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The Carl Story; My Rescue Guinea Pig

Today I’m going to focus on Carl, my rescue guinea pig.  Carl is a black long and curly haired male guinea pig.  He’s nearly two years old and I’ve owned him for one and a half years.  I adopted him after he had several medical conditions, some due to neglect, which is the reason he is still currently housed alone; not ideal but I’ll explain later.

Carl; the Early Stages

Carl was first brought to me as a patient when I was working as a vet.  He was only eight weeks old and was in a pet shop at the time.  He was healthy apart from his right eye.  When I examined Carl his eye was very swollen and infected with shavings around it. I also couldn’t tell whether his eye was just infected or if it was no longer fully in the eye socket.  At the time I was seeing quite a few guinea pigs who had at least one eye socket that was shallow.  This defect increased the risk of their eyes no longer staying in the socket and becoming infected more often.  As many of these guinea pigs were bred at the same place I think it was probably a genetic problem amongst the group and one which affected Carl.

After I had examined Carl I spoke to the pet shop staff member that brought him to me.  Together we decided to see how he went on medications to start off with as we didn’t want to remove his eye unless we had to.  So, I prescribed him a course of antibiotics (Baytril) to treat the infection, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (Metacam) to take down the swelling and lessen the pain, pain-killers (Buprenorphine) which were similar to Morphine as it was really sore and antibiotic eye drops.

I wanted to do everything I could to save his eye and quickly so hoped that would do it.  I could’ve tried surgery to check if his eye was in place or not and place it back in but I needed to get on top of the infection first.  Finally, I warned the staff member about the prospect of him losing his eye if the treatment regime didn’t help.

When I next saw Carl the swelling around his eye had improved as well as the infection.  However, it was clear his eye wasn’t fully in the socket and was very damaged.  The only option was for me to surgically remove Carl’s eye ASAP.

Guinea Pig in cage
Carl (Guinea Pig)
Carl’s First Surgery

I operated on Carl later that day, carefully dissecting around and removing his right eye.  Whilst doing this I checked for more infection but found none. His eye was removed successfully and he woke up with no problems.  Due to his eye having been infected he needed to stay on antibiotics and staff at the pet shop were instructed to keep his wound clean. Carl also had to stay on the anti-inflammatories and be regularly checked by a vet.  On top of this, I requested that he had puppy pads down in his cage rather than shavings.  All caged animals should have their bedding changed this way if they have any wounds; shavings cause problems if they stick in wounds.

Over the coming weeks, Carl wasn’t given his antibiotics regularly and his wound wasn’t cleaned.  His health was neglected.  As a result of this neglect, Carl’s wound became very infected and turned into an abscess.  After two weeks the infection was at it’s worst and sadly wound completely reopened.  Carl’s face really didn’t look good and there was a chance it would never heal.  I spoke to the pet shop staff about this neglect and found it was due to some of the staff being unaware of how to give him his treatments.  To reduce the risk of further problems, I spent time teaching the store staff members how to give him his treatments.  Also, I explained the how important it was for him to get his medications.  At that point, they seemed to understand what h needed and why.

Carl Faced Further Problems

Over the next few weeks, my veterinary colleagues kept seeing Carl.  His wound infection cleared and his face began to heal.  Carl faced more problems though.  He developed a ringworm; a fungal infection, which commonly occurs in stressed guinea pigs and can spread to people.  Carl also contracted an airway infection from some ill rabbits housed around him.  In a bid to tackle these infections Carl was started on different antibiotics (Septrin) and had an anti-fungal medicine (Itrafungol) every day for over two weeks for his ringworm.  This all cleared up.

Ten Weeks Had Passed

Ten weeks after I first removed his eye, I saw Carl again.  He was still living in the pet store as he’d not been healthy enough to be sold.  By this point, his ringworm and airway infections had resolved.  His face, however, had not fully healed.  There was no infection but a small hole was still present from and clear fluid leaked from it.  The hole didn’t look like it wasn’t going to heal on its own.

The only way to treat this was to put him under the knife once more.  This was risky surgery.  His skin was already thickened and scarred due to the infections.  There was a chance I wouldn’t be able to close the wound, in which case he would be left with a larger wound over his eye socket.  Even if I could stitch it back together there was a chance of the wound becoming infected or opening back up again.  However, if it wasn’t closed he’d have got infections under the skin on his face over time which would have been disastrous.

Guinea pig plastic surgery
Carl after his second surgery sporting his stitches and shaved face
Plastic Surgery!

Carl was brought for surgery again.  I carefully dissected the thickened and damaged skin around the hole in his face.  For it to heal I had to remove a small amount of skin all the way around the hole and look for any infection. There was none.  The surgical site was carefully and gently stitched before I sat with him whilst he awoke from the anaesthetic.

Adopting Carl

One week before Carl’s final surgery, I started to think about adopting him and discussed this with several other people.  I knew, however, that I was busy for the next week so couldn’t take him then.

When I performed Carl’s surgery I decided if he stayed where he was he was likely to be neglected once more.  His wound may have become infected again which would have been disastrous, damaging his face further.  I was also concerned that he may not have recovered fully from the anaesthetic before the pet shop staff went home.  This was all I needed to decide the best course of action was for me immediately adopt him.

Carl wasn’t currently up for adoption due to his poor health.  With me being his vet, however, the pet store made an exception, knowing I could care for him. They allowed me to adopt him straight away.  Having been very busy in the week between me thinking about adopting him and actually adopting him, I hadn’t bought him anything.  The solution; to buy everything he needed from the pet shop he was in.  For the rest of my working day he sat by my side whilst I did paperwork.   Finally, after eleven weeks of him being isolated in a cage behind the pet store and his needs neglected he was coming home.

Metacam is tasty!
Carl nibbling on the Metacam Syringe
At Home

As soon as I got home from work I set up Carl’s cage.

Over the next few days, I allowed him to settle.  Though, during this time, I still had to interact with him to give him his treatment.  By this point, he was only on Metacam and I also needed to had to clean his wound.

Over the next few days, he began to like me giving him his Metacam, grabbing the syringe off me, hoping to get seconds.  He also accepted me cleaning my face though he didn’t enjoy that as much!  Carl did, however, have a relapse; his airway infection returned.  I listened to his airways with my stethoscope at least daily. Carl also stayed on Metacam to reduce any swelling in his airways. Apart from his infection, Carl was otherwise well.  He was eating and active and I monitored him to check it hadn’t spread to his lungs.  I didn’t want him on antibiotics due to the amount he’d had in the past and me believing he could recover without them.  After a few days, he had improved.  Carl’s wound had healed nicely with no signs of infection in either his wound or his airways.

Nowadays

Carl is doing well now.  He’s become more confident; six months ago he wanted to be in his cage all the time.  Now when I leave the door open he runs excitedly around my lounge!  He eats well, loves his hay and eats a wide variety of food.  Carl loves eating.

Guinea pigs are sociable animals and they really need companionship.  Carl, unfortunately, is still a lone pig.  The only companionship, apart from me, is with a friend’s rabbit who occasionally comes to stay in its own cage.  Carl has also, unintentionally, been face to face with Darwin, my Leopard gecko.  I don’t know what they both made of each other.  I also talk to him a lot though but is that enough?

The reason for Carl being alone is, from 8weeks old he’s been isolated from other guinea pigs and he didn’t even acknowledge the rabbit for the first two week-long periods it spent here.    It was as if Carl didn’t even recognise that anything else existed.  I don’t know how he would react with another guinea pig.

Could Carl Make a Friend Ill?

Secondly, and the main reason, is his airway infection.  Every so often when he’s stressed his infection returns for a few days.  It is only mild when it does return but with no other mammals here and him being kept indoors it’s likely he has bacteria lying dormant in his airways.  Though the majority of the time these bacteria cause Carl no issues, he has passed his infection on to his rabbit friend twice.  Carl also only tends to become ill when the rabbit is here.  It is likely the presence of another animal is making him stressed and this stress is leading on to his infection.  Finally, as the rabbit catches Carl’s infection it tells me it can pass to other animals.

The worry is that if and when Carl gets a friend they may contract his infection especially when they first meet as they will both be stressed.  This infection, though mostly harmful to Carl may cause damage to another guinea pig.  However, Carl is more stable and healthier now than he used to be so I am considering getting him a friend.  I don’t know what colour, breed or sex his friend will be but I do know they will be another rescue guinea pig.

Guinea pig facial scar
Carls scar a couple of months post surgery
Consider Adopting

I couldn’t end this blog without linking a few places you can adopt guinea pigs from.  Firstly is a guinea pig rescue which is local to me, Cavy Corner.  Secondly, guinea pigs can be adopted nationwide from both the RSPCA or SSPCA (in Scotland) and Support Adoption for Pets.  There are also other guinea pig rescues around the UK so it may be worthwhile searching online.

If you want to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog or want to find out more about keeping Guinea Pigs feel free to Contact Me via email kim@animalwelfarematters.co.uk.  If you liked this blog or think others may do then please share it.  Finally, if you like my blogs you can subscribe by placing your email in the box in the sidebar.  If you subscribe you will recieve an email alert each time I post a new one.

