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)

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.

 

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.

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.

 

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