Alabama Rot (CRGV)

Alabama Rot (AKA Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV))

Alabama Rot, apart from one potential greyhound, was first discovered in the UK in 2012.  Prior to this a similar disease by the same name was present in Greyhounds in the USA throughout the 1980s and ‘90s and affected a Great Dane in Germany in 2002.

 

Though Alabama Rot in the UK is very similar to the disorder affecting Greyhounds in the US, it isn’t the same disorder.  The disease in the UK is known by a number of names; Alabama Rot, Alabama Rot-like Syndrome and finally Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV); the latter being the more medical term and describes what happens to the body.

 

Alabama Rot is a very rare but devastating disease but appears just to affect dogs and currently just appears to affect the UK (plus one confirmed case in Ireland).  The reason this disease appeared only during 2012 and its cause are still very much unknown.  There is a chance of cases occurred before 2012 but were missed or misdiagnosed as Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) which is one of the disorders that Alabama Rot causes.

 

Cases first appeared in/ around the New Forest, Hampshire.  Since then there have been cases across the whole of England and Wales with a small number of cases having been diagnosed in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland.  The fact that it has spread across to Ireland and NI is particularly worrying due to the natural barrier of the sea which usually stops the spread of disease.  At the time of writing, throughout the UK and Ireland there have been 152 confirmed cases of CRGV.

 

Historically, CRGV has appeared to be seasonal with most cases being between November and May but some cases have occurred outside of this time.

Currently, even with effective treatment, the mortality rate in most cases (once the kidneys are affected) is 80% meaning if 10 dogs were to become infected by the disease between 8 would die.

Possible Causes

The seasonality of the disease has led to some researchers wonder if it is related to bacteria in the mud, with muddy areas being more abundant between November and May.  A fish vet called Fiona Macdonald did come across a bacteria, Aeromonas hydrophila, which lives in water and mud and causes skin ulcerations followed by AKI in fish. The link between this and CGRV has not been confirmed at the time of writing.

The Signs of CRGV

  • Skin ulceration/ wound
    • Usually on the lower leg but may be around the belly or on the muzzle. Some may also be on the tongue.  Some may also be between the toes.
    • These are usually surrounded by a reddened area of skin.
    • If a dog is licking or paying a lot of attention to parts of their body check tha area for a wound
    • Limping; if the sore is on the leg the pain from the skin pulling against the wound when walking can cause a limp
  • Drinking a lot
  • Urinating less than normal
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Not eating
  • Collapse
  • Dehydration
  • Jaundice

 

The signs other than the wound are mostly due to the dog having problems with their kidneys known as an Acute Kidney Injury (AKI).

 

It is ultimately the AKI and associated damage rather than the skin wound that may kill the dogs.

 

Dogs with Alabama Rot tend to develop AKI about 4 days after the skin wound(s) but this is not always the case.  Sometimes the skin wound is the only sign whereas other times they just develop the AKI without any wounds.  Also, sometimes the AKI can start before the skin wounds or quite some time after.

 

This unpredictability, and the fact that the skin wounds look like normal wounds, can make it difficult to diagnose in the early stages and therefore treatment may be delayed.

What Does Alabama Rot Do to the Body?

In the UK, Alabama Rot’s medical name is Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasulopathy.

Cutaneous means the skin.

Renal = Kidney.

Glomerular is the main part of the kidney that it affects; the part that filters the blood.

Vasculopathy= A disorder which affects the blood supply.

This means that it’s a disorder affecting the blood supply to parts of the kidney and skin.

 

It causes small blood clots within the blood vessels of the skin and kidneys.  This stops that area of skin/ kidneys getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs (as well as getting rid of any waste products it has) causing the area to die.

Some red blood cells squeeze past the clots but due to the tiny space, they are often damaged.  This damage may be seen in a blood sample and it can cause anaemia.

The large number of clots throughout the body use up quite a lot of platelets which may show up in the blood sample as there are fewer left in the blood than there should be.