Dealing with Fireworks Fear in Cats

Throughout evolution cats have associated loud bangs with danger.  Wild cats aim to escape anywhere with loud bangs.   They try to run as far from the noise as possible to make sure that they don’t get hurt.  This helps them to both survive and thrive in the wild.

Today we keep cats in relatively safe areas, either our homes or outside.  They don’t usually have to be worried about predators/ being shot (though cats sadly do still get shot in the UK).  Despite this, cats are still often afraid of loud bangs and try to run from them.  Their instincts still tell them loud bangs mean danger, the same as ours and other animals do.

We all know that fireworks, when set off correctly, are pretty safe.  They make loud bangs whilst in the air but these are nothing to be worried about.  Cats, like other animals, don’t know this.  Unlike us, they also don’t know when fireworks are likely to be set off whereas we expect them around Bonfire Night and New Years Eve.  As cats don’t expect these, and their hearing is much more sensitive than ours, the bangs can terrify them.

two fireworks
Cats and other animals can be scared of fireworks
So, as cat owners, what can you do to help your furry friend?

Before the firework season starts you can;

  1. Make sure you have an area where your cat feels safe to hide in which should be covered.  Everyone must understand to leave your cat alone when they are in there.  If you have more than one cat create a safe area for each and add a spare.  Providing a spare area means cats can go where they want a bit more and have more space so there is less fighting.  If you own some cats who prefer being high up and others low down make sure the safe areas reflect this.  Make sure you also put them in your cat’s favourite places too.  Finally, make sure these areas aren’t all right next to each other; cats are solitary animals so they need their own space.
  2. Look at investing in a pheromone diffuser such as Feliway. Pheromone diffusers/ sprays help to calm your cat down.  I will discuss this further below.
  3. Give your cat time to adjust to firework sounds so they no longer cause them stress.  This should be done slowly before the firework seasons using pre-recorded firework sounds such as Sounds Scary.  For more info read the part of my firework fear in dogs blog that covers this; the theory is the same.
  4. Get your cat microchipped.
There are Fireworks Tonight, what should I do?
  1. Close any windows and external doors and block the cat flap.  This will stop your cat going out and muffle the sound of the fireworks.  If your cat is terrified and runs outside it will ignore any traffic so is more likely to get hit by a car.  Sometimes they don’t return after being scared of fireworks resulting in more strays being handed in at shelters around bonfire night.
  2. Put the TV or radio on; this will muffle the sound of fireworks and may distract your cat.
  3. Allow them access to their safe area; leave them alone in there to calm down.
  4. Feed them as normal; stick to their routine.  Your cat may not want to eat but at least it has the choice. Give them space around their food; if you are interfering, even to try to help, they will become more stressed.
  5. Think about putting a ThunderShirt on them before the fireworks start.  Some cats won’t let you put a coat on them or will take it straight off but others cope well with them.  ThunderShirt applies constant pressure to the skin.  This calms most cats down by either giving them something else to focus on or by them releasing endorphins (feel-good chemicals).  ThurnderShirt claims to help 80% of cats so odds are it will help yours to some degree.
  6. Calming Supplements and pheromones.
  7. Sedatives/ Anti-anxiety medications.
Scared
How a scared cat looks
What are Pheromone Diffusers?

Pheromones are chemical messages released from a cat’s body for another cat to pick up on.  These messages tell other cats where they have been and help them to calm down.  Cats recognise pheromones through an organ in the nose called the vomeronasal organ.  The vomeronasal organ can detect pheromones which don’t have a smell unlike of the rest of the nose which only detects scents.

There are two different cat pheromones, F3 and F4, both helping with different types of anxiety.  F3 helps with generalised anxiety and any fear to the environment and can help with fireworks. However, F4 helps to reduce anxiety to being handled.  Naturally, both pheromones are produced by the cat with F3 spread in urine.  F4 is released from glands in the cheek and is spread when cats rub their cheeks on things.   Both help cats to signal what belongs to them, either as part of their territory (F3) or different items/ cats (F4).

Feliway is a synthetic version of F3.  It can be bought as either a spray or diffuser.  The spray quickly fills an area such as a cat basket or through a room.  However, the diffuser slowly builds up the levels until they remain constant in a room.  Usually, the best way to get help F3 work quickly is to spray a room at the same time as plugging in a diffuser.  It does work with just the diffuser though it can take days to fill the room completely.  Ideally, you should spray your cat’s safe place with it before they go in there.

Feliway helps most cats to become calmer and happier with their surroundings and reduces anxiety.  It is very safe however, it sadly isn’t effective with all cats.

Supplements

You can buy nutritional supplements to help calm your cat down.  These contain natural ingredients which do/ are similar to the bodies chemicals and act to reduce stress or anxiety.  Some cats may not take these as they are suspicious of things added to their food.  Also, as all cats are different, they may not work with your cat but if one doesn’t another probably will.

NutraCalm is a powder inside a capsule which works within an hour if giving it to your cat by reducing their anxiety.  NutraCalm can be used just as a one-off dose or daily without any side effects if needed.  It contains a number of ingredients which all act together to help your cat.

They mainly contain;

  • L- Tryptophan which causes a cat to be sleepy.
  • GABA which relaxes the brain and helps with anxiety
  • L-Theanine (amongst other ingredients) to alter Dopamine levels and calm your cat.

NutraCalm is fast-acting and natural so many owners like it though it may not help as much once your cat is fearful.  I’d recommend not trying to give your cat supplements if they are already anxious as it may worsen their anxiety.  Instead, try giving them supplements before you expect to need them.

Zylkene is similar to a compound in cows milk which calms down young calves and does similar in cats.  Unlike NutraCalm it needs to be given daily for a week before it is needed and then continuously throughout firework season.  It will only work best to calm your cat if used like that, one tablet every so often will not work.  Also, when used correctly it still may not help your cat but it does help with a lot of them.  If your cat is fearful of fireworks its worth trying to see if it will help.

I’d definitely recommend trying all nutritional supplements (I’ve not listed them all here) to see if they help before considering putting your cat on medications.  However, only try one at a time as you won’t know which has worked or if they affect each other.  Also, if your cat is on any medications or has any health conditions discuss any supplements with them first.

red firework

Anxiety Medications

Most anxiety medications usually need to be taken every day for them to work.  These should only be used in very anxious or depressed cats and not usually those with only a problem around fireworks.

Most anti-anxiety medications, such as Clomicalm or Fluoxetine, need to be given daily for up to two months before any improvement may be seen.  Alongside that, they also have side effects including sedation, diarrhoea, vomiting or inappetence.

Over time, your cat’s body will also get used to these medications and so when you can’t just stop them straight away; to be safe, your cat will need to be weaned off them.  Weaning off tablets can be a long process and, unless your cat has had a successful behavioural modification program (such as Sounds Scary), they may still have a firework fear.

Medications are NOT a long-term solution but are a back-up during behavioural modification or needed if everything else has failed.

Sedatives

Some medications such as Diazepam or Alprazolam are used for one-off occasions to calm a cat down.  These both reduce anxiety by acting on the brain with Alprazolam working better in cats than Diazepam.  Alprazolam is most effective when given at least an hour before the fireworks start and it lasts around eight hours.  Medications should only be used when supplements, behavioural programs, ThunderShirts etc have all been tried as they will likely not help your cat out in the future.

Acepromazine is another sedative.  This used to be used a lot but no longer is recommended.  This does not reduce fear but just stops your cat behaving fearfully. With ACP, your cat will still be scared but will be unable to show that/ run away so they are no longer look scared.  The experience of having ACP often leads to cats becoming more scared as they’ve experienced being fearful and not being able to escape. Therefore, ACP is not an appropriate treatment for any types of anxiety.

Finally, Microchipping.

One of the most likely times for your cat to escape is when there are fireworks.  When terrified they will run without thinking and may become disorientated or lost.  Even if you take all the measures to stop them getting out, one could potentially escape and get lost.  The best way for your cats to be returned to you is if they are microchipped.

A microchip is a plastic computer chip around the size of a grain of rice which is read by running a scanner over it.  If your cat is microchipped and your details up to date on the microchip’s database then the vet/ rescue centre can scan them, find out your details and contact you.  The microchip itself does not contain any details on it.  A microchip only produces a number when scanned so people won’t get your personal details from just scanning your cat.  Instead, they must contact the database who is able to provide the contact details on record for a microchipped animal’s number.

 

If you want to discuss this in more detail or your cat is having problems with fireworks then feel free to contact me via kim@animalwelfarematters.co.uk

Dealing with Firework Fear in Dogs

Around New Year’s Eve or Bonfire Night, many dog owners worry about how their dogs will react to fireworks.  There’s a huge spectrum of how dogs react to fireworks; some happily watch them out of the window whilst others remain in their beds shaking due to fear.  In this blog, I will look the causes of firework phobia and different ways to help it.

