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 £4000 per leg, both legs can be affected)
- Bladder obstruction in cats (can cost £2000 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The third question is “what are the alternatives?” Sticking with our original example, alternative treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be possible.
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.
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.
Belle’s Photo Diary
Meet 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
“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.
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.
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.
We also have cat basket covers available to provide additional privacy. Special thanks to vet Romina and her mum for making these!
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!
Katharine 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 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!
We have collected some photographs of our vets with their childhood pets – see if you can guess who they are!
A B C
D E F
Scroll down for answers
A: Katharine Nelson B: Adele Fryers C: Rosie Theakston
D: Sheldon Middleton E: Cathy Fryers F: Gill Monsell
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Acorn House Veterinary Surgery
Linnet Way, Brickhill, Bedford, MK41 7HN