Foods to avoid giving your dog

Dogs have long been known as man’s best friend. Because of this, many of us aren’t averse to treating our pets to something other than a pig’s ear from the butchers!

However, with over one in four of us owning a dog, do we actually know what foods we should avoid giving our canine friends? Here, alongside kennel insurance providers, Cliverton, we list those delights your dogs must avoid.

Fat trimmings

The UK loves a roast dinner — and its fancy friend, the Christmas dinner! Surprisingly, 60% of dog owners will give their pet a Christmas dinner. Even for those who don’t, Christmas time sees the UK waste approximately 55 million plates of food — and it’s likely our dogs may wait patiently for the scraps. However, make sure any fat trimmings from those joints don’t find their way into your dog’s food bowl. Feeding your animal these can actually lead to pancreatitis!


It’s well known that dogs shouldn’t be given chocolate, but not everyone knows exactly why. That innocent bar that we may crave can cause a canine’s heart rate to increase. This can lead to tremors and, depending on the type of chocolate and the quantity, excitation. Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, contains theobromine. This is a toxin for dogs and can overstimulate your dog’s nervous and cardiovascular system. In worst case scenarios this can even be fatal!

Uncooked dough

Your dog’s body temperature may cause any consumed uncooked dough to rise in its stomach. This can be life threatening as the alcohol is produced during the rising process and the dough can expand to multiple times its original size. If you’re concerned your dog may have ate some dough, tell-tale signs include severe abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, lack of coordination, and depression.


This little fruit may be a tasty treat for human consumption but keep them away from your pet pooch! It’s been well documented that the grapes and raisins contain a dangerous toxicity level in the animal can lead to kidney failure. However, not all dogs will suffer any effects of eating grapes, but it’s not worth the risk! It’s recommended that following any consumption, your pet is taken directly to the vets to induce vomiting and clear their stomach.


The avocado has had a huge rise in popularity. In 2017, over 400,000 tonnes of the nutritional superfood was consumed in Europe. However, no matter how much is consumed in a human’s diet, dogs should avoid it at all costs. This is because avocado contains a toxin called persin which can lead to vomiting and diarrhoea. Of course, its middle stone too can be a choking hazard if a dog was to eat an avocado whole!


Onions may be used to flavour our foods, but don’t make this the case for dogs. The Allium family, which also includes garlic, chives and leeks, can be poisonous when consumed in large quantities. Japanese breeds of dog, such as Akitas are more sensitive to this family and the onset of any nausea and stomach upset may take a few days to develop.

Of course, there are many food items that dogs shouldn’t have in their diet and that’s why it’s best to stick to food that is specifically made for dogs. If you do want to treat your pet, make sure you choose foods which aren’t dangerous to their health and are eaten in moderation.



How good dogs can turn bad – Titon’s story

Dog Trainers, Claire Lawrence shares an exert from her new book ‘3 Steps to Silence‘ on her experience of how good dogs can turn bad.

Titon was never a minute’s bother, but after a serious fight with three other dogs, his behavior changed. I wanted to talk to you today about a dog I once owned who went from perfect to problematic. 

Surely, I should be telling you the opposite though, right? Most people want to turn their problematic dog around into a perfect one. Though I don’t want to confuse. I do want to tell you about my first experience with a barking dog. one who was as perfect, as perfect could be. By my standards anyway.

The truth is a barking dog can occur at any time of life. So, if you’re reading this and have got a quiet dog, that’s excellent to hear, but please be aware things could change in this department, just like it did for me.

After one of the adventures, we were returning to the farm on which I had upgraded myself to a caravan situated with- in the Peak District, Derbyshire.

After two hours of exploring with ma boy, we were walking back down the yard, towards the farm. Ahead of me, I could see an off-lead dog, which I didn’t really think much about. I glanced down at the now almost 60kg hunk of black and tan fluff, walking calmly by my side.

I turned my attention back to where the off-lead dog was roaming, I then saw two more dogs appear from behind one of the caravans. I couldn’t see an owner.

Anyway, as we passed through the farm gate, I noticed Titon’s expression change. I wasn’t clued up on canine body language back then, but I still had a strong gut feeling. The type you get when you know something is wrong.

Just how true are your gut feelings?

From the way Titon had rearranged himself and with what happened next. Mine was on point. I was always very trusting of Titon’s instincts, especially. He had never let me down, in telling me *this* person wasn’t to be trusted. Credit due to the lad too, because he always turned out to be correct.

I took my eyes off Tidge, turned myself after closing the gate, and saw all three of these dogs charging towards us. Full speed ahead, like a plane bolting down the runway, ready for taking off. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it wasn’t going to be good.

The dog leading the charge was like a collie cross. Black, white and tan, of medium size and he, had this scruffy looking fluffy patch on the top of his head. I had seen the dog around before but never encountered him while I was walking with big T.

Closer they came, and I could see the pearly white teeth begin to appear. Even I knew now, this dog was coming for a fight.

Titon had never been involved in a fight before. Heck, he’d never even experienced this type of confrontation with another dog. He was as placid as could be. How would he cope? What would he do? Were they going to massacre him?

