Welcome To Acorn House Veterinary Hospital


Flystrike in rabbits


What is flystrike?

Flystrike describes a condition in which flies lay their eggs on the skin and fur of rabbits, close to the bottom. Maggots hatch out of the eggs and burrow beneath the skin, making the rabbit seriously ill.

What damage does flystrike cause?

The maggots eat away the skin of the rabbit, and large wounds can develop quickly. The skin damage causes pain, shock and bacterial infection can also develop. Unfortunately, this combination of damage is often fatal for rabbits.

Which rabbits are at risk of flystrike?

Any rabbit can develop flystrike but it is much more likely in rabbits that have dirty bottoms, which attract the flies. This tends to be rabbits producing soft stools (often as a result of too little fibre in the diet) and rabbits that are unable to groom properly because they are overweight or have poor mobility.

How is flystrike treated?

In the early stages, rabbits with flystrike can be treated successfully by prompt removal of maggots, medical treatment for pain, shock and infection, and the use of insecticides to prevent the hatching of new maggots. In more advanced cases hospitalisation for wound management, fluid therapy and assisted feeding may be required.

How can I protect my rabbit?

  • Check your rabbit’s bottom is clean and that there are no maggots every day during the fly season
  • Ensure your rabbit is fed a healthy diet (at least 80% hay) to control weight and ensure stools are firm and dry
  • Remove soiled bedding from your rabbit’s hutch every day
  • Clip the fur away from the bottom area if it is matted and difficult to keep clean
  • Use fine mesh and/or fly papers around outdoor runs and hutches to control flies
  • Use preventative insecticides on your rabbit’s bottom between May and September (these repel flies and prevent eggs from hatching out)

Flystrike is an emergency – contact your vet straight away if you notice maggots on your rabbit!


Keyhole surgery at Acorn House

Acorn House Veterinary Hospital is able to offer keyhole surgery as an alternative to traditional, open surgery. This type of surgery is most commonly used for spaying bitches but can also be used for removing undescended testicles, and taking liver biopsies.

What happens in a keyhole spay?

Dogs having a keyhole spay have a general anaesthetic and clipping of the fur on the tummy just like dogs having traditional surgery. However, instead of making a large incision, the surgeon makes three small incisions through which telescopic instruments are passed. One of these instruments inflates the abdomen with gas, and another provides light and a camera so that the surgeon can see the inside of the dog on a video screen. The third instrument is used to heat-seal the vessels and attachments holding the ovaries in place, and remove them from the dog.

What are the advantages of keyhole spay surgery?

  • More comfortable for the dog after the operation because the wounds are much smaller – most dogs appear completely normal within 24 hours.
  • Reduced risk of wound complications (such as infection, delayed healing, dog nibbling out the stitches) because the wounds are so small.
  • Less exercise restriction required post-surgery
  • Very reliable control of bleeding after surgery as the vessels are sealed by heat, rather than relying on hand-tying with surgical thread.

What is the cost of keyhole spay surgery?

The costs of the telescopic equipment, surgeon training, and the heat-sealing device, alongside the time-consuming procedures for sterilising the delicate instruments between each procedure, mean that keyhole surgery is more expensive to provide than traditional surgery. Acorn House charges a supplement of £257.50 on top of the normal spay price to provide this service.

Do I need to request keyhole surgery at the time of booking?

Yes. If you are booking your dog in for a spay and would like this to be performed using keyhole surgery, please let the receptionist know when you make your booking. This allows us to ensure that both the keyhole equipment and a veterinary surgeon who has been trained to perform keyhole surgery are both available on that day.

Infectious diseases in imported dogs

There are some diseases that we see in dogs arriving into the UK from other countries that are not seen in the UK otherwise. These diseases can cause illness in the dogs themselves, and sometimes there is a risk of the infection spreading to humans and other dogs that have contact with the imported dog.

It is important that your veterinary practice knows if your dog was born or lived in another country before coming to the UK so that any imported diseases can be detected and treated correctly.

Imported diseases that are dangerous for humans

Canine brucellosis is an infection that primarily spreads between dogs when they mate or have puppies. Unfortunately, the infection can cause serious illness in people, especially if they have contact with birthing fluids, or are splashed with blood, urine or saliva in the eyes or mouth.

Imported diseases that are dangerous for dogs

There are other infections that imported dogs can carry that do not become apparent for months or years after arrival. These diseases include Leishmaniasis, Borrelia, and Anaplasmosis. Blood tests can be performed to check if your pet is carrying one of these diseases.

Heartworms are a parasite found outside of the UK. Many of the worming products used routinely in the UK can be dangerous if given to pets that are already infected with heartworm. It is recommended that pets that were born in or have lived in countries outside of the UK are tested for heartworm with a blood test before routine worming treatment is prescribed to them.

