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Itchy dog problems

September 11, 2015

One of the most common things we see all kinds of pets for here at Orchard – cats, dogs and small furry pets – is skin problems. Putting up with a pet scratching at all hours of the day or night can be enough to drive owners crazy, and just think of the poor pets! Itchy skin can happen for many reasons, and it is important to have a consultation with your vet to discuss the best diagnostic tests and treatments that may be appropriate for your pet.

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In this article, we will discuss a little bit about managing one of the most common causes of itchy skin (after fleas and other parasites) – allergic skin disease, also known as atopy or atopic dermatitis.

It can be very difficult to diagnose with certainty that a pet has allergic skin disease, as it requires ruling out a lot of other causes of itchy skin, and ideally a biopsy of the skin which is examined under the microscope for changes characteristic of  a hypersensitivity response. In allergic skin disease, substances called allergens settling on the skin cause the animal to become very itchy.  Skin becomes red and inflamed, and quickly damaged by the pet scratching, which leads to further infection from bacteria.

When I am talking to owners whose pets have been diagnosed with an allergy, or where we are very strongly suspicious of an allergic process, I like to talk about managing the process by breaking it into three main areas:

1 Avoiding the allergens

One way of keeping allergic pets comfortable is to avoid exposing them to the allergens which provoke a reaction. However, this can be easier said than done in some cases! For a start, knowing exactly which allergens provoke a response relies on testing the animal’s response to them by injecting a tiny amount of the purified substances into their skin, and measuring the response. This is carried out by a specialist dermatologist, and isn’t always practical for all pet owners. We can sometimes work out from looking carefully at the times the pet is most itchy which allergens are most likely to cause problems, but sometimes it is more useful to talk about the most common allergens and what to do about them.

Flea droppings like this can indicate a problem

Flea droppings like this can indicate a problem

One of the most common substances to which pets are allergic is flea saliva. Strictly speaking, this is flea allergic dermatitis or FAD and not atopy, but I always talk about flea control as it isn’t uncommon for pets to have multiple allergies. Pets with flea allergy are itchy for different reasons than pets that are itchy because they have a lot of fleas. In a non-allergic pet with fleas, each flea bite itches a little, so if they have a lot of bites, they itch a lot.

However, in a pet with flea allergy, one flea bite triggers the hypersensitivity reaction described above, so they itch a lot from just one bite.  Strict flea control is vital if you have an allergic pet. This must mean the correct dose of an effective product is given as often as the manufacturer recommends, and must be given to all pets in the household, not just the allergic pet. The product should kill all the life stages of a flea, not just the adult, and must be the type of product that kills fleas when they jump on the pet, rather than relying on them biting and taking a blood meal.

Tree and grass pollens vary at different times of year

Other common allergens for pets include household dust mites, and grass or tree pollens. This often leads to a seasonal pattern in pruritis (rather like hayfever in people). These can be much harder to avoid.  Household flea sprays such as Indorex also have a claim to kill household dust mites, which could be useful. After walks in pollen season, rinsing your pet’s coat, especially their feet, can reduce the reaction to allergens.

2 Increasing overall skin health

Often the easiest way to think of the skin is like a brick wall – the skin cells make up the bricks, and the natural oils that lie on the surface of the skin are like the mortar between the bricks. This ‘mortar’ fills in the cracks between the skin, preventing allergens coming into contact with the immune system. Keeping the skin moisturised and nourished can help keep this oily substance (known as sebum) at a healthy level and reduce the overall tendency of the skin to flare up and react to allergens.

One way of doing this is by using the correct shampoo advised by your vet to help keep your pet’s skin healthy. These may contain oatmeal, a natural moisturiser with an anti-inflammatory effect, or agents to reduce the level of bacteria or yeasts on the skin, a degreasing agents if your pet’s coat has too much oil in it (no-one ever said dermatology was simple, unfortunately!)

