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Fourteen Signs of Pain in Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs (Cavia porcellus) are very common pets.  The interactions between themselves and people and them being easy to tame means they’re often sought after as pets.

Guinea Pigs are naturally prey animals and to stop themselves being caught by predators they hide signs of pain and illness really well, similar to the rabbit.  When scared, guinea pigs tend to freeze, a process known as tonic immobility, rather than show obvious behaviours of pain or fear.

Pain in guinea pigs often shows as very different to our own people often overlook it and don’t usually realise it’s due to pain.  People naturally associate how humans react to pain and expect painful animals to cry out which often is not the case.  When people don’t recognise the signs of pain in their pet they often misinterpret it, sometimes believing their pet doesn’t feel pain in the same level or some things which are painful to us don’t hurt them. Usually, this is not the case, they experience pain just demonstrate it in a different way. Species such as cats, dogs, and rabbits all experience pain the same but the signs they show are unique to the species (though there are some similarities present).

 

Though Guinea Pigs are common pets, as well as sadly being used as lab animals in potentially painful procedures, the symptoms they show when in pain still haven’t been fully studied and are often unknown.  Throughout this blog I will explore already known or highly suspected the signs of pain in guinea pigs  I’m hoping this will help you identify if your guinea pig is ever in pain.

1.Change in Posture

This is a very consistent sign and shown in various ways depending where the pain in a guinea pig is.

Having the back arched is seen with other species such as the dog.  This is seen if they have belly ache for instance if their guts are not working properly or they’ve had surgery like neutering.  They stand or walk with their bodies very tense and their spines curved over making their back appear rounded rather than flat.

Changes in posture are also seen when lying.  Normally guinea pigs lay with their back legs tucked under them. Pain in guinea pigs from their spine, belly or legs may lead to them holding one or both back legs stretched out behind them or splayed to the side.

Remember healthy guinea pigs sometimes alter their position even when not in pain.  When looking for signs of pain you need see if they are in this position lot or are also showing other signs of pain.

  1. Squeaking/ Screaming (AKA Vocalising)

Sometimes, with sudden pain, guinea pigs may make loud and high-pitched squeaks which sound different and often lasting longer than their normal lower pitched noises.

They don’t always cry out when in pain, but sudden, intense types of pain rather than aching pains can cause this.  One example is if a sore part of their skin is touched or if they hit a sore leg against something.

If you’re only trying to identify pain through them making noises, you’ll miss it most of the time.  Lack of noise doesn’t mean their pain is less severe.  Pains which are grumbling away often don’t lead to them crying out.

  1. Eating less and Weight Loss

When you’re feeling unwell you don’t want to eat as much and, to some extent, that’s the same in Guinea Pigs.  Guinea Pigs enjoy eating and spend much of their day eating.

When in pain, guinea pigs often eat less but may still readily accept treats they like when offered.

Guinea Pigs may still eat treats when in pain

 

Guinea Pigs eating less usually isn’t noticed instantly, usually, it’s only noticed the next time you feed them where you will likely find more leftovers than usual.  Monitoring eating as a sign of pain can be difficult and inaccurate because you’re likely to only realise they’re in pain after several hours have passed by which point they may have improved or have suffered in a lot of pain in the meantime, adversely affecting their welfare.

  1. Drinking Less

Similar to eating, pain in guinea pigs may be seen as them being uninterested in drinking.  This doesn’t necessarily mean they stop drinking altogether, but, they drink less and noticed when you change their water.  Therefore, this sign, like with eating less, may not be that helpful by the time you notice.

Noticing your guinea pig eating or drinking less and possibly losing weight gives you a clue they’re not feeling 100%.  Once you notice this behaviour change it’s worth looking for other signs of pain to help decide if they are in pain or what else is occurring.

  1. Unkempt Coat and Grooming Less

Any animal in pain tends to stop grooming themselves either because they don’t well enough due to the pain or their pain worsens in positions needed to properly groom themselves.  As Guinea Pigs don’t groom consistentlyand may groom themselves when hiding, this sign is difficult to spot.

With pain in Guinea Pigs it’s not always easy to notice a reduction in the time spent doing a relatively sporadic behaviour.

The first way you may notice your guinea pigs aren’t grooming fully is due to their coat looking unkempt.  It may be dirtier than usual, full of dandruff or, if long-haired, there may be more knots in it.  A guinea pig’s coat being unkempt takes a while to develop and become visible with the guinea pig being in pain for some time (usually longer than twelve hours) before their hair gets to the state where it’s noticeable, before then there often won’t be a visible change in the coat at all.

Guinea pigs may be in sore when touched
  1. Moving Less and Lying More

When in pain, any movements can worsen the pain so animals tend to stay still to avoid further pain.  Pain is also tiring leading to your guinea pig lying down and sleeping more.

Along with lying and moving less to avoid pain, your guinea pig will be scared due to the pain.  When guinea pigs are scared they tend to freeze their body.

Pain in guinea pigs are likely to make them quieter if you’re around due to increased fear that you’ll pick them up or touch them and them naturally hiding pain when in front of people.  Therefore, some will act normally if you’re watching them for signs of pain.

Guinea pigs moving less could be for many reasons such as stress from the surgery or due to medication side effects.  For instance, the pain killer, Buprenorphine, causes Guinea Pigs to lay more even when they’re in less pain so this can become confusing. Therefore, guinea pigs being quiet should not be interpreted as them always being in pain.

  1. Writhing/ Abdominal Contractions

Like in Rabbits, the signs of pain in guinea pigs are very subtle.  One of these is them writhing and having abdominal contractions.  Some abdominal contractions, to make it more difficult, can be normal in Guinea Pigs, however, these tend to worsen with pain.  Looking at them carefully and seeing contractions and them stretching their body out at the same time is likely due to pain, especially if they do it often.

  1. Flinching

Most animals flinch when in pain.  This is a sudden involuntary movement where the animal is trying to move away from whatever is causing the pain.  This may be from you if you try to touch them or they could be appearing to just flinch if nothing is near them due to pain within the body rather than just in the skin.  Flinching is more common with sudden and shocking pain rather than a duller constant pain.

Eating less is a sign of pain
When in pain, Guinea pigs often eat less

 

  1. Shaking

Pain in guinea pigs, either due to fear or adrenaline, may cause them to shake.  Shaking may be very difficult to see as it is only very subtle.

As shaking is a very subtle potentially due to not only pain but also medication side effects and stress, it is not the most reliable of signs.  Due to this if you see your guinea pig shaking you should keep an eye on them and monitor them for other problems to try and work out what their problem is.

  1. Paying Attention to a Painful Area

Like ourselves, if a guinea pig has a painful area they will tend to look at it or touch it.  Your guinea pig may groom, lick, scratch or chew at that area more which may be noticed by them having wet hair or it could even lead to the skin or hair being damaged in some cases.

  1. Moving slower

Pain in Guinea Pigs tends to worsen when they move.  Therefore, as a result, they tend to move slower.

Guinea pigs will tend to move slower, potentially an altered posture and moving more stiffly.  However, medications causing sedation such as painkillers or anaesthetics may cause your guinea pigs to move slower even without pain so they should be monitored for other signs of pain.

  1. Limping

Limping is only a sign of pain if the pain is in their legs or sometime in their spine.  Lameness is usually due to pain, especially if it suddenly comes on, however in some cases it could be due to other problems such nerve or muscle problems.

Whichever leg your guinea pig is limping on is likely the one causing the pain. If they’re in pain with several legs, then the one they’re limping on is likely the most painful.

Not all guinea pigs in pain will be limping.  Also, even if they are in pain and are limping they may show no further signs of pain than the limping.

Metacam is tasty!
Carl nibbling on the Metacam  (a painkiller) Syringe

 

  1. Cage Bar- Biting

    Rodents normally chew but this can worsen or change when stressed.

    Most happy, healthy guinea pigs don’t chew their cage bars a lot unless they are stressed or bored.  If they suddenly start cage-biting it’s a sign something isn’t normal.

    Once they start cage-biting it is important for you to find the cause and try to treat it or correctly alter their behaviour whenever possible.

    Though you can buy foul-tasting liquids to spray on cage bars to prevent chewing.  This just acts as a deterrent and is unlikely to stop them chewing in the long term.  Also, chewing is only a sign of another underlying problem in a lot of cases so you need to discover what this is, correct it and then try to resolve their chewing if it continues.

  2.  Grinding Teeth (Bruxism)

 

Guinea Pigs sometimes grind their teeth when their mouths or teeth are sore.  This is usually the case if their teeth are overgrown or not meeting properly so some grow more than others.

If your guinea pig is grinding their teeth you need to see your vet ASAP as issues with their teeth/ mouth stop them eating properly, leading to other health problems.

The summary

The signs of pain in Guinea Pigs are very subtle and still poorly understood.

Unlike rabbits, mice, rats and other species, no long has studied the effects of pain on facial expression to aid with grading pain.  There are some easier signs to detect such as limping or crying out but otherwise you need to focus on subtle signs which, each on their own, could be unrelated to pain by being related to behavioural or medical issues or are a result of medication side effects.

The best way to detect signs of pain in guinea pigs is to look out for all potential signs and, if they show any, then try to identify if others are present, monitor them and look for the cause.

 

If your guinea pig show signs of pain you should take them to your vet.  Your vet can help to work out if they are in pain, where this is and then diagnose and treat them.

 

With Guinea Pigs, just being stressed from pain or them eating less can cause other health problems, some of which may be fatal.  This means trying to resolve pain not only improves your guinea pig’s welfare but, if you don’t they could become very ill.

Finally, the signs of pain fit into a couple of big groups, normal behaviours they have stopped doing (such as being active or eating) and pain behaviours they have started (such as writhing or sleeping).  It must be remembered that Guinea Pigs hide pain when people are around, so it can be very hard to spot; even if you only see a pain behaviour performed a couple of times it may suggest a major problem.

Final Words

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If you have any questions regarding pain, guinea pigs or something else entirely feel free to ask in the comments below or, otherwise, contact me directly via my form.

What’s Involved with Spaying Your Cat

A cat spay is considered in veterinary surgeries as a routine procedure. Vet students (under the direct guidance of qualified Veterinary surgeons) spay cats before qualifying and they’re performed on a daily basis by most small animal vets.

Many UK rescue centres, such as Cats Protection, offer deals for certain groups of people to get their cats neutered either free of charge or at low cost. Many rescue centres also insist on female cats (Queens) being spayed before, or very soon after, being adopted.

What’s the reason behind this, should all cats be neutered and what are the potential pros and cons. These are factors I’m going to explore over the rest of this blog.

What is Spaying?

Spaying is the name given to neutering female cats. It involves removing the ovaries and often the uterus. With women, this is known as an Ovariohysterectomy (“Ovario-” refers to the ovaries whereas “Hysterectomy”, removal of the uterus (or womb) so, put together, it means removal of the uterus and ovaries) and it’s definitely not a routine procedure in human medicine. In fact, in human medicine, it’s not done when at all possible.

With people, though they usually just perform a hysterectomy (ie they leave the uterus alone), the ovaries are almost always removed in veterinary species. Usually, with the cat, sometimes it is only the ovaries removed and the uterus left in place; the opposite to women.

Women without ovaries are at risk of Osteoporosis (meaning pores, or holes, in the bones) but this doesn’t appear to be the case in spayed cats. Osteoporosis in women is often due to the reduction in oestrogen levels post-ovariohysterectomy/ menopause.

Though a lack of oestrogen doesn’t appear to have the same issues in cats, however, conversely, the presence of Oestrogen causes undesirable traits or conditions in cats. The fact that the removal of oestrogen causes few issues whereas the presence causes more problems is a big reason for spaying.
Oestrogen, along with other sex hormones it, lead to queens coming into season (“on heat”), becoming pregnant and increases the risk of some diseases.

Early neutering can be done from 4months old, sometimes earlier
Photo; Instagram @ xa_j_sx

About the Op?

