by single-cell organisms that live in the intestinal tract of most dogs. However, puppies do not have as effective an immune system as adult animals do, and will often become ill from these infections. Puppies get these infections from other dogs carrying the parasites and in the case of giardiasis, from an infected environment.

Intestinal worms are considered to be present in all puppies at birth as they often gain access to the puppies while in the mother’s womb as well as through her milk once they are born. The two most common worm infections in puppies are hookworms and ascariasis. These parasites can cause typical gastroenteritis symptoms, but also poor growth, pale gums and a distended abdomen.

Gastrointestinal foreign bodies

Much like human children, puppies will explore their environment by putting everything they can find into their mouths. Foreign objects that are swallowed may be small enough to pass through the entire gastrointestinal tract and out the back end without complications. However, they may also cause a partial or a complete obstruction or blockage of the intestinal tract. Foreign material that is able to move through the intestines may lead to some vomiting, diarrhoea or a poor appetite. Foreign objects stuck in the intestine create a life-threatening situation and need to speedily be surgically removed.

Food change

When puppies are adopted into their new homes, they will usually be given a different diet compared to what they are used to. All animals are prone to diarrhoea if their food is not transitioned gradually. For the first few days, we recommend feeding the puppy the food they are used to eating. Thereafter you can mix 25% of the new food with 75% of the current diet for five days. Then feed 50% of each food for five days. Thereafter feed 75% of the new diet with 25% of the previous diet for five days before changing over entirely to the new food.

Garbage disease

Garbage disease is a term we use to describe gastroenteritis that has occurred as a result of your puppy eating things they shouldn’t be eating. This need not mean just digging in the garbage. It can refer to a puppy eating insects in the garden, picking up bones and scraps of discarded food in the park or even material like grass and leaves. Therefore it is important to put precautionary measures in place to prevent your puppy from accessing rubbish bins and supervise them very closely when taking them on walks.

Dietary indiscretion

Although it may be very tempting to share your snacks with your puppy, it is important to never feed puppies foods that are not designed for them. Human food can contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs such as onion, garlic and xylitol. You should also take care not to overfeed with dog treats. Your puppy must get the majority of their nutrition from a well-balanced dog food. Treats can be given once or twice during the day. If used for training, ensure that the treats you use are as small as possible, so that they do not overeat on them. Remember that by a couple of weeks of age most puppies will have become intolerant of dairy products, so it is not a good idea to give milk to puppies.

When do I go see my vet?

When you get your puppy, take them to the vet as soon as possible for a general health check. The vet can assess your puppy for health problems and help you address them before they become serious. Vaccinations and treatments for worms, ticks and fleas can also be administered if they have not yet been given. At this visit, it is recommended to allow the veterinarian to test for the common intestinal parasites, even if your puppy is not showing symptoms. In this way parasite problems can be addressed before they make your puppy very ill.

Puppies are at higher risk than adult dogs for becoming dehydrated if they are ill. If your puppy has vomited repeatedly and is not eating, you should seek immediate veterinary care. If your puppy has vomited once or twice and has diarrhoea, but is still eating, it is potentially not as serious and emergency treatment may not be necessary. However, any puppy that is showing symptoms of gastroenteritis should be seen by a veterinarian to rule out life-threatening illnesses and give the appropriate treatments. A ‘wait-and-see’ approach is not advised, particularly not with puppies who do not yet have the appropriate defence against illness.

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

Seasonal allergies in pets

All domestic animals can react to the changes of the season – just like some humans do. During late winter, early springtime, when the climate is dry and windy, there is a lot of dust and pollen in the air. Humans as well as our pets inhale these particles or pets brush up against skin irritants, which can lead to seasonal allergies.

Let’s explore the symptoms of seasonal allergies in pets, what triggers the allergic reaction, and how to treat seasonal allergies in dogs and cats.

Symptoms of seasonal allergies in dogs and cats

If your pet is exhibiting one or more of the following symptoms and/or behaviours, it is likely that they are experiencing a reaction to a seasonal allergen:

  • coughing, sneezing, wheezing
  • snoring or abnormal respiratory noise
  • itchy, inflamed eyes; watery eyes
  • ear infections
  • red, inflamed or dry, flaky skin
  • swollen, sensitive paws; compulsive paw licking
  • excessive grooming; abnormal licking
  • excessive shedding
  • excessive scratching
  • vomiting and/or diarrhoea

Some pets are not only allergic to seasonal allergens like pollen, dust and grass, but may also react to general allergens like mites, mould and mildew. These pets will be more sensitive to allergens when there is a greater load in their environment (like when the seasons change), but they may also show these symptoms at other times of the year.

