Caring for senior pets

Age is just a number, right? With all the advances in veterinary care over the years our pets are living longer healthier lives. That being said, it’s key pet owners are aware that the needs of your pet WILL change with age. Just because your pets are aging however, doesn’t mean they still can’t have a fantastic quality of life. Today’s blog is going to focus on important considerations for senior pet parents to help keep our golden oldies happy!

Regular vet visits are a must.

Pets are great at hiding problems, especially cats. While annual vet visits are important for pets of all ages, senior pets benefit from being seen more frequently. An exam with your vet every 6 months with your vet may be more appropriate for your senior pet. This allows for a good once over and potentially blood/urine testing to check organ function. 

Dietary needs change as pets age. 

Senior pets tend to require nutrients in different quantities than young and adult pets. Check that the food you are feeding is labelled for “senior” life stages or “mature adult”. Some products may also say best over a certain age like “7+”. There are even great diets out there that can support brain health in senior pets, particularly those with cognitive changes (see below). 

Weight management has always been key to good health, but it’s crucial for senior pets. 

Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for pets of all ages, but in our senior pets it’s even more crucial we avoid excess weight. Any weight above your pets “ideal” body condition not only exponentially increases their risks for developing diseases like diabetes or cardiac problems, but also skyrockets the amount of pain and inflammation in their joints. Senior pets are much more likely to suffer from arthritis and chronic pain, with overweight pets experiencing discomfort at a higher level. 

Routine is our friend. 

Senior pets are often more easily stressed by change. New places, people, and schedules are a common source of anxiety. Sticking as best as you can to a daily routine helps decrease anxiety. This can include waking up/going to bed at similar times, feeding at the same time in the same place, and engaging in activity at the same times. 

Decline in mobility and chronic pain are a common obstacle.

Like we mentioned in the weight section, arthritis is an issue in many senior pets. This contributes to a decline in mobility and difficult performing tasks that used to be easy or normal. Even changes as simple as sleeping more, being slower to get up or lay down, or not following you around the house may indicate pain. 

We need to consider joint support much more seriously as patients age, which may mean interventions such as joint support diets, supplements, pain control, weight control, etc. This may also mean changing your home, such as laying down carpets on slippery floors, blocking off stairs, making a ramp/small stairs to get on beds/couches, and ensuring easy access to food/water/litter boxes. 

TIP: Consider low walled non covered litter boxes on each level of your home for senior kitties! They’re much more likely to use them if they are easy to get TO and get IN.

Is your pet ignoring you? It might be a decline in their hearing or vision. 

While I firmly believe my older golden retriever has “selective hearing” (i.e. ignores me when I call him to come inside, but comes running to the kitchen if I open a bag of cheese), your pet ignoring you may actually be a sign that they are losing their hearing or vision. Making adjustments to how we signal our pets can help them adjust to these changes.

  • For pets losing hearing, start training for visual cues for sit/stay/come. 
  • For pets losing vision, consider soft verbal cues with an associated touch for commands. 
  • Avoid moving furniture if you can for pets with vision loss, as they often memorize the location of things within the home and associate them in relation to surrounding objects and smell.

Changes in behaviour might be more than just “getting old”….it could be cognitive dysfunction. 

Some changes in behavior with age are inevitable, but disorientation, confusion, anxiety, and changes in sleeping patterns may indicate a bigger problem. Check out our blog on canine cognitive dysfunction for more detailed information about this neurobehavioral disorder, and the importance of discussing it with your vet. 

Regular, short, low impact activity is encouraged!

Older pets may have the inclination to not participate in activity as whole heartedly as they used to. This may simply be due to normal changes like increased sleep needs and lower energy level, but also can be related to chronic pain. Keeping our senior pets moving in a safe and low impact manner is strongly encouraged. This helps promote a healthy weight, happy joints, and provides mental stimulation. Short walks are an easy free way to keep your pet moving, but also things like hydrotherapy (water therapy) or chiropractic work with a vet can make a major difference in comfort level. 

Vaccinations and parasite prevention are STILL important.  

Just because your pet is older, doesn’t mean they aren’t targets of infectious disease and parasites. Their risk level for certain types of these may differ based on lifestyle, however age alone does not prohibit pets from picking up things like viruses or worms. Vets regularly see adult and senior dogs positive for intestinal parasites that are not receiving regular preventatives. Senior pets still require protection, and the needs of your pet should be discussed with your vet. 

Love them a little (or a lot) extra.

Even though our senior pets might not be quite as active or rambunctious as they used to be, they’re still our babies. They still rely on us to provide for them, and cherish our days together more so than ever. I encourage people to remember to give their senior pet a little extra love every day, and remember how many wonderful times you’ve shared!

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

Puppies: Neutering

There are fewer things that bring more smiles to the vet clinic than an owner bringing in their new wiggly, happy puppy. It’s an exciting time for families to be adding a new addition, but it can also be overwhelming too! We wish we had an hour to sit down with every family that comes in to go over some truly important puppy topics, but unfortunately that reality is not often possible. Because of this having resources for owners to read/keep has become a must. We’ve included top tips and considerations on puppy neutering here for new puppy owners!

