Dear Doctor

How do I stop my dog from digging up my garden?

Environmental Enrichment for Your Dog

Imagine your bathroom being your entire world, a place where you live all the time and only leave on the rare occasion. This is what your back garden is to your pet, his entire world. Because your pets’ sense of smell and hearing is much stronger than our own, he knows the garden so well, down to each leaf and each bird that passes through. Because of this your pet can become bored very quickly and this boredom often leads to destructive behavior such as digging, excessive barking, destroying plants and even excessive licking of their legs and paws, leading to the development of non- healing sores etc.

Digging is a natural behavior, instead of trying to stop your dog from digging, provide him with a specific place to dig.  A good idea is to make a sand pit (you can purchase a plastic shell used to fill with water for your kids). You can hide treats in the sand for your dog to dig up, this will encourage him to dig in this spot rather the in the rest of the garden.

How do I keep my dog busy when I am not home?

Boskruin Bromhof Vet Clinic in Randburg Olivedale, SandtonThere are a range of educational or puzzle toys available at any vet. These toys provide hours of entertainment and challenge your dog to think and figure out how to get to the treats hidden inside.

Rotation of your pet’s toys prevents your pet from getting bored. Instead of allowing your pet access to all his toys all the time, rather give him one or two toys at a time and rotate them frequently to keep your pet entertained.

Expand your pet’s world by taking him for frequent walks. This will not only benefit your pet, but the exercise will keep you fit and healthy too! By taking your pet for a walk you open up his world to a whole range of smells and sights, thus stimulating his mind and keeping him fit. A good game of fetch or a short training session daily will also help your pet to use up some excess energy too.

Why should I spay my dog? We won’t breed with her anyway…

There are no benefits to leaving your female dog unspayed if you are not going to breed with her. A healthy female dog comes into heat twice a year. For two months after she has come off heat (even if she has not conceived) her uterus prepares to receive an embryo and she goes into “false pregnancy”. If this continues to happen without her being bred, she has a high risk of getting a deadly uterine infection called Pyometra (pus filled uterus). This condition is very serious and life-threatening. The only way to treat this condition is intense ICU care and then to spay your pet and there is a huge risk of losing your pet from the infection.

If you spay your female pet at an early age, you greatly reduce (up to 95%) the chance of her getting mammary gland tumours (breast cancer) These tumours are highly malignant and spread very quickly to the lungs and other internal organs. The only way to treat these cancers is to remove all her mammary gland tissue to prevent further spread of the cancer and to spay her to remove the source of oestrogen. All of these possibilities not only endanger your pets life but also cost a lot more than a routine spay would. The anaesthetic is also much safer in a younger dog.

It is ideal to castrate your male dog at 6 months or as soon as possible thereafter. Castration will not change your dogs personality, it helps to prevent aggression towards other dogs, thus making it easier if you want to introduce a new dog into your home at a later stage. It also takes away the need to escape from the yard and find females on heat. If you castrate your pet you will also help prevent the development of prostatic enlargement and life-threatening cancer of the testes and prostate.

It is important to castrate male cats as those that are not castrated tend to wander looking for females on heat, which often leads to them getting knocked over by cars. Uncastrated cats tend to fight with other cats, thus increasing their chance of contracting incurable viral diseases such as feline AIDS (FIV) and feline leukaemia virus (FeLv) and of abscesses developing from fights between cats.

All my pets already have a collar and a tag, why should I microchip them as well?

Randburg Vet in BoskruinUnlike a collar and tag, a microchip, once placed, cannot be lost or become illegible.

A microchip is the size of a grain of rice and is injected under the skin in the area between the shoulder blades. Anaesthetic is not required to perform the procedure, as it is quick and causes no more discomfort than an ordinary injection. Each microchip carries a unique code which can be read by a microchip scanner. If your pet gets lost and is taken to a veterinary practice or welfare organisation, he or she will be scanned and the unique code identified. By entering this code into a central database, your pet can be traced back to you.

By keeping your details up to date on the database, you ensure that your pet can be returned to you, should they become lost or even stolen. There is no age limit to microchipping, it can be done during a vaccination, sterilisation or routine vet visit.

Are there side effects of sterilising my pet?

Many people are reluctant to sterilise their pets as they are concerned that their pet will become overweight. Spaying an animal does not make them pick up weight, too much food and too little exercise does.

About the same time we sterilise them they have reached sexual maturity and are not growing as much as when they were young puppies, we tend to forget this and we continue feeding the same amount we always did when their requirements have dropped from growth to maintenance.