Dog stood up
Dogs have sensitive ears, eyes and noses.
Dogs Ears and Nose are VERY Sensitive

People in the UK know the weeks surrounding bonfire night are filled with people setting off fireworks, sometimes from as early as mid-September.  Over the last two decades letting fireworks off at midnight (or before children go to bed) on New Years Eve has become very popular. People are aware of these traditions and every year we know it will happen.  Our dogs, on the other hand, aren’t aware of these patterns and don’t know what fireworks are.  To them, a bang is not supposed to be there, a sudden noise which is out of the ordinary which may be due to danger.  Their ears are more sensitive than ours and they can hear a much wider range of noises.  This means that to them fireworks will not only be much louder but they may also sound different as there may be pitches the dog can hear but a human can’t.  Dog’s can hear sounds that are four-times farther than with humans so they can hear fireworks that we can’t.

Fireworks also create a smell.  The smell of explosives and burning is unpleasant and one which dog’s, like people, do not enjoy.  To them, this is magnified as their noses are at least 1000 times more sensitive than our own.

Along with dogs smelling fireworks more clearly and hearing them louder and possibly different to us, they will hear ones which we cannot.  Therefore, if you dogs are terrified around bonfire night but you don’t hear any fireworks, that may still be the problem.

Farm Border Collie
Bring dogs inside when there are fireworks
Dogs Don’t Know What Fireworks Are

If something behind you made a loud bang or smashes, you’d jump and turn around.  You were startled and momentarily surprised so looked around to see what happened but relaxed when you found out you were safe.  If this were to start happening over and over again though you’d probably get a bit anxious.

 

Well, dogs are the same.  Loud bangs from fireworks, which are louder to them than us, do not make sense to them.  They don’t know what fireworks are or that they won’t hurt them so they become anxious or scared.  Dogs evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to react to loud bangs and horrible smells as they may be dangerous.  They believe this is the case with fireworks so their natural reaction is to become stressed and anxious with some developing phobias.

 

Multi-coloured firework
Fireworks look pretty but sound quite scary
Signs Your Dog is Scared of Fireworks
  1. Your dog is much quieter than usual and/ or they’re hidden.
  2. They’re shaking in their bed.
  3. They’re urinating when in the house when they wouldn’t normally.
  4. They are running around like mad rapidly looking around each time there is a bang, often panting and possibly shaking.
  5. They have stopped reacting to you when you’re shouting or looking at them.
  6. They are whining and crying.
  7. They have been scratching around a door as if they want to go out or chewing on something when they wouldn’t usually.
  8. They won’t settle, play or eat.
Firework distraction
You can put the TV to distract your dog from the fireworks
What can Help Your Dog Get Used to Fireworks
  1. Stay with them when there’s a lot of fireworks.
  2. Make sure all the windows and doors are shut; reduces the noise and smell.
  3. Closing the curtains reduces the flashing.
  4. Keeping the TV or radio on; the noise disguises the fireworks and helps them focus on something else.
  5. Keep an area where they can retreat and be undisturbed. Covering their bed to create a “fort” will give them space to relax.
  6. Provide at least one resting place/ bed per animal, plus an extra. They can all relax at the same time without any fighting to get into a quiet spot.
  7. Reassure and talk to your dogs to make sure they are OK.
  8. Do NOT act like overly concerned or fussy.  Though this may seem like it will help your pet will sense there’s something to fear.  They may become more
  9. anxious and this may continue into the future
  10. Don’t walk them when fireworks are set off; the noise will be louder and the area will smell more so your dog will be more likely to react.
  11. Keep children away from your dogs.  If a dog is messed with when they are scared they are more to bite whoever is messing with them.
  12. Stick to a Routine.  If your dog usually gets fed at six O’ clock then keep to that time even if there are fireworks.  Stable routines will help them relax even if the situation is otherwise stressful.  Leave their food dog; if your dog doesn’t eat they can come back for their food later.
  13. Socialise your puppies and expose them to different sounds when young; around eight to sixteen weeks.  This is the easiest time for them to adapt.  Sounds Scary (see later) may be used for this.
  14. Be Prepared.  Find out where and when local firework displays.  Talk to your
    neighbours and see if they will be setting any off and discuss with them whether they can use quiet ones.

These tips only help with dogs who do not have a phobia of fireworks. The information below explains how to help dogs who are fearful or phobic around fireworks.

Relaxed Tess in Bed
Only put Sounds Scary on when your dog is calm; see below

 

Firework Phobia CANNOT Be Solved Overnight

Over the years, hoards of people have brought their firework phobic dogs to me just before Bonfire Night or on 30th December.  These owners hoped I’d just give them something to stop their dogs being scared of the fireworks.  Many of these also want to go out to see the fireworks, leaving the dog alone.

In reality, this doesn’t work.  Yes, vets may be able to sedate dogs so they don’t react to fireworks but that’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem.  Dogs being sedated once will not stop them being scared of fireworks the next time.  Fears take a lot of time and work for both humans and animals to get over.  It can take weeks of training for dogs scared of fireworks to remain calm around them and it doesn’t work with all dogs.  Helping dogs requires the owner to spend their time helping and reassuring their dog and putting things in place to help them.  Also, dogs whose firework fear improves may still be scared of them and, over time, their phobia may come back.  Keeping their fear at bay is a long-term commitment where they may need training on and off forever.

Quite a few different ways of helping dogs with their firework phobia exist.  Not all methods work for all dogs or owners so if you try one and it doesn’t help then try another.

Speaker
You can play Sounds Scary through a Bluetooth speaker
Sounds Scary

Sounds Scary is a method of systematic desensitisation or habituation.  It is a number of soundtracks of firework noises to play when your dog is relaxed.  You should first play the tracks very quietly so they can hardly be heard, and with time you gradually increase the volume ONLY if your dog is calm.

The aim of “Sounds Scary” is for your dog to get used to the sound of fireworks and recognise that there’s nothing to be afraid of.  Over time they shall remain relaxed with the soundtrack so will no longer fear real fireworks.

This process takes time and every dog reacts differently.  The soundtrack shouldn’t just be put on for five minutes at a time but for longer periods and the volume raised only when your dog is COMPLETELY relaxed.  If the volume is increased too quickly or when your dog is stressed it can overwhelm or scare them.  Developing a fear of the soundtrack will worsen their anxiety requiring you to start Sounds Scary from the beginning again. Sounds Scary should be used daily, often needing to be played for a number of weeks until your dog isn’t affected by loud firework sounds.  Even when your dog is unaffected by loud firework sounds it is still worthwhile to play the soundtracks every so often to ensure they still remain calm.  If your dog your dog appears anxious with the soundtrack or real fireworks at any point, restart the training.

Sounds Scary is available for download, along with a guide explaining the program, from the Dog’s Trust website.  I strongly recommend reading the guide before training with Sounds Scary.

Tess at the kitchen door
Scared or playing? Definitely not calm
ThunderShirt

A ThunderShirt is a dog coat which applies a constant pressure to the skin. This constant pressure affects the sensory receptors in the skin and calms your dog down.  This either works by giving your dog something else to upon or the release of endorphins (feel-good chemicals).

ThunderShirts work for a large variety of fears and behavioural issues.  They are similar to autistic people becoming calm when under weighted blankets.    ThunderShirts reduce stress in up to 80% of dogs without the use of medications/ supplements.  Though they don’t need to be worn for a specific time period, I’d recommend putting it on your dog before fireworks start.  I advise this as once your dog is stressed it may not be possible to put the ThunderShirt on safely and calmly.

Stereo
Sounds Scary can be played on a stereo or music/ radio can be played when fireworks are being lit elsewhere

 

Adaptil

Adaptil is a chemical similar to Dog Appeasing Pheromone.  Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) is a pheromone (a chemical animals release to send messages to others through smell) produced between the teats of dogs when puppies are suckling. DAP calms the puppies down.  Adaptil is so similar to DAP it also calms dogs when it is released into the air.

Adaptil is sold either as a spray, a diffuser fitting into an electrical socket or a collar.  All forms work in the same way but some take longer to work than others.  The spray, for instance, when sprayed around a room spreads quicker than DAP released from a diffuser but it doesn’t last as long.  The collar is good if only one needs DAP.  The collar constantly releases DAP around that dog but it doesn’t diffuse around the room.  It, therefore, wouldn’t affect other dogs unless they are constantly next to each other.

Like all products, Adaptil doesn’t work on all dogs and doesn’t work instantly.  I’d recommend using it for a few days before fireworks are expected.  This will allow it to fully diffuse and affect your dog(s).

For DAP to be rapidly effective you could combine a spray and a diffuser.  It will cover a room quickly with spray and whilst lasting longer with a diffuser.  However, if you have only one dog, a DAP collar will also work rapidly.

Dog with toy
Rocky playing with his toy; toys can be a distraction from fireworks
Supplements

A number of supplements may be bought to calm your dog down.  Every dog’s body works differently so some supplements may work well on one dog and not affect others.  There are quite a few supplements available but I’ll only mention three here.

Zylkene appears to works very well on some dogs but doesn’t help others.  It is similar to a calming chemical in the mother’s milk and calms dogs when they take it.  Zylkene doesn’t work straight away. You should give it to your dog for 7+days before fireworks are expected and every day whilst fireworks are going on.  Zylkene, therefore, may have to be taken for over a month.  Whilst it is impossible to know whether it will work on your dog before using it, it is very safe and doesn’t cause side effects.

