Are You Thinking About Getting A Pet?

pets

The prospect of getting a new pet can be very exciting and it is a wonderful feeling to be a proud owner. Anyone who has taken on a pet will know that within a matter of hours you are completely hooked, but there are a few things to think about before your commit to and bring home your new bundle of fun and cuteness.

Cost

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This is not just the cost of actually buying the pet (which can be anything from Free to thousands of pounds!). Can you afford the costs necessary to give your chosen pet the correct care? The average annual costs of owning a pet can be quite high and have been estimated at £1000 – £2000 for a dog (depending on size), around £1200 for a cat, £400 – £500 for a ferret, £500 for a rabbit and £400 for a guinea pig and Chinchilla. (For cats and dogs that amounts to approximately £10000 – £31000 over a lifetime!) You will need to think about the costs of providing good quality food, bedding, housing for small animals, boarding kennels or pet sitters, routine vet bills for things such as parasite control and vaccinations, as well as the cost of vet bills should your chosen pet become poorly and require treatment.

Pet Insurance

This will cover your pet for any injuries or illnesses he or she may suffer from. Most types of pets can be insured, including rabbits, rodents and reptiles. The policy premium (the amount you pay in monthly or annually) will vary depending on the different cover levels and different animal breeds, so a very basic level of cover may be as little as £5.00 a month but a premium level of cover may be as much as £40.00 a month. It is also worth noting that many insurance companies now exclude certain types or breeds of pet from their policies, so check that your desired breed of pet is able to be insured. If you would like to find out more about pet insurance and what to look for in a policy, please read our pet insurance article.
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Should you neuter your pet?

The decision about whether to have your pet neutered or not is likely to be one of the biggest that you make as a pet owner. There is no doubt that neutering your pet can have really great benefits to their health and you will also be doing your bit to help the growing crisis of the thousands of pets already in rescue centres around the country, because there aren’t enough homes to go around. However, for many different reasons, not all pet owners (especially dog owners) will want to have their pets neutered and as long as these unneutered pets are managed responsibly, this decision is fine.  This article will describe the pros and cons of neutering and hopefully give you all the information you need to make your decision.

What is neutering?

Neutering is the general term used to describe the surgical removal of the sex organs in animals to prevent them from breeding. Neutering or de-sexing are terms that can be used for both male and female animals.

Spaying: When we spay a female animal, we perform an ovario-hysterectomy , which is the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus. The surgery involves a small abdominal incision in the dog, rabbit and guinea pig just below the umbilicus, or a small flank incision in the cat (unless the owner specifically requests an abdominal spay).

Castration: When we castrate a male dog, cat, guinea pig or rabbit we remove the testes to prevent reproduction. The surgery involves a small incision just in front of the testicles in the dog, guinea pig and rabbit or a small incision into each side of the scrotum in the cat. Sometimes male animals have a problem called cryptorchidism, in which one of the testicles has not descended properly, in these cases they may require abdominal surgery to remove the retained testicle.

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The first picture shows where the operation site would be for a female dog, guinea pig and rabbit . The second picture shows the operation site for a female cat. The third picture shows where the operation site would be for a male dog, guinea pig  and rabbit. The fourth picture shows the operation site for a male cat.

The reasons for neutering

There are many reasons to recommend that dogs, cats and rabbits are neutered; it benefits their health and helps reduce pet overpopulation. So many animals end up in rescue centers, or are even put to sleep, because there are just not enough homes available for them. Each year, approximately 150,000 stray or abandoned animals are taken in by animal welfare organisations in the UK, such as the RSPCA, Dogs Trust, and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, who try to find homes for them.

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The health benefits of neutering

Female animals

  • Prevents “heat” or oestrus (also known as being in season)
  • Prevents unwanted litters
  • Prevents hormone fluctuations that cause false pregnancy
  • Prevents Pyometra, a serious and potentially fatal womb infection
  • Prevents mammary (breast) cancer.
  • Prevents uterine and ovarian cancer.
  • Prevents the urge to escape and find a mate during heat.
  • Prevents unsociable behaviour during heat (Think PMS!)
  • Prevents genetic problems, deformities and bad temperaments being passed on.
  • Prevents urine spraying and marking behaviour that sometimes occurs in entire female rabbits (does).
  • Neutered female cats cats are less at risk of diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia (FeLV), which are highly infectious and incurable diseases.
  • Enables some animals to live in mixed-sex groups without fighting and/or pregnancy

 Male animals

  • Lowers the risk of serious conditions such as benign prostatic hyperplasia, prostatitis and hormone-related (testosterone) diseases such as perianal adenoma in dogs.
  • Eliminates the risk of testicular cancer, a common cancer in entire dogs.
  • Removes sexual urges and the need to escape or roam to find a mate. Entire male cats can have huge territories and are more likely to get into fights.
  • Reduces certain types of aggression in male dogs
  • Prevents genetic problems, deformities and bad temperaments being passed on.
  • Neutered animals are less likely to mark their territory with strong smelling urine.
  • Neutered male cats cats are less at risk of diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia (FeLV), which are highly infectious and incurable diseases.
  • Neutered male rabbits and guinea pigs are less likely to show aggression towards other males
  • Enables some animals to live in mixed-sex groups without fighting and/or pregnancy

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Problems that can occur in un-neutered animals

Pyometra: This is an infection of the uterus (womb) in female animals. The uterus fills with pus, and toxins quickly spread throughout the body causing the animal to feel very unwell. If this condition is not treated quickly it can be fatal.

Mammary (breast) Cancer: Mammary cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal mammary gland cells. If left untreated, certain types of breast cancer can metastasize (spread) to other mammary glands and organs throughout the body. While any pet can develop mammary tumors, these masses occur most often in older female dogs and cats that have not been spayed.

