Advice from the expert: Rabbit behaviour

By Emma Purnell, RVN Cert.Nut.

Rabbits are very unlike cats and dogs; they are a prey species which means their body language and behaviour can be different and seem unusual.

They are quiet animals so reading their body language and ear position can give us an insight into how they feel. An interested rabbit will generally have ears up and tilted towards anything they are listening to.

Relaxed rabbits generally sit and hold their ears at around 45 degrees to their body but can lie them flat along their back, the key is that their body will remain relaxed. Lop eared rabbits cannot lift their ears but you can see the rotation at the base. If sitting at rest, they can be in any position from legs tucked under them but with their posture relaxed.

A very relaxed and safe rabbit will extend legs out either behind them or even just lie flat out on their sides – this ‘dead bunny flop’ can look pretty scary if you find them like this but they will behave as normal if disturbed. This extension of their back legs is important, rabbits are prey species and by doing this they are putting themselves in a position where it will take some time to get up. They must feel safe to do this. Rabbits will sometimes present themselves to an owner or another rabbit by lowering their chest and lying their head on the floor. This is done to get the owner or other rabbit to groom them and is often the rabbit higher in the hierarchy that will do this – the more submissive rabbit will groom the more dominant. If a rabbit is alert, they will also have their ears raised, but less directional and more directly upwards to scan for any predators. Their ears can move separately, they can fix one ear on a specific sound and continue to scan with the other. They often sit in a more alert posture, legs underneath the body ready to run away from danger if needed. There will be more tension in the body, and this can be seen. It is often seen if they are introduced to a new area. If you are seeing this regularly in your rabbit it is worth making sure they have areas within their environment where they can feel safe. They may ‘periscope’, standing up on their back legs to increase their field of vision and their nose may twitch more rapidly as they take in any smells.

Signs to look out for

Animals in pain have certain behaviours we can look out for, but they can be fairly subtle, as a prey animal showing weakness can risk them being predated. If they have stomach pain, they will often press their stomach into the floor, often with their legs a little further behind than normal. Being hunched, reduction in exploring and exercising, tooth grinding and any changes to eating, grooming or toileting can also be signs of an issue. If you see any of these signs you should see a vet immediately. Very scared or aggressive rabbits will lie their ears flat in a similar position to very relaxed rabbits, making it important to view the body language as a whole. Unlike a relaxed rabbit, the scared or aggressive rabbit will be very tense, make themselves look as small as possible, have all four legs tight underneath them ready to attack or run away and will be low to the ground.

A rabbit likely to attack will raise and stiffen its tail, a common response if cornered and they feel they have no other option. If your rabbit is showing fearful behaviours, then it is important they have a safe place to feel secure. A dark, quiet shelter for them to be able to run into can make them feel more secure, this is particularly important in outside runs as they are often made of mesh, making the rabbit feel very exposed. Shelters should have at least two exits, stopping them from feeling trapped.

Handling your pet

Handling should be minimal; most rabbits are not keen on being picked up at the best of times and handling a frightened rabbit will likely lead to you being scratched or bitten. If you must pick them up and move them, using a towel to ensure they are safe and secure and to protect yourself from injury is advised. Avoid approaching them from above, approach them from the side where they are less likely to be surprised and lash out. Be aware they may kick out and if not handled properly they can do serious damage to their spine which can be fatal. Rabbits can make wonderful pets, but a good understanding of their behaviour and how to make them feel secure is essential to ensure they are as happy as we can make them.

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).

A guide to…Understanding dementia 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.

Dementia in pets is also known as Cognitive Dysfunction, a cognitive disorder in dogs associated with effects similar to those of Alzheimer’s in humans. Just like their owners, as pets age, they can have senile moments, with changes in behaviour, memory, learning and comprehension. The causes of dementia in pets are unknown, however the fact that the brain function is affected by physical and chemical changes that occur along with the aging process. But age- related cognitive decline is not the only condition that causes dementia in pets.

Signs of dementia in pets can include:

Confusion or disorientation

Confused behaviour in the house and wandering around aimlessly. Pets may regularly get lost on walks or perhaps go to the wrong side when opening doors. They may also lose the ability to recognise people they are frequently in contact with, or other pets.

Reduced social interaction

Pets may hide away more, especially if there are new people in the home. There may be reduced greeting behaviour, and this may just be perceived by pet owners as their pets being tired or less interested or excited. There may also be increased vocalisation, or rarely, aggression towards particular situations.

Loss of prior house training

One of the most noticeable signs for pet owners and is distressing for all involved. Toilet training is a key, learned behaviour, and so can be one of the first behaviours lost with cognitive dysfunction.