Nutracalm is only available from veterinary surgeries but doesn’t need a prescription.  Like Zylkene, this supplement is safe and effective for many dogs, but it doesn’t work with them all and it isn’t a sedative. Unlike Zylkene, it acts quickly, calming your dog within an hour and it doesn’t need to be given daily.  Whilst Zylkene contains one active ingredient, Nutracalm contains several including; L-Tryptophan causing sleepiness and GABA, a calming chemical in the brain.  These and other ingredients in it are naturally within the body.  Nutracalm containing several active ingredients means it doesn’t rely on a dog responding to just one.  Dogs only need to respond to one of the ingredients in it so it may help more dogs, however, it doesn’t help everyone.  It also isn’t a sedative.  Nutracalm should be given an hour before fireworks as it’s less effective if given whilst your dog is stressed.

YuCalm, like NutraCalm, helps calm dogs using several ingredients.  YuCalm contains L-theanine helping the body produce more Serotonin (a relaxing chemical in the brain), Lemon Balm to increase GABA in the brain (calms dogs) and finally fish proteins which alter GABA and dopamine levels (two brain chemicals which calm the dog).  However,  similar to Zylkene, YuCalm does not work immediately.  It needs to be fed to your dog this daily for 3-6weeks before your it helps to calm your dog.  Due to this, you would have to start giving this ideally six weeks before fireworks are expected.

Sedatives

If you’ve tried training, supplements and ThunderShirts but your dog is still very fearful of fireworks, the next step is trying sedatives.  These should NOT be the first thing option as they can be dangerous due to side effects.  Sedatives also don’t phobias, the just calm dogs down whilst they are effective and won’t help in the long term.

 

The main sedative prescribed is Diazepam.  Diazepam acts on the brain to calm your dog down but may slow the heart and breathing.  It can also cause dogs to be sleepy and wobbly.  Diazepam cannot be used all the time as it is no longer effective and can cause them a physical addiction.  Though Diazepam is very effective in a lot of dogs, they don’t work as well in some dogs.  It can also cause confusion potentially causing dogs to become aggressive around people.  Diazepam works very quickly, often within 20minutes and lasts between three and twelve hours depending on the dog.  If your dog is prescribed these you need to stay with your dog after they have eaten them, at least the first time.  This is to make sure that your dog doesn’t become ill and to check they help.  If diazepam causes bad side effects or is ineffective you need to speak to your vet about what to do.

ACP (AKA Acepromazine) used to be used for phobias though it is no longer recommended. ACP is purely a sedative and affects the heart, lungs and brain, causing dogs to seem calm and they no longer react as much.  However, ACP doesn’t reduce the fear dogs experience (whereas diazepam does).  This means when a dog is on ACP they will still be as scared of fireworks but won’t look concerned and so their owners will believe they are not scared.  Treating phobias with ACP, therefore, is a welfare concern and can worsen the phobia over time.  Finally, every dog acts differently to ACP; some dogs stop breathing whilst it causes Boxers to faint.

Other medications (eg Fluoxetine or Clomicalm) may be advised for anxiety.  Describing these in more detail isn’t necessary here.  They aren’t useful as sedatives as they must be used for several weeks before they help and they cause other side effects. I’ve mentioned these purely because they are great options for some dogs with severe anxiety/ phobias. So, if your dog is really fearful and nothing else will help discuss this with your vet to see if anything else may help.

 

If you don’t know where to turn and have problems with a pet and want further advice then feel free to check out the services I offer or contact me for further info.

 

Dealing with Firework Fear in Horses

Unexpected loud bangs are often a sign of danger.  They startle people and animals alike.  Humans know what fireworks are and that, for the most part, they are not a threat.  We also know what times of the year to expect them.  Animals do not know what fireworks are so are unprepared for them.  Their hearing and sense of smell are also more sensitive than ours causing fireworks to cause even more discomfort and fear.  Saying that though, some animals are more affected by fireworks than others. I know of horses who are not bothered by fireworks at all whereas their companions are terrified. To some degree how you interact with your horse when fireworks are around helping alter how they react.  It can also help them to deal with better coping mechanisms towards them.

 

Why are horses scared?

Horses are prey animals who live in a herd.  In the wild, they are hardly ever seen alone as this would make them more vulnerable to predation.  When as a herd, there’s always one or two horses that are still awake and stood when others are asleep.  These horses are listening and watching for predators all the time.  Horses can smell predators from long distances and they also keep their heads raised, allowing them to detect predators early.

Horses can also detect predators easier through their almost 360-degree vision, good night vision and sensitive hearing.  If one horse in the herd notices a potential predator they will scream, squeal or whinny to alert the others to the potential threat.  This quick alert allows the horses to wake up to assess the situation and flee if needed.  Being prey animals who rely on their senses to avoid predators in the wild, horses feel most confident when they can see all around them.  They are also more confident when around other horses to ensure predator detection is at its peak.  As a result, they prefer to be in open spaces with other horses.

Horses are naturally scared of the loud bangs such as fireworks.  To them, it’s likely a predator coming after them.  This is made worse by a firework’s acrid smell.  If horses become frightened they have evolved to go into flight mode rather than fight.  This means, if they are able to, they will flee or charge away from the source of the noise.

Horse in a stable
Stable your horse for fireworks?
Should they be in their stable??

Most horse owners feel the safest way to care for their horses when there are fireworks around is to keep them stabled.

Horse owners often believe stabling their horse is safer as being confined prevents them from becoming injured through carrying out flight behaviour.  They also believe that being stabled reduces their horses stress due it being both darker and quieter. However, most stables will not insulate the sound to an extent where horses are comfortable with fireworks.

Most stables mean horses are unable to fully see or touch their companions.  This seclusion increases their stress as they can no longer act as a herd when exposed to threats such as fireworks.

Finally, the restriction in a stable means horses can’t flee from the noise, they no longer have the choice of a proper flight reaction.  The horse is expected to overlook its own evolution and no longer react to a threat by fleeing.  Being unable to react in a normal manner can lead to phobias developing or worsening as the horse cannot act appropriately to the threat.

Some horses, however, follow their instinct and flee, resulting in them crashing through or jumping over their stable doors. Fleeing understandably and easily causes serious injuries from damage caused by the door or by fleeing towards other hazards.

Horse and fireworks
Turn them out into the field when there’s fireworks?
Or The Field?

Compared to when stabled, horses kept in a field can flee much more easily though this depends on the size of the field. As they have got more space they’re also less likely to get injured when trying to flee.

If outdoors, there is a larger area which they can look over rather than being enclosed and only seeing a small space.  Allowing them to see into the distance gives them the opportunity to investigate what is occurring and find places to flee to.

Finally, when in the field, a horse is likely to be with some companions who will help reassure each other through strength in numbers.

I have, however, heard of horses stampeding through fences due to fireworks and causing injuries or even fatalities. That risk is still present if stabled though as horses are more than strong enough to break out of their stable by sheer force, especially when panicking.

Saying that though, horses like a routine.  Their stress levels will be greater if you break their routine.  Therefore, it is often better to treat them as you normally would rather than suddenly go against their routine.

Stereo to distract from fireworks
Put on some music to help distract from the fireworks
How best to Help

Whether they are stabled or in a field you can do things to make them as calm and safe as possible;

  • Around bonfire night/ New Years Eve keep your eye out for local firework displays. Also, talk to your neighbours to see if they are letting any fireworks off.  This will help you prepare more as you will know how close they will be and the times they will be set off.
  • Allowing them to at least see a companion can help calm them down a bit
  • Putting on some music; that can both muffle the noise of fireworks and distract the horse from the fireworks.
  • Make sure there is no debris/ hazards in the stable or field that they could injure themselves on.
  • Try and ensure the field or stable is as secure as possible.
  • Ensure your horse is not left alone; someone needs to be there in case something goes wrong.  However, if a horse panics do NOT go in a stable with it.  If you do you will cause it more stress and may get injured.
  • Make sure you have your vet’s number in case they have an injury or are becoming extremely distressed.
  • If your horse has previously been distressed by fireworks talk to your vet about using sedatives to keep them calm.  Sedatives are not suitable for all horses.  Also, if your horse is sedated you must stay with them until it wears off to monitor them for problems with breathing, falling over and colic.
Further Advice

The British Horse Society also gives out information on how to help your horse around fireworks.

I hope this blog helps horse owners, riders and general members of the public to understand the issues facing horses and to try to help to reduce the horse’s fear levels.

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Warning; Antifreeze Poisons Pets

Following on from yesterday’s blog, I decided to inform you of another dangerous wintry household item; Antifreeze.

