Every year, at Donaldson’s Vets, we see dozens of dogs with sore feet during periods of cold weather.
Dogs’ feet are incredibly well adapted to covering all sorts of terrain – with a thick horny pad to give protection over rough surfaces and claws which act like a set of crampons to grip on slippery surfaces. The hair that sits between the pads will give thermal insulation to the more sensitive skin.
But even dogs’ feet can become chapped and sensitised by extreme cold. The snow can form solid lumps of ice in the hair between the pads and can continue to chill the skin after the walk has ended if not dealt with properly.
In extreme cold, the body restricts blood flow to the peripheral areas to help to maintain the core body temperature. This useful short term mechanism can starve the periphery of oxygen and actually start to damage the feet if the temperature does not increase quickly. Effectively, your dog can get frostbite.
The cracked, inflamed skin between the pads is made much worse by the presence of rock salt which is highly irritant. The combination of cracked skin, salt irritation and then self trauma as your dog attempts to clean the area, can lead to painful paws and is a common cause of lameness at this time of the year.
What to do
If it is particularly cold and frosty or if there is snow on the ground, try to limit your dog’s exposure to the snow and ice. If you have been anywhere that rocksalt has been spread, bathe the feet thoroughly in some clean warm water. Check between the pads for any accumulation of ice or grit and dab the feet dry with a soft towel. Always avoid scrubbing the feet when drying them as this can make them more inflamed.
With a little extra care, both you and your dog can enjoy wonderful winter walks!
Last Monday morning, surgery was suddenly interrupted when a collapsed German Shepherd Dog called Ziggy was rushed in.
Ziggy is a fine looking breeding bitch and had suffered complications in labour over the weekend, when a pup became stuck. A routine caesarean operation had been performed and when awake from the anaesthetic, Ziggy and her new pups were discharged.
When Ziggy was brought in on Monday, she was very ill. Her gums were very pale and her temperature was below normal. She was unable to stand and her breathing was very fast and shallow. It was clear that unless we acted quickly, Ziggy was not strong enough to hold on much longer.
I admitted Ziggy and the nursing team and I quickly started her treatment. Firstly, we inserted an intravenous catheter and set up a drip. We used a special fluid called a plasma volume expander to help to support her circulation. I also took a blood sample from her. The sample was rushed to our in-house laboratory and tested using the biochemistry and haematology analysers. Results were processed within 6 minutes. The test confirmed that Ziggy was extremely anaemic. An ultrasound scan was performed on her abdomen where we could see free fluid. Ziggy was then prepared for a procedure called abdominocentesis which involves a sampling needle being passed into her abdomen and we were able to confirm that the fluid in her abdomen was blood.
German Shepherd dogs can have a defect in their blood clotting mechanism which reduces their ability to form blood clots, in a similar way to people with haemophilia. Samples were taken to investigate her clotting ability and they confirmed that Ziggy did indeed have a clotting defect. The blood supply to the womb of a pregnant bitch is enormous to support the growing pups and I was suspicious that there was continued blood loss from the womb because her blood would not clot properly.
The difficulty was how to deal with the problem. Ziggy was too weak to anaesthetise and attempting further surgery would be likely to disturb any fragile clots that had formed. After discussion with the owner, we made the difficult decision not to undertake further surgery, but to manage Ziggy’s circulation with a blood transfusion and further I.V fluids.
Slowly, over a period of days, Ziggy has gradually improved. Fortunately, while still reduced, she does have some clotting ability and at the end of the week, she was able to go home. She will, of course, have to avoid further surgery where possible in the future, and special precautions will need to be taken if this necessity arises.
Bramble, our 3 year old black Labrador’s puppies are 6 weeks old now. They are growing at a phenomenal rate. Each day, I leave for work in the morning and I am sure that they are larger and more energetic when I get home than when I left.
Bramble is incredibly proud of her 6 puppies and is always attentive, but her enthusiasm for feeding the puppies has gradually declined as their tooth length has increased. Now that the puppies’ canine teeth have emerged her enthusiasm has diminished even further. We started the puppies on cereal and puppy milk about 3 weeks ago and now they are eating complete puppy biscuits with huge enthusiasm. As their solids intake has increased, the work involved in keeping them on clean bedding has increased exponentially.
Around the time that the puppies started eating solids, we moved their bed into the kitchen so that they had lots of social contact and over the Christmas period, when our house was busy with visitors, the puppies had lots of socialisation from visitors old and young.
