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By Dr Irene Mitry

It’s an exciting, expectant time – you’ve chosen that puppy of your dreams, and in a few days they will be with you. But even if you’ve been through the joys of puppy ownership before, it’s always a good time to pause and make sure you’re ready in every way for the massive changes the new member of your family is bound to bring.

The changes can be many and surprising. The needs of a new puppy can be highly variable based on their breed, temperament, and even on their age.

So I thought it would put together this handy guide for new puppy owners, walking you through some of the best tips and advice for preparing for your new puppy’s arrival and their early days in your care.

 

puppy veterinary health checks

BEFORE THEY ARRIVE

1. Educate Yourself

We recommend that you take the time to read up as much as possible on all aspects of puppy behaviour, training, socialisation, and care – the more you know, the more prepared you will be for the inevitable curveballs that puppy ownership is occasionally going to throw at you.

The RSPCA Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer’s Guide is a great place to start your research online, and it’s full of handy tips and hints for new puppy owners at all stages of their decision-making.

Specifically, we definitely recommend doing BREED-SPECIFIC research, as the needs of the different breeds can vary widely in terms of food, exercise, and regular care needs as well as their specific behaviours and temperament. Not all dogs are suited to all homes, and a lot of sadness could be avoided by prospective owners fully researching their breed of choice well in advance of committing themselves.

 

puppy dog training narre warren pakenham

2. Set the Rules

You should set up a household meeting in advance of your new puppy’s arrival, to set a series of rules that everyone can clearly understand, and agrees to follow. It’s not fair for them to change the rules once they have already ‘settled in’. Rewarding your dog when it abides by these rules will make it worthwhile for the dog to continue obeying them.

Topics for discussion may include;

  1. Where will your new puppy be allowed? Will there be any out of bounds areas?
  2. Whose responsibility will feeding your puppy be? Will you use a roster?
  3. Who will walk/train them?
  4. Where will they sleep?
  5. Where will they be allowed to go to the toilet?

You should all already have agreed on a name to use for your new puppy. The family should agree to call your puppy only by this new name – no abbreviations or nicknames until they are properly socialised.

You should also take the time to create a vocabulary list of commands that everyone will use. If Mom says “down” when your puppy climbs on the couch, Dad says “down” when he wants the dog to lie down, and Junior says “sit down” when he expects them to sit, all you are going to create is a confused rather than an obedient new pet.

If there are children in the household, teach them how to hold and play with the new puppy.  Make sure that they know that rough-housing, poking, and ear pulling aren’t allowed.  Children younger than six should be taught that they must always be sitting on the floor when holding the pup to make sure that it won’t be injured if it’s dropped.  Use a stuffed toy to demonstrate if possible.

 

new puppies with dog toy

3. Do Your Shopping In Advance

The following should serve as a rough checklist of items that you may need to purchase in advance of your new puppy arriving on your doorstep. Not all of them will be essential for all dogs, but by using this list you can be sure you won’t be caught surprised with any of their needs.

new puppy owners shopping checklist
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  • Dog Bed – be sure you look for one big enough to easily accommodate your puppy’s early growth, but which is going to provide them with enough comfort and snugness particularly in winter. A full-size dog bed will almost certainly be too large for them in their first year (particularly beds designed for larger breeds)
    You may have been given a traveling crate to bring your puppy or dog home in. And as long as the crate’s big enough for your puppy or dog to turn around in comfortably, it’s great for indoor use as well. Dogs hate to go to the toilet in their own bed, so a crate is a great toilet-training aid in those first few weeks when your puppy or dog is adjusting to their new routine. You can also use it to take them in the car to explore new sights and sounds. At night, put your puppy or dog to bed in their crate and, as long as you let them out at suitable intervals, they won’t urinate or defecate on the floor.
  • Food and Water Bowls – Choose heavy-bottomed ceramic or stainless steel food and water bowls. Plastic bowls can wind up as chew toys and attract bacteria. A heavy bowl will also be harder for your dog (and you) to knock over by accident.
  • Dog Collar and Leash or Harness – You won’t be taking your new puppy out for walks until they have had all their proper vaccinations, but you can spend this time getting them used to wearing and walking with their collar and a lead. Nylon or soft leather adjustable collars are recommended, as they’ll grow with your puppy. Adjust the buckle so that you can comfortably put a couple of fingers between the collar and your puppy or dog’s neck, and be sure to check the fit regularly; as you’ll be amazed at how fast they grow. If you have a very small dog, like a small terrier or a toy breed you might prefer to use a dog harness instead, which helps protect the delicate necks of smaller breeds.
  • ID Tag – they are never more likely to stray from in your home than in those early days. As well as making sure your property is properly escape-proof, it’s a good precaution to arrange for an ID tag to attach to their collar, showing your name, address and phone number too, so they can be easily returned to you if they do stray.
  • Chew Toys – Dogs love chewing and a teething puppy will chew anything they can get their jaws around. So if you want to protect your socks and other household items, buy a selection of chew toys for your puppy to test their teeth on instead. Make sure they’re non-toxic, durable and not too tough for puppy teeth. And never leave your puppy alone with anything that could choke them, splinter in their mouth or electrocute them.
  • Grooming aids – Grooming your puppy is about much more than just good looks and hygiene – it’s also a bonding experience between you and your dog that reminds them of being back with their mother. Speak to your groomer about picking up a comb or a brush and plan daily grooming sessions. Different types of brushes are available for different coat types, so make sure you do your research or ask your groomer what type of brush is most suitable for your puppy. You’ll also need to clip your dog’s nails from time to time, so it’s worth picking up a suitable pair of nail clippers for your dog’s size.
  • Toothbrush – Dental hygeine can be a major issue for dogs as they age, and we recommend getting them used to the regular use of a dedicated pet toothbrush or finger brush from the earliest possible age.
  • Food – It may seem obvious, but the last thing you want is to get your eager young pup home and forget to cater for their always present appetite. We discuss specific puppy dietary needs below, but you should have an appropriate dry and wet food available for them on their first day in their new home. It’s a good idea to try and find out what food they have been eating in their previous home, in order to minimise the change in the new environment.

 

puppy proof your home

4. Puppy-proof Your House

Most young puppies love to chew on anything they can wrap their chops around. It’s how they learn to relate to the world around them, and they’re going to be inquisitive about most new objects they come across.

For this reason, it’s important that you keep any objects that are not specifically intended as chew toys totally out of reach of your inquiring young pup.

Stairs, balconies, ponds, and pools should all be out of bounds for an inquisitive puppy. A strategically placed baby stair gate can be effective for setting the boundaries whenever you’re not there to supervise. Baby gates can also serve to protect your furniture or other items from Pupper’s over-attentive teeth.

Puppies are clumsy and have fragile bones, so a seat on the couch or in a standing child’s arms puts them at risk of injury if they fall or try to jump. It’s best to keep your puppy off tall furniture and have young children sit when holding them until your puppy is less fragile and more coordinated.

You’ll want to do a complete audit of your entire home, looking for ANY potential risks or escape points. The following list is not exhaustive, but a good checklist to make sure you have all of the most common risks to your new puppy covered.

  • Make sure your rubbish bin is secure – there are all sorts of hazardous nasties lurking in there, and a million fascinating smells to make the bin a place of supreme interest to puppies as well. Try and keep a fully lidded bin in a location that will be inaccessible to your dog.
  • Secure electrical leads – protect your new puppy from accidental shock, burns to the mouth, or worse, by using sturdy cord covers or deterrent sprays on electric cords, chargers, and power cables.
  • Secure Household Poisons – from rat poison, slug bait, household cleaners and detergents, types of antifreeze and glues, to yard and automotive chemicals, you’ll be amazed once you start to check just how many potentially risky substances you may have around the home, and many safety caps won’t stand up against those sharp puppy teeth. For that reason we recommend that you keep all such substances well out of reach of your dog, and ideally in some sort of secured cabinet. Make sure all your family members are aware of which substances are hazardous so everyone knows not to leave them lying around.
  • Remove loose medications – medications left lying around the house are one of the most common causes of pet poisoning. Make sure you store all your medications insecure, inaccessible locations.
  • Check for poisonous houseplants – several common houseplants can cause serious problems, from mild irritation and digestive upset to organ failure and even death if your puppy decides to take a nibble. Some of the most dangerous plants for dogs include many common species of Cycads, Castor Bean and the Autumn Crocus. We recommend checking the ASPCA’s list of poisonous plants and flowers to see if you have any potentially dangerous plants around your home which should be removed.