There has been a lot of discussion about when you/should you have your pet neutered. The general consensus among the vet community is that neutering your pet is strongly encouraged for several reasons. This should always be a conversation between you and your vet.

TERMS: NEUTERING refers to the removal of gonads/reproductive organs. CASTRATION is the term used for males and OVARIOHYSTERECTOMY or SPAY is the term for females.

Why should you have your puppy neutered?

For male dogs, much of the interest in castration is to decrease behaviours that are related to the hormone testosterone. This includes aggression, territorial tendencies, sexual tendencies, and lifting their leg to urinate/urine marking. While these behaviors can continue AFTER castration, they are typically less likely to occur. Secondly, there are medical concerns. Intact male dogs are at increased risk for testosterone induced testicular cancers, prostatic abscesses/inflammation/cysts, and other types of testicular tumours. There remains the risk of unplanned parenthood, which despite many well intentioned owners often happens by accident when the dog is unsupervised. I can promise you that intact male and female dogs rarely care about the opposing breed, size of the dog, or any family relation – given the opportunity, breeding can occur. 

There is a bit more “urgency” when it comes to spaying female dogs. While there is also a behavioural component, the risks here more so reflect medical concerns. Intact female dogs will have heat cycles consistently during their life and tend to behave more excitably during this time. This means that they will bleed 1-2 times annually as long as female hormones are still being created by the ovaries. Medically speaking, vets’ primary concerns are going to be increased risk of malignant mammary cancer and potential to develop a life threatening bacterial infection of the uterus called a pyometra. For every heat cycle a dog goes through, the risk of developing aggressive mammary cancer later in life increases. One heat cycle does not increase this risk significantly, but 2 or more heat cycles can result in an exponential rise in risk. Similarly, intact females will be at risk for developing a pyometra, or a bacterial infection within the uterus where it fills with pus. This is most common about 6-8 weeks after a cycle or pregnancy and can be a surgical emergency. Pyometra can be fatal if not addressed in a timely manner. 

When should you have your puppy neutered? 

In general vets tend to tell owners any time after 6 months in a healthy pup is appropriate. This allows them to get a little bigger and more mature prior to general anesthesia. For females, spaying around this time allows for the surgery to be done prior to the first heat cycle. This makes the surgery slightly less challenging as the uterus and ovaries will be smaller and have smaller blood vessels to address. As pets become larger and go through heat cycles, spaying becomes more involved. 

I would be missing some newer studies if I didn’t mention that there has been conversation about increased risks of other cancers if pets are neutered too EARLY. One of those commonly discussed is osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in larger breed dogs such as labradors and shepherds. Similarly, there has been conversation about effects on growth and bone/joint formation in large breed dogs neutered early on in life. While these definitely have merit, the challenge becomes finding a balance in minimising risk overall. Many veterinarians are waiting longer prior to neutering large breed dogs for this reason. In many cases, vets and owners are waiting until closer to 12-18 months of age prior to neutering to facilitate growth. 

What’s the difference between a keyhole spay and a regular spay?

A keyhole spay (laparoscopic spay) is a newer way to remove the female reproductive organs and involves using laparoscopic equipment. This means that rather than making a larger incision into the abdomen to gain access, a few small holes are made for the camera/scope and the surgical equipment. This is more costly than a normal spay due to the expertise and equipment required, but also is associated with less tissue trauma and quicker recovery.  That being said, conventional spays are still a good standard of care and are completed often in general practice. Laparoscopy can also be used for cryptorchid castrations (when the testicles have not normally descended into the scrotum from the abdomen). 

Puppy neutering is a way for pet owners to embrace preventative health care, in addition to helping control the pet population. Chat with a vet about when is best for your pup!

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

Kittens: Neutering

A new kitten is one of the cutest and most unpredictable additions to a household. It’s an exciting time for families to be bringing in a furry member, but it can be overwhelming too! We wish we had an hour to sit down with every family that comes in to go over some truly important kitten topics, but unfortunately that reality is not often possible. Because of this, having resources for owners to read/keep has become a must. We’ve included top tips and considerations for neutering here for new kitten owners.

TERMS: Neutering refers to the removal of gonads/reproductive organs. Castration is the term used for males and ovariohysterectomy or spay is the term for females.

There has been much discussion about when you/should you have your pet neutered. The consensus among the vet community is neutering your pet is strongly encouraged for several reasons, but this should always be a conversation between you and your vet.

Why should you have your kitten neutered?

For male cats, much interest in castration is to decrease behaviors related to the hormone testosterone. Dogs typically tend to show more of these, but for cats it primarily involves urine marking and fighting with other neighborhood cats. There are also medical concerns including increased risk of cancer. Cats out fighting run an increased risk of contracting infectious diseases that impact the immune system such as FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) or FeLV (feline leukemia virus). 

