Accidents

Injuries due to accidents occur quite commonly in any species of pet. They can obviously be of any degree of severity. There is always a vet available if you need advice about whether your pet needs urgent attention: call 01423-866594.

The most severe injuries occur in road accidents and occasionally on railways. The injuries can be very serious and it is always safer to check the pet as soon as possible: I am very rarely happy to decide over the telephone that everything is OK. Restrain the animal, on a lead if a dog or in a safe container otherwise whilst you contact the surgery. If the animal cannot move, slide a sheet and a board under it to lift it safely, but make sure it cannot fall off. If any wound is bleeding severely fasten a pressure bandage over it. Beware of cutting off the blood supply unless you can get to the surgery within 10 minutes (and the vet can be there too...PHONE FIRST).

There are lots of other types of accident. If in doubt, telephone the surgery for advice.

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Appetite increased

This depends on the age and species:
Young growing animals eat more for their weight than adults and as long as they do not have abnormal faeces, have good coats and are growing well, that is normal. A young animal with a large appetite which has a dull coat, soft, smelly or pale (greyish) faeces and which is thin may have a problem digesting food or a problem with parasites. A faeces sample may be needed to help differentiate these problems.

An old dog with a large appetite, especially if it is drinking a lot, might be diabetic or have liver disease or a tumour. Any of these problems need early diagnosis if they are to be treated successfully. A urine sample would probably be helpful, but blood tests will probably be needed too.

An old cat with a large appetite and weight loss could have several problems, but the commonest is an overactive thyroid. If left untreated this will usually lead to heart failure or blood pressure related problems. These cats look older then they should, and treatment will usually restore them to fitness and health.

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Appetite decreased

Reduced appetite can be a sign of many diseases, particularly infections. Without more information, no diagnosis can be based on this. In young or old animals, it is more urgent to find out what is causing loss of appetite as they will lose condition quickly.

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Blood in faeces

This is not uncommon with inflammation of the large intestine. It may be a sign associated with large bowel tumours but these are rare. If the pet has diarrhoea for a few days, some blood may be seen, especially in young animals. If the faeces are fairly normal then either a dietary problem may be suspected or the possibility of a bowel tumour must be considered.

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Blood in urine

This is always abnormal and suggests an infection or inflammation of the bladder, prostate (in males), kidneys (occasionally) uterus (in unspayed females), and, in rabbits, cancer of the uterus. It is always a sign that professional assistance should be sought and a fresh urine sample will usually be of use in making a diagnosis.

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Breathing problems

Difficulty breathing generally is an urgent matter to diagnose and treat. Obstruction to airways is an emergency and there is always a vet available if you telephone the surgery. If an animal has injured its chest, that also would generally be an emergency.

Noisy, difficult breathing may be associated with abnormalities of the throat (in terriers, bouts of snorting are not uncommon, though if persistent they need checking). In young, short nosed breeds the soft palate may interfere with breathing; in old large breed dogs, paralysis of the vocal cords can cause severe respiratory difficulty.

An animal which is ill and showing abnormal breathing may have pneumonia and early treatment will increase survival. Dogs become breathless with heart problems or occasionally lung disease. Cats more often have fluid of various sorts accumulating on the chest cavity.

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Cough

Coughs can be caused by infections or by heart or lung/airway disease. 'Kennel cough' is a complex of up to 7 infections. Four of these can be prevented by vaccination but the others can still occur. They are not dangerous as long as they are treated.

Heart disease is quite common and will usually cause a cough in dogs (but not in cats). There are several different problems commonly seen affecting the heart and if these are not treated, a life-threatening situation may arise

Problems of the airways and lungs also cause coughs and again, because these are vital organs, prompt attention is recommended to maintain their function.

In cats, coughing is associated with throat and airway disease. Some may have grass (or occasionally other objects) stuck in the throat or trachea. A general anaesthetic is needed to check for this if it seems appropriate.

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Diarrhoea (soft faeces)

Any change of the faeces from firm to softness (even slight) can be classed as diarrhoea. It is a very common symptom especially in dogs. 'Tummy bugs' are common and dietary intolerance (like a mild allergy) is also a frequent cause recurring diarrhoea. The main sign to be concerned about is if the animal is dull and ill, or if it is vomiting. Loss of fluid by both vomiting and diarrhoea can lead to rapid dehydration which can become dangerous. If a dog or cat has diarrhoea alone but is otherwise well, the best first step is to give a very bland diet (fish or chicken and boiled rice as long as there is no reason to suspect that the pet is upset by those things) in small amounts with extra water. If there is no improvement in 48 hours or if the animal becomes ill it should be seen by a vet.

In rabbits, especially young ones, diarrhoea can be caused by parasites called coccidia. These can cause a fatal illness if left untreated. Always clean all soiled bedding every day to prevent a build up of these parasites. In hamsters, eating of bedding can cause severe bowel disease.