In cat’s spaying is a major surgery but is relatively easy to do with adequate training and skills. Most new graduate vets (remember these have already undergone at least 5years of training at university) can spay a cat unassisted. Experienced vets can often manage the whole procedure in under fifteen minutes, often leaving an around 2cm in length if on the flank (side) or slightly longer if under the belly (known as midline).

Two methods are commonly performed in the UK. The flank spay is where cats are spayed through the (usually left) side of their abdomen. In a midline spay, the incision is underneath their belly, like in a bitch. Each vet tends to prefer one method over the other and use that method most of the time but the method used depends on a number of factors.

A flank spay is good for stray cats as you can monitor the cat’s wound from a distance following the surgery. Whereas, when you clip the hair of some oriental breeds, such as the Bengal, the hair regrow a darker colour. If you spay these breeds via the flank approach they will have a square patch of visibly different hair on their side whereas this is less visible under their belly.

Another benefit to a midline spay is that the uterus can still be easily removed if the cat is pregnant. This is sadly done quite often and sometimes because before the vet starts to spay the cat the owner isn’t aware of the pregnancy or, the owner wanted the cat spaying as a way to stop the pregnancy.

If your cat goes to be spayed and the vet finds out your cat is pregnant during the surgery, find that she is already pregnant, don’t worry. Before the vet proceeds further with the surgery he or she will contact you to discuss the situation. Your potential options will be for the surgery to be halted and your cat stitched back up so the pregnancy should proceed as normal or for her to still be spayed meaning the kittens will die.

Spaying for both species, despite the different approaches and complexities, is basically the same. For both, they have stitches internally and in the skin (which may or may not need taking out), and they should be rested for a couple of weeks to some extent.

In cats, it depends on the individual vet whether the ovaries are removed alone or with the whole of the uterus removed with them. Most issues affecting the uterus are due to the hormones released by the ovaries. If the ovaries are removed, therefore, these often don’t occur or, at least, are much less likely to. The reason the uterus may not be removed is that sometimes this is more difficult to do due to the position of the incision but shouldn’t make a difference to the cat overall.

Young kittens who have only just been born

Positives to Spaying

  1. Stops your cat going into season.
    1. You won’t get the few days every three weeks throughout Spring to Autumn of them constantly calling out waking you up from your sleep.
    2.  The constant worry and risk of them becoming pregnant is gone. This means you no longer have to worry about them going out and meeting with a Tom. Therefore, once cats are spayed many owners are happier about them going outside which is often better for their welfare, at least from a psychological point of view however it does depend on the traffic in your area as to whether you feel it is safe or not.
  2.  Birth control.
    1. Pure and simply once spayed a cat cannot get pregnant.
    2. To avoid pregnancy, most vets advise you do not allow your cat to go out before they are neutered. This is especially the case with young kittens. It is possible for kittens to get pregnant from four months old in some cases; at this point, they are not fully grown themselves and becoming pregnant can jeopardise the health of them and their litter.
    3. As the population of cats UK exceeds the demand (as seen by rescue centres constantly being filled to the brim), kittens are difficult to sell so may end up in shelters or straying.
      1. An entire (not-spayed) queen is responsible for the birth of 20,000 kittens over just five years, many of whom may be unwanted.
    4. Sex hormone-related cancers
      1. Mammary cancer (a cat version of breast cancer) risk rises after a queen’s first season; those spayed before six months old have a 91% less chance of developing mammary cancer compared to those spayed when over six months. Up to a year of age cat’s are still at a 86% lower risk of getting mammary cancer than those who are older.
      2. Mammary cancers are still quite rare in cats likely at least partially due to the majority being spayed early.
      3. The risk of mammary cancers is NOT reduced by a queen having a litter.
        1.  It is a myth that a cat should have a litter.
        2. Cat’s aren’t like us in that they don’t dream of having offspring or view it as something that should happen.
        3. Cats can get quite unwell when they have kittens. They often lose a lot of weight, they may have infections develop in either their uterus or mammary glands which will make them really unwell.
        4. Some don’t build an attachment with their young leading to them rejecting so the kittens will need hand-rearing. Whilst hand-rearing sounds cute, it takes a lot of work. Hand-reared kittens are more prone to disease as they don’t get the immunity they usually would from their mother. Many also don’t thrive well In the early stages they only drink very slowly and need to drink milk every two hours throughout both the day and night, leaving you, your family, and potentially your friends exhausted.
        5. Cats can either have benign mammary cancers which are usually resolved by surgically removing the affected mammary gland or malignant ones.
      4. Malignant mammary tumours are cancers that spread to other parts of the body. In dogs there is a 50:50 chance of getting one type or the other. Sadly in cats there is an 85% chance that the cancer is malignant. Malignant cancers will spread to other mammary glands or further around the body, often to the lungs causing coughing, breathlessness and weight loss.
        1. Cats with malignant cancers have a very poor prognosis, they are unlikely to survive long. If the cancer has spread to other areas of the body then removal of the mammary glands will not dramatically improve survival rates. For this reason, In cases of mammary cancer vets will usually advise taking XRays of the lungs to look for spread before doing surgery. These are not done to cost you more money but to see if surgery is the best route for your cat.
      5.  Ovarian Cancers
        1.  These only occur if the ovaries have not been removed. As these are removed the vast majority of the times when cats are spayed they will not be present in unsprayed animals (unless only the uterus has been removed)
        2. Ovarian cancers are rare in cats and only make up approximately 3% of cancers, mainly affecting older cats. The reason for the low level of this is the high percentage of cats being spayed.
        3. These can spread to other areas of the body or also be benign, sometimes just looking like cysts. If they are benign then removing the ovaries will sure them.
        4.  With a function of the ovaries being to release sex hormones, tumours there can affect hormone release. This may lead to changes in fertility, changes in their cycle, behaviour changes (aggression developing), vaginal discharge, pyometra
        5.  Other, non-hormonal signs of an ovarian tumour are weight loss, vomiting, eating/ drinking less, pain, lethargy.
      6.  Uterine Cancers
        1. These are rare and account for less than 1.5% of cancers in the cat.
        2. They tend to be hormone related so it’s very rare these occur after Ovariectomy (removal of just the ovaries which some vets perform when spaying).
        3. Many are malignant so spread to other areas of the body, often within the belly but not all of them. In benign cases often a hysterectomy will resolve them.
        4.  These can cause your cat to have a swollen up belly, increased or bloody vaginal discharge, changes in fertility and their cycle of when they’re in season or not. Some cats also lose weight and eat/ drink less and may become more sleepy or inactive.
      7.  Pyometra= “Pus in Uterus”, a life-threatening hormone-associated uterine infection.
        1. Less common in queens compared to bitches however they shouldn’t be ignored as they require urgent treatment, usually an emergency spay.
        2.  A pyometra spay is a much bigger surgery than a routine spay.
          1. if the uterus is damaged before it is removed, pus can leak into the belly which is very dangerous and potentially lethal.
          2. To ensure the uterus and ovaries are removed intact, and there is space to remove the enlarged uterus, the wound is bigger so they may be in pain for longer.
          3.  They will usually require antibiotics after to kill any bacteria leached into their bloodstream and ensure your cat fully recovers.
        3.  Approximately 5.7%, which is just over 1 in 20, of cats suffering from a pyo will die even with appropriate treatment. This figure that is slightly higher in dogs who are more commonly affected.
          1.  Approximately 17 cats out of 10,000 unspayed queens in any one year suffers from a pyometra.
            1.  This figure varies between breeds though.
            2.  For instance, 433 out of 10,000 unspayed sphynx cats get a pyometra every year, that’s almost one in twenty and 25x the risk of an average cat getting one.
            3.  Across all breeds, the likelihood of getting a pyometra is increased when your cat reaches seven years old, compared to dogs where risk increases once they reach ten years. Therefore, pyometras shouldn’t be thought of as an old age condition in the cat.

              A cat uterus thickened likely due to pyometra or cancer
      8.  Spayed cats are less than likely to roam.
        1. This reduces the risk of Road Traffic Accidents and them going missing.
        2. They also are less likely to get fighting-related or sexually transmitted diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV, similar to HIV in people.

The Negatives

  1. Weight gain and obesity
    1. Spaying your cat will make her more prone to weight gain or obesity
    2. You will need to keep an eye on their weight and perhaps put them on a low-calorie diet and give them fewer treats.
    3.  Making sure your cat gets plenty of exercise also helps to keep them fit and lean as well as mentally stimulating them.
  2. Spaying is not a quick and easy way to alter their behaviour
    1.  This is not a negative to the surgery but disappoints people who hope it will reduce any issues they may have with their behaviour which may have initially been linked to hormones.
    2.  Usually, spaying doesn’t alter behaviour at all though, in males, castration can sometimes reduce aggression in some cases but often doesn’t entirely stop it.

Early Neutering

Most veterinary practices and rescue centres recommend early neutering in cats, usually when they are between four and six months old but could be as young as 12weeks (or earlier in some cases).

Early neutering ensures cats cannot reproduce at all. Depending on when your cat is born, they may enter puberty at four to eight months of age (the variation is because they don’t come into season and, therefore enter puberty, over the Winter). It also reduces the risks of mammary tumours when older.

Another reason for early neutering is the surgery is easier and has fewer risks. At this age, cats have less belly fat so this doesn’t surround the ovaries and uterus in the same way as in older cats. Therefore the organs can be seen and removed easier, usually with a lower risk of bleeding.

Summing up the factors involving spaying your cat

Female cats can be spayed from as young as twelve weeks in most cases. The main reasons for neutering them is to prevent pregnancy, reduce the risks of hormone-related cancers and a pyometra. It can also reduce the risk of them roaming and, therefore, the chances of them getting hit by a car. The main negative is that it can cause them to gain weight especially if they have little exercise.

If you still have any questions regarding spaying, either what involved or the pros and cons then feel free to contact me to discuss it in more detail or leave a comment below. Other than that your vet or a veterinary nurse is the ideal person to talk to regarding this and they can also discuss any policies within the practice you use.

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What is Involved with Spaying your Dog?

Spaying in veterinary surgeries is classed as a routine procedure.  Vet students spay cats and often spay bitches before qualifying.  Spaying your dog is definitely not a simple surgery. You should weigh up the pros and cons to decide the best choice for you and your dog.

I know of experienced vets who are anxious when spaying bitches but why is that the case?

What is Spaying?

Spaying is the name given to neutering female animals.  It involves removing both the ovaries and usually the uterus.  In women, this is known as an Ovariohysterectomy and it’s not a routine procedure.  In fact, in human medicine it’s avoided whenever possible and is usually only performed by Gynaecologists with several years’ experience post-graduation from Med School.

Broken down, Ovariohysterectomy means; “Ovario-” refers to the ovaries whereas “Hysterectomy”, removal of the uterus (or womb) so, put together, it means removal of the uterus and ovaries.

In humans, though they usually just perform a hysterectomy (ie the ovaries are not removed) whereas if vets are spaying your dog the ovaries are almost always removed.  Women without ovaries have low Oestrogen (a female sex hormone) levels.  People’s need Oestrogen for their bones to absorb sufficient Calcium. Without Oestrogen, the bones poorly absorb Calcium.  Naturally post-menopause the levels of Oestrogen in women put them at risk of Osteoporosis (meaning pores, or holes, in the bones) and removal of the ovaries causes this to occur sooner.

In dogs, however, this doesn’t appear to happen.  The relationship between Oestrogen and Calcium is unknown.  This means the removal of the ovaries causes fewer problems in our pets.

Oestrogen does cause issues.  Along with other sex hormones, oestrogen leads to bitches coming into season (“on heat”), makes them fertile and increases the risk of some diseases (eg mammary cancer).  These factors together demonstrate why vets spay bitches.

Normal Bitch spay
A normal bitch spay showing the anatomy of the female reproductive tract which is removed via spaying.
Why is Spaying Your Dog a Big Surgery?

Spaying isn’t an easy surgery, especially not with larger breeds or overweight dogs. With these, it’s harder to get to the ovaries and sufficiently cut off their blood supply.