Mostly, the puppies spend their time in a pen in the kitchen which keeps them safe and warm and controls where they toilet. When we get them out of the pen, their characters shine through as they investigate the kitchen. The world is a fascinating place as they start to explore and understand their surroundings. Initially, they were attracted to the kitchen chairs and would stand under them trying to suckle from the underside of the seat. They also tried to suckle from our 1 year old chocolate Labrador, Blossom, much to her amusement. Now they hide behind table legs and pounce out to ambush their siblings.
With only 2 or 3 weeks until the puppies can go off to their new homes, they get to be more and more fun every day.
Having worked as a Vet in Huddersfield for over 17 years, it seems like a long time since my first day at Glasgow Vet School. Sometimes, work at the practice can be so intensive that it can be hard to remember back to those first days as a vet student. As I watched the first episode of the new series “Young James Herriot” on the television the other night, some of Herriot’s raw passion for Veterinary Medicine and Surgery was evident and I was very much reminded of the excitement when the knowledge from years of training could suddenly be applied to a practical situation and be of benefit to an animal. While the Glasgow Veterinary School of 17 years ago was very different to James Herriot’s Vet School of the 1930’s, the similarities do extend further than just having your landlord drink your rent money (apologies if you did not watch the episode on Sunday!).
That same love for helping animals is always sparked whenever I attend a birth, be it a calving, lambing, farrowing or whelping; the act of helping a new life into the world is one of the most gratifying parts of my job.
Our litter of puppies are progressing at pace. The puppys’ eyes are open although they are still struggling to focus. Instead of crawling on their tummies, they can now stand up and, although they are still wobbly, they have a fantastic turn of speed when Bramble gets into the whelping box and it is feeding time. They now look like proper Labradors and are just starting to show their different characters.
Watching James Herriot while looking after a litter of puppies reminds me of why I entered the Veterinary profession and while modern Veterinary Practice has obviously changed a great deal since the 1930’s, the fundamental desire to help animals in need is just as relevant today.
Christmas is a time of cheer and goodwill, with all the
family joining in the festivities. This will most likely involve your pet, who
is, after all, a member of the family. Unfortunately for our pets, Christmas
can be a challenging time; the complete change to routine, and exposure to a
variety of hazards which we as humans take for granted, all conspire to cause
problems at this time.
A little thought and planning on our part, can go a long way
to obviating these concerns, and ensure that a Happy Christmas is had by all!
Perhaps the biggest hazard, primarily to dogs, is chocolate.
Most of us know that dogs love chocolate, and that it is toxic, but perhaps we
are unaware that dark chocolate is 6 times more toxic than milk chocolate.
Baking chocolate (found in cakes and icing) is much more toxic still. As little
as 30g of dark chocolate may be poisonous to a dog of Labrador proportions! So,
gift wrapped chocolates left under the tree, or a corner from your chocolate
cake given as a treat, could have life-threatening implications for your pet.
Seek veterinary attention immediately, if you suspect your pet has consumed any
Similarly, vine fruits, especially in their dried forms of
raisins, sultanas etc are toxic to dogs and cats. Christmas cakes, and mince
pies are full of these. As few as 5 raisins have been known to be fatal to
‘Turkey Tum’ is the common sequel to your pet sharing your
Christmas dinner! Dogs’ and cats’ digestive systems are completely different to
ours, and they do not tolerate sudden changes to the diet. By all means allow a
small amount of turkey (or whichever roast you are planning for the family) as
a supplement to the diet, but beware: attempts to feed your pet a full ‘Christmas
dinner’ will most likely have dire consequences for your carpet by Boxing Day!!
Don’t forget to ration out any treats your pet may have received in his or her
stocking; they don’t all need to be eaten on Christmas Day!
Besides food, other hazards include fairy lights (the wires
in these seem to attract cats especially) which present an electrical hazard,
gift wrappings tapes and bows (ribbons and other materials are often swallowed
by both cats and dogs), and both childrens’ and inappropriate pets’ toys, which
can be chewed and swallowed (plastic soldiers seem particularly hard to
resist). Be aware that cats, and particularly kittens, enjoy scaling Christmas
trees, and may inadvertently ‘fell’ the tree; hopefully not into the fireplace!