What triggers seasonal allergies in pets?

In general, allergic reactions occur in the body when the immune system recognises a foreign substance (dust, pollen, mould spores, etc.) and launches a defence against this substance, even though these rather benign substances are not biologically harmful. It quickly creates antibodies to fend off the foreign substance, triggering the release of histamines, and deploys inflammatory responses to prevent the foreign substance from entering our system. Inflammation in the skin, sinuses, airways, eyes, ears and even in the digestive system are prime examples of immune reactions.

Seasonal allergies in our pets occur when their bodies are reacting to an excess amount of dust and pollen. Their immune reaction to those foreign substances causes them to sneeze, scratch, tear, sniffle, and sometimes even vomit. However, not all pets develop seasonal allergies – in the same way that not all humans are sensitive to pollen and dust. It’s all down to our genes; some immune systems are simply more sensitive to allergens than others.

Do I need to take my allergic pet to the veterinarian?

Generally, most pets with seasonal allergies have dry, itchy skin, the sneezes, and if they are susceptible to ear infections, these will flare up. Soothing, conditioning baths with medicated shampoos as well as applying nourishing or prescription lotions can help with mild reactions. However, some pets will scratch until they break their skin, which can cause secondary infections or a sore spot that doesn’t heal.

In instances where pets are very unhappy because of their symptoms (their quality of life is affected) or if they have trouble breathing, sleeping or eating – i.e. the allergic reaction is severe – then it’s time to take them to the vet.

How will the vet diagnose my pet’s allergies?

During a consultation, the veterinarian will assess your pet’s physical symptoms. It will help a great deal if you can give the vet a timeline of when the symptoms (scratching, sneezing, etc.) first appeared and how severe they may have become. Have you noticed a difference in your pet’s eating and elimination patterns? Have you recently changed their bedding or introduced a new toy or treat? What other changes can you think of?

To rule out any other problems that may be causing these symptoms (such as flea and food allergies), and to confirm that the allergies are what they appear to be (a reaction to seasonal allergens), the vet will perform an intradermal skin test – or what we know as a skin-prick test. This involves injecting a tiny amount of known allergens under your pet’s skin and if the skin becomes red, inflamed and swells, it indicates a positive immune response to the allergen. The vet then uses this confirmation to formulate a treatment plan to reduce your pet’s symptoms and reaction to the allergies.

The vet may also refer you to a pet dermatologist for further testing and treatment.

How are seasonal allergies in pets treated?

The treatment plan for seasonal allergies will vary from one pet to another, and depends on the severity of the allergic reaction. For mild reactions, the vet may prescribe oral antihistamines or recommend over-the-counter medications to help manage symptoms. Your friends and family might suggest various remedies that worked for their pets’ allergies, but ALWAYS check with the vet before giving your pet any medications.

Soothing, anti-itch sprays and creams may help to control the topical symptoms while you are helping to build up your pet’s immunity. Oatmeal baths with skin-moisturising properties can also help to relieve itchiness and dry, flaky skin.

For severe reactions (which have been diagnosed with proper dermatological testing), the pet dermatologist or veterinarian will prescribe an allergy serum. The serum is injected in small doses and gradually increased over time to allow your pet to build up immunity against the allergen and reduce the severity of their allergic symptoms.

How can I prevent my pet’s allergies from flaring up?

Prevention is better than cure, but when it comes to an allergic reaction in our pets, prevention can be a bit tricky. Pollen, dust and other allergens in the environment cannot simply be removed, but there are a few things pet owners can do to alleviate their pets’ symptoms.