Disturbance in sleep

There is an increase in total sleep, but this can often be broken in shorter periods and often pets can be awake at night, when previously they did not disturb the pet owner.

Decreased activity

Dogs and cats can be less keen to exercise and less excited by toys and other previously rewarding events. Owners will sometimes describe their pets as depressed.

Tips to support your pet’s brain health

Dementia in pets cannot be cured, but there are some positive things you can do to help reduce some of the symptoms and slow the progression of the illness. These include:

Exercise

Keeping your pet’s body and mind active is important. Regular exercise, which is appropriate for your pet’s age and physical condition can help to keep their mind and body healthy.

Monitor their weight

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

Retrain your dog

It’s true – you can teach an old dog new tricks! This can be done using the same techniques as you would with a puppy. Training helps to keep your pet’s brain active. Be creative to keep your pet occupied like using puzzle games. For more problematic behaviour issues, you should consult your vet.

Positive reinforcement

Behaviour training should include treats and praise. Do not punish your pet for bad behaviour, they don’t know that they have to done something until they are told.

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.

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-3s throughout your pet’s life to help maintain brain health.

Natural supplements

Supplementing your pet’s diet could help maintain health cognitive function. There are a number of products on the market that can help including Vetpro and Senior Aid, whilst Vets will often recommend Nutramind which provides high strength nutritional support and includes the key nutrients for supporting cognitive function in ageing pets.

 

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

Surviving autumn with pets

With summer behind us and the dark nights starting to creep in, autumn brings with it many challenges for pets and their owners.

As well as cooler weather, autumn also sees the start of the fireworks season and Halloween, which can both prove to be stressful for many pets. It’s important to be aware of the seasonal dangers to your pets so you can all enjoy the fun outdoors and scenery that autumn creates.

Pets love nothing more than time outside, 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.

We highlight some of the hazards that pet owners should be aware of at this time of year.

Seeds and conkers

With seeds and leaves dropping during autumn months, some are poisonous to pets and can cause serious illness. Yew trees are poisonous and eating just a small amount can be serious. The bark, leaves, flowers and conkers of Horse Chestnut Trees are also poisonous to pets. Conkers can also become a choking hazard or cause blockages.

Acorns are also a common sight during autumn. They can be found on the ground throughout autumn months. These can cause blockages when eaten by pets.

Dark nights

As the darker nights approach, if you are walking your dog early in the morning or late at night be sure to wear reflective clothing. You could also use a reflective collar and coat for your dog, just in case they get lost. Ensure that your dog’s microchip details are up-to-date, and they are wearing an identity tag.

Exercise

Despite the cooler wet weather, it is still important to keep up with your pet’s exercise routine. This will help to prevent any weight gain, as well as keeping their joints mobile and avoid stiffness. As the weather changes, you could reduce the length of their walks. If your pet is exercising less, be sure to adjust their diet accordingly, speak to your vet if you are unsure how much they should exercise for their age and breed.

Fleas and ticks

As we start to turn the central heating on in our homes, this makes a more comfortable environment for pesky fleas. Keeping up with your pet’s flea treatment will help to prevent any unwanted house guests at this time of year. Ticks are also still prominent in autumn, so be sure to check your pets regularly for ticks, especially after dog walks.

Fleas can cause irritation for pets, with some having flea allergies, which can cause discomfort for your pet and affect their skin if not treated properly. Pets with flea allergies can be allergic to the saliva of the flea and become itchy after being bitten. When treating your pet for fleas, remember to also treat your home, where your pet sleeps or spends a lot of time.

Reduce stress

With Halloween and the start of fireworks season many pets become anxious from the loud bangs, trick or treaters and scary costumes seen around this time. Stick to routines as much as possible to help reduce stress. Don’t force your pet to wear a funny costumer for Halloween if they don’t want to – no matter how cute they may look. Ask your vet about natural supplements like Nutracalm to help reduce stress

Halloween treats

Around Halloween time, there can be lots of chocolate and sweet treats around the home, ready for trick or treaters or just for the family to enjoy. Chocolate and some sweets contain toxic substances which can make your pet poorly and even a small amount could cause serious health issues. Be sure to keep chocolate and any sweet treats away from your pet to prevent them developing an upset tummy. To prevent them begging for your Halloween treats, keep some of your pet’s favourite treats to hand so they don’t feel left out and stop you from being tempted to give them some of yours.

Pumpkins

These are commonly used as decorations throughout autumn and Halloween. Although they are not poisonous, if consumed in large quantities, they could lead to your pet having a sensitive tummy. If you use candles in your pumpkins, make sure these are out of reach from your pet and can’t be knocked over.