 

new puppy welcome home

AFTER THEY ARRIVE

5. Bringing Your New Puppy Home

Ideally, bring your puppy home when you will be at home for at least a few days to supervise them and quickly observe any medical problems should they develop.

It will probably be the first ever car ride for your pup. They will probably not enjoy the experience too much, and the stress of it all can cause an upset tummy. If possible, ask the breeder not to feed your pup for about two hours before their big trip.

If you’re picking up your puppy directly from a breeder, it’s a great idea to take a brand new toy or new blanket and rub it on each of the puppies in the litter or on the bedding that the puppy slept on.  This will put the ‘scent of the litter’ onto the toy or blanket, which you should then place in your puppy’s bed when it is time to sleep.  It will provide the puppy with some familiar smells on its first night when it may be missing its siblings.

Transport your puppy in a dog crate or travel box with a blanket at the bottom.  It should be kept secure in the vehicle and not left sitting loose on a seat where it can easily fall off.  If possible, take a second person with you in the car to keep the puppy company. As soon as you arrive at your destination, let your puppy relieve themselves on the grass before going inside.

Quickly introduce your puppy carefully to all members of the family, but don’t overwhelm them with loud noises and lots of activities. Close off doors to other rooms and keep the pup contained initially in just one area where it will be fully supervised.

Allow the puppy to explore the room and then to meet his new family in a calm and quiet manner.  Take the lead from the puppy as to whether it wants to be cuddled or played with or even have a nap.

When first introducing the pup to other household pets or adult dogs, it’s a good idea to have a second person around so that both adult dog and puppy can be kept on a lead and restrained when first introduced.  Watch for body language and signs of aggression which might be staring, baring teeth, laid-back ears or raised hair on the back of the neck.  If this happens, remove one of the dogs and let them both cool off and try introducing them again later.  If there’s more than one adult dog, introduce them one at a time.

When introducing a cat to a puppy, make sure that the cat has an escape route.  The cat will always feel safer if it has a ‘puppy free’ zone where it can relax without fear of being pestered or chased.

Other cats and dogs should never be left alone with the puppy or be allowed to sleep with it until you are sure that there is no potential for aggressive behaviour.  And, don’t expect them to be best friends overnight as they will all be trying to work out where this ‘intruder’ fits into the pack.

 

puppy school dog training puppy in park

6. Training and Exercise

Puppies have what is known as a ‘critical socialisation period’ that occurs between approximately 3-17 weeks of age, when they do most of their emotional development and learn how to interact with the world around them.

Providing plenty of opportunities for socialisation and exposure to different environments during this time can help to ensure your puppy grows into a well-adjusted adult that relates well to other dogs, other animals, and people.

The best way to begin socialising your puppy is to enroll them in reward-based puppy school classes, such as those offered here at Clyde Veterinary Hospital.

Reward-based training using positive reinforcement is the most effective and humane way to train and socialise dogs. This involves the animal being rewarded when the desired behaviour is performed and any unwanted behaviour is ignored.

Rewards can take a physical form (such as a treat or dog chew) or a more emotional one. Just hearing their name spoken with enthusiasm and positivity, telling them they are a “good boy/girl”, reinforced by a quick pat is a rewarding experience for your dog – just be careful about overdoing the edible treats.

Training based on painful or unpleasant stimuli, dominance, force or punishment should not be used, as they can cause long-term behavioural problems in dogs.

Talk to your vet about when you can safely take your pup for walks to different locations to get it used to a variety of people, places and other animals in relation to their vaccination status.

A walk is often their favourite part of the day and an important part of their obedience training. Exercise also provides various physical health benefits and a good opportunity for your dog to socialise with other dogs.

It is important to avoid over-exercising your puppy, and puppies need much less exercise than fully-grown dogs. A good rule of thumb is a ratio of five minutes of exercise per month of age (up to twice a day) until the puppy is fully grown.

Over-exercising a growing puppy can overtire it and damage their developing joints, leading to early arthritis. You should also never exercise your puppy on a full stomach as this can contribute to bloat.

Your new puppy will be learning firstly about how to behave on a lead, and you should only consider letting them roam in an off-leash area once they have proven their responsiveness to basic commands – most particularly that they will come to you when called.

It’s recommended letting your pup wear their collar or harness and leash indoors for a period, in order to become accustomed to the sensation before introducing them to the big world outside, and making the experience less overwhelming.

If your puppy is constantly pulling at the leash, we recommend owners turn themselves into a “tree”, that is become an immovable object and do not recommence the walk until your dog has returned to you. If they tend to “lunge” at other animals, you need to be more proactive in your interventions by physically restraining them and if possible distracting them from the other animal.

It’s recommended starting out your walks with a number of treats for your dog to reward any positive behaviours and distract them from the potential threat of other animals. Over time, as your puppy learns these reinforced behaviours, you can then reduce their dependence on treats for obedience.

 

dog training fetch at puppy school

7. Toilet Training

Experts recommend that you begin toilet training your puppy when they are between 12 weeks and 16 weeks old.

Toilet training takes time and patience. If you need to break existing bad habits, the process can take up to a year, but 4-6 months is most common.

To make the process of toilet training successful and as efficient as possible, you need to use reward-based positive reinforcement training, and we recommend observing the following best practices;

  • Keep your puppy on a regular feeding schedule and take away his food between meals.
  • Take puppy out to eliminate first thing in the morning and then once every 30 minutes to an hour. Also, always take him outside after meals or when he wakes from a nap. Make sure he goes out last thing at night and before he’s left alone.
  • Take the puppy to the same spot each time to do his business. His scent will prompt him to go.
  • Stay with him outside, at least until he’s house trained.
  • When your puppy eliminates outside, praise him or give him a treat. A walk around the neighborhood can act as a nice reward.

 

what to feed your new puppy dog

8. Puppy Diet and Nutrition

Puppies have a high nutritional demand and can’t go for long without food. It’s very important to feed them small meals regularly, ideally 3-4 times a day if possible.

When you pick up your pup, remember to ask what and when he was fed. Try and replicate that schedule for at least the first few days if possible, to avoid gastric distress.

Introduce the new diet you wish to feed them in small incremental stages over a few weeks – adding one part new food to three parts of the old for several days; then switch to equal parts; and then one part old to three parts new, until you are feeding your pup your preferred diet completely.

Your vet can advise on your puppy’s best diet based on their unique circumstances, but in general, the best food to feed them is a high-quality commercial kibble designed for puppies (age and breed). This ensures all the necessary nutrients for your puppy’s growth and development are present.

You can add cooked meats and vegetables or rice as you wish; however, the main diet should be the commercially balanced kibble.

Raw diets are not recommended for very young pups as they don’t have the immune system development to cope with a high bacterial load. It is also very difficult to balance a raw diet for growing puppies.

 

puppyhealth check

9. Vet and Council

We recommend you schedule your puppy’s first trip to the vet as soon as possible. Puppies are vulnerable to a host of infectious diseases – some of which can be fatal, and so getting them on a vaccination program as soon as possible is your best bet to guard against the most common such conditions.

Your vet can also provide contextual diet and behaviour advice and answer any specific questions about your puppy’s rearing and behaviour, and talk to you about flea treatment, worming, and other essentials.

