How to care for your Degu

By Emma Purnell, RVN Cert.Nut

Degus are becoming more popular and can be fun and sociable pets but have some very specific care requirements.

The degu is a rodent, fairly closely related to the guinea pig and the chinchilla. They can live until 8-9 years of age when cared for correctly so this needs to be taken into account when choosing one as a pet. They originate from Chile and are awake during the day unlike many of the smaller pet rodent species meaning they can make great companions. They are not particularly keen on being handled so are not ideal children’s pets, but are very intelligent and can bond closely with their owners. In the wild they love to burrow and dig and can form complex tunnel systems.

It is important to get the correct diet for degus as they are unable to digest carbohydrates and sugars meaning they are prone to diabetes. Ad lib hay supplemented with specific degu diets are best with some green leafy veg and forage. Meadow or Timothy hay is best, Alfalfa hay should be avoided as this can lead to weight gain. Hay can be given in different boxes and tubes to provide increased mental stimulation. The specific degu diets can be provided in treat balls to help keep them active and their brain stimulated.

In order to keep degus healthy they need to be active and have the space to be active. Ideally wire cages with multiple levels giving them plenty to explore and a substrate at the bottom that they can dig and burrow gives them the best stimulation. Plastic based cages are not suitable, they are strong chewers and will easily gnaw a way out! Many toys can be added to give them more to do including tunnels, digging boxes with clean soil or sand, balls they can also chew and branches from trees including apple, pear, beech or ash. Chewing is important as, like rabbits and guinea pigs, they have constantly growing teeth which need to be worn down. Proper diet helps with this as hay is ideal for wearing teeth but plenty of gnawing is also necessary. Nesting boxes or ceramic pots can be used to give them a nesting space to hide. Exercise wheels are commonly used but try to get the largest diameter wheel possible to avoid any potential spinal damage. Care should be taken to keep degus below 20C, they can overheat readily in high temperatures. They can tolerate cold better but avoid extremes. They do not do well in the damp so wet areas must be avoided. Degus are sociable creatures and need company of their own species. They should be in at least pairs, obviously male/female pairs will breed so ideally they should be neutered or housed in same sex pairs or groups. Male groups need to be kept well away from females or can fight. They are vocal animals with a range of noises to communicate between themselves. They can also form close bonds with their owners, making them brilliant companions but also leaving them at risk of separation anxiety.

When handling a degu, care must be taken to never hold or pick them up by their tail, they have developed the ability to shed their tail to avoid predators in the wild but the remaining stump can lead them to further traumatise the wound and lead to infections. They should be fully supported when handled making sure their legs are not left to dangle as this makes them feel unsafe. They can bite and have powerful incisors so regular handling is needed to ensure they feel safe with being picked up and carried but it also means they are not ideal pets for younger children.

In order to stay clean degus require a dust bath, they use the dust to clean oils from their coat, this needs to be available at all times.

Dental problems can be an issue in degus, be aware of any drooling or wetness around their chins and if spotted, or if there are any changes in their eating, see a vet asap. Their teeth should be yellow rather than white, white teeth are actually a sign of a problematic vitamin A deficiency (which should not be an issue with correct diet). Respiratory problems can also occur, increased breathing rate, rasping and discharge are common signs of this. Degus are classed as ‘exotic’ pets so making sure your vet is an exotic specialist is the best way to ensure proper care. Any signs of lethargy, going off their food, weight loss, excess salivation or similar should mean a vet visit asap. Nail trimming may also be needed if not being worn correctly.

Emma qualified as a Veterinary Nurse in 2008 and works for Nutravet (UK) Ltd. She has a BSc in Zoology with Animal Ecology and an MSc in Ecology, helping to fuel her interest in more exotic species. She has a particular love of small furries and has a grade A distinction in Canine and Feline Clinical Nutrition (CertNut).

Q&A with Canine Partners

National assistance dog charity, Canine Partners celebrates its 30th Anniversary this year (2020). However the Coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic has brought the charity many challenges when it comes to training assistance dogs for people living with physical disabilities across the UK.

Canine Partners and many charities in the UK need your help more than ever to recover from the ongoing crisis to make sure this year isn’t their last. Here we find out more about the work the charity does and how you can support them.

Dominique and Misty

Who are Canine Partners and who does the charity help?

Canine Partners is a registered charity that transformsthelivesofpeople with physical disabilities by partnering them with assistance dogs. Our amazing dogs bring a greater independence and quality of life to their partners, offering security, companionship, and practical help with everyday household tasks. These life- changing dogs also provide psychological and social benefits including increased independence, confidence, social interaction and self- esteem.