  • Try to keep susceptible cats indoors during high-allergen times of the year.
  • Use a dust-free variety of cat litter, to give your cat’s respiratory system a break.
  • Do not smoke around pets.
  • If your allergic dog’s play area is on a lawn, it’s likely that he’ll react to the grass and pollen. Take him for walks on a pavement or road instead and see if it reduces his symptoms. Allergen load is usually highest in the mornings and early evenings, so try walking your dog in the middle of the day (if it’s not too hot) to see if he’s less reactive.
  • Giving pets more frequent baths or thorough wipe-downs with medicated wipes will help to remove most of the allergens from their coats and reduce allergic reactions.
  • Bath pets with lukewarm water, as hot water can irritate the skin even more. Medicated shampoos can soothe and cool hot, angry skin as they contain antihistamines and steroids, which can reduce inflammatory symptoms.
  • Clean their coats and paws each time they come indoors, to prevent them from tracking pollen, dust, spores and other allergens all over the house and creating more exposure. Try to make indoors as allergen-free as possible.
  • Vacuum and clean more frequently during high-allergen seasons, especially on and around your pets’ beds and play areas.
  • Support and strengthen your pets’ immune system with a healthy, high-quality diet, supplemented with pre- and probiotics, vitamins, minerals and enzymes that will boost their vitality and wellbeing.
  • Speak to the vet about the best preventative protocol for your pet, as all pets will require a different approach to help reduce or manage their symptoms.

Are some pets more susceptible to seasonal allergies than others?

Seasonal allergies are the luck of the draw for pets, but some dog breeds have been shown to be more vulnerable than others: brachycephalic dog breeds like pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers and Pekingese are susceptible because of their very short airways, but other breeds like setters, terriers, German shepherds, shar-peis and retrievers are also high on the allergy list. 

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Sensitivity to anaesthesia

At some time in their lives, most pets will need to undergo medical procedures that require them to be sedated and placed under anaesthesia. From teeth cleaning procedures, spaying and neutering, to surgical procedures for repairing fractures, removing obstructions from the digestive tract, repairing torn ligaments, etc.; these procedures cannot be done while the animal is conscious.

However, not all pets can tolerate anaesthetic drugs. There are a few dogs whose size, pedigree, and even rare genetic mutations can cause them to have adverse reactions to anaesthesia as well as the pre- and post-anaesthetic process. That being said, there is no way to predict which dogs will be sensitive to anaesthesia. Each veterinarian will assess and treat each individual animal based on their own unique make-up, age, and health status.

Can dogs be allergic to anaesthetic drugs?

Some dogs will have an allergic or anaphylactic reaction to anaesthetic drugs. Fortunately, the chance of this happening is only on in 100,000 – or 0.001% – and if it does, the allergic reaction could be as mild as some skin swelling or as severe as anaphylactic shock. Most allergic cases are mild and the risk of death is very, very low.

An allergic reaction is very different to anaesthetic sensitivity, which has a genetic component, and can also be related to the age and conformation (shape) of the dog.

Which dogs are sensitive to anaesthesia?

The dog breeds most commonly associated with sensitivity to anaesthesia are the sighthounds like greyhounds, saluki, Afghan hounds, whippets, borzoi, and deerhounds – with greyhounds getting the most press when it comes to anaesthesia sensitivity.

Sighthounds in general (and greyhounds in particular) are given special consideration when it comes to anaesthesia. Their lean physiology with low body fat gives them a high surface-area-to-volume ratio, which can cause hypothermia during anaesthesia as well as during the recovery period. They also have lower serum protein concentration in their bodies, and since anaesthetic drugs are protein-bound, this can increase the effects of the anaesthetic. These extremely deep-chested dogs are just built differently and it’s their conformation that affects how medications are redistributed in their bodies. Sighthounds also have lower amounts of the liver enzymes responsible for metabolising drugs and processing toxins. This results in these medications being expelled more slowly from their system, delaying the recovery from anaesthesia, which can be dangerous.

Does this mean greyhounds can’t go under anaesthetic?

No. Advancements in veterinary medicine as well as each individual dog’s physiology and health baseline mean that greyhounds can still be effectively treated under anaesthesia. Special protocols for delivering pre-medication and anaesthetic drugs have been developed for sighthounds and other dogs with anaesthesia sensitivity.

Are sighthounds the only dogs with anaesthesia sensitivity?

