Ho Ho Hold on….Don’t give that to the dog!

The John Lewis ad is out and Michael Buble is on the radio. This can mean only one thing…Christmas is coming! It is a time when most of us indulge a little, and we don’t want our pets to feel left out. Some surveys suggest that around 90% of pet owners buy their furry, feathered or scaly family members a present, and almost 20% spend more on their pets than their mother in law. Some of those presents include tasty treats, but as ever, we wanted to give everyone a quick reminder of the treats that dogs or cats shouldn’t have, as some can cause serious health problems.


Most dog owners know by now that chocolate is a big no-no for dogs. One of the ingredients, theobromine, can cause a rapid irregular heart beat and seizures and toxicity can be (though thankfully rarely is) fatal. Theobromine is more concentrated in dark chocolate than milk, especially good quality cooking chocolate. There isn’t any in white chocolate, but the sugar and dairy content could still cause a tummy upset, so best to stick to chocolate substitute drops made specially for dogs! Don’t forget how sensitive dogs’ noses are, so if you gift chocolate to a pet owning friend remember to warn them to keep it out of reach and not under the tree!

Grapes, raisins and currants

In some cases, grapes or raisins can cause dogs to become severely unwell, even going into acute kidney failure. With Christmas cakes and puddings being baked at this time of year people often have more of these products in the kitchen than normal, and we’ve dealt with a few cases of dogs having thieved the entire stock! Luckily all have been dealt with simply as the owners have presented them as soon as they ate the raisins. Unfortunately, it’s not known exactly what makes grapes and raisins toxic, or why some dogs appear to be severely affected by only a very small amount, so we recommend keeping all mince pies, Christmas cake and Stollen well out of reach – so they don’t end up stolen!


Alcohol affects dogs and cats the same way as humans, but due to their small size, much more quickly and severely, and alcohol poisoning might develop. Most pets won’t readily drink alcoholic beverages due to their unpleasant taste (remember how horrid your first glass of wine tasted?) but sweet mixers could disguise it, so make sure drinks are also kept out of reach.

Onions and garlic

Onions and garlic aren’t highly toxic, but ingestion of very large quantities can lead to tummy upsets or destruction of red blood cells (anaemia) so they are best avoided.

Bones and leftovers

Although table scraps aren’t toxic, they can cause some problems if offered to pets. Cooked poultry bones splinter easily into sharp fragments which can damage the mouth or gut, so aren’t a suitable treat. Very high levels of fat in meals can also lead to pancreatitis for pets, which could potentially mean a lengthy hospital stay suffering with nausea and vomiting, and severe abdominal pain. A little bit of lean turkey meat is probably ok as a treat (if there are any leftovers!) but hold the skin and gravy. Oh, and just like humans, dogs eating sprouts can produce some fairly toxic gases of their own, so you have been warned.

Other Christmas hazards

A Christmas tree in the corner of a room can be too much temptation for cats and kittens and they might try to climb it, possibly leading to injury to themselves or family members. Tinsel looks like a great fun toy too, but if eaten can cause severe gut problems as it attempts to pass through, acting as a linear foreign body and needing emergency surgery to remove. Chewing on Christmas light cables could lead to electrocution (cats, kittens and puppies and pet rabbits find them particular temptation) so best keep them unplugged and prevent unsupervised access to the tree!


No matter how careful you are, accidents do happen. If your pet is injured or unwell over the Christmas period, we don’t advise attempting to treat them at home, since some human medications can be very dangerous to pets. Contact the surgery on 01458 832972 for advice, or information about how to contact the duty vet for an out-of-hours emergency appointment.

Arthritis pain – is your pet keeping a ‘stiff’ upper lip?

What is arthritis?

Arthritis means inflammation of a joint.  There are several different types of arthritis;  the most common form in older dogs is osteoarthritis.  Over 20% of dogs will be diagnosed with osteoarthritis in their lifetime, which makes it the most significant painful condition our pets have to deal with.  The changes occurring in the joint include loss of the smooth cartilage lining the joint surfaces, and the formation of new bone.  This leads to pain and loss of mobility of the joint.  

Arthritis in older cats is also very common; it is also under-diagnosed due to the tendency of cats to hide their pain.  Cats with arthritis will often just modify their lifestyle so they no longer climb, jump or sharpen their claws…all the things cats love to do!