Dog owners in Victoria are legally required to have their dog microchipped and to be registered with the local council, as well as ensuring the dog is kept securely on your property. Local councils may also have additional requirements such as having the dog desexed (or granted an exemption from desexing) prior to allowing their registration.

The City of Casey requires animals to be desexed or exempted prior to registration, and owners of more than 2 dogs or cats should note that Council may require you to seek a permit to keep excess animals or livestock.

Find out more information about the City of Casey’s requirements and register your pet online here.

Desexing your dog prevents unplanned pregnancy and has some positive effects on behaviour and health. Desexed animals are less likely to wander or fight over territory thereby reducing the likelihood of car injuries and bite wounds. Desexing also significantly reduces the risk of some common reproductive cancers and other serious diseases.

Unless you have a strong imperative such as future breeding, we strongly recommend having your puppy desexed at the earliest possible opportunity.

 

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10. Leaving Them Alone

Your puppy will require a lot of care and attention from you. At some stage, however, you may have to leave your puppy alone for short periods. Try and make this a gradual process to avoid creating anxiety for a puppy – try leaving initially for very short amounts of time, if possible and reward your pup upon returning with a healthy dog food treat, a walk or playtime. Gradually increase the length of time you are away so that your puppy realises that you will always come back and he will have a walk to look forward to.

A good way to avoid boredom while you are away is to leave toys for your puppy to play with. Keep a stash of toys hidden and give your pup different toys to play with on different days. Safe dog toys that can be filled with healthy doggie treats can help to keep him entertained while you are away.

If possible, try and keep any “out of bounds” areas properly fenced off to ensure your puppy learns that the rules are in place, whether they are under observation or not.

You can also try taking your puppy for a walk immediately before you leave, as this can help to tire out dogs before they are left alone. Remember to avoid feeding immediately before or after exercise.

 

SUMMING IT ALL UP

In short, you can never do too much preparation or planning for welcoming a new puppy into your home – and everyone should be involved in the planning and rule-setting.

Once they have arrived, try and make the most of their critical socialisation period in order to avoid behavioural problems down the track. Try and give them as much stimulation from as many different environments as possible. And remember to always reward with positive reinforcement and try to ignore rather than punish unwanted behaviour.

And you’ll want to get them along to the vet as soon as possible to put a comprehensive vaccination, desexing and microchipping regime in place. Don’t forget at Clyde Veterinary Hospital, your new puppy’s first health check is completely free – pay $0 consultation fee for their first visit. CLICK HERE for more information


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By Dr Irene Mitry

Worms, or more usually their eggs are all around us. If they were visible to the naked eye, you’d be shocked at just how far and wide they are spread throughout a huge number of the environments we habitate.

Some species of female intestinal worms are capable of laying well over a staggering 200,000 eggs per day, and eventually some of them will find their way into the guts of new potential host animals, allowing the parasites to spread from host to host – often including humans.

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Just some of the many varieties of intestinal worm eggs, seen under a microscope

The World Health Organiation estimates that there are over 880 million children alone in the world today requiring treatment for these pesky parasites.

A parasite is any creature that is dependent upon a separate host creature for their welfare and reproduction. And as parasites, intestinal worms have a defined “life cycle” which goes through various stages, typically according to something like the diagram below.

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Life cycle of the common roundworm

No matter what the species of worm, most follow a similar lifecycle. The worm’s eggs are passed into the environment via the faeces of an infected animal. Your animal then comes into contact with those eggs in soil, water or directly from the faeces itself, and ingests the embryonic eggs.

The eggs then pass through the bloodstream of your pet to one or more of the organs where parasitic worms love to make their home – most usually in your pet’s intestine. From there, the worms begin laying their huge volume of eggs, which in turn pass through your pet’s faeces back into the environment, and the cycle begins anew.

Worm eggs can even be passed to your pet via other parasites such as mosquitoes and fleas, which extract egg-contaminated blood from an infected animal and pass the eggs on to your pet when they move on to bite them. Some species can even be transmitted directly via skin contact – particularly through contaminated water. For this reason, a comprehensive anti-parasite regime that addresses these other potential sources of transmission is recommended.

Not all intestinal worms’ eggs will be fertile, but those that are are capable of living a long time, effectively dormant, in the external environment once they’ve been passed out in the stool of an infected animal or person.

While worms remain a huge problem in developing countries, fortunately with the advent of modern sanitation methods the transmission and infection rates of helminths in humans has dropped dramatically over the past hundred years or so.

Why Pet Owners Are Particularly At Risk

Pet owners are uniquely at risk because obviously our pets don’t have the benefit of sewer systems to flush all the problem matter away. Often it is we humans who are required to dispose of their unwanted stool.

Many of the same species of worm that love to make their home in our pets’ guts are just as equally at home in humans, and human pet owners naturally have greater exposure to their eggs through contact with their pets, their faeces, and the environments in which they tend to deposit it.

Which is all the more reason why we need to stay vigilant about keeping our pets as free from intestinal worms as possible. While they might seem like a benign enough issue that don’t appear to trouble our pets from day to day, a serious infestation – if it is left unchecked can cause serious health complications, or in extreme cases even death – both in our pets and in our own guts.

So, as part of our “pesky parasites” month, I thought it would be a good time to take a close look at these worms, the signs and symptoms of their presence, and what we can do to both prevent and treat the problems caused by these troublesome little creatures.

Common Intestinal Worms in Dogs and Cats

There are literally hundreds of different species of helminths in the world today, but there are four particularly common species you mostly need to worry about in relation to your pet.

Roundworm

Roundworms are by far the most common intestinal worm to infest domestic animals, with a recent veterinary study showing the species makes up between 25 and 75 percent of all worm infestations.

Roundworms grow to be between three and five inches long and eat the food your pet ingests, stealing their nutrients. Roundworm eggs can take several weeks to become infective, so for cat owners in particular, we strongly recommend making sure you clean their litter tray regularly by disposing of and replacing the litter contents completely at least once a week, and not leaving deposited faeces in the tray any longer than is necessary.

Hookworm

Hookworms are another particularly nasty, and yet common parasite. A hookworm infestation can sometimes be fatal, especially in kittens or puppies with their still-developing immune systems and reliance on obtaining a proper range of nutrients.

In their fourth larval stage, hookworms can cause anemia and inflammation in your pet’s small intestine. Active worms leave bite sites on the inner intestines which can continue to seep blood and become an infection risk in their own right.

hookworm in dogs cats intestine
Hookworms infesting the gut of a host animal

Hookworms are too small to be seen with the naked eye – only a veterinarian can offer a definitive diagnosis. A general unhealthy appearance and poor appetite are the most common symptoms of infestation. The linings of your pet’s nostrils, lips, and ears will often also be pale and they may present with dark and tarry stool, diarrhea, or constipation. Death can come suddenly if the animal is not immediately treated, so if you see any of these symptoms, you should get them to a veterinarian for treatment as soon as possible.

Tapeworm

Tapeworm can be transmitted by your pet eating fleas or prey that has been infested with tapeworm larvae. For this reason, maintaining a regular anti-flea regime is also an excellent preventative measure against tapeworm. The worm then matures in your pet’s large intestine before its body breaks up into egg carrying segments which are then passed out in the animal’s faeces. If you notice light coloured flecks in your pet’s stool, this is usually a symptom of tapeworm infestation.

Whipworm

Whipworm is usually contracted through exposure to contaminated faeces or soil. Pets with minor infestations may not present with any visible symptoms, but in more severe cases bloody diarrhea is the most usual sign of the whipworm’s presence. In severe cases, the condition can be fatal, so if you notice any issues with blood in your pet’s stool, again you should contact your vet immediately.

Best Worm Prevention Practices for Pet Owners

The best way to prevent a worm infestation is to avoid contact with worms, and particularly their eggs. And the unfortunate reality is that in a lot of cases this advice is simply not feasible.