No. In 2020, scientists at Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine discovered that the same genetic mutation in sighthounds that caused a lower production of liver enzymes, was also present in other dog breeds like Labradors and golden retrievers. One in 50 golden retrievers, one in 300 Labradors and around one in 3,000 mixed breed dogs were seen to have this mutation. Lower levels of liver enzyme CYP2B11 has implications for the processing of all medications – not only anaesthetic drugs – so it’s important for these pet owners and their vets to take this into consideration for any treatment.

Herding breeds like border collies, rough and smooth collies, Australian shepherds, Shetland sheepdogs and Old English sheepdogs can be born with a genetic mutation for multi-drug resistance, or the MDR1 gene. The presence of this mutation results in the drugs accumulating in the central nervous system (including the brain). This has severe implications for anaesthetic drugs, which can cause over-sedation and compromise the dogs’ breathing. Pet owners with these breeds can ask the vet about testing for the MDR1 gene as a precaution against anaesthesia sensitivity and drug accumulation.

Dog breed size and anaesthetic sensitivity

There are implications for both toy breeds and giant breed dogs when it comes to anaesthesia sensitivity. For small dogs, it’s not so much the anaesthetic drugs that the dogs are sensitive to, but the increased risks of placing such small breeds under anaesthesia. Their tiny blood vessels are not as easy to access for the placement of the intravenous catheter, compared to larger dogs. They may also be more prone to hypothermia during anaesthesia, but there are measures that can be used to minimise heat loss and reduce the risk. Similarly, their small size makes them more difficult to monitor while under anaesthesia and challenges the accuracy of the readings.  

Giant breeds have a different rate of drug metabolism compared to other size dogs, and they actually require lower dosages of anaesthetic drugs than small, medium and large breeds. This shows that it is important that each individual dog is treated with a drug protocol in general, and an anaesthetic protocol in particular, to suit their unique health profile.

Some giant breed dogs may be sensitive to anaesthesia simply because giant breeds reach their senior years faster than smaller dogs. Senior dogs may have a more difficult time processing and expelling medication because of impaired organ function in their ageing bodies.

Are brachycephalic dogs sensitive to anaesthesia?

Brachycephalic dogs – those with ‘flat’ faces, short airways, an elongated palate, and different laryngeal and tracheal structures – are not necessarily more sensitive to anaesthesia than other dogs. Anaesthesia is just a bit riskier for them because of their existing respiratory challenges. Their already compromised airways can narrow even more and cut off their air supply altogether, so brachycephalic dogs need to be intubated to ensure a consistent supply of air.

The moments before intubation and the period after extubation are critical when it comes to brachycephalic breeds. The vet needs to ensure the dog is breathing normally without the tube and there are no obstructions in the airway. These dogs can get into respiratory trouble very quickly, so this adds an extra facet to the usual risks of anaesthesia.

If you are concerned about your dog’s risks during anaesthesia, do not let this put you off having medical procedures like teeth-cleaning and spaying or neutering done. Speak to the vet about your concerns and they will be able to devise a protocol for safe anaesthesia based on your dog’s specific needs.

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Domestic pet poisoning

Poisoning is a common occurrence in domestic animals like dogs and cats. The most widely observed route of poisoning is via the mouth (orally), but topical poisoning and other routes of intoxication are also possible. No matter the route of poisoning, it’s critical to treat each individual case of poisoning as a matter of urgency, as some poisons could be life-threatening for the pet. In this article, we give an overview of the most commonly encountered poisons in private practice in this part of the world.

What is poisoning?

For our purposes, poisoning is defined as any substance that is ingested or absorbed via the skin, which causes harmful effects in a dog or cat. The substances that are poisonous to pets can range from regular human medications (over the counter, prescription and/or vitamins); human food that is not supposed to be fed to animals such as chocolates or grapes; pesticides; plants; or topical tick and flea treatment that is incorrectly used on the wrong species of pet.

How will I know if my pet has been poisoned?

There is often a rapid onset of the effects of poisons when the toxic dosage has been met – i.e. it will show quickly when your pet has ingested something poisonous. An exception to this is warfarin, which is used in rat poisons. This is a slow-acting poison that, if ingested by your pet, will only show symptoms up to a week or more later. In poisoning cases that are brought to the vet, pet owners usually report a sudden onset of symptoms, presence of the suspected poison in the home environment, rumours of recent malicious activity in the neighbourhood and, most importantly, definite reports of confirmed exposure to the poison; for example, seeing the animal eating the poison.