Cats suffer with arthritis too – and will often spend less time climbing if so



What are the signs of osteoarthritis?

Generally, arthritis is a condition that develops slowly.  The changes seen are often just dismissed as ‘getting old’ or ‘slowing down’.  Animals in pain with chronic arthritis will almost never cry out or whine from the pain.  Often more than one limb is affected so they may not show an obvious limp.  Early signs of arthritis may include: 

  • Stiffness when walking, especially when first getting up in the morning or after a nap. 
  • Slower on a walk, or not able to walk as far. 
  • Less keen to play 
  • Difficulty jumping on to furniture, or in or out of the car 
  • Difficulty climbing the stairs 
  • Cats will stop sharpening their claws, so they become very thickened and may even curl around and grow into the pad. 

Pets that are more severely affected may also show the following signs: 

  • A limp may develop on the worst affected limb 
  • Licking over the joints, especially the carpus (wrist) or hock (ankle). 
  • Panting, or other signs of restlessness or anxiety 
  • Difficulty ‘settling’ when going to sleep at night.


How is arthritis treated?

Osteoarthritis is not a condition that can be cured; it must be managed throughout the pet’s life.  The main focus of treatment is provision of pain relief (analgesia).  However, it is also important to make lifestyle changes to maximise your pet’s quality of life and mobility.


Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Most patients with arthritis will be prescribed a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as Metacam, Previcox or Onsior.  During your consultation, the veterinarian will discuss with you if this is a suitable type of drug for your pet.  There are some patients that may have an upset stomach when taking these types of medication.  If this occurs for your pet, stop giving the medication and contact the surgery to speak to the vet about how to manage this or what other medications may be suitable.  


Other painkilling drugs

For patients whose discomfort is not controlled by NSAIDs alone, or who are unable to take NSAIDs, other painkillers may be prescribed on their own or in combination.  Drugs that may be used include Pardale (paracetamol/codeine), opioid medications such as tramadol, or ‘neuromodulators’ such as gabapentin or amantidine.   

Many of these are human medications prescribed under strict conditions (known as the ‘Cascade’) – you must NEVER give a human medication to your pet without specific instructions from your vet.  This particularly applies to ibuprofen, which is quite dangerous in dogs and is not prescribed, although it is well-tolerated in humans, and the use of paracetamol in cats.  Cats are unable to process paracetamol and will develop a fatal liver toxicity – NEVER give any paracetamol to a cat.


Joint supplements

There is a wide range of joint supplements on the market to maintain joint health in pets.  The most common ingredients are glucosamine and chondroitin.  Many also contain an omega 3 and 6 supplement, often green lipped mussel extract, fish oils or something similar.  Omega oil supplements are thought to provide a mild anti-inflammatory effect in arthritis. 

A joint supplement can be useful in the early stages or in addition to NSAIDs.  We recommend YuMove and YuMove Advance, as we feel it is a good quality product, in which a degree of natural anti-inflammatory effect has been demonstrated.



What else can I do?

Managing arthritis is most successful if a ‘multi-modal approach’ is adopted; that is, addressing all the aspects of a pet’s lifestyle that may impact on the condition and their quality of life.  Changes at home can be just as important as medication prescribed by your vet.


Diet and nutrition

One of the most important things you can do if your pet is suffering from arthritis is keep them in a lean, healthy body condition.  If they are carrying extra weight, that is extra weight on joints that are already sore, and can promote ongoing damage.  Fat is also an active tissue, and promotes inflammation.  Reduction in the percentage of body fat can reduce pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body. 

Reduction in weight of a dog requires a dramatic restriction in their calorie intake, of around 30-50%.  This often means they will feel hungry if no change to the type of diet they are fed is made.  It can sometimes be difficult to meet all their vitamin and mineral requirements on a restricted diet, and to ensure loss of body fat and maintenance of lean muscle mass.  We provide weight management clinics with our trained veterinary nurses who will discuss how to manage your pet’s diet, provide a personalised target weight and weight loss plan, and regularly check your pet’s weight to make sure they are on target.


