How to prevent tick bites and Lyme disease in dogs and cats

Spring is nearly here and summer close behind. Apart from wonderful sunny days, relaxing walks in the countryside, fields and forests, there is a hidden danger lurking in these idyllic places for your dogs, cats and yourself.

Dr Margit Gabriele Muller

Ticks are a tiny enermy, just 3-5 mm in size, but can lead to major problems in pets and humans alike, here Dr Margit Gabriele Muller, leading vet and author details…

What is a tick?

Ticks are tiny blood parasites. In the UK and Europe, hard ticks, from the species Ixodes Ricinus, are mainly found. They are brown, black and reddish in colour. They suck blood from their hosts and can range from a pinpoint size up to 3-5mm once they have fully fed on blood. As they have eight legs, ticks belong to the arachnids, the family of spiders. Ticks require a host such as a pet or human to be able to multiply.

Where are ticks found?

Ticks are commonly found in areas with grass, leaf piles, shrubs, underbrush, trees, and in the wilderness. In the UK, ticks are found all over the country, but the high-risk areas include Southern England and the Scottish Highlands.

How do ticks get transmitted?

Ticks are active when the temperatures start to rise. They search for a potential warm-blooded victim as soon as the temperature is above 4ºC. They either lie in wait in grass or leaves to climb up the legs of their victim or fall from branches. They love to bite their host in warm and moist body areas.

Bites are usually painless and therefore often go unnoticed. After ticks bite, they stay attached to the host’s body until they are soaked full in blood. Once they have finished feeding, which might take up to 10 days, the ticks have reached their full size and detach themselves and simply fall off.

How to check for ticks?

It’s essential to check your pet’s skin after outdoor walks. In dogs and cats, it is advisable to run your hands down the pet’s body to see if you can feel small lumps, especially in the neck, ears, head, and feet.

How can you remove ticks?

You can buy special tick removal forceps in veterinary practices or in pet shops. It is important to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and to pull straight upwards. The pressure on the forceps should be distributed evenly without bending, twisting or tearing the tick. Recommended things like putting oil on the tick are not suitable and should not be performed.

After removing the tick, you must check that no parts of the head or mouth are left inside the skin as all parts must be removed completely. The bite must then be cleaned with either disinfectant or soap and water. The tick should be disposed properly by drenching it in alcohol and putting it in a sealed container.

How can ticks be prevented?

In dogs and cats, the best and most effective tick prevention is the year-long monthly treatment with a pipette of a special topical tick and flea prevention treatment. This is administered directly on the skin in the neck area. It is also advisable to avoid high risk areas and to not to go on adventures in deep scrubs and wilderness and to stay in the centre of pathways.

In humans, long sleeves and trousers that cover the arms and legs completely are a good way to avoid any skin contact for the ticks. Insect repellents with at least 20% DEET (diethyltoluamide) that are used on the rest of the visible skin are a good way to deter these blood parasites.

What is Lyme Disease?

Black legged ticks from the species Iodex that are infected with the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi can spread Lyme Disease to humans. Moreover, ticks can also transmit other kind of infectious diseases such as Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis and tularemia to pets and humans alike. Laboratory tests such as blood tests can be used to detect the presence of antibodies to Lyme disease.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease and tick infestation in dogs and cats?

Dogs are more affected than cats. Symptoms usually develop within a week but can sometimes appear even months or years later and often no symptoms appear at all. Symptoms include fever, lack of appetite, tiredness and lameness. The heart, kidneys, joints, and nervous system can also be affected. Although ticks bite as single parasites, if a dog or cat have lots of bites it can possibly lead to anemia. A tick paralysis can also occur which causes wobbling of the legs, heavy breathing, vomiting and salivation.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease in humans?

According to Public Health England, a maximum of 10% of ticks carry the bacterium that results in Lyme disease. An estimated 3,000 people contract this infectious disease every year in the UK. The onset of clinical symptoms of Lyme Disease don’t start immediately after being bitten.  Usually, symptoms develop within a week and can even appear after 3 months or more.