Common symptoms of poisoning

Signs of poisoning differ between the affected systems. Common symptoms of poisoning include excessive salivation, foaming at the mouth, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle tremors and/or seizures, as well as abnormal bleeding. At other times the pet might show non-specific signs. However, as mentioned before, a suspicion of poisoning can be made given the sudden onset of the signs fitting poisoning.

Different types of poisoning

  1. Rat poisons

Rat poisons are the most common poisons encountered in practice. Rat poisoning cases can be both as a result of accidental consumption in the home or when visiting neighbours and family, or malicious activity. There are two main types of rat poisoning: a slow-acting poison that affects blood clotting and a fast-acting poison that affects the nervous system as well as exerting effects on the digestive tract. Both types of poisons can prove to be fatal if the specific antidote is not given in time.

RATTEX (warfarin/coumarin) is an example of a poison that affects blood clotting. Usually, if the pet is not seen consuming this type of poison, symptoms will begin to show after a week. The pet can be lethargic and anaemic, as well as have abnormal bleeding. Blood tests are usually performed as part of the diagnosis and treatment monitoring. In general, pets begin to show signs of improvement once the specific antidote is started. Treatment can continue for up to three weeks depending on each case.

Organophosphate and ‘two-step’ poison are examples of poisons that affect the nervous system. These poisons are highly potent and fast-acting. In cases of malicious poisoning, with high dosages of poison being delivered in food, the pet is usually found dead within an hour of ingesting laced food. There is an antidote for this poison, which is beneficial when administered in time. In-hospital care is required for this type of poisoning.

  1. Human medicines

What is very good for the pet owner is often not the best thing for the pets. Human medicines are notorious in animal poisoning cases. They are easily accessible to pets, which means they become common causes of poisoning in animals. Human medicines that can be harmful to pets include painkillers, vitamins and supplements. They can result in kidney injury, gastric ulceration, bone marrow suppression, cardiac function depression, and sometimes, particularly in female unsprayed dogs, female reproductive problems. Given the vastness of the potential effects of human medicines, symptoms are quite diverse and will depend on the specific medication consumed. To further complicate the situation, some effects are not seen immediately and can possibly take a couple of months before being evident. This means the connection between the pet’s symptoms and the consumption of human medicine might be missed.     

  1. Human food

Human food consumed by dogs and cats can also cause pet poisoning. Grapes, chocolate, xylitol, alcohol and macadamia nuts are notorious for poisoning pets. Several other products can also cause poisoning in animals; lists of which are found on the national poison database. Again, depending on the food product consumed, signs of food toxicity can range from diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea, to hyperactivity, tremors, seizures, hypoglycaemia, renal failure and/or death. In general, the vet can induce vomiting if the pet consumed the toxic food less than two hours prior.

  1. Plant poisoning

Different types of toxic plants exist in our home environments. Toxic plants can include flowers or other ornamental shrubs and trees. These plants can cause various detrimental effects in our pets, ranging from localised mouth and tongue reactions, liver damage and liver failure, kidney injury and/or failure, and heart failure. Plant poisoning in dogs and cats can prove to be extremely difficult to diagnose in practice unless the pet owner mentions clues when speaking to the vet. Diagnostic tests can make the case work-up easier and provide a better outcome for the pet. Since there are no antidotes to plant poisonings, pets will be treated for their symptoms and their health managed accordingly.

The elephant leaf garden plant is an example of a plant poison that causes localised irritation and swelling in the mouth and tongue. This type of poisoning is often seen in puppies who will chew at everything they can get to out of curiosity. Treatment is mainly targeted at managing the symptoms and often carries a good prognosis.

Cycad seeds are notorious for causing liver problems in dogs. Usually, pets are presented to the vet showing gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting, increased thirst and profuse salivation. Bloodwork will show evidence of liver disease. In other instances, symptoms are non-specific until a diagnosis is reached following a thorough history-taking and relevant blood test results.

What to do if your pet is poisoned

Simple: take your pet to the vet! If you cannot get to the vet’s office immediately, phone in and ask for advice.