Managing exercise

It is important to be realistic about the exercise your pet can manage.  If they are suffering from arthritis, it is unlikely they will be able to continue at the same level of exercise that they did before, especially if dogs performed high-impact activities such as agility or fly-ball.  However, exercise is still very important both for physical health – it keeps heart and lungs healthy, and maintaining a good healthy muscle mass helps to support joints such as the hips and stifles (knees) – weight loss, and also for mental health and quality of life – there aren’t many dogs that don’t enjoy a walk! 

Most owners of dogs showing signs of arthritis find that they manage better with shorter walks, more frequently, than a long walk less frequently.  Keeping the level of exercise similar each day is also helpful – but don’t worry too much if they miss a day.

Arthritic dogs may not be able to cope with high impact exercise like agility


Keeping warm

Cold joints and muscles are much more painful and inflexible than warm ones.  Even dogs that have always managed fine with cold weather may benefit from a coat as they get older and creakier.  Be particularly aware of your pet getting wet on walks – either from rain or mud, or swimming in cold water.  Ensure that they are dried off quickly when they get home, or consider getting a fleece ‘drying coat’ for them.


Changing their environment

Owners coming in with arthritic dogs will often comment that they struggle more on slippery flooring – finding it more difficult to rise and sometimes slipping over.  Wooden, laminate or tile floorings can be very difficult and frightening for pets that have mobility problems.  Using mats or rugs to create ‘safe routes’ around the house can make a real difference to their quality of life at home.  Don’t forget about areas where they might need to stand on a slippery floor, such as by a food or water bowl. 

Speaking of food or water bowls, some dogs with arthritis in their forelimbs, neck or back will find a raised bowl easier to eat and drink from.   

Dogs that are struggling to get in or out of cars – or on to furniture or the owners’ bed if they are allowed! – can benefit from using a ramp or a step to allow them to get up more easily. 

You may also find that as they are getting older, your pet benefits from different bedding.  Some will prefer a warmer bed, with thicker blankets to cushion aching joints, while others may choose to lie stretched out on the floor.  They may benefit from a thicker mattress (memory foam ones are particularly good!) or pad, or a raised platform bed that means they do not have to bend as much to get comfortably into or out of their bed.


Hydrotherapy and physiotherapy

Consulting with a trained physiotherapist, to get a detailed assessment of your pet can be very helpful.  Often as joints become stiff and painful and dogs avoid moving them, they will develop aches and pains and tight muscles elsewhere.  A physiotherapist can provide massage and exercises to help to ease this and maintain mobility.  They will also provide exercises and techniques that can be done at home to keep pets comfortable and mobile. 

Hydrotherapy can also be useful, especially as being in the pool or underwater treadmill helps to take the dog’s weight off their joints, meaning that it is a useful low impact form of exercise. 

Both physio- and hydrotherapy are often under-used in the treatment of dogs with osteoarthritis.  Speak to us about the benefits your pet could get, and hydro- and physiotherapists we recommend locally.

Hydrotherapy can be helpful for arthritic dogs


Mobility and treatment reviews

We recommend regular physical examinations and reviews for patients suffering from arthritis.  This allows us to monitor them for any potential side effects from medication, but also to identify what other changes can be made, or other medications introduced to improve the pet’s quality of life as the condition progresses.  It gives you the chance to raise any concerns with the vet about how your pet is doing, and work together as a team to keep your companion fit and well for as long as possible.


Spotlight on: diabetes

Did you know that pets can become diabetic, just like people? And just like people, this is often related to diet and lifestyle.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus means that the body’s ability to metabolise glucose is impaired. Even though animals rarely eat sugary foods (or shouldn’t anyway!) as they break down their food to release energy, glucose is produced and absorbed from the gut. Normally, high blood glucose causes secretion of insulin by the pancreas. Insulin instructs cells in the body to take up and use glucose, or store it. This controls the level in the blood. Diabetic animals are either unable to produce insulin, or their bodies are unable to respond to insulin.

As a result, although the animal is eating plenty of food, their cells can’t use the energy produced; the body is essentially starving. Animals with diabetes are often ravenously hungry. Despite this increased intake they still lose weight. The excess glucose in the blood ‘spills over’ through the kidneys into the urine, meaning the animal produces a large amount of urine. To compensate for this, they drink a lot more water. Despite their high water intake, they often can’t keep up with their own urine production; diabetic animals are often dehydrated when they first present to the vet.