The most common symptom is a skin rash which affects 70-80% of patients and other early-stage symptoms can be like flu. Muscle and joint pains can develop or reappear after several months and even years.  Tick allergies and facial nerve paralysis on one or both sides of the face might also occur. If Lyme disease remains undetected for a long period of time, Late Persistent Lyme Disease may occur with serious and permanent nerve and brain damage.

What is the treatment for Lyme disease?

For both humans and pets, Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics that are susceptible to the bacterium. The antibiotic of choice is doxycycline and treatment lasts at least 4 weeks or longer. Supportive treatment for affected organs such as the kidney can be given, too.

Dr Margit Gabriele Muller’s book Your Pet, Your Pill: 101 Inspirational Stories About How Pets Lead You to A Happy, Healthy and Successful Life is now available on Amazon.

Five signs of heart disease in dogs

February is Heart Awareness Month and a great time for pet owners to think about their dog’s heart health.

To help pet owners spot heart disease in their dogs, Senior Veterinary Advisor at Agria Pet Insurance, Robin Hargreaves shares the top red flag warnings dog owners need to look out for.

We may be familiar with the signs of heart disease in people, but do we know how to spot the signs when our dogs are affected? Knowing what to look out for – leading to a faster diagnosis, can make a significant difference in the outcomes for pets suffering with the condition.

Robin explains some of the classic signs and symptoms to watch out for:

1 Reduced exercise tolerance

This means pets that are no longer able to walk or run the distance they once could. Often, dogs with heart disease will stop unexpectedly for rests on walks and refuse to go on as they usually would. This is much more noticeable in warm or hot weather.

2 Shortness of breath

We often identify this by counting the number of breaths per minute a dog takes when relaxed and resting. As heart disease progresses, the number will gradually increase. Typically, it should be between 15-30 breaths per minute – so more than this or a change to what is normal for your dog is a flag to have investigated.

3 Coughing

Dogs with heart problems will often cough. This is usually a soft non-productive cough, which is often worse in the evenings. The cause of the cough is either the retention of fluid in the lungs or heart enlargement, which often accompanies heart failure. The enlarged heart actually bumps the trachea, causing some dogs to cough when it is beating hard.

4 Fainting

Dogs in heart failure will sometimes faint if they suddenly become excited or overexert themselves. They can recover quite quickly because fainting takes the load off the heart, but any dog that appears to faint should have their heart checked by a vet.

5 Swollen abdomen

In people and animals, fluid retention is often a feature of heart failure. We have already mentioned fluid in the lungs, which is caused when the left side of the heart is failing. Fluid can also accumulate in the abdomen, giving a bloated appearance if the right side of the heart is failing.

Robin adds: “The good news with heart disease in pets is that our ability to treat it has improved enormously in recent years. However, the response to treatment does depend on an acute diagnosis, and sadly, some conditions do deteriorate much faster than others. The best management of the condition can rely on an accurate diagnosis, which will often require a specialist investigation by a veterinary cardiologists. Treatment will be lifelong for as long as it is effective and may involve multiple medications.

“Many of our patients with some of the more common conditions can now enjoy many extra months of an active and happy life, thanks to the right diagnosis and good heart medication. Always seek veterinary advice as soon as possible if your pet shows any of the symptoms above or you are worried in any way.”









Q&A with TV Vet and Barking Heads Ambassador, Dr Scott Miller

Barking Heads recently welcomed Dr Scott Miller as their new in-house expert and two-legged brand ambassador.

Australian born vet and author, Dr Scott is the resident Vet on ITV show, This Morning, giving advice to viewers in the studio and presenting live and recorded animal items from all around the UK and internationally. Here he answers our questions about what to consider before getting a puppy and when to introduce a natural diet…

What’s your favourite thing about dogs and why do you think they make such great companions?