I have a rescue dog from outside of the UK, what do I need to do?

Let your vet know at your next routine vet visit. If your pet is pregnant make an appointment to discuss the possibility of imported infectious disease as soon as possible, before birth is imminent. If your pet was imported by a charity ask the organisation if your pet has already been tested for any imported diseases and share the results with your vet. If your vet recommends blood testing go ahead with this if you possibly can. Practice good hygiene around your pet, especially when clearing up urine.




Lockdown is easing – what does this mean for veterinary practices?

Veterinary practices have remained open throughout lockdown to provide essential veterinary services. To support the “stay at home” and social distancing messages, veterinary practices have been offering video or telephone consultations as an alternative to on-site appointments where appropriate; and have been asked to delay elective procedures where it is safe to do so.

Procedures available

Veterinary practices will be permitted to offer all usual procedures after 12th April if it is safe to do so. The exact timing and arrangements for this will vary from practice to practice. Check your veterinary practice’s website and Facebook page for details.

Social distancing

Clients should continue to wear a mask and sanitise their hands when entering veterinary practices. Social distancing is important for the safety of staff and clients. Practices are also keen to avoid veterinary staff having to isolate after contact with clients who later test positive for COVID as this could have serious implications for a practice being able to provide essential veterinary care. For this reason, it is likely that your veterinary surgeon will continue to take your pet into the consulting room without you for the time being. At Acorn House we will continue with our “meet and greet” receptionist who will check you in from the car park. Clients may wait inside their cars or underneath our purpose-built wooden gazebo. At the end of the appointment, one client may enter the well-ventilated reception area to collect medication and make future appointments.

Remote consultations

Video or telephone consultations will remain an option if clients prefer – there can be advantages beyond social distancing, such as not getting stuck in traffic and pets being more relaxed in their own environments.

Why is it so busy?

Veterinary practices have been under the same pressures of other businesses trying to manage services in less efficient, socially-distanced ways and work around staff members having to self-isolate or shield. Pet ownership has increased significantly during lockdown, so every veterinary practice is looking after a greater number of pets than this time last year! Acorn House has expanded the veterinary team with two additional experienced veterinary surgeons so that we can continue to provide our usual high standard of veterinary care to our increasing client base.


The use of technology in veterinary practice

One of the nice things about a traditional, local, veterinary practice is that it provides a very personal and hands-on service. However, the COVID pandemic has accelerated the development of technology which can assist with social distancing, improve client convenience and reduce pet stress.
Online booking
If your pet requires urgent attention, or you are not exactly sure what type of appointment or service you require, it is always best to telephone a member of the friendly Reception team to help out. For routine appointments, many clients find the online booking option to be more convenient. The Acorn House online booking system is available 24 hours a day on the practice website and allows clients to search for available appointments by preferred vet, date and time. 
Other online services
New client registrations and repeat medication requests may also be made online. This service allows clients to contact the practice at the time that suits them best and the practice receives a permanent written record of each request.
Video consultations
Acorn House has access to a remote consulting platform so that video consultations may be carried out. A thorough physical examination is usually recommended for any new problem or investigation, but video consultations can be very useful for patient follow-up and post-operative checks. This option allows the vet to observe pets nicely relaxed in their home environment and avoids the need for clients and patients to endure a stressful drive across town for every check-up.
On site equipment
Behind the scenes, Acorn House has invested in the newest clinical technology, such as digital Xray, ultrasound, and laparascopic equipment (for keyhole surgery). This allows the practice to offer a high level of care and wide range of procedures for our patients. Diagnostic images can also be readily shared with our specialist colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College, if collaboration is required for unusual or challenging cases.



Raisin toxicity in dogs
Raisin toxicity is common at Christmas time because raisins are a major ingredient in many traditional Christmas foods.
What are the symptoms of raisin toxicity in dogs?
Raisin ingestion tends to cause vomiting or diarrhoea which may contain blood. 
In more severe cases, dogs may develop kidney failure. Symptoms include mouth ulcers, lack of appetite, vomiting, weight loss and dehydration.
Do dogs always become ill after eating raisins?
Sometimes dogs eat grapes or raisins with no obvious ill effects. Other times, dogs become ill after eating only very small numbers of grapes or raisins. Scientists do not yet understand why this is. It may be that some dogs are genetically more susceptible, or maybe some grapes and raisins contain more potent toxins than others. For this reason, veterinary advice is that any dog that is known to have ingested any grapes or raisins should receive immediate treatment.
How is raisin toxicity treated?
A veterinary surgeon will administer an injection to cause immediate vomiting, so that the raisins are removed from the digestive system as quickly as possible. 
Once the raisins have been brought up, an injection can be given to stop the vomiting and the dog will be given a solution of activated charcoal to drink. This will bind any raisin toxins still in the gut, so that they are not absorbed.
The patient will then be given medications to protect the stomach lining and intravenous fluids (a drip) to flush any toxins out of the bloodstream and encourage the kidneys to keep producing urine.
What is the outlook for dogs that have eaten raisins?
A full recovery is expected if the raisins are vomited up quickly and treatment is begun before the pet shows any signs of ill health. If digestive complications have occurred, these may take several days to correct, but recovery is expected. Unfortunately, once kidney failure has developed, the outlook is poor, highlighting the importance of prompt treatment.