To name but a few thoughts, racing through my mind.

In times of the previous confrontation from other dogs, such as a growl or a dog being unsure of the meet. Titon would simply turn and walk away. There wasn’t an option for this, today though.

I had tried to re-open the gate to get back through, but I wouldn’t have done it in time. The dogs were virtually on top of us.

Launching himself into the air, only a few feet away now, the collie made his move. Titon intercepted the flying dog, and they began to fight. It was all happening so quickly. I must say, I was somewhat amazed at his skill set in keeping the collie at bay.

Shortly after, the other two dogs arrived at the scene and activated their input into the brawl. All be it with a third of the intent, the collie was conveying. I watched in disbelief as Titon kept all three of the dogs at bay. Not even one of them could touch and keep hold of him.

Walking on all fours, brown bears have an approximate height of 3.5 feet, (just over 1 metre) and they can reach heights of 6-7 feet when standing on their hind legs. I am roughly 5ft 5. Titon exceeded my height level when he placed his paws upon my shoulders for a hug. He loved a good hug, did the Tidge.

If you’ve ever watched David Attenborough’s programs, then a bear fighting is precisely how I can explain this scenario to you.

I continued to watch on in amazement as his head twisted and turned with incredible precision, fending off each one the dogs. Putting them to the floor, before returning to strike the next opponent in the contest.

The time came, where the other two dogs became hesitant of returning for another attack. I can’t blame them. Titon really was making mincemeat of their attempts. Considering his size, he was quick, agile, and precise. The departure of the two four-legged bystanders, now meant Titon could focus specifically on the collie.

His jaws impounded and encompassed the neck region. I imagined the force of each of his bites would be like a sled hammer with teeth. Resulting in some severe damage if he had wanted to.

Thankfully and preferably, he opted to only hold the collie dog in place on the floor. Occasionally there was a wriggle and more of an attempt to free himself from the chops.

In total, this fight was probably only a few minutes long. I can tell you now, it felt like an eternity. Logical thoughts entered my brain, and I realised sooner or later, I was going to have to do something about this. What could I do? What should I do?

I was hesitant at putting my hands in to split them up.

From the way, things were going. Titon was doing a pretty good job of sorting it out himself. His weight and positioning in this fight were his most valuable tool. This dog wasn’t getting out of the hold, Titon had on him. Rather like how a wrestler encircles his opponent’s head with one arm.

Eventually, there was what seemed like a window of opportunity to split the dogs up. The owner had now appeared, understandably worrying to high heaven. And the other dogs removed from the scene.

My concerns were heightened every second Titon had a hold of the neck. What would he do next? I had never seen him behave in this manner before. I wasn’t even aware of his capabilities in a situation like this.

Then the thought came to my mind, and an alarming feeling of dread and despair took over me. ‘What if he bites down harder? What if he kills this dog…?’

With an over-reactive owner, me now in a heightened state of shock at my dog’s behaviour, what I witnessed next, panicked me even more.

‘I wouldn’t do that!’ I called out.’ But it was too late.

Knowing what I know now, Titon had viewed this man as another attack. At the time, my feelings of shock, concern, responsibilities closely followed by doubt on his fighting intentions, greatly intensified. I now had an even bigger problem to contend with.

While attempting to find the collar to hold and split up the dogs, Titon had spun his head around and snapped at the collie’s owner. We soon found out how severe this snap had been.

Dogs do something called re-direction. Basically, they are so in the moment of fighting or emotional state, they lash out at anything and everything around them. Some call it the red zone, I call it as ‘he viewed the contact, as another attack’

By performing this snap and redirecting on to the man, Titon had caught his left wedding ring finger and taken the limb clean off, right down to the second knuckle.

I don’t think anyone had fully comprehended what had just happened until the man held his hand up in the air towards his face, where we all saw the remnants of the missing finger.

He lowered, then held his injured hand with the other just in front of his chest. Watching on as the blood continued to pour down his arms, from the wound. He attempted to mutter out some words, but it had already tipped him over the edge. His attempt to speak failed him, and before I knew it, he had fainted and fallen to the floor.

I felt like I was at the door to hell. I watched on as they helped the guy, before turning towards the remaining people watching the dog fight and looking at me with disgust and concern. There was no way anyone else was going to help me with these dogs after what had just happened.

A continuous statement ran through my mind. ‘What the hell do I do?’

I knew this was on my shoulders, I had to at least try to break up this ordeal. After seeing what I 110% believed to be my perfect and problem-free pooch, do something so severe and out of character, I had no idea how Titon would respond next.

To say I had a good relationship and bond with Titon was an understatement. We were so close, and I always told myself he would never harm or let any harm come to me from anyone. I was confident I could walk anywhere and everywhere with him, at any time of the day. With him by my side, I was always safe.

Though witnessing what I had just seen bought over a seriously black cloud of hesitation and doubt on what I knew I needed to do.

The importance of having a good relationship with your barking dog will become more apparent as we go through the book. It really is an essential element to have, especially with a fearful dog. This bond turned out to be the saving grace for me on this day. I went in.