Exercise and controlled feeding will prevent your pet from becoming overweight.

When is the best age to sterilise my pet?

It is preferable to sterilise both males and females between 5 and 6 months of age, especially females as this is before they come onto their first heat. If you have any questions or would like to book your pet in for sterilisation, please don’t hesitate to contact our Bromhof health care team!

Why is it so dangerous to feed your pets bones?

Bones are undigestable, hard and often splinter into sharp pieces when chewed. This often leads to very sharp and even large pieces of bone being swallowed whole. Because bones are undigestable, very large pieces that are swallowed are not broken down and this can result in them getting stuck in various parts of the GIT (gastro intestinal tract), from the oesophagus to the stomach and most commonly in the intestines. Sharp pieces of bone can perforate through the stomach and intestinal wall, leading to leakage and life-threatening infections developing in the abdomen (peritonitis). If your pet does swallow a bone and it does get stuck, it will very quickly become life-threatening to your pet. Costly and invasive surgery is usually the only way to remove the bone and if done early enough, it is the only way to save your pets life.

Because bones are so hard, your pet risks breaking its teeth when chewing them, resulting in painful tooth fractures and often expensive dental procedures are needed to remove the broken teeth.  Although chicken bones are softer, these bones can splinter into very sharp pieces. These bones also have the potential to cause very bad constipation, which can become life-threatening if left untreated.

What can I give my pet to chew in place of bones?

Rawhide chews: These are often white in colour and are in the shape of bones. These are made out of animal skin, resulting in them becoming soft when chewed and swallowed, allowing them to pass through the GIT without getting stuck.

Ostrich sinew: This is a very tasty treat for your pets and also softens when eaten, preventing it from getting stuck

Greenies: These are digestible and break into small pieces when eaten. These chews help to keep your pets’ teeth clean and breath fresh.

NB!! Just like children, pets should always be supervised when given toys or chews!!

My Dog’s breathe stinks, is there anything I can do?

It is estimated that 80 % of pets over the age of 3 years suffer from dental disease!

Given that dog’s teeth are similar to ours, it is likely that they feel dental pain in the same way we do.

Unfortunately they can’t tell us when they are in pain, but you can look out for some common signs that may indicate that your pet is in need of dental care.

These include bad breath, drooling, red/ inflamed gums, yellow or brown teeth, pawing at the mouth and difficulty eating. 

If left untreated dental disease can lead to tooth loss, loss of bone in the jaws and infection in the mouth, which can spread through the blood stream and affect internal organs.

If you think your pet may be suffering, please contact the Bromhof Healthcare Team for a FREE Dental Check today.

How often should I deworm my cat/dog?

Ideal is every 3 months and not only once a year as many people think! It is important to deworm all the pets in the household at the same time otherwise they just re-infect each other. Some bad cases of hookworm won’t clear up after a single dose of deworming and ideal is to consult your vet for guidance on the best way to manage these cases. Your vet can do a test called a faecal float where they examine a small stool sample under the microscope to see how bad the worm burden is and thus recommend the correct course of treatment for your pet. People in the household should also be dewormed every 6 months.

Is it worth getting medical aid for my pets?

Yes definitely! In this tough economic time if you are not in a financial position to put down 15k (or more) if your pet requires a major surgery for a life threatening condition then medical aid is the right way to go. There are many different ones on the market, the best is to phone a few and compare prices and packages – don’t always go for the cheapest one as cheap is not always better, read the t’s and c’s carefully!

We highly recommend you put all your pets onto medical aid. It does not matter which medical aid, just get them onto one asap while they are still healthy! If something serious goes wrong with your pet and you are not in a position to afford large sums of money to treat them this is essential.  Medical aid is affordable and the responsible thing to do. We often have very sick animals where we had previously recommended medical aid and the client “didn’t get to do it yet” and the animals have to be put down or the client make debt to be able to treat those animals.

We recommend Medipet as we have had very little hassles with them when it comes to clients submitting claims but there are many medical aids out there and you need to find one that is best suited to your needs. All animals will need dental care at some point in their lives so we suggest take out a plan from early on which includes this.

Medical aids will only accept patients up to a certain age so put your pet on as young as possible to avoid them being excluded from cover. Read the fine print!

How do I know if my dog or cat needs a dental?

Imagine not brushing your teeth for a year, or 5 years… and think how bad your mouth smells and feels in the morning. Your pets mouth is exactly the same. We (hopefully) brush our teeth twice a day and should still go to the dentist for a scale and polish once or twice a year to prevent tooth decay. It is worse with our pets because they don’t brush their teeth.