Indoor cats are at an advantage relative to the rest of us, given they naturally have less exposure to worm-y environments, but as we’ve seen already, fleas and mosquitoes can often be transmission vectors, and it’s practically impossible to keep your house completely sealed off from such intrepid critters as those.

So really, everyone needs to be on the alert. Our dogs in particular not only like to spend a lot of time in the sorts of environments that worms tend to make a home, but they also actively seek out the stool of other animals while they are out and about, making them particularly susceptible to infestation.

Cat owners, as we have already seen, are advised to keep their litter tray as fresh as possible, with regular changes of the entire litter, and if possible cleaning of the tray itself can help wash away any remnant eggs that may be lurking there. Not allowing stool to sit in the tray for any significant period of time will also be of benefit.

All-In-One Worm Prevention

But the best way of giving yourself peace of mind about the possibility of your pets contracting worms is to regularly use one of the many brands of deworming medications that are available on the market today.

There are nearly as many types of dewormers for dogs and cats as there are species of worm. These include chewable medications, injections or orally-induced liquids. Many of these drugs are described as “broad-spectrum,” because they’re good for treating a wide range of parasites, including worms that live in the gut. They’re poisonous to parasites, but safe for pets.

While we don’t necessarily prefer any particular brand, your choice should be informed by what other parasites they are likely to routinely come in to contact with, as most common brands today act as an “all-in-one” anti-parasite medication, which can also prevent them from coming under attack by other nasties like fleas, ticks and heartworm.

Because new kittens and puppies are so susceptible to contracting worms, and vulnerable to the worst effects, we recommend having all new kittens and puppies dewormed at 2 week intervals until they are at least 12 weeks old, with follow-up boosters as necessary.

But it’s not just the most common pets like dogs and cats who can benefit, many common all-in-one medications such as “Spot On” topical anti-parasite medication, which is quickly and easily applied to your pet’s skin is also effective on other species such as rabbits. Ferrets are also able to be treated using other species-specific medications.

We advise that dogs or cats, in particular, should at minimum have an annual checkup for the presence of worms and other parasites, increasing to 2-4 times a year for new puppies and kittens, given the higher risks to younger animals.

And don’t forget that this month at Clyde Veterinary Hospital, as part of our “pesky parasites month”, we are offering big bonus discounts on all-in-one worm and parasite prevention medications.

Buy 12 Months, Get 3 Months Free on
Revolution Spot-on Topical Anti-Parasite for Dogs & Cats (& Rabbits!)

Buy a Pack of 3, Get One Month Free,
or Buy a Pack of 6, Get Two Months Free on
Nex Gard Spectra Chewable Anti-parasite for Dogs


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This month, Dr Mtry takes an in-depth look at allergens and allergies in pets – what to look for, how to diagnose the condition, and importantly ways to treat and manage the condition effectively …

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By Dr Irene Mitry
Head Veterinarian, Clyde Veterinary Hospital – Melbourne

Our pets are really not all that different from us, at a biological level – and they can be just as prone to suffer from allergic reactions – not a pleasant prospect, as any pet owner who suffers from an allergy themselves can testify.

Allergic reactions often operate in a cycle, with irritation of the affected area becoming a stimulus for your dog or cat to itch, which in turn can worsen any infection.

A slew of other health conditions can often develop as a result of your pet’s scratching the affected area, including hair loss, scabbing of the skin, and overall discomfort and associated irritation.

For these reasons, diagnosing the condition and identifying the allergen as quickly as possible is vital for their effective treatment.

Unfortunately, most allergies do not have a “cure” per se – in most cases, management of allergic conditions comes down to simply managing the symptoms and reducing contact with the offending allergen as much as possible.

As we move into the summer months downunder, we begin to see more and more dogs (and to a lesser extent, cats) presenting at the hospital with allergic reaction symptoms, and one recent study showed that skin conditions are actually rated as the #2 overall reason for pet trips to the vet.

So I thought now would be a good time to take a look at what you can do as a pet owner to help prevent your dog or cat from getting stuck in an allergic cycle, and maintain their quality of health if they do.

dog itching skin fur allergic reaction

Allergic Reactions – Signs to Watch For

Because our pets can be masters at avoiding displaying any sign of disease or weakness (remember they are genetically wired this way), it is important for pet owners to always keep a close eye on their pet’s daily behaviour, and take careful note of any changes that persist for more than 24 hours.

The main way for owners to differentiate allergies in their pets from regular influenza or a ‘cold’ is the itch factor.

Owners should look for signs of itching and irritation, typically in the form of redness, sensitivity, or inflammation of their dog or cat’s skin.

If you notice your pet is excessive scratching, licking or chewing at one particular area, it’s a good sign that some form of allergic reaction may be present.

Importantly, take note of the actual area that are tending to itch at – is it one particular area of skin, or maybe one or the other of their ears?

This can indicate the presence of an ear infection, which requires a very different treatment to allergic dermatitis of the outer skin, while a dog itching their back near the base of the tail is oftentimes a sign of flea allergy.

Try and give your vet as much information as possible about any allergic response – how long they have been experiencing it, where exactly it is located, and exactly what behaviour is being exhibited.

The most common areas affected by allergens in dogs and cats are the face, ears, feet, belly and armpit area.

Acute Allergic Reactions

Perhaps the most alarming of all pet allergies is an acute allergic reaction. Pets can go into anaphylactic shock if they have a severe reaction to an allergen, which can be fatal if not treated quickly. Fortunately there are quite rare and usually caused by bee stings or responses to vaccines.

The most troubling anaphylactic symptoms to watch for are

  • Cold limbs
  • Wheezing and difficulty breathing
  • Increased heart rate or a weak pulse
  • Seizures
  • Excessive salivating or drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Pale gums

If your pet is showing one or more of these symptoms, this should be a red flag that you need to get them to their veterinarian urgently and without delay.

In some cases, your pet may also develop hives or facial swelling in response to an allergen. Swelling of the face, throat, lips, eyelids, or earflaps may look serious but is rarely fatal, and your veterinarian can readily treat it with an antihistamine.

Atopic Dermatitis

Pets that continually itch without relief may have allergen-induced atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is a condition that involves severe irritation of the skin usually due to inhaled or been in contact with the allergens.

If atopic dermatitis is left untreated, it can then lead to secondary infections due to an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria, so again you should see your vet as soon as possible with any concerns.

In general, the following are the most common symptoms associated with allergic reactions in pets

  • Itchiness
  • Hives
  • Swelling of the face, ears, lips, eyelids, or earflaps
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy ears
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Constant licking
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Readers will note that many of these symptoms could also be a sign of another veterinary condition. For this reason, only your vet can give you an effective diagnosis and treatment plan for the condition.

dog scratching at fur allergic response

Types of Allergies

Allergies in pets generally fall under one of three main categories according to their cause – skin allergies, food allergies, and environmental allergens.

Skin Allergies

Skin allergies, also known as allergic dermatitis, are the most common type of allergic reactions in dogs and cats.

Flea allergy dermatitis is a specific form of allergy caused by an allergic reaction to fleabites. Some animals are allergic to flea saliva, which can make affected animals extremely itchy, especially at the base of the tail, and their skin may become red, inflamed, or scabbed.

You may also notice signs of fleas infesting your pet, such as flea dirt, or even see the fleas themselves if you brush their fur “against the grain” and inspect their fur closely. Flea allergies are most effectively treated by treating your dog or cat with a regular flea treatment.

Food Allergies

Food allergies and sensitivities can cause itchy or irritated skin, so don’t assume that just because your pet is scratching that the condition in necessarily skin-related.

The most common places dogs or cats with food allergies will tend to itch are their ears and their paws, and this may or may not be accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms. Again, make sure your vet has all the required information about all changes in their food in order to make an effective diagnosis.