Lost and found – when pets go missing

It is very distressing to have a pet go missing. If your pet has gone missing try not to panic and instead take the following steps to help your pet find his way back home.

1. Try the obvious steps first – check your pet’s favourite hiding places, call and rattle food containers.

2. If your pet is microchipped, contact the chip company to report him missing and ensure that your contact details are up to date. 

3. Contact all local veterinary practices and the dog warden during their daytime hours to report your pet missing.

4. Ask neighbours if they have seen your pet. Missing cats have sometimes been accidentally shut in sheds and outbuildings.

5. Use local groups on social media to post pictures of your missing pet and provide a contact number.

Remember that it is a legal requirement for dogs in the UK to be microchipped and the contact details on the microchip register must be kept up to date. Dogs must also wear a collar and tag with their owner’s name and address on it, whenever they are in a public place. Including your telephone number on this tag will make it easier for anyone finding your pet to get in touch. 

There is no law regarding the identification of cats, but we strongly recommend that all cats are microchipped. A quick-release collar and name tag is often appropriate as well but accident-prone cats can get trapped or injured by collars so consider your pet’s lifestyle when making this decision.

It is a very good idea to have pets such as rabbits and tortoises microchipped as well.

Take particular care to keep dogs on leads and cats indoors when there are fireworks or thunderstorms, as frightened pets are more likely to escape and become lost. If you are looking after a pet for a friend or neighbour it is a good idea to put a temporary identification tag on the pet’s collar with your own details on, just in case they go missing whilst under your care.


Are tennis balls bad for dogs?

Many dogs love to carry or chase a ball, but there are some potential problems to be aware of.

Dental health

When tennis balls are used in gritty or sandy environments, the grit particles become trapped in the outer layer of the ball and cause it to become very abrasive to the teeth.  Smooth rubber balls are a safer alternative.

Choking and obstruction

Balls must not be small enough to accidentally go down the windpipe or to be swallowed. Of course, a large ball can still become hazardous if the dog chews it into smaller pieces. Purchase toys and balls specially designed for persistent chewers and supervise play carefully to avoid this problem.

Joint problems

Dogs with joint conditions such as hip or elbow dysplasia and arthritis are likely to suffer exacerbation of joint pain after high impact exercise. Running fast and suddenly skidding to a halt, rapid changes of direction, and leaping up into the air to catch a bouncing tennis ball are all types of high impact exercise that can make these problems worse. Consider teaching your dog to wait for a ball to be thrown, and then go to retrieve it once  it is still – this should reduce the high impact nature of the exercise (and teach some self-control at the same time!)

Mental health

Some dogs are obsessed with chasing a ball and their daily walk will consist entirely of chasing and fetching. This type of walk does not allow a dog to sniff and search and engage with their environment.  Instead, it can lead to very high levels of arousal, making it difficult for the dog to settle or behave calmly when they return home. Consider restricting ball play to short bursts of play, with a clear “finish” cue. Switch to throwing a less exciting toy (that does not roll) and then moving onto playing “tug” games when the dog retrieves it. Scattering treats in the long grass at intervals on walks can encourage dogs to sniff and explore and take their time.

Pet Insurance

It is estimated that 1 in 3 pets will need unexpected veterinary care each year. Taking out pet insurance whilst your pet is fit and well should give you peace of mind that you will not need to worry about money if your pet falls ill. 

Consider a “lifetime” policy

Lifetime policies mean that if an insured pet develops a medical condition, the insurance company will continue to fund this condition for the rest of the pet’s life (within the policy terms and conditions). 

Time-limited policies are generally cheaper to buy, but mean that illnesses are only covered by the insurance company for 12 months after the first date that they occur. After this period, the insurance company will not pay for any treatment relating to this illness. 

Check the annual veterinary fee cover

Pet insurance policies vary in the amount of money that they will pay out if your pet is ill. It is best to purchase the highest amount of cover that you can afford (the most comprehensive policies cover around £10 000 of veterinary fees per year). Some of the most common insurance claims are for:

  • Damaged cruciate ligaments in dogs (can cost £4,500 per leg, both legs can be affected) 
  • Bladder obstruction in cats (can cost £2,500 to stabilise and correct each episode, reoccurrence is common).
  • Road traffic accidents (costs can reach many thousands of pounds if there are multiple broken bones or internal injuries).