As I began to approach, I slowly assessed the whole situation and contemplated the best course of action to take. I watched on as Titon was holding the dog firmly in place by the neck. His eyes fixed like a sniper, laser-focused on the target and ready to fire. I eyeballed at the dog on the floor and could see he was struggling to breathe. Yet for some unknown reason, I remained completely calm.

Calm or struck down with intense fear, I’m not 100 per- cent sure. But I wasn’t panicking in a flutter or screaming like a wimpy girl who’d just seen a spider…

I inhaled and exhaled deep breaths, putting one foot in front of the other until I was yards away from the jaws of my dog. One thing you will learn from my teaching is how remaining calm is a vital component to master with barking dogs. On this occasion, it wasn’t intentional, but over the years the calmer I have stayed, the better the outcome has been. The first lesson of the book for you.

I hesitantly knelt in the square patch of grass on the campsite we were in, popping back up in reflex reactions when I thought a strike my way was coming.

‘Okay pal, that’ll do now.’

I uttered these words with no idea what-so-ever as to how they would be met. I was close enough for Titon to hear me, yet not too close in case he lashed out and turned on to me. I watched as his eyes slowly moved to the side where I was positioned.

If you’ve never noticed the wind currents flowing through the woodlands and trees, it is naturally soothing. Like a song towards those who pay attention to and hear it. Titon’s intake of breath resembled this powerful passion the gusts have, as they rearrange the autumn fallen leaves and summer seeds being blown around settling in their place to plant and grow.

As he exhaled with a huff of sheer power, I nodded at him before moving a little closer. His eyes were locked on mine, and I mimicked his breathing. I lifted my left hand before making an advance towards him and slipping my fingers underneath his collar.

‘Come on now, that’ll do pal. Release. Good boy’

Almost instantly my words had an immediate effect, and he let go. This is called trust.

Unfortunately, although my requests and words of reassurance had released his jaws from the other dog’s neck, it didn’t stop the collie dog coming back for another pop at him. Before I had a chance to block a second scrap, the two were fighting once again.

When the opportunity came around again, I repeated the same process which had worked before. This time and understandably, Titon was more hesitant in letting go. I continued reassuring him and this time roped in a second pair of hands to take hold of the collie.

Titon clearly trusted me enough to let go again, and the fight was over.

I immediately put him in the back of my car, which was situated a few feet away from where the chaos had been happening. No sooner had I put him the boot of my teeny tiny Citroen AX car, I looked up to see a police car entering the campsite. This was the last thing I wanted, but after explaining what had happened and the injured guy not wanting to press charges, Titon was safe.

This was an incredibly nerve-wracking experience for me. I had never been in any trouble before, and I didn’t intend on getting in any, but it heightens the fact that these situations can and often do happen.

Though it wasn’t over for us yet. In fact, this was merely the beginning.

My perfect boys behaviour took a real turn for the worse following this fight and I soon found myself on the reactive dog training road.

Weighing in at 60kg, lunging, barking and given half a chance biting behaviours were incredibly hard to deal with. I was completely taken aback by his behaviour when it first happened, and truth be told I had no idea how to stop it.

I tried and followed all of the wrong advice. I corrected him, told him off and even used a foot correction I once saw on the TV to interrupt his barking. When he stopped barking and slowly turned his head around towards me, staring intently into my eyes, even though I couldn’t properly read canine behaviour, that look was enough for me to never do that again.

If he could talk, he would have been telling me exactly the same. And he could have easily turned on and beaten me to the ground. There was no contest there.

I wasn’t comfortable doing the corrections either, I knew that somewhere out there, there had to be a better way. It turns out there was, and I started my journey into reward-based training. I could see improvements in Titon’s behaviour almost instantly.

When I found out Titon was acting this way through fear, I soon changed my own behaviour to start helping and supporting him. Which over the years was successful in rectifying the barking problem.

Don’t take for granted your dog’s good behaviour because dog’s, like us, are learning all of the time. If they learn to be scared of something, they could choose one of three options.

‘’Crikey that was scary, I must become submissive in that situation again.’’
‘’Ah heck, no big. Let’s just crack on with the day and forget about it.’’
Or the big one. ‘’I’m never going to let that thing hurt or scare me again. Cue barking defensive behaviour. ‘’

That last option is one you don’t want either. Trust me, it’s one heck of a training road and you won’t fix that barking over night or by using ‘’quick fixes’’ like vibration collars, water sprays or rattle bottles.

Be supportive of your dog’s fearful barking. Take the time to really find out why they are barking. It could be fear, or it could be a whole host of other barks. It isn’t one bark fits them all and it isn’t guaranteed your perfect pooch will always be the perfect pooch.

Claire Lawrence (ADTI, SAC DIP) is a fully qualified Approved Dog Training Instructor in the Peak District. To find out more about Claire’s work and her book ‘3 Steps to Silence’, you can visit




Top tips to keep calm during fireworks

When fireworks are let off sporadically, stress and anxiety can become common amongst dogs and cats.