Environmental Allergens

Environmental allergens, such as dust, pollen, and mold, can cause an atopic allergic reactions or atopic dermatitis in pets.

In most cases, these allergies are seasonal, so you may only notice your dog or cat itching during certain times of the year. As with food allergies, the most commonly affected areas are the paws and ears (but also include the wrists, ankles, muzzle, underarms, groin, around the eyes, and in between the toes).

Diagnosing Allergies in Pets

If you have ever undergone allergy testing yourself, then you know that diagnosing allergies is an often complicated process, even with the best modern medical science has to offer.

But without an effective diagnosis of the actual allergen present, a tailored and therefore effective veterinary response is impossible.

The first thing your veterinarian may choose to do is rule out any other underlying condition that could be causing your pet’s symptoms.

If your veterinarian feels an allergy is the likely cause, they may propose allergy testing to try and determine the cause of the allergen that is causing the reaction.

However, keep in mind that even the best formal tests do not always return a positive response – diagnosis of allergic conditions is most usually an exercise in elimination and trial and error

Food allergies are often diagnosed using an elimination diet. A food trial consists of feeding your pet strictly one singular source of protein and carbohydrate for 12 weeks.

Veterinary Cytology – the ‘Gold Standard’ Test

Cytology involves examination of  the cells  from the affected area of the skin under a microscope.

Sampled fluid/ tissue from a patient is smeared onto a slide and stained. This is then examined for the number of cells on the slide, what types of cells they are, how they are grouped together and what the cell details are (shape, size, nucleus etc).

Fortunately, at Clyde Veterinary Hospital, we are equipped with the necessary tools for performing cytological exams right here on-site, allowing for the speediest possible diagnosis of your pet’s skin infection.

That’s why, as part of our Oct/Nov special allergies promotion, we are offering FREE cytology exams with any consultation (valued at up to $40).

Combine that with a discount of $20/bag off any necessary Hills Prescription (while stocks last), and Clyde Veterinary Hospital is the City of Casey’s #1 choice for the detection and management of allergic conditions in pets.

CLICK HERE to book online, or phone the clinic directly on 9052 3200 to have your pet’s condition seen to today.

dog cat skin allergies special promotions clyde veterinary


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The key to managing gum or tooth disease, whether in dogs, cats or humans is prevention.

And with research showing up to 85% of dogs or cats experience some form of dental health issue by just 3 years of age, it’s vital for their wellbeing that you do your utmost to prevent it developing.

And dental disease doesn’t just present tooth, gum and feeding/diet issues. It can also cause harmful bacteria to pass to your pet’s major organs and cause serious or even life threatening health complications.

There are a few simple steps you can take to ensure maximum dental hygeine in your pet, and what better time than “Dental Month” to run you through some of the basics.

cat teeth dentistry vet care

 

1. Watch for Signs and Symptoms of Disease

As a secondary benefit of regularly brushing your dog or cat’s teeth, you will be routinely getting up close and personal enough with them to notice most emerging tooth or gum issues before they become serious.

Periodontitis has four main stages – progressing from minor plaque build up or mildly inflamed gums through to full blown gingivitis to mild or severe periodontitis – which can result in the loss of teeth or even bone tissue disease.

Dogs and cats both display similar symptoms when they are facing problems with their dental health. The most common early symptoms are bad breath or you may notice a yellowish-brown tartar forming on their teeth. These handy graphics will give you a good idea what to look out for and to judge how serious the dental problem might be.

dental disease dogs cats stages

stages periodontal disease dogs cats

A healthy pet’s mouth should show gums of a uniform light pink colour, with clear white teeth showing no discolouration or build up of plaque around the gums.

Gingivitis – the earliest stage of dental disease will usually present as a red discolouration of the gums – particularly around the base of or between the teeth.

If the disease advances to actual periodonitis, you will notice a more severe discolouration through larger areas of the mouth, and a yellowing of the base of your dog or cat’s teeth, and some bleeding from the gums may also be present, depending how advanced the disease has become.

You may also begin to notice a yellowing or darkening of the enamel on your pet’s teeth, which can lead to a serious and painful abscess, or even bone loss, if not treated promptly.

More severe symptoms include loss of appetite, excessive drooling, and your dog or cat licking up their food and avoiding chewing it, favouring one side of their mouth in eating, or using their front paws to regularly rub at their mouth. 

See your vet urgently if your pet is displaying any one or more of these symptoms.

 

2. Clean Their Teeth Regularly

Few pet owners take the time to give their animal’s teeth a regular or dedicated clean, but this is without question the gold standard in preventative care.

Just imagine if you brushed your own teeth as infrequently as you do your pets’, the number of dental issues that you would be facing. Yet the processes of developing dental disease is exactly the name, no matter what the species.

We strongly encourage the use of a dedicated species-specific toothbrush or “finger brush” – which is a specially designed plastic overlay that you place over your finger and use to brush their teeth directly, and which gives much better tactile feedback and a better experience for your pet.

dog breath treatment veterinary casey
Clean teeth and gums are key to fighting “doggy breath” – even in cats!

All these products have a similar level of efficiency, but a couple of good lists of suiitable products for dogs or cats can be found here>
The 10 Best Dog Toothbrushes in 2019
Best Cat Toothbrushes Reviewed – 2019

While using a dedicated dental paste is not essential, again this is really the gold standard. Dedicated pet-specific formulations are available which have a palatable taste for pets, and which provide additional benefits such as mouth freshening and prevent plaque buld up.

We DO NOT recommend using human toothpaste to clean your dog or cat’s teeth, as these can contain ingredients that can be harmful to dogs or cats if used over an extended period.

oxyfresh veterinary pet dental gel

We do recommend products such as Oxyfresh Pet Dental Gel, which is completely odourless and tasteless and made from natural ingredients.

It’s important that you remain committed to a daily process of brushing in order to maintain the benefits of a regular dental regime, and it’s important to quickly get your pet used to the somewhat unnatural process of having their teeth brushed.

Start out by giving your dog or cat a small sample of the toothpaste to introduce them to the taste. And reward them afterwards with play, petting or a favorite activity, to positively reinforce the brushing process.

We recommend starting your pet out as young as possible while they are still puppies or kittens, as they will be far more receptive to brushing if you begin at an early age.

dog mouth teeth closeup dental

Start by gently lifting up your dog or cat’s top and bottom lip one side at a time and lightly rubbing their teeth with your finger once a day. Once they become used to this, you should begin use of the finger or tooth brush.

We recommend the following handy tips for the process of cleaning your dog or cat’s teeth at home

  • Lift their upper lip to expose the outside surfaces of your pet’s gums and teeth.
  • Brush with gentle circular motions to clean both the teeth and gums, exactly as you would your own.
  • Concentrate on cleaning the outside (cheek-facing) surfaces, as most pets will not allow you to brush the inside surface of the teeth.
  • Be sure to clean the back upper molars and canines, as these teeth tend to quickly build up tartar.

Here’s a great little video that walks you through the process …

 

3. Use Specially Formulated Dental Dry Food

A number of dog and cat food manufacturers now make several varieties of dry food formula which has been specially designed to abrasively prevent the build-up of plaque or tartar on your pet’s teeth and gums.

At Clyde Veterinary Hospital, we strongly recommend Hills Prescription Diet t/d Dental Care for Dogs and Cats – it features a specially formulated, species-specific kibble shape and size, with “fibre matrix technology” for maximum plaque reduction.

And during “Dental Month” at Clyde Vet, we’re offering a huge 15% off RRP on all Hills Dental Care Dry Food until August 31 – email info@clydevet.com.au or phone 9052 3200 to speak to our friendly staff about your needs.

hills veterinary dental diet dog cat 

 

4. Use Dedicated Dental Chews

Similarly, several manufacturers make dedicated dental chew treats for dogs, which are a great-tasting way to supplement a daily brushing regime, and provide a little reward for putting up with the hassle of brushing.