Ovarian Cysts: The symptoms of ovarian cysts will depend on the type of cyst but can include; swelling of the vulva, due to the high amounts of estrogen in the body, vulvar discharges that may contain blood and occur outside the regular bleeding in the heat cycle, hair loss, irregular heat cycles or lack of heat cycles, extended heat cycles, abdominal swelling due to pus or fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity.

False Pregnancies: False pregnancy is a term used to denote a common condition in a non-pregnant female animal that is showing symptoms of pregnancy or nursing without producing babies. Symptoms usually occur after her oestrus (heat) is over and is thought to be caused by a hormonal imbalance. Symptoms can include; behavioral changes, mothering activity, nesting and self-nursing, restlessness, abdominal enlargement, enlargement of mammary glands, vomiting, depression, loss of appetite (anorexia), fur plucking (rabbits).

Prostate problems (dogs): Enlarged prostate occurs in more than 80% of un-neutered male dogs past the age of five. Some dogs with an enlarged prostate have difficulty with urination or bowel movements.

Testicular cancer (dogs): About 7% of un-neutered males develop a testicular tumor. Fortunately it seldom spreads. Although castration has a complete cure rate of approximately 90%, neutering prevents it entirely. If your dog has one or both testicles tucked up inside his body (called cryptorchidism) he is far more likely to develop a testicular tumor compared to a dog with descended testicles; this condition can also be passed on to offspring so a cryptorchid dog should definitely be neutered.

Behavioural problems and injuries: Roaming is the main problem for both un-neutered males and females as they are likely to want to try and find a mate. This can lead to road traffic accidents, fighting with others and injury. Dogs often have problems with recall and focusing on their owner if they are being led by their hormones. Some animals will also demonstrate hormone-related aggression.

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Neutered rabbits can live together happily

Common myths about neutering

“It changes the pet’s personality”
The only behaviour changes are likely to be positive ones. Neutered animals often make better companions and are more affectionate. Pets are less likely to roam, which means less chance of getting lost or hit by a car, they are also less likely to mark territory or get in fights.

“Neutered pets become fat and lazy”
While it is true that a neutered animal needs fewer calories in the diet, it is ultimately overfeeding and/or a lack of exercise by the owners that causes obesity in animals. Make time for walks and play, and ask your veterinary nurse about reducing calories once your pet has been neutered.

“My pets are brother and sister so they won’t mate”
The fact that they are related to each other will make no difference to your pets, they will still mate and produce offspring.

“My pet is a pedigree and shouldn’t be neutered”
Your pet is a companion, not a financial investment or status symbol. Unless you are planning on showing your pet and plan to breed, you should consider having it neutered. Remember that one in four animals handed in to animal shelters is a  pedigree.

“I don’t want my male pet to feel deprived or less masculine”
You shouldn’t confuse human sexuality with an animal’s hormonal instincts. Neutering won’t cause any negative emotional reaction in your male pet. In addition, it greatly reduces the risk of prostate and testicular diseases in dogs and the possibility of FIV & FeLV and fight related wounds and abscesses in male cats.

“It’s too expensive to have my pet neutered”
The surgery is a one-time cost and a small price to pay for the health of your pet and the prevention of life threatening illnesses, not to mention preventing more homeless animals. Our pet health club offers a 20% discount on neutering and there are also several animal charities that may provide assistance with the cost of neutering.

“Having a litter is good for her and it will be a great experience for the family”
Motherhood will not make your pet healthier or happier (and some animals make terrible mothers!). In fact, early spaying greatly reduces the likelihood of mammary cancer, and eliminates potentially life threatening infections of the uterus and ovaries.

If you are thinking about letting your pet have a litter, is important that you think things through properly and ensure that you make the health and welfare of your pet and its offspring an absolute priority. Breeding because you think a male and female will produce cute offspring or because you think you will make some money is extremely irresponsible. Care must to be taken to ensure you can find good homes for the whole litter, that you will not be allowing genetic/hereditary problems to be passed on to the offspring and that you can afford to look after the mother and her offspring properly.
Before you let your pet get pregnant, think about the following things

  • Have you ensured that your pet is healthy, vaccinated and is not going to be passing on genetic or hereditary problems to the offspring? Have you had the appropriate health screening tests carried out such as checking for hip dysplasia and eye problems in dogs (further information can be found on The Kennel Club website), viruses in cats and dental misalignment problems in rabbits?
  • Is your pet’s temperament good? Do they have any fear or aggression issues?
  • Is your pet fully grown and mature enough to have a litter?  Usually between 18 months and 3 years old, but this is dependent on species and size, so ask your vet or veterinary nurse if you are not sure.
  • Can you find an appropriate mate? It is vitally important and you ensure that the mate is healthy and has also had the appropriate vaccinations and health tests. Just letting your female pet out to get mated by any roaming male suitor is highly irresponsible, she may end up with disease or illness (particularly in the case of cats) that can not only make her sick, but could be passed on to her offspring.
  • If your pet has difficulties giving birth you may end up paying for a very expensive caesarean operation. This could result in complicated surgery for the mother and you may end up with no babies or, worse, the mother could die too! (Pregnancy complications are not usually covered by pet insurance). For your information, the dog breeds most likely to require a Caesarean Section are the English Bulldog, Boston terrier, French Bulldog, Mastiff, Scottish Terrier, English Bull Terrier, Miniature Bull Terrier, Clumber spaniel, Pekingese and Chihuahua (as well as crosses of these breeds).
  • If the mother cannot or will not feed her litter are you prepared to hand-rear them and to give them food every 2 hours for 24 hours a day until they are weaned?  
  • Food and care of the litter will be expensive until they go to new homes. Can you afford the cost of feeding, worming and possibly vaccinating them all? If the mother and/or her offspring become unwell can you afford the veterinary treatment that they will need? The puppies will also need to be microchipped and registered before they go to a new home (this applies to all litters, whether planned or accidental).  
  • Do you know how to look after your pet during pregnancy and raise, habituate and socialise the offspring properly, before they go to their new homes?
  • Can you find good homes for all of the litter? What will you do if you can’t find homes for them or if they are returned to you because their new owners cannot keep them? Are you comfortable with the fact that you could be adding to the many thousands of animals in rescue centres that cannot find homes? 