There is a bit more “urgency” when it comes to spaying female cats. While there is also a behavioral component, the risks more so reflect medical concerns. Intact female cats will have heat cycles consistently during their life and tend to behave more excitably during this time, including increased vocalisation. They will cycle several times each year as long as female hormones are still being created by the ovaries. Medically speaking, vets’ concerns are going to be increased risk of malignant mammary cancer and potential to develop a life threatening bacterial infection of the uterus called a pyometra. For every heat cycle a cat goes through, the risk of developing aggressive mammary cancer later in life increases. One heat cycle does not increase this risk significantly, but 2 or more can result in an exponential rise in risk. Intact females will be at risk for developing a pyometra, or a bacterial infection within the uterus where it fills with pus. This is most common about 6-8 weeks after a cycle or pregnancy and can be a surgical emergency. Pyometra can be fatal if not addressed in a timely manner. 

Another issue is that because cats often spend time unsupervised outdoors, neutering in general is an important part of population control. Despite many well intentioned owners this often happens by accident when a cat is outdoors unsupervised. I can promise you that intact male and female cats rarely care about the opposing breed or any family relation – given the opportunity, breeding will occur.

When should you have your kitten neutered? 

In general vets tend to tell owners any time after 5-6 months in a healthy kitten is appropriate. This allows them to get a little bigger and more mature prior to general anesthesia. For females, spaying around this time allows for the surgery to be done prior to the first heat cycle. This makes the surgery slightly less challenging as the uterus and ovaries will be smaller and have smaller blood vessels to address. As pets become larger and go through heat cycles, spaying becomes more involved. Oftentimes, cats may be neutered prior to this age (such as those in rescue or adoption centers) because the organization wants them to be adoptable sooner and ready to go home with their forever family. 

What’s the difference between a keyhole spay, a flank spay, and a regular spay?

A keyhole spay (laparoscopic spay) is a newer way to remove the female reproductive organs and involves using laparoscopic equipment. This means that rather than making a larger incision into the abdomen to gain access, a few small holes are made for the camera/scope and the surgical equipment. This is more costly than a normal spay due to the expertise and equipment required, but also is associated with less tissue trauma and quicker recovery.  That being said, conventional spays/flank spays are still a good standard of care and are completed often in general practice. 

Laparoscopy can also be used for cryptorchid castrations (when the testicles have not normally descended into the scrotum from the abdomen). 

Neutering your pet is a way for pet owners to embrace preventative health care, in addition to helping control the pet population. Chat with a vet about when is best for your kitten!

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

How to make vet trips less stressful:

We know that not all pets love hopping in the car and realising they’re headed for the vet. This especially rings true for cats. That being said, is there anything you can do to make these trips a little less stressful for everyone involved? Yes! Today we’ll cover a few trips to make your vet visits their best. 

Take a breath and relax.

If you’re anxious, it’s likely your pet will be anxious too. Animals are excellent at picking up on our emotions and behaviors. If you are calm, on time, and prepared for the visit it can make a huge difference in your pet’s anxiety levels. 

Bring your pet HUNGRY!

Our pets love treats, so bring your pet to the vet hungry! Not feeding your pet prior to a vet visit allows for rewarding pets with treats as they are more likely to show interest. This helps create a more positive environment for your pet, and also allows for successful recognition of desired behaviours.

BONUS – many blood tests at the vet are better done fasted (on an empty stomach). Not feeding your pet within 6-12 hours of your visit may also help your vet if they need to do these tests. We know this can’t always be planned for as some problems are booked for an appointment the same day. However, when given the chance, an empty stomach can be helpful for many reasons.

Get your pet used to car trips.

If the only time your pet gets in the car is to go to the vet, no doubt they’ll be less than thrilled to hop in. Get your pet used to riding in the car over time. This will help ease anxiety and also break any direct correlation in their mind between the car and the vet! This is just as true for cats as it is for dogs. Short, frequent trips to places they enjoy, like the park, can help them learn the car is not so scary.

Get your pet used to handling. 

If you have the opportunity to get your pet used to handling, the earlier you start the better. It makes vets jobs so much easier to examine your pet if the pet is used to having their bodies touched. This means regularly touching your pets feet, tummy, head, ears, etc. This is also true when it comes to looking in your pets mouth. Get them used to lifting up their lips to look at their teeth.      

Their crate should be a safe place. 

Similarly to the car, if the only time your pet goes into a crate/carrier is to go to the vet, of course it can become a nightmare getting them into it! We strongly encourage getting your pet used to their crate/carrier as early as possible. If you don’t have a place to leave the carrier out all the time, we suggest leaving it out for a week or so before the appointment in a place where your pet can go in and out as they please. Make the crate a place of comfort! Putting their favourite blankets, toys, or treats in the crate helps make it safe and desirable. It also makes it more likely they will not fight against you to go in the crate when the time comes to go to the vet. 

Keep things familiar.

Take things that smell or remind your pet of home with you to the vet. This includes blankets, toys, and treats. It helps retain some form of routine for them, as we know our pets are absolutely creatures of habit. 

Wait in the car. 