If you have just witnessed your pet consuming poison (within the last two hours or less), quickly get your pet to the vet to induce vomiting – if applicable. In the case of anticoagulant poisons like warfarin, it’s neither wise nor helpful to induce vomiting, as ingestion and digestion would have occurred days before. Depending on the oral poison ingested, it can sometimes be helpful to give your pet activated charcoal to reduce the amount of poison being absorbed. If your pet has just been exposed to a topical poison, the best would be to wash the area on the skin to decontaminate it and reduce the amount of poison being absorbed. Thereafter, rush your pet in for emergency care at the veterinary hospital.  

If your pet is experiencing seizures, it is important to protect them from inadvertently injuring themselves. Keep them in a padded area that is free of sharp protruding objects.

If you know which poison your pet has ingested, take the packaging with you, as this will be useful to the vet. It will save a lot of time unnecessarily searching for diagnostic clues and researching other symptoms and effects to anticipate.

Case management at the veterinarian

A case of poisoning is always addressed as an emergency until an antidote is given and the pet patient is stable. Following the collection of a relevant, brief and concise case history by the vet, any of three main routes might be elected. These include:

  1. Inducing vomiting and stomach washing
  2. Giving the antidote if available, and
  3. Case workup to identify exact systems affected and hopefully the exact cause of poisoning.

Once a diagnosis is reached, treatment is given along with the necessary case monitoring. Patient follow-ups are also very important, and this is where adhering to the vet’s recommendations will be beneficial to the pet.


Prognosis with poisoning cases is case dependent. However, factors that could improve the prognosis of each case include early diagnosis and intervention, the availability (and timely use) of an antidote, and the proper post-treatment follow-up. When dealing with poisons without antidotes, a good response to treatment without permanent vital organ damage usually carries a good prognosis. Prognosis is therefore poor when there is no (or delayed) intervention, as well as damage to vital organs, which could prove detrimental.

As a pet owner, you are encouraged to be vigilant about your pet’s access to potentially poisonous materials. Should they end up in the unfortunate position of being accidentally poisoned, do not rely on home remedies to treat your pet – rather get them to the vet as soon as possible.

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

Acute Abdomen

Now and again pet owners are faced with emergency situations when their pets are suddenly in severe belly pain. Unexpectedly, both the owner and the pet are in a moment of anxiety and distress. So what could possibly be going on? This sudden severe belly pain is what veterinarians call an acute abdomen.

What is acute abdomen?

Acute means to happen suddenly, while the abdomen is the lower part of the trunk of the body, often referred to as the belly. The term acute abdomen refers to sudden pain in the belly. This sudden, severe pain in an animal’s belly should be treated as an emergency and requires immediate evaluation and response by the vet.

Pet owners will often report that their dog or cat was fine yesterday or earlier in the day before showing the sudden signs of terrible belly pain. The pain could arise from any of the following:

  • gastrointestinal tract (GIT) and inner lining of the abdominal body wall
  • other organs in the abdominal cavity (liver, pancreas, spleen, kidneys, reproductive tract, lymph nodes, diaphragm)
  • muscle and skin around the abdominal cavity
  • emanating from other systems outside the abdominal area such as back pain.

Acute abdomen can be life-threatening and should be considered an emergency.

What will I see if my pet has an acute abdomen?

Since there are so many possible causes of acute abdomen, it is not surprising that its symptoms will be equally diverse. Further complicating the situation is the fact that the symptoms may be non-specific to any one particular cause. So, how can a pet owner judge from home that their pet is in a crisis situation? To help pet owners reach the decision to take their pet to the vet for examination, below is a summary of possible symptoms of acute abdomen.

Pet owners should look out for:

  • restlessness
  • unusual panting
  • arching of the back
  • body posture changes such as assuming the praying position (with their front legs on the ground and their rear end in the air)
  • retching or trying to vomit without success
  • loss of appetite
  • marked sensitivity when owners attempt to stroke their pets in the belly area
  • distention of the belly such as with advanced pregnancy, or when there is a marked accumulation of fluids in the abdominal cavity

With very painful conditions or when shock sets in, the respiratory rate and heart rate might be elevated and there may be a loss of colour in the mucous membranes.

What can cause an acute abdomen?

Acute abdomen can be caused by problems in any of the various systems located inside and/or (less frequently) outside the abdominal cavity. Potential causes of the syndrome range from injury, infection, swelling or inflammation, blockages in organ systems, to cancer.