Antifreeze is found in most car owner’s houses/ garages or in their car either as a screen wash or a spray to defrost the windscreen

Ethylene glycol is the main ingredient in most types of antifreeze.  This is a very dangerous poison killing more than 73% of cats and 35% of dogs who have drunk it.  Only 6-7ml of diluted antifreeze can kill the average cat.  Ethylene glycol tastes sweet so if any drips on the floor or a bottle is left lying your pet may drink it.  The key to preventing your pets being poisoned is by ensuring you leave no drips or puddles around after filling up your car and checking for puddles around your neighbour’s cars.  If you have outdoor cats it is worth enlightening your neighbours to the dangers of antifreeze; why not share this blog with them?

Are my Pets at Risk?

Outdoor cats are more at risk of Antifreeze poisoning as you may not be there to stop them drinking any puddles.  However, any animal with access to where this is stored or to a car either leaking antifreeze or that has recently been filled up may be at risk.

Stop your dog from drinking from puddles as these may also contain antifreeze.

Sheep Dog
Sheep dog in a wet farmyard where there may be antifreeze
How Does Antifreeze Poison Dogs and What are the Signs?

Antifreeze is absorbed into the bloodstream after being drunk.  Once it is in the blood produces crystals.  These crystals block up the small blood vessels in the kidneys which injure the kidneys before causing kidney failure over time.

Antifreeze poisoning causes the following symptoms soon after an animal drinks it;

  • vomiting.
  • being wobbly (ataxia).
  • fast heartbeat (tachycardia).
  • seizures (“fits”).
  • incontinence (not being able to control their bladder or bowels leading to them urinating or defaecating without realising.  The can’t help this so DON’T punish them).
  • dehydration.
  • being very thirsty (they will drink a lot if they have access to water).

Over the next few hours, your pet’s symptoms will worsen leading on to the following;

  • Their Heart beating beat even faster,
  • Rapid breathing or panting (tachypnoea) as fluid goes into and around their lungs making it hard to breathe.
  • Become depressed/ lethargic.
  • Fall unconscious/ into a coma

If untreated, or with inadequate treatment, your pet’s kidneys are likely to be so severely damaged that treatments available to most vets won’t make them improve though may improve their welfare.

Guinea Pig
Guinea Pigs and other animals can be affected too
What will The Vet Do?

Your vet is likely to take blood and water samples to see how badly their kidneys have been affected.  If you take your dog to the vets within the first two hours of drinking antifreeze, they may give your dog a medication called Apomorphine. Apomorphine doesn’t work well in cats but it causes dogs to vomit.  If there is any antifreeze in their stomach, making your dog vomit will get some of it out and prevent it from being absorbed.  Apomorphine can, however, cause dogs to become wobbly and sleepy.  Vets may try other medications to make your cat vomit such as some sedatives.

Often with poisons, vets will syringe-feed animals with a black liquid called Activate Charcoal.  Activated charcoal binds to a lot of poisons and stops them being absorbed into the body.  However, activated charcoal doesn’t bind to ethylene glycol so isn’t a treatment for antifreeze poisoning.

The most effective way of stopping ethylene glycol causing further damage is for a vet to give your pet accurate doses of medical grade ethanol directly into their vein.  Ethanol prevents Ethylene Glycol from doing the damage to cells as it blocks its path.  However, giving dogs ethanol is very dangerous and illegal for anyone but a vet to do so don’t try and treat your animal yourself; it will NOT help and may increase their chances of dying.

For Ethanol treatment to be fully effective, it must be given carefully and at specific doses for several days.  Your pet will stay in the hospital throughout this treatment.

Vets will likely put your pet on a drip to keep them hydrated. Ethylene glycol also causes the blood to become acidic which is also very dangerous and can affect their heart and breathing.  Blood pH can be monitored and treated but treatment with Ethanol alone will not help this.A dog lying in bed

They’ve survived; is it all over?

If your pet is one of the lucky ones to survive and but wasn’t treated correctly immediately they will almost always have kidney failure.  Kidney failure can be helped by medications and prescription diets but the kidneys cannot be repaired. Though they’ll have kidney failure for the rest of their lives, if it is managed correctly you pet may continue to have happy and fulfilled lives.  However, your pet should ideally have blood and urine tests at least every six to twelve months (depending on their health and your vet’s advice) to check their kidney function.  These blood/ urine tests will tell your vet whether the treatment is helping or not and if it may need changing.

If there’s any doubt that your pet has drunk ANY antifreeze/ screenwash you must take them to a vet immediately.

Dog looking away from the camera

Take Home Message

Nothing you can do at home helps Ethylene Glycol poisoning.  Animals poisoned by, or suspected to have drunk, Ethylene Glycol must see a vet immediately.

 

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Festive Foods That are Poisonous to Cats and Dogs

Today, I’m sharing the festive items that are poisonous to your dogs and cats.  Keep a careful eye on any of the food and drinks below and keep an make sure your dogs don’t eat them.

Chocolate

The most common poisoning at Christmas. 74% of UK small animal vets treated at least one case of chocolate poisoning during the festive period last year. I’ve treated a fair few in my time.

Most people know chocolate is poisonous to dogs yet still feed it as a treat. Small amounts of milk or white chocolate are unlikely to seriously poison your dog.  However, feeding them chocolate isn’t recommended and it won’t help their waistline.

Chocolate Bar
Theobromine in Chocolate is poisonous to dogs

The poisonous ingredient in chocolate is Theobromine. The amount of Theobromine depends on the type of chocolate with more Theobromine being in Dark chocolate.  Feeding any dark chocolate to dogs is strongly discouraged and can cause illness.

The amount of chocolate your dog can eat depends on the type and brand of chocolate and the weight of your dog.  However, some dogs are affected more than others and it’s impossible to tell which are more at risk.

Chocolate is everywhere at Christmas from boxes of chocolates to tree decorations and advent calendars.  Most cases of chocolate poisoning I’ve seen have been accidental; dogs eating their way through advent calendars is common.  The best way to prevent poisoning is not to give your dog human chocolate as treats. Keep anything containing chocolate away from your dog.  Also, remember chocolate tree decorations placed high on a tree can fall off at times so could be eaten.

Most cases of Chocolate poisoning just cause

  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea.

However, in worse cases, it can cause;

  • twitching,
  • involuntary muscle movements,
  • fitting,
  • alter the heart’s rhythm
  • cause loss of consciousness which can be very serious indeed.  If these signs are seen take your dog to your vets (or the out of hours service) immediately.

Getting help before symptoms start is the most effective way to treat it.

To treat chocolate poisonings, within the first hour to 90minutes after it has been eaten, a vet will usually inject your dog with Apomorphine. Apomorphine makes your dog vomit profusely for the next twenty minutes or so, emptying the stomach.  Apomorphine also causes dogs to become drowsy, sedated and wobbly so may struggle to walk.

After your dog has stopped being sick a vet may syringe feed them a black liquid called Activated Charcoal.  Activated charcoal absorbs much of the Theobromine left in the stomach or intestines to make sure it isn’t absorbed into their bloodstream. Usually, if they are well they can go home once they have stopped vomiting.

If your dog has had a large amount or is very unwell a vet may also do an ECG to check their heart isn’t affected.   Vets may also put your dog on a drip if they’re showing signs of being poisoned to stop them becoming dehydrated and help to flush it out of their body.  In the most severe cases where an animal is having a seizure or is unconscious then treatment is based on the symptoms your dog is showing and what their blood results show.

 

Stuffing (Onion, Garlic, leeks and Chive)

Stuffing contains two poisonous ingredients, Onions and Garlic.  These both belong to the same group (which also includes leeks and chives) called Alliums and it is very dangerous for dogs or cat to eat these either raw or cooked.

Garlic and onions
Garlic, onions, leeks and chives are poisonous to dogs

Alliums are dangerous both by themselves or mixed with other foods such as stuffing or gravy, both of which are often served for Christmas dinner.  Dogs and cats tend to be poisoned by eating large amounts at once but can also be poisoned over time if eat smaller portions relatively regularly, even less often than every few days.  Eating more than 0.5% of their body weight in alliums at any one time always causes the animals to become very unwell.

Some dogs and cats are more at risk.  Medications such as Benzocaine (a local anaesthetic), Propofol (a general anaesthetic), some antibiotics (Potentiated Sulphonamides) and Paracetamol (AKA Acetaminophen in the USA) increase the risk of poisoning.  High vitamin K (possibly caused by eating rat poisons) or Zinc levels also mean they need to eat fewer onions/ garlic to be affected.  Finally, Japanese dog (Akita, Shiba Inu, Japanese Spitz) breeds need to eat fewer onions to be affected.

Chewing alliums leads to the creation of more poisonous chemicals which are easily absorbed into the body.  These chemicals damage the membrane surrounding red blood cells. Damage to the membrane surface causes the cells to become very fragile and leak which stops them transporting oxygen to the tissues and prevents them picking up oxygen as often.  As a result, the blood carries less oxygen from the lungs to the tissues.  This process can sometimes be seen hours after your animal has eaten alliums but may take days to be seen.

Signs of poisoning;

  • depression
  • red urine (caused by the presence of haemoglobin in it after leaking out of red blood cells).
  • yellowing of the gums and irises (the whites of the eye).
  • the heart beating faster.
  • breathlessness or an animal breathing faster or panting.
  • weakness.
  • not wanting to go out for walks or stopping/ slowing down when on a walk.
  • not wanting to eat.
  • diarrhoea.
  • an arched back is seen with a belly ache.