Our assistance dogs are trained to meet the needs of individuals with a wide range of physical disabilities. We currently help adults aged 18 and over (both civilians and former service personnel) who have a physical disability or condition that affects their daily life and limits their independence.

How important is the work you do at Canine Partners?

There are hundreds of people with physical disabilities across the UK partnered with our dogs, each with a different story to tell about how their lives have been enhanced by our amazing canine partners. Here is a quote from one of our partners, Dominique, whose life was transformed when she was partnered with canine partner Misty in June 2019.

“Misty has wholeheartedly given me a momentous chunk of my independence back. Overall, thanks to my partnership with Misty: my chronic pain is more manageable, my fatigue levels have lessened, and my anxiety and fear have begun to subside. Furthermore, although a vast amount of my symptomatology related to my disability and illness still remain and will not disappear – having Misty by my side in those horrible times makes fighting through the hard times that little bit easier. I feel so incredibly lucky for having Canine Partners in my life. They not only gave me the most devoted and sweet-natured assistance dog, but they’ve also continued to give me support, encouragement and life-skills related to overcoming hurdles related to disabled living.”

How soon do you start training your assistance dogs?

Our canine partners undertake a specialist two- year training programme, which begins from selection at seven to eight weeks old. They spend 12 to 14 months in puppy training with a volunteer, followed by four months’ advanced training at one of our Training Centres. At all stages training is fun and reward- based.

Can any dog become an assistance dog?

We generally use retriever based breeds such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers andcrossesofthesebreeds. They are ideal as their breeding means they naturally suited to the task work, they are large enough to carry out the work, trainable, sociable and popular with the public. We have had some success with other breeds, such as Poodles and crosses, used particularly for their fleece hair for people with allergies to fur, however they are generally more challenging to work with.

What happens to the assistance dogs once they retire?

At Canine Partners, each partnership is individually monitored and assessed, to decide on the most appropriate age to retire the dog. However this is no later than 11 years of age. Once the dogs reach retirement they can either stay with their partner as a domestic pet, though the partner would need to be able to look after both the retired dog as a pet and any subsequent assistance dog, be re-homed by a family member, or we will find a suitable adoptive homeforthedog’sremaining life. We commit to the life of the partner, therefore we encourage them to apply for a successor dog and they are prioritised on our waiting list.

How can anyone help to support Canine Partners in their 30th Year?

The Covid-19 crisis is impacting our fundraising andweanticipateashortfall of £1 million in the funds we expected to raise this year. The crisis means an increased health risk and greater isolation for many of our 452 partners and we know our amazing dogs are a lifeline, providing practical support, companionship and security. Our number one goal is to maintain this support when it is needed most, but in the most challenging of times. A donation at this crucial time will help make sure that when this crisis ends, Canine Partners will continue to be there for our partners and with every hope, train amazing dogs to transform even more lives.

Please donate today to help secure the future of Canine Partners by visiting caninepartners.org.uk/helpprotectourfuture

A guide to understanding separation anxiety in pets

We all love our dogs and would be more than happy to spend 24 hours a day in their company. However, with work commitments, that is not always possible, and some dogs can become anxious when left alone, for even just a few hours.

If you have a new dog, suddenly leaving them alone can lead to anxiety, which can result in whining, destruction of property or barking for long periods of time. Dogs can become hyper-attached to their owner and may get super-stressed when left alone.

Unfortunately, if not understood properly, separation anxiety can cause serious problems, with many owners getting frustrated with their pet and even giving them up. If left alone for long periods of time, as well as getting stressed, dogs can also become bored resulting in the destruction of furniture.

How long should you leave your dog alone for?

Four hours is the longest that dogs should be left alone for, but every dog will be different. How long they can be on their own will depend on how old they are and what they are used to. For example, a young active puppy would not be able to be left alone for four hours, but an older dog may be ok.

If you have to leave you dog home alone during the day for any reason, while at work or if you have to pop out and can’t take them with you, think about things that could make it easier for your pet.

• Could you pop home on your lunch to check on them and let them outside to toilet?

• Could a neighbour or friend check in on your dog while you’re out?

• Are there any professional dog walkers in your local area?

Separation anxiety can occur for many reasons, including if your dog isn’t used to being away from you or they are scared by something in the home. Pain and underlying medical conditions can also cause your dog to feel worried about being on their own, so you should always get them checked over by a vet if you notice changes in their behaviour.