 

The anaemia can also affect organ function across the body, however, most issues are due to the kidney damage.

 

The skin wounds may also become infected too causing further problems.

 

Diagnosis

A complete diagnosis is made by looking at samples of the skin and kidneys for the typical damage for this.  Sampling the kidneys is only usually done after a dog has died by post-mortem examination.

 

In alive dogs, the diagnosis is made by the symptoms and the presence of typical skin wounds/ ulcerations.  Skin lesions are usually on the lower leg or foot but can be under the belly or muzzle and in some cases they are also on the tongue too.

 

Kidney disease is diagnosed by blood and/ or urine samples.  If your dog is suspected of having Alabama Rot, even if well, your vet will usually want to take blood samples.  The blood samples are usually repeated after a few days to see if the markers for kidney damage increase.  If they increase above a certain amount, even if your dog seems well, they likely have AKI and need to be treated.

 

Blood samples may look at the number of platelets and white blood cells (and their types) in the blood. The type of white blood cells can point to the presence of an infection, and sometimes the type of infection (ie if it’s due to bacteria or parasites).

Any abnormalities in the shape of the red blood cells can happen with CRGV due to them squeezing past the blood clots.

Vets also look at the level of something called Bilirubin in the blood.  This can be raised due to damage to the red blood cells or with liver damage.  Dogs with high bilirubin levels are often jaundiced; their skin, gums, and the whites of their eyes look yellow.  This is seen in up to half the dogs with CRGV.

 

Finally, vets look for evidence of other infections which could cause these symptoms eg; Leptospirosis or poisons.

 

Treatment of Alabama Rot

The main treatments revolve around the AKI.

The wounds are treated with thorough cleaning and antibiotics.  They may be covered with a dressing and the dog may have a buster collar on to stop them licking the wounds.

 

They will be put on a drip to help flush out any toxins within the kidneys and help with their dehydration.

Dogs may have a catheter placed into their bladder for vets to measure the amount of urine they pass.  This helps them evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment.

Dogs are usually given anti-sickness medication.  If they are eating they may be fed on a prescription diet to help their kidneys.  Some dogs are fed using a feeding tube into their stomach.

 

Giving them plasma via a blood transfusion replaces the platelets used up during clotting but this may not help to a huge degree.

 

Finally, a new treatment that has been trialled at the Royal Veterinary College called Plasmapheresis.  Here the plasma (the liquid part of the blood) is filtered to remove antibodies.  These are parts of the body’s immune system but sometimes cause harm and thereby removing them, or an excess of them, can help the dog.  In the trial, two out of six severely affected dogs survived which is a significant improvement on the usual odds.  This trial is still very early on so its overall success is still unknown.

 

Prevention

There is no known, reliable prevention for Alabama Rot.

As the cause of this disease is unknown a vaccine cannot be produced.  Also, people cannot be advised on specific protocols to follow.

This disease is more common during muddier times of the year and potentially in dogs walked in specific areas.  Some recommend washing the dogs legs and paws after coming home from a walk.  This usually won’t harm your dog and may actually increase the chances of you finding new wounds on them.  It is important to remember, more often than not new wounds are not caused by Alabama Rot.

 

Once a cause is found likely more information will come out regarding preventative measure to help you protect your dog from this devastating disease.

How To : Clip Rodent’s Nails

One of the most common things Rodent/ Rabbit owners as me is;

How do you clip nails?

or

Must they go to the vets for their nails clipping?

Animals do not have to go to the vets for their nails clipping and the majority can be safely done at home if you know how to and with the right equipment.

Being at the vets causes a lot of stress to most animals from;

  • the bright lights
  • the smells of both the animals and the chemicals, and,
  • being handled by someone different.