If your animal has eaten alliums then take them to a vet straight away, even if they’re not showing signs; remember it can take days before they become ill.  If taken within two hours of alliums being eaten the vet can simply give your dog or cat an injection of Apomorphine and possibly feed them activated charcoal (as described above) and the shouldn’t have any further problems.  After two hours making an animal sick will not help and other treatments are needed.

As alliums destroy red blood cells your dog or cat may need a blood transfusion to replace them.  Finally, if they have vomiting, diarrhoea, are very breathless or have a low blood pressure a vet may put them on a drip or give them vitamin E.  Some vets will also want to do blood tests over the next few days just to check the about of healthy red blood cells they have is increasing.  One thing you can do that may help is avoiding giving semi-moist foods.  Semi-moist foods may contain propylene glycol which increases the effect of the poisoning so should be avoided however this should only be done along with seeing your vet.

 

Alcohol

Alcohol is also around throughout there year but is often more prominent around Christmas.  It is illegal in the UK to give your animal alcohol to drink but you can buy alcohol-free dog beer and cat wine should you wish for your companion join you for a drink!

Wine and Beer glasses
Alcohol is poisonous to dogs and giving them it to drink is illegal in the UK

Alcohol is a poison which all animals, including humans.  A drunk person is someone affected by its poison. Drinking too much alcohol can be fatal through either you stopping breathing or choking on your own tongue.  Similar is the case with animals.

Signs of an animal having alcohol poisoning are;

  • being wobbly,
  • lethargy,
  • vomiting,
  • diarrhoea,
  • shaking
  • breathing slowly
  • slow heart rate
  • falling into a coma.

If your animal drinks alcohol a vet can inject them with Apomorphine within the first two hours to reduce the amount absorbed by causing them to vomit.  Other than that they can keep them warm as alcohol drops the body temperature, put them on a drip to keep them hydrated and monitor their blood sugar levels as alcohol causes these to drop which, in itself, can be dangerous.  Usually, unless they have drunk large quantities, animals recover fine.

Make sure you don’t leave an alcoholic drink where dogs can access and clean it up if you spill any.

 

Raisins/ Sultanas

Sultanas and raisins are often in festive sweet foods.  They are poisonous both when raw or cooked and are in mince pies and Christmas Pudding so refrain from giving your dog or cat any of those products.

These affect dogs and cats but, unlike most other poisons, the effect doesn’t depend on them eating a certain amount.  Some dogs are affected by eating a small amount of them and others aren’t.  Also, your pet may eat just one or two and become severely unwell whereas others can have a large number with no problems.  As there is no way of knowing which pets are affected more severely, all of them need to be treated.  Any dogs or cats who have eaten raisins or sultanas should be taken to a vet ASAP who will give them Apomorphine to make them vomit if it is within two hours of them consuming the fruits.

Mince Pie
Raisins and sultanas damage dog’s kidneys

If the sultanas and raisins remain in the body or they were in the body for some time before the animal vomited then they can cause kidney damage and even failure.  Signs of kidney damage are;

  • having no appetite,
  • lethargy,
  • drinking loads,
  • urinating a lot,
  • bad breathe,
  • diarrhoea and
  • weightloss.
  • By the time your pet is at the stage of showing clinical signs or their blood/ urine tests reveal kidney damage they need a lot of treatment such as going on a drip and being given medications which help protect the kidneys.  They may also need to go on a special diet to help the kidneys and will need regular blood tests to check their kidney function.

Make sure you keep any raisins, sultanas or grapes and any foods containing these are kept somewhere where your pet can’t get to and don’t give them these as a treat.

Note; there are other foods that are poisonous to animals.  This is not an extensive list.  If you’re unsure about anything or think your dog may have eaten something poisonous please talk to your vet.

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Animals Are Good Christmas Presents, Right?

Want an Animal for Christmas?

People around the world are eagerly awaiting Christmas. Many have asked for a new pet.  Surely, if people want a new pet, giving them one for Christmas is fine, right?  Why don’t some pet stores sell pets just before Christmas?  We’re at home at Christmas, surely that’s the perfect time to spend with a new animal?

These are common questions.  Many people don’t understand why giving pets as Christmas presents not advised. People are told the best time to get a new animal is when they’ve got free time to spend with it; the majority of people in Christian countries have more of over the Christmas period.  They are also told not to leave new dogs/ cats alone at first; Christmas we’re all wrapped up inside away from the cold (or under the A/C trying to stay cool in Australia!) especially as few shops are open.  You’re recommended to socialise dogs/ cats and expose them to different situations; again, Christmas is full of new experiences and visiting relatives hoping to stroke the cute animal.  Your kid has wanted an animal for years; they’ve been responsible and begging for one, why not?

Screenshot of google search
Screenshot of Google search for dogs ready for Christmas
The Build Up to Christmas

Animal Breeders, sellers and pet shops are aware of people buying pets as Christmas gifts.  Just last week a pet shop worker told me they had animals reserved for Christmas.  Christmas is often a time when sales are higher.   There is both a higher demand and people will pay more.

Unlike toys, animals can’t just be produced at the touch of a button, they need to be bred.  Animals in the UK tend to come from two kinds of breeders;

  • Those who do it as a hobby; they care for their animals welfare
  • Those who are only in it for the money.

The first group tend to be accredited breeders associated with cat/ dog/ rabbit etc breeding groups and have the appropriate licences.  The animals were born in good conditions good conditions, visit the vet if ill, and are sold only after being microchipped (legally needs doing before puppies reach 8weeks old or leave the breeders) and often vaccinated.  The selling process is also more detailed; there may a waiting list for, often breeders quiz buyers about your house/ lifestyle as much as you ask them questions.  You’re usually expected to see the animals at least twice before taking one home.  Finally, responsible breeders often don’t sell pets around Christmas.

Money-orientated breeders often don’t seek veterinary guidance, get their animals vaccinated/ microchipped and advertise animals on gumtree/ similar hoping to sell the animals as soon as possible.  These breeders often aim to sell animals around Christmas.

Worryingly, over the last few years, growing numbers of puppies have been imported into the UK to be sold.  These dogs may or may not have a PETS passport with some of these being fake or inaccurate.  These puppies are then sold around the UK, often from nice looking suburban houses via internet-based ads.

Christmas Tree with Gifts

Gifts are Often a Novelty

How many times have you heard people, especially children, saying they want a gift for ages?  Mentioning it constantly day-in, day-out.  You buy them that gift and then a few days later they’re no longer interested in it, a very common scenario.

This scenario is also, sadly, commonly seen with animals.  Parents listen to their child go on and on about wanting a pet and the child agrees to look after it.  The parents give in. They buy the animal only to find, a couple of weeks later,  the child is no longer interested and the parents are lumbered with the responsibility for their child’s pet (of course, legally, all UK pets are owned by someone over 16 years with the  ultimate responsibility for that animal; Animal Welfare Act, 2006).  Whilst many adults continue to care for the pet, some won’t.

What happens when adults wanted an animal and either the novelty wears out or they realise pet ownership isn’t what they imagined?  The answer is an annual big surge in animals being taken to rescue centres or abandoned after Christmas.  Some of these spend years in shelters awaiting a new home, others sadly are put to sleep after a home isn’t found.  Is it fair for an animal to die as an unwanted Christmas present?

In 1978, Clarissa Baldwin of the National Canine Defence League (NCDL, since rebranded to the Dogs Trust), coined the phrase “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”, a phrase most people will recognise.  Thirty-nine years later, it’s as true now as it was then.  The number of abandoned animals each year suggests people still aren’t acknowledging the message.  Feel free to also replace “dog” with any other animal you can think of, the phrase still rings true.

Before buying an animal, whatever the reason, research it to thoroughly to ensure you can care for it both now and in the future.  Remember, cats often live past 20 years and some breeds of tortoises over 100.  Ask yourself, are you prepared for that length of commitment?

 

Christmas Day= New Pet time?

Christmas day rolls around, a friend’s bought you a dog.  You think he’s fine.  You’ve got at least two days off work, you can use that to get him settled and start the training process.

The reality of Christmas; chaos.  Your children are excitedly running around as they not only have a new dog but also have new toys.  They are screaming and yelling.  Your dog becomes so overwhelmed he doesn’t settle.  He keeps trying to get away from everyone.  Your children won’t leave him alone and he can’t cope any longer.  He bites them, seeing no other way to leave the scary, unfamiliar situation.

Imagine you’ve got a new hamster.  Everyone in the neighbourhood is wanting to look at her because she’s cute and new.  She sees all the hands, feels people’s unfamiliar grasp and is scared; the taming process is put back days, if not weeks to get used to people’s not causing harm.

You and your spouse get a new kitten.  There’s time to settle it down when you’re off work, easy… you then realise the food you’re cooking hasn’t warmed up, you’ve got presents to sort and where are those AAA batteries?  Next thing you know you’ve forgotten about the kitten.  You’re messing up the house and moving the kitten out of the way whilst rushing to get everything ready in the thirty minutes before.  The kitten is ignored and you’ve accidentally given it the wrong signals.  It picks up on your stress and becomes more disorientated and unsettled.  Days pass before it’s calm enough once more to be gently handled.