If you know your pet is anxious, ask your vet if you can wait in the car or an area outside rather than in a potentially noisy waiting area. This is extremely important for nervous creatures, particularly cats. The longer they sit in a scary environment PRIOR to their appointment, the harder the actual exam/treatments will be for them. Even if your pet is NOT normally anxious, a busy waiting room with other animals can be stressful and overwhelming for even the best behaved pets. 

Don’t be afraid of supplements, and in some cases – prescription medications. 

Consider using nutraceuticals/supplements that help with anxiety for your trip to the vet. We love the pheromone spray Feliway for cats. Spraying their crate prior to leaving, as well as a towel or blanket to put OVER their carrier can help. Decreasing visual stimulation for cats can significantly decrease anxiety. Additionally, some very nervous pets can benefit substantially from prescription medications from your vet for anxiety. This may be something they take regularly if anxiety is an issue at home, but there are also safe and successful options that can be given just prior to trips to the vet to take the edge off. Ask your vet if they think this option would be right for your pet!

Reward, reward, reward.

Animals respond and learn best when we reward a positive behaviour with a positive reward. This means that when our pets do a behaviour we desire at the vet, rewarding them is all the more important to encourage these repeat behaviours in the future. 

Go to the vet occasionally even when your pet doesn’t have an appointment scheduled.

This can be challenging for cats because they are so easily stressed, but for dogs there is more of a unique opportunity to visit your vets. Even if it’s solely to get a treat and some loving attention from the staff! This helps your dog associate the vet with more positive experiences, not just going for vaccinations or when they are sick. 

Your pet relies on both you and your vet team to provide the support and training for their vet trips! Going to the vet is an important and inevitable part of being a pet owner, so let’s make the trips easier for you, your vet team, and most of all our beloved pets.

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

Want to get your pet’s parasite prevention sorted today? Click here to get started.

Warmer weather top tips:

It’s no secret that there are fewer things than spells of warmer weather that put a giant smile on our faces here in the UK. The clouds scatter, the rain stops, and the sun lights up the green fields of the countryside. We’ll take any chance to get outside, and so will our pets! Our dogs love to walk with us, and even our kitties want to spend more time exploring (or napping) outdoors. Don’t forget that it can get TOO warm for our pets in the summertime! Today we’re going to share our top reminders for pet parents to keep in mind when the sun comes out. 

Bring water for everyone:

When you’re outside in the warmer weather walking, hiking, or playing in the fields with your dogs – make sure to bring water for your pups! Access to water in warm weather helps dogs maintain a normal body temperature. Collapsible rubber reusable bowls are a great way to pack lightweight and keep your pups hydrated. These are widely available on sites such as Amazon. 

Shade is everyone’s friend:

When it’s truly warm out, providing a break for your dogs in the shade is another easy way to give their internal body temperature a chance to normalize. Dogs don’t sweat like people do – so giving them shade and a chance to pant helps dissipate heat. This is an excellent opportunity to offer rest and water.

Top tip: You don’t have to bring an umbrella if you’re packing light. Shade under any tree or wooded area is usually plenty.

Sunscreen isn’t just for humans:

For dogs with areas of thin to minimal hair coat, you may want to consider doggy safe sunscreen. It’s not uncommon for dogs with little fur on their tummies/underside to get a sunburn! This is especially true for those who like to sleep on their backs in the sun. Common breeds affected include staffordshire terriers, terrier crosses, dachshunds, etc. as these breeds often have little to no fur on their undersides. Haired areas are typically protected enough and do not require sunscreen.

Pet sunscreens should not include zinc oxide or PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) as these are toxic if ingested. They should also be waterproof, just like human sunscreens.

Do not leave your doggos in the car!

Even in temperatures that don’t seem warm to us, temperatures inside a locked car can rise exponentially in as little as 15 minutes. When the outside temperature is a moderate 20°C, the inside of a car parked in the sun can quickly reach 35°C and higher. 

It’s common for people to feel that temperatures of 17-20°C are mild, but cars in direct sun in these temps can easily get too hot for pets. Each year there are several deaths as a result of dogs left in hot cars, and these are 100% preventable. 

Surfaces (especially black paved ones) can burn dogs’ foot pads:

Paved surfaces in direct sunlight can also get hot quickly! Keep this in mind as pets can easily burn their paw pads on these surfaces. A way to check the temperature is to put the back of your hand on the surface. If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your pup. 

If your pup burns their paw pads and you notice the pads tearing, blistering, or peeling – contact your vet as your dog may need cleaning, bandaging and medications to help prevent infection and treat discomfort. Raw paw pads are painful!

Parasites are on the prowl:

The only group that loves the warm weather more than us are the BUGS. Parasites are particularly happy in moderate temperatures, meaning that regular parasite prevention is particularly important in the spring and summer. Fleas and ticks, while they are present year round in the UK, definitely prefer warmer milder temperatures. With our dogs spending lots of time outside with us in the warmer weather, don’t forget to stay diligent on your flea/tick treatments each month. 