Anxiety in pets can be shown in a number of ways, which include:

• Trembling
• Excessive barking
• Destruction of furniture or property • Whining
• Urinating in the house
• Sometimes aggression

Tips to help ease separation anxiety

If you have to leave your pet for anytime in the day, there are some positive things you can do which include:

Distractions

Make sure that your dog has enough toys to play with, which would be a great distraction whilst you are out. Stuffed toys with treats are a good way to keep them busy and happy during the time you are away. You could also leave the TV or radio on for background noise.

Exercise

Make sure your dog has had enough exercise before you leave the house. If you are going to be leaving them for a number of hours, take them for a long walk before doing so. This will help to get rid

of excess energy and they may sleep whilst you’re out.

Safe zone

Create a safe zone or den for your dog to retreat to if they are feeling extra anxious. You could leave a jumper or t-shirt with your smell on for your dog, which is familiar to them. This will help to comfort them while you are gone.

Prevent accidents

Make sure they have had the opportunity to go outside and go to the toilet prior to you leaving the house.

Close curtains

If your dog can get distracted by outside noise or you live on a busy road, close the curtains to reduce any distractions which might make them anxious and bark for prolonged periods.

Ask someone to check on them

If possible, ask a friend or family member to stop by and check on your dog, even if it’s for 10 minutes to allow them to go to the toilet outside.

Training to reduce anxiety in dogs

If you know you have to leave your dog alone, try to train them from a young age to get them used to being separated from you during the day. You could start by leaving them for a short period and increase the time you are away. Make sure that you give your dog plenty of attention when you return as a reward.

Pet proof your home

If you don’t want your dog to have the run of the house whilst you are out, be sure to close doors and block off areas you don’t want them to go. Be sure to check the area/room they will be in for any hazards to be sure they are safe whilst on their own.

Don’t discipline bad behaviour

If your pet has misbehaved whilst you are out and caused damage or toileted in the house, don’t discipline them on your return as this could cause further anxiety. It could also lead to your dog worrying about your return home.

Natural support

Consider using a natural supplement to help reduce your pet’s stress. Some available on the market include Nutracalm, VetPro Stress & Anxiety, Adaptil plug in or Pet Remedy.

Top tips for pet owners during summer

During summer months we love nothing more than spending our time outdoors with pets.

With warmer weather and longer days, it’s the best time to be out and about enjoying lots of exercise and fun with our four-legged friends. As well as long hot days, summer can bring with it some challenges for pets and their owners. During this time, it’s important to keep an eye on your pet to ensure they stay happy and healthy.

Here are some positive things you can do to help maintain your pet’s health during summer months:

Keep your pet hydrated

Always make sure that your pet has a clean and fresh supply of water daily. If you are taking them on a long car journey, be sure to take water bowls along to hydrate your pet during rest stops. If your cat spends most of their summer days outside, be sure to leave a water bowl in the garden if they can’t access one indoors.

Ticks

These can be one of the biggest dangers during summer months. Always check your dog for ticks following walks, especially in wooded areas. During summer months check your dog and cat once a day for any ticks.

Cars

Never leave your pet alone in a car, especially in summer months. Cars can get hot very quickly in the sun and this could risk your pet’s health. Either take your dog with you, or leave them at home.

Fertilisers

Some fertilisers and pesticides can be poisonous to your pet. Try to refrain from using them on your garden, as they could make your dog or cat ill if ingested.

Water safety

If you take your dog to the beach or somewhere near a lake, be sure to supervise your dog at all times whilst they are in the water. Don’t assume your dog can swim. Some lakes can contain algae, which is poisonous to dogs.

Protect their paws

Be sure to protect your pet’s paws from hot surfaces during the summer. Pavements and surfaces can get hot in high temperatures and could burn your pet’s paws.

Keep pets cool

Use a fan indoors to help keep your pets cool. If it’s too warm for you then it’s also too warm for them. If you keep the house cool via open windows, be sure to keep an eye on your pets to prevent them from escaping or falling. These can be used for rabbits – but don’t place it directly onto them and be sure to cover wires in case they get chewed.

Offer shade

Create a shady den in your garden to help your pet escape the sun. Make sure they have plenty of fresh water on offer – as well as water to use to cool off. You could use a small paddling pool in your garden to keep your dog cool in high temperatures.

Sun protection

Some dogs and cats can suffer from sunburn, just like us if we spend too much time in the sun. Pets with light skin and short or thin hair, such as white cats are more susceptible to sensitive skin from the sun. Try to limit the amount of time your pet spends in the sun. You could also use sun cream that is specially formulated for pets.