 

The stress negatively impacts on an animal’s welfare for the time they are there, the journeys each way (travelling is a common fear) and during the time it takes for them to settle on returning home.  Some owners also separate their rodents (presuming they are a social species, obviously Syrian hamsters should always be kept separate) to take them to the vets.  Whilst people may find this easier to transport them, these animals become more stressed when separated and this separation and the altered smell of the one who visited the vets) can making mixing them back together difficult on their return, ultimately leading to fighting and, potentially, needing longer-term separation.

 

Therefore, it is in the best interests of both yourself and your animals, to learn how to trim their nails at home if at all possible.

My video may also help you learn how too;

What do you need?

  • A pair of nail clippers.
    Here are the Rosewood Options (left) and Ancol Ergo (right) small animal nail clippers
    • Human nail clippers usually work well with small rodents (rats, gerbils or hamsters) but they can be quite fiddly.
    • Guinea pigs nails are often a bit too big for human nail clippers so cat nail clippers or those designed for small animals (both are very similar in size and shape) are often needed.  Dog nail clippers are too large with their bulkiness making the task harder.

 

I have two different pairs of small animal nail clippers (I lost one, bought a second and then found the “old”(ie twice used !) pair within a couple of days!).

I first bought the Ancol Ergo Small Animal Nail Clippers and then the newer pair are the Rosewood Options Grooming Deluxe Claw Trimmers.  Both work very well, with the main difference just being the size; the Ancol ones are much smaller.

  • Corn Flour or Silver Nitrate pens
    • These help to stem the bleeding if you accidentally clip the blood vessel.
  • A Towel
    • With some animals the job may be easier (and safer) if you wrap them in a towel as I demonstrate in another blog post. This helps to keep them still and is especially useful if you’re alone.
  • A Friend?
    • You may find it easier, especially the first few times, if you get someone to hold them for you.  You then have both hands free to hold the foot (if needed) and clip the nail.

One Thing to Remember… Stay Calm!

I’m aware this is easier to said than done.

Pet’s are very good at picking up on body language so will pick up on your stress levels.  Them noticing you’re stressed means they will think there is something to worry about, squirm around more and find it scarier.  This will not only make it harder on the first attempt but also in future attempts as even if everything goes COMPLETELY to plan they will still believe there is something to worry about.

 

Nail clipping shouldn’t cause any pain/ discomfort and if you do it carefully the worst you can do is cut the quick (where the nail come from which contains the blood vessel and nerve) which will cause pain and bleeding but will heal over time.  The more you stress the more your hands will shake and more your pet will move leaving it more likely that you do accidentally cut the quick.

Staying calm is key.

If you can’t do it calmly then ask a friend or relative to do it for you (or consider taking them to your vet. Independent pet shops may even be willing to clip nails if you ask).

Clipping their nails is like clipping your own

Their nails are similar to ours, just a different shape.  The small size and the different shape is what puts people off.

 

Just like our own, the nails are made of a protein called keratin and the part you trim doesn’t have a nerve supply so it shouldn’t hurt.

 

Look at your own nails;

You will have a large area covering a pink fleshy bit and a clear, slightly whitened area at the end.  The nail protects that fleshy area below and if you accidentally break your nail or clip that structure it’s very sore.

Image showing where to clip the nail. Clip near to where the black line is

Pet’s nails also can be clear and near the base of it, running down the centre is the pink fleshy bit known as the quick.  The quick contains a blood vessel and nerve.  Further down the nail is completely clear/white (unless the nail is black!) and this is the part that you can clip away.

Clipping too short damages the blood and nerve supply causing pain and bleeding so needs to be avoided when possible.

HOWEVER, saying that, some animal’s nails are black.  Black nails have the same structure, you just can’t see it.  If the end of the nail is really thin (much more so than the base of the nail) and pointed usually this doesn’t contain the quick but otherwise be cautious you could catch the quick by accident.  Often I and clip some clear nails first; these give a good indication of how long the quick is and therefore if you clip them the black nails the same length you are usually safe but there is no harm leaving the nail a bit longer.