If blood supply isn’t sufficiently cut off it leaves a blood vessel close to the Aorta (the biggest artery in the body, coming straight out of the heart into the tummy) open leading to blood pulsing out which, in severe cases and when not immediately dealt with, can lead to death.

Dogs also have a large amount of fat around the ovaries making them harder to find and cut off the blood supply, risking future bleeding.

This surgery can be incredibly stressful for the veterinary surgeon and whilst most bitches are fine, especially those who are young and a healthy weight, there are occasional complications.  The complication rate is around 17-22% but most of these are related to issues with the wound healing rather than complications in the surgery (6% of spays).

Spaying your dog is usually done by open surgery where a cut is placed down the centre of the tummy and both the ovaries and uterus are removed through that hole.

To have bitch spay
A young female YorkieX puppy who will be spayed in a few months.  Instagram; @TenaciousTilly

Otherwise, some practices do it via keyhole surgery.  Here, several small incisions are made and usually just the ovaries are removed.  Even if the uterus is not removed, with the ovaries gone the bitch can’t get pregnant or get a condition known as a pyometra which is partially caused by female sex hormones.

Spaying requires the vet to close your bitches muscle layers with dissolvable stitches.  These do not need removing. They then close the skin with either the same material or stitches which need to be removed seven to ten days later.

After the op your dog will be sore so will usually go home with several days worth of painkillers.  You should try to keep them quiet for the first few days and prevent them jumping up.

After a week has passed treating them like normal is fine most cases.  However, your dog’s muscles still won’t be fully healed so you should not let them run off the lead for around three weeks.

 

What are the Positives to Spaying
  • Stops your dog going into season.
    • You don’t have to worry about not taking them for a walk or to doggy day-care when in season in case there are any males around.
    • The mess involved with bitches bleeding when in season no longer occurs.
  • Birth control.
    • Pure and simply once they are spayed they cannot breed.
    • The UK dog population exceeds the demand (with rescue centres completely full) puppies are difficult to sell and may end up in a shelter
  • Pyometria = “Pus in Uterus”
    pyometra bitch spay
    The pus-filled uterus of a pyometra being removed in surgery
    • This is a life-theratening condition killing approximate 5% of treated cases meaning 1% of entire female dogs older than 10 years die from it.
    • There are two main treatments for Pyometra’s;
      • Emergency or urgent spaying; main treatment most vets use.
        • This involves the removal of the whole uterus which also removes all the infection.
        • Dog’s will also be put on a drip and needed large amounts of antibiotics to kill the bacteria in their bloodstream.
      • Medical Treatment
        • Giving the bitch with two or three different medications, to open the cervix (sometimes it’s already dilated), expel pus from the uterus and antibiotics to kill the bacteria.
        • This is often successful however in 80% of cases bitches will go on to develop a pyometria after their next season.  Bitches should be spayed once they’ve recovered.
        • Spaying is a big operation and riskier in ill animals. The advantage of this approach spaying your dog when they are healthier to reduce the risk of surgery.
        • I have seen this method not be fully effective leading to the bitch needing to be spayed urgently when unwell.
        • Though Prometra’s most commonly occur when bitches are over 10yrs old, 2% of bitches get this within any year when they are younger.
  • Mammary cancers (breast cancer in dogs)
      • The risk of dogs getting mammary cancer if they are spayed before their first season is virtually nothing, 0.5% meaning 1 in 200 bitches will get it.  However, the risk rises with each successive season they have, being at 8% if spayed after their first season and 26% after their second.
      • Mammary Tumours are grouped into two main types, benign ones which spread (malignant) with chances being 50:50.
      • If it’s benign it can usually be removed by surgery and if all of it has been removed there should be no further problems.
      • In malignant cases, tumours are likely to spread throughout the other mammary glands and elsewhere; most commonly to the lungs.
        • These are harder to treat and once they’ve spread to the lungs further treatment may only extend/ improve your dog’s life rather than cure them.
      • Studies have shown spaying a bitch once she has mammary cancer will not improve their survival times.
  • Ovary and Uterine Cancers
    • These are less common and can mostly only affect animals who haven’t been spayed.
      • Uterine cancers are seen in only approximately 0.3-0.4% tumours in dogs whereas Ovarian cancers are seen in 0.5-6% of dogs.
      • If they’ve only had their ovaries removed they can still get uterine cancer though the chance is low.
    • These are often diagnosed quite late and are difficult to treat.
What Are the Cons?
  • Urinary incontinence when older associated with a loss of hormones they would’ve had if they weren’t spayed.
    • Most cases caused by spaying the bitch would have incontinence to some degree prior to their first season.
      • With these bitches if you still want them to be spayed it is recommended that you wait until after their first season as often the hormones leading to this help stop the incontinence from continuing.
    • Generally even if they had no issues when young, being spayed after their first season reduces the risks and severity of spay-associated urinary incontinence when older, however, it still occurs in approximately 20% of spayed bitches.
  • Obesity
    • Neutered animals need approximately 30% fewer calories than entire ones so it is easy for them to quickly gain weight once spayed.
    • It is recommended you put them on a lite/ low calorie or “neutered dog” diet post-spaying. These have all the nutrients in normal diets but fewer calories.  As opposed to feeding them less of a normal diet where they’ll also receive fewer vitamins/ minerals/ proteins that they need.
  • Hypothyroidism
    • A disorder where the metabolism is slowed.
    • It can also cause hair loss, lack of energy, mood changes, aggression, obesity and make the dogs feel cold much of the time
    • It needs lifelong medication, usually in the form of tablets, to improve your dog’s symptoms
  • Vaginal Dermatitis
    • Swelling, pain and infection of the vagina, vulva and some of the areas around them.
    • Signs of this are hair loss and thickening of/ discharge from the skin around the vagina and vulva. She will often be licking the area a lot and making it really sore and reddened.
    • This usually starts before a bitch hits puberty and is due to a lack of sex hormones
    • The first surge of hormones prior to their first season usually resolves this
    • If affected dogs are spayed prior to their first season this will worsen rather than resolve and may affect them for life and can be very uncomfortable.
  • Osteosarcoma
    Xray showing Osteosarcoma; a bitch spay risk
    Xray with arrows showing suspected osteosarcome. See the increased bone an the “fuzziness” in it indicating some of the bone has been eaten away.
    • This is a really nasty bone cancer
    • It tends to affect big breeds of dog, especially Rottweilers
    • It causes huge swellings most commonly around the elbow which are excruciatingly painful and solid.
    • They are very quick to come up and this cancer causes much of the bone to be eaten away often leading to the bone fracturing. It also spreads to the lungs very quickly can affecting your dog’s breathing.
    • Most cases will be diagnosed with XRays. A vet will not only xray the leg but also the chest to look for spread.
    • The biggest chance of survival is to amputate the leg or at least remove all of the affected part and replace it with bone grafts (bits of bone taken from dead animals) or metal plates.
      • With Rottweilers being such heavy dogs, along with other breeds prone to this, these interventions often aren’t very successful
    • In the majority of cases there’s already spread to the lungs before amputation is performed, thus the chances of them surviving longer than a year or two even with intensive treatment are very small. If chemotherapy or radiotherapy is not attempted in these cases the dog often has weeks to live, if that,
      • To avoid this it is often worthwhile delaying neutering Rottweilers and other large breeds until at least after their first season.

 

In Summary

Spaying your dog has several positives and negatives.  Firstly it prevents them getting pregnant as well as reduce the risk of mammary cancers and prevent ovarian and uterine cancers and Pyometras.  These can all be fatal.

The downsides, however, are the increased risks of obesity, incontinence, Hypothyroidism, Vaginal dermatitis and Osteosarcoma’s, especially in Rottweilers.

Most of the positives are aided by early neutering before bitches have their first season and having puppies does not reduce the risk of problems; in fact there’s the risk of her having health issues during the pregnancy, birth or afterwards.  However, the opposite can be said for the cons; these may be reduced with later spaying.

Whether you choose to spay your dog early, later on, or not at all is up to you but you should definitely have a think about it and discuss it with your veterinary surgeon.

 

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Fourteen Signs of Pain in Rabbits

I have commonly met owners who’ve told me that rabbits don’t feel pain.  As rabbits don’t show easily obvious signs of pain these owners completely believed this.  They believed that like people or other vocal species, rabbits in pain and act totally different which often isn’t the case.  The truth is, the signs of pain in rabbits are similar, just more subtle, than in other species.

Not only did I constantly hear this from owners but I also noticed a lack of recognition of pain amongst my colleagues in rabbits.  As a result of many vets not being able to recognise pain in rabbits I suspected they underestimated the amount of pain relief rabbits needed after injuries or  operations.

One day after being frustrated with these thoughts and after meeting another owner stating the same to me, a lightbulb shone in my head.  My brain woke up and said,

“If they don’t recognise it and there’s few studies demonstrating pain in rabbits then why not study it yourself”

A few enquiries to different universities later and, to make a long story short, my Masters Degree dissertation developed.  I spent several months reading about the recognition of pain in rabbits (amongst other species).  This was spent many many hours filming, watching and analysing video clips of rabbits who may or may not have been in pain from potentially being castrated; I say potentially, some clips were filmed before rabbits were castrated!

So, you could say detecting pain is an interest of mine, especially with my favourite rotation at vet school being Anaesthesia which included Analgesia (the posh word for painkillers!).  Some people think it’s a bit of a weird interest and that I maybe have a morbid fascination with pain.

The reality, if we are in pain we take a couple of paracetamol tablets or see a doctor for stronger painkillers.  If animals are in pain they can’t do this (well, ignoring research studies where Chickens have both normal feed and feed laced with painkillers in their pens.  Then chickens who’re in pain will likely eat the feed with painkillers in… yes I’m a geek!).

Given the choice, chickens select food with pain killers in.

How do Rabbits Show Pain?

  1. Hiding or laying more
    1. This is seen in most species
    2. Rabbits in pain tend to hide or sleep more.
    3. You may not see them at all or as much.
    4. This is to protect themselves both from predators (our pets believe there may still be one) and make sure their injuries don’t get worse.
  2. Less Active
    1. Rabbits in pain move around less as they avoid doing anything that hurts.
    2. This may not be as obvious as them stopping moving completely; many are still active at times.
    3. However, if you scare them or go to pick them up (something which most rabbits hate) painful rabbits will usually still dart away.