Dogs are a constant source of Unconditional love, and in these uncertain times they have been a saviour for many. Our canines are always happy to see us, want to drag us out on walks and are keen to keep us company even when we aren’t feeling great, having the special gift of being entertaining and joyful companions no matter what might be happening around them

Why do you think we’ve seen an increase in puppy buying during each lockdown?

Many people are working from home at the moment, seeing lockdown as the opportunity to bring a new canine companion into their lives and enjoy the love and companionship they bring. The concern is when life returns to normal and will new pet parents have time for their new furry family member at that point and how will pets react to not having their beloved owner around 24/7.

What should people consider before getting a puppy?

The four things to consider before getting a puppy include the COST of owning a puppy (not just the purchase price, but also vet bills, good quality food etc), TIME (do you have enough time to spend with and train your puppy), your HOME (is it suitable for a puppy, and if so what breed) and ENERGY levels (be sure to research the breed you choose to ensure that they don’t need more exercise then you are honestly willing or able to provide).

When should you first introduce your puppy to a natural diet?

Puppy’s like babies have sensitive stomachs but need completely balanced diets to grow strong and healthy, so it’s always best to keep protein sources consistent for the formative stages of their life. Adult dogs enjoy trying different types of meat protein and other foods, but this should always be done slowly, carefully and with caution to ensure any diet is completely balanced, monitoring your pooch’s daily bowel movements to ensure a change in food is not causing gastro-intestinal upset. Many pet parents are interested in reducing the meat protein content of their diets for their own health and the health of the planet, and consider doing the same when it comes to feeding their beloved pooch. That’s why Barking Heads have developed the amazing and completely balanced Plant Powered Pooches, to support pet parents who want to safely share an occasional ‘Meat Free Monday’ with their dog.

How important is good nutrition for your puppy/dog?

Good nutrition is of utmost important for your dog. ‘You are what you eat’ also applies to our canine companions, and with great strides made to improve the quality of canine diets and nutrition has come a massive improvement in dogs health and longevity, surely what every pet parent wants for their pooch.

What are your top 3 tips for keeping your dog in general good heath?

  1. Good quality food…you can’t expect your dog to be healthy, happy and contented without the great love of their life, food. Barking Heads put so much love and science into their diets that it shows in the incredible health and vitality of dogs that eat it.
  2. Exercise is so important for a dog as they expel energy, investigate the local area and socialise with other canines and people, keeping them healthy both of mind and body.
  3. Having a good relationship with your Vet…Vets are animal lovers who are dedicated to the health and wellbeing of animals, so developing a strong and trusting relationship with your Vet is crucial to ensure your dog gets the best care and treatment when they need it.

What is your favourite thing about working with animals? 

They all have their own distinctive personalities, come in all shapes, sizes and colours and are a source of constant inspiration and love.

Q&A – Coronavirus and pets

As a nation of pet lovers, many UK owners will not only be worried about themselves during the covid-19 pandemic, but also about their pets.

Whether you’re self-isolating with your pet or not sure if you can walk your dog, we answer some pet related covid-19 FAQs…

Can animals catch covid-19?

The main driver of the Covid-19 pandemic is human-to-human contact and there is no evidence to show that animals play a significant role in how the virus spreads. It is extremely rare for animals to catch Covid-19, but it is possible if they are in close contact with an infected person.

There have been a very small number of pets (around 15 in total) across the world that have tested positive for SARS-Cov-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19), including a case of a cat testing positive in the UK. From the small number of cases of Covid-19 in pets, it is thought that some pets can show some symptoms if they are infected, but these are mild and usually improve after a few days. There is no evidence that pets can transmit the virus to humans.

If you are worried about your pet during this time and they are showing any symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, breathing difficulty, a runny nose, weepy eyes or a high temperature, it’s best to contact your vets for advice as they symptoms could be related to other health issues and are extremely unlikely to be Covid-19 related.

Can I still stroke my pet as normal?

As long as you are healthy and have no symptoms you are still able to interact with your pet as normal. Although it has been confirmed that you cannot contract Covid-19 from pets, it is advised to wash your hands regularly before and after any contact with your pet.