First prize is to start brushing your pets teeth when they are a young puppy or kitten, this is only effective if you do it daily, it won’t help to do once a month! You also need to use a small finger toothbrush and an animal and not human toothpaste. From the age of about 2 years all pets will start to build up tartar on their teeth, plaque and gingivitis results and as they get older can progress to rotten teeth and tooth root abscess’s which is INCREDIBLY painful for your pet. They are so brave and don’t show dental pain the way we would expect them to, so pet owners often don’t notice the condition until it is very advanced and by this time the animal has suffered unnecessarily.

Imagine the chronic aching pain of a rotten tooth in your mouth daily for months and not being able to do anything about it! You should lift your pets lips up once a week and check their teeth, make sure to look on both sides and right to the back, often the back molars are the worst. Many vets will also offer a free dental check up so consult your vet to see if they offer this and if they recommend it’s time for a dental scale and polish.

I have never had a cat or dog sit in the chair and open wide and say “aaaah” willingly for me – so a proper dental scale and polish requires your vet to give a full anaesthetic to be able to clean their teeth properly, it should also be done with a proper dental machine and ultrasonic scaler and polisher and not by hand, so enquire if your vet offers this beforehand. If the teeth are not polished correctly after a scaling procedure they will build up tartar much faster the next time round. If left to advanced stages of tooth decay your vet will also have to extract many of the rotten teeth, your pet will do much better without these teeth in their mouth and will be quite fine without them so don’t worry! It’s far better for them to not be in pain than to not remove a rotten tooth and continue to suffer in silence.

My puppy has had one vaccination so is surely now protected?

False!!! A puppy or kitten requires a number of booster vaccinations starting from 6 weeks in puppies and 8 weeks in kittens. The boosters should be given strictly one month apart, please do not wait longer. They are not fully protected from getting ill from contagious diseases until they have had all of the boosters.

Depending on the immunity of the mother, the pup or kitten will have what we call maternal antibodies in their system, these protect the young animal against the very serious conditions we vaccinate against for the first few months of life but then start to wane and leave the pup or kitten vulnerable. By giving booster vaccinations we ensure that the vaccine will kick in once the maternal immunity has stopped working. Many of the diseases we vaccinate for are life threatening and very common in South Africa so it is not worth the risk of not making sure your animal is properly protected. The Rabies vaccination has to be done by law!

How often should my pet be treated for protection against ticks and can I stop treating them in winter?

This will depend on the product you are using. Dipping and tick and flea shampoo’s have no residual effect and are not sufficient to protect your pet from these parasites. If you are using a topspot product this should be applied strictly once a month, they are not effective when given every few months. If you are using a tablet consult the package insert as some last for a month and others for three months. It is important to still use tick control in winter, there are not necessarily less ticks in winter unless the environmental temperature drops to below zero for a few days in a row.

Tick bite fever is a life threatening disease which your pet can die from so it is not worth the risk of not having them protected. It is important to remember that these products are not a repellent, once the tick bites after a short period of time it will die and fall off. For the animal to get tick bite fever the tick needs to be on them for a few hours. So provided you are using the correct dose of product for your animals weight and at the right dosing interval they should be protected. We often have people come in with a pet with tick bite fever and they say “but I put an anti-tick treatment on fluffy regularly so how can this be” when we then enquire as to when it was done they say 6 months ago!

I have a major flea problem on my pet, I have applied a tick and flea control product but still see fleas, what now?

The amount of fleas you see if 1 – 3 % of the flea population, so in simple terms for every flea you see there are about 100 eggs in the environment. Having treated the animal is essential but you also need to treat the environment as they will continue to hatch and climb onto the animal and only after biting the animal will they die.

You can get a flea control spray from your vet to treat the environment, fleas like dark places and cracks and crevice’s so you need to spay under beds, couches, curtains and in every nook and cranny you find. Also wash the animals bedding and hang it for the day in sunlight to dry or use a tumble dryer as the heat helps kill the larva. You can also vacuum daily and place a flea collar inside the vacuum bag, you will need to throw the vacuum bag away after using it and cannot reuse it.

You also need to consistently treat all animals in the household for the next 3 – 6 months with adequate flea control products. Once off will not be sufficient with a high flea burden. It also doesn’t help to treat only the animals you see fleas on, for example if you see fleas on the dog but not the cat you still need to treat them both and not only the dog.  Fleas also help spread worms so if you are seeing fleas make sure to deworm all pets in the household too!

My dog has an itchy skin and I keep using cortisone to treat this, is this ok?