      Rabbits in pain eat and drink less
      Like many animals, rabbits eat and drink less when in pain
  3.  Eat and Drink Less
    1. Studies have consistently shown that rabbits in pain eat and drink less.
    2. To see if your rabbit is in pain you can just compare how much they eat and drink compared to what they usually have.
    3. If you have two rabbits it may be impossible to tell as if one rabbit eats less due to pain the other may just enjoy the extra food it has left to eat so you don’t notice.
    4. It’s not always the case, some rabbits don’t change their eating patterns at all.
    5. Also, if your rabbit stops eating there may be a reason other than pain such as stress or feeling ill.
    6. Not eating can, in itself, make a rabbit very unwell.  A rabbit’s digestive system is designed for them to eat almost constantly.  If they stop eating or eat very little this can actually stop their guts from working.  This can be life-threatening so if your rabbit stops eating for whatever reason get it checked out ASAP; sometimes even just leaving them a few hours to get checked may be fatal.
    7. An advantage to checking their food and water is that you don’t have to disturb your rabbit.  This is definitely a bonus as they don’t want to be messed with when ill or in pain.
  4. Limping
    1. If your rabbit has a sore leg they may limp.
    2. Not all rabbits that are in pain will limp, even if their legs hurt, and not all rabbits limping are in pain.  Limping rabbits may have something affecting their brain or an old injury which cause them to limp despite not causing pain.
    3. However, if your rabbit starts limping and they weren’t before it is likely they are in pain.  Just don’t rule out pain because they’re not limping.
  5. Stand differently
    1. Rabbits with bellyache may stand with their backs arched up similar to what a dog or cat may do.
  6. Move Differently
    1. Rabbits in pain, when stood, may writhe a bit.  This is often seen with belly ache where they are twisting and stretching their bodies to relieve the pain.
    2. This is not always obvious as it often is done very quickly, each time lasting only a second or two.
  7. They may sleep more
    1. Being in pain is tiring.
    2. Often they sleep more due to having less energy left
    3. This means they may be in their bed more.
    4. Rabbits may also lie with their eyes shut when in pain, even if they’re awake.
  8. They may become more aggressive
    Rabbits in pain may be aggressive
    When it pain often rabbits stay away from each other or become aggressive
    1. Rabbits often don’t want to be played with or lifted by people even when they’re not in pain.
    2. When they’re in pain this is even more likely as they don’t want people making that pain worse.
    3. To try to make sure they’re not in more pain, rabbits do all they can to stop people handling them and stop playing with other rabbits.
    4. This may mean your rabbit becomes more aggressive and may even scratch or bite especially if someone is touching a sore area.
  9. High Breathing or Heart Rate
    1. Most owners don’t constantly check their rabbit’s heart or breathing rates. But, when a rabbit is in pain, you may notice their chest rising and falling as they breathe quicker.
    2. Them breathing quicker or their heart beating faster is both a sign of pain and stress so it can be difficult to use this as a method of detecting pain.
    3. This is especially so for rabbits who become stressed when around people or if people decide to lift them to check their heart rate.  In these cases, their heart or breathing rates would rise when lifted even with no pain.
    4. A vet may notice high heart or breathing rates when examining your rabbit BUT it may be hard to tell if this is due to pain or simply stress.
  10. Changes in Grooming Habits
      1. If your rabbit is in pain it will tend to clean itself less.
      2. However, if they’re in pain in an area of the body they can get to they may lick it more.
      3. Sometimes if a rabbit has surgery and they are in pain they may remove their stitches from nibbling at the area.
  11. Screaming
    Pain in rabbits can be seen by them lying down
    Rabbits may lie down more when in pain
    1. As a rule, rabbits do not cry out when they are in pain.
    2. However, there are exceptions to every rule.  In this case, rarely and when in severe pain, a rabbit may scream out.
    3. It is unlikely that they will scream but it is heard in some cases.
    4. Sometimes rabbits can be heard making slight whimpering noises but again this is uncommon and is very quiet.
  12. Grinding Teeth
    1. This may be seen with tooth pain and, uncommonly, with gut pain.
    2. Sometimes very ill or stressed rabbit’s abdomens bloat up.  This may also be caused by certain foods. Bloating is a result of your rabbit’s digestion slowing or even stopping.
    3. This is incredibly painful and can, sometimes, cause them to grind their teeth, especially if you’re feeling over their belly.  Bloat also causes rabbits to writhe.
  13. Weight Loss
    1. Rabbits in pain over several days or longer may lose weight.
    2. Your rabbit will both eat less and use up more energy from stress and having higher heart and breathing rates.
    3. If your rabbit appears to have lost weight then it may be due to pain but there are many other causes too.
  14. Change in Facial Expression
    This rabbit is just resting rather than in pain. His ears are back but his nose is a U shape
    1. Pain causes us to screw our eyes shut and open our mouth.
    2. Many mammals do similar with pain and rabbits aren’t an exception.  Some of the signs they show are subtle but all of them together may be due to pain.
    3. Eyes Closed; rabbits in pain, even when awake, may have their eyes closed or only partially open.
    4. Tense Whiskers; their whiskers may become tense and instead of pointing outwards from their face and moving quite a lot, they may be held very close to the face, together and be held downwards
    5. Nose Changes; Rabbits normally have a U shape to their nostrils when relaxed.  When in pain, however, this alters as the bottom part of their nose is tensed causing it to become smaller and leaving their nostrils to form a V shape.  This is very subtle though
    6. Ears Closed; Rabbits normally have nice open dome-shaped ears which are help upright.  When in pain this completely changes. Their ears may be held back, sometimes lie along their backs.  Their ears also close leaving the opening very narrow.
    7. Cheeks may flatten.  This is very hard to spot.  Rabbits cheeks are usually very rounded and easy to see.  However, when they’re in pain these become tense and no longer stick out but, instead, flatten and may even curve inwards.

What Should I do If My Rabbit Is in Pain?

The first step is recognising pain.  Once you’ve noticed your rabbit may be in pain you should take them to your vet.  As rabbits stop eating when they are in pain and them notIf your rabbit stops eating you must take them to a vet straight away as not doing so could, along with the pain, make them severely unwell.

Vet checks may be scary for both you and your rabbit but they are the only way to find out exactly what is wrong and treat it.  As rabbits don’t like being handled they may find it even more stressful than other pets but if they’re in pain then getting them checked is definitely the best thing.

If your vet finds out what is wrong with your rabbit and they need medications, don’t worry the majority of thse for rabbits are liquids.  These medications can be squirted straight into their mouths and your rabbit may like the taste of some of them.  The quicker you find the cause of their pain and start their treatment, the better and the less stressed and ill they’ll become overall.

 

Quick Recap

The main signs of pain in rabbits are changes in their facial expression, an increase in their heart and rates, them eating less, wanting to be left alone, sometimes becoming aggressive, and being quiet.

If they’re in pain take them to the vet to find and treat the problem.

 

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Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions or discussion points.  Also feel free to get in touch with me to find out more about this topic.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Tait (Twitter.com/ SarahTait123)

Reptile Equipment; DHP Lamp and UV Flood

I thought today I will discuss two reptile products that arrived earlier this month for Dallas’ vivarium; the UV Flood and the Deep Heat Projection (DHP) Lamp, both from Arcadia.

 

With only 25% of pet reptiles surviving past their first year, masses of reptiles die prematurely in captivity.

The main cause of health problems in captive reptiles is related to problems with their husbandry which accounts for up to 90% of reptiles seen by vets.  These statistics highlight the huge numbers of reptiles suffering from inadequate housing or housing which doesn’t meet their vast and complex requirements.

 

I personally own three reptiles, two Leopard Geckos (Leo and Darwin) and a Crested Gecko (Dallas or Dal for short).  I rehomed Leo, along with another Leopard Gecko, Bam six years ago. Bam passed away eighteen months later at the age of 12years from Liver failure.  When I lost Bam I bought Dal and later Darwin.

Throughout their time with me, I’ve made multiple adaptations to their husbandry to ensure their care is the best I can provide and meets current research.  All three now have UVB bulbs and heat which, compared to four years ago my Leopard Geckos just had a heat mat and normal fluorescent light tubes.

Dals foot blocking out the light from the UV Flood

Previous viv Set-UP

Over the past two years, Dal has been thriving with a combination of one or two UVB coiled tubes over the back of his viv and a 150W ceramic heat lamp at the front creating a hot spot of 28-30C for an average of 12hours per day (I have it on a timer but the times in on alters with the seasons).

Having a hot spot was both recommended by current research and discussions with a reptile veterinary surgeon.  Since adding both the heat lamp and the UVB Dal has become noticeably more active.

Away from the heat lamp in the day, his viv is approximately 20-22C giving a good thermal gradient and allowing him to escape the heat if he wishes.

At the backend of last year, Dallas’ heat lamp and holder fell on the floor and became damaged.  I purchased replacements but, unfortunately, the replacement ceramic bulb was faulty.  Instead, I used a spare 60W ceramic bulb which wasn’t strong enough, producing an inadequate hot spot of just 24C.

I reached out to Arcadia regarding both my frustrations with the heat bulb and UV units.  Arcadia, a company specialising mainly in lighting for Reptiles, Amphibians, Parrots and Aquatics.  I had a long email exchange with John who introduced me to two products, the DHP lamp, and the UV Flood.  After doing some research, sums and assessing my post-Christmas finances, later that evening my mind had been converted, I decided to buy them in the sales.

Arcadia D3+ 12% UV Flood (55W)

The UV Flood is a fluorescent tube and reflector which stays over the mesh lid for Dal’s viv.  It can also be used on a stand for Parrots or screwed into the wall of a wooden viv.

UV Flood units produce large amounts of UVB and should only be used in vivariums/ terrariums with a depth greater than 45cm and plenty of shade so the geckos can get away from the light rays.  Crepuscular geckos (those awake most at dusk and dawn) may have damage to their skin or eyes if UVB intensity is too high; similar to people becoming sunburnt so require this shade.

The UV floor is situated behind the DHP lamp

In severe cases, too much UVB light can cause blindness.

The set up I bought contains a 12% fluorescent tube and is designed for desert species.  Being kept above a mesh lid, regardless of the reflector, is an important factor. Mesh stops 50% of UV rays from passing through meaning Dallas will be exposed to only around 6% UVB when stood at 10cm below the light, a safe level.

The light is also supposed to not flicker.  Since I’ve had it I confirm that I haven’t seen it flicker at all; great for those sensitive reptiles.

Being a Crested Gecko, they need approximately 5-10% UVB so what he receives from the light fits perfectly into his requirements and with it only placed over the back 1/3 of his viv he has plenty of space to move away from it.

The UV Flood is different to what I thought though.  I thought it would be a long tube, similar to the Arcadia T5 tubes I have for my Leopard Geckos but instead, is two thin tubes connected together at each end and only plugged in at one side.  This does, however, mean it’s more compact and double the amount of light is released at any point.

One thing I don’t like about this light is that it is very blue.  Though I have got used to it, I was hoping the light would be warmer like the lights in my leopard gecko vivariums but, over time, I have got used to it.

on the right is the terminal to connect to the power and on the left the tubes are connected

Having added both the UV Flood and DHP lamp at the same time, it is difficult to say whether this light alone has altered Dal’s behaviour.  Since I installed the light he has been more active in the evenings as well as firing up (becoming a darker colour) more frequently and vividly.  However, this may not be due to the light at all and, instead, could be due to the change in heating.

 

50W DHP Lamp

Having been researching new Crested Gecko Diets, I had been on Arcadia’s website and noted the new DHP lamp.  I also discussed this in further detail with John at Arcadia.  My initial thought was; “Dallas has done really well since I introduced a heat lamp to his viv two years ago, why change it now?” but the more I saw and heard, alongside knowing he needed a new lamp, I decided to get him one.

The DHP Lamp is similar to some conventional Infrared heat lamps (eg Ceramic bulbs) in the fashion that it gives out no or virtually no visible waves of light.

This is important.

Though it was initially believed that red and blue heat lights are fine for reptiles because it was believed they don’t see those colours, this has been shown to be incorrect.  Reptiles not only visualise red and blue but the presence of these lights disturbs their sleep:wake cycle and alters their behaviour, often causing them to be less active at night.

One difference is that this light, though only 50W, emits more heat than a standard 150W Ceramic Heat lamp.

Alongside the lack of visual light, unlike any other current heat lamp I am aware of on the market right now, the DHP Lamp gives out infrared-B (IF-B) in addition to the IF-A rays given out by ceramic bulbs.  This combination is closer to what the sun produces.

Like sun rays, IF-B penetrates the muscle tissue rather than just the skin surface like IF-A.  The DHP lamp also leaves a tingly feeling on your skin similar to what you’ll feel when outside in the hot sun.

Always attach a mesh cage to prevent a reptile touching the light

When this lamp is connected to Dal’s HabiStat Pulse Proportionate thermostat, it gives out a very consistent level of heat throughout the day, only varying by 0.2C.  The ceramic bulb, on the other hand, was less consistent with temperatures throughout the day varying by up to 2C either side of the desired temperature.

As the same thermostat was used with both lamps the logical explanation is this difference in temperature consistency is due to the lamp. Potentially the DHP lamp alters quicker to the changes in current received from the thermostat with less heat being released with no current supplied.

With the DHP lamp gives out no visible light, some reptiles may not directly recognise the area it covers as a basking spot its use is best when combined with a nearby light source ensuring your lizards use the area for basking.

 

NOTE; Always only use heat sources if they are connected to reliable thermostats set at the correct temperature (which is checked with another thermometer).  The use of heat mats or lights without thermostats can cause your animal to become overheated, burnt or even risk a fire starting.

The Arcadia DHP Lamp and UV Flood in situ on Dals viv

What Have I Found

Since having the two products in Dal’s viv he tends to be fired up more in the evenings.