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Should you have your cat neutered?

We do generally recommend that cats are neutered, unless you have a registered pedigree cat that you are planning to breed from. This is because the vast majority of cats cannot be ‘chaperoned’ in the same way that dogs are and, when they are let outside, they are generally left to their own devices; making pregnancy in females highly likely and also increasing the risk of disease transmission through sexual activity and wounds, as well as injuries from territorial fighting. So unless you can prevent this by keeping your cat indoors and well mentally stimulated, or by cat-proofing your garden to prevent your cat getting out and other cats getting in, then neutering is usually the best option for your cat.

Should you have your rabbit or guinea pig neutered?

Whether to neuter your rabbit or guinea pig will very much depend on their housing circumstances and group dynamics. Female rabbits can often become territorial and aggressive from 4-6 months of age,  they may have repeated false pregnancies, and may growl at, bite and scratch their owners as well as other rabbits. Spaying reduces (and sometimes eliminates) these problems.  Male rabbits can be territorial, aggressive and spray urine. Neutered males of both species are often much happier and relaxed, they can also live with a spayed female or even another neutered male. Since rabbits and guinea pigs should be kept in groups of 2 or more, neutering of one or all is usually the best option.

Should you have your dog neutered?

It is up to you as the responsible owner to decide whether or not to have your dog or bitch neutered. At Castle Vets we generally do not recommend that male or female dogs are neutered until they have finished growing and have reached maturity, which is usually between 8 months and 2 years old, depending on the breed (bigger breeds take longer to fully mature). However, we also understand that some young and hormonal dogs can be a real handful, so we will neuter at a younger age if you request it.

We have discussed the risks of not neutering above, but here are some of the benefits seen in dogs that have delayed neutering until they have reached maturity, or have not been neutered at all

  • Fewer fear-related behavioural problems, especially in male dogs (1)
  • Lower risk of Hip Dysplasia and Cruciate Ligament damage in larger breeds (2)
  • Lower risk of some cancer types such as hemangiosarcoma and lymphosarcoma (3,4)
  • Lower risk of hypothyroidism (4)
  • Lower risk of obesity (although frankly this has more to do with what and how much is fed by the owner)
Being a responsible owner of an unneutered dog
  • Male dogs: If you own a dog and do not want to get him neutered, you need to make sure that you can prevent him roaming the neighbourhood and running away every time a bitch comes into season locally. It is as much your responsibility as the owner of a bitch in season, to prevent an unwanted mating. You also need to ensure that he has had proper socialisation, training and behaves well around other entire and neutered male dogs. If you can do this then you may not need to neuter your dog.
  • Bitches: If you own a bitch and do not want her neutered, you need to be sure that you can prevent her from being mated and becoming pregnant potentially twice a year and that you can cope with her seasonal bleed twice yearly as well (which can be very messy in some bitches). You will need to be careful about where and when you take her for walks during her season; she will still need exercise, but will be very attractive to any unneutered male dogs in the area. You also must never leave a bitch in season unattended outside, even in your own back garden, unless you are 100% sure that she cannot get out and other dogs cannot get in (you would be surprised at the length some male dogs will go to for a bitch in heat!)

Canine behavioural problems that neutering cannot solve

There are some canine problems that are often misinterpreted as being caused by the dog’s sex hormones and unfortunately neutering will not solve these problems. In some cases your vet may be able to give your dog an injection of a hormone suppressing drug that will mimic the effects of neutering and enable you to see if neutering will have any effect on the behaviour.

  • Over excitability and unruly behaviour: This problem is commonly due to adolescence and/or a lack of training and these dogs often respond really well to reward-based training and appropriate mental and physical stimulation. Increasing the amount of daily exercise and, if possible, giving them more opportunity to exercise off-lead can make a huge difference to these dogs.
  • Predatory hunting, herding or chasing behaviours: This is down to the breed/type of dog and what it has been bred to do rather than a hormonal issue. These problems often need the input of a qualified behaviourist to help you and your dog.
  • Fearful, unconfident dogs: Anecdotal evidence from many qualified animal behaviourists suggest that neutering these dogs may actually make the situation worse. Seek out advice from an appropriately qualified canine behaviourist to help you if your dog is fearful.
  • Bitches that show signs of aggression or reactivity when not in season: Spaying is unlikely to improve the behaviour and there is a small risk that spaying could make the behaviour worse. We advise that you speak to an appropriately qualified canine behaviourist to help you if your dog is showing signs of aggression.

What happens when your pet is neutered ?

At a good veterinary practice the following should happen when your pet is neutered

  1. Your pet will usually be admitted at the practice between 8am and 9am (dogs and cats will need to have an empty stomach – so no food after 10pm the night before).
  2. Your pet should be given an injection of a mild sedative and a long acting pain relief injection.
  3. Your pet should be placed in his or her own kennel with a nice snuggly blanket to sit on (or something to hide under if they are a cat)
  4. After the sedative has taken effect, your pet will be given an anaesthetic and some hair will be clipped away from the surgical site.
  5. The vet will perform the surgery whilst a veterinary nurse closely monitors the anaesthetic and records your pet’s breathing rate, heart rate, colour and reflexes throughout the whole of the surgery.
  6. After the operation a veterinary nurse will watch and monitor your pet closely until he or she is fully awake. We will then contact you to let you know how your pet is and when you can pick him or her up from the surgery.
  7. When your pet goes home they should have a buster collar or a medical pet t-shirt to prevent them from interfering with their wounds
  8. Your pet may have some medication to take for the next few days, so a veterinary nurse will explain how and when you should give this to your pet. Make sure your pet receives all of his or her medication, don’t stop it because your pet looks fine.
  9. You will need to take your pet back to the practice 3 days later for a check over and then 7 days after that for any sutures to be removed.