This can continue from October to the New Year and can be a stressful time for pets, as well as their owners. For a pet affected by loud noises, the fireworks season can be a terrifying time.

If your pet becomes stressed, they could display this in a number of ways, such as, vocalisation, shaking, aggression, reduced appetite and ears pinned back. There are, however, many positive things that can be done to help keep your pets calm.

Provide a den

This can be an enclosed ‘safe place’ for your pet to hide. Cover the top and all sides of a crate, table or cupboard near the centre of the home, or where they have previously hidden. Make it comfortable. You can even add a jumper or t-shirt of yours that will smell familiar to them. Let them come and go as they please.

Stay calm

During the fireworks stay calm yourself and don’t react to any loud bangs, as your pet will react to you. Try not to worry and don’t get angry with your pet or over fuss them, just reassure them gently and be as normal and routine as possible.

Don’t punish your pet

If they do anything out of the ordinary due to stress, don’t punish them. This is a reaction to how they feel in a situation and shouting at them could lead to further stress.

Keep pets indoors

To prevent extra stress, keep pets indoors during the fireworks. For cats who like to go outside, make sure you place plenty of litter trays around the house, especially by usual exit points. Make sure your dog has had an opportunity to go to the toilet well before it gets dark.


Provide your pet with plenty of toys to distract them from the loud noises. Ignore the fireworks yourself and play with your pet, but don’t force them to.

Mask the sound of fireworks

Try and mask the sound of fireworks by putting the TV on or playing some music, especially if animals are left home alone. You could also muffle the sound of the fireworks by closing the curtains and windows.

Stick to your routine

Maintain your routine and try to keep all feeding and walking routines as normal as possible. This will help to reduce any stress for your pet.

Take your dog for walks in the day

Burn extra energy by taking your dog on a longer walk during the day. Avoid walking them at night when fireworks are being set off, try morning or afternoon walks.

Comfort your pet

Sit close to your pet and stroke them to try and keep them calm. Physical contact could help to make them feel safe and reduce their anxiety.

Prepare in advance

If you know a specific event is taking place or when the fireworks are likely to be set off try to prepare ahead of time.

Behavioural techniques

If your pet is generally quite fretful and anxious then you can look into introducing behavioural techniques to help overcome the issues. Speak to your vet who can help advise the best approach for your pet

Utilise calming products

There are a wide range of products on the market that have been developed to help pets that get stressed and frightened by the fireworks. These include: natural supplements such as Nutracalm, which works within a couple of hours, Anxiety vests such as Thundershirts and plugin diffusers such as Adaptil.

A guide to probiotics for pets….

Like humans, the majority of a dog and cat’s immune system resides in their gut.

The gut is the largest immune organ in the body, which also digests and absorbs food. It is populated by trillions of bacteria collectively called Microflora, which support a dog or cat’s digestive function. The bacterial population can be affected by a number of aspects and bad bacteria can flourish and multiply which can lead to an upset tummy.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are living organisms that are found naturally in foods such as yoghurt. They are known as ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria as they compete for space and fight against bad bacteria to prevent them from settling in the gut. Probiotics can have a positive effect on a pet’s digestive system. They can help to increase friendly bacteria within the gut, as well as replenish the natural balance of gut bacteria and improve their stool consistency. Good bacteria are integral for your pet’s gut health, but they also support their brain, digestion and their immune system. Boosting your pet’s immune system is one of the most important roles of probiotics.

Approximately 70% of the body’s immune Lymphatic tissue is located in the digestive tract, mostly in the form of ‘Gut- Associated Lymphatic Tissue’ (GALT). The GALT contains many types of immune cells that optimise the efficiency of immune response. Studies have shown that having a healthy microflora stimulates the immune tissue. Therefore, a healthy digestive system is important for optimal immune support, as well as helping to aid recovery. Viruses and bacteria can enter the body through your pet’s mouth and probiotics are present starting in the mouth and throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Maintaining your pet’s good bacteria can help to keep pathogens in check.

When to use probiotics?

The intestinal tract is the organ in the body that digests and absorbs food. It’s populated by bacteria that keep your dog healthy. If your pet develops an upset tummy or Diarrhea it may result in a trip to the vets where probiotics may be prescribed.

During illness & recovery

Various drugs and pain killers can have a vital and often lifesaving role for pets that are suffering, but they can also kill healthy (beneficial) gut bacteria and upset the delicate microbiome balance. The immune system produces toxic oxidative products which can injure the cells of the gut. These are usually balanced by the animal’s own antioxidants but can become overwhelmed in times of inflammation or infection. This can cause digestive imbalance and impairs the GALT immune response.

Tummy upsets

Due to the inquisitive and natural presence to explore, scavenge, taste and put themselves in places they shouldn’t be (and because pet owners & humans have a habit of offering too many treats) pets are prone to tummy upsets.

 What to look out for

  • Excessive gas
  • Regurgitating or vomiting
  • Changes in your pet’s appetite
  • Loss of weight
  • Diarrhea / changes in stool consitency
  • Eating grass to alleviate discomfort
  • High temperature
  • Lethargy and general feeling unwell

How probiotics can be beneficial

Maintain long-term gut health

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 and pets with a history of gut related problems.