The pet owner may have missed potential injury or incidents of trauma. Forces from a kick, bump or a fall can lead to organs shifting to unusual positions in the body, which would normally be impossible for a pet owner to realise. These incidents can cause excruciating pain. Examples of this include diaphragmatic hernias, where internal organs punch up into the chest cavity and cannot slip back out. This is commonly seen when a pet is bumped by a car.

GIT obstruction

Pain in the belly can also originate from the GIT. Blockages in the stomach or intestines can be caused when objects such as toys or bones are swallowed whole. Pain and injury to these organs can occur when the stomach or intestines twist around themselves or even ‘telescope’. Other organs such as the spleen can also twist in association with the stomach torsion – another emergency and cause of acute abdomen in itself.


Life-threatening inflammatory conditions affecting the liver or pancreas are also frequently seen as causes of acute abdomen. Pancreatitis or liver disease (abscesses or cancer, as examples) are also a common cause of acute abdomen.

Examples of other possible causes of this syndrome include peritonitis, stomach ulcers, kidney disease and infections and cancer of the reproductive tract – in both male and female patients. Disc disease (back pain) is an example of pain outside the abdomen that can present as acute abdomen. 

What should I do if I suspect my pet has an acute abdomen?

Severe belly pain should be treated as a medical emergency. Take your pet to the nearest vet ASAP. Any delay can have fatal consequences.

What can I expect when I get to the vet?

Sequence of events at the veterinary hospital:

Upon arrival at the veterinary hospital, the patient will be attended to as an emergency in line with the pet owner’s complaint. The vet will then seek to confirm if the symptoms are truly suggestive of acute abdomen.

To confirm the vet’s speculation of acute abdomen, the pet owner would need to give an accurate and detailed history of the pet’s condition and lifestyle. The vet will ask many in-depth questions to get a better idea of the pet’s medical history and what might be causing their discomfort. Information will be requested regarding the names of current medications the pet is receiving, recent abdominal surgery the pet would have undergone, time estimate of when they noticed signs of pain or distress as well as the progression of the symptoms. As much as it might feel like an interrogation by the vet, this detailed information assists in speeding up the process of providing the best care for the pet.

Depending on initial findings by the vet, some pets would require stabilisation before he can do a more thorough physical examination. Once this examination is completed, a diagnostic workup plan is designed by the vet and discussed with the owner. The findings from the diagnostic tests performed will inform the staff on how best to care for the pet patient. The best care for the patient with acute abdomen can only be achieved through in-hospital care for a couple of days.

Which steps will my veterinarian take in order to find the problem?

Acute abdomen affects other body systems apart from the gut. Systems that put the patient’s life at risk that are commonly affected are the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, central nervous system, renal (kidney) system and the hepatic (liver) system. Blood tests will assist in providing an overview of the state of health of most systems. Imaging (x-ray and ultrasound scan) of the abdomen and chest areas also forms part of the diagnostic tests.

Depending on what is found on these tests, the vet may recommend surgical intervention. This may include an exploratory laparascopy where all the organs can be visualised and surgically corrected where appropriate. A host of other tests might be ordered if deemed necessary for the survival of the patient. Some tests might be repeated in the days to follow as part of monitoring the patient’s response to treatment.

How is acute abdomen treated?

A good diagnostic workup informs the decision on how to treat or manage the case. Having a diagnosis helps to categorise whether the case will be managed medically, as a surgical emergency, or as a delayed surgical case requiring the patient to be stabilised before undergoing surgery. Fluid replacement in the form of a drip is generally advocated in all cases of acute abdomen as it aids in supporting the heart and blood pressure. Medical management entails the use of appropriate drugs to relieve the patient from pain, treat infections, and addressing other possible symptoms such as stopping vomiting and diarrhoea. Surgery is reserved for cases that require surgical intervention for survival.


Acute abdomen is a medical and/or surgical emergency in which time is of the essence. Early intervention improves the chances of the pet’s survival. Unfortunately, due to the broad possible causes of presenting signs, proper management of each case relies heavily on a thorough diagnostic workup. Good pet owner cooperation with the veterinary teams at the hospital is of paramount importance, and dare I say, could be the difference between life and death.