 

Animals feel more relaxed with a routine.  Around Christmas, the routine often goes out the window.  You get dinner at different times, you sit on the floor opening presents (around a tree?  A tree that your dog/ cat/ rabbit doesn’t understand and you keep telling them off for weeing up it up), and have excited guests around.  Your pet doesn’t have the chance to get used to how things would normally be.  It’s first couple of days with you at home are so chaotic that when you go back to work on the 27th the animal doesn’t know what time its usually fed, it’s not used to being alone and then you’re becoming angry when you get home to an animal that’s “behaved badly” by weeing on the floor.  It, however, doesn’t understand what it did wrong or maybe it was a reaction to being stressed after being left alone for eight hours.

 

Christmas is chaos in any household and can affect all animals to varying degrees but will cause more stress over newly bought “gift” animals than any other.  They need to be bought at a time where not only can they get used to routines but also be left at home for gradually longer periods of time to reduce the risk of separation anxiety.

Kitten as Christmas Present

Pet Stores

Most reputable pet stores stop selling pets several before Christmas.  This helps prevent people buying pets for Christmas as they’d have to look after them for longer.  Also, spreading the message that pets can’t be sold in the days leading up to Christmas makes people stop and think; reducing impulse buys and educating people.

This isn’t the case with all stores though.  Those selling pets right up to Christmas often aren’t quite bothered about where the pets end up and the implications of them being Christmas gifts.  The owner often focuses more on profits than the welfare of the animals.  Often, in this situation, the animals in the store are not looked after as well and the breeders may not have been as interested in their welfare.  Poor breeding and living conditions can lead to animals be more prone to disease, often they appear fine on leaving the store but deteriorate over the next few days.

Leads circling stethoscopre
2 leads, with collars, connected to create a heard. Stethoscope curled around in the centre.
Are the Vets Open?

Like most businesses, the majority of vet practices are shut over the Christmas period.  The vets that are open are usually just running an emergency clinic which may be further away, have less staff and more expensive.  As well as this they’re likely to be very busy with other ill animals.

If you buy a pet over Christmas and it becomes unwell you will struggle to both register it with a vet and book an appointment, adding to the stress of pet.  On top of this, the breeder is likely to be celebrating Christmas too and therefore may not have the chance to discuss with you how your animal has been since birth compared to if you contacted them at another time.  The lack of information given may also make it harder for a vet to find out what is wrong with your animal and treat them, thus longer and potentially requiring more tests.

Pets homed over Christmas will also more stressed than those bought at quieter times.  Firstly, as gifts, they may be passed on a number of times before landing in their permanent home.  There is also less of a routine for them to get used to, more noise and likely some chaotic surroundings;  all of which lead to an animal becoming more stressed.  Stress in itself reduces the response from the bodies immune system (a system whose job is to fight off diseases).  If the immune response is reduced (for instance due to stress) the animal is more likely to develop an infection, become unwell and need to see a vet.

The chances of an illness developing are also increased with animals from a poor background, something more common in those sold shortly before Christmas (as explained earlier)).  This infection could be something as mild as the odd sneeze right up Parvovirus (a virus causing severe bloody vomiting and diarrhoea which adult dogs and puppies over eight to ten weeks should be vaccinated against) which can be fatal.  Stressed small mammals such as Guinea pigs, Hamsters or Rabbits (amongst others) may develop Ringworm.  Ringworm is a fungal infection usually showing up as a circular area of hair loss with a visible red ring seen in the skin and scurfy hair though it can sometimes be seen as a scabby or scurfy area which may be reddened but this doesn’t mean it’s any better or worse.  Ringworm can be caught by people.  If you suspect an animal to have it then ideally wear gloves when handling that animal, otherwise clean your hands thoroughly before and after handling them.

Christmas Pets for Sale
These are potentially aimed at the Christmas market
Recap

“Dogs Are for Life, Not Just For Christmas”; Clarissa Baldwin, NCDL, 1978.  A quote that needs to be remembered.  Potentially replace the word dog with any other species and keep it in your mind.

Breeders producing animals for Christmas are often the less reputable.  Dogs are increasingly smuggled from abroad to meet the Christmas demand leading to increased numbers of health and behavioural problems developing.

The novelty of Christmas Presents wears off; this can still occur with pets leading to them being given up for adoption.

The lack of routine and chaos of Christmas means pets are either ignored or given no time to relax.  Throughout Christmas, they just settle but not fully. Poor settling increases the chance of developing separation anxiety and long-term behavioural problems later left alone.  Gradually increase the time you’re away from your pet.

Owning a puppy is hard and requires a large amount of time, never mind it being Christmas.

Pet stores stop selling pets prior to Christmas to protect animals.  Do not pressurise staff to sell any.  Store selling pets at Christmas may focus on profits over welfare; is that where your money should go?  The welfare these pet stores may be poor leaving animals bought from there more prone to health problems.

Vets deserve holidays.  Most practices are shut over Christmas with on-call/ emergency vets are often more expensive, further away and with less staff.  It’s difficult to contact breeders at Christmas so you may have little information about your pet so getting a diagnosis/ treatment plan may be harder.

 

Contact me if you want to discuss anything written here.

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Article 13, Brexit and Animals as Sentient Beings

On 15th November, MPs in the Houses of Commons voted against (313 against vs. 295 for its inclusion) an amendment clause (NC30) which aimed to aid animal welfare post-Brexit.  This clause would’ve meant that Article 13 of the Title II of the Lisbon Treaty, an article about animal sentience and welfare, was introduced into UK law.  The rejection of the clause lead to a backlash towards the government with headlines suggesting MPs don’t believe that animals are sentient beings.  The reports regarding the rejection of the amendment sent shockwaves across both the animal industry and social media.  But what does this all mean, what is a “sentient being” and are UK laws revolving animal welfare going to be substantial post-brexit?

 

What is a Sentient Being?

The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of Sentient is [to be] “Able to perceive or feel things”.  So a sentient being is one which can perceive or feel what is occurring to or around them and so they can experience pain and suffering.  A long-held belief by most in the UK is that vertebrate animals are sentient beings (with an increasing belief that invertebrates are also sentient) just like humans.  The belief that animals are able to suffer was noted by the Brambell Report investigating the welfare of intensely farmed livestock and commissioned by the UK government in 1965. The Brambell Report is still a cornerstone of animal welfare as it lead to the Five Freedoms still used by animal organisations today.

The Five Freedoms

The Five Freedoms state the following;

  • Freedom From Hunger and Thirst,
  • Freedom From Discomfort,
  • Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease,
  • Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour, and,
  • Freedom from Fear and Distress.

The Five Freedoms make up the basic guidelines for the care of domesticated animals in the UK and is what the Animal Welfare Act, 2006, is based upon.

 

So What is Article 13?

Prior to the introduction of Article 13 in 2009, animals being shipped only had the same status as other goods.  By this point the UK government was well aware of animals being sentient and able to suffer so, after much pressure from the UK and other member states,  Article 13 was added to the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.  Article 13, which followed on from several non-legal treaties, and stated that all member states had to “pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”.  The article expresses that wild and owned animals must be cared for in a way which doesn’t cause suffering. Article 13, however, does have its flaws, namely towards activities “relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage” whereby animal welfare may not be paid full regards.  One example of these limitations to the article is that in specific regions of Spain and France Bull-fighting occurs due to a cultural tradition.  This tradition is still allowed under the article regardless of the very poor levels of welfare the bulls face.  Article 13 also protects the practice of non-stun religious slaughter in specific groups such as Halal slaughter for Muslims and Shechita slaughter for Jews which both create animal welfare concerns.

So why couldn’t Article 13 Just Be Transferred into UK Law?

Article 13 contains the phrase “since animals are sentient beings” which, whilst believed to be true by many, isn’t accepted by every organisation throughout the UK so cannot currently be placed as fact, despite masses of evidence surrounding it.  Until the whole of the UK  believe this to be fact, the wording cannot be transferred straight into UK Law.  Also, article 13 reads that member states should “pay full regard to the welfare of animals”.  In the UK the wording “full regard” brings further legal concerns as if this were placed straight into UK law it would be at odds with other laws such as The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986.  Animals used in research covered by The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986, may experience periods of low welfare even when treated as laid out in the licence.  As these animals can legally be exposed to poor welfare this would be at odds with a law stating that full regard should be paid to animal welfare and so the two laws don’t function well together.

 

Why Does the UK Need a Law Like Article 13 Post-Brexit?

The UK’s standard of Animal Welfare is regarded to be amongst the highest in the world. Law’s such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in England and Wales (with equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland) ensures welfare remains above defined levels.  The UK also has a more stringent law around Animal testing (The Animals’ (Scientific Procedures) Act, 1986) than the USA has. Why, therefore, does the UK need more animal welfare-related laws?