Maintain tummy comfort

Do you have a nervous dog or cat? If this is the case it could have an impact on their digestive system and using probiotics for pets could help to look after their digestion during stressful periods.

Immune support

Probiotics can help to optimise the efficiency of the immune response to help fight infection and boost immune system functioning.

If taking antibiotics

They can help to repopulate the balance of good bacteria that antibiotics can wipe out.

During recovery

They can help pets who are recovering from surgery or treatment who require added immune support.


Probiotics are becoming recognised more and more as a positive way to improve the health and wellbeing of dogs and cats, by both vets and pet owners. Speak to your vet for further information on how probiotics can help your pet.


Preparing for a kitten

Getting a new pet can be an exciting time for any home. As a new pet owner, it’s important to help your new kitten settle into their environment and ensure they experience a stress-free introduction to their new home.

Any new pet is a commitment and as their owner it’s important to understand their needs so you can manage their quality of life. Kittens require time and patience and it’s important to do your research and understand the cost and responsibility of owning a cat.

There are many things to consider before getting a kitten, which include:

Cost – can you afford the essentials that a kitten would need, as well as any unplanned costs, such as vet bills or cattery costs if you go on holiday.

Environment/space – do you have the right home environment for a cat? Will they fit in with your lifestyle?

Time – do you have the time to commit to a new kitten? Can you take time off work to settle your pet into their new home?

Existing pets – do you have any other pets? Have you thought about whether they will get along? Cats can be territorial, and some don’t like sharing their environment with other cats, this can cause stress.

Have you considered adopting a rescue cat? – kittens can be cute and entertaining, but they aren’t for everyone. Have you thought about adopting an older cat? There are hundreds of cats looking for new homes in rescue centres up and down the UK.

There are many things to consider and prepare before bringing your new kitten home to help make the process as stress free as possible. Here are a few tips: 

Kitten proof your home

Ensure your home is kitten proof and you have all the essentials for your new pet. Remove any poisonous plants and tie up any hanging cords or cables to prevent your kitten from chewing or choking on them. As cats are inquisitive, keep places you don’t want them to go out of bounds, keep the washing machine and tumble dryer doors closed, as well as windows shut to stop them from jumping out.

Cat toys

Provide your kitten with toys to play with to encourage exercise. Although kittens sleep a lot, they do have short bursts of energy, so be sure provide them with something to play with so they don’t get bored. Kittens also love to climb, so remove any breakable objects that they may be able to reach to prevent any accidents.


Your new kitten will need a specific diet, which will ensure that they get the essential nutrients and vitamins they need for their growth and development. Kittens have small stomachs and have to be fed little and often. Set up a feeding schedule to prevent your kitten from overeating and gaining any unwanted weight. If you have more than one cat, be sure to feed your cats separately to prevent one stealing food from the other.


Be sure to start grooming your cat straight away to get them used to the routine early. If you start handling their paws and trimming their claws early, this will help to make it a less stressful experience.

Keep your kitten indoors

For the first few weeks and until they have been vaccinated, keep your kitten indoors. This will help them to get used to their new environment. Make sure you get your kitten micro-chipped when they are old enough in case they escape or get lost.


It is important to train your kitten to play without being aggressive. They should learn early that play with claws and biting is not acceptable behaviour. Any exercise for your kitten should incorporate their natural desire to climb and hunt.

Be patient

Give your kitten time to adjust to their new environment. Give them space and limit the amount of time you handle them in the first few weeks. Always supervise children when they hold your kitten. For safety and until your kitten gets used to their new surroundings you could limit them to just one room of the house.


Provide your kitten with a comfy and warm cat bed. Most cats sleep where they like but having a bed will get them used to a routine and prevent them from sleeping in places you don’t want them to. Place their new bed close to their food bowls and within easy reach of their litter tray.

Litter tray

Be sure to place this in a quiet area, away from food and water bowls. Make sure that the litter tray is cleaned each day. Kittens usually pick up on how to use a litter tray from their mother, but you may need to offer some help and encouragement at first. If you have more than one cat, you need at least one litter tray per cat in the home.

Scratch posts

These are important to relieve stress for your kitten and to make sure they don’t scratch at furniture. Cats naturally scratch before they settle, so make sure it is in an accessible place. You could place a few around the home.

Food and water bowls

Cats prefer to eat in a different place to where they drink, so make sure you place their food and water bowls away from each other. Provide your kitten with fresh water each day.

Register with a vet

Make sure you register your new kitten with a vet. Regular health checks with your local vet are important to ensure that your kitten is receiving the best possible care. They will be able check their overall health and advise on important vaccinations that they will need, as well as offer advice on diet, flea and worm products.