Always check with your veterinary practice that either a veterinary nurse or vet will be monitoring your pet’s anaesthetic and vital signs throughout the procedure and will be monitoring your pet carefully as he or she wakes up after the operation.

Problems that could occur with the procedure

Every anaesthetic and surgical procedure carries a small risk, whether it be on an animal or a human. At castle Vets your pet will have a thorough health check prior to the operation, to ensure that he or she is healthy and well enough for the procedure to take place on that day.

Postoperative infections are very rare but if one does occur, your pet will be examined and given any necessary treatment and/or medication to help them get well again.

Occasionally a patient may need to be re-sutured if they pull out their stitches, which is why we always recommend they go home with buster collars to prevent this;  We even offer a refund if your pet does not need to use the collar because we would rather they had one just in case.
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References

1. Association Pet Behaviour Counsellors
2. Slauterbeck, et al Canine Ovariohysterectomy and Orchiectomy Increases the Prevalence of ACL Injury
3. Gretel Torres de la Riva, et al Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers
4. Laura J. Sanborn, Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs

We hope you find this article useful and informative. Please contact Castle Vets if you wish to discuss neutering your pet.

National Pet Month April 2017


NPM 2017

National Pet Month has been going strong in the UK for 27 years! It is all about celebrating the wonderful impact pets have on our lives and promoting responsible pet ownership. It is supported by veterinary teams, animal therapy providers, animal charities, animal experts and pet shops from all over the UK.

  • Promote responsible pet ownership
  • Raise awareness of the benefits of owning a pet
  • Increase awareness of the roles of pet care specialists
  • Highlight the value of assistance and working companion animals.

There will be events going on for pet lovers this month, including the All About Dogs Show at Newbury Showground 8th-9th  April. You can access lots of pet care information on the Castle Vets Blog and free webinars about pet care are available to pet owners from Pet Webinars , with topics including pet care, diabetes, vaccines, hyperthyroidism and reptile care.

Top 10 Tips For Responsible Pet Owners

1. Think carefully before getting a pet and learn about its special requirements

The prospect of getting a new pet can be very exciting and it is a wonderful feeling to be a proud owner. Anyone who has taken on a pet will know that within a matter of hours you are completely hooked, but there are a few things to think about before your commit to and bring home your new bundle of fun and cuteness.

  • Are you ready for a pet and who in the household will look after it ?
  • The species, size and breed of pet need to be considered carefully to ensure they will fit into your lifestyle. For example, if you want something as energetic as a Husky,  Collie, Labrador or Dalmation, you need to make sure you have time to exercise it properly for at least 2-3 hours a day. If you want Rabbits (you have to have at least 2 together), you need to make sure you have space for a large hutch and a large run and/or secure garden. Some cat breeds really don’t enjoy being left alone all day and may become destructive.
  • The potential costs involved with keeping a pet can be huge! The average annual costs of owning a pet have been estimated at £1000 – £1500 for a dog, around £1200 for a cat, £400 – £500 for a ferret, £500-£600 for a rabbit and £300-£400 for a guinea pig.
  • Your pet will need exercise, no matter what species it is. Do you have enough time to devote to ensuring that you can meet your chosen pet’s requirements? Can you provide suitable housing and exercise areas for your pet?

Read our articles Think before you buy that pet and How to choose a new pet and where to get it from before your rush into a decision.

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2. Ensure your pet is sociable and well trained

All pets can be trained and socialised, but it does take time and effort on your part. Dogs in particular must have the correct socialisation and training to ensure that they are well mannered and under control around other animals and people; this is as important for the small breeds as it is for the larger ones! You can read more about training your pet in this article

3. Provide a nutritious, well balanced diet to ensure your pet remains fit and healthy

It is very important that your pet receives the correct type and amount of food appropriate for his or her species, size and age. You must also ensure that your pet is not too thin or does not become overweight. Ask your veterinary nurse if you have any questions about what and how much your pet should be eating. Have a look at these articles for general advice on feeding Rabbits and Guinea Pigs.

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4. Provide suitable housing and bedding

It is important to provide a safe, comfortable living area for your pet at the correct temperature for their species. For dogs and cats, this is usually as simple as providing a cosy bed in an area of your home. For other species, always buy the biggest cage, hutch, tank or vivarium that you can afford and have space for. Did you know that many of the rodent cages, reptile tanks and rabbit/guinea pig hutches that are sold in pet shops are far too small? As a general rule every cage must be tall enough for the animal to stand up fully on his or her hind legs to stretch up completely.

  • Rabbits should have a hutch that is big enough for him or her to hop 3 times across the length and enable them to stand up on their hind legs for the average pair of rabbits this means a hutch that is at least 6 ft x 2 ft x 2 ft plus an exercise run of at least 8ft x 6ft.
  • Guinea Pigs need a hutch that is at least 4 ft x 2ft x 1.5 ft, plus an exercise run
  • Rats need cages that are a minimum of  2.5 ft x 1.3 ft x 1.5 ft for a pair of rats
This rabbit hutch is far too small!

This rabbit hutch is far too small!

5. Clean up after your pet and worm it regularly (where appropriate)

Ensure that you clean up any urine and faeces daily from litter trays, hutches, cages and vivariums, as well as cleaning up after your dog on walks. Doing this will help prevent illness, infection, parasites and disease from occurring or being transmitted between pets (and potentially people).  Check your pet’s bottom/genital area every day to ensure this is free from faeces and urine and clean them up if necessary. Worming is very important for dogs and cats and should be done at least 4 times a year. Read our article for more information on Why worming is important.

6. Protect against disease

We recommend that dogs, cats and rabbits receive their annual vaccinations to protect them against highly contagious and potentially fatal diseases. Some diseases, such as Leptospirosis in dogs, can also be transmitted to humans (although it is rare). There is a lot of debate over whether vaccinations are always necessary for your pet, so please read our articles on why we recommend them, before you make up your mind.