Additionally, a diet rich in the correct balance of omega oils can also help maintain the general health of the skin. Many commercial diets will provide a good omega oil balance, and some, such as Royal Canin’s Skin Care range are specially formulated to help maintain healthy skin, with high omega oil levels and increased levels of Vitamin E, which helps support the skin. Alternatively, there are omega oil supplements, such as Viacutan, which you can add to your dog’s diet to help maintain the oil barrier layer of their skin and coat.

A combination approach works best for skin problems

A combination approach works best for skin problems

3 Using carefully targeted medication

In some dogs with milder allergic problems, steps one and two are sufficient to prevent flare ups of skin problems. However, in cases where the disease is more severe, the third area of management involves the use of medication which modifies the immune system, to prevent excessive reaction to allergens. If this is required for your pet, your veterinarian will discuss with you which medications are available and might be suited to your pet, so that you can make an informed decision about keeping them comfortable and happy, and hopfully itch-free! Even if your dog does require medication, using the methods and products suggested above can help make the medication more effective, or even reduce the dose required.

Wow, that was a long post!  Well done if you stuck it out to the end, and I hope you found out some useful information. If your pet is showing signs of itchy, irritated or sore skin we recommend you call the clinic on 01458 832 972 to make an appointment to see one of the vets.

Dr Lucy Fleming 11 September 2015

Feeling ticked-off!

July 28, 2015

Sultry summer days are here again, and with them come increases in creepy crawlies that may bother us, or our pets. One particularly unpleasant summer problem is dealing with ticks attaching to our pets.

A tick attached to the skin of a dog

A tick attached to the skin of a dog

What is a tick?

Ticks are small blood-sucking arachnids (related to spiders rather than insects) which attach to a pet, take a meal of blood, then drop off into vegetation. They are most often found in areas with thick vegetation such as woodland or heath, where they climb to the top of long grass and wait for a potential host to pass by. The most common tick species in the UK is Ixodes ricinus. When they first attach to a pet ticks are small, brown and quite flat in appearance. As they feed, they become larger, more of a grey-ish colouration and shiny. Sometimes it can be surprisingly hard to tell the difference between a tick and a small hairless lump on the skin!

Why are ticks a problem for my pet?

As with any biting insect, ticks cause some irritation at the site they attach, though they don’t cause the same fierce itchy irritation as a bite from a flea or mosquito. This is because while they are attached, they don’t want the animal to realise they are there, so their saliva actually acts a little like a local anaesthetic!

Though each individual tick does not take a large amount of blood from an animal, many ticks feeding at once can cause anaemia, especially in small or young animals.

A fully engorged tick

A fully engorged tick

Ticks can also transmit disease when they bite. In the UK ticks can carry Lyme disease, though we are lucky that this is still uncommon. However, Lyme disease is very difficult to eliminate from the body once an infection has been acquired, so as always prevention is better than cure! If travelling abroad, ticks can carry a variety of potentially serious diseases, so tick prevention is especially recommended if you are travelling with your pet.

What should I do if I find a tick on my pet?

Ticks will eventually drop off naturally once they have fed, but we generally recommend that they are removed. There are many ways suggested to remove a tick. Some of the most commonly suggested incorrect methods include holding a match to the tick, covering it in Vaseline to suffocate it, or using alcohol to encourage it to release from the skin. Not only are these methods not reliable, they can actually distress the tick and cause it to inject more saliva into the pet, which may increase the risk of disease transmission.

Ticks can be removed with tweezers, but this runs the risk of leaving the mouthparts behind, as they are firmly embedded into the skin. This can lead to localised infection which may be uncomfortable for the pet. We recommend the use of ‘tick twisters’ – these are small plastic tools which slide around the tick’s head. Slowly twisting the tick will encourage it to release from the skin so you can safely dispose of it. If you have never used these before or if you are uncomfortable with trying to remove a tick yourself you can book an appointment for one of our veterinary nurses to remove the tick (and show you how to do it yourself if you like!)