Is my cat OK to go outside?

If you are healthy (no Covid-19 symptoms or positive test) there is no reason to keep your cat inside if they usually go out regularly. If you do have symptoms, try to keep them indoors if possible – only if they do not seem stressed by this change in their routine.

Can I still walk my dog in lockdown?

Yes, it is important for your dog to continue to get regular exercise. Government guidelines say that you are ok to walk your dog as part of daily exercise while respecting social distancing. Be sure to walk your dog on local routes and try to avoid contact with other dog walkers and if possible, walk your dog at less busy times of the day. Keep your dog on a lead and under close control around others and in public places and thoroughly wash your hands before leaving the house and when you return.

If I’m self-isolating can I still walk my dog?

If you’re self-isolating and worried about caring for your dog or other pets, ask someone if they could look after them during this time. You could contact your local kennel or cattery or a friend of family member to make sure your pet gets the care they need. If you are self-isolating you shouldn’t leave the house, so if you don’t have a large garden for them to run around in, you would need to ask a neighbour or family member to walk your dog for you.

Can I still get medication and pet supplies?

Yes, pet shops are classed as essential so will remain open during lockdown. Make sure you have enough essential in, such as food or cat litter, but don’t stockpile. Supermarkets will remain open if you need more. If your pet needs medications, check with your vet what services they are offering for collection or delivery. Always call your vets first as they may be closed to walk-ins during this time. If you are worried about your pet’s health always speak to your vet first.

Is it true that hand sanitisers/anti-bac gel is poisonous to dogs?

This is not true – hand sanitisers contain ‘ethanol’ (alcohol), not ethylene glycol. Ethanol (alcohol) can be harmful if ingested in a large quantity (i.e. an entire bottle), but it evaporates quickly and IS NOT HARMFUL if it’s accidentally licked in small quantities from your skin, or on your pet’s fur. Please do be put you off using hand sanitiser products at this critical time. However, it’s always important that you only use pet-safe products on your pet so we wouldn’t recommend applying human products to your pet’s skin or fur.

As a pet owner, what can I do to help prevent the spread of the virus?

Please follow the latest Government advice by maintaining social distancing (for you and your pet) when you’re out, and following good hygiene practices, such as washing your hands frequently, especially before and after leaving the house for essentials. We’d also recommend washing your hands after handling or feeding pets, especially if they go outside at times when you’re not with them, as this may also help to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. It’s also a good idea to avoid touching other people’s pets where possible, for instance if a cat comes to your garden, and if you’re caring for someone else’s pets, make sure you’re even more careful with your hand hygiene and try to keep a distance and consider wearing a mask if you’re going to be spending a lot of time with someone else’s pet.

Some information was taken from the PDSA blog. More advice on Covid-19 and your pets can be found at


Top tips for healthy liver in dogs and cats

Maintaining good liver health is vital for an animal’s general health and recovery.

The liver plays an important role in the body and has a wide variety of functions, including filtering the blood from the digestive tract before passing it to the rest of the body. The liver also detoxifies chemicals and metabolises to support itself when processing medications.

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


Feed your pet a good nutritious diet. Avoid fatty dry foods that are difficult to digest. Your vet may recommend a low-fat, low- protein diet to help maintain your pet’s liver health. Feeding your pet, the correct diet for their age and life stage helps to ensure that they stay healthy for life and can thrive and feeding a diet that is not complete or is not the right fit, can lead to a whole range of both immediate problems, and those that take longer to manifest.


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


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

Key nutrients

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

Remove toxins

If your pets ingest any toxins or poisonous substances, the liver is often the first organ to be affected by this, as the liver is responsible for filtering toxins from the blood. Remove toxins from your pet’s environment. Look at a more holistic approach to their diet and health and ditch conventional care that can lead to the build-up of toxins.

Be wary on dog walks

Keep an eye on your dog whilst on walks to reduce them eating poisonous plants or insects.