Protecting your pet from disease isn’t all about vaccinations; you can also protect your pet from disease by

  • Taking him or her to the vet for an annual health check. This will enable the vet to check your pet over and pick up any problems early and before they become too serious.
  • Check your pet over thoroughly every day. Look out for lumps, cuts, scratches and lameness as well as any behavioural changes that may indicate a problem.
  • Ensuring you prevent parasite infestations such as  worms and fleas which can have a big impact on the health of your pet. Speak to your veterinary nurse about which products are best suited to your pet.
  • Ensuring your pet does not become obese. Excessive weight puts pressure on the organs and joints in an animal’s body, making everything work harder and increasing the risk of disease.

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7. Prevent unwanted litters and neuter your pet when appropriate

The decision about whether to have your pet neutered or not is likely to be one of the biggest that you make as a pet owner. There is no doubt that neutering your pet can have really great benefits to their health and you will also be doing your bit to help the growing crisis of the thousands of pets already in rescue centres around the country, because there aren’t enough homes to go around. However, for many different reasons, not all pet owners (especially dog owners) will want to have their pets neutered and as long as these unneutered pets are managed responsibly, this decision is fine. We want you to be well informed so read our article on The pros and cons of neutering for more information.

8. Groom your pet regularly

Grooming your pet will not only keep his or her coat looking lovely, but also remove any uncomfortable knots and enable you to check for any lumps, bumps, cuts and scratches. Grooming can be a very good bonding exercise and most pets will tolerate it well if started at an early age.

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9. Ensure your pet is properly identified

Microchipping

It is particularly important to have dogs and cats microchipped, but did you know that almost any species of animal can be microchipped?

  • on 6th April 2016 it became a legal requirement for ALL dogs in England to be microchipped and registered on an approved database.
  • Puppies must be microchipped and registered by the breeder before they go to their new home and by the time they are 8 weeks old (this applies to all puppies, whether intentionally bred or an accidental litter).
  • When the puppies or dogs of any age go to a new home, the new owner will need to transfer the microchip details to their own name and address by filling out a form with the current owner.
  • It is the responsibility of the owner/keeper of the dog to ensure that the database information such as name address and contact numbers are kept up to date.

Identification Tags 

  • It is a legal requirement for every dog to be wearing an identification tag/disk with the owner’s contact number, address and postcode on it, when the dog is out in a public area. This applies even if the dog is already microchipped and there is a very large fine for non-compliance.

10. Ensure you can control your dog

It is against the law to let a dog be dangerously out of control. This now applies to both private property and public places. You can be prosecuted and you dog could potentially be put down if he or she is proven to be out of control!

  • You must be able to control your dog at all times, this means being able to call your dog back to you and making sure that he or she responds to you.
  • Your dog must not jump up at or chase other members of the public. Even the friendliest or smallest of dogs can cause damage by jumping up at someone, especially a child or an elderly person.
  • If there is any possibility that your dog is might attack another dog or a person he or she must be muzzled in public places.
  • You must not train or encourage your dog to attack/threaten people or other dogs.

Please read our article if your would like to know more about the laws of dog ownership in the UK

11. Take out pet insurance if possible

Pet Insurance can help cover against any unexpected and costly veterinary fees if your pet is injured or becomes unwell. Most types of pets can be insured, but it is worth doing plenty of research and looking around before you commit to a particular pet insurance company. You can read our article for more information about pet insurance.

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The veterinary nursing team at Castle Vets offer free consultations, by appointment, for you to discuss any aspect of your pet’s care and wellbeing to ensure that you meet all of his or her individual needs. Our nurses are also happy to help anyone who is thinking about getting a pet and can offer advice about what type and breed of pet may fit in with your lifestyle, how to look after a pet properly and the costs that may be involved with pet ownership.

You can find out more about events that may be happening near you by visiting the National Pet Month Website or via their Facebook page

Guinea Pig Care & Health

Guinea pigs, or Cavies, are small, sociable, friendly, chatty, adorable and inquisitive. There are over 40 different breeds of guinea pig recognised by the British Cavy Council and these include many different colours, coat types and coat lengths so there is definitely a guinea pig to suit everyone.

With their gentle natures they make great pets and, if given a lot of love and attention, can make wonderful companions for both adults and children (an adult should always supervise the care and any interactions between children and their pets). Guinea pigs live on average for 4-8 years and owning them is very rewarding, but it is also a big responsibility and commitment in terms of care and finances, so please think about this before you buy your guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs

Guinea Pig History 

Guinea pigs have certainly been around people for a very long time and have played an important role in the culture of many indigenous groups in South America, not only as a food source but also in medicine and in religious ceremonies; statues of guinea pigs that date from around 500 BC to 500 AD have been found in Peru and it is believed some of the ancient Peruvian tribes depicted the guinea pig in their art.

The guinea pigs that we now keep as pets are descendants of wild guinea pigs found in the Andes that were introduced to Europe in the 16th century. No one knows exactly where the name Guinea Pig came from, but in the 16th century traders brought guinea pigs over from South America to Europe and it is possible that they stopped at Guiana on their journey, which may have led to people thinking this is where they came from. It may also be a reference to coin known as a Guinea, which could have been the price of the “friendly rodent that squeaks like a pig”.

Guinea pigs were kept as pets by the aristocracy and became even more popular when it was discovered that Queen Elizabeth I kept one as a pet too.

Guinea Pigs Need Company (but not from rabbits!)

In South America, wild cavies live in burrows in rocky areas, savanna, forest edges, and swamps, they are very social and live in groups of up to 10. Pet guinea pigs do best when housed in groups of 2-3 or more of the same sex or neutered. They also love plenty of human company and gentle handling, chatting and stroking.