Tick prevention treatments

If your pet spends time in woodland or heathland, or if they keep picking up ticks from somewhere-or-other, we recommend that they are treated with a product to kill ticks. Some products require ticks to attach before they are killed, whilst others will also repel ticks so they are less likely to bite at all. It must be boren in mind though that no product is capable of completely eliminating the risk of a tick attaching.


Seresto collars

Seresto collars are a disposable collar that your dog or cat wears, which both repel and kill ticks for up to 8 months before they need to be replaced. This means many people find them a very useful way to protect pets from ticks during the high-risk summer and autumn months.

Frontline Combo

Frontline and Frontline combo spot-on treatments will kill ticks, though they do not repel them – the tick has to attach and start to feed before they are killed. This means you may still see small brown unfed ticks attached to your pet for a short period of time. Most disease transmission from tick bites occurs during the ‘rapid feeding phase’ which starts around 48 hours after the tick attaches. As ticks are killed by Frontline within 48 hours of attachment, it still provides some protection against disease transmission. Frontline products can be used on cats and dogs.

Permethrin products

Most other spot-on products that repel and kill ticks, such as Advantix, contain permethrin. Permethrin is very useful in tick prevention, but it is very important to remember that permethrin products must never be used on cats. This is because cats lack the ability to metabolise these compounds, and they are highly poisonous to them, leading to intractable tremors and seizures that are often fatal. You can still use permethrin products on your dogs if you have cats, but with care. Cats and dogs must be kept separate until the application site is completely dry. Even after that if the cat grooms the application site they can be poisoned, so if you are lucky enough to have a cat and dog who are best buddies, you should make sure the products you choose are safe for them both.

Dr Lucy Fleming MRCVS

Rabbit-ing on, part 2 – Common health problems in pet rabbits

June 8, 2015


Rabbits are surprisingly strong little creatures, as anyone who has held one will tell you, but they are also delicate and prone to injury. One of the most common and most devastating injuries we see in rabbits are spinal fractures.

A rabbit receiving intravenous fluids at Orchard Veterinary Group

A rabbit receiving intravenous fluids at Orchard Veterinary Group

A rabbit’s spine is very flexible, but not very strong. In fact, their immensely strong hind leg muscles, which they use to hop about, are enough to cause a spinal fracture if they kick out while being held incorrectly. It’s very important to ensure that rabbits are held carefully with their bottom supported at all times to prevent this, and we don’t recommend that rabbits are handled by very young children who may not understand how important it is to hold them carefully.

We also quite commonly see skin lacerations in rabbits, often when owners have tried to remove matted hair using scissors. Rabbit skin is extremely delicate, making it very easy to injure and extremely difficult to repair, so we would strongly advise that you never try to use scissors to remove soiled or matted hair.

The best way to prevent injuries to pet rabbits is to ensure they are well handled from a young age, so they are less likely to panic when being held. Ensure their environment is safe, with nothing they might injure themselves on, and make sure everyone who handles them knows how to handle rabbits safely.

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Abrasive foods, such as carrots and good quality hay are great for maintaining dental health

Dental disease

Rabbits’ teeth are very different from humans’, dogs’ and cats’, as they continually grow throughout their lives. In order to keep the crowns of the teeth to the right length, the teeth need to grind against each other as the rabbit chews fibrous food such as hay. The only teeth that can be easily assessed in a rabbit at home are the large incisor teeth at the front of their mouth. To look at the back teeth (molars) the vet will use a scope, if the rabbit is calm enough to allow it. A full examination of the oral cavity requires anaesthetic. If the molars are not wearing correctly they can develop sharp points which traumatise the cheeks and tongue, and which need to be removed under anasthetic. If dental pain becomes severe enough to stop a rabbit eating, they can very rapidly become extremely unwell.

As with most health problems, prevention is better than cure. Ensure your rabbit always has access to an appropriate diet made up mainly of hay. Museli-type diets are not ideal as rabbits will often only eat their favourite components. This can lead to an imbalance in calcium levels of the diet, which can actually lead to malformations of the jaw, and serious problems with tooth wear as a result.