Don’t leave boisterous pets unattended in the room if your tree could be a
Don’t forget about the trend for fireworks to be let off at
Christmas and New Year nowadays, and take steps at dusk if your pet is affected
finally, a few ‘DO’s!:
Do take your dog for the usual brisk walks over the festive period; he
needs his routine, and you need to walk off Christmas dinner!
Do consider donating to an animal charity in lieu of gifts
to family and friends. Charities such as the Dog’s Trust, Cats Protection League,
WWF etc would be grateful for your kind gift.
Do consider travel arrangements (eg motion sickness
medications, regular stops) if you are travelling to be with relatives over
And finally, DO have a wonderful Christmas, and remember
that your vet is available, as always, 24/7 throughout the festive period.
Bramble, our 3 year old Black Labrador was mated at the beginning of October after previously rejecting a series of suitors. Bitches are pregnant for 63 days and I ultrasound scanned her at 3 weeks and confirmed that she was definitely pregnant.
For the 10 days before whelping we had been quite concerned about Bramble. She started to get very large and uncomfortable and was reluctant to eat. Since this was her first pregnancies, the changes to her body were quite bewildering for her and as her milk started to come in, her temperature shot up and she felt very sorry for herself.
The high temperature worried me as I was concerned that something may have gone very wrong with the pups however an ultrasound scan confirmed good strong heart beats in the pups. I prescribed a course of antibiotics and some medication to lower her temperature and the fever passed and she started to look much brighter.
Finally!!… on Thursday morning Sarah, my wife, rang me at the surgery to say that Brambles waters had just burst. Sarah sat with her and by the time I managed to get home at lunch time, 2 pups had been born. While I was back at work, I got regular updates as further pups were born. In all, Bramble had 6 Black Labrador puppies – 2 dogs and 4 bitches. The pups are all of very similar sizes and are very lively.
Bramble was a little bit bewildered by the first pup but has now taken to motherhood fantastically well. She is incredibly gentle and attentive and the pups alternate between frantic feeding and very deep sleep. We weigh them regularly and, as expected, their weight dropped very slightly in the first 24 hours but it has now stabilised and they are starting to grow and get stronger.
The puppies eyes will open in a couple of weeks so we will have 8 pairs of Labrador eyes watching us eat our Christmas Dinner this year!!
Bramble is a black Labrador and is now nearly 3 ½ years old. We got her as an 8 week old puppy from a breeder in Kendal and she has grown into the most fantastic, loyal companion. Labradors can be heavy built and thick set which is deemed desirable in the show ring. Bramble is of lighter build and is a more traditional working type. She is a very clever dog and she is happy to fit in with our busy household routine and is always happy to welcome me home after a long day at work.
In fact, the only criticism we have with our dog is that she is very choosy when it comes to finding “a husband”.
Unusually, Bramble comes into season every 4 months and for the last 18 months, we have tried to interest her in a male suitor at the appropriate time. Bramble has always shown a distinct lack of interest in any potential male company until a few weeks ago when she was introduced to Riley, a handsome black Labrador. Romance has flourished ever since.
We thought, looking at Bramble that her shape had changed slightly so we had a family trip to the surgery this weekend. I clipped a little patch of hair on her tummy, applied some gel and then placed the ultrasound scanning probe on her skin. Little black pockets confirmed fluid pouches within her womb and the tiny white structures on the ultrasound screen were the tiny developing puppies within the fluid sacks.
At least 4 puppies could be seen but often multiple pregnancies can hide from the scan and so it is difficult to accurately predict numbers.
Bramble continues to keep excellent health (no sign of morning sickness) though her appetite has been a little hit and miss over the last few days.
Dogs are pregnant for 63 days so we are expecting her to whelp around 4 December so I will keep you posted as time goes on.
Morning surgery was well underway the other day. The appointment book was full with the usual selection of booster vaccinations, scratching dogs and vomiting cats. It had been a typically busy surgery with all three consulting rooms being occupied until one vet had to leave to start his list of large animal visits leaving just myself and my colleague to finish surgery before starting on the operating list.
road traffic accident…..
I had just started explaining the benefits of our in-house insurance policy when the door of my consulting room opened and a worried looking receptionist peered round the door. “Excuse me” she said “Please could you come straight away”. I made my apologies and followed her into the waiting room and then into the vacant consulting room next door.
A distraught young couple were in the room hugging a bundle of blood stained fleece material. Inside the fleece was a small black and white cat which was wide eyed and breathing rapidly through an open mouth.