Best friends Colin & Doug

Best friends Colin & Doug

Guinea pigs and rabbits should NOT be kept together in the same hutch/enclosure or run
  1. They have different dietary needs and guinea pigs cannot synthesise vitamin C which must be provided adequately within their diet.
  2. Rabbits may injure guinea pigs by kicking them with their powerful back legs, by jumping on them, or by trying to mate with them.
  3. Rabbits may bully guinea pigs, which can make them distressed if they cannot get away.
  4. Rabbits carry a bacteria called Bordetella Bronchiseptica and while this does not harm the rabbit it is the most common cause of respiratory disease in guinea pigs and can make them very poorly (cats and dogs can also carry this bacteria).
  5. Rabbits behave and communicate in very different ways to guinea pigs, so they don’t understand each other’s behaviour and therefore do not make ideal companions.
No bunnies

Rabbits Guinea Pigs do not make good companions for each other

Feeding

Guinea pigs have evolved to be able to extract all their nourishment from the poor quality vegetation that is often the only source of food available to them in the wild. This means that they require a diet that is low in calories but high in fibre.

Dietary problems are one of the main causes of most illnesses and problems that we see in guinea pigs at Castle Vets and a poor diet can lead to obesity (and its related complications), soft stools, diarrhoea, fly strike, scurvy and bone and teeth problems.

The following feeds are listed in order of importance
  1. Water – fresh water should be provided daily and bowls and bottles cleaned regularly.
  2. Hay – fed Ad Lib. the fibre contained in hay is extremely important to the guinea pigs diet. Dried grass can also be fed in unlimited quantities.
  3. Fresh vegetables – a minimum of 3 different types daily, veg is an important source of vitamins. Variety will be appreciated by your guinea pigs, but remember to introduce any new veggies one at a time and in small amounts.
  4. Fresh fruit – Don’t over do the fruit as although your guinea pigs will love it, it contains lots of sugars and can lead to obesity and dental problems.
  5. Dried food – guinea pig pellets are better than the muesli versions of dried food as they prevent selective eating. Dry food should only make up a small percentage of your guinea pigs daily diet.

Your guinea pigs will also love to graze on fresh grass when they are out and about. They will also enjoy dandelions, dandelion leaves (care should be taken to ensure they don’t eat too many though) and clover.

Suitable Vegetables

Veggies should generally be given in quite small amounts and for leafy veg 1 or 2 (if small) leaves is plenty. Rotate food types so your guinea pigs are not getting the same things all of the time.

  • Beetroot
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Chicory
  • Corn on the cob (very small amount)
  • Cress
  • Cucumber
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Pak Choi
  • Parsley
  • Parsnip
  • Pepper (bell) not seeds/stalks
  • Radishes
  • Rocket
  • Runner beans
  • Spinach
  • Spring Greens
  • Swede
  • Sweet potato (peeled)
  • Tomatoes Cherry/Vine not leaves
Suitable Fruit

Fruit can contain lots of calories, so only small amounts should be given at a time i.e. 1 or 2 small slices or berries. As a general rule the leaves, stalks and seeds/pips/stones should also be removed. Some fruits such as grapefruit, orange and kiwi have high acidity so should only be given in very small amounts.

  • Apple (not stalk/pips)
  • Banana (peeled)
  • Grapes (1 or 2)
  • Grapefruit (peeled)
  • Kiwi fruit (peeled)
  • Mango (peeled)
  • Melon (not skin)
  • Pear (not stalk/pips)
  • Orange segment (peeled)
  • Strawberry (not leaves)
  • Raspberry

 

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Colin likes a wide variety of fruit and veg, but strawberries are his favourite

Vitamin C

Guinea pigs require a diet that is rich in vitamin C because, unlike most other mammals, they cannot synthesise this themselves (we humans can’t either!). A nutritious diet of good quality hay, dry pellet food (not mix) that is specially designed for guinea pigs and a varied supply of fresh veggies and fruit should be enough to maintain a healthy intake of Vitamin C.

Good sources of vitamin C are red and green bell peppers, Parsley, Broccoli and Curly Kale. Although there are foods that have higher Vitamin C content than these, such as cabbage, spinach, beetroot greens, oranges, kiwis & grapefruit, these need to be fed sparingly due to high calcium content or acidity.

Remember that vegetables and fruit should be as fresh as possible, since the vitamin C levels in food will decrease by up to half every 10 days after it has been harvested.

You should not need to add vitamin C supplements to your guinea pig’s food or water (unless they are poorly and a vet recommends you do so) Too much vitamin C in the diet has been linked to kidney stones, bladder stones and painful joints.

Handling

Guinea pigs are ‘prey’ animals and are genetically programmed to always be on the lookout for and run away from danger, which can mean that it may take a little while for your guinea pig to learn to trust you.

Approach them by letting them know you are there and by moving your hand towards them from the side, rather than from above. Hold out your hand and keep it still so that your guinea pig can choose whether or not to approach you or stay away – don’t force them to be stroked. Offer really tasty, small pieces of veg or fruit and hand feed your guinea pig so that he or she learns that your presence is a positive thing.

Don’t pick your guinea pig up if you don’t have too, they are so much happier with all four paws on the ground! Instead sit on the floor and encourage your guinea pig onto your lap for strokes and cuddles using food.

If you do need to pick up your guinea pig, always do it by placing one hand under the chest and use the other to support their hind quarters – always make sure you have a firm hold of your guinea pig while you are holding them, as falling from a height can injure them.

Often if you sit on the floor quietly, your guinea pigs will come to you when they want some attention (or treats!).

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Housing

Traditionally Guinea pigs have always been kept in hutches in the garden, however guinea pigs are just as happy (if not happier) when kept indoors. Wherever you decide to house your pets, there are a few things that need to be considered

1. Hay and straw are generally good materials for bedding, and the bottom of the hutch or enclosure can be lined with newspaper. Wood shavings as sawdust are not recommended as they have been linked to causing respiratory problems in small mammals. Other popular bedding materials include

  • Fitch – recycled perforated paper, it is very absorbent and is actually marketed for horses.
  • Finacard – dust free cardboard bedding.
  • Megazorb – made from wood pulp, highly absorbent and safe for use with small animals.
  • Fleece/Vetbed/Towels – commonly used for indoor guinea pigs This keeps guinea pigs dry and is soft on their feet also. You do need to supply an area for foraging in (i.e., hay)  if using these materials.