Diabetic pets are often very thirsty

Why does diabetes develop in pets?

Unlike in humans, diabetes in pets doesn’t easily fall into the “Type 1” and “Type 2” categories that many of us are familiar with. In some cases, something damages the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin (the ‘beta cells’), but this is relatively rare. What is more common, is that the body becomes ‘insensitive’ to insulin, and the pancreas has to produce more and more in order to have the same effect. Eventually, the beta cells become exhausted and are no longer able to produce the insulin that the body desperately needs. By far the most common cause of insulin insensitivity is obesity.

Overweight, inactive pets are most at risk of developing diabetes

What are the signs of diabetes?

The most common signs of diabetes are marked increases in thirst and appetite, accompanied by weight loss and increased urine production.

A pet that is eating an increased amount, but still losing weight should prompt concern

Other signs include:

  • Cataracts – the pupil of the pet’s eye will look cloudy
  • Weakness
  • A low stance on hind legs (especially in cats) due to nerve damage from glucose toxicity
  • Urine infections (sugary urine is a great place for bacteria to live)
  • In some cases, diabetic pets may be very unwell – vomiting, not eating, depressed or collapsed. In most cases, these pets are suffering from something called ‘diabetic ketoacidosis’. This is due to the body trying to mobilise fat to produce vital energy for the brain. These animals are very unwell and require urgent intensive medical care.

What is the treatment for diabetes?

Almost all dogs or cats that are diagnosed with diabetes require insulin to be provided by injection. The dose of this is determined initially by their bodyweight, and is then adjusted based on their clinical response. The best way to measure this is usually by taking serial measurements of their blood glucose during the day, and seeing what the response to insulin is. This can be performed in the clinic, or some owners learn to do this at home (stress in the clinic can alter results, particularly for some cats).

The other thing that is important in diabetic patients is to return them to a lean, healthy weight and provide an appropriate diet. In most diabetic patients, a diet that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates is best, though this can be adjusted based on the individual patient’s needs and preferences. Some cats that are diagnosed with diabetes may even go into remission if their blood glucose is controlled well in the early stages, and they return to a lean body condition and continue a low carbohydrate diet.

Prevention is better than cure!

As with many other conditions, it is far better to prevent diabetes developing in the first place whenever possible. The best way to do this is to make sure your pet is a healthy weight for their size. At Orchard Vets we are a Royal Canin Approved Weight Management Centre. This means all staff have undertaken special training regarding weight management in pet cats and dogs. We will always inform you if your pet is over their ideal body condition score (a scale that measures how much body fat they have) and provide support from our dedicated nursing team to help return pets to a healthy condition. The less time they spend with excess body fat, the less likely it is that conditions such as diabetes will develop, so it’s never too early (or too late) to manage your pet’s weight!

Keeping your pet safe at Christmas time

And what to avoid, or at least go careful with…

Chocolate: One of the ingredients of chocolate, theobromine can cause a rapid irregular heart rate and seizures in high doses. In rare cases, this can be fatal. Best keep those expensive truffles out of reach!

Grapes, raisins and currants: Lots of Christmas treats are full of raisins – dried grapes. These can make dogs seriously ill with acute kidney failure. We don’t really know why grapes and raisins are toxic, sometimes even in very small amounts, so keep all forms safely stored away.

Onions and garlic can cause destruction of red blood cells (anaemia), though generally only in very large quantities.

Bones and scraps: leftover Christmas dinner might seem like a lovely treat for your pet, but be careful. Cooked poultry bones easily splinter into sharp fragments, and fatty leftovers can trigger acute pancreatitis. A little lean turkey meat should be fine, but hold the skin and gravy!

Tinsel, baubles and lights: Shiny tinsel can be irresistible to cats and kittens, but if ingested can cause severe intestinal damage. Dogs have been known to ingest glass baubles (we don’t know why either!), and chewing on electrical cords can cause electrocution.


No matter how careful you are, accidents can happen. If your pet is unwell or injured at home, or eats something they shouldn’t call your vets as soon as possible for advice or treatment. Never try to treat your pet with human medication at home, as these can be dangerous for animals.