The current UK animal laws cover only domesticated animals owned by people (whether as pets, farm animals or research animals).  Wild animals are often non-domesticated and aren’t owned by anyone and so are not currently protected by UK law but are, instead, covered by the aforementioned EU law.  On leaving the EU, if the parts of Article 13 revolving wild animals do not become part of UK law, then UK wild animals will no longer be legally protected.

So do MPs Voting Down NC30 deny that Animals are Sentient?

Following on from 15th November where 313 (a majority of eighteen) MPs voted against NC30,  a lot of newspaper headlines and social media posts claimed the MPs voting against NC30 deny that animals are sentient beings.  There were campaigns against individual MPs voting against the amendment, some of which contrasted their vote against the notion with previous posts they’d made about their pets suffering.  People were confused and believed all the MPs voting against the amendment believe that animals do not have feelings and/ or are incapable of suffering.  Whilst this may be the case with some politicians it’s unlikely to be the case with all and posts MPs said over the coming days highlighted they believe animals are sentient.

 

So Why Did NC30 Get Voted Out?

After an eight hours debate a large number of reasons for and against the amendment were likely brought up.  There’s a high chance some MPs believed that the current UK legislation goes far enough.  This may be due to them not realising UK legislation doesn’t cover all animals leaving a large hole surrounding wildlife won leaving the EU.

 

Secondly, it may be because Article 13 doesn’t have the scope that’s needed in today’s world.  For instance, puppies are smuggled or brought into the UK legally from across the EU to sell to unsuspecting people, often via the internet.  The welfare of such animals is not currently protected in UK law and Article 13 doesn’t cover this huge welfare issue.  On top of this Article 13 doesn’t prevent religious non-stun slaughter or low welfare standards caused by cultural practices with animals in specific regions such as bull-fighting.  Maybe NC30 was voted down because it simply doesn’t go far enough and thus a majority government want to create a law which encompasses more than this.  I am sceptical of this optimistic approach as nothing was stopping MPs voting for NC30 but on the notion that it will be added to before becoming UK law.

 

It could also be due to the wording of the EU Articles compared to that of a UK law in that it was easier to restart the whole rule.  Saying that, if they were going to reject this amendment purely due to wording then surely they’d be doing this to all amendments passing from EU to UK law and not just this one.  Whilst the grammar around the suggestion that animals are sentient isn’t how it’d be mentioned in a UK law (as mentioned earlier), I don’t think they’d reject an amendment purely on that basis.

 

Finally, there may be something more of an unpleasant agenda for animal welfare on the way.  Pst-Brexit, the UK have to trade with countries outside of the EU for all goods. One major way the UK government is looking at reaching the demands for food is by buying products from animals produced in the USA.  The USA is economically greater than the UK and are able to produce vast amounts of food and will have no problems meeting the UK’s food deficit once we leave the single market.  The USA, however, often farm animals in a lower welfare state than the EU/ UK.  The cattle are raised on food lots with much higher stocking densities than beef farms here.  If the UK government introduce a law similar to article 30 then it may be illegal to purchase produce raised in the USA which is both cheaper and more readily available than what many other countries can supply.  It may simply be that the UK government are focussing more on the economics of feeding a growing population than animal welfare.  Though I understand that economically this may make sense it does mean a big U-turn in the outward stance the UK has given towards animal welfare to the global population. If the UK government allows lower welfare produce to be bought from the USA due to economic reasons it will cause great suffering to a growing population of animals across the world which is ethically and morally wrong.  This will affect the whole world given the supposed world leaders in welfare are at the helm of this economically driven decision and thus aren’t being the role model for welfare standards that they should be.

Sheep Dog

What’s Occurred Since the Vote?

The British Veterinary Association created an open letter which was signed by 1,194 veterinary surgeons (including myself), nurses and students and published in The Daily Telegraph on 28th November which gained the recognition of other newspapers and MPs.  A high-profile politician,  Micheal Gove MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs replied to this letter.  Mr Gove stated that the sentience of animals is not under question, that MPs believe animals are definitely sentient and that regardless of NC30 being voted against (mirroring his vote), he will ensure that the sentience of animals is enshrined into UK law.

 

Though last month’s vote against the addition of Article 13 into UK law has the potential to reduce welfare across animals being traded with the UK, IF a new law equals Article 13 the welfare of animals in the UK should be protected post-Brexit.  Some of the headlines were misleading regarding the vote in that it wasn’t purely a vote against the notion of animal sentience but both the headlines and the vote will have damaged the UK’s reputation as a world leader for animal welfare.  Currently laws are introduced into the UK to protect animal welfare such as the presence of CCTV filming in abattoirs, an outcome of high profile campaigns.  Laws such as the presence of CCTV show that the government has at least some level of commitment towards animal welfare and that they at least reduce suffering in animal’s awaiting slaughter.

A Sudden U-Turn and Bold Statement for UK animal welfare.

At the time of writing, the government have just announced a draft Animal Welfare Bill stating the government “must have regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings in formulating and implementing government policy”.

So, what lead to this U-turn, within a month MPs have gone from rejecting the NC30 amendment to UK law to creating a draft bill which states that animals are sentient beings.  Note, however, this doesn’t state “full regard” as article 13 does suggesting that they may not be held as accountable for all impingements in welfare; potentially the importation of meat from reduced welfare states?  Though I don’t know most of the details of this draft bill it does sound like it is very extensive.  One of the main cornerstones of its proposals is a rise in the maximum jail sentence for animal cruelty from a mere six months to five years. This increased sentence is something which has been fought for before and lost but it being in the proposed bill itself is a huge statement towards animal welfare.

 

It looks like the pressure placed on the government through media campaigns, petitions and open letters may have won!  We can only hope this draft bill gets passed.

If you enjoyed my blog then feel free to subscribe to it; use the box in the sidebar.  If you feel you want advice relating to animal laws then please contact me.

Welcome!

Who Am I?

My name is Kim.  I qualified as a Veterinary Surgeon in 2011 after studying at the Royal Veterinary College in London.  I then worked as a small animal vet for five years.

In August I completed my Masters Degree in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare at Newcastle University.

Bam; Leopard Gecko
What do my Qualifications Mean?

I know (most of) your animals from inside out, both what’s going on in their organs and what makes them tick.  I also know their welfare needs based on their species and situation.

I can predict how an animal will react something they need is lacking and give suggestions (which can be as down-to-earth or as wacky as you want) on how to solve any deficits in their welfare to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

Darwin as a juvenile; Leopard Gecko
Can I Understand things From an Owners Point of View?

I am also a pet owner and am not restricted to the conventional species.

My more “conventional” pet is Carl, a guinea pig I adopted after performing a couple of operations on him, most notably removing his right eye due to severe damage and infection which couldn’t be treated any other way.

Leo; Leopard Gecko

The pets that tend to pique others interests more are my three lizards.  Firstly I own Leo, a geriatric Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularis) I rehomed from my cousin around six years ago.

Second up is Darwin.  Darwin is also a Leopard Gecko and is coming up three.  She is a lot smaller than Leo, about half the size in fact partly because Leo is huge.  She also has completely different markings to him due to her breeding; she is Hypomelanistic which means she has fewer spots than a “wild-type” like Leo.

Last but not least, I own a  Crested Gecko (Correlophus ciliatus) called Dallas (AKA Dal) who is around four and is the guy in the banner on this site.

Dallas; Crested Gecko
Have I Had any other Pets?

I have owned several rescue dogs and sometimes look after my parent’s Jack Russell Cross, Rocky, who is around twelve.  As a teen and throughout most of my twenties I owned a dog called Tess who was my best friend.

Rocky

 

When I was younger I also owned hamsters (both Russian Dwarf and Syrian (AKA Golden) and gerbils.  Sadly, I haven’t owned any cats though really like their personalities and independent nature.  I do have experience with them from the places that I’ve worked and had a farm cat who was obsessed with me.

Tess

 

Finally, though I haven’t owned any, I worked at a riding school throughout my teenage years caring for up to fifteen horses at a time and knowing each one’s quirks as well as learning to ride and teaching others to both ride and care for horses.

Peter

 

What Are My Passions?

I am very passionate about aiding the care and welfare of animals, both from a physical and psychological viewpoint.  To improve the standards of animal welfare as much as possible I want to educate others about the welfare needs of a wide-range of species, both domesticated and not.

 

I am also passionate about reducing the abuse, either intentional or not, caused by humans towards animals.  I hope to do this through explaining to people both the positive and negative issues facing animals today and allowing people to explore those further and pass their knowledge on to others.

Carl; Guinea Pig

 

What is the Purpose of this Blog?

My aim is for the ordinary pet owner to find this blog both educational and entertaining.  I will discuss the care of different species, current affairs in the animal world and give light of what I’m doing and some of the adventures I have and the animals I meet along the way.  This is here as a resource but also as a conversation starter which will hopefully get you inspired to read on or spread the word.

Darwin; Leopard Gecko
Final Words

I hope I’ve introduced this blog well.  As I progress over the coming weeks if there are any animal related subjects/ items you want me to explore then feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email (kim@animalwelfarematters.co.uk) and I’ll look into the topic further.