It’s impossible to see the quick on Carl’s black nails

Another way is to just clip the nail (or even file it if they will allow it) by 1-2mm per week until it looks about right.  This reduces the risk of catching the quick.  It’s also worthwhile having a quick look at the end of the nail after you’ve clipped it.  This will tell you whether it is bleeding or not. Also the quick is like in a tunnel down the centre of the nail with the keratin around the outside.   When you get near the quick this “tunnel” can be seen as a hole down the middle of the nail.  Therefore if the nail is completely solid with no hollow area you’re usually fine to maybe clip it a bit more but if there is even a slight pin hole down the centre then DON’T cut more away.

How to Actually do it

  • Get someone to hold your guinea pig or secure them yourself.
    • Your dominant hand, in most cases, should be the one you clip with so any holding of the guinea pig or their foot should be with your non-dominant hand (ie if you are right handed hold the pig with your left and clip with your right)
  • Try one of the following;
    1. Have one hand, usually over their shoulders, whilst they are ideally on the floor/ your lap and use the other to clip.
    2. Wrap them securely in a towel and expose one foot at a time (see here and here).
    3. Keep their back legs on the floor/ your lap and have your non-dominant hand secure their front legs with their back against your lap and belly/ chest;
One front leg should be between your index and middle fingers with their back towards your belly/ chest.
One forelimb should be between your index finger and thumb with your thumb going around the back of their shoulder/ neck. Make sure their back is towards your chest/ belly.

  • Clean/rub the nails if dirty to help you to see where the quick ends.
  • Ensure they are secure and are not wrigging around.  They should feel quite comfortable.

If they are moving around a lot get someone else to help, change the way you are holding them or swap who is doing the holding.

  • Pick up the clippers (ideally) similar to how is shown in the pictures; these positions give a better grip and improve the stability of the clippers though some people may find this more awkward/ uncomfortable.
Put the thumb through the small hole, your index finger on the plastic just at the front of the handle, put your middle and ring fingers through the larger hole and finally put your little finger on the hook at the end
Put thumb through the hole on the shorter side. On the other side put the ring finger through the hole, the index and middle fingers on the ridges and the little finger on the hook at the end
  • Place the blades of the clipper blades either side of the nail.  Make sure they are between the pointed end of the nail (furthest end from the foot) and where the end of the pink quick (blood vessel and nerve ) is.
    • Sometimes getting someone to shine a light through darker nails can help to show where the quick is.
  • Ensure the guinea pig is not moving and then close the handles to clip the nail.
  • If the guinea pig squeaks or rapidly moves, release the clippers and check for bleeding
    • Bleeding can be quite quick but don’t worry, they won’t lose too much blood from a bleeding nail.
    • If you have cornflour then place their foot in it to stop the bleeding
    • Silver nitate pens can be placed against the vessel to stem any bleeding
    • Putting pressure on the toe and/ or placing some of their clean substrate over the nail can help but this must be held for several minutes (in most cases) to be effective.
  • Some guinea pigs are nervy by the slight noise of the clippers so may squeak/ jump without any damage being down.

I’ve done One Nail, What Do I Do Now?

Move on to the next.  Sometimes a guinea pig will get bored and start shuffling around a bit.  If that’s the case give them some freedom for a while before resuming.

  • Keep repositioning how you’re holding your guinea pig to ensure they still feel secure and give them plenty of fuss.

Once All The Nails Are Done

  • Check for any bleeding nails that you haven’t already noticed.
    • If some were previously bleeding make sure it hasn’t restarted with them moving around more.
  • Give them a fuss and a treat (suitable vegetables or part of their daily ration of pellets may be a great treat if they are overweight) and let them get back to whatever they were doing before.

In Summary

Nail clipping can be done at home where it is often less stressful for your guinea pigs (and you, once you’re used to it).  It just requires you to hold your pet securely and ensuring you don’t cut the nail too short if possible.