Check the terms and conditions

Nearly all insurance companies will charge an excess – this is the amount of money that the owner is expected to pay towards the vet fees themselves. Many policies charge a fixed excess of around £100, but some policies also charge owners a percentage of the total bill.


Not all policies are equal – read the terms and conditions carefully!

Ask for recommendations from friends who have had to claim for their pets in the past.

Be aware that if you move from one insurance policy to another, any conditions that your pet has had in the past will not be covered on the new policy.

Itchy dogs!

Itchy skin conditions tend to be more common in the summer months. Affected dogs tend to scratch and lick so much that they cause further skin damage and the problem quickly gets worse. 

What might cause a pet to feel itchy?


Fleas are the number one cause of itchiness in dogs. Some dogs are very sensitive to flea bites and only need one or two bites to become itchy. Others can carry a large number of fleas without seeming itchy at all. Scratching and fur loss tend to be worse on the rump, above the dog’s tail. The best way to check for fleas is to look for tiny dark flea droppings in the dog’s coat.


There are three main types of mite that can cause itchiness in dogs – demodex mange (sometimes called “red mange”), sarcoptic mange (sometimes called “fox mange”) and harvest mites. These often cause distinctive patterns of hair loss and skin discolouration and can be tested for with skin and blood tests at the veterinary surgery.

Full scent glands

If the scent glands just inside the bottom become blocked, dogs can feel itchy all around the hindquarters (the glands are internal so the dog cannot reach them directly). A veterinary surgeon can check these glands and empty them if necessary.


Dogs can be allergic to food components or to environmental allergens such as pollens and dust. It is possible to diagnose and treat food allergies with careful dietary changes. For allergies to the pollens and dusts that are all around us, it is usually necessary to use medication to relieve itching and protect the skin.

Unusual causes

Occasionally pets will be itchy because of more complex medial conditions such as liver disease or abnormalities with the immune system.

Itchy dogs should receive a health check to work out and treat the cause of any itching as quickly as possible. At Acorn House Veterinary Hospital our experienced team of vets and nurses will be happy to help you and your pet.

Socialising puppies and kittens

Socialisation describes puppies and kittens having pleasant encounters with different people, animals and situations, so that they learn to react appropriately to these things in the future. Puppies and kittens with poor early life experiences are likely to grow into fearful adult dogs and cats, with an increased risk of having behavioural problems.

When is the critical period for puppies and kittens to be socialised?

The critical period in which puppy and kitten brains need to be exposed to a wide variety of experiences is between 3 and 12 weeks of age in puppies and 2 to 7 weeks in kittens.

What sort of things should puppies and kittens be exposed to during this time?

Some of the things that puppies and kittens should get used to include:

  • General household noises (vacuum cleaner, washing machine, doors closing, taps running, cooking noises)
  • Gentle handling by a variety of people (men, women, older children)
  • Gentle brushing and checking of ears, eyes, mouth, paws and tummy
  • Other animals of the same species

What does this mean for potential pet owners?

Most puppies and kittens go to their new homes towards the end of the socialisation period. This means that we are reliant on the breeders of these pets to have provided good socialisation environments. Puppies and kittens that have been reared in sheds or pens away from the rest of the house are unlikely to settle easily into a family home in the future. If you are rehoming a pet, don’t be afraid to ask to see where the pet has been reared.

What about hand-reared puppies and kittens?

Sadly, sometimes puppies and kittens are orphaned and have to be hand reared. It is very important to take advice on socialising these babies from a very early age, to make sure that they grow up to be well-rounded, confident pets.


Saying goodbye to your pet

Sometimes pets can suffer from untreatable pain or illness, and owners need to think about euthanasia (having a pet “put to sleep”). This is a very difficult decision to make but taking responsibility for a peaceful, pain-free death is often the kindest choice an owner can make at the end of their pet’s life.

How will I know when it is time?

Every case is different and it is important to take your time and talk to everyone who loves your pet. Common reasons for euthanasia include pain that cannot be controlled, poor mobility, breathing problems and conditions causing a lack of appetite or sickness. Never be afraid to ask your vet for advice – in many cases, treatment is available to alleviate these symptoms. If there are no treatment options, at least you can be reassured that you have tried everything to help your pet.

What happens during euthanasia?

Euthanasia is usually carried out by injecting an overdose of anaesthetic into a vein in your pet’s front leg. As the injection is given, the patient will experience a gradually increasing feeling of drowsiness and will then slip into a deep sleep. The vet continues to administer the injection after the pet has fallen asleep, and this stops the pet’s heart and breathing.

Where can euthanasia be carried out?

Euthanasia can be carried out at the veterinary surgery or at your home. Always tell the receptionist if you think that you might be bringing your pet for euthanasia. This means that you can be booked in at a quiet time of day.