Rabbit sizeometer

For a pdf download of this chart click the image above to visit the website of the Pet Food Manufacturers Association


Just like in cats and dogs, we often see overweight pet rabbits. This is usually a combination of excessive calorie intake (especially from concentrate foods and starchy vegetable treats) and insufficient exercise.

Just like with cats and dogs, rabbits can vary greatly in their adult body size, from a Netherland Dwarf at around 1kg adult weight, to a Flemish Giant which may weigh 7kg when fully grown. To take this into account, we use body condition scores, such as those illustrated in the chart below, to decide if a rabbit is a healthy weight for its size.  Regularly handling your rabbit will help you to get to know if it might be under- or overweight. The best way to ensure your rabbit remains at a healthy weight is to feed it an appropriate diet with plenty of hay or grass.


The most unpleasant problem we see in pet rabbits is flystrike (myiasis). This refers to the infestation of the rabbit by fly larvae (maggots).  Many people mistakenly believe that this can only occur where there is a pre-existing wound when in fact, maggots of certain species will penetrate intact skin.

The problem first occurs when flies are attracted to fur soiled with urine or faeces. They will lay their eggs in the fur, and these rapidly hatch into maggots, which burrow into the skin and live off the rabbit’s tissue, causing massive amounts of damage and the release of toxins which send the animal into shock. Unless the condition is caught in the early stages, when only very minor damage has occurred, the rabbit may need to be put down.

To prevent flystrike, it is vital that rabbits are kept in dry, hygeinic conditions to minimise the numbers of flies. They should be picked up and inspected daily (or ideally more often in summer) and any soiling around their back end addressed. In warm months, all rabbits should be protected from flies with a repellent product such as Rearguard, but this is no substitute for good hygeine and regular examination.

GEN20147Urinary problems

Rabbits are very prone to absorbing excessive calcium from their diet, due to a peculiarilty of their hormonal control of this mineral in the body. This is excreted via the urinary tract, and excessive levels can lead to thick sludgy urine which the rabbit finds difficult to pass. This will often present with signs of abdominal pain such as a hunched posture, grinding their teeth, or a poor appetite.  It may cause urine wetting of the back end, or straining to urinate. If you notice any of these you should arrange an appointment with the vet as soon as possible.

Certain foods are higher in calcium than others and should be fed in limited quantities, such as kale or spinach. A type of hay known as alfalfa or lucerne hay is not advised for rabbits due to its high calcium component.

GI stasis

The most serious problem we see in rabbits is gastro-intestinal (gut) stasis. This means that the rabbit’s intestines have stopped working properly and have stopped moving food through the GI tract. Any rabbit that stops eating, even for a very short period of time, is at risk of going into gut stasis and needs to be treated aggressively with medication, and sometimes hospitalised.  Gut stasis often develops as a consequence of any condition which stops the rabbit from eating or reduces its appetite.

Spotting an unwell rabbit is very difficult – as prey species they hide signs of illness or pain until they are unable to cope any more. This means that an unwell rabbit is usually a very unwell rabbit by the time it becomes apparent, and veterinary attention should always be sought as soon as possible.

Dr Lucy Fleming MRCVS

Rabbit-ing on (Part 1)

May 18, 2015

Those of you who have visited the clinic recently might have noticed our display board raising awareness of Rabbit Awareness Week, which runs from the 9th – 17th May 2015. But why do we need a week to raise our awareness of rabbits?


For many years, rabbits have been the third most popular pet in the UK, after dogs and cats. And it isn’t hard to see why – they’re cute, they don’t take up much space, and they are full of personality. They’re easy to look after too, and a great starter pet for young kids, right?  Right?

Well, not necessarily. Rabbits are very rewarding pets, and they can make great pets for children, but they require very specific care and attention. Sadly, even though their lifespan can be around 8-10 years, many rabbits only live to around three or four years old or sometimes even less. So why is this?  What are the common health and husbandry problems we see in rabbits, and what can you do to correct them?