Barbecues

If you have a barbecue during the summer, don’t feed your pet any food that they shouldn’t have. This could cause them to have a sensitive tummy. Speak to guests and advise them not to feed your pets scraps.

Exercise

During particularly hot days, walk your dog in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest time of day. The intense heat of midday can overwhelm your dog. Don’t over exert your dog.

Grooming

Regularly grooming your pet during summer can help to reduce excess fur. It will especially help to reduce fur balls in your cat’s stomach.

Rabbits and small furries

Make sure their hutch and play area are in the shade. For indoor rabbits be sure that their cage is not placed in direct sunlight. Ensure they have plenty of fresh cool water to stay hydrated.

Keep an eye on your pet

Keep checking on your pet and look out for signs of heat stress. These signs can include, heavy panting and excessive drooling. Your vet is best placed to monitor your pet’s health, it is important to have regular health checks with your local vet to ensure your pet is receiving the best possible care.

Ask your vet about any of the above or if you are worried about your pet’s health.

 

How to make your staircase dog-friendly

Whether your dog is afraid of stairs or loves running up and down them, it’s important that dog owners ensure their stairs are safe for their beloved canine friends.

Over 4,000 people are searching online for ‘dog gate for stairs’ a month which highlights that dog stair safety is a cause for concern amongst many dog owners.

If your dog often rushes downstairs at breakfast time, or to greet you when you return home from work, you might have seen them slip and tumble a few times. Or, if your dog has started to get a bit older and less agile, they might be struggling with the stairs they used to whizz up and down. So, you might be looking for some ways in which you can make your staircase a bit easier to navigate for your four-legged friends.

Here, Nick Acaster, Managing Director of staircase accessories retailer Stair Rods Direct, explains how you can make your staircase dog-friendly to keep your pooch safe:

Add carpet or a runner

If you’ve ever seen a dog try to take off running on laminate flooring, you’ll know they can often struggle to get enough grip on the surface. The same can happen with your stairs so, if you frequently see your dog fall down the stairs, could it be because the surface is just too slippery?

While wooden staircases can be very stylish, they can make life more difficult for dogs and puppies, so it might be time to compromise. A stair runner is perfect for this, as it will give your pup more purchase down the centre of your staircase, but the wooden edges of each step will still be exposed. You can even add some metal stair rods as decoration, as long as you’re confident these won’t affect your dog’s ability to travel up and won the stairs safely. A fully carpeted staircase can also look great, and is likely to be the simplest option if your downstairs or upstairs hallways already have this type of flooring.

Make sure your stairway is well-lit

Have you ever tried to walk down your stairs in the dark? Well, your dog’s vision is actually likely to be a lot worse than yours (Eyesite), which means a dark or poorly-lit staircase can be even more dangerous for them. So, it’s worth looking into whether this area of your home could do with some extra lighting.

If you’re looking to update your staircase’s flooring, it’s also worth opting for a runner or carpet in a lighter colour, which will help the edge of each step to stand out a bit better. Or, if you already have light flooring and your dog is still struggling, consider adding a strip of bright tape to the end of each step, just for a while. This will show them exactly where they need to step, and they’ll get used to it after a couple of weeks.

Install a baby gate if you’re particularly concerned

If you’re particularly concerned about your dog getting injured while navigating your stairs — perhaps they’re getting quite old or they’ve had some nasty falls in the past — installing a gate might be the only option. This will prevent them from running up and down the stairs unsupervised and will mean that you can simply carry them up and down your stairway when necessary.

Having a baby gate in place should also help to give you some peace of mind when you’re out of the house. You won’t have to worry about your dog having an accident and getting hurt while you’re away, because the most high-risk area of your home will be out of bounds.

If you’ve seen your dog take a few tumbles down the stairs, or you’re worried about it happening, the advice in this article should help. Take these tips onboard to keep your pup safe and put your mind at ease.

 

 

Top tips to maintain healthy cognitive function in pets

We all hope that our pets will have a long and healthy life. Unfortunately, like humans, some dogs and cats can experience a decline in cognitive function as they age.

Old age is inevitable, and some degree of age-related neurodegeneration could happen along the way, which is why early supplementation can be beneficial. Maintaining healthy cognitive function in pets is extremely important, as it can help to support memory and learning abilities and ultimately a pet’s quality of life.

There are common signs of reduced cognitive function to look out for in your pet, which include, disorientation, decreased activity and loss of prior house training.