What happens afterwards?

Some people take their pets home to bury them. Others choose to have their pets cremated, and may wish to have an individual cremation so that their pet’s ashes can be returned.

Veterinary staff know just how upsetting it is to lose a beloved pet. Look after yourself and arrange for time off work and to be with family or friends after saying goodbye. The Blue Cross operate a telephone support service for bereaved pet owners which is available on 0800 0966606.


Keeping A Pet Rabbit

Take the following steps to make sure that your pet is safe and healthy this festive season.

Rabbits can make great pets but they do require a lot of time and attention to stay happy and healthy. Here is a summary of the essential care your pet rabbit should receive.


Rabbits are social animals and should be kept in pairs or groups. The ideal pairing would be a neutered male and female, but two neutered males or two un-neutered females can work too. It is possible to introduce a new partner to a rabbit currently living alone but this must be done carefully and gradually – speak to your veterinary practice or local rabbit charity for advice.


Rabbits need somewhere warm and dry to sleep but they also need plenty of space to exercise and stretch out. Large hutches, converted sheds and large outdoor runs with plenty of hiding spaces and tunnels are ideal. Indoor rabbits often benefit from plenty of space but care must be taken to block access to anything dangerous, particularly electrical cables which they love to chew!

75% of your rabbit’s diet should be good quality hay, with some good quality all-in-one pellets and fresh vegetables making up the remainder.


In the UK rabbits are at risk from three viruses: myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) variants 1 and 2. Vaccination against myxomatosis and VHD1 should be given once a year, and against VHD2 every 9 months, even for indoor rabbits.

Fly strike prevention

In warm weather, flies may lay their eggs on rabbits, usually around the bottom area. These can hatch out into maggots which can burrow into the skin of the rabbit. Rabbits with dirty or wet bottoms are most at risk.  Seek veterinary advice if your rabbit’s bottom is difficult to keep dry and clean; check bottoms twice a day in warm weather; and consider the use of fly mesh or fly papers to control flies. Preventative medication can be rubbed into rabbits’ fur every 10 weeks during the fly season to prevent maggots from hatching – ask your vet for details.

Veterinary Care Over The Christmas Period

Take the following steps to make sure that your pet is safe and healthy this festive season.

Avoid festive hazards

Around Christmas, dogs often help themselves to Christmas treats, resulting in upset tummies, intestinal obstructions and chocolate poisoning. Take care to hide anything tempting – including those boxes of chocolates wrapped up underneath the tree! Cats are more likely to play with and then eat shiny ribbon and string, which can cause serious damage to the intestines.

Have a check up with the vet if you are worried

If you have concerns about your pet, the festive period is not a good time to adopt the “wait and see” approach. Much better to schedule a routine check-up appointment at the first sign of any problems, than to risk an emergency call out on Christmas Day!

Find out what emergency service your vet provides

Where will you need to take your pet if he or she does become ill at night, or on a bank holiday? Acorn House Vets provide an emergency service at the usual practice premises for their clients, but some other veterinary practices in Bedford do not provide such a service and their patients will need to travel to Milton Keynes or Luton in the event of an emergency. Make sure that you know what the procedure is, and have a plan in place to transport your pet to the correct clinic.

Stock up on medication well in advance

For pets on regular medication, make sure that you order in enough to see you through the festive period. Remember to take it with you if you and your pet travel to visit family and friends.

Request a copy of your pet’s records

If you are travelling with your pet and they suffer from a health condition, it is a good idea to ask your vet for a copy of your pet’s notes before you go. These can usually be provided electronically and will be invaluable if you need to take your pet to an unfamiliar veterinary surgery whilst you are away.

Does your pet need to lose weight?

Many people decide to start the new year with a resolution to lose weight and get fit. Our pets might also benefit from making a healthy start to the year.

How can I find out what my pet weighs?

It is best to take your pet to the veterinary surgery for a weight check as the scales there are a suitable size for pets and are regularly checked for accuracy.

How do I know if my pet’s weight is healthy and correct?

In addition to comparing your pet’s weight to published weight charts and to previous records, the veterinary team will be able to work out your pet’s body condition score. The body condition score looks at body shape and fat coverage over the ribs to give a score from 0-5 where 3 is ideal.

In general, in healthy dogs and cats the ribs will be easy to feel but not visible, and a “waist” will be visible from above and from the side.

How should I help my pet to lose weight?

Treats and titbits can be reduced or replaced with low-calorie alternatives.

Your veterinary surgeon or nurse may advise you to reduce the total amount of pet food that you give to your pet.

Prescription diet foods may be recommended. These are designed to provide the correct balance of minerals and vitamins but a lower level of energy. They use food technology to make your pet feel full and satisfied.

What else?