2. Enclosures/hutches should have a minimum floor area of 2ft x 4ft with a height of at least 40cm (the bigger the better) There are a wide range of hutches and indoor accommodation available for Guinea pigs but please remember that most of the cages available from pet shops are far too small for  them.

There are many different types of cage for your guinea pig3. The cage and exercise areas, including the wire mesh, feeding bowls, bottles and toys should be thoroughly cleaned once a week using a pet safe disinfectant. Rinse the cage and allow it to dry properly before putting your guinea pigs back inside.

Exercise

Guinea pigs are surprisingly active and can happily mooch around for up to 20 hours per day, so they will need plenty of space for exercise and toys for stimulation.

      • The exercise area should be at least 2 metres long, 1.25m wide and 0.6m high to give your Guinea pig plenty of space.
      • They should have an outside space for when the weather is nice and an inside space so that they can get exercise in cold or wet weather.
      • The exercise space will need to be secure to protect your piggies from getting into trouble, escaping or being attacked by predators. People may tell you that guinea pigs don’t jump, but they definitely can.
      • You will need to provide toys and hiding places such as tunnels or pipes to crawl through and cardboard boxes to hide in or chew. A link to a supplier of guinea pig toys can be found at the bottom of the page.
      • The exercise area should include some shade from the sun and shelter if the weather is windy or wet.
Colin & Doug are happy exploring indoors and outdoors

Colin & Doug are happy exploring indoors and outdoors

Training

Guinea pigs can be trained to do tricks with a little patience and some tasty food rewards. Training is great mental stimulation for your pets and will really improve your bond.

Daily Health Care

  • Bottom – Guinea pigs normally pass faecal pellets as well as the softer caecotrophs which they eat.Guinea pigs with consistently dirty bottoms may be suffering from an illness that causes loose faeces or diarrhoea, or they may be overweight and cannot groom themselves properly. Your pet’s bottom should be clean and dry with no mats or faecal matter stuck around it which could attract flies to lay their eggs leading to fly-strike. Dirty bottoms can be cleaned using cotton wool soaked in warm water and then thoroughly towel drying the area afterwards (do not use a hair dryer on your guinea pig).
  • Breathing – Guinea pigs breathe a lot faster than we humans do (50-150 breaths per minute!). Check for any signs that your pet may be having difficulty, such as wheezing noises or panting which may indicate a respiratory problem or infection.
  • Coat – Guinea pigs should be groomed daily (go on they enjoy it!) and their coat should look and feel clean and healthy. Most guinea pigs groom themselves really well so if you notice that your pet is not looking after him or herself this may indicate a health problem. Any mats that you find in the coat should be carefully groomed out because they will only become worse and very uncomfortable if they are left. Any signs of excessive moulting/shedding or any bald patches may indicate a parasite or health problem.
  • Ears – The ears should be clean and dry with no waxy or mucky discharge or crusting.
  • Eating and Drinking – Make sure your guinea pig is eating and drinking well every day.
  • Eyes – The eyes should be clean, clear and bright. Any discharge could indicate an infection such as conjunctivitis or a blocked tear duct.
  • Feet – The feet should be clean and dry. Sore patches or faecal matter on them may indicate a health problem (or that you need to clean out your pet’s toilet area more often!). Make sure that your pet’s nails are not too long – nail clipping can be done at home if you have someone to help hold your guinea pig for you. Your veterinary nurse can show you what to use and how to do it properly.
  • Mouth – Check that the upper and lower front teeth (incisors) meet properly in the middle and that they are not overgrown as this may prevent your guinea pig from eating properly and could cause infections if the teeth are rubbing other areas of the mouth. Make sure there is no excess salivation or dribbling which may indicate that there is a problem with your guinea pig’s teeth or gums.
  • Movement – Look for any signs that your pet might be lame (limping) when moving about his or her hutch or exercise area, or that your pet is reluctant to exercise.
  • Nose –The nose should be clean and dry with no discharge. Any snuffling, discharge or crustiness may indicate a problem.
  • Skin – The skin should look clean and healthy. Stroking your guinea pig will help you feel for any lumps, bumps or wounds on the skin; if you find anything out of the ordinary make a note of exactly where it is before contacting your vet as small lumps can be difficult to find again! Flaky or dry skin could also indicate poor diet or a parasite problem.

GP groom

Common illnesses and problems

 On the whole guinea pigs are usually relatively healthy pets and the problems or illnesses that they suffer from are often as a result or poor husbandry or nutrition.

  • Abscesses (an infected swelling within a body tissue, containing pus)  – these can affect the skin, teeth, muscles and lymph nodes. They are usually caused by infected wounds and bites or as a result of a dental problem.
  • Dental problems – overgrown or sharp teeth can be very painful and may need to be filed down by a vet. This is often a result of not eating enough hay and dried grass.
  • Gut/intestinal problems – these are usually caused by poor diet or too many watery vegetables or sweet treats, but they can be caused by bacterial infections and imbalances. Symptoms can include inappetance, diarrhoea, soft stools, constipation, hunched posture (pain).
  • Mouth sores – this is usually as a result of a dental problem or from eating too many watery or sugary foods.
  • Obesity – this is a common problem in all pet animals and can lead to heart and respiratory problems, flystrike (because they can’t clean themselves properly), sore joints and skin sores and bumble foot.
  • Parasites – Guinea pigs can be infested by mites and fleas and get fungal infections such as ringworm. Symptoms include hair loss, scratching, crusty/scabby skin and open sores or wounds caused by scratching.
  • Respiratory problems – these can be caused by a number of bacteria, including Bordetella, which is carried by rabbits. If your guinea pig is wheezing or has noisy breathing he needs to be seen by a vet.
  • Scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency)  – Guinea pigs cannot make vitamin C themselves, so it needs to be provided in the form of a healthy diet. Symptoms include poor coat, inappetance, diarrhoea, reluctance to walk, painful, swollen feet or joints and hemorrhages and ulcers on the gums or skin.
  • Urinary Problems – guinea pigs can develop cystitis which may be caused by a urinary infection and/or urinary calculi (stones), which normally form in the bladder but can form in the kidneys too. Symptoms include inappetance, blood in the urine, straining to pass urine, a hunched posture or a complete lack of urine production.