Because people and pets are out more, this also means the spread of intestinal parasites like roundworms and giardia are more frequent. Anywhere that dogs poo has the potential to spread these parasites.

Toxicities/poisoning are more likely:

Since the number of people out and about is higher when the weather is good, it also means that unfortunately the amount of garbage, particularly food left out at parks and other public places is greater. Despite most people doing their best to clean up after themselves, there is a higher possibility of waste to be left behind. 

Keeping a close eye on your dog whether they are on or off the lead is the best way to avoid them eating rubbish or leftover food that didn’t make it to the bin. Don’t forget, it’s not just rubbish/food potentially causing an intestinal obstruction or toxicity, but certain plants can as well. 

Party on! But beware of loud noises:

Summer is a common time for loud music, more cars on the road, and events that may include fireworks. Consider leaving your pup at home if you are attending events with loud noises that could spook or stress your pet. 

Microchip microchip microchip:

While we are out and about with our pups in warmer weather, it also means more opportunities for our pets to get lost. Make sure your pets are microchipped AND the chip is registered with your information, so that if something DOES happen, it’s significantly more likely for them to be returned to you!

Collars with tags are definitely helpful, but dogs and cats can very easily slip out of their collars. Collars can also easily be removed. Microchips are a permanent, easy, and safe way to link your pet to you. 

New to VetBox? Check out how we can keep your pets safe over the summer and beyond with our monthly subscriptions.

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

Puppies – Parasite Prevention:

There are fewer things that bring more smiles to the vet clinic than an owner bringing in their new wiggly, happy puppy. It’s an exciting time for families to be adding a new puppy into the mix, but it can also be overwhelming too! We wish we had an hour to sit down with every family that comes in to go over some truly important puppy topics, but unfortunately that reality is not often possible. Because of this, having resources for owners to read, keep and refer back to has become a must for us. We’ve decided to include our top tips and considerations for puppy parasites and prevention for new puppy owners, to help you adapt to owning a new puppy.

Puppies are extremely susceptible to parasitic infections:

While parasite prevention is important in pets of all ages, puppies are particularly susceptible to contracting parasites. They can be infected in the uterus directly from their mother with parasites such as roundworms or via their milk when feeding but they also spend lots of time accidentally getting faecal material from other animals in their mouths. This might be in their pen, at the park, at puppy class, among other places. A large proportion of puppies (even from the best circumstances) have roundworms at birth and should be regularly wormed.

There is not one magical wormer that treats all intestinal parasites:

Check with a vet about which product is right for your puppy. Common wormers will typically cover roundworms and hookworms +/- tapeworms, but won’t cover other intestinal parasites such as coccidia or giardia. Having the vet check a faecal sample in your puppy is also smart to help identify any specific parasites present. This allows for targeted and appropriate worming to be done. Most products intended for regular use such as monthly or quarterly worming come as flavored chewable tablets, making it easier for you to administer and more enjoyable for your puppy to take.

External parasites like fleas don’t discriminate against puppies!

Picking an appropriate flea/tick preventative is also crucial for your pup. Fleas and ticks are not only irritating, but carry a large range of diseases that can affect you and your puppy. Young puppies can become so severely infested with fleas they can become anemic (low red blood cell count). Most flea treatments are safe for use over 8 weeks of age, but be sure to check the product label as there are variations. The majority of these preventatives are made to be given once per month. Again, we have to remember that not all products are created equal. This means that some products come as spot on/topical liquids, some can be oral flavored chewable tablets, and many of them differ in coverage.  Checking the product label will tell you which parasites are covered by the drug, and if you ever are unsure, asking your vet will help pick the best product for your pet.

Take home points for puppy parasites and prevention:

Regular parasite prevention is essential for a healthy puppy, and often requires a combination of two products to achieve the desired broad spectrum protection. Be sure you talk to a vet about what your puppy is at risk for to pick the best option for their lifestyle and surrounding risks.

To read more on parasite specifics, check out our blogs on worms, fleas, and ticks.

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

For more information about how we can help you keep your pet safe from parasites, fill out a free consultation here

Kittens – Parasite Prevention:

Kittens – Parasite Prevention

A new kitten is one of the best yet most unpredictable additions to a household. It’s an exciting time for families to be bringing in a new pet, but it can also be a lot to get used to. We often get many questions about parasite prevention, so we’ve put together this blog post for you to refer to as and when you need. We’ve included our top tips and considerations for parasite prevention for new kitten owners to help lessen the stress of having a new pet.

Kittens are extremely susceptible to parasitic infections:

While parasite prevention is important in pets of all ages, kittens are particularly susceptible to contracting parasites. They can be infected in the uterus directly from their mother with parasites such as roundworms, and they also spend lots of time accidentally getting faecal material from other animals in their mouths. This might be in their pen, at the rescue, or outdoors, among other places.

A large proportion of kittens (even from the best circumstances) have roundworms at birth and should be regularly wormed.