Your pet may need medication to support their liver health or you may need to change other medications to reduce toxins in their liver. Certain types of long-term drugs for other health conditions can cause damage to the liver, as it is unable to process them properly and they can build up within the tissue of the liver itself.

Visit your vet

Take your pet to the vet for regular health checks and vaccinations to help maintain a healthy liver that control inflammation and supporting a better quality of life. Be sure to take on board and follow any advice from your vet. They are best placed to monitor your pet’s health and ensure they receive the best possible care.

Natural supplements

Consider giving your pet a natural alternative to help support optimal liver health. Some natural liver supplements on the market can also help to support the liver when it’s processing medication.


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.

A guide to preparing for a new pet

Getting a new pet is an exciting time, but it’s important as their new owner that you help to settle them into their new environment without any stress.

Whether you rescue a pet or decide to get a puppy or kitten, new pets are full on additions to your home and caring for them can take time and patience, but it can also be very rewarding. It’s important to do your research before taking on a new pet to ensure you can offer the best care and environment.

Before you get your new pet

Becoming a pet owner comes with responsibility and there are many things to consider before getting one:

Can you provide the right environment?

Is your home pet proof? If you live in a small one bedroom flat, it might not be the best idea to get a large dog. Consider your choice of pet and how if will fit into your home. Do you have a garden? Are there plenty of dog walking routes around your home?

Can you afford a pet?

This may seem like an obvious question but it’s important to remember the hidden costs that come with a pet. As well as buying regular food and pet essentials like cat litter or bedding, it’s also important to ensure you are able to afford any vet bills that might arise. We always hope that are pets won’t need medical assistance but if your pet needs emergency treatment, would you be able to afford it?

Do you have time to commit to a pet?

Welcoming a new pet into your home can take a lot of time and commitment. Do you have the time to dedicate to a puppy or kitten? Can you take time off work to settle them in? Many pets will take time to get used to their new environment, as well as training they may need.

Will a new pet get on with any existing pets?

Do you have any other pets? If so, will they accept a new pet into the family? It’s important that not only your new pet settles into the home, but that any existing pets are also happy with the change.

What pet will work with my lifestyle?

Some pets take more commitment than others. Dogs for example need to be walked at least once or twice a day – do you have time to do that? Will a large dog fit into your home? Do you have a garden or outdoor space for a pet to go to the toilet or run around? How will your pet fit into your work life? Are you able to work from home or will you have to leave them for long periods of time in the day?

Tips for when your new pet comes home

Once you have found your pet and are ready to bring them home, we share some tips to help settle them in stress free:

Register with a vet

Registering your new pet with a vet ensures it will receive the best care during their early stages. Regular check-ups help with the rest of your pet’s development, making sure they receive the essential vaccinations. Be sure to get your new pet micro-chipped at the earliest opportunity. This is now mandatory for dogs and could be essential if they ever escape.

Set up a safe area

Create a safe zone for your new pet to retreat to should they get overwhelmed. This could be an area where they can sleep, make sure it is in a warm spot, which is close to food and fresh water. For a new dog, you could use a crate or cage, which he can also sleep in.

Stay calm

Although it’s an exciting time, too much noise can startle your new pet. Be sure to allow your new dog or cat the time to get used to other family members and pets in their own time.

Set up a routine

Get your new pet into a routine straight away to get them used to feeding and exercise routines. This can help to reduce stress for your pet and will help them to fit around and get used to your lifestyle.

Keep cats indoors

Try to keep your cat indoors for the first few weeks to get them used to their new environment. If they go out too soon, they might be confused and not be able to find their way back home if they get lost. They could also get into territorial fights with other cats in the neighbourhood, which could make them anxious.

Burn extra energy

A new dog can get excitable in a new environment and around family members. Take your new dog for long walks to burn off extra energy and ensure they sleep well in their new home.