How to handle your rabbit

By Emma Purnell, RVN Cert Nut

Rabbits have traditionally been bought as a child’s pet; however, it is easy to incorrectly handle rabbits and potentially cause injury to both rabbit and handler. One thing we need to remember when dealing with and handling rabbits is that they are prey animals, they have a large number of wild predators. Being restrained, held and lifted off the ground is very unnatural for them and can cause a great deal of stress. Children should never handle rabbits unsupervised; they should never be the sole responsibility of a child; the parent must always be involved.

Before handling your rabbit, you need to ensure they trust you and are not scared of you. One of the major complaints people with rabbits have is that they become aggressive or run away when owners go to handle or interact with them, to understand this we need to understand the mindset and natural habitat of a rabbit. They live in burrows where they only expect to meet other rabbits face to face and are most exposed when outside feeding. When outside in the open their predators can include birds of prey when young, for this reason they have an intrinsic fear of shadows above them. If they are in a hutch or run and you try to pick them up from above, then their natural instinct is to behave as if you are a predator and react accordingly. Where possible always get down to their level, make slow, gentle movements without any jerking or sudden grabs and it will be far less frightening for them.

Any handling training is best done on their terms, slowly and starting at floor level. Initially sit on the floor with your rabbit and allow them to get used to you, offering treats from your hand to get them used to approaching you and to make being around your hand a positive experience. Once this happens, most rabbits enjoy having their forehead gently stroked as it mimics mutual grooming, so this touching should be a positive experience. Once this is happening, getting them to either climb onto your lap with treats or gently lifting them onto your lap to give them treats and head strokes is a good next step.

Clicker training, mainly used to train dogs, can also be used to help build a bond. Clicker training involves associating the sound of the click with a treat to give a positive cue to use when the rabbit displays a behaviour that is desired. For basic handling that can include training a rabbit to come close to you, to put their head down for grooming, to come out of a hutch to you or to climb onto your lap. The process initially involves the rabbit getting a treat every time the click is heard and makes sure they associate the noise of the click to a reward. The click noise is then a very quick and easy way to let the rabbit know that the behaviour they are doing is the correct one for a certain command without confusion. Once basic behaviours are trained then more advanced ones like tricks can be attempted! It can even be used to train them to go in and out of pet carriers to avoid some of the unnecessary handling. While this seems a slow process, it is important as rabbits can suffer severe and even fatal injuries with incorrect handling. They have very strong hind legs and if unsupported or held wrongly, they can kick out and suffer major spinal injuries. Wrapping them in a towel can help to avoid scratches but care must be taken that all limbs are still contained safely and no injury can occur.

Rabbits should NEVER be picked up by their ears. If your rabbit must be moved or has to be picked up then the best way to do this is to place one hand underneath their chest, one around their hind legs to stop them from being able to kick out and to make sure the weight of your rabbit is supported throughout. Ideally keep them close to the ground or a safe surface so if they do become stressed then they can be safely and quickly put down. Turning over a rabbit and placing it on its back was used as a method to restrain them as when this is done, they will usually freeze and not kick out. However, we now understand more about why this happens. This is a defensive behaviour called ‘trancing’ and is done when they are seriously stressed, they freeze and play dead in the hope that the predator will leave them alone. Rabbits that are seriously stressed are at serious risk of lashing out and causing injury to the handler or themselves, or even stress so much they can die. Rabbits can make wonderful pets, however they are complex animals and care must always be taken with their handling.

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).




Top tips for managing cystitis in cats

Cystitis in cats is a common reason for pet owners to take their pets to the vets. Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC) in cats is inflammation of the bladder and is a really common condition, but not a serious health concern. However, it can be very uncomfortable for your pet and can cause pain when urinating. cystitis in cats

Although in some cases of Cystitis in cats the cause is unclear, stress is thought to be the most common trigger. Changes in their routine or environment can lead to stress, which could include, moving home, car travel, inter-cat conflict, new family arrivals or pets, lack of exposure to the outdoors, or boarding in a cattery.

Signs of Cystitis in cats include:

  • Straining to urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Urinating in unusual places
  • Licking the urinary opening

There could be several reasons why your cat may need help in maintaining normal urinary tract health. However, it is important to consult your vet who will be able to offer the most appropriate advice for your cat’s specific health requirements. In order for your cat to maintain a healthy quality of life, there are positive ways in which you help to manage their urinary tract health:


Encourage your cat to consume more fresh water and present it in a way that your cat prefers. The aim of increasing water intake is to produce more dilute urine, which will be less irritating. Make sure you place their water bowl away from their food. Adding water to their food could be another way of encouraging them to consumer more.


Wet food may be preferable to dry because of the increased water content. Consult your vet as to whether a diet change is appropriate. Offer the new diet in an additional separate container to allow your pet to express its preference.


Encourage your pet to take more exercise as this helps to stimulate the bladder. Overweight cats can suffer from cystitis more than normal weight felines, so exercise and diet can play an integral role in maintaining your cat’s bladder health.

Minimise stress

To help minimise stress for your cat, their indoor environment should include opportunities for scratching, climbing, hiding and resting. If there is a local cat in the neighbourhood causing stress to your cat, try to prevent your cat from gaining access to the aggressor. It is also important that you stay calm during this time, as cats are very good at reading body language and can pick up on any stress you are feeling yourself.