If you do cut it too short and it starts to bleed, don’t worry, the bleeding will stop and they won’t lose too much blood and it won’t cause lasting damage.  Clipping the claws in order will help you keep track of where you’re up to and, importantly, may sure you always give your guinea pig a break if they need it.

 

Take a look at my other blog posts if you found this useful; there will be others you enjoy.  To get informed straight away when other blog posts are released then type your name in the boxes at the top of the right sidebar and click the “Sign Up” button.  Feel free to ask any questions in either the comments below or via my contact form; use these methods to give suggestions for future posts too and I will see what I can do.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (RHD2)

Introduction to Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Type 1 (RHD1) is a disease affecting rabbits first which was discovered in 1984 in China and causes sudden death in rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus).  RHD1 spread quickly but overtime was controlled by a combination of improved hygiene and a vaccination program, one which is still available today.

Fast forward until 2010, a new version of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, this time Type 2 (AKA RHD2), appeared. By 2014 RHD2 had spread to the UK and from there it spread as far away as Canada and Australia.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Type 2

RHD2 affects European rabbits of all ages and, unlike type 1, also affects hares.  In 2015 it also started to really cause problems among shows, breeding colonies and in rescue centres where it spread quickly between animals sharing a small space and where rabbits were coming and going. The presence of it in shows also accelerated it’s spread across the UK.

Unlike RHD1, Type 2 can affect many species of rabbit/ hare

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Type 1 tends to cause sudden death with nothing much else seen otherwise.  RHD2, however, only causes sudden death in a minority of cases, in fact only killing approximately 20% of affected rabbits (though it can kill as few as 5% up to as many as 70% dependent on the area and the timing). Instead, RHD2 often leads to a longer period of illness followed by a recovery.

Between a rabbit catching RHD2 and showing signs of illness there, is approximately 3-9days, known as the incubation period.  During this period, the rabbit can pass it to other rabbits without you even knowing they had it.  Therefore, RHD2 is often spread before you have the chance to improve or alter your cleaning practices and therefore you need to be prepared. It is important you improve your methods and act as if your animal may have it right now; clean their cages to the best of your ability all the time and, perhaps the best prevention, keep rabbits vaccinated against RHD2 to protect them from catching it.

The signs of RHD2

The virus can cause your rabbit to become ill in three different forms;

Percute type
  • This looks similar to RHVD1 in terms of it just leads to sudden death
Acute Type
  • Fatal in a lot of cases, often within the space of 36htrs.
  • Signs of it are
    • collapsing,
    • large amount of bleeding; blood in their urine, any discharge from their body, bleeding gums and nosebleeds.
    • Some show signs of brain and nerve problems
    • collapse,
    • seizuring,
    • poor balance,
    • falling over, or,
    • walking like they are drunk (Ataxia).
    • crying out a lot.
Subacute/ Chronic Form
  • This sometimes causes rabbis to die but often not for over a week and is due to liver failure, the main organ affected by RHD.
  • During this time they have
    • severe jaundice (meaning their skin and the white of their eyes, along with other places, looks yellow),
    • they refuse to eat
    • very quiet
    • lethargic.

Treatment

Firstly if you suspect one of your rabbits has RHD2 it is important for you to contact your vet straight away.

When rabbits have Subacute/ Chronic RHD2 they often stop eating and drinking. To prevent rabbits becoming dehydrated, make them feel better and increase their odds of survival you should make sure they’re kept warm (be careful using heat pads or hot water bottles; these can burn their sensitive skin. Only use heat pads if they are no warmer than around 40C and they are able to move away from them on their own). If they are very unwell or not drinking your vet may want to put them on a drip until they are drinking and eating enough.

How it’s Spread

RHD2 is highly contagious meaning it can spread from one rabbit to another very easily.