There is not one magical wormer that treats all intestinal parasites:

Check with a vet about which product is right for your kitten. Common wormers will typically cover roundworms and hookworms +/- tapeworms, but won’t cover other intestinal parasites such as coccidia or giardia. Having the vet check a faecal sample in your kitten is also smart to help identify any specific parasites present. This allows targeted and appropriate worming to be done.

Most products intended for regular use such as monthly or quarterly worming come as flavored chewable tablets, making it easier for you to administer and more enjoyable for your kitten to take. Powdered formulations to mix in food and spot on wormers are also available.

External parasites like fleas don’t discriminate against kittens:

Picking an appropriate flea/tick preventative is also on the docket for your kitten. Fleas and ticks are not only irritating, but carry a large range of diseases that can affect you and your kitten. Young kittens can become so severely infested with fleas they can become anemic (low red blood cell count). Most flea treatments are safe for use over 8 weeks of age, but be sure to check the product label as there are variations. The majority of these preventatives are made to be given once per month.

Again, we have to remember that not all products are created equal.

This means that some products come as spot on/topical liquids, some can be oral flavored chewable tablets, and many of them differ in coverage.  Checking the product label will tell you which parasites are covered by the drug, and if you ever are unsure, asking your vet will help pick the best product for your pet.

Take home points for parasite prevention:

  • Regular parasite prevention is essential for a healthy kitten, and often requires a combination of two products to achieve the desired broad spectrum protection.
  • Be sure you talk to a vet about what your kitten is at risk for to pick the best option for their lifestyle and surrounding risks.
  • Indoor only cats are at risk for fewer types of parasites than indoor/outdoor cats, but should still be treated.

To read more on parasite specifics, check out our blogs on worms, fleas, and ticks.

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

Ready to kickstart your pet’s parasite prevention journey? Get started here

The Lyme Disease Lowdown:

It gets easy to forget that some of the infectious diseases out there that can affect us, can also affect our pets. One that has significant potential for disease in both humans and our furry family members is lyme disease. Many people are aware of the acute and chronic illnesses associated with lyme disease in people, but lyme disease can cause these issues in pets too! Here’s a rundown on lyme disease, and why it’s so important to keep your pets safe from external parasites like ticks.

What is lyme disease?

Lyme disease is the term given to the illness caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacteria is carried and transferred between infected animals and people by ticks, primarily of the species Ixodes. This bacteria can cause clinical disease in both people and our pets. Lyme disease can occasionally affect cats, but dogs tend to be more commonly affected.

What are the clinical signs of lyme disease?

Dogs may experience a host of signs including joint swelling/pain, lameness (limping), fever, decreased appetite, swollen lymph nodes and lethargy. In severe cases, the kidneys, nervous system, and heart may be affected. Similar signs can develop in humans. Some may be infected after a tick bite, but remain asymptomatic. Humans may also develop classic “bullseye” like red skin lesions, which we do not see in infected pets.

What type of environment do ticks like?

Ticks are a parasite that likes to be opportunistic. Unlike fleas, ticks aren’t major “jumpers”. Rather, ticks like to wait on vegetation and latch on to a warm body walking by. Often ticks like to make a home in tall grass, heavily wooded areas, thick brush and bushes. Ticks prefer a very moderate climate, and are most active in the spring/summer – though ticks have been found year round in the UK.

For up to date information on tick distribution, check out the following resources:

ESCCAP (European Scientific Council for Companion Animal Parasites) Ectoparasite Control:

UK Government Tick Surveillance Scheme:

MSD Animal Health Hub Tick Distribution Map:

Can my pet be tested for lyme disease?

There are antibody tests available for lyme disease from your vet. Typically antibodies will be detectable 4-6 weeks after tick exposure. This is fairly consistent for many tick borne diseases, including Babesiosis, Ehrlichia, and Anaplasma. This in conjunction with classic clinical signs help vets confirm a diagnosis of lyme disease.

What is the treatment for infected pets?

In milder cases, treatment with antibiotics for a minimum of 4 weeks may be enough to treat lyme disease. In more advanced cases, hospitalization with treatments like intravenous fluid support and pain medications/anti-inflammatories are needed. These pets may experience chronic residual clinical signs like joint pain, and in rare cases lyme disease may be fatal.

How can I help prevent lyme disease in my pets?

The good news is that there are steps you can take to help prevent lyme disease from infecting your pet. Prevention, as we say, is the best medicine. There are currently many effective and safe parasite preventatives on the market that protect against ticks. These include both topical (spot on) formulations and oral flavored chewables, typically intended for monthly administration. Preventatives that cover ticks are paired with flea prevention, HOWEVER not all products that prevent fleas ALSO prevent ticks, so it’s essential to check the product label.

Most tick borne diseases take over 24 hours to transmit any diseases via a bite, so checking your pets (and yourself) for ticks after coming in from outdoors is a huge help! This means that any ticks can be promptly removed and decrease the likelihood of disease transmission. Checking once daily particularly in high risk areas/during peak season is a good habit to get into.