To help maintain your pet’s health and their quality of life, there are some positive things that you can do to maintain healthy brain function:

Monitor their weight

Keep your pet at a healthy size. Overweight dogs and cats require increased support for cognitive function.

Exercise

Keep your pet’s body and mind active. Regular exercise, which is appropriate for your pet’s age and physical condition, can help to keep their mind and body healthy. Use games that exercise your pet’s mind as well as their legs.

Retrain your dog

This can be done using the same techniques as with puppy training. For dogs with behaviour problems, consult your vet first, as they may be able to offer advice with regards to training techniques.

Positive reinforcement

Behaviour training should include treats and praise. Don’t shout at your pet for bad behaviour, they don’t know they should not do something until they are told.

Treat-release toys

These can be beneficial for mental stimulation and to keep your dog active. Hiding your pet’s treats in toys and throughout the house will help to keep their mind stimulated and active.

Socialise your pet

Allow your dog to socialise with other pets and people. Take your dog to socialisation classes to learn how to behave around people and other dogs.

Get creative

Think of innovative ways to enrich your pet’s indoor environment. For cats you can provide them with scratch posts and climbing spaces. Provide your dog or cat with toys to keep them occupied and rotate them to help maintain their interest.

Consider natural supplements

Do this as early as possible to help to maintain optimum brain function. Products such as Nutramind, which has a unique formula, which is specifically developed to maintain optimum brain function.

Feed a nutritional diet

A proper diet will help your pet to have an optimal life. Make sure that the food you are giving your pet contains the essential vitamins and nutrients that they need as they age.

Omega-3s

Omega-3s have been shown to aid learning abilities in young puppies. Other studies linked low blood Omega-3 with dog aggression, which indicates beneficial applications of Omega-3’s throughout your pet’s life to help maintain brain health.

A guide to understanding liver health in pets

The liver is an important organ with many functions including the digestion and conversion of nutrients, the removal of toxins from the blood, and the storage of vitamins and minerals.

Maintaining a healthy liver in dogs and cats is vital for an animal’s general health and recovery. The liver plays an important role in the body and has a wide variety of functions, which include, filtering the blood from the digestive tract before passing it to the rest of the body. The liver detoxifies chemicals and metabolises whilst helping the liver when it’s processing medication.

Some of the main functions of the liver include:

  • Detoxifies blood
  • Balances cholesterol
  • Stores iron
  • Stores glycogen
  • Synthesis of the urea
  • Helps recovery
  • Stores vitamins A, D, B12 and K
  • Stores blood
  • Generates bile
  • Produces protein

Because the liver essentially works to rid the body of so many different substances, it can be susceptible to damage from many different causes. The signs of liver disease can be very similar to those of other conditions. Some common signs to look out for include:

  • Poor or loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and white of eye)
  • Increased thirst
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Excessive drooling
  • Lack of energy or depression

Common causes of liver problems

Unlike other organs, the liver is very good at regenerating itself, but serious damage to the liver can cause rapid failure of its function – this is known as acute liver failure. Over 75% of the liver is usually damaged before liver failure occurs. Liver problems in pets can be caused by a number of factors, including:

Toxins and poisons

If your pets ingest any toxins or poisonous substances, the liver is often the first organ to be affected by this, as the liver is responsible for filtering toxins from the blood.

Long-term medications

Certain types of long-term drugs for other health conditions can cause damage to the liver, as it is unable to process them properly and they can build up within the tissue of the liver itself. This may include certain commonly used veterinary painkillers or steroids, designed for chronic health problems, and this is something that your vet should make you aware of at the time.

Inappropriate diet

Feeding your pet the correct diet for their age and life stage helps to ensure that they stay healthy for life and can thrive, and feeding a diet that is not complete or is not the right fit, can lead to a whole range of both immediate problems, and those that take longer to manifest. While liver disease may not be one of the most obvious or immediate problems that can be caused by feeding the wrong diet, it is certainly something worth taking into account.

Congenital defects

If a puppy is born with a congenital defect or hereditary health condition, it can then lead to the liver being poorly developed, unable to function properly or susceptible
to failure later on. Pre-breeding health screening and finding out about the health of the parent dogs can help to avoid this problem.

Breed

Certain dog breeds, such as Dobermans, Rottweilers, Yorkshire Terriers and Cocker Spaniels can be born with or are more likely to develop liver problems.

Tips to maintain a healthy liver

Not all liver problems can be prevented, but certain precautions can help to reduce the risk of specific diseases. Some of the positive things you can do to reduce the risk and keep your pet’s liver healthy include:

Water
Make sure your pet has plenty of clean, fresh water as they may experience increased thirst.