(Fired up means a Crested Gecko is a brighter or more vivid colour.  Crested Geckos have cells which change colour slightly, similar to what is seen with Chemeleons.  Unlike Chemeloens though they just change more or less vivid rather than their colour changing completely.  Crested Geckos can come more fired up when stressed, excited or more alert.)

During the day Dallas spends most of the time underneath the heat lamp whereas previously he didn’t.

One dramatic difference over the last few weeks is his energy levels.  Though he is still quiet and often asleep during the day (natural for Crested Geckos) he is much more active and interested in his surroundings around the time his DHP lamp and UV Flood turn off.  He is no longer spending as much of the evening stood still and he’s climbing and jumping more.  Dal’s also faster than he was previously if he wants to get something.

Final Thoughts

So, overall, the only thing I dislike about these products is the blue tinge to the UV Flood.  I feel the DHP lamp is really working well with both its consistency and the effect it, in combination with the UV Flood, appears to be having on Dallas.

You can just make out the blue tint to the UV-flood

Would I recommend these products… yes and I would definitely buy them again in the right circumstances.  The UV flood has too high a UVB rating for my leopard geckos though and they are kept on heating mats but with an appropriate lizard, or even a Parrot in the case of the UV Flood, I’d definitely get one.

 

If you want to discuss any of these products then feel free to contact me.  For more information on my pets then click here.

Seven Common Hoof Problems in Horses

As the old adage goes, “No Foot, No Horse”.  Horses are heavy animals spending most of the time on their feet.  In fact, them lying down for long periods can cause potentially disastrous damage to their muscles.  Unlike smaller animals and people, the sheer weight of a horse means leg amputation would not help them so any foot problems cause huge issues.

 

So, what are the most common disorders of horse’s hooves.

Laminitis

This condition raises masses of fear in any horse owner.

The horse’s hoof has two layers of soft tissue between the hoof wall and the inner structures.  This structure is called the lamina.  The lamina holds the pedal bone in the foot to the inside of the hoof wall and stops it falling further down within the foot.

Laminitis is a swelling of this structure.  It is usually associated with lameness of the front legs but can affect just one foot both back feet or all four.  This is an incredibly painful condition and can either come on really quickly or much more slowly and be there most of the time.

Laminitis presents more commonly in overweight ponies and is associated with hormonal conditions such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Cushings Disease.  However, it is also common in horses worked on hard ground, eating large amounts of fresh lush grass or even those recently treated with steroids.

The symptoms of laminitis include some or all of the following;

  • Lameness.
  • heat in the feet.
  • A bounding digital pulse, ridges on the hoof.
  • bruising of the sole.
  • Lameness or stiffness.
  • Standing back on their feet.

Laminitis, in the most severe of cases, can lead to the pedal bone rotating and dropping lower into the foot which bruises and may even puncture the sole.  These cases can be easily picked on xrays or MRI scans.

If you believe your horse or pony has laminitis you should ring your vet straight away.

With laminitis, you vet will ultimately want to work with both you and your horse’s farrier to try and make sure the horse has several treatments.  In most cases the horses should be kept on a;

  • deep layer of bedding.
  • rested.
  • have specific shoes to take the weight off their painful toes (such as heartbar shoes).
  • be given anti-inflammatory medications.
  • medications to improve the blood flow to the laminae.

Though laminitis can sometimes lead to a horse being put to sleep, especially in the more severe cases, getting the best treatment regime for them as soon as possible can really make a big difference.

The pedal bone (the lowest bone in the picture) has rotated and has dropped through the sole
White Line Disease

White line disease is very common.  It is caused by the separation of the hoof wall at one of the deeper layers of the hoof which lacks pigment, hence the white.  This may occur anywhere on the hoof but appears more at either the heels and quarters (back and sides) of the hoof.

There’s a number of possible causes of White Line Disease.  This tends to first develop with changes in moisture where the structure of the foot may be weaker. The movement of the foot when it’s strength isn’t at its maximum, as well as potential nutritional problems or increased concussion, may lead to small cracks developing.  With the presence of small cracks, bacteria and fungi get into the hoof from the outside world into the deep layer of the hoof causing it to separate.  However, the cause is not always clear-cut.

White line disease can alter in severity from really minor cases whereby the horse remains sound and relatively unaffected to the more severe end of the spectrum with it affecting the structure of the lamina treading to pedal bone rotation.

Other signs include

  • a crumbly area around the edge of the hoof wall on the sole.
  • the foot being hot or tender.
  • their feet becoming flat.
  • their hoof becomes concave on one side whilst bulging on the other side.
  • The hoof wall then starts to chip.
  • Their hooves sound hollow when tapped.

White line Disease may be diagnosed by your farrier finding damage to the hoof, either at the surface or when trimming.  In more severe cases where lameness is present any rotation of the pedal bones may be found by X-rays similar to laminitis.

With treatment,

  1. Any separated hoof wall should be removed and further damaged areas on the surface being removed at 7-10day intervals until the healthy horn is reached.
  2. The actual original cause of the disorder should be found and resolved.
  3. Appropriate shoeing can remove pressure from damaged areas of the hoof, these shoes should be replaced at four weekly intervals.
  4. The application of iodine or similar topical medications to the area may treat the infection.
  5. Keeping the foot dry.
  6. Use supplements which aid hoof growth eg Biotin and Methione supplements.

One thing to avoid is the application of acrylic to seal the area. This will enclose infection in and worsen the problem.

Navicular Disease

Navicular disease is very common. It is the cause of up to a third of chronic cases of lameness affecting both front legs, especially in Thoroughbreds.

There are a number of causes of Navicular Disease.

  1. Some horses are born with a divided navicular bone increasing the risk of a fracture to the navicular bone; a bone just in the heel of the foot.
  2. Trauma due to “wear and tear”. The most likely focus of this damage is due to damage of the deep digital flexor tendon (a tendon running down the back of the heel and which also attaches to the navicular (and pedal) bone.
  3. A fracture of the navicular bone.
  4. Reduction of blood flow to the navicular bone.
  5. In a smaller number of cases, the cause may be an infection of the navicular bone or a fluid sac behind this.  These infections are often caused by nails puncturing the area, often near the frog (a soft structure of the sole) which can lead to permanent changes such as arthritis.

Navicular Disease is related to swelling of the tissues and new the development of bone in some areas of/around the navicular bone and the breakdown of other areas of bone.

Signs of Navicular Disease;

  • Walking with their toes hitting the ground first.
  • Leaning forward over their toes; the opposite to those with laminitis, taking the weight off their painful heels.  This may visible by their hooves being worn over the toes and not at the heel.
  • With severe cases, your horse may be very reluctant to put any weight down their heels.
  • A nerve block (where your vet injects local anaesthetic at different points in the leg. This causes specific areas to become numb and, if the affected area is numb they will no longer be lame) around the navicular bone.
  • XRays show changes to the navicular bone leaving the Navicular bone looking moth-eaten around the edges.

To treat navicular disease your vet needs to find the cause.

  • Any fractures need to be repaired, often with surgically placed screws.
  • Putting a camera (known as an arthroscope) into the back of their foot to view the structures around the navicular bone, cut away any unhealthy tissues and clean out the area.
  • Your vet may suggest you call your farrier to shoe your horse so their toe is shorter and their heel. This stops them putting pressure on their heels.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory Drugs such as Phenylbutazone (“Bute) or Meloxicam (Metacam) to reduce both the swelling and pain helping your horse be in less pain and be able to move easier.
  • In severe cases, surgery can be done to cut the nerves at the back of the foot. This doesn’t affect their walking as these nerves don’t control their muscles. It also only helps in the short term as, over time, the nerves will heal. This method works purely by numbing the area so your horse will no longer be in pain and will therefore no longer be in pain.

    Heartbar shoes can help with laminitis and cracked hooves
Foot Abscess

A foot abscess is a very common cause of sudden lameness at rest in horses.

As the horse suddenly becomes severely lame when they previously showed no lameness, many horse owners initially think their horse has damaged a tendon though this is not the case.

An abscess is a pocket of infection and pus.  As the hoof is very hard there is nowhere for this pus to be released so pressure builds up against sensitive structures of their foot such as the lamina.  Abscesses are very, very painful and often the horse won’t even put weight down their leg at all.

Usually, an area of the sole next to the abscess becomes soft which can be found and then removed by a farrier or vet, releasing the pus.  With the pus gone the pressure on the structures of the hoof reduces instantaneously and the pain drops rapidly with the horse no longer being quite as lame.

To help drain any extra pus from the foot and prevent further pus and infection developing there the foot is often bandaged with a poultice which actively draws any pus out of the foot. With training, most horse owners are able to apply bandages and poultices to their own horse’s feet, especially if they are quiet.

Bruising

Horses feet, like ours or those of other animals, can become bruised.  A bruise on a horses foot looks very similar to bruises we may get.

These develop for a number of reasons;

  • Having stones stuck in the foot or walking on stony ground.
  • The rotation and dropping of the pedal bone in laminitis, especially if the pedal bone has rotated and is dropping
  • Abscesses.
  • Poor feet trimming.

Nothing consistently speeds up the healing of bruises but your horse should not be worked when they have these as they do cause some pain.  Providing your horse with a thick soft bed will also help through the cushioning reducing the pressure on their feet.

Cracked Hooves

Several things can cause hooves to become cracked.

If the hoof becomes cracked, either side of the crack move as the horse is walking and weight-bearing.  This constant movement puts pressure on the lamina and tears it.  As the lamina is the only structure within the hoof holding the pedal bone against gravity, the tendency is for the pedal bone to rotate and drop if not careful.  Other risks are that infection enters the crack leading to a foot abscess or even, more dangerously, the pedal bone becomes infected which, if happens, will require surgery.

Cracks have various causes.  The vertical cracks start either at the top or bottom of the hoof and are known as sand and grass cracks respectively.

Sand cracks are commonly caused by the hooves being overgrown.  The overgrowth places pressure on the front of the coronary band (the area where the hoof grows from) which contains lots of small tubes for supplying nutrients to each tiny section of the hoof.  As pressure is placed on the papilla they become blocked and, after a short period of time, the new horn growing in that area dies from a lack of nutrition.  As a result, a gap develops in the growing hood, creating a crack.

Cracks starting at the bottom of the hooves, however, result from a horses foot not being correctly balanced.  Horses should walk with either side of their foot hitting the ground at the same time and the heel hitting slightly before the toe.  If the horses walk isn’t balanced, some areas of hoof are worn more than they should be and other areas not worn enough.  A crack will develop if the hoof isn’t trimmed down to correct this difference.  Sometimes cracks can start in the middle.  This isn’t seen as much as it used to be and was caused by carriage horses stepping n the hoof of the one next to them.

If cracks develop you should contact your vet, especially if they are more than superficial.

These may have foreign bodies in them that must be identified by xray before removal.  Without these procedures the likelihood of foot abscess and infection of the bone (osteitis) is greatly increased.

A good farrier should be able to reduce the size of the crack however, in severe cases, they cannot fully immobilise them.

Grass cracks can sometimes be removed mostly through trimming of the hoof.  As well as this trimming of the hoof should be used as a method of altering how the hoof hits the ground the balance the foot and reduce the pressure on the crack to allow it to heal.

Finally, glues and staples can be used in the centre of cracks as well as heartbar shoes to help to stabilise the hoof wall.  Over time, the cracks grow out as the foot grows down.  The exception to that is with severe defects or those fully splitting the coronary band whereby a gap may always be present in the growing hoof.

Picking out a horses hooves is a very important part of their care
Thrush

Thrush is a fungal infection of the sole.  It creates a foul odor and black discharge often around the frog.

Thrush may develop due to a lack of hygiene and can also be aided by the improvement of that.

To prevent Thrush developing, your horse’s feet should be picked at least once daily with a hoof pick and cleaned if they are muddy.

Thrush is treated by adhering to strict hygiene regimes and, if needed, you can buy Thrush treatments.

Thrush usually doesn’t cause pain or inflammation so it doesn’t usually cause them to become lame, however, over time it can damage the soft structures of the sole.

