Stiffness and Pain – Don’t Ignore the Signs

Stiff and painful joints can have a big negative impact on your pet’s general health and quality of life and, although it is seen more commonly in older pets, it can affect pets of any age. If you can spot the signs you will be able to take action and help reduce discomfort and pain and improve your pet’s mobility.

Is your pet showing any of the following signs?

  • Slowing down a bit
  • Stiff on rising or after resting
  • Lame after going for a walkold beagle
  • Lying down for a rest part way through a walk
  • Reluctant to exercise
  • More reluctant to jump onto furniture or down from your lap
  • Sleeping more often
  • Withdrawn or out of sorts
  • Unable to curl up properly – changes in the way they sleep
  • Not grooming as much and becoming matted or scruffy
  • Scuffed nails
  • Grumbling, Hissing or snapping when touched in a certain area

These are all symptoms which are often put down to ‘old age’ by owners, but in most cases (just like in people) these symptoms are actually caused by specific problems such as arthritis or degenerative joint disease which, if treated, can relieve the signs of aging and lead to a much happier and more agile pet.

Some animals are very good at hiding any signs of discomfort; cat’s and rabbits especially, will rarely cry out or limp if they are in pain, preferring to shy away from contact and go off by themselves, so you may need to observe them closely for a few days to spot the signs.

older cat 1

Common causes of joint pain and/or stiffness can include

  • Natural wear and tear that occurs with age (this comes to all of us over time!)
  • Arthritis – A term meaning inflammation of one or more joints in the body, it is often used to describe general inflammation and stiffness. It can also be classified as Osteoarthritis which generally refers to a form of chronic joint inflammation caused by deterioration of joint cartilage within the body.
  • Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) is the progressive and permanent deterioration of the cartilage surrounding the joints in an animal’s body over a long period.
  • Hip or Elbow Dysplasia
  • Old injuries such as previously broken bones or cruciate ligament (knee) damage
  • Spine injuries

senior kittizens Rock

Please don’t just brush these signs off as ‘old age’

If your pet seems to have stiff joints, is limping or has difficulty getting about, then he or she is likely to be in some pain and there are ways you can help them lead a happier and more comfortable life.  Some of the treatments available include,

Nutritional supplements or Nutraceuticals for animals with pain or stiffness usually contain vitamins, glucosamine, chondroitin, and/or green lipped mussel; These ingredients can help support and maintain normal joint function in dogs and cats, but need time to build up in the body so results usually are not seen until after the first 5-6 weeks.  Neutraceuticles may come in tablet, suspension or diet food form. Your veterinary nurse can advise you on the best supplements for your pet and they are definitely worth trying in pets that seem to be just a little stiff on rising and after walks. Be careful about which ones you buy as many are not regulated and may not contain the right ingredients – if you are unsure, ask. If your pet is on treatment for other conditions, do check with your vet before starting him or her on supplements as some may interfere with your pets medication. 

Prescription Medication such as anti-inflammatory tablets or suspensions can only be prescribed by your vet. They are usually given once or twice daily to relieve the pain and help your pet feel much more comfortable. The vet will give your pet a thorough examination and assessment, which may also include a blood test before prescribing any medications. These are more expensive than the over-the-counter supplements and nutraceuticals, but your vet can also give you a prescription so you can buy them online or from the pharmacy.

Physiotherapy can help maintain joint movement and strengthen the muscles around the joints so that their is more support. Physiotherapy should always be provided by a qualified animal physiotherapist that you have been referred to by your vet.

Hydrotherapy can help your pet to exercise without putting pressure on sore joints, while building up the strength in supporting muscles. Hydrotherapy should always be provided by a qualified animal hydrotherapist that you have been referred to by your vet. Hydrotherapy may not suit all pets as some do not like water however, many animals start to enjoy their sessions including cats!

Acupuncture can be very effective at helping animals in pain and is a service offered at Castle Vets. Animal Acupuncture should always be carried out by a qualified veterinary surgeon. Acupuncture has worked well for many of our patients and can even help reduce the amount of medication they have to take.

Prescription diet Hills j/d has been proven to help with stiffness and joint pain in dogs and cats and can even help to prevent problems in susceptible pets. For more information you can visit the Hills Pet Food website.

Regular exercise is really important as it helps prevent joints getting stiffer and maintains mobility. Speak to your vet or nurse about a suitable exercise regime for your pet.