Environment and care

The first thing to think about is where your rabbit will live? Most rabbits are kept in a hutch outside, though house rabbits are becoming more common.  In the wild, they would live in a much larger environment, so they would get a lot more stimulation and exercise. A hutch should be kept permanently attached to a larger run so rabbits can exercise as much as they want.

It’s also important that your rabbit is handled regularly. This not only means they become friendlier and more playful with their owners, but it means they can be checked for weight loss, any injuries, and any soiling around their mouth or back end that might indicate health problems. Because rabbits are a prey species in the wild, they often hide any signs of ill health, so regularly handling your bunny is vital to ensure you seek veterinary care as soon as they show any abnormalities.


The main thing to remember about a rabbit’s diet is it should be around 80% hay or grass. This is very important for 3 main reasons – chewing and grinding the fibrous hay helps to wear their teeth, which grow continuously throughout their life, if is vital for their digestive health, and it also gives them something to do and reduces problem behaviours. Feeding an appropriate quantity of hay, and avoiding excessive amounts of pelleted diets and treats, helps to prevent obesity, which is very common in rabbits.

Feeding a rabbit isn't as simple as you might think

Feeding a rabbit isn’t as simple as you might think

Only about 5% of a rabbit’s diet should be made up of concentrate feeds. We advise that you feed a single pellet diet, rather than the more colourful ‘museli’ type diets that are commonly seen. The reason for this is that with a mixed diet, rabbits will often only eat their favourite ingredients, which can lead to them eating and unbalanced diet (although the mixed diet as a whole is usually correctly balanced). This can lead to problems with their teeth and urinary tract.

10% of your pet rabbit’s diet should be made up of fresh vegetables, preferably dark leafy greens such as kale, savoy cabbage or spinach. Fruit and root vegetables like carrots should only be fed in limited quantities due to their high starch and sugar content (sorry, Bugs Bunny!). An adult Netherland dwarf rabbit should eat about a tea-cup full of fresh greens a day.


Like dogs and cats, rabbits are intelligent animals, and boredom will present as problem behaviours, including aggression. This is another reason why it isn’t good enough to keep a rabbit in a hutch in the garden, clean it out once a day and only get it out for a good play session on the weekends!  Additionally, we need to consider a rabbit’s normal response to a threat when we put together their environment. Rabbits normally run and hide when they detect a threat such as a predator, and if their environment does not provide hiding places they can become chronically stressed. Cardboard boxes, tunnels and platforms can provide good hiding places.

Don’t forget about your other pets when deciding where your rabbit should live. Other common household pets – dogs, cats and even ferrets – are their natural predators and keeping them in close proximity will lead to a very stressed bunny.

Treat balls, bunches of twigs (make sure they are not treated with any chemicals and are from a non-toxic species!) and boxes of soil to dig in provide great toys for rabbits, or there are lots of toys available from pet shops.

Preventive health

Just like dogs and cats, rabbits should be vaccinated against infectious disease. In fact, this is probably even more important for rabbits, as the diseases included in the vaccination, myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease, are highly fatal – if contracted, affected rabbits will almost always die or have to be put down. Vaccination is annually, though if there are a large number of wild rabbits around your property, vaccinating every 6 months for myxomatosis is still sometimes recommended.

Rabbits should also be spayed or neutered when they are old enough. Partly this is for practicality – rabbits are best kept with bonded companions, and generally a male-female pair is best. Obviously, if you are keeping a buck (male rabbit) and doe (female rabbit) together they need to be neutered to prevent unwanted offspring. Neutering can also reduce territorial behaviour and make rabbits easier to keep, and tumours of the reproductive tract are common in does, so spaying is advised to prevent these.

Our next article will be about common health problems seen in rabbits and how to deal with them, so keep an eye on our facebook page and twitter to see when it is posted.

Dr Lucy Fleming MRCVS

If it’s Friday, it must be orthopaedics!