However, it’s not just rabbits you have to make sure don’t pass it on, if any of the virus gets on the bowls, cages, your shoes etc, anything another rabbit may come into contact with it can be passed along.

The main things the virus is passed on in is the tears, saliva and nasal discharge but it also stays in and on any of the rabbit’s bodies who died from it.

Indoor rabbits may be affected by RHD2 too. Image; Twitter @SarahTait123

To make it worse and even less predictable, if a fly has been near an infected rabbit they can pass it to another rabbit they spend time near/ bite.

Finally, RHD2 is spread in the rabbits urine and faeces throughout the whole time they are infected until around one-two days after the infection has resolved.  The risk is if one cage is stacked on top of another then it could be spread easily if they are not completely waterproof and any urine seaps from one cage into another, infecting the second group of rabbits.

It is unknown how long the virus survives to reinfect other rabbits when it’s in the environment.  One thing to watch out for is later infections if a previous rabbit had one such as a rabbit catching it from bits of virus left in its cage.

Therefore, if you are keeping rabbits near/ in an area where a rabbit has been previously infected with RHD2 it is important you keep up with high levels of hygiene, vaccinate all of the rabbits and be vigilant for signs of infection.

If your rabbits have previously had it or you own a breeding colony/ similar leaving rabbits your rabbits are at high risk of getting it.

Preventing the Spread of RHD2

If you have several rabbits and one has come down with RHD2 you should isolate the affected one and look after that one totally separately. Your hands should be thoroughly cleaned and/ or alcohol rub used to clean your hands and you should wear different clothes when looking after/ interacting with your healthy rabbits to try and prevent its spread.

RHD2 is a very difficult virus to kill and prevent its spread so often doing this isn’t 100% effective especially with rabbits spreading the disease before they show any signs of illness.

One any affected rabbits have been separated from the healthy ones it is important you get the healthy rabbits vaccinated against RHVD2.  A vaccine for type 1 has been shown to now really help against type 2 (though in some cases may offer a small amount of protection). Your rabbits will then need to get boosters at least every year, ideally every six months if your rabbits are at a higher risk of catching it such as you show or breed them or you’ve owned affected rabbits near where your current rabbits are housed.

Really young rabbits are at risk of RHD2 and, in high risk areas, vaccinating them at four weeks old should be considered

With the disease spreading very easily and being difficult not only to save rabbits but to prevent others from becoming infected, rabbit shows are now cancelled in an affected area. You should not take a rabbit to a show if you suspect they are infected or if you have another rabbit who has it or recently did.

To prevent RHD2 from spreading you should use plenty of good quality disinfectants when cleaning their cage and anything they come into contact with. Sadly, the RHD2 virus is difficult to kill so not all disinfectants are effective.  The use of alcohol skin rubs rather than a disinfectant called Chlorhexidine (either within a rub or as a soap with water) is more effective.  Other than that, when cleaning their cages diluted household bleach may be one of the most reliable things. If you use bleach make sure the cage is thoroughly rinsed out afterwards to prevent it burning your rabbits skin or the inside their mouth if they gnaw on a treated area.

 

Vaccination

For rabbits at high risk, it is worthwhile considering vaccinating kits from four weeks old.  Prior to this age if their mother has either had RHV2 or has been exposed to it the kits will get immunity from their mother’s milk, however, this immunity wears off at four weeks.

At four weeks old these rabbits no longer are protected by their mother and are very susceptible to it due to their underdeveloped immune system. If they’re not vaccinated at four weeks and are exposed to RHD2 they will likely get it.  Current vaccines have a licence to be used from 10weeks of age but are believed to be safe to use from four weeks of age.  However, if given the vaccine at four weeks old, young rabbits will need a second vaccination when they are ten weeks old as it hasn’t been shown to last longer than this 8n such young rabbits.