Fireworks

Autumn marks the start of the fireworks season. It can last from October to New Year and make this time of year very stressful for some pets and their owners. These can be extremely stressful for some pets who are scared to the loud bangs.

Preparing in advance could help to reduce stress for your pet during the fireworks. Make your pet a den to retreat to if needed and close curtains and play music to help block out the noise. Be sure to walk your dog earlier in the day before the fireworks start and keep all pets indoors after dark. Ask your vet about natural calming supplements such as Nutracalm, which help to naturally calm anxious pets.

Cold and wet weather

If your pet spends a lot of time outside, be sure to provide a shelter for them for when the weather gets colder or if it rains. Make sure they have lots of blankets to keep them warm and comfy. As the weather gets colder bring smaller pets indoors.

If you are worried about your pet and think they may have been affected by any of the above be sure consult your vet.

Top tips to maintain healthy kidney function in pets

Kidneys carry out many important tasks in your pet’s body. Kidneys help to balance certain substances in the blood and filter out the body’s waste as urine.

They maintain normal concentrations of salt and water in the body. They also help to control blood pressure, aid in calcium metabolism and sustain phosphorus levels.  Kidney function in pets is known to decline with age, and this can be associated with a decrease in renal Omega-3s and an increase in inflammation. Kidney problems in pets are common but feeding them a good quality diet and providing them with a constant supply of fresh clean water will help to support their kidneys.

Typical signs of kidney problems can include, a frequent urination, increased drinking to replace fluids, tiredness and lethargy, retching or going off food. Here are some tips to help maintain your pet’s kidney health:

Water intake

Water is essential for all animals but especially important for healthy kidney function. Make sure your pet has access to fresh and clean water on a regular basis.

Protein management

Too high a protein content can lead to an accumulation of toxic products within the blood. However, lowering the protein levels too far can lead to problems. The best diets will contain proteins of a high biological value, ensuring there are no deficiencies in essential
amino acids.

Reduce sodium content

High sodium levels can lead to hypertension; however care must be taken as reducing the levels too far can be a contributing factor in metabolic acidosis and it can affect palatability.

Good fibre levels

Fibre is important to help gastrointestinal motility.

Reduce stress

Keep your pet calm where possible as when a pet is stressed, they may eat or drink less. Reduced water intake is detrimental to the kidneys.

Clean teeth

Periodontal disease has been shown to increase a dog’s risk of developing renal failure. Regular teeth brushing can help to prevent this.

Reduce toxins

Poisons is a leading problem for renal health. Understanding what substances and foods are unsafe for your pet can keep them safe from poisoning. For example, chocolate, grapes and raisins or antifreeze and some cleaning products.

Omega 3s

A diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids can help. High purity Omega 3s from fish oil can have beneficial effects on supporting the animal’s natural systems that control inflammation and supporting a better quality of life.

Reduce phosphate content

Reducing the phosphate content in the diet can help in reducing damage to kidneys and has been linked to extending life, especially in cats.

Regular monitoring

Regular vet visits are important to monitor our pet’s health and your vet is best placed to offer the best advice. Always take on your vet’s advice.

Natural supplements

Consider using natural supplements to help support your pet’s kidney health. Supplements that contain key ingredients such as Omega 3, Calcium and Chitosan can aid renal function, bind toxins and support your pet’s quality of life.

If you are worried about your pet’s health or anything above, consult your vet who is best placed to offer advice dependent on their age and breed.

 

 

 

Q&A with Carolyn Menteith, Trainer and Behaviourist

At this time of year, pet owners may notice behaviour changes in their pets due to a number of reasons such as bonfire night.

Here Trainer and Behaviourist at Agria Pet Insurance, Carolyn Menteith, shares insight into how to support anxious pets following lockdown and the type of behaviour changes pet owners may notice.

How will lockdown have affected our pets?

It’s easy to think of lockdown as being a negative thing for the animals that share our lives – but I think it is a great opportunity to re-look at our relationship with them and consider where we can make changes to keep them healthier and happier in the future.

First ask yourself honestly is your dog or cat happier in lockdown? In the case of dogs, the answer is often yes. In many cases, they have been getting more company, more exercise and more contact with their owner – all the things dogs thrive on. Once you recognise this – and become aware of the effect your pre lockdown work or life pattern has been having on your dog – you can start planning changes so as to keep your dog in this much more positive mood state in the future. This might be more working from home – or if that is impossible, it may mean finding a reliable daily dog walker who can give your dog what they need while you are at work.