Litter boxes

Litter boxes should be provided in several quiet, stress-free locations throughout the house, particularly in multi-cat households. There should be one litter tray per cat plus one. Litter should be non-scented and cleaned daily avoiding a strong disinfectant.

Senior cats

Cystitis can be more common in older cats, so it is important to take your senior cat for regular health checks. Regularly monitoring their bladder health can help to ensure that your cat has a better quality of life.

Consider natural supplements

Some pet supplements on the market contain natural ingredients, which can help to reduce irritation caused by Cystitis and increase comfort for your cat. Reducing stress is considered to be beneficial in the management of Cystitis in both cats and dogs.

Visit your vet

Your vet is best placed to monitor your cat’s health. It is important to have regular health checks with your local vet to ensure that your cat is receiving the best possible care.

Understanding allergies in pets

Just like their owners, allergies in pets are a common occurance with an estimated 20% of dogs suffering from them.

Allergies in pets can vary from food, environmental or household, and 10% of allergies in dogs are said to be food related, but many pets can suffer from more than one. There are certain breeds of cats and dogs that are more susceptible to allergies and most commonly affected. These include, Retrievers, German Shepherds, Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels and Rex Cats. The type of allergy that your pet has can be hard to diagnose as many of the symptoms are almost identical. allergies in pets

Although they can suffer with more than one allergy, there are three common types that pets can develop:

  • Atopy (also known as Atopic Dermatitis)
  • Flea allergy
  • Food allergy

Other causes of common allergies in pets can include, pollen, mold spores, dust, feathers, perfumes, cleaning products and fleas.

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic Dermatitis (Atopy) is an allergy to something in the environment, such as pollen, molds, grass or dust mites. Pets with Atopic Dermatitis tend to have very itchy skin, usually it’s worse on their paws, ears, tummy and armpits. If your pet has Atopic Dermatitis they may be constantly scratching, licking and biting, which can make their skin red, sore and open to infection. Pets can develop Atopic Dermatitis at any age, although it can be more common in young dogs and in certain breeds, such as the West Highland Terrier (Westie). Common symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis can include itchy skin, ear infections, licking or chewing themselves, hair loss, dark/thickened skin, weepy eyes, bacterial skin infections and yeast infections.

Finding out what your pet is allergic to can be quite challenging as flea and food allergies can cause almost identical symptoms as Atopic Dermatitis. To help reduce symptoms and prevent future flare ups, your vet may recommend steps to avoid triggers, such as:

  • Avoid walks when the pollen count is high
  • Rinsing your dog off after walking in long grass
  • Avoiding sprays (except flea sprays) in the home
  • Vacuum and dust regularly
  • Keep your pet up-to-date with their flea treatment, symptoms are likely to flare up if they are bitten.

Some pet supplements on the market contain high quality Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin-E, which can naturally calm sensitive skin, sooth dry, flaky skin and reduce itching and scratching.

Food allergies in petsallergies in pets

A food allergy is when a pet’s immune system overreacts to one or more of the ingredients in their diet. Symptoms usually include skin problems, and /or tummy problems (such as diarrhea and vomiting). Common signs that your pet could be suffering from a food allergy could include:

  • Itchy skin
  • A rash, sore red skin
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sore tummy
  • Excessive wind

Food allergies in dogs can develop at any stage of their life but are most common when they are less than a year old. In cats, they can develop by 4-5 years old. It’s not always easy trying to find what your pet may be allergic too. A food elimination diet for a period of 8-12 weeks is often used to diagnose a food allergy. Dogs tend to be allergic to protein (meat or dairy). Some dogs can also be allergic to other ingredients such as wheat and grains.

Cats can be allergic to products such as beef, dairy or fish. If a food allergy is well managed, your pet can live a perfectly normal life. However, if their food allergy is left untreated, they can have a serious effect on your pet’s health and quality of life. To stop your pet from having symptoms in future, your vet may advise you to only feed your dog or cat food that contains ‘safe’ ingredients.

Pets are unwittingly fed an unnatural diet, which are high in Omega-6 fatty acids, derived from high levels of cereals and vegetable proteins. Too much Omega-6 can have a negative effect on a pet’s skin health. Counteracting the Omega-6 imbalance with Omega-3s can help to reduce inflammation from allergies.

Flea allergies

When your pet gets bitten by a flea, it injects saliva into their skin. Flea saliva is irritating to most animals, including humans and can trigger an allergic reaction in some cats and dogs. Everyday itching from a flea bite is not the same as a flea allergy. A pet that is allergic to flea bites will have a skin reaction every time they are bitten, which can cause intense itching and inflammation of the skin. Other common signs of an allergic reaction to fleas include hair loss, over grooming, lumpy skin, red, inflamed skin and fleas.

If your pet has a flea allergy, as an owner you need to ensure it is managed properly. A poorly managed flea allergy could cause severe skin disease and illness. With the advice and treatment from your vet and a good flea control, most pet’s with flea allergies can live a happy and healthy life.