It is still important they have vaccines against myxomatosis which, itself, is often lethal

Vaccinations, once given at ten weeks of age or older last for a year in mild-moderate risk areas.  However, if your rabbits are at high risk of an infection it is recommended they have a booster every six months.

RHD2 vaccines are on top of Myxo-RHD1 vaccinations which are the normal vaccines given annually in the UK against myxomatosis and RHD1.  This vaccine is very important for rabbits to still get as RHD2 vaccines do not work against myxomatosis or RHD1 and vice versa. Myxomatosis in its own right is a very common and often fatal disease which can be easily prevented by annual boosters s9 these should be unavoided as other methods o& prevention are less effective.

Currently, there is no evidence of whether the Myxo-RHD and the RHD2 vaccines interfere with each other if given at the same time and, therefore, it is recommended that at least two weeks is given between a vet giving your rabbit each of these vaccines. Though, it doesn’t matter if the vaccines are separated by a longer period of time, or which is given first.

The new vaccine in the UK by Filavacs however, does cover both types of RHVD. However, it must be remembered that this vaccination still doesn’t cover myxomatosis at all so getting that vaccine too is still highly recommended.

In Summary

There are two types of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease; type one tends to cause sudden death. Type two however can cause a more long-lasting disease.

Both types can be prevented by vaccination and Filavacs does a vaccine protecting against both but rabbits should also be vaccinated against Myxomatosis in a separate vaccine.

Rabbits at high risk should be vaccinated from very young (4weeks of age) and maybe twice a year as well as thorough cleaning and prevention strategies.  Shows should be avoided in high risk areas too.

If you believe your rabbit may have RHD then contact your vet immediately.

 

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Fourteen Signs of Pain in Guinea Pigs

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

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

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

 

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

1.Change in Posture

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

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

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

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

  1. Squeaking/ Screaming (AKA Vocalising)

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

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

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

  1. Eating less and Weight Loss

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

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

Guinea Pigs may still eat treats when in pain

 

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

  1. Drinking Less

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

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

  1. Unkempt Coat and Grooming Less

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Writhing/ Abdominal Contractions

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

  1. Flinching

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

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

 

  1. Shaking

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

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

  1. Paying Attention to a Painful Area

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

  1. Moving slower

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

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

  1. Limping

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

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

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

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

 

  1. Cage Bar- Biting

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

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

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

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

  2.  Grinding Teeth (Bruxism)

 

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

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

The summary

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Final Words

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

What’s Involved with Spaying Your Cat

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

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

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

What is Spaying?

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

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

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

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

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

About the Op?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young kittens who have only just been born

Positives to Spaying

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

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

The Negatives

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

Early Neutering

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

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

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

Summing up the factors involving spaying your cat

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

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

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What is Involved with Spaying your Dog?

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

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

What is Spaying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

In Summary

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

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

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

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

 

If you found this useful then please subscribe by placing your email in the box in the right sidebar.  Also, if you want to discuss anything raised here please feel free to comment below or contact me directly.

Seven Common Hoof Problems in Horses

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

 

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

Laminitis

This condition raises masses of fear in any horse owner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other signs include

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

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

With treatment,

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

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

Navicular Disease

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

There are a number of causes of Navicular Disease.

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

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

Signs of Navicular Disease;

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

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

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

    Heartbar shoes can help with laminitis and cracked hooves
Foot Abscess

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

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

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

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

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

Bruising

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

These develop for a number of reasons;

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

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

Cracked Hooves

Several things can cause hooves to become cracked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End Note

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

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

The Carl Story; My Rescue Guinea Pig

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

Carl; the Early Stages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carl Faced Further Problems

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

Ten Weeks Had Passed

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

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

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

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

Adopting Carl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nowadays

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

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

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

Could Carl Make a Friend Ill?

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing with Firework Fear in Horses

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

 

Why are horses scared?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you liked this blog then subscribe, this will send to email each time I publish a blog.  Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss any aspect of this article.

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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