Introduce to other pets

If you have other pets, it’s important to ensure the introduction of a new pet goes well. To reduce stress to either pet, introduce new and old pets slowly to prevent any aggression.

Don’t leave your pet alone for too long

Separation anxiety in dogs is common. It’s recommended not to leave any pet alone for more than six hours a day. New pets could be feeling more anxious in their new home and need more attention in the first few weeks. Try to leave them alone for as little as possible – if you have to, start with short periods of time before working up to longer spells.

REMEMBER: It’s important to do your research before getting a new pet! Consider adopting a dog or cat from one of the many rescue centres across the UK.

Advice from the expert: Caring for Fancy Mice

By Emma Purnell, RVN Cert.Nut

Fancy Mice are fascinating pets to own, both active and fun to watch, but have specific care requirements.

Fancy mice generally live up to 3 years which is a fairly short life span but still a significant commitment. They are very social animals and must live in same sex groups or mixed groups with neutered males. They are generally active morning and evening as well as overnight, meaning they are not ideal as children’s pets. They can be handled and if handled from a young age can be very settled however, they can nip when nervous and are very fast so again they are not ideal as pets for young children.

Diet is vital to keep mice fit and healthy. They must have clean, fresh water at all times. They are omnivorous so eat both plant and animal-based materials. Complete diets are available for mice and this can ensure they achieve the correct levels of vitamin A, magnesium and choline which they must have in their diet. They will eat seeds as well as fresh fruit and vegetables occasionally, but also mealworms and similar. These should be given as part of their diet and not extras to ensure they do not become overweight! Always check new foods before feeding as things such as grapes, walnuts and lettuce can be toxic or cause stomach upsets. Rather than having a bowl, scatter feeding is advised. Spreading the food around the cage allows for more normal foraging behaviours and works as enrichment for them.

Housing your mouse

One of the key things to consider when buying housing for mice is that they find it very easy to escape from normal cage bar widths! Narrow bar spacing is needed, around 0.5cm- 0.7cm is usually recommended. The top of the cage being metal bars allows them to climb which is normal for them. The base of the cage should be solid and easy to clean and disinfect (wood is not advised for this reason). They are sometimes housed in glass sided tanks, but it is very difficult to ensure proper ventilation in these cases, so it is not advised. While mice are small, they are very active animals who roam a large area in the wild so larger than expected cage sizes are recommended. For 2 mice, a 60cm x 50cm cage size is advised with 30cm height but the bigger the better! Mice don’t really toilet train but will have specific areas they toilet in more often, spot cleaning is possible but full cleanouts regularly will be needed. Mice are brilliant nest builders and providing them with suitable materials for building their nests is vital. They use it for temperature regulation, even if conditions are ideal. Hammocks and hanging beds can be popular to nest but also allows them to use their climbing skills. Nesting materials should be provided for them, this can include specially made shredded paper beddings and hay. A mix of different types to allow them to choose works well. Cotton wool and similar products are not advised as they can make mice seriously unwell if eaten and can also wrap around limbs and cut off circulation.

Enrichment is absolutely vital for mice, they love to be active, climb, investigate and chew! Enrichment can be as simple as a toilet roll tube, a branch or a piece of rope, anything to allow them to climb, nest, chew and be active. They will chew any enrichment added so always ensure branches or similar are free from pesticides or toxins in preservatives as well as a safe wood for them to ingest.


Handling mice will depend very much on how much time you put into getting them used to you. Rubbing your hands in the material used to line the cage, putting food onto your palm and allowing them to use your hand as a shelf will allow them to build a trust with you. Picking them up should be done gently around their body or allowing them to climb onto your hand, they should never be picked up by their tail as this can cause major damage and be very painful. Mice will bite if they feel threatened picking them up should always be done by and adult and they are very fast so lots of care should be taken!

Mice can suffer with some health issues that must be monitored for. Respiratory issues can be seen, and any wheezing or discharge should mean a vet visit. They can also be prone to getting lumps, get these checked by a veterinary surgeon as soon as possible as they can grow rapidly and ulcerate meaning they are potentially very painful. Overall mice are very entertaining pets and can provide hours of entertainment but need a lot of mental stimulation and enrichment in order to be healthy and happy.