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My dog has what looks like a red cherry stuck in the corner of its eye

Introduction to cherry eye

Prolapsed gland of the third eyelid

A cherry eye is a non-life-threatening condition that occurs in dogs, and less often in some cat breeds.  It is an extremely descriptive term, as one can see an oval, bright red swelling in the inside corner of an affected dog’s or cat’s eye, resembling a cherry. As a pet owner one can easily become quite alarmed by seeing this, but fortunately, it only causes slight irritation to the dog initially and you will have time to attend to it and take your animal to the vet before the condition gets out of hand. It is never a good idea to just leave it be. The condition tends to occur more commonly in younger dogs and cats, usually between the ages of 2 and 6 years.

How does it happen that an animal develops a cherry eye?

A cherry eye is in actual fact a protrusion (or bulging out) of the gland of what is colloquially called the third eyelid. Dogs and cats have three eyelids, the top and bottom lids that close up and down over the eyeball as in humans, and then a third eyelid, otherwise called the nictitating membrane underneath the upper and lower eyelids. If you press on the eyeball through the upper eyelid, you will notice the third eyelid moving across the ball of the eye from the inside corner of the eye towards the outside corner of the eye.  This eyelid contains a gland that produces up to 30% of the tear production of the eye. The third eyelid provides extra protection to the animal’s eye and keeps the eye moist. The gland in the nictitating membrane is anchored to the corner of the eye by a connective tissue band. For reasons unknown, this connective tissue starts to weaken and the gland slips out of its pocket. If this happens, the gland is exposed to sun, wind, dust, and trauma from the outside. The gland becomes red and swollen, and eventually painful, due to inflammation. One or both eyes may be affected at the same time. The most common breeds affected by this condition are Beagles, Bulldogs, Spaniels, Shih Tzus, Pekingese, and other brachiocephalic (flat-faced) breeds. The condition is rare in cats but Burmese and Persians seem to have a higher incidence of cherry eye.

Other clinical signs associated with cherry eye.

You will quickly notice the red swelling in the corner of your animal’s eye. Other signs that you might notice are a mucoid discharge from the eye and/or redness in the tissue surrounding the eye, called conjunctivitis. Your pet might also show you he/she is experiencing discomfort by pawing at the eye or rubbing his/her face against objects. This can cause even more trauma to the exposed gland.

Course of action with cherry eye

Due to the fact that some dogs don’t seem phased by the popped out gland, some owners might opt to leave it like that. Not treating the gland may however cause more serious problems to the affected eye in years to come. As more damage is inflicted onto the popped out gland, the amount and quality of tear film that protects the eye will decrease causing chronic inflammation and irritation to the eye. The best would be to get treatment of the infected cornea eye as soon as possible. The vet will examine the eye closely and will usually recommend replacing the gland surgically. The vet may stain the cornea with a fluorescein stain to check for ulcers on the eye itself that might have occurred during protrusion of the gland. A few decades ago, it was common practice to remove the gland surgically when it protruded. This is not the practice any longer because by removing a gland that produces tears, the affected eye can dry out causing a condition called keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or more commonly referred to as ‘dry eye’. It is therefore no longer recommended to remove the gland surgically, unless the gland is so traumatised that it will lose its function in any case. Replacing the gland into its original position is usually done under general anaesthesia by anchoring the gland in its pocket with suture material. For an experienced veterinary surgeon it is a relatively easy surgical procedure to perform. The most common complication is a re-occurrence of the cherry eye and trauma to the cornea by suture. If the condition re-occurs it certainly does not mean that the vet did a hopeless job. Between 5 and 20% of dogs have a recurrence of the condition after the surgery. The reason is that the gland can protrude and prolapse to the other side where the sutures were not placed. If it happens the procedure just has to be repeated. There is no way of predicting whether your pet will be one of the unlucky ones where the condition recurs after the initial surgery.


It is not clear why the connective tissue of the third eyelid housing the tear gland weakens causing a cherry eye other than that there seems to be hereditary component.  It is therefore not recommended to breed with affected dogs. Taking your dog to be examined by the vet as soon as you see the signs of cherry eye, can save you a whole lot of problems with your pet’s eyes later in his/her life, and even save his or her eyesight.

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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.  

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