We’re such huge fans of Oravet Dental Chews for Dogs, that we’re also offering $10 off per bag of Oravet if purchased before August 31 – strictly limited to the first 20 purchasers.

That’s up to 25% off the recommended retail price until August 31 – email info@clydevet.com.au or phone 9052 3200 to speak to our friendly staff about your needs.

oravet dental chews veterinary dogs

 

5. Add a Specialised Dental Formula to Their Drinking Water

Oxyfresh have also come up with this extremely clever way of destroying bacteria and removing plaque – a dental additive solution you can mix in with their regular water – it’s completely colourless and odourless so they’ll never even know the good they are doing themselves every time they go to the water bowl – and it’s effective for both dogs and cats, or indeed any animal species.

We don’t recommend relying primarily on this as a preventative measure, but it can certainly help imrove the effectiveness of a more hands-on dental care regime.

oxyfresh veterinary dental water additive

 

6. Give Dogs a Raw Bone

Although this is one preventative measure your dog will truly relish, we recommend exercising caution with this. Importantly NEVER give your dog a cooked bone, as they are liable to splinter and can seriously injure your pet, and if possible supervise them while they are gnawing at it.

Always give your dog a human-grade meat bone (some preservatives used in inferior meats contain substances that can harm your dog), with enough meat still on to retain a degree of softness, and make sure the bone is large enough that they won’t attempt to swallow it.

Chewing on the bone’s rubbery surface can help remove plaque and tartar build-up and strengthen your dog’s gums, providing improved resistance to dental decay.

We recommend a maximum of 1-2 bones per week, and try to leave a minimum 3 day gap between treats.

dog chewing stick dentistry month

 

7. See Your Vet Regularly

This one may seem obvious, but it’s important that your pet has regular dental checkups from an early age – you don’t want them having to live with a lifetime of tooth or other dental issues, which can lead to a loss of appetite, and restrict their enjoyment of life.

Only a professional dental check can properly diagnose and treat the often deeply hidden teeth or gum issues that can lurk deep within your dog or cat’s mouth.

Older animals will also benefit from occasional dental scaling, and your vet can advise if this would be appropriate and beneficial for your pet. Depending on the age of the animal and the level of build-up, they should only need professional dental scaling at 2-3 year intervals.

im3 veterinary dental equipment machine
State of the Art IM3 Ultrasonic Scaler, as used by Clyde Veterinary Hospital

Ultrasonic scalers are handheld devices which use ultrasonic vibrations to remove hard, calcified deposits from your pet’s teeth. They also create shockwaves that disrupt bacterial growth, while also washing flushing the pockets between teeth and any exposed root surfaces with water.

The procedure is usually followed by a professional tooth polish, which smooths the surface of the tooth to minimise bacteria and plaque build up.

We do strongly caution against any lay dental practitioners who claim to perform dental scaling free of anaesthesia. For starters, the procedure can be painful and distressing for your pet, but just as importantly – it’s been shown to be ineffective as a preventative measure – in most cases, your pet is simply not going to allow anyone to insert anything deep enough into their mouths to provide for an effective clean.

dog chew toy dental care


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As the cold Melbourne winter mornings set in, Dr Mitry takes a look at the preventative steps you can take to help diagnose and manage arthritis in our furry friends.

 

Arthritis in Pets – A Silent Epidemic

Our pets aren’t always the best communicators. Any sign that an animal is in pain can be interpreted as a sign of weakness by a competitor, so our furry companions try naturally to avoid displaying any outward pain symptoms. Cats are particularly skilled at hiding their pain.

But research shows that 80% of dogs experience some form of arthritis by eight years of age and a startling 20% show some symptoms at just one year, and the numbers are not radically different for cats. There’s no question that arthritis is one of the most under-diagnosed of veterinary conditions.

Arthritis can affect one or more joints anywhere in your pet’s body, but the most common joints affected in dogs and cats are the hips, knees, shoulders and elbows. Most of these joints depend on a layer of cartilage acting as a cushioned surface so the adjoining bones can move freely. This movement is assisted by the lubrication provided by synovial fluid in joints.

With arthritis the cartilage deteriorates and the synovial fluid loses its lubricating properties so that movement of the bones causes friction in the joint which registers as pain, and that pain will worsen as the joint becomes more aggravated.

Arthritis is an incurable condition, but the worst symptoms can be managed to give your pet a relatively pain-free old age, and the earlier the condition is identified the better the prospects for effective management.

dog hearing loss vision prevention veterinary

Spotting Arthritis in Your Pet

Fortunately nobody knows them as well as their owner, and there are several obvious signs to watch out for as your pet ages. If your dog or cat is showing any of these possible symptoms of arthritis over a persistent time frame, we recommend seeing your vet as early as possible for a full diagnosis.

  • Slowness in getting up
  • Favouring a limb when walking
  • Hesitancy in actions they previously had no problem with (climbing steps, jumping up, running)
  • Decrease in activity or play
  • Laying down/sleeping more
  • Muscle atrophy/wasting
  • A hunched back or abnormal spinal position
  • Cats may resist using their litter tray
  • Reduced or limited grooming behaviour
  • Irritability when handled, especially in cats

Dog owners can scroll down to the end of this article for an interactive online quiz that you can take to help assess the risk of osteoarthritis in your dog.

arthritis osteoarthritis dogs cats signs symptoms

Managing Your Pet’s Arthritis At Home

As another Melbourne winter intensifies, the mornings are colder, and the potential for any flare up in your dog or cat’s arthritis is heightened. You can help out by making sure their bedding is warm and clean and well insulated from the cold floor. Some other things you can do to help manage the condition include;

  • Maintain a healthy weight to avoid putting excess strain on arthritic joints
  • Controlled, low-intensity exercise is essential, but make sure you carefully monitor your pet while they play, walk, or run. If possible, find a soft surface for activity such as a grassed area
  • Keep your pet warm and dry, since cold and damp conditions can aggravate arthritis.
  • Consider investing in a padded dog bed and apply warm compresses to painful joints.
  • Placing a hot water bottle or heated blanket under their bedding can also help relieve their discomfort

 

arthritic dog veterinary care

Most importantly, for dogs or cats with severe arthritis, you should consider what changes you can make to their home environment to reduce the stress on ageing joints – this could include re-locating their food and water bowls, or providing a ramp to help them access their bedding.


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By Dr Irene Mitry
Head Veterinarian – Clyde Veterinary Hospital

Unless you happen to own a Sphinx cat, the one common fact that ALL pet owners need to contend with is that your beloved companion is quite noticeably VERY FURRY.

This is great when it’s time for cuddles and pats, but we all know that fur presents its own unique problems. Their fur can tend to trap odours, house parasites and most importantly, it can obscure any emerging health conditions on your pet’s skin.

Most skin conditions are completely benign, and only represent a cosmetic threat to your pet’s well-being. But the MOST SERIOUS such conditions are very serious indeed – to the point of being life-threatening if not seen to immediately.

For this reason, it is vital for your dog or cat’s well-being that you check them regularly for any emerging issues and see your vet urgently if you find anything of concern.

That’s why at Clyde Veterinary Hospital, we strongly recommend that pet owners take just five minutes a month to perform a regular MONTHLY EXAM of their animal’s skin as part of an optimal preventative care regime, and we’ve put together this month’s blog in order to walk you step by step through the best way to do this.

 

1. Scheduling the Time

One of the hardest aspects of the whole exercise is actually making sure that you build this systemically into their regular care regime.

If your pet is already taking some form of monthly medication, the most obvious solution is to make sure that you routinely perform this check immediately after giving them their medication each month.

One of the great things about this check is that because of the physical attention they get, it’s one of the few veterinary exams that your dog or cat will actually come to look forward to – and if they hate their medication, this can even be a little reward for their putting up with the tablet!