April 14, 2015

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I’ve just returned from the largest veterinary meeting in the world, outside North America – the British Small Animal Veterinary Association’s annual congress We are extremely lucky to have it held virtually on our doorstep, at the gleaming edifice of glass and steel that is the International Conference Centre, Birmingham; although in recent years it has become so large, with tens of thousands of delegates attending, it has spilled over into the next-door newly refurbished Barclaycard Arena, which it also manages to fill completely.

It is a truly international event, with veterinary surgeons and nurses attending from all across the globe – the USA, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Croatia and many more – and the result is a vibrant and cosmopolitan hubub of dozens of different languages and accents as ideas are exchanged and information acquired.

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Delegates range from students and new graduates to more ‘seasoned’ members, like myself! Likewise, the subjects of each of the sessions cater for all preferences. There are eight veterinary and three nursing lectures aswell as a management stream, small group and practical sessions, presentations and two additional, exhibitor-led talks all running at the same time for four days from roughly 8:30am to late in the afternoon. So, as you would imagine, the choice is incredible and I attended talks on everything from orthopaedics to sugar-gliders, eyes to ethics and bladder surgery to vaccination reactions.

Photo0039 cropPart of the attraction is the enormous trade-exhibition, on two levels, in the spacious Barclaycard Arena (formerly the National Exhibition Centre) where it is possible, during breaks, to browse a wealth of goodies from low tech. leads, collars and food bowls to the latest in high tech. gadgets (although, it has to be said, even some of the food bowls are pretty high tech. these days). There are shiny surgical instruments, clever computer systems and even a real ray-gun – a hand-held, point and shoot X-ray unit for dental radiography which looks like something out of a 1950s Flash Gordon B-movie!

All this represents just a small part of the investment Orchard Veterinary Group makes in the training and continuing professional development for all – veterinary surgeons, nurses and office staff alike. We are committed to doing the best for our patients and that means doing the best by the Orchard Veterinary Group team; keeping up with all the latest developments at every level in the profession; to provide the highest standards for you and your pet.

Attending conferences like this, aswell as all the other lunch-time meetings, evening meetings, day courses, post-graduate qualifications and specialist training isn’t cheap – but making that investment means we can be confident when we say we offer “the best in animal care, the best in client care, all day, every day…

Niall Taylor 14 April 2015

Improvements to our Vaccination Protocol

March 17, 2015

Orchard Veterinary Group is now offering an improved form of Leptospirosis vaccine, known as L4.

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What is Leptospirosis?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease, widespread in this area that affects dogs as well as many other species.  In dogs, in its early stages, it is often hard to diagnose but if left untreated it can quickly progress to potentially fatal liver or kidney failure.

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Vaccinating against Leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis vaccines have been available for over five decades and until recently, all of them targeted the two most common forms of the bacteria.  However, in recent years, across the UK, Europe and the USA, new varieties of Leptospirosis have emerged and in many cases are even more prevalent than the original strains.

In recent weeks, we have been advised of cases being seen in the South-West of the UK and for this reason we are recommending a NEW vaccine which targets four strains of the bacteria rather than two, as previously.

Is your dog at risk?

In truth, virtually any dog that is exercised outdoors is potentially at risk.  Leptospirosis is transmitted by contact with the urine of infected animals, either directly or indirectly from a contaminated environment, particularly standing or slow moving surface water.

Leptospirosis and Humans.

Leptospirosis is also a ‘zoonotic’ disease, which means it can be transmitted from animals to humans and, in humans, it causes the life-threatening condition Weil’s disease.

It is therefore critical to prevent your dog from becoming infected and shedding the bacteria in its urine and by far the best way to protect your dog is to vaccinate.

How to get your dog protected?

You can either get your dog protected almost immediately by making an appointment now for a “top-up” course, or wait until the normal annual booster is due when a second “top-up” injection will be offered, at no extra expense to you, four weeks after the normal booster. In subsequent years, all that will be required is a single annual booster, as now.

Puppy Vaccinations.