Cats aren’t quite so clear cut. Some are highly social and bonded to their owners and so they have loved the extra company and having people around to pander to their every wish. For others however the noise, bustle and activity of a busy family house where everyone has been at home for months can be extremely stressful. In any busy household, it is important to give cats an ‘escape route’ where they can get away somewhere comfortable and quiet when it all gets too much – baby gates across a quiet room can be ideal for this as can access to heights.

Both dogs and cats (especially puppies and kittens) will suffer if they do not get enough sleep and as a result of lockdown, behaviourists have seen increases in reactivity, stress, and aggression cases that have arisen through households being so busy with everyone at home that the dogs and cats are just not able to get their usual amount of sleep. Our animals are just like us in this regard – and you know how fractious you get if you are sleep-deprived.

What changes in behaviour may pet owners see at this time of year?

Traditionally this is a time of year where there are three issues that affect pet behaviour. The first is one that affects dogs – and that is the weather. With the onset of shorter days and often wet, grim weather, many owners exercise their dogs less, giving them shorter or fewer walks. This can give rise to boredom, frustration, and hyperactivity. If you know this tends to be you, find ways to make up for the lack of ‘out and about’ time with training sessions, enrichment activities and games.

It is also a time of craziness in many households – with Halloween and Christmas coming up. These can all affect our pets – and then of course this is the season of fireworks…

How can we help our pets during stressful times such as fireworks season?

While some animals have no problems at all with fireworks, it is estimated that around half of all dogs show signs of noise phobia and fear at the almost endless bangs and crashes that accompany this time of year. It’s also thought that up to a third of lost companion animals are as a result of fleeing from the noise of fireworks.

The best way to deal with noise phobias is to not have them develop at all – with breeders and new owners introducing their puppies and kittens to noises almost from birth, and owners continuing that in a controlled way through their lives. Hindsight however is a great thing – and even with the best starts, an extreme or traumatic exposure to fireworks can result in a phobia developing at any time.

For most companion animals, the best you can do is minimise the stresses as well you can. Make sure they don’t have to go out once it gets dark – so make sure your dog is well exercised and has been to the toilet before fireworks are likely to start. Try and make sure cats are safely indoors. Have the TV, radio or music on to try and mask the sounds a little – and build a safe, comfortable den near you where your pet can retreat to hide if they need to. A covered, lined crate works well.

If your dog isn’t too worried, games, treats or training exercises may help to give them something else to focus on – but if they are too fearful to be able to think of anything else or take treats, allow them to go and do whatever they need to but be close to them to give comfort where you can.

How does stress and anxiety differ in cats and dogs?

Stress and anxiety is different in dogs and cats and it is different in different individuals. Nearly every behaviour problem has its roots in stress, fear or anxiety – whether that is aggression, noise phobias, separation-related behaviour problems, destructive behaviour, inappropriate toileting, reactivity or indeed displaying what looks like depression or ‘closing down’ (losing interests in the things they used to enjoy). If you are seeing behaviour problems in your animal – whether canine or feline – you can be sure that there will be stress and anxiety there are well. Behaviour is just a symptom!

If pet owners notice any changes in behaviour of their pets, what should they do?

If owners see any changes of behaviour in their animals that give them cause for concern, the first stop is their vet. Sudden changes often have a medical cause and so a vet will either be able to diagnose that or rule it out. After that, find an accredited experienced behaviourist who can help.

How important is it to insure pets, especially older animals?

Insurance is important for pets at all stages of life as it gives owners the peace of mind that they can afford to give their companions they very best care no matter what the future holds. There is no NHS for pets and so as animals age, treatment to keep them healthy and happy can be unexpectedly expensive.

For more tips and advice visit www.agriapet.co.uk

Understanding arthritis in dogs

Arthritis in dogs is a common health issue with a reported 1.2 million dogs in the UK thought to suffer with the disease.

The degenerative disease is mostly seen in older dogs, but can also affect younger dogs active dogs or as a result of an injury. There are some breeds of dog that are more prone to developing arthritis, such as German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers.

The term arthritis simply means inflammation of the joints and can be caused by general wear and tear due to age. Obviously dogs can’t directly tell you that they are suffering, but subtle changes in your dog’s behaviour could help to identify if there is a problem. These changes can vary throughout your dog’s life.

Signs that your dog may be struggling with arthritis may include:

  • Stiffness when getting up after sleeping
  • Lagging behind on walks or not interested in walking at all.
  • Irritable and interact less with family members
  • Lick or bite at irritable joints
  • Sleep or rest more in easy to reach places
  • Struggle to jump into the car or be able to get up and down the stairs

Canine arthritis can be common in overweight dogs and a combination of weight control and exercise management can help to reduce load on the joints and maximise mobility.