If you don’t have a regular monthly routine that a skin check can become a part of, we recommend building a little reminder into your existing calendar system – fortunately most electronic systems are great for setting a regularly scheduled reminder like this. Here’s a great list of some of the most popular digital calendar apps currently on the market for this purpose.

 

2. Performing the Check

There is no right or wrong way to perform a lumps and bumps examination, but it is important that you systematise the check in order to make sure you’re routinely checking the entire animal.

Cancers in particular can develop in some of the harder to reach areas between joints associated with the lymphatic system.

The two key elements that make up the check are really the “technique” you use to perform it, and the “route” you map out along the animal.

In terms of the technique, it’s important to note that simply running your hands along the surface of their fur is insufficient to identify anything but the largest or most obvious problems in dogs and cats.

The point here is that this is a SKIN CHECK, and you need to make physical contact with or otherwise inspect the animal’s actual skin to perform the check effectively.

Owners will need to get comfortable with stroking their fur AGAINST its natural “grain”, so brushing  BACKWARDS towards the animal’s head, rather than their tail with your fingers is the most critical aspect.

It will be much easier for short haired breeds, but you should try as best as possible to get a look at the actual skin surface, where you are looking for any unusual discolouration as well as any obvious raised lumps or disturbances of the skin.

If you identify anything unusual, make a note of EXACTLY where on your animal you found the lump or bump, and if possible take a photo of it on your phone. This will allow you to easily show the vet the area of concern and allow you to compare any changes in colour or condition of the lump.

And while it’s not technically part of a lumps and bumps check – you should make a note if you spot any fleas, ticks or other parasites in the fur or on the skin in the process, as your vet should be informed of this also at your next veterinary checkup.

 

3. Start the check at the head

We recommend starting your pet’s skin check with your dog or cat standing upright, with larger animals on the floor and smaller animals on a bench if possible.

You should begin the skin check at your pet’s head, remembering that their fur is shortest here so this region is particularly prone to skin cancers. Growths can be lurking absolutely anywhere.

Check their head carefully all over – for dogs remember to check the entire muzzle, look in their nostrils. around eyes, and in and around their mouth, and don’t forget to lift the earn on floppy haired breeds and have a good inspect of the under ear surface and in the ear.

Mouth cancer tumour dog
Cancers can often grow unobserved in your pet’s mouth

Once you’re sure you’ve covered your pet’s whole head, inspecting as much of the skin as possible, start working your way along their back to their tail, repeating the process, patting them constantly “against” the natural grain of their fur to raise it up and expose the skin before moving progressively along to the next section.

Make sure you inspect the whole tail – this is one part of the exam most pets are less than fond of, but it’s important to try and hold the tail as still as possible to allow you to at least inspect its length by touch.

You will then need to examine their underside, best done by rolling them fully on their back, and similarly inspecting their tummy fur. Pay special attention to their joints – lumps can often grow in these difficult to detect locations, and make sure you run your hands fully along all their limbs.

Conclude the exam by a close examination of the pads of all four paws, where in addition to lumps and bumps, burrs and other foreign objects can cause problems.

 

4. What If I Find A Lump?

Firstly, the most important thing is that you DON’T PANIC. The vast majority of lumps found on dogs or dogs turn out to be completely benign – even some quite nasty looking one. If you come across any of the following common types of lump, simply note and record the location and arrange to see your vet at the earliest possible opportunity.

dog having lump clipped vet

Some Common Lumps to Look Out For

Fatty Tumours – you may notice these soft, fatty lumps appearing on your pet, and largening and sagging with age. They tend to be more common in obese animals. Not all tumours are serious, but they should all be seen to.

Melanoma: a pigmented tumour which most frequency occurs on areas of the animal that are exposed to sunlight. Often initially circular, they may grow into a more blotchy shape and discolour with time. Melanomas are malignant and should be seen to by a vet as soon as identified.

Mast Cell Tumour – comprising of up to 25% of all tumours. They’re most common in dogs of middle and older age. Mast cell tumours can look like many other tumours, but they are actually a fast-growing form of cancer, so it’s vital to have them diagnosed accurately and quickly by a vet.

Sebaceous Cysts – these look like, basically are, and are of no more concern than the common pimple.

Warts – largely a cosmetic issue, you may notice these hard, dark circular areas of skin appear particularly around the animal’s mouth. They are nothing to be concerned with unless its annoying your pet or they are scratching at it.

Abscesses – the buildup of pus under the skin, usually associated with a wound to the pet, and usually painful or tender to the animal.

Hives – a rash of round, red weals on the skin that itch and swell. They are generally caused by a reaction of the skin to allergens such as bee stings.  They sometimes they require treatment with steroids or antihistamines.

 

infographic pet lumps bumps cancer tumours skin

Lumps That Are Of Most Concern

As you can see, not all lumps and bumps on your pet are equally serious. For complete peace of mind, you should have anything unusual seen to by your vet, but the issue is most pressing if the lump exhibits one or more of the following features which may indicate the presence of a cancerous growth:

  • Grow rapidly
  • Change visibly in size or shape between inspections
  • Ooze or break open
  • Are firm and tightly fixed in place
  • Are abnormally coloured like melanomas

Before Seeing Your Vet

Knowing the answers to these questions before you take your animal to the vet will help them diagnose your dog’s “lump” quicker

  • Has the lump or bump appeared suddenly or has it been there a while?
  • Has the bump or lump stayed the same consistency or had the same appearance or has it recently changed?
  • Does the lump seem to separate from the underlying tissue or does it seem fixed in place?
  • Is there only one lump that you have found recently or are there multiple bumps?
  • Finally, has your pet shown any changes in behaviour such as loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or a dramatic change in overall attitude?

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Dr Mitry shows us how a little preventative care can help make your pet’s senior years as happy and healthy as possible.

 

I’m often asked exactly when a dog or cat can be officially considered a ‘senior’ animal – but the fact is it’s impossible to give a blanket answer to that question – you’re asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’

All animals ‘age’ differently and at different rates for a variety of reasons, some related to environment, some to lifestyle, some to size, some to species and genetics. So the word ‘senior’ is really only useful in this sense if we take it to mean ‘the age at which the animal’s health needs have become more acute’.

On average this will begin at around seven years of age in dogs and cats, but rather than worrying about a specific number, you really just need to know that the older they get, the more important it becomes to keep a stronger preventative eye on the sort of health problems that naturally emerge in animals as they age.

So, I thought it would be useful to have a quick run through the basic things you can do to spot, avoid and manage health and well-being issues in elderly dogs and cats (although the principles I’m talking about generally apply to any companion animal).

 

1. Ensure regular veterinary check-ups

You’ll note a common thread in many of the conditions I discuss below is that early detection and diagnosis is almost always key to making sure that the severity of non-preventable ageing issues is minimised so your dog or cat can continue to enjoy their senior years and you keep them happy and healthy by your side as long as possible.

Once your pet starts showing signs of any of the following chronic ageing issues, we strongly recommend following a regime of veterinary checkups every six months.

 

2. Ensure they get regular, appropriate exercise

As your dog or cat ages, you may find their enthusiasm for exercise declines, which can result in a tendency to develop obesity, diabetes, heart and even toenail and claw problems.

I recommend ensuring that your senior dog continues to get regular routine exercise, but in many cases, you will probably want to reduce the intensity of walks or play sessions as your dog ages.

For indoor cats in particular, exercise can be difficult to facilitate as they age. I recommend that you schedule regular routine play sessions with your cat’s favourite toys – chase toys are often the best for giving your senior cat a good workout.

Encouraging your outdoor cat to continue to enjoy their outdoor time is important, but in many cases, their urge to range so far from home will reduce as they age. Keep giving your cat outdoor time, and let them climb and range as far as they feel comfortable. They will be the best judge of their own limits.  They might also start to feel more comfortable indoors as they start to feel anxious about not being able to mark/defend their territory. 