Regular exercise is very important. Dogs can be taken on longer walks, go swimming, or join classes for agility, fitness or scent work. Cats are best encouraged to play with toys.

Meals will last longer and make your pet feel more satisfied if they are fed in a feeding toy such as a Kong.

Before you start

Make sure that your vet has checked that there are no health conditions responsible for the weight gain and that it is safe to put your pet on a diet!

Getting Ready for Fireworks

As the firework season approaches, we need to remember that our furry friends can find the loud noises and flashes of light very frightening. What can we do to help?

Keep pets indoors

Try to walk dogs before dusk and keep cats indoors after dark. Make sure both dogs and cats are microchipped so that you can be reunited with them if they do become startled and bolt.

Make the house feel safe

Drawing the curtains, having the television or radio on, and acting calmly yourself will help to minimise the effect of fireworks on your pet.

Provide a safe hiding place

Many dogs and cats choose to hide away when the fireworks start. Help your pet by providing a safe, enclosed space well in advance of the firework season. Dogs often appreciate a crate/cage with the door removed and a blanket over the top. Cats like to be up high, in igloo-style beds. During the day, place treats inside the hiding place for your pet to find, helping them to see the hiding place as a place where good things happen. Try not to disturb your pet when they are hiding.

Talk to your vet

If your pet continues to show distress around fireworks despite these measures do speak to your vet. Medication can relieve distress and prevent noise fears from getting more severe over time. New medications specifically for dogs with firework fear have recently been developed. One of these is suitable to use preventatively throughout the 2-3 week firework period, avoiding the problem of having to guess when the fireworks are going to go off!

Any pet that suddenly becomes worried by noises when previously they were unconcerned should have a thorough health check because some medical conditions can cause noise phobias.





Making health care decisions for your pet

It is common for a veterinary surgeon to recommend a particular test, operation or treatment for their patient. As pet owners, we have to decide whether to go ahead with the suggested procedure. But how do we know that we are making the right decision?

In human health care, there is currently a campaign to raise awareness of the BRAN system to help patients make these decisions. BRAN stands for Benefits, Risks, Alternatives and what happens if we do Nothing. The system can be just as useful for pet owners.

1. Benefits

The first question to ask your vet when they suggest an operation, blood test, Xray or course of medication is “what are the likely benefits?” For example, having an operation to remove a cancerous lump from a pet’s skin would hopefully cure the cancer.

2. Risks

The second question to ask is “what are the risks?” In the example above, going ahead with the operation would carry a risk of complications under the anaesthetic and bleeding or infection at the operation site. 

3. Alternatives

The third question is “what are the alternatives?” Sticking with our original example, alternative treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be possible.

4. Nothing

It is always a good idea to ask about what would happen if we did nothing. For example, some cancerous lumps grow very slowly, and in a very elderly pet it may be that leaving the lump alone will probably not lead to any further problems within the pet’s natural lifespan.

At Acorn House Veterinary Hospital we understand that our patients are well loved family members and it can be worrying when a test or treatment is recommended for your pet. All of the veterinary surgeons at Acorn House will be very happy to guide you through these decisions, and the BRAN system can be a very helpful way to do this.

What is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome?

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS for short) is the name given to a set of breathing problems that can occur in breeds of dog that have very short, “squashed” faces. Examples of these breeds are English and French Bulldogs and Pugs.

Why does BOAS occur?

Many dogs of these short-faced breeds have difficulty breathing because the shape of their skull means that they have:

  • Narrow nostrils
  • Overlong soft palate (at the back of the throat)
  • Narrow windpipe
  • Swollen larynx (voicebox)

These features narrow the airway (as if the dog is trying to breathe through a narrow straw).

What are the symptoms of BOAS?

Affected dogs will have noisy breathing (worse when excited or exercising) and often snore when they are asleep. Some dogs have to make such an effort to suck air through the narrow passageways when they breathe, that they suck stomach acid up into the food passage, causing gulping, burping, retching and vomiting. More severely affected dogs may be reluctant to exercise, or will collapse during exercise. Hot weather makes everything worse.

What can we do about BOAS?

Dogs with BOAS should avoid strenuous exercise, particularly in hot weather. Using a harness instead of a collar and keeping dogs at a lean body weight are also helpful.

However, surgery is the treatment of choice when dogs cannot breathe properly. Excess tissue can be surgically removed from the nostrils and soft palate, improving air flow.

In general, the earlier the surgery is performed (ideally before 2 years of age), the better the outcome as this condition worsens over time. Affected dogs should not be used for breeding so that we can reduce the number of dogs being born with these problems in the future. Sometimes surgery can be carried out at the same time as neutering.

BOAS surgery should be carried out by experienced surgeons with good facilities for supporting patients through the surgery and recovery period.


Dry Eye

What is “dry eye” in dogs?