End Note

So some of the main problems affecting the hooves of horses and other equids (such as donkeys or zebra) are laminitis, abscesses, navicular disease, thrush, cracks, bruises and white line disease.  These can all be of varying severities and often can be interlinked ie navicular disease can be due to a bone infection which could lead to an abscess or bruises can be as a result of laminitis.

To find out about my connection with horses then read my introductory blog.  Also if you want to discuss anything here in more detail then leave a comment below or contact me directly.  Finally, if you found this job informative/ interesting then please subscribe; enter your email in the box in the right sidebar.

Twelve Signs A Cat Is in Pain

Whilst working as a vet I constantly treated animals in pain.  My MSc dissertation was then on detecting pain in rabbits alongside me looking at the evidence for methods of identifying pain in other rodents.  So detecting pain is an interest of mine.  Some people think it’s a bit of a weird interest and think I have a morbid fascination with pain; the reality, animals can’t speak for themselves and making sure they are as pain-free as possible should be the top of any owner or vets priorities.

 

Cats Don’t Yelp

Usually, cats in pain don’t make a sound.  If they do the pain is excruciating and very few conditions lead to cats screaming out.

In fact cats hide pain and illness as much as they can because in the wild if they show a weakness they will not get the food they need or even be attacked.

So, when looking for pain in cats you have to look for very subtle signs.  This is the mistake owners make, they presume because their cat isn’t limping, is eating and not crying then they’re fine and don’t need treatment.

 

So what are these signs?

  1. Hiding more
    1. Cats may hide behind sofas or under the bed.  They may take themselves to a different room or hide in some bushes
    2. Like people cats want to be alone and not to be messed with when in pain so retreat to somewhere quiet that’s usually covered
    3. They may hide more near to a radiator, heater or fire as heat can often help those achy joints.
  2. Stop Jumping or won’t jump as high
    1. This is a big sign.
    2. Jumping often increases pain so they just don’t jump as high or as often and sometimes they stop jumping altogether
    3. If you notice your cat is staying in your garden all the time when usually they would’ve jumped over the fence at their first chance then the may be in pain
  3. Walking Stiffly
    1. They may walk more stiffly and slower.  Their movement tends to improve the more they move.
  4. Walking with their back more bent
    1. Their back may be arched and remains like that as they are walking
    2. This can be due to pain in their back legs, hip or spine.
  5. They may sleep more
    1. Being in pain is tiring and walking with it is more tiring
    2. Often they sleep more due to having less energy left
    3. This means they may be in their bed more.

      Cats in pain may sleep more
  6. They may become more aggressive
    1. Moving and playing hurts, even stroking may hurt
    2. Just like people, your cat won’t want people doing anything which may cause pain so they do all they can to stop this.
    3. This may mean your cat becomes more aggressive and will even scratch/ bite you or other animals especially if they are touching an area which may hurt.
  7. They may not want to eat
    1. Sometimes pain can reduce appetite
    2. Pain can also cause your cat to feel nauseous.
    3. Tooth problems may cause pain when eating.
    4. All these lead to many cats not eating as much though this is not seen in all cases; some cats will continue to eat normally when they have excruciating dental pain.
  8. Their eyes are sometimes partly closed or look squinted
    1. This can also be a sign of other illnesses such as cat flu or conjunctivitis so don’t rely on this definitely being due to pain.
    2. If your cat is on strong painkillers or has had an anaesthetic this may cause them to have squinty eyes.
    3. However, if on squinty eyes can be a sign of pain.
    4. Pain can also cause the pupils to be dilated (making them larger).
    5. As they can be a sign of several things, squinty eyes are no longer used to assess pain in cats.

      Squinted cats can be an indicator of pain but also reflects other situations
  9. They may struggle to go to the toilet or toilet outside of their litter tray.
    1. Cats in pain, depending where the pain is, may find it difficult to get into certain positions
    2. Climbing into a litter tray can be harder when in pain, especially if it’s affecting the hips or spine so they may no longer use the litter tray
    3. Squatting may cause intense pain which may prevent your cat from going
    4. Sometimes because of being in pain whenever they go in the litter tray they associate the tray itself with pain and start to toilet elsewhere in the house
    5. They may become constipated or their bladder becomes overfull due to refusing or being unable to toilet.
  10. Changes in Purring
    1. Cats purr for many reasons, not only when they are happy.
    2. Cats also purr when stressed or in pain so if you notice your cat is suddenly purring more then this may be why.
  11. Changes to Breathing or Heart Rate
    1. Now most owners don’t go checking their cat’s heart rate constantly but when cats are in pain you may notice their chest going up and down more as they breathe quicker
    2. With severe pain some cats also mouth-breathe, similar to dogs panting.  If you see this get your cat checked at the vets straight away; it may be a sign of a severe illness.
    3. If you are very observant, and depending how much hair your cat has, you may also begin to see their heart beating faster just behind where their elbow is when they’re laid on their sides.
    4. A vet is likely to pick up on this change during an examination of your cat so may then look more specifically for something causing pain.
  12. Changes to their Facial Expression
    1. Cats facial expression can change similar to when we smile or frown.
    2. When we are in pain our facial expression changes in a certain pattern that suggests we are experiencing pain.
    3. Your cat’s facial expression may also alter when they are in pain however it is quite subtle.
    4. Their ears go down and to the sides rather than being alert and on the top of their head like they normally are
    5. More subtly, the space between their nose and mouth gets smaller but protrudes further and spreads wider with pain.
    6. Facial expression may be unchanged if your cat has chronic pain (pain that lasts for days or even weeks) such as with arthritis so don’t rely on this method alone.

The first step is recognising pain.  The next step is helping your cat deal with it.  This may mean just making changes around the house such ramps onto things so they don’t have to jump.  However, it may also mean taking your pet to see a vet.

Vet checks may be scary for both you and your pet but they are the only way for you to find out exactly what is wrong and to find the best ways to treat it, not only for your furry friend but also for you.

Don’t worry, some of these treatments may not involve forcing tablets into their mouths as some are liquids but work with your vet to find out what is wrong and the best way to treat it.

If their back is sore and they are struggling with toileting sometimes buying a shallower litter tray or cutting a section out in the front so they don’t have to lift their feet as much really helps.

 

Quick Recap

It can be hard to tell when your cat is in pain.  They have evolved to shadow few signs of it.  Hints that your cat is in pain is them withdrawing themselves, acting differently (being quiet or even more aggressive), not eating, changes in their facial expression, purring more, not toileting normally or changes with how they move.

If you’re not sure take them to the vet and they can help find the problem and advise what else to do.

You may find it useful to read my blog describing the signs of pain in a dog; these are slightly different to in cats.  If you want to discuss this issue in more detail feel free to contact me.

 

I would be grateful if you could share this.  Also, if you found this useful feel free to subscribe by typing your email address into the box in the sidebar.

Photos by Amanda Sheehan Instagram; xa_j_sx

Twelve Signs Your Dog is In Pain

Whilst working as a vet I constantly treated animals in pain.  My MSc dissertation was then on detecting pain in rabbits and rodents.  So detecting pain is an interest of mine.  Some people think it’s a bit of a weird interest and think I have a morbid fascination with pain. The reality, animals can’t speak for themselves so making sure they are as pain-free as possible should be a top priority.

 

Dog’s don’t always cry out in pain

Contrary to popular belief, if your dog is in pain it may not make a sound.  Only when pain shocks a dog or if in severe pain do they yelp and they still may not.  It’s just like when you’re in pain you don’t always scream.

So, when looking for pain in dogs you should look for other signs.  This is the mistake owners make.  Owners presume because their dog isn’t limping, is eating and not crying they’re not in pain and don’t need treatment.  However, this may not be the case.

So what are these signs?

  1. Hiding or laying more
    1. Dogs may hide behind sofas.  They also often go and stay where there aren’t many people or other pets.
    2. Like people dogs want to be alone and not to be messed with when in pain so retreat to somewhere quiet.
    3. They may stay close to a radiator, heater or fire as heat can often help those achy joints and be soothing.
    4. Dogs spending more time in bed may be in pain
  2. Stop Jumping or won’t jump as high
    1. Jumping often increases pain so they just don’t jump as high or as often and sometimes they stop jumping altogether
    2. If they usually jump up at you when you come home they may stop greeting up by jumping up.
  3. Walking Stiffly
    1. They may walk more stiffly and slower.  Their movement tends to improve the more they move.
    2. If the pain is in their hips they may also drag their feet along the floor a bit too.  However, if they do this be careful and get them checked by a vet as it may be a sign of nerve or spinal damage.
  4. Limping
    1. The exception to this rule is if they have a condition or previously injury which means they can’t walk normally.
    2. If your dog starts limping out of the blue there is an almost 100% chance that the leg they are limping on is painful.
    3. Not all dogs who limp but the majority of them are in pain.
  5. Different Posture
    1. Walking with their back more bent
    2. Their back may be arched and remains like that as they are walking
    3. This can be due to pain in their back legs, hip or spine.
    4. This can be more common with older dogs
    5. If they have belly ache they may also stand with their back arched
  6. They may sleep more
    1. Being in pain is tiring and walking with it is more tiring
    2. Often they sleep more due to having less energy left
    3. This means they may be in their bed more.
  7. They may become more aggressive
    1. Just like people, your dog won’t want people doing anything which may cause pain so they do all they can to stop this.
    2. This may mean your dog becomes more aggressive and may even bite.
    3. you or other animals especially if they are touching a sore area.
    4. Moving and playing hurts, even stroking may hurt

      In pain?
      Painful dogs can be aggressive
  8. They may not want to eat
    1. Sometimes pain can reduce appetite
    2. Pain can also cause your cat to feel nauseous.
    3. Tooth problems may cause pain when eating.
    4. All these lead to many dogs not eating as much though this is not seen in all cases; some dogs will still eat normally even with have excruciating dental pain.
  9. Changes to Breathing or Heart Rate
    1. Now most owners don’t go checking their dog’s heart rate constantly but when dogs are in pain you may notice their chest going up and down more as they breathe quicker
    2. With severe pain some dogs may start panting, however, remember panting is often because they are anxious, excited, hot or because they have just been running around.
    3. If you are very observant, and depending how much hair your dog has, you may also begin to see their heart beating faster just behind where their elbow is when they’re laid on their sides.
    4. A vet is likely to pick up on this change during an examination of your cat so may then look more specifically for something causing pain.
  10. Yelping
    1. This may be seen when dogs are in severe pain or when pain surprises them.
    2. This can sometimes be used to track down where it hurts if a dog yelps when you touch an area however it isn’t fair to purposely do this.
    3. Even if a dog is yelping it may be difficult to tell where the problem is so usually your vet will have to look for other signs of pain along with your dog crying.

      A stethoscope can be used to hear a raised rate caused by pain
  11. The Praying Position
    1. This is a very specific sign of pain and isn’t seen in most cases
    2. The praying position is where your dog is stood up fully on their back legs but their front ones are parallel to the floor as if they are laying so together it looks like they are praying.
    3. This is seen in some, though not all, cases of pancreatitis, a condition where the pancreas (an organ in the front of their abdomen) is very swollen and painful.
    4. Most types of pain do not show this sign.
  12. Licking/ Grooming Excessively
    1. Your dog may be excessively licking or biting one area of their body
    2. This is most commonly seen in the leg joints or feet
    3. Biting the skin over a joint may be a sign that they have a problem in that joint causing pain.
    4. If they are nibbling the feet check there’s nothing stuck in there like stones in the hair or thorns.
    5. Whilst this is good at helping you to find where the pain is it can quickly lead to skin damage and infections which causes your dog even more problems.

I think my Dog is In Pain, What do I do Now?

The first step is recognising pain.  The next step is helping your dog deal with it.  Now you have to think about taking your dog to see a vet.

Vet checks may be scary for both you and your pet but they are the only way for you to find out exactly what is wrong and to find the best ways to treat it, not only for your furry friend but also for you.

Don’t worry, some of these treatments may not involve forcing tablets into their mouths as some are liquids but work with your vet to find out what is wrong and the best way to treat it.