If you suspect that your guinea pig is unwell or may have any of the problems listed above, please don’t delay and get him or her to the vet as soon as possible for a check over.

Colin & Doug (5)

Guinea pigs are generally very healthy pets

Neutering guinea pigs

Neutering prevents unwanted pregnancies and also means that males and females can live together. Neutering also helps control the number of unwanted pets in this country, reducing the numbers being abandoned, neglected and put to sleep. It is very uncommon to neuter a Sow (female) and is usually only necessary for medical reasons. More commonly the Boars (male guinea pigs) are neutered so that they can live with females – this group dynamic works really well.

If you are going to have your guinea pig neutered then be aware that every anaesthetic carries a risk of complications and death (this is the same with any species). It is worth checking that your vet has equipment and facilities for the anaesthesia and recovery of small animals and that they are experienced in the anaesthesia and neutering of guinea pigs.

Useful links

Rodents with attitude – a very informative guinea pig site and forum

Little Adventures – Informative Vlogs on Youtube

British Cavy Council – information on the various breeds and showing guinea pigs

Colin (the ginger guinea pig) & Doug (the brown and white guinea pig) appear courtesy of Amy Huggins RVN

Fun Pet Facts

For the start of the year, I thought I would share some pet facts that we have picked up over the years in practice.

According to the PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report 2016 people 51% of households in the UK own pets, with an estimated population of 9.4 million dogs, 11 million cats and 1.5 million rabbits.

Rabbits have near 360-degree vision and can even see behind them. Their only blind spot right is right in front of their nose.

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An Ailurophile is someone who likes cats and a Cynophile is someone who prefers dogs

Guinea pigs are not related to pigs and do not originate from Guinea in West Africa. They are actually rodents and come from South America.

A dog or cat nose print is as unique as a human fingerprint

Approximately 1/3 of a dog’s brain mass is devoted to smell (compared to being only 5% in humans!) and their sense of smell is between 1000 and 10000000 times more sensitive than ours is, depending on the dog breed.

Dog nose

According to Guinness World Records, the oldest cat ever was ‘Crème Puff’ who lived to be an amazing 38 years old! The greatest reliable age recorded for a dog is 29 years 5 months for an Australian cattle-dog named Bluey.

Almost all animals can be taught to respond to commands using reward-based training, including dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, horses and rodents.

Rabbits have very strong back legs, allowing them to jump up to one meter high and three meters long.

Adult cats very rarely meow to communicate with each other, but they soon learn that meowing at their human will get them extra attention and food.

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Goldfish can live for over 20 years with the proper care and environment. the oldest living goldfish was reported to be 45 years old.

Happy rabbits will often jump and skip around in joy – it’s called a binky.

Fish can see colors and some scientist believe that fish may even be able to see more colors than humans.

goldfish

Research by the University Of Minnesota concluded that cat owners are much less likely to suffer from a stroke.

Chinchillas shed their fur in big clumps if they feel scared or threatened, to help them escape from predators.

Guinea Pig world records include running 10 metres in 8.81 seconds and jumping a gap of 48cm.

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Pet ownership can help make you more able to deal with pain. One study found that stroking a dog could halve the amount of pain relief needed by a patient recovering from a joint replacement operation.

A cat’s tongue is  lined with tiny elevated backwards hooks that help to hold prey in place, which is why it feels rough if they lick you.

The swedish have a ‘showjumping’ competition for rabbits called Kaninhoppning.

Tortoiseshell cats are nearly always female because the coat colour is dependent on the female chromosomes XX. Because males carry the XY chromosomes, tortoiseshell males are extremely rare.

Stroking cat

Some common terms for groups of animals – A clowder or comfort of cats, a kennel or pack of dogs, a business of ferrets, a chatter of budgerigars, a warren of rabbits and a troubling of goldfish.

Reptiles are ectothermic, which means that they need to warm their bodies from external sources such as the sun, or in the case of pets a heat lamp or rock. This is because they cannot regulate their body temperature in the same way that other animals and people can.

Budgies have monocular vision, which means they use each eye independently.

Blue_male_budgie

The smell of catnip can cause cats to exhibit behaviours that are commonly seen in in-season female cats, including rubbing their head and body on the herb, jumping and rolling around, vocalizing and drooling. Response to catnip is inherited and only about 70% of cats will react to it. Catnip does not affect kittens until they reach sexual maturity.

One in four pet owners sign their pet’s name on christmas and other greetings cards

Ancient Romans considered the rat good luck, and in China the rat is considered a sign of prosperity.

Cutie_Our_Pet_Rat

Make Some Pet Care Resolutions For the New Year

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As this year comes to an end, many of us will be looking forward to the coming year and what we hope to achieve (or avoid!). Thoughts are often about a new diet and getting more exercise, to make up for any holiday indulgences, or making more time for ourselves and our families. Here are some ideas and tips to enhance the health and wellbeing of your pets. Continue reading

Winter Weather Pet Care

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Just like us, the colder months can be a challenge the health and well-being of our pets. Most animals will bound through the chillier months in full health, but we need to be mindful that changes in temperatures and shorter days can have a real impact on the health and happiness of some of our family pets, especially the smaller or more frail ones.

Continue reading