Maintaining a healthy weight can have a huge impact on your pet’s health, fitness and wellbeing. Being overweight vastly increases the stress on the body’s joints and we often find that pets with arthritis can improve drastically after losing their excess weight. Helping your pet lose weight is not as difficult as you think and often can be done on their current diet. We offer free Healthy Weight Clinics at Castle Vets and veterinary nurse Clare Espley can give you lots of advice and support with your pets weight loss.

Being overweight will put more pressure on joints

Being overweight will put more pressure on joints

We are here to help your pet

If you are concerned that you pet may have joint pain or stiffness then please contact us and arrange for him or her to be seen by a vet. Our veterinary consultations are 15 minutes long, so you will have plenty of time to chat through your concerns with your vet and discuss all of the treatment options available for your pet.

Our veterinary nurses offer free consultations and can give you advice on exercise routines, available treatments and which nutraceuticals may help your pet.

Contact us on 01189 574488 to make an appointment for your pet or visit our website for more information on the services we can provide.

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Troublesome Ticks & Harvest Mites

Ticks and Harvest Mites are small parasites that survive by feeding on different animal hosts, including mammals, birds and even humans if they get the opportunity. They can be a real nuisance for affected pets, often causing irritation, inflammation and sometimes infection and disease.

Ticks

There are many tick species in the UK but the ones that commonly cause problems by feeding off our pets are the sheep tick (Ixodes ricinus) and the hedgehog tick (Ixodes hexagonus).

Ticks are mostly found in areas with long grasses, in woodlands or in heathland but they can be found in gardens if they have been transported by wild animals during their larval or nymph stages. They can attach anywhere on the animal’s body but are usually found around the head, neck and ears. Owners often mistake ticks for wart-like growths on their pets because of their size and colour. Continue reading

Children and Dogs – Practical Tips

It Can Be Great To Grow Up With A Dog In The Family and many children can benefit from sharing a home with a dog. Taking care of a dog can help older children learn to plan and be responsible, while exercising and playing with a dog at any age is an great way to release excess energy and keep fit. A dog can also give a child unconditional love and someone to talk to and there has also been extensive research into how dogs can help children with learning difficulties, ADHD, Asperger syndrome and Autism.

There is no denying that dogs make fantastic pets and companions, however, it is very important to recognise the potential hazards or dog ownership and try to minimise any risks where children are present.

The purpose of this article is to help you make sure that children are always safe around dogs (and Vice Versa!) we want people to be Mindful and Not Fearful of Dogs.

Copyright Clare Espley RVN

Sylas taking a well deserved rest, after an hour of playing at being a ‘police dog’ and catching imaginary criminals in the woods with his boy. They both had fun racing about at top speed.

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The Hidden Danger Of Grass Seeds & Plant Awns

Grass Seeds and Plant Awns

At this time of year at Castle Vets we start to see a lot of patients (particularly dogs), with grass seeds and plant awns embedded in various parts of the body. This article will hopefully help raise awareness on this extremely painful problem.

During the warmer summer months grasses and plants start to dry out and their barbed seeds begin to scatter. These can cause major problems for our dogs (and occasionally other pets such as cats), who often get these seeds caught in their paws, nostrils, ears, eyes and skin. Continue reading

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Problems In Dogs

SONY DSC

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Disease or Injury is one of the most common causes of hind leg lameness that we see in dogs. The stifle (knee) is a hinge joint that allows the hind leg to bend and is also one of the joints in the body that is most prone to injury.

Inside each knee are two bands of tissue called the caudal and cranial cruciate ligaments which cross over each other inside and help to stabilise the joint. Problems can occur when the cranial cruciate ligament deteriorates and is torn or breaks completely. If it is left untreated it will not only cause pain and lameness in the affected leg, but will ultimately lead to irreversible degenerative joint changes.

Type Of Cruciate Damage

Traumatic Cruciate Damage is usually caused by a sudden and strenuous twisting of the knee joint when moving at speed and suddenly changing direction (similar to what happens in people during activities such as football, squash, rugby etc)

Cruciate Disease is a chronic (on going) problem that is often the result of general wear and tear such as everyday use during walking, running and jumping. This causes the ligament to deteriorate until it tears or ruptures completely (unfortunately it is not yet known what causes the canine cruciate ligament to deteriorate so fast in some dogs). This causes dogs to either become more lame over a period of time as the ligament deteriorates and tears or, to become very suddenly lame as the deteriorating ligament tears or ruptures completely (usually after engaging in strenuous activities or, in some dogs with severe ligament degeneration, the ligament may rupture after a small stumble or even when jumping off a sofa/chair). An important aspect of this gradual deterioration is that both knees are usually affected and 40%-60% of dogs with cruciate problems in one knee will develop problems in the other knee.