Medications
If medications are being used, they could be causing toxins to build up in the liver. Your vet can advise if these should be looked at.

Diet
Feed your pet a good nutritious diet. Avoid fatty dry foods that are difficult to digest. Your vet may recommend a low-fat, low-protein diet to help maintain your pet’s liver health.

Key nutrients
Silybin is a bioavailable form of Milk Thistle Extract, which has proven bioactive properties. SAMe has been shown to help healthy liver function. Turmeric is a highly bioavailable antioxidant that helps to reduce free radicals.

Visit your vet
Take your pet to the vet for regular health checks and vaccinations to help maintain a healthy liver. Be sure to take on board and follow any advice given. They are best placed to monitor your pet’s health and ensure they receive the best possible care.

Remove toxins
Remove toxins from your pet’s environment. Look at taking a more holistic approach to their diet and healthcare and look into reducing conventional care that can lead to the build-up of toxins.

Be wary on walks
Keep an eye on your dog whilst on walks to avoid them eating poisonous plants or toadstools.

Exercise
Be sure to keep up your pet’s exercise routine to help maintain your pet’s overall health, as well as support a healthy liver.

 

 If you are worried about your pet’s liver health or health in general, you should speak to your vet who will be able to offer the best advice dependant on your pet’s age and breed.

Top tips to maintain a healthy digestive function in pets

As a pet owner it is important to understand how to support and maintain healthy digestive function for your cat or dog to prevent unwanted trips to the vet.

Dogs are especially curious and can pick up objects they shouldn’t. Maintaining healthy digestive function helps your pet to live a healthy and happy life, however there are a number of causes that can affect your dog’s digestion, which include: eating spoiled food, scavenging, food intolerance, bacteria imbalance, change of diet, stress of parasites.

Typical signs of a sensitive tummy can be characterised by a frequent runny nose, loose stools, loss of appetite, excessive flatulence and marked lethargy.

Here are some tips to help keep your pet’s gut healthy:

Water

Your pet should be encouraged to consume more fresh water, and this should be presented in a way that your pet prefers whilst having access to a constant supply. The aim of this is to reduce the chances of dehydration.

Avoid table scraps

The food we eat may not be suitable for your dog or cat. To maintain your pet’s digestive health, try to prevent family members from feeding your pet food not intended for them. Try not to give your pet table scraps or snacks, which could lead to a sensitive or poorly tummy.

Try to prevent your pet from scavenging

When out on walks keep an eye on your dog to prevent them from picking up any foreign objects or discarded food. Also, prevent them from drinking from puddles and eating plant material.

Diet

Your vet will be able to offer the best advice on your pet’s specific dietary requirements. A bland diet that is easily digestible, such as boneless cooked chicken breast and white rice can be advisable. A specialised diet for gastrointestinal imbalance may be beneficial with small amounts of food given several times a day. Try to keep treats to a minimum as too many could cause your pet to have a sensitive tummy.

Minimise stress

Try to reduce any stress within your pet’s home and outdoor environment. You could do this by keeping to your pet’s routine as much as possible, including sleeping, food and walking. Ask your vet about Nutracalm, Vetpro or some of the plug-ins on offer such as Pet Remedy and Adaptil, which can all help to reduce stress and calm your pet’s behaviour.

Keep up to date with deworming and vaccinations

Be sure to keep on track with deworming and disease vaccinations. Speak to your vet who will be able to advise a suitable course of action for your pet, dependent on their age and size.

Foreign bodies

Be careful when giving your dog or cat small toys to play with. These can get chewed and swallowed, as well as causing discomfort for your pet, they can also cause choking. Keep an eye on your dog when playing with chews toys.

Outside access

To avoid accidents within the home it is better to give your pet easy access to go outside or take them out frequently. However, it is important to monitor your pet’s toilet activities and general demeanour. Be sure to keep a close watch on them and don’t let them stray too far.

Consider using Probiotics

To help maintain long-term gut health and a healthy digestive balance, probiotics can help with conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, chronic or infectious diarrhoea. Probiotics can also help to optimise the efficiency of the immune response to help fight infection and boost the immune system, whilst helping to repopulate the balance of good bacteria that antibiotics can wipe out. Vets often have access to veterinary strength probiotics such as Nutrabio, Vetpro and Nutraflora which they often recommend, and others are available online such as Pro-Kolin and Fortiflora.

Follow your vet’s advice

Be sure to take on board and follow any advice from your vet. They will be best placed to help with your pet’s gut and digestive health.