For anyone getting their puppy vaccinated for the first time, the following primary course schedule applies (DHP = Distemper, Hepatitis and Parvovirus):

– 1st injection, at least 8 weeks of age – DHP + L4 vaccine
– 2nd part of injection 2 weeks later – DHP
– 3rd part of injection 2 weeks after that – L4

There must be a two week gap between the 1st and 2nd injection and precisely a four week gap between the 1st injection and the third injection.  Boosters are required annually from then on. One week after the second part of the injection, your puppy will be protected against distemper, viral hepatitis and parvovirus and can socialise with other vaccinated dogs and puppies and although the leptospirosis cover is not complete so we advise you stay away from ponds, lakes, ditches, rivers and other water sources.

One week after the third part of the injection, your puppy is fully protected against distemper, viral hepatitis parvovirus and leptospirosis.

Niall Taylor MRCVS 17 March 2015

What to do about ‘upset tummies’

January 8, 2015

One of the most common problems we see pets is for an upset tummy – usually diarrhoea. This can be an unpleasant problem for owners to deal with, so they often contact us for a bit of advice. Here’s a quick guide to help you know whether you need to be worried about an upset tummy or whether (like most cases of gastroenteritis in people) it will resolve by itself with a little bit of support.

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The first question to ask is – ‘does my pet need to see the vet?’, or perhaps we should say does the pet need to see the vet straight away. Often pets with mild diarrhoea will be otherwise well, but if you see any of the following we recommend you contact the surgery to schedule an appointment:

  • Profuse vomiting: a pet bringing up their dinner once is not pleasant for them, but not likely to be a big problem. However, protracted vomiting can indicate more serious problems, and is very unpleasant and distressing for the animal, so if they are suffering from uncontrollable vomiting they should see a vet.
  • Attempting (unsuccessfully) to vomit – this can be a symptom of GDV or bloat and is an emergency, especially if it is accompanied by abdominal distension.
  • Lethargy – if your pet seems unwell, depressed or even just ‘not quite right’ we would recommend that you bring them to see a vet. This particularly applies to older pets, which may be more likely to have other underlying problems, or puppies and kittens, which may become rapidly dehydrated if suffering from vomiting or diarrhoea.
  • Black ‘tarry’ looking stool or ‘coffee ground’ material in vomit – these can indicate bleeding in the gut and should see a vet. A small amount of fresh red blood in the stool is not uncommon with some types of diarrhoea and isn’t generally cause for concern unless large amounts of blood are seen or the pet is unwell.
  • Refusing food – pets may not be very keen to eat just after bringing up their dinner (not surprisingly!) but a persistently poor appetite should be addressed by a vet.

So, what should you do if your pet has mild diarrhoea but is otherwise well? There aren’t any miracle cures but there are a few steps you can take to make your pet feel better and get them back on an even keel.

  • Don’t withhold food. I often see pets that have had diarrhoea for a few days, and the owners haven’t offered any food for around 24 hours (or sometimes even longer). This was quite commonly offered as advice some time ago, but is now accepted to be unhelpful. The problem is that the cells lining the intestine actually get the nutrition they need to divide and repair themselves from the food material passing through the gut, so ideally pets with diarrhoea should be fed small frequent meals of easily digestible food (as long as they are keen to eat).
  • Feed a low fat, easily digestible diet. For most pets cooked chicken and rice or white fish and rice are a suitable diet for an upset tummy. Sometimes the fact that it is ‘human food’ might make it a little more tempting for them. Chicken should be cooked without the skin (which contains most of the fat) and preferably boiled. Alternatively, we have a variety of diets available which are suitable for pets with poorly tummies.
  • Probiotic products are available which can help to ‘rebalance’ the bacterial population of the digestive tract and speed up the resolution of diarrhoea. Human yoghurt-based products are best avoided as dogs and cats are more likely to be lactose intolerant than humans and dairy products might make things worse!
  • Ensure that plenty of fresh water is available, as pets with diarrhoea are losing more fluid than normal and will need to drink more than normal.

Hopefully this advice is helpful, but don’t forget if you have concerns about your pet we are always available to help!

Lucy Fleming MRCVS, 8 January 2015