Quick note on tick removal:

There are “right” and “wrong” ways to remove a tick! You must grab all the way down where the head/mouth are attached to your pet and grip firmly to ensure removal of the entire tick. Using an object like tweezers or a forcep will provide a good grasp. Failure to remove this may allow more time for disease transmission, and more likely leave an opportunity for significant local irritation/infection.

There is a lyme disease vaccine available for dogs in high risk areas, and whether this is appropriate for your pup should always be discussed with a vet.

Final tips:

  • Keep your pet on regular monthly parasite prevention.
  • Know your area! Some places are more likely to see higher tick numbers.
  • Check your pet for ticks regularly.
  • Have questions? Check with a vet!

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

Click here to start your VetBox journey and keep your pets safe from ticks.

Puppies And Vaccinations – The Basics

Puppies – Vaccinations

The Basics for Pet Owners

There are fewer things that bring more smiles to the vet clinic than an owner bringing in their new happy puppy (or puppies)! Adding a new pet to your family can be an exciting chapter, but there can also be a lot of questions too. We wish we could sit down with every family that comes in to go over some truly important puppy topics, but unfortunately that reality is not often possible. Because of this having resources for owners to refer back to is both important and helpful. We’ve included our top tips and considerations for vaccinations for new puppy owners in 2021.

Determining what vaccinations are appropriate for your puppy should absolutely be a conversation with the vet.

This will be based on a list of core vaccines (vaccinations recommended for all puppies) then potential additional vaccinations based on your puppies lifestyle.

When should puppies get vaccinations?

Vaccines are typically started between 6-8 weeks of age and initial boosters may be continued until around 12-16 weeks of age.

Whether boosters are required and the duration of protection varies with each type of vaccine.

  • Core vaccinations recommended for all dogs:
    • Distemper virus:
      • This deadly virus can affect the respiratory, neurologic, and gastrointestinal systems in dogs. It is spread quickly by respiratory secretions or bodily fluids dog to dog, and can also be spread by contaminated environments/equipment. Signs may include sneezing/coughing, ocular or nasal discharge, vomiting/diarrhea, and potentially neurologic changes such as seizures or muscle tremors. Infections with this virus can cause long term neurological effects in those that survive, but the disease is commonly fatal. Vaccinations for distemper are safe and effective.
    • Parvovirus:
      • Similar to distemper virus, parvo virus is also HIGHLY contagious and can be fatal. Parvo is spread in pet faeces, and can cause severe bloody vomiting and diarrhea, and can damage the pets immune system. It can also be spread by contaminated environment/equipment. Treatment is solely supportive care/hospitalization as there is no “cure” for parvo. Again, vaccinations for parvo are safe and effective and should also be given to all dogs.
    • Adenovirus (canine infectious hepatitis):
      • This virus is less commonly seen than parvo and distemper, however is also easily spread by bodily fluid and can cause severe disease in the liver, lungs, eyes, etc. of dogs. Adenovirus is commonly found in a combination vaccination with parvovirus and distemper.
      • Note: Distemper virus, parvovirus, and adenovirus typically come in a three way combination vaccination.
        • Start at 6-8 weeks, boost 3-4 weeks later (must be older than 10 weeks at 2nd vaccination). At this point the vaccine is good for 1 year, then given every 3 years.
        • There are also some newer vaccinations on the market that require different booster schedules, so these times may vary.
    • Leptospirosis:
      • Leptospirosis is a bacteria spread in the urine of mammals and can cause organ failure, particularly to the kidneys and sometimes liver. This disease is also what we call zoonotic, meaning people can also be affected by the bacteria (Weil’s disease). If an animal’s urine that is infected with lepto comes into contact with the mucus membranes (eyes, nose, mouth, etc) of another animal, they are at risk of infection. Symptoms are often general such as lethargy, vomiting, and decreased appetite among others. Animals that spend time outdoors around other dogs or wildlife, as well as animals that spend time around water (particularly standing water like puddles and streams) should absolutely be vaccinated for leptospirosis. Cases are now even becoming more common just in common pet relief areas such as those in flat and rental properties, so this is becoming a consideration as well.
      • Typically started around 8 weeks of age, and can be started at the same time as with DHP. Requires two boosters initially given 3-4 weeks apart, then is given annually.
      • Note: Many companies make a vaccination that contains distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus AND leptospirosis.
  • Non-core vaccinations based on risk/lifestyle:
    • Rabies virus:
      • Rabies is not currently present in the UK (fortunately). That being said, pets travelling outside of the UK should absolutely be vaccinated for rabies as this virus has no cure, is harbored in many species, and is fatal to animals AND humans. Rabies is required for international travel, and research should be done prior to animal transport for each country’s regulations.
      • Can be given no earlier than 12 weeks. No initial boosters needed. First rabies is good for 1 year, then given every 3 years.
    • Kennel cough/canine infectious respiratory disease complex:
      • While kennel cough is typically associated with the respiratory bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica, in reality it is a combination of insults of both viral and bacterial origin. Often a virus causes irritation of the respiratory tract, and then “normal” bacteria present will overgrow and cause clinical signs. A hacking loud cough is the most common sign, and is often spread rapidly in close quarters via respiratory fluids hence the name “kennel cough”. That being said, kennel cough can be spread by any dog to dog contact or exchange of saliva, so pets that are often exposed to other dogs should be vaccinated.
      • Can be given as early as 6-8 weeks, no initial boosters needed. Given annually.