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Drinking a lot

The excessive drinking of water (an increase from the animal's normal amount) can have very many causes. One simple cause is a change from tinned to dry food. It is always advisable to investigate excessive drinking in a pet in the early stages. A fresh urine sample will be helpful in deciding what possible problems might need checking for.

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Ear Problems

Wax in the ears commonly worries owners. It is normal to find some wax and this may be darker than human wax. It is produced by the ear lining and is almost liquid at body temperature. Bits and pieces getting into the ear stick to the wax which is then moved up the ear canal by microscopic hairs, thus removing the debris. If the ear is irritated (e.g. by cotton wool or paper being rubbed on its lining, even gently) its only normal response is to produce more wax: so wiping wax from inside the ear will increase wax production. To clear excess wax, use a gentle oily wax softener (olive oil works well): put a few drops in the ear, gently massage the ear canal to work it down inside and then leave the animal to shake it out (out of doors, preferably). Rarely an animal will be irritated by olive oil in which case try other edible vegetable oils.

If the ear is itchy, if there is a discharge from the ear or if the lining inside the ear flap or ear canal looks red or dry and flakey it is a sign of ear inflammation. This can be caused by ear mites, allergies, foreign objects (such as grass seeds), cleaning ears with cotton wool or paper etc, infection or inflammation of the middle ear, polyps of the middle ear in cats and perhaps associated with anal gland problems in dogs. This is not a problem for home treatment as the condition of the ear drum is important and can only be seen using an auroscope.

Particularly in dogs, a chronic niggling ear inflammation can lead to scarring of the ear lining and narrowing of the ear canal. If this becomes severe, the only treatment is an unpleasant operation.

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Eye Problems

The eye may appear abnormal when either the eyelids, the conjuctiva, the cornea (clear surface of the eye), lens, iris or retina is abnormal. This is, obviously, rather complicated.

The eyelids may be deformed or have abnormal eyelashes growing so that they irritate the eye surface. Tumours and infections can appear on the edges of the eyelids.

Various infections, allergies and foreign objects can irritate the conjunctiva leading to tears or pus being discharged from the eye.

The cornea is very sensitive and if injured will be painful. Cat scratches can tear and sometimes perforate the cornea with serious results. Any object rubbed against the cornea may strip its surface resulting in an ulcer which will cause pain. Chronic inflammation of the cornea can occur especially if tear production is reduced and this can lead to blindness if untreated.

The lens often becomes cloudy with time and this is a cataract. It will eventually interfere with sight, but most dogs (cataracts are rare in cats) manage very well with minimal or no sight, especially if it is lost gradually. Occasionally a lens can become detached and float about inside the eye. This is painful and will result in glaucoma (increased pressure inside the eye) which can lead to blindness.

The iris can become inflamed, and will look a different colour and dull. Again this is painful and, if untreated, can lead to permanent damage inside the eye. This occurs more in cats than dogs and may be associated with certain virus infections.

The retina degenerates in Progressive Retinal Atrophy, a group of inherited conditions mainly in certain breeds of dogs. In cats, detachment of the retina may occur in conditions which increase the blood pressure such as kidney or thyroid disease.

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Incontinence

Incontinence is a loss of control over passing urine or faeces. It can happen in association with bladder or large bowel disease when urgency and frequency will often also be present. Investigation of urinary incontinence will always be helped by provision of a fresh urine sample.

Especially in bitches, but occasionally in neutered male dogs, hormone deficiency can lead to incontinence. This is generally easily treated.

Spinal disease can lead to incontinence, mainly in dogs. Swelling of discs to cause pressure on nerves connected to the bladder and/or bowel can cause loss of sensation and control. X-rays are usually needed to check for this and to decide on what might be the best treatment.

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Itching

Excessive scratching can be due to parasites (see the parasites page), skin infections or allergies. Skin infections can be bacterial or fungal (ringworm). Bacterial infection will complicate most skin conditions. Allergies are very complicated to sort out and require patience. A pet may be allergic to parasites, food, dyes/detergents/chemicals in fabrics, pollen/dust mites/fungal spores in the air. There are now blood tests to help sort these out, but they are expensive and not 100% reliable. We can help to guide owners in searching for an allergen which is affecting their pet but, unless we live with them(!), we cannot see all the things they are exposed to. It is, however, usually possible to get to the bottom of allergies.

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Lameness

Animals get injured to cause sudden onset lameness or inflammatory disease of joints or muscles etc to cause a more gradual onset (usually). Lameness is NOT a normal part of old age, but is a sign of pain, even is the animal doesn't cry out. Arthritis is a very common cause of pain and restriction to old pets and can generally be helped very effectively and for a considerable period allowing the pet a comfortable and active old age.

Investigation of lameness will often involve x-rays for which pets must be sedated as staff cannot be exposed to radiation repeatedly.

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Losing hair

Alopecia is the technical name for hair loss. Hair is either pulled out by excessive grooming (or by rubbing against the floor etc)(see itching, damaged by infection (such as ringworm fungus) so that it breaks, damaged at the roots by infection or just not replaced at moulting. Treatment of the cause usually solves the problem except in a few hormonal conditions.