About the author

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).



Keeping your dog active in winter

During colder months, it can be tempting to hibernate at home with your four-legged friend, especially during current stressful times. However, exercising your dog during winter months is important to keep them active and healthy.

Even a short walk or run around a park or garden can help with mobility and help to reduce the chances of any unwanted weight gain.

In winter, like us, pets tend to spend more time inside, due to colder temperatures and as such may move less. During winter months if dogs are inactive but consumer the same amount of food or more, this could lead to unwanted weight gain, which in itself can lead to further health problems, such as arthritis.

Even if you’re unable to go outside, we share some ideas to keep your dog active:

Embrace the cold

Most dogs are happy to go out come rain or shine. If you do take them outside on a winter walk, be sure to keep them warm. Some breeds can cope with colder weather more than others, such as Newfoundlands and Leonbergers. For smaller dogs and short haired breeds, you could use a coat to keep them warm.

If you are able to get out of the house for the government approved exercise, use it to walk your dog. Use your local park or even just walking around the block will give your dog some much needed exercise, as well as allowing yourself to get some fresh air. Be sure to adhere to the guidelines of keeping two metres away from other walkers and only walk your dog locally.

Use your local park

Use your local park or even just walking around the block will give your dog some much needed exercise, as well as allowing yourself to get some fresh air.

Interactive toys

Interactive feeding toys are a great way to help your dog burn extra calories. These can be used in the home for days when they really don’t want to face the cold. They can also be used to keep them occupied and prevent boredom if they have to be left home alone for short periods of time.

Make your dog uses his nose

Hide your dog’s favourite treats around the house in accessible places and make them work for their food. This helps to keep them physically and mentally active. Be sure to include any treats in their usual daily calorie intake to prevent weight gain.

Use your stairs

If your pet would prefer to stay in the warmth, use your stairs for an indoor workout. Put your dog on their lead and walk up and down the stairs. Be careful if your dog is older and has joint problems, they may not be able to climb stairs as well as younger pets. Only do this if you dog is happy and able to do so and be sure to supervise them properly to prevent any injury. Don’t let your dog get too over excited as they may fall or slip and cause serious injury.

Teach them some new tricks

Despite what many people think, it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. Getting your dog to perform new tricks and actions can keep them active and their mind stimulated. Use their favourite treats to encourage them but be sure to limit treats and include them in their daily calories if they are not moving as much.

Training not only gives your dog the chance to be active, but it also keeps them mentally stimulated and is a great way to help you bond with your pet.

Create an obstacle course

If your dog is mobile and you have the space in your home, create an obstacle course using furniture for your dog to run around, jumping over and going under tables and chairs. Be careful not to use rooms with wooden floors as this could cause your dog to slip and fall while they are running around. Use treats each time they complete it to keep them entertained and not get bored.


For more mobile dogs, you can use objects such as hula-hoops to get them moving. Hold it just off the ground and encourage your dog to jump through. Once they have mastered it you could increase the height off the ground. Be sure to give them lots of praise and encouragement.

Tug of war

Using rope toys, tug of war with your dog is a great way to tire them out. However, this game could bring out the predator side of your pooch, so be sure to remain in control and take breaks during the game to ensure they don’t get aggressive.

Consider their age

Older dogs may suffer in the cold more than younger dogs. Bear this in mind when on walks or during exercise, don’t push your dog too much if they are struggling. Be sure to consider their age and ability when planning activities. For walks, little and often may be better for their joints and if it’s too cold, be sure to wrap them up using a doggy coat or jumper.

Consult your vet

If you are worried about your pet’s health in winter months or concerned about your pet’s weight, speak to your vet. Always consult your vet before starting your pet on a new exercise routine. They will be able to offer advice on what activities fit best with your pet and their health and age needs.

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:


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.