“Dry eye” occurs when the body does not produce enough tears to keep the surface of the eye healthy. Dry eye can affect any dog but it is most often seen in Cavalier and Cocker Spaniels, Bulldogs, Pugs, West Highland White Terriers, and Yorkshire Terriers. 

Why does dry eye occur?

In most cases dry eye occurs because the dog’s immune system attacks the tear-producing gland in the eye. As the tear gland is damaged, it is able to produce fewer and fewer tears. 

What are the symptoms of dry eye?

As tear production is reduced, the eye will feel gritty and sore. Some dogs will rub at their eyes. The shiny, reflective surface of the eye may look dull. The eye will often produce sticky mucus or excessive crusty “sleep” in response to the irritation. 

Dogs with dry eye are at increased risk of developing eye infections and ulcers.

Eventually, the damaged surface of the eye may develop abnormal blood vessels or patches of dark pigmentation, and blindness will occur.

How is dry eye diagnosed?

It is important to diagnose dry eye early, so that damage to the tear gland can be halted. Vets use a paper strip test called the “Schirmer Tear Test” to measure tear production. This test only takes sixty seconds and does not require sedation.

What is the treatment for dry eye?

An eye ointment is available which can “switch off” the faulty immune system in the eye, preventing further damage to the tear glands. 

In some cases, artificial tear drops must also be applied regularly.

Very rarely, an operation is suggested, to divert saliva from the mouth into the eye.

When dry eye is recognised and treated early, the prognosis is excellent. If you are concerned about your pet’s eyes, please contact Acorn House Veterinary Hospital. The veterinary team at Acorn includes a post-graduate certificate holder in ophthalmology (the study of eyes).


Many dogs love to chase, chew and carry sticks but did you know that sticks can be dangerous for your dog?

Pepper came to see us last month after picking up a stick whilst out on a walk. Pepper now seemed uncomfortable around her neck area.

Pepper was given a general anaesthetic so that our vets could examine her mouth and throat further. A tiny fragment of stick was visible wedged in the soft tissues underneath Pepper’s tongue. Amazingly, this turned out to be only the tip of a 4cm piece of stick! Do watch this video of the stick being removed from Pepper’s tongue:

Pepper went on to make a full recovery and continues to be on the lookout for sticks when she is out and about! Her story reminds us that sticks can cause serious injuries to dogs. Injuries are most likely if the sticks are thrown for dogs to chase. Playing, chasing and chewing are fun, healthy activities for dogs, but rubber sticks, balls or Frisbees are  much safer alternatives to sticks.

Update on rabbit vaccination Click here to read the latest information


         Baby birds- what should we do?

Little Tweet is a baby sparrow that was brought into the surgery. At this time of year it is common to find young birds apparently alone on the ground. Click here to read more........


New tick-borne disease in the UK – what do we need to know?

What are ticks?

Ticks have always been a problem in the UK. They are spider-like creatures that feed on the blood of animals including dogs and cats (and sometimes humans). Ticks can be found across the UK – particularly in woodland, moorland, and grazing pasture but also in parks and gardens.

What damage do ticks cause?

The ticks attach to animals and feed on their blood for 5 - 7 days before dropping off again. Attached ticks can cause discomfort and blood loss, but in many cases pets appear unaware of their presence. The big concern is that ticks can carry infectious diseases and pass these on to the animals when they feed.

... [More]



Meet Crunchie!

Click here to meet Crunchie and read our new blog.




Belle’s Photo Diary

Belle's photo diaryMeet Belle! We were delighted to have her to stay earlier this week when she came to be spayed at Acorn House Vets. Her owner kindly agreed for us to make a photo record of her day to give all of our clients a behind the scenes look at what we do.  Click here to view Belle's photo diary.



Gold standard cat care at Acorn House

Gold standard cat care at Acorn House“Acorn House Veterinary Surgery is a gold standard cat-friendly practice”.

That was the assessment made last week by the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM). The ISFM assesses the facilities and services that veterinary practices offer to their feline patients – a little bit like an Ofsted inspection. We are delighted to have received the top level award!

Acorn House is the only gold standard cat-friendly practice in Bedfordshire.

So what have we been doing to make our practice so special? Over the course of 2015 we extended our building to include a completely separate cat ward. This means that cats can recover from surgery and illness in peace and quiet, away from the sounds and smells of the dogs in the practice and the hustle and bustle of our busy team. We can even watch the cats on our CCTV system, monitoring their every move without them realising it! Our cat ward boasts very large kennels with igloo-style beds for cats to relax in.

Cat Care At Acorn House VetsCat Care At Acorn House Vets

We also have the luxury of a completely separate isolation ward so that stray or infectious cats can be cared for without putting other patients at risk.

Paul - Senior Nurse at Acorn House Vets In Bedfordshire

This picture shows our Senior Nurse, Paul caring for a cat with a viral infection in our dedicated cat isolation ward.

