What is Involved with Spaying your Dog?

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

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

What is Spaying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

In Summary

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

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

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

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

 

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Twelve Signs Your Dog is In Pain

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

 

Dog’s don’t always cry out in pain

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

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

So what are these signs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Quick Recap

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

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

 

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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.

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.

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.

If you found this blog useful please Subscribe to read regular animal related blogs.  To suggest topics you’d like me to blog about or to discuss anything in this blog 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.