Quickly, the story was recounted: while driving to work, the couple had spotted the young cat at the side of the road and recognised that it was distressed. They stopped, scooped up the cat and rushed it down to the surgery. On examination, it had splintered claws on all four feet; this is often an indication of a road traffic accident. Feeling down the legs, I could not detect any obvious breaks but the cat was certainly dangerously shocked as it was very pale, its heart rate was over 200 beats per minute and it was breathing at over 50 breaths per minute. That level of shock is very dangerous and we had to act quickly.
As I examined the cat, one of our nurses scanned the cat for a microchip, as happens in all such cases, where the ownership of a patient is unknown. Fortunately, the scanner bleeped indicating a chip was found. A quick call to the microchip database and the owner was identified; 2 minutes later, the owner had been contacted and brought fully up to date. The cat was placed on an intravenous drip to treat the shock and when stable, was X rayed and treated successfully before being re-united with her owner.
Identifying the owner quickly is essential in such instances; the microchip allowed us to contact and inform the owner, enabling us to get consent to treat this cat rapidly, alleviating great suffering, and ensuring the best possible outcome. I am pleased to say she has made a full recovery!
Last week I wrote about conditions in older cats which caused appetite and weight loss.
This week, I would like to explain about another condition in older cats where they also lose weight but with this condition there is a noticeable increase in appetite.
The condition results from an overactive thyroid gland and is known as hyperthyroidism.
The thyroid gland is located in the neck – just below the adam’s apple. It produces a hormone called thyroxine which controls the rate of metabolism. Cats are prone to getting a benign tumour in the thyroid gland which makes the gland swell. The swelling in the neck can often be felt by the vet. Normally the production of thyroxine by the thyroid gland is controlled very strictly by part of the brain but the tumour in the thyroid acts outwith the bodies normal control mechanisms and excessive volumes of thyroxine are produced.
The excessive thyroxine means that the bodies metabolic rate is increased. Cats eat more because their metabolism is increased but they often lose weight because they burn up their food even faster than they can take it in. Often hyperthyroid cats are restless and hyperactive. Sometimes they can become aggressive and their heart rate is increased.
Over a period of time, the increased stress on the metabolism can lead to secondary heart, liver or kidney problems.
Hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. At Donaldson’s we have a lab analyser which can measure thyroxine so we can often get results from a blood sample within an hour.
Most cats with hyperthyroidism can be treated very effectively with medication. Despite the fact that they are often old cats and sometimes they can be very thin because of the thyroid problem, they usually respond very well to tablets.
In cats where daily tablets are difficult, we can operate and remove the offending part of the thyroid gland. Operating on such old cats is always a difficult dilemma but the results tend to be very good.
The secondary heart, liver or kidney problems can be very much more difficult to treat so prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential.
As cats get older, they often start to lose muscle and look thinner. This can be part of the normal ageing process and is very common. When an older cat’s weight loss is combined with other tell-tale signs, it can indicate a medical problem which requires Veterinary treatment.
An increase in thirst while losing weight is commonly a sign of either kidney or liver problems or diabetes.
Cats kidneys are hardworking organs throughout their life. The kidneys are prone to fatigue as cat’s age and weight loss, increased thirst and lack of appetite are often the result. The kidneys filter the blood less efficiently and the blood toxins, such as potassium, increase. The toxins make cats feel ill and suppress their appetite. The body recognises the increasing levels of toxins in the blood stream and drinks more in an attempt to dilute them.
Kidney disease can often be controlled effectively for years. We can use drugs which increase the blood flow through the kidneys to improve their filtering capacity. Drugs which absorb potassium from the diet can be used to lower the absorption from the food into the blood stream. Specialist diets can be used to decrease the demands on the kidneys.
While we may not be able to cure old cats kidney problems, if we catch the problem early in its course, we can often manage it effectively for many years.
Diabetes is an increasingly common problem in old cats and also produces an increase in thirst, decrease in appetite and weight loss. In cats, diabetes can often be managed through feeding a low carbohydrate diet, though some cats require insulin injections. Often diabetes can be managed quite straightforwardly.
Again, management of diabetes, just like kidney disease is often more successful if the condition is diagnosed and treatment is instigated early. If your older cat is losing weight and his appetite is suppressed, contact your vet immediately.
Next week I hope to talk about a common condition in older cats where the cat looses weight despite having a strong appetite.