In the waiting room we have provided a separate cat waiting area. This area has elevated resting places for cat baskets as we know that cats feel safer when they are higher up.

Cat Care Waiting Roon At Acorn House VetsCat Care Waiting Roon At Acorn House Vets

We also have cat basket covers available to provide additional privacy. Special thanks to vet Romina and her mum for making these!

Cat Basket Covers At Acorn House Vets In Bedfordshire

The entire practice team has undertaken additional training in cat-friendly handling. For example, Heidrun and Emily are examining Phoebe in the bottom half of her travel box as this helps her feel safer than perching on the bare consultation table.

Nervous cats may feel more secure in a snug towel wrap (as demonstrated by Sheldon and Hayley below) and others will respond to a ready supply of cat treats!

Of course, our feline patients continue to benefit from all of the other practice facilities such as two operating theatres, digital X-ray, dental suite with dental X-ray, endoscopy, ultrasound, piped oxygen and anaesthetic gases and our own vets and nurses available for emergency care at the practice or in your own home 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Next week’s blog will follow one of our feline patients through a typical day at Acorn House, bringing you all of the action behind the scenes!

blg1.jpgKatharine Nelson MA Vet MB GP Cert (SAM) PG Cert (Behaviour) MRCVS

Benji bites off more than he can chew!

“My dog has a bone stuck on his jaw!” came the emergency call last Friday night. Small fragments of fragile bones and sticks quite commonly get stuck inside the mouth but Benji had got himself into a much more unusual situation. His owners had given him a hollow bone stuffed with treats to keep him occupied for an hour or so. But such was Benji’s determination to get every last scrap out of the bone, he had managed to force his entire lower jaw, teeth and tongue into the bone cavity. The bone was now completely stuck! Despite Benji (and his owners) being admirably calm, the bone proved impossible to remove with Benji awake.

Fortunately, with some lubrication and gentle   manipulation with Benji under a general anaesthetic, we were able to release Benji from his treat. Incredibly the bone had caused no injuries to Benji’s teeth or jaw and he was up and about an hour later as if nothing had happened.


We definitely encourage the use of chews and food toys to keep dogs entertained and calm when they are left alone for short periods. Many dogs feel anxious or unsettled when their owners depart and providing a food toy can turn this experience into a positive one. I have never encountered a problem with this particular bone type before and think that Benji and his owners were just very unlucky. Nevertheless, I will now advise owners to double check that the cavity inside these bones or inside Kongs and other puzzle toys is either much larger or much smaller than the lower jaw.

But dogs will be dogs, and if there is trouble to be found we can be sure that they will find it! That's why Acorn House has one of its own vets on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.





Katharine Nelson

Katharine Nelson MA VetMB GP Cert(SAM) PG Cert (Behaviour) MRCVS

It was during a particularly eventful family holiday to the Isle of Mann that I decided     that I would help animals for ever and become a vet. My Dad and I conducted a dramatic rescue of a seagull with fishing line wrapped around its wing as waves crashed around us onto the rocks and a crowd of onlookers cheered us on. Six months previously we had risked life and limb to scoop a lamb out of a fast flowing river in the Yorkshire Dales (although I secretly suspected that the presence of our dog might have been the reason the lamb jumped into the river in the first place - just as well there was no crowd of onlookers that time). A literary and television diet of James Herriot and the BBC drama "Two by Two" (following the professional and romantic exploits of a zoo vet) confirmed to me that a veterinary surgeon did indeed have the ultimate "dream job".

My first dog was a collie-cross named Sadie. She spent her early life as part of a pack of dogs living rough on the streets of Hull and at the age of six months she was involved in a road accident that left her requiring surgery for a broken leg. Fortunately this led to my family rehoming her after her surgery and she lived with us to the grand age of 16 years. As a child I clearly had great faith in the vet that repaired her broken leg as we lived a very active life - looking back at this picture of myself and Sadie completing a home made agility course I find it hard to believe that either of us could jump so high!

I was fortunate enough to join the Cambridge University Veterinary School in 1997. Competition for places at vet school was and is high, and I am very grateful to my parents and teachers who advised me early on that if I wanted to be successful I would need to gain a lot of practical experience with animals before applying. Much time was spent on farms, at stables and in boarding kennels/catteries merrily milking, lambing, exercising and inevitably undertaking plenty of mucking out and picking up poo! I also arranged to "see practice" at our local vets and witness first-hand what the job entailed.

At Acorn we are well placed to provide information and offer work experience placements to students considering a veterinary or veterinary nursing career. Being a busy mixed practice with a vast array of diagnostic and surgical equipment and 24 hour care for our patients there is always plenty to see!








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Acorn House Veterinary Surgery
Linnet Way, Brickhill, Bedford, MK41 7HN