How to keep your pet safe and healthy during Spring

Spring is a warm welcome from the cold wintry days of the last few months, and we’re not the only ones pleased to turn our back on colder days.

Warmer weather and lighter evenings in Spring mean that pets generally spend more time outside, either exploring the garden or on walks. However, with warmer weather comes colourful Spring flowers, the promise of Easter and hay fever. During this time of year, it’s important to keep an eye on pets to ensure they stay safe and prevent any unwanted trips to the vets.

Pets love nothing more than basking in the sun, exploring new smells and sights in the garden or on walks, however with this can come a number of challenges and hazards to look out for. We highlight some of the hazards that pet owners should be aware of during this time of year.

Plants and bulbs

Spring bulbs of tulips and daffodils can be particularly toxic to cats and dogs. All parts of the plant are toxic, but the bulbs contain the most toxins. Pet owners should be extra vigilant and make sure your cat or dog are not digging up bulbs in the garden.

Lilies are highly hazardous to cats, including the petals, leaves, stem and pollen. The more dangerous varieties include: Tiger, Day, Asiatic, Easter Lilies and Japanese Show. If cats ingest just a small amount of the plant, this could cause kidney failure.

Fertilizers

Warmer weather can mean owners also want to spend more time in the garden. Some pet owners are unaware of the detrimental effect some common garden products can have on dogs and cats. While most fertilizers are not very toxic, resulting in minor gastrointestinal irritation when consumed, and without any treatment some can be fatal.

A few common ones to be aware of are:

  • Blood Meal
  • Rose and plant fertilizers – Pesticides/Insecticides
  • Iron
  • Slug Pellets

As a general rule always read the label of anything that you are adding to your garden as many will state if they are hazardous to pets. There are many pet-friendly alternatives now available, so don’t worry you can still enjoy your garden in full bloom.

Seasonal allergies

Like their owners, pets can also develop seasonal allergies to pollen, grass or even some plants. Dogs are more likely to develop such allergies and cats in only rare instances. Seasonal allergies can cause intense itching of the face, feet, ears, chest and tummy and manifest as part of a clinical problem called atopic dermatitis. To prevent your pet from scratching all season, speak to your vet as they will be able to offer advice on how to lessen the severity and give your pet some itch relief. Some nutraceuticals on the market, such as Nutramega or Vetpro could help with itchy skin during this time of year.

Cleaning products

Some products used to clean the home can be dangerous to pets. Strong acid or alkaline cleaners are a big risk, such as rust removers or toilet bowl cleaners. Most cleaning products in small amounts will only cause an upset stomach, but even if you think your pet has ingested a small amount of any product get in touch with your vet who can advise what to do next.

Be sure to keep cleaning products in a secure or raised cupboard to prevent dogs or cats having access. When using products diluted in water, such as floor cleaners, keep an eye on pets to prevent them from sampling products. Undiluted cleaners, especially strong cleaners, can damage eyes and skin even without ingestion.

Easter treats

With Spring comes Easter and eggs of the chocolate variety, which are very popular at this time of year. Chocolate is toxic for dogs and should not be given to them. Even a small amount could cause serious health problems. Be sure to keep all chocolate treats away from pets and be careful of them picking up scraps off the floor. Keep some of your dog’s favourite treats on hand to stop them from begging and prevent you from being tempted to give them some.

Hot cross buns are also a popular choice around Easter time and raisins are toxic to pets. All grapes, raisins, currants, sultanas and any foods containing them can be harmful to your pet. Keep any of the above out of reach to ensure your dog does not sniff them out.

Fleas and ticks

As the weather warms up this can increase the chances of your pets coming into contact with fleas, ticks or even worms. Infections from parasites can be very uncomfortable for your pet and in some instances could cause serious health problems.

Fleas can also cause irritation for pets, with some dogs and cats even having flea allergies. Many pets can be sensitive to fleas, which can cause allergies and skin diseases if not properly treated. Pets with flea allergies can be allergic to the saliva of the flea and become very itchy after being bitten. Your vet will be able to offer the best flea treatment sufficient for your pet. Be sure to also treat areas of your home, where your pet sleeps or may venture.

Bee and wasp stings

Pets can have a range of reactions to bee and wasp stings. At their least dangerous, stings are merely a painful inconvenience. At their worst, however extreme immune reactions can cause serious swellings – if this is around the head and neck, construction of the airways and restriction of breathing can be a major concern. Dogs and cats are particularly at risk, due to them often having an interest in catching and playing with wasps and bees they may find. Keep an eye on any pets while outside and if you see them investigating any bees or wasps remove them from the situation if you are able to.