 

Quick Recap

The main signs of pain in dogs are them yelping or crying, eating less, wanting to be left alone, sometimes becoming aggressive, being quiet and having difficulties walking or jumping.  Sometimes their posture changes too with their back arched or, in rare cases such as Pancreatitidemonstrate demonstrate the praying position.

If you’re not sure take them to the vet and they can help find the problem and advise what else to do.

 

If you enjoyed this blog or found it informative I would be grateful if you could share this.  Also, if you found this useful feel free to subscribe by typing your email address into the box in the sidebar.

Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions or discussion points.  Also feel free to get in touch with me to find out more about this topic.

Can Pets Make Me Happy?

Do you feel down and want something to help you to feel better?  Did you know pets can help you to become and remain happy?  Let’s explore the reasons for this and let you see whether a pet is a good option to improve your mood.

Generally speaking, animals improve a person’s mental well-being and happiness.  Studies have shown, for instance, that dog owners are less likely to have depression than those without pets.  Animals can lift a person’s mood.  Just by them observing nature our happiness increases.  Other animals have specific roles to lift people’s mood or mental health such as Pets As Therapy (P.A.T) animals.  P.A.T animals go into nursing homes and hospitals to be stroked by/ spend time with residents and patients to reduce their stress and increase their happiness.  Variations of P.A.T animals have long been seen as beneficial with horses used to improve the mental health of patients as far back as the 1860s.  Today the popularity of P.A.T animals is still gaining support and increasingly aiding the mental and physical recovery of patients.

So, how do animals make us happy?

1. Increase the Amount You Go Out

Dogs and horses, especially, increase the amount of time someone spends outside whether that be via training an animal, walking them or simply playing.  Venturing outdoors increases happiness by allowing you to absorb Vitamin D, both improving our physical fitness and improving mental health conditions like depression.  Alongside this, the unique sounds, smells and sights of the outdoors may lift your mood by both changing your surroundings and giving you something to focus on.

Spending time outside with your pet could, in fact, be a method of mindfulness which is a technique used to by many to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and low mood.

Tess playing
2. Animals often need exercise.

Examples of exercising with a pet could be walking your dog, cat or even a ferret or looking after/ riding a horse.  Exercise causes endorphins (feel-good chemicals similar to similar chemicals to morphine) to be released, thus improving mood.  Taking part in different exercises or activities will give you things to focus on other than your worries.

Exercising with your animal and focussing on them and what they choose to do will likely cheer you up.  So, exercise with your pet will likely create happiness through multiple avenues.

 

3. Animals help to reduce stress.

Studies have shown that stroking/ grooming animals in a rhythmic fashion not only appears to increase their happiness but also increases the happiness and of the person and reduces their stress levels.

Focussing on the heat, movement, and hair texture of your pet allows you to be distracted from your worries and brings you down to earth.  Also stroking your pet leads to a release of the hormone Oxytocin within both yours and your pet’s bodies.  One role of Oxytocin is to create a bond between an animal/ human and their newly born offspring, meaning stroking your animal not only helps to calm you both down and increase your happiness but also strengthens the bond between you and your pet.

4. Pets Distract You From Your Worries

Unlike people, animals only live in the present, not towards the past or future.  Spending time with your often optimistic pet helps ground you and results in keeping your mind in the moment.  You no longer become overly engaged with your worries or problems.

The effect of this distraction is aided further if you are taking photos or videos of your pets.  Here you’re focussing more on them and their antics even more, further distancing your mindset from any worries/ anxieties.

A dog is a great companion
Rocky, my parent’s dog, showing me companionship
5. Pets help to Reduce Loneliness

Throughout domestication, dogs have become very good at reading human body language and facial expression.  They recognise when people are feeling upset and distressed and often actively seek these people out if they are alone.

If you are alone and have a pet you can develop a lot of interactions between yourself and your pet.  These interactions have proven to help reduce loneliness, increase happiness and reduce the severity of mental health issues, anxiety and stress.

Your pet will also make you feel more secure and helps you to develop a routine for their sake which will help you to keep people busy, stay motivated and reduce the amount you dwell over your problems.  People tend o stick to routines better if they are doing it for others rather than themselves and routines alone, regardless of the presence of ainimals, lift people’s moods.

However, it has to be understood that buying pets just because you’re lonely is not the best idea.  All pets are a big commitment. When buying one you must be prepared to care for them for potentially many years to come so you must not view them as a way to resolve a short-term situation.  A dog for example, dependent on breed, can live to fifteen years old or more, Cats potentially longer and rabbits often eight to ten years and that’s not including the financial commitment.

6.  Animals Are Great Listeners.

Your pet is non-judgemental, can’t tell other people your secrets/ fears and often stick close when you’re talking to them.  You can talk to them without fear of repercussions.    Many find talking to their pets often helps to sort out their thoughts and so they can help you feel happier and it can act like a miniature therapy session.

I, personally, talked to my dog about my problems and talked her through topics I was revising.  It helped me sort through and analyse my thoughts but I’m not convinced she would have been able to sit through one of my Biochemistry exams for me!

7. Animals Provide Unconditional Love.

The issue with people is that if you do anything they don’t like they potentially will no longer care about you, though usually, this isn’t the case.  Animals, however, don’t understand the complexities of life or are concerned by material goods.  A dog constantly following you wanting a fuss helps to make you feel loved and therefore helps raise your self-worth and confidence, thus aiding with mental health issues and improving happiness.

8.  Animals, especially Dogs, Aid you Socially

When walking a dog you often interact with other dog owners and walkers.  Dog or animal lovers who are passing even without a dog are more likely to interact with you or your dog, increasing your human interaction.  This helps to increase your self-worth which generally makes you happier and more confident.

Having a pet allows leads on to discussions with pet owners in other situations such as at the vets or on pet-related areas of social media.  They also help by increasing your the social opportunities such joining dog walking groups, flyball and/ or agility teams and classes in obedience and showing to name a few.  People doing these activities share the common interest of pets with you so it’s a conversation starter and leads to you developing more friends and connections.  Having a greater number of connections reduces feelings of isolation,  loneliness and withdrawal which, for many, increases happiness.

Conversely, however, having pets such as dogs or horses is a large time commitment which can reduce other areas of your social life. For instance, dogs shouldn’t be left alone for hours on end so you may not be able to spend as much time out with your friends as previously.  Pets can also prevent you from booking that last-minute holiday offer as you can’t just drop everything and leave, you need to work around their needs.  However, with some thought can have an active social life and pets; go on pet-friendly holidays, employ a dog walker or pet sitter and invite people around to your house instead, with their pets if they have any. This plan means your pet can also benefit from more snuggles, not only keeping you and your friends happy but increasing their happiness too.

9.  Pets can Give You a Sense of Purpose

People with low mood often feel like they have little purpose.  However, the presence of your pet gives you something to do, helps structure your life and gives you responsibility.  You no longer can stay in bed all day; you now have to get up to feed, walk, play with and groom your pets.  Purely getting out of bed helps keep your mind occupied, helps you focus on things other than your problems and increases your happiness.

If you become overwhelmed by negative thought or anxiety your pet’s needs and desires will give you something else focus and playing will also further distract you.

Pets do not judge, unlike people.  If you help them you’ll be rewarded by their interaction and bond with you helping to raise your self-belief and lift your mood.

If you allow your child to look after appropriate pets they will help raise your child’s self-worth.  The presence of your pet’s unconditional love and companionship helps improve your child’s confidence and create a positive self image.  This not only improves your child’s happiness at the time but can potentially reduce the severity of mental health conditions they may experience then or in the future.

 

Reptiles improve happiness?
Studies have shown Crickets and Fish can reduce depression, can reptiles

 

10. Watching Pets Makes you Smile And Smiling Makes You Happy

Watching the funny and cute antics of your furry friends will lead to you smiling.  Smiling itself increases happiness.  It not only is an outward sign to others that you feel good but it also causes Endorphins Serotonin and Dopamine to be released in your brain.  These chemicals are present in, or enhanced by, anti-depressants and improve your mood.  So, think of your pet as being your own little furry antidepressant which doesn’t require a doctors visit.

11.  Playing with Pets Enhances Your Mood.

Most pets enjoy play.  Play is an activity associated with childhood.  As you grow you may no longer engage in play as much.  However, playing with pets takes you back to your childhood, improving your mood and reducing your stress.  Play also benefits your animals by creating mental stimulation and helping them to stay physically fit.

The same as with smiling, playing with pets leads to Serotonin and Dopamine being released into your brain, having an antidepressant-like effect without the side effects.

Another good resource showing the positive effects of dogs on your mental heal this an article entitled How Dogs Can Help with Mental Health – Mind Boosting Benefits of Dog Ownership.  The article (for Dog Owner) compounds a large amount of research in the area into an easy piece of writing that you can keep coming back to.

Having your Own Pet is Impractical?  How You can Spend Time with Animals

Though most people can benefit from having a pet, it isn’t always that simple.  With so many people in rented housing where landlords refuse pets, pet ownership can be difficult.  You may also not be able to own a pet due to the substantial cost of their upkeep, the commitment they require or you have health problems which prevent you owning any.  If these apply to you, all is lost, there are other ways to interact with animals.

Many animals are kept in shelters.  These all need companionship either in the form of fostering where the animal lives with you temporarily or, volunteering at shelters.  Both of these allow you to care for/ spend time with animals in the short term without the longer term commitments.  Volunteering not only helps you mix with animals but also increases your social circle which improves your mood.

Outside of volunteering, there are other opportunities to spend time with animals such as pet-sitting or dog walking which may produce some income; something that may further increase your self-confidence and happiness.  You could also spend time with a relative or friend who owns a pet or, some people even find simply visiting a pet shop or children’s/ city farm is enough to help raise their mood.

 

To discuss in more detail how a pet may help you to become happy, ways in which you could safely spend time with animals or the best pet for you the contact me or leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.  If you want to read more of my blogs then feel free to put your email in the box to the right.

The Problem with Pugs (and other Brachycephalic Dog Breeds)

I’m going to touch on a subject which I believe is very important and currently, there are several media campaigns raising awareness on it.  This campaign is related to Brachycephalic (flat-nosed/ flat-faced) breeds of animals.  My intention of this blog is not to cause offense to anyone, nor state all brachycephalic animals have poor health/ welfare but to raise awareness of the general issues facing these breeds.  I want to state that I personally do not believe the breeding of brachycephalic breeds should be banned.  Instead, I feel breeding associations such as the Kennel Club (KC) and American Kennel Club should carefully reconsider their breed guidelines to reduce the health problems facing these breeds.  Failing a change in breed standards, the development of health programs for issues facing brachycephalic breeds (similar to hip scoring done in Labradors and German Shepherd Dogs) should be considered.

 

What is a Brachycephalic Breed?

Brachycephaly describes animals that have flat-faces with a very short nose which may be almost flat against the face.  Brachycephalic animal breeds are where the breed characteristics include brachycephaly as a feature.  People usually associate the term brachycephalic breeds with dogs however, brachycephalic cat and rabbit breeds exist.

Rabbits and Cats can be Brachycephalic too

Rabbit and cat breeds are often overlooked by their canine counterparts when it comes to this issue.  This means the public/ owner awareness of brachycephaly in rabbits and cats is even lower than with dogs.  Brachycephalic cat breeds are as follows;

  • British Shorthair.
  • Exotic Shorthair.
  • Himalayan cat.
  • Persian cat.
  • Scottish Fold.

Whereas brachycephalic rabbit breeds are;

  • Netherland Dwarf
  • Lionhead

both of which are very popular.

Persian cats are brachycephalic too
Brachycephalic Breeds are just Pugs and French Bulldogs, right?

When you mention brachycephalic breeds of dogs, the ones which come to mind are Pugs, French Bulldogs and English Bulldogs.  However, many more breeds are brachycephalic including;

  • American Bulldog.
  • Boston Terrier.
  • Boxer.
  • Bullmastiff.
  • Cane Corso.
  • Dogue de Bordeaux.
  • Mastiff breeds.
  • Japanese Chin.
  • Pekingnese.
  • Rottweiller.
  • Shih Tzu.
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier is considered brachycephalic too.