No definitely not. Cortisone is good in that it will stop itching, often immediately, but as soon as you stop the cortisone the itching is back so you are treating the symptoms and not the cause, while subjecting your pet to the many negative side effects of long term cortisone use. There is a place for using cortisone in an itching animal if used only two or three times a year for short courses, the dose must also always be tapered and never stopped suddenly. In this day and age we have many much safer and more advanced ways of treating itchy skin than excessive and continued use of cortisone so if your pet is on long term cortisone tablets or injections it should really be a very last resort as an alternative to euthanasing the animal.

Consult your vet and ask about the many other more modern, safer options available to treat itching skin which do not result in negative side effects which can become life threatening to your pet such as with cortisone abuse. Also remember that a pet with itching skin is often something that cannot be cured altogether but rather needs to be medically managed on an ongoing basis.

In private veterinary practice we find that when clients are compliant with our instructions on treating itchy skin it works most of the time, however the majority of clients we see who have a pet with itchy skin come in and say they have tried everything and nothing except cortisone works, when we question them in more detail about what they have tried it becomes very obvious they were not compliant in the use of the alternatives to cortisone, for example they were given a shampoo to use twice a week but have only used it once in 2 months – you cannot expect results if you do not follow the instructions correctly and to then use cortisone as an alternative is not fair to your pet.

My pet is overweight but so cute! This is ok right?

Definitely not! Obesity in pets is a very serious condition and can result in many serious health concerns just like in people. If a pet is overweight they are more prone to osteoarthritis from the excessive strain on their joints as they age, they can be at risk of getting diabetes, high cholesterol, at greater risk of urinary tract disorders, heart conditions and certain cancers.

South African vets report that approximately half of all pets seen are obese! Obesity in pets is also scientifically proven to shorted your pets lifespan. Our pets are often overfed and under exercised. Consult your vet for a weight check and to discuss if your pet is possibly obese or not and if so what to do about it!

My cat has started urinating in strange places, why should I do?

As a start your cat needs a check up with your vet asap, they will need to check a urine sample and run a small blood test to check for common causes such as a bladder infection, kidney disease and diabetes amongst others. If these tests are all normal the next step would be an abdominal radiograph (x ray) and ultrasound to check for conditions such as bladder or kidney stones or cancer of the bladder.

Only if a full medical check up is normal can you attribute the urinating in strange/new places as a behavioural problem, in which case your vet will also be able to guide you on the right steps to go about to rectify this. If it is due to a behavioural problem, it is normally a sign that your cat is stressed and anxious and you need to intervene immediately.

I noticed a lump on my older dogs skin, what should I do?

A large portion of cancers start as a skin lump. Most lumps on a dogs skin are a tumour. You get two types of tumours, benign, which is an overgrowth of non harmful cells and can just be in the way but not cause major life threatening conditions, and malignant. The malignant ones can be very aggressive cancers and spread to the internal organs such as the liver, spleen and lungs and once it has reached this stage it is too late to do anything.

The size, shape and rate at which the lump grows is not an indication of whether it is benign or malignant, sometimes very highly malignant tumours can be very small and slow growing but likely to spread quickly. The right thing to do with any lump is to have your vet examine it, if possible they will do a fine needle aspirate where they use a needle to collect some cells from the lump and examine these cells under the microscope to get an idea on if the cells are benign or malignant, they will then be able to advise you if the lump needs to be removed or can be left alone.

Age is not a reason to leave a lump alone, even an old dog deserves a good quality of life in its last few years. So it is never a good idea to “leave a lump and watch it and see what it does”. All lumps should be treated as serious and possibly malignant until proven otherwise. We see really large amounts of cancers in dogs these day so picking it up sooner rather than later can save your dogs life.

My dog is old so we don’t want to give it anaesthetic because of its age, is this wise?

Old age is not a reason to not give anaesthetic. Naturally advanced age can result in medical conditions such as kidney, liver and heart conditions which can result in anaesthetic being more risky but just because the dog is old is not a reason to leave them to suffer. So if the procedure is needed to improve quality of life such as removing a malignant tumour or removing rotten teeth then it is far kinder to risk and anaesthetic than to leave the pet to suffer.

Most vets will take extra precautions in older pets to make the anaesthetic safer, such as placing them on a drip during the procedure, doing a pre-anaesthetic blood test or heart scan as needed. We do anaesthetic on many old dogs daily and have almost never lost a dog under anaesthetic due to old age. We also use safer drugs on these high risk patients, they are more expensive but do make a difference!