Key messages:

  • Your vet can help you determine which vaccinations are appropriate for your puppy! Our goals are to pick the most appropriate course based on current veterinary standards as well as your pets exposure/risk level.
  • Each vaccination works differently and may require different numbers of boosters.

For the most up to date vaccination guidelines, check out the following resources:

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

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Kittens and vaccinations – The basics:

Kittens – Vaccinations

The Basics for Pet Owners

A new kitten is one of the most exciting yet unpredictable additions to a household. It can be an exciting time for families bringing a new kitten home, but it can also be overwhelming too! We wish we had an hour to sit down with every family that comes in to go over some truly important kitten topics, but unfortunately that reality is not often possible. Because of this, having resources for owners to read and keep on hand has become a must. We’ve included our top tips and considerations for vaccinations in this post for new kitten owners.

Determining what vaccinations are appropriate for your kitten should absolutely be a conversation with the vet.

This will be based on a list of core vaccines (vaccinations recommended for all kittens) then potential additional vaccinations based on your kitten’s lifestyle.

What is the difference between a high risk vs. low risk cat?

Risk level helps determine which vaccinations are appropriate or recommended for cats. WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association) designate some high risk cats as those with more potential exposure to infectious diseases. This includes cats that frequent catteries/boarding facilities, cats in multicat households, and cats that are indoor/outdoor (exposed to other cats and wildlife). Low risk cats are those who are indoor only and the sole pet in the house. This might also include households with multiple cats that are all indoor only.  
Vaccines are typically started between 6-8 weeks of age and initial boosters may be continued until around 12-16 weeks of age.

Whether boosters are required and the duration of protection varies with each type of vaccine.

  • Core vaccinations (recommended for all cats):
    • Feline panleukopenia (parvovirus):
      • While similar to parvo in dogs, feline panleukopenia is its own virus responsible for serious clinical disease in cats. Spread via bodily fluids, the virus can affect the intestinal tract and immune system. Signs can include respiratory problems, lethargy, diarrhea, and decreased appetite among others. It is highly contagious and may be fatal in severe cases.
    • Feline herpes virus (FHV-1):
      • FHV-1 is the agent also known as feline rhinotracheitis virus, a common cause of upper respiratory symptoms in cats. These may include conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, sneezing, ocular discharge and nasal discharge. In severe cases, secondary bacterial infection may arise. Interestingly, the majority of cats have been exposed to FHV-1 and can remain positive throughout their lifetime. The virus is similar to herpes virus in other species, where once infected the virus remains and can become latent. This means it hides within the body and may sporadically cause clinical signs (respiratory), particularly during times of stress.
    • Feline calicivirus:
      • Calicivirus is an ugly virus also spread readily from cat to cat by bodily fluids. It is most commonly transmitted by respiratory secretions, particularly sneezing cats kept in small less ventilated areas. Because of this, kittens and cats in rescues, pet stores, catteries are at increased risk. Clinical signs often begin as respiratory in origin, but characteristic oral ulcerations may arise and cause severe pain. Signs may also develop in other body systems and the virus can be fatal.    
      • Note: Vaccinations for panleukopenia, herpes virus, and calicivirus are typically given together as a combination “upper respiratory” vaccination.
      • This combination vaccination is often started around 8 weeks of age, then boostered 3-4 weeks later. High risk cats will then need a booster annually, whereas low risk cats may only require a booster every 3 years.
  • Non-core vaccinations based on risk/lifestyle:
    • Rabies virus:
      • Rabies is not currently present in the UK (fortunately). That being said, pets travelling outside of the UK should absolutely be vaccinated for rabies as this virus has no cure, is harboured in many species, and is fatal to animals and humans. Rabies is required for international travel, and research should be done prior to animal transport for each country’s regulations.
      • Can be given no earlier than 12 weeks. No initial boosters needed. Next rabies is due 1 year later, then is given every 3 years.
    • Feline leukemia virus:
      • FeLV is a virus that affects the immune system and is often fatal. The virus makes cats susceptible to a host of other diseases including blood disorders and cancer. It is often transmitted by biting/fighting with another cat that is FeLV positive, but can be spread by most bodily fluids as well as in utero from mother to baby. Typically cats are tested for the disease prior to vaccination to ensure they are negative.
      • Requires two initial boosters given 3-4 weeks apart, then given annually to every 2 years. Can be started as early as 8 weeks of age.

Key messages:

  • Your vet can help you determine which vaccinations are appropriate for your kitten. Our goals are to pick the most appropriate course based on current veterinary standards as well as your pets exposure/risk level.
  • Each vaccination works differently and may require different numbers of boosters.

For the most up to date vaccination guidelines, check out the following resources:

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

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