Some of these breeds are more commonly affected by brachycephaly associated health conditions more than others explaining why many breeds on this list are not highlighted in campaigns.

 

So What Are The Problems with Brachycephalic Breeds?

Brachycephalic breeds have shorter, sometimes almost non-existent muzzles with their nose almost completely flat to the face in severe cases.  Breathing becomes more difficult in brachycephalic dogs for a number of reasons best explained by comparing the x-rays of a Labrador (non-brachycephalic) with a severely brachycephalic English Bulldog.

NB; On x-ray, Air is black, bone is white and soft tissue (eg skin or the throat) is grey.

I am going to work down from the front of the face to the lungs to highlight the issues on this xray (used with the kind permission of Cat The Vet, a UK veterinary surgeon and vet/ animal welfare campaigner and blogger).

Facial/ neck anatomy Comparison xray
Comparison of a Labrador’s head and neck anatomy compared to a Bulldog’s

 

  1. The nose. There is a drastic difference between the length of the muzzle in the Labrador compared to the Bulldog.  The muzzle and internal structures of the nose contained within both these dogs contain the same number of organs and amount of soft tissue but in the Bulldog this is greatly compacted.  One function of the nose is to allow air to pass through when breathing; when there’s too much soft tissue present, less air can pass through easily making breathing more difficult as is the case with the Bulldog.
  2. Between the nose and circular eye socket of the Bulldog, you should be able to detect darker grey areas which aren’t present in the Labrador. These are the skin folds above the Bulldog’s nose where the skin originally designed for a dog with a longer nose is still present but there isn’t enough space for it to lie flat.  Whilst skin folds don’t affect the dog’s breathing, can affect their quality of life.  This skin becomes hot and irritated and the hot, moist, and greasy area is a perfect place for skin infections to start.  As a result, the skin becomes inflamed and painful before an infection develops.  Many brachycephalic dogs resist you touching their face and one reason for this is their irritated skin.
  3. The teeth. Again, this is not an issue with their breathing, but both the Labrador and the bulldog have the same number of teeth.  In the Labrador, these all have plenty of space but in the Bulldog, they become crowded due to the maxilla (“upper jaw”) being smaller.  The maxilla is also much further back than the jaw so the teeth don’t meet as they should.  The teeth not lining up not only causes problems with dogs picking up food but them not lining up with those on the lower row means teeth can contact the lower gum and vice versa leading to lifelong painful sores or holes in the gum which potentially become infected.  Finally, with a Bulldog’s mouth being too small for its teeth these often either turn and overlap or don’t erupt from the gum.  Them not erupting means they stay within the gum causing pain and potentially leading to an infection requiring the tooth to be extracted whilst it’s within the bone (which the gum covers); a complex surgery requiring bone to be removed.
  4. The back of the mouth/ the throat. Here you see the black airway in the Bulldog is very narrow in comparison to the Labrador. Extra tissue lies in the back of the mouth/ throat, partially blocking the airflow and creating the characteristic snoring or snorting noise when the dog breathes which many people feel are cute. Also, some brachycephalics struggle with their soft palate, a fleshy tissue in the throat, being too long and also blocking the airflow.  These structures reduce the amount of air getting through and cause turbulence in that airflow resulting in the air all flowing in different directions so less air enters the trachea (windpipe).
  5. Finally, you will notice the black trachea running from the throat to the lungs is much narrower in the Bulldog. This means once the Bulldog has used a lot of energy and adapted it’s breathing to force air past all the obstacles before the trachea, there is even more obstruction to airflow.  This means brachycephalic dogs have even more issues getting air to their lungs than if their problems only affected their noses.

Dogs need plenty of oxygen from their lungs to be both physically and mentally active.  If their airflow is restricted they will become easily stressed when active as they will be unable to breathe in enough air to feel comfortable.  In worse case scenarios they can faint or even have seizures (fit) when exercising because the oxygen in their blood is too low to adequately supply their organs including their brain and heart.  In fact, many brachycephalic dogs are very quiet purely because them doing any exercise can be both very difficult and uncomfortable.  Imagine you’re breathing through a straw whilst out on a run; being able to keep on running will quickly make you tired, uncomfortable and you may even begin to feel dizzy; this is how a brachycephalic dog with breathing problems feels.

This Bulldog’s nostrils are so closed they will struggle to breathe at all
Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS)

Together, the breathing problems mentioned above alongside a narrowing of the nostrils create BOAS.  This syndrome is diagnosed in brachycephalic breeds whose features cause the breathing difficulties difficult and affects up to 85% of Pugs and 45% of French Bulldogs.  This syndrome severely affects many dogs lives, reducing their welfare as they are unable to act like dogs and struggle to go for walks or even playing. There isn’t a magic pill that helps BOAS, the only effective treatment is surgery. This surgery, or collection of surgical procedures, could cost thousands of pounds and, more importantly, in the short-term, may be painful and dangerous for your dogs to go through.  However, in the long-run, these procedures will massively improve your dog’s energy levels, health, and quality of life.  In fact, surgery changes their lives so much that one of the most common complaints is how their dog has become bouncy and difficult to handle.  The surgery itself has not changed the dog behaviour, or what it wants to do just now they can act in a way in their health was preventing them from doing.  Thus, if your dog is more bouncy and boisterous after BOAS surgery it is a sign they really needed surgery and that it’s been effective.

 

Some brachycephalic dogs do not need surgery at all and live normal healthy lives with few problems.  However, for those that need surgery some may only need one procedure whereas others may need several done together as one big operation.  The simplest procedure, and therefore the most common, is to widen the nostrils.  This allows more air into the nose thus, to some degree, increasing the amount of air getting to the lungs but it doesn’t help with any narrowing or obstructions past the nostrils which is often the bigger problem.  To increase the success rate, along with widening the nostrils, a dog may have its soft palate shortened, and tissue near the tonsils removed.  These procedures together greatly increase the amount of air a dog can breathe in, often completely resolving any breathing issues.

Do Brachycephalic Breeds have other Problems?

Brachycephalic breeds have a large number of health problems and I am only touching on a few here.

Brachycephalic dogs, especially the bull breeds, have very wide heads and relatively narrow pelvises.  This doesn’t affect them unless they are pregnant females.  The vast majority of Pugs and Bulldogs cannot give birth naturally as the bitch’s pelvis isn’t wide enough for the puppy’s head to pass through. Their dogs often need caesareans with each pregnancy with over 80% of Bulldogs, Boston Terriers and French Bulldogs requiring caesarians to give birth.  If they don’t get a caesarean on time, both the mum and pups can die.  The risks of a caesarean are;

  1. The anaesthetic risk (higher due to their breathing problems) which affects both the mum and the puppies),
  2. Infections and problems with wound healing
  3. Rejection of the puppies. When a bitch doesn’t naturally give birth they often don’t recognise the puppies as their own so refuse to let them suckle.  The only way for them to survive is for the owner to hand-rear them, feeding them every two hours newborns.

Finally, caesarians are also very painful. This pain may worsen when nursing, making it more likely for her to reject the puppies.

The Kennel Club guidelines state that bitches from accredited breeders can only have two litters by caesarean section due to the risks and pain that this causes.  However, if the bitch is in labour and the puppies are stuck they NEED to have a caesarean otherwise both the mum and litter will die.  When performing a caesarean, vets will usually offer to spay the mum.  This doesn’t take much longer or increase the risks much but prevents further pregnancies.

 

Some Bulldogs/ Pugs have issues with their spine.  This malformation is related to their curly tail whereby one or more of their vertebra is a triangular shape (called hemivertebra) rather than a rectangle.  This causes their spine to develop a bend called Kyphosis.  This can be incredibly dangerous as well as painful.  If the affected vertebra is in the thoracic part of the spine it may cause the spine to be mal-aligned over the ribcage altering the shape of the chest cavity which can cause breathing problems.  In other areas, kyphosis or lordosis (a similar curved of the spine) may affect the nerves leaving the spine causing reduced the coordination of the legs and, in severe cases, causing paralysis.

This pugs eye is protruding from it’s socked. It also has damage to the cornea (the surface of the eye).

Brachycephalic breeds often have very prominent eyes.  Their squashed faces also cause their eye sockets to be shallower so their eyes to stick out more and are not held in place as securely.  As they are more prominent there is less tissue there to protect them.  As a result, it is more likely that brachycephalic dogs are more at risk of both eye infections (eg. conjunctivitis or uveitis) or, corneal ulcers (scratches to the surface of the eye) which may be difficult to treat.  Many brachycephalic animals have scars on their corneas from previous poorly healed ulcers.  They are also more prone to their eyes coming out of their sockets, something called exophthalmos.  Exophthalmos can happen with trauma to the head or the muscles holding the eye in place becoming weak.  If they get this, they must see a vet immediately.  If taken quickly, their vet may be able to put them back into place with minimal damage caused, though it may recur.  However, if this is left, not only will it cause excruciating pain, it can affect the vision potentially leading to blindness.  Also, without treatment, the eye will also become incredibly infected and damaged so the only available treatment is the removal of the eye.

So Why All the Media Attention and Campaigning?

Due to a large number of Pugs and French Bulldogs, in particular, being in the media, and kept by famous people, the numbers of these kept in the UK has sky-rocketed.  French Bulldogs are soon to overtake the Labrador as the breed with the most dogs registered with Pugs are not far behind (In 2016 French Bulldogs (21,470 registered dogs) were the 3rd most popular dog with numbers increasing by massive 147% from 2015 with Pugs (10,408 registered dogs) being the fourth behind Labradors (33,856 registered dogs) and Cocker Spaniels (21,854 registered dogs)).

However, Pugs and French Bulldogs are not just bred by KC-accredited breeders or from KC-registered dogs leading to a problem.  Many of these dogs are bred by people who don’t know what they are doing and may not realise the problems associated with breeding these dogs, potentially causing them to be in labour longer than they should prior to taking them for a caesarean.  As well as this, many are born in squalid conditions on registered or unregistered puppy farms in the UK and then sold in pet shops or from households where they weren’t born and without their mother but with a stooge dog.  Though these houses often appear nice, the early life of the puppy has been very traumatic and they have been placed in high-risk situations for a disease.  Finally, to meet demand, many Pugs and French Bulldogs are imported or smuggled into the UK from primarily Eastern Europe and Ireland.  These dogs may not have had their full vaccinations, not only putting them at risk but also risking introducing a nasty disease to the UK that isn’t already (eg. Rabies).  Their puppies have been through large amounts of stress which increases their likelihood of becoming ill.  Not only this but they often haven’t been socialised thus leaving them more at risk of developing behavioural disorders and phobias throughout their lives.

This shows the degrees of severity of brachycephaly based on the skull anatomy

 

A normally proportioned dog skull

The use of brachycephalic dogs in ads only adds fuel to the fire.  It keeps them in the public eye, thus increasing the number of people who want them when they otherwise may not have. Not only this, it glamorises the breed and makes it seem like they have fewer problems than the reality, leaving people who buy them unaware that their dog may be suffering and need expensive surgeries just to have a normal.  Ideally, the KC needs to try and alter the breed standards for these dogs and try to encourage breeding only from those without BOAS and with a longer muzzle.  This type may not be to everyone’s taste but it reflects how the breeds were only a century ago and will greatly improve their health, making these friendly dogs happier and healthier for future generations to enjoy.

 

 

I hope you found this blog both interesting and educational.  As mentioned earlier I am not against these dogs and do not want to see these dog’s, or the breeding of them, banned.  However, I feel that the way these are bred should be changed and more importantly, I want to raise awareness of the problems facing brachycephalic dogs to ensure they live healthier and happier lives.  In order to try and get the message across regarding brachycephalic breeds and improving their welfare, it would help if you could share this blog far and wide.

 

To check out more about the issues Brachycephalic dogs are currently facing check out the British Veterinary Association’s website and the Brachycephalic Working Group.