Cold water

Despite the weather being slightly milder, water in lakes and streams will still be too cold for your pet. Keep an eye on them during walks and don’t let your dog jump in as the shock of the cold water could cause them to freeze up and struggle to swim or cause them to develop hypothermia.

If you think your pet may have eaten or been affected by any of the above, be sure to contact your vet right away, as they will be able to offer the best advice with regards to your pet’s health.

Caring for ferrets

By Emma Purnell RVN Cert.Nut.

Ferrets can be cheeky and sociable pets but have specific care requirements that must be met to keep them happy and healthy.

They usually have a lifespan of 8 -10 years so are a long-term commitment. Male ferrets are known as hobs, females are jills. Unneutered males in particular can have a very distinctive and quite strong smell and keeping them in social areas can sometimes be an issue. Ferrets sleep for around 20 hours a day and are most active around dusk. Being natural predators, they must be kept well away from other animals as their smell will be hugely stressful for other species such as rabbits, guinea pigs etc.

Ferrets are obligate carnivores; they must eat meat. Complete ferret diets are available but supplementing this with uncooked meat, offal and bones is ideal. Processed meats and cat or dog foods are not suitable due to processing and ferrets are lactose intolerant so no milk products should be given. Raw eggs given whole can be a great treat. They will tend to eat small amounts frequently so feeding ad lib or little and often can be best, hence the switch for many owners to using the commercially produced ferret diets. Fresh clean water must always be available. Their weight will vary through the year – they can put on up to 40% of their body weight for winter which is normal. Monitoring their weight year-round is still important and avoiding sugary treats can ensure they stay at their optimal weight.

Ferrets can, if given a lot of socialisation at all times, be kept alone but are more often kept in pairs or groups. Ideally this should be same sex littermates or neutered male and females. Young ferrets tend to explore new places or people with their mouths, so nipping is not unusual. As carnivores, ferrets have sharp teeth and strong jaws, so these nips can be painful.

For first time owners, taking on a well-handled ferret 12 months old and over can be easier. If handled from a young age they can form a strong bond with their owners but are likely to bite hard if startled. They can be difficult to pick up and handle so are not ideal for children. It is best to pick them up around the shoulders and support their bottom with your other hand. They do tend to fidget so care should be taken.

For a pair of ferrets, the recommended enclosure size is at least 10ft long, 6ft high and 6ft wide. Enclosures need to be very strong and secure as they will dig as well as escape easily though small gaps. In outdoor runs mesh will need to be laid, but with turf or carpet laid over the top to avoid the risk of injury when digging. They need a large sleeping area and enjoy hammocks and fleece bedding, which can be less messy and easier to clean. Enclosures should be dry, free of draughts but also well ventilated. Ambient temperatures of 15-21C are best, they can struggle with hyperthermia in temperatures that are too high.

Ferrets can be litter trained; litter trays should be changed daily. They are playful and active creatures and need toys and mental stimulation to keep them happy. Scatter feeding can be great for this, hiding food around enclosures gets them active and searching. The enclosure should be checked daily for any old food, as they tend to hide it and it can go off if not removed. Some ferrets enjoy a bath so it may be fun to add in a shallow bath, which they can easily get out of, however never force them to swim unless they seek it out.

Ferrets are usually vaccinated against distemper as this is a disease, they can catch and can be fatal to them. Neutering in ferrets is often carried out, especially for females who, when they come into season will stay in season until mated, given hormone injections or neutered. This can be a problem as it can lead to anaemia bone marrow depression and even death. Neutering males can also reduce the smell and some of the greasy coat they are usually known for. Neutering has been linked to adrenal diseases so discuss the options with your vet before deciding. They can also be microchipped to ensure they do not get lost. Ear mites can be a common issue, but your vet can help with treatments for this. Claws may need clipping, but this is usually not a difficult thing to do safely. Flea treatments are available to prevent infestations and pet insurance is available through some companies to help with costs if there are any illnesses or accidents.

Ferrets can make wonderful pets in the right situations, but research is needed as they are not necessarily the right pets for every person or environment.

Emma qualified as a Veterinary Nurse in 2008 and works for Nutravet (UK) Ltd. She has a BSc in Zoology with Animal Ecology and an MSc in Ecology, helping to fuel her interest in more exotic species. She has a particular love of small furries and has a grade A distinction in Canine and Feline Clinical Nutrition (CertNut).