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Losing weight

Weight loss is always a concern unless it is by dieting. If an overweight animal loses wieght without the owner changing its feeding, there is a problem and weight loss in fat animals (especially cats) can have serious consequences. There are so many possible causes that investigation is advisable. A fresh urine sample will usually be useful in the process.

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Lumps

Lumps frighten people. They tend to suspect cancer when most lumps are not life-threatening. Painful lumps are usually infected injuries. Non-painful lumps need checking. It is very simple to take a small sample of cells from a lump to check its nature, though not all will give a definite diagnosis. Exact diagnosis can be made in this way with some lumps whilst others require a biopsy (a piece of tissue removed, usually under general anaesthesia).

Whatever a lump turns out to be, the sooner we know, the better we can help. Most lumps can be cured if seen early, even many malignant tumours. See the oncology page for more about that.

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Old Age

Old age is not a disease but a time when body parts may be starting to wear out. Which parts wear out, and how soon, will vary between individuals. It is important to know that most old age problems can be helped, and most old pets can be allowed to have comfortable, dignified and active lives.

See the Old Age and Health Checks page for more details

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Smelly

All animals smell different but they should not smell unpleasant. There are various sources of unpleasant smells.

The skin may smell if it is infected.
The mouth may smell with infection, decaying food, plaque or tumours.
The bowels may produce smells, especially wind (flatulence) associated with imbalance of gut bacteria triggered by food intolerance.
The ears may smell if infected (they normally smell of wax).
The anal sacs produce a strongly scented fluid. If this leaks due to the sacs being overfull the tail region will smell, and if the animal has licked the fluid, its mouth will smell.

Simply covering up smells doesn't solve anything. The cause of the smell must be tackled.

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Spots on skin

Dermatology is probably the most complicated and difficult area of medicine. The skin forms a barrier between the inside of the body where everything is nicely controlled and the outside world which is not. The protective functions of the skin are very complex and, as a rule, amazingly effective. However, changes in the outside world or the internal control of the body can affect the skin. For instance, parasites and bacteria can attack the skin from the outside or allergic reactions by the body can cause effects in the skin.

Spots may be due to a reaction to parasites, fleas or mites, or due to bacteria or yeasts or fungi getting into the glands in the skin or the upper layers of the skin itself. There is a saying that 'the common things occur commonly' and most skin problems will be of one of the common types, but there are very many rarer problems which affect the skin.

If you have a cat with scabby spots along its back, that is probably (95% likely) an allergy to fleas: a dog will usually be less spotty but have hair loss and scurf on the back half of its back. Do not rely on seeing fleas: they spend much of their lives off the animal, and itchy animals will often catch and eat fleas so, if you have other pets, look on them as well. If you suspect that fleas are causing your pet's problem, try a good insecticide (make sure it is one which will kill fleas quickly, without them biting the pet and that it will stay on the coat irrespective of weather and grooming). See the parasites page for further information.

A dog with spots will usually have a bacterial problem, but some types of mange will look similar. These will almost always get worse without treatment.

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Stiffness

If your pet is stiff, especially after rest, it is usually a sign of arthritis (unless it was unusually active recently). Chronic arthritis, especially in older pets, is often tolerated without cries of pain, even though it hurts. See the arthritis page for more information. It is not 'just a sign of age': it is a sign of discomfort and restriction of movement.

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Vomiting

Both dogs and cats will occasionally vomit: cage pets do not, but budgerigars may regurgitiate food either to their refelction in a mirror or to a plastic bird.

Cats will vomit up fur balls, or if there is a fur ball passing through the intestine they may vomit. In the latter case the cat is otherwise completely well and vomits some while after eating. One teaspoonful of medicinal liquid paraffin can usually relieve this. If the vomiting doesn't stop within 48 hours there may be some other problem.

Another common pattern of vomiting in cats is immediately after food, i.e. within 2 minutes. This is most often caused by an intolerance to an ingredient in the food and you should try a totally different food. If, for instance, a cat is intolerant to beef, any red meat recipe food might contain beef and will cause vomiting. As long as you are aware of the ingredients of your cat's food you may be able to sort this problem out. Remember that colouring agents in food are common causes of intolerance. If there is no relation between the vomiting there is some other problem.

Dogs with a food intolerance will often eat grass, have a gurgly tummy, perhaps vomit a bit, be reluctant to eat and then have a bit of diarrhoea. This pattern usually takes 24 to 36 hours.

Dogs commonly get 'tummy bugs', unlike cats, and these may need treatment if they do not respond to gentle feeding or if the dog seems ill.

More serious problems may cause persistent vomiting. These need various tests to determine the diagnosis. An interesting recent discovery in both dogs and cats is the occasional finding of spiral bacteria in the lining of the stomach. These are similar to Helicobacter which is a cause of stomach disease in humans. There is no evidence to suggest that they are spread either from pets to humans or vice versa.

Persistent, frequent vomiting will lead to dehydration and is a serious sign.

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Vomiting