 

3. Watch their weight and diet

You will be in the habit of regularly putting the same amount of food in your pet’s bowl every day, and your dog or cat will be expecting that same amount too! But as their activity levels decline with age and they are burning fewer calories, their appetite doesn’t necessarily decline at the same rate, which can quickly lead to complications from obesity – amongst the most serious of which is diabetes, which is potentially life threatening.

Managing your elderly pet’s diet becomes more important as they age – if you’re in the habit of giving them extra scraps or treats outside their regular feeding times, it can be a good idea to wind this back a little.

The easiest way to weigh your dog or cat is to pick them up in your arms if possible, weigh both yourself and your fur baby on a set of bathroom scales together, then weigh yourself and subtract your own weight. Doing this regularly can help identify any obesity problems – although weighing larger dogs can be more of a challenge, in most cases you will be able to spot your dog or cat putting on weight just by looking at them. Either way, regular vet checks mean your vet will be able to spot changes in your pet that might not be obvious changes to you, as you see them every day.

 

4. Ensure they are properly vaccinated & protected from parasites

Your pet dog or cat will naturally start to range less as they age – making them less prone to develop communicable diseases and pick up parasites. But that doesn’t mean you can rest easy, because their ability to resist and recover from any such diseases also declines markedly as their elderly immune system means their ability to fight off any infection is reduced.

Make sure that you maintain your vet’s recommended programmes for anti-worm, flea and heartworm in particular.

 

5. Ensure their toenails are kept maintained

As your ageing dog or cat starts to exercise less, they naturally wear their claws and toenails down less and less. Cats will generally self manage the issue – they trim their claws through sharpening, but dog toenails in particular can start to grow excessively long. If you feel comfortable trimming your dog’s nails, you should do so regularly, very carefully, just a small amount at a time – otherwise regular veterinary checkups can keep the issue manageable.

 

care for senior pet getting older
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6. Watch for joint problems

Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of joint pain and stiffness in dogs and cats, and they will tend to experience symptoms related to this more often in the colder months. So, as winter approaches, it’s a good idea to have your pet checked for any developing issues because early identification before the condition becomes serious can be critical to managing it effectively without too much pain to your furry friends in their final years.

Keep an eye out for any difficulty or discomfort your dog or cat may have in getting up or down from a sitting or lying position, and see your vet immediately if you see any sudden deterioration. You should also notice that your cat is far less inclined to jumping than before – you may notice them meowing for assistance in situations they were previously comfortable with, or even injuring themselves mis-judging their jump. 

It’s a good idea to make sure you provide your elderly pets with good comfortable, soft bedding – particularly in the winter months, and watch out for any obesity issues which can further strain ageing joints, while maintaining a regular, reduced intensity exercise regimen.

Poor diet can be a major contributing factor in the development of osteoarthritis, so it’s important to ensure your pets are getting an adequate, regular and nutrient-rich diet. A number of special formula foods are available, formulated to meet the needs of senior animals and their bone health in particular. Ask your vet about whether this would be appropriate if you have any concerns.

 

7. Check them for lumps and bumps

Cancer is a common concern for all elderly animals – and they become increasingly prone to developing unusual ‘lumps and bumps’ on their bodies as they age. Fortunately not all of these are cancerous, but you should conduct regular “hands on” inspections of your senior dog or cat from ‘tip to tail’ (this is one medical examination your pets tend to enjoy!) If you identify any new or unusual lumps during the inspection, you should contact your veterinarian immediately to have it diagnosed and treated as early as possible, just in case it does prove to be something serious.

 

8. Watch for hearing and vision loss

From a preventative perspective, as with humans there’s not a lot that pet owners can do to avoid the natural degeneration of their hearing and eyesight – other than avoiding aggravating factors like exposure to excessive amounts of loud noise. Consistently cleaning senior animals’ ears can help reduce the risk of any ear infection, which can be helpful as even mild infections can often compound your dog or cat’s natural rate of hearing loss.

It’s important that any potential hearing or eyesight issues in your dog or cat are identified as soon as they start developing so that a proper management plan can be put in place to ease the confusion and discomfort for your pets that can arise from degeneration in these vital faculties. This is one reason why we recommend senior dogs and cats over seven years of age receive regular, specialised and more frequent veterinary checkups than when they were younger.

Keep an eye out for signs of cloudiness in your dog or cat’s eyes as a sign that they may be developing cataract disease, as well as any signs they appear wobbly on their feet, start bumping into objects, or appear confused in familiar surroundings. Hearing loss can also cause them to appear occasionally confused, however the most obvious symptoms will be an apparent failure to hear or respond to commands from a distance or from the next room.

 

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9. Watch for emerging dementia issues

Dementia often accompanies the ageing process in all animals – usually it is relatively mild and easily manageable, but in some cases the symptoms are severe. Like osteoarthritis, there is no cure for dementia in pets, but it can often be helped with certain specially formulated foods and medications.

If you notice that your senior animal is becoming confused in familiar surroundings, seems ‘vacant’ or significantly less responsive to commands than usual, or they appear to be making unusual vocal sounds to themselves or for no reason, these are often signs of the onset of dementia. If you observe any of these symptoms, you should contact your vet immediately, in order to put an effective management plan in place as soon as possible.

 

10. Watch for heart problems

Heart health naturally declines in all animals with age. Making sure they are maintaining an adequately nutritious but not excessive diet is important for avoiding obesity, which is a major contributing factor in the development of many heart conditions.

Heart conditions can be notoriously difficult to detect in dogs and cats. Keep an eye out for the most common symptoms – coughing, difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance, loss of consciousness or unexplained vomiting in your senior pet, and see your vet immediately if you have any concerns.

Even though senior animals may have less exposure to the sort of outdoor areas where they are likely to acquire heartworm, we strongly recommend maintaining your pet’s heartworm protection regime into their senior years, ask your vet what’s most appropriate for them, based your animal’s unique circumstances.

 

11. Watch for gastrointestinal issues and incontinence

Elderly animals are increasingly more prone to develop gastrointestinal issues. Keep an eye out for any persistent vomiting or diahorrea in your senior dog or cat, which can be a sign of serious gastrointestinal problems. Nutrition and diet are obvious contributing factors, and many senior animals can benefit from switching to specially formulated age-appropriate foods.

If you notice any white or discoloured flecks in your pet’s stool, these can also be a sign that worms are present. It’s important to maintain your elderly pet’s worming regime, even though they are less likely to be exposed to risk factors as they roam less.

Older animals can sometimes experience toilet ‘accidents’ as the muscles controlling their bladders weaken, but incontinence can also be a sign of a bigger problem like a urinary tract infection. Accidents can also be an indicator of possible dementia or arthiritis.

If you see any of these signs in your senior pet, it is best to talk to your vet as soon as possible to get a clearer diagnosis of the issue.

 

12. Watch for kidney issues

Aging kidneys tend to lose their function as dogs and cats get older, and can be tricky to spot without a formal blood test by your vet. While chronic kidney failure can’t be cured, it can be managed with proper treatment, significantly reducing the effects, and improving your pet’s welfare in their final years. The correct diet can also assist in the management of any kidney issues.

Thyroid disease and/or high blood pressure are other common causes of renal failure whose risks also increase with age.

Excessive drinking or increased urination are two key symptoms to watch for – but the best way of ensuring any problems are diagnosed in a timely way is through regular veterinary checkups. At Clyde vet, we run an early kidney failure test to ensure any emerging kidney issues are quickly diagnosed and treated.


 

There are of course a million other little ways that you can give your dog or cat the preventative care regime they deserve – but following these twelve broad principles (none of which are hard work – it’s really just a matter of paying them a small amount of regular special attention) will ensure you’re across all the major issues that could possibly arise.

Consider after all the love and care they’ve given you down the years, that little bit of extra work is the least you can do. The reward is they’ll be happy and healthy by your side for many years to come.



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