Your vet will be able to offer advice on the best flea treatment sufficient for your pet. Be sure to also treat areas of your home where your pet may venture and make sure you treat both indoor and outdoor cats as outdoor cats can bring fleas inside. A flea treatment is often not enough to control the problem, a repellent is usually needed too, and you will need to make sure your home and pets are flea-free all year round.

Getting to know…

Veterinary Tissue Bank

The Veterinary Tissue Bank was co-founded by Dr Peter Myint and Professor John Innes to meet the unmet needs for a European veterinary community tissue bank and a desire to progress the field of veterinary surgery. Here, Companion Life gets to know more about the organization and the impact of their work.

Could you tell us a little about the work you do at the Veterinary Tissue Bank?

Veterinary Tissue Bank is Europe’s first and only tissue bank for pets, where pet owners of dogs and cats can donate tissues from their pets at the end of their lives. The donated tissues are used in transplants, in other dogs and cats, which need tissues for various surgical procedures. Bone transplants are used to treat in orthopedic cases, such as broken bones, bone cancer, arthritic joints, spinal fusion, etc.; cornea is used to restore sight; and tendons are used to replace torn ligaments. A single donation from a dog or a cat gives transplants to over 60 recipients. To date, Veterinary tissue bank has supplied nearly 10,000 transplants.

What are the health benefits of Stem Cell Therapy for pets?

Osteoarthritis is thought to affect 20% of the dog population, and stem cell therapy is given to treat the pain in arthritic joints. Stem cells are isolated from a small fat sample and are cultured from just a few to millions in number, before they are injected back into the joints of the same dog or cat. Some of the cells are stored frozen, in case a future need arises for them. Following the injection, the animal is expected to become pain free within a few days. Subsequent injections may be needed; however, this can readily be met by re-culturing the frozen cells in the tissue bank without having to harvest another fat sample.

How effective is Stem Cell Therapy?

From the experience of Veterinary Tissue Bank, stem cell therapy provides 80% positive response rate in dogs, shown by the LOAD (Liverpool Osteoarthritis in Dogs) score – a validated, owner completed questionnaire. Of the remaining 20% of non-responders, half responded to a second stem cell injection, giving an overall 90% positive response to stem cell therapy when the second injection is included.

 Is tissue donation only for dogs and cats?

Currently, we only run a donation program for dogs and cats, as these are the species that most frequently need tissue grafts.

How can pet owners sign their pets up to become a pet donor?

The concept of pet tissue donation and transplantation is the same as that in humans. It is also difficult for veterinary staff to raise the subject of donation at a time of great distress for the owner. However, not asking the owner means, effectively, making the decision on their behalf; and for them, it may not be the right one. Registering as a tissue donor in advance can facilitate the donation process, and owners can sign up by visiting and submitting a form online. Veterinary tissue bank then issues a pet donor card and informs the practice of the registration.

Rabbit grooming needs

By Emma Purnell, RVN Cert. Nut

Like most animals, rabbits generally do a good job of keeping themselves clean but there are certain times of year and specific things they may need help with. Some breeds, especially Angora’s, Lionheads and other long-haired rabbits, may need more help.

Rabbits should NEVER be bathed. Completely submerging rabbits in water can lead them to go into shock and they can get a chill easily when drying. If they need any kind of bath, usually if their back end has matted, veterinary advice should be sought as to why this has occurred and a bottom bath using minimum water can be carried out. Holding their bottom safely and securely taking care to support their spine over a bowl with a second person can allow for any areas that are matted or particularly dirty to be cleaned safely. If you feel your rabbit needs a full bath then questions must be asked as to why and veterinary advice sought – do not do this at home.

Brushing can be a social experience and enjoyable for your rabbits, once they become used to it so starting early is vital. Offering treats when grooming them and taking things slowly and calmly can make sure that it is associated with a positive experience. While most of the time they will groom themselves, especially during moulting they will need help. Brushing daily will prevent your rabbit ingesting loose fur which can risk causing impactions and potential gut blockages.

The best brush to use is a soft silicone brush, it can help to attract loose fur as well as being gentle. Pinned brushes and those with blades to remove more fur can not only risk cutting a rabbit’s fine skin but can remove too much fur leading to bald patches. Silicone brushing gloves can be useful if starting the process, making it more like a stroke than a brush!

Ears should be checked with each groom but shouldn’t need regular cleaning. Lop eared rabbits are more likely to have issues with ear wax build up due to their head and ear shapes, so regular checks to ensure no problems is important. If you are concerned by ears looking red or sore please seek veterinary advice. Regular checks should be made on the length of claws, they should not be protruding as they are at risk of getting caught and torn. Clipping claws can be done at home but they must not be clipped short enough to catch the quick, the blood vessel that runs inside the nail, as this will cause pain and bleeding. Rabbits should never be held on their backs to do this, it causes them to go into a trance but this causes significant stress and is not necessary.

Grooming is a brilliant opportunity to health check your rabbit, checking their teeth, their weight and for any lumps and bumps, not to mention giving extra time to socialise with your pet!

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).