How arthritis in dogs is diagnosedarthritis in dogs

Your vet should be your first port of call if you suspect that your dog may be suffering with arthritis. Your vet may be able to tell which joints are affected through examination. They may suggest further tests, such as x-rays to investigate properly. These will help to confirm and locate arthritic change and can sometimes identify underlying causes.

Treatment for arthritis in dogs

Unfortunately there is no cure, however, reducing the inflammation and pain of the joints can help to make your dog more comfortable. Exercise is also often recommended to help to maintain and improve joint movement and flexibility. To help make life easier for your dog, there are a few things you can do as an owner to reduce stiffness. This includes:

  • Make sure your dog has a nice and comfy place to sleep, away from cold floors or drafts. The cold can aggravate sore joints and make getting up more painful
  • Managing your dog’s weight can prevent any extra pressure on their joints.
  • Exercise is important to avoid stiffness and muscle wastage
  • A good quality diet will help keep your pet healthy

There are a number of treatments and medications that can help to manage the symptoms of arthritis and help your dog to lead a pain free and happy life.

Natural supplements

Natural dog supplements, also known as nutraceuticals, can help to maintain optimum joint health for your dog. Natural joint supplements for dogs commonly contain chondroitin and glucosamine, which occur naturally in joint cartilage. Other natural ingredients such as Boswellia Extract and Omega-3s can also have significant benefits. There are a number of joint supplements for dogs with arthritis currently on the market including: Serequin, Cosequin, Synoquin, Vetpro for joints, and Nutraquin+, which is recommended by vets.

Natural ingredients to benefit dogs suffering with arthritis

Glucosamine

This is an important building block for cartilage. It helps cartilage to act as a shock absorber. There are two forms of Glucosamine, Glucosamine HCL and Glucosamine Sulphate. Glucosamine HCL is the highest quality, purest form of Glucosamine, it is more stable and occurs naturally in every living organism. However, Glucosamine Sulphate is the type most commonly found on the high street.

Chondroitin

This helps to maintain synovial fluid viscosity to give extra joint protection and is also an important building block for cartilage.

Boswellia Extract

This is a plant extract that supports the body’s natural anti-inflammatory processes. It plays an important role in maintaining smooth and comfortable joint movement. It is used to support conventional drugs, but does not cause the damage to cartilage that many anti-inflammatories do.

Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are DHA and EPA. EPA and DHA can reduce inflammation, which causes swelling and pain. Some studies have shown that the acids might also suppress the body’s immune system.

Diet

Your dog’s diet can play an important role in their joint health. Commercial dog food usually contains refined grains, which have limited nutrition and can aggravate arthritis, as well as increase inflammation. Choose food that contains whole grains or sweet potatoes as they provide important phytonutrients and antioxidants that help to fight inflammation. Oily fish, such as mackerel or sardines are also a good option, as they are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. There are many dog foods on the market, which offer nutritional support for joints, including: Vetspec, Hills, James Wellbeloved and Royal Canin.

NSAIDs for arthritis in dogs

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are specifically formulated for dogs and should only be prescribed by your vet. NSAIDs work by reducing the inflammation around the joints and by providing significant pain relief. However, there can be serious side effects in dogs and regular check-ups with your vet are essential to monitor and assess the most appropriate NSAID and dose rate to administer. The most common NSAIDs available for dogs include, Metacam, Rimadyl, Deramaxx and Vetprofen.

Natural alternatives to support dogs with arthritis

Hydrotherapy

This involves your dog swimming in a purpose built pool, which helps to build muscle mass to better support their joints. Hydrotherapy is a low impact treatment, which will not aggravate the joints.

 Physical therapy

This involves specific activity designed to improve strength and mobility without causing additional stress on the joints. This can also help with weight management and assist rehabilitation following joint surgery.

Massage therapy

Massaging your senior dogs aching muscles a few minutes every day can help to slow down the degenerative process of arthritis. Massage can also help to relieve some of your dog’s arthritis pain and reduce some of the muscle tension associated with the disease.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an alternative therapy, which can help to ease the symptoms that your dog will experience due to arthritis. Acupuncture for dogs with arthritis is an ancient therapy that utilizes pressure points to promote healing.

 

If you suspect that your dog might be struggling and suffering from symptoms associated with arthritis you should consult your vet. They will be best places to help you to decide the best course of action for your dog in order to provide the highest long-term care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advice from the expert: 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 separation 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 in pets 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 in dogs can occur for many reasons, including if they are not 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 in pets

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.