Which Dogs Are Affected?

Cruciate disease or injury can occur in a dog of any breed, sex or age, however it has been found to be more common in the following circumstances

  • Overweight dogs (more stress is put on the joints in general)
  • Unfit dogs who engage in sudden strenuous activity (weekend warriors!)
  • Dogs with conformational abnormalities
  • Dogs with poor body condition and muscle mass
  • Certain breeds such as Labradors, Rottweilers, Staffies, Mastiffs, Saint Bernards and Akita’s seem to have a higher incidence of the problem, which suggests that it may be an inherited or conformational problem.

Symptoms of Cruciate Problem

Cruciate ligament disease may initially present as anything ranging from a mild, occasional limp to the sudden onset of complete lameness and is, in most cases, extremely painful. Symptoms of a problem can include one or more of the following

  • Lameness/Limping/weakness in one or both hind legs
  • Completely holding the hind leg up
  • Lameness that gets worse with exercise but improves with rest
  • Stiffness and/or difficulty getting up from sitting or lying down
  • Swelling around the knee joint
  • Reluctance to jump up or climb stairs/steps
  • Sitting at an odd angle
  • Abnormal posture when standing
A dog that is limping or holding it’s leg up will be in pain and should be seen by a vet as soon as possible.

Diagnosing Cruciate Problems

Initially the vet will physically examine the knee to check for any pain, swelling and looseness in the joint, an X-ray may then be taken to check for any other problems within the joint, such as arthritis. A CT Scan or Arthroscopy (keyhole procedure involving a tiny camera) may ALSO be performed if they are available,  so that the vet can assess the extent of the damage to the ligament and whether there are other factors to consider such as arthritis, meniscus damage etc.

Surgical Treatment Of Cruciate Ligament Problems

The aim of any surgery is to stabilise the knee joint to prevent further damage (and pain) and improve mobility. The type of surgical procedure carried out will often depend on whether it is a straightforward (singular) problem i.e. just the cruciate ligament, or whether there are other complications to be taken into account e.g. a luxating patella or meniscal damage (these are the cartilaginous shock absorbers in the knees). It may also depend on the size and activity levels of the dog.

Because the surgery can be quite costly, especially for larger breeds of dog, it will be important to check that the surgery is covered by your pet insurance before your vet proceeds with the operation; this is usually done via a pre-authorisation claim between your vet and your pet insurance company.

The two most common procedures performed today are the Tibial Plateau Levelling Osteotomy (TPLO) and the Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA); Both of these procedures alter the conformation of the joint and the way that forces are transmitted in the moving knee joint. The TPLO and TTA procedures greatly reduce the need for the cruciate ligament to stabilise the joint.

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Replacement Surgery may be performed to stabilise the joint and reduce rotational instability, by either replacing the torn or ruptured ligament using a graft (rarely performed nowadays) or by replacing the ligament with an extracapsular ‘non absorbable’ line and crimps. This is usually only suitable for small to medium sized dogs.

Copyright Castle Vets Pet Healthcare Ltd

Some veterinary practices such as Castle Vets, may have an orthopaedic or specialist vet who is able to carry out these procedures, but other practices may need to refer their patients to another practice, especially if there are concurrent problems in the joint such as a luxating patella, meniscus tears, arthritis, bone spurs or bone fragments.

 After any of these surgeries it is vitally important to follow the veterinary surgeon’s advice regarding,
  1. Exercise and activity: in most cases your pet’s activity will need to be severely restricted for the first six weeks after surgery.
  2. Physiotherapy: your dog will need physiotherapy and often hydrotherapy to help with building up their muscles and mobility. This is also vital for maintaining the stability and strength in the other knee.
  3. Weight Management: It is vitally important that your dog is at his or her correct body weight to ensure no extra stress is placed on the joints.

Non-Surgical Options For Cruciate Problems

Surgery is usually the recommendation and the best course of action for dogs with cruciate problems, especially those over 15kg in body weight,  except when a general anaesthetic and surgery may put the patient’s life at risk (e.g. severe heart disease, immune related conditions).

A non-surgical approach to treatment may be tried in the case of a torn cruciate ligament. The dog will need a very strict  and severely restricted exercise plan, proper weight management, medication/pain relief, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy; they may also require veterinary acupuncture, nutraceuticals and possibly, platelet-rich plasma therapy . We advise that if you want to try this option for your dog that a treatment plan is discussed thoroughly with your vet to ensure that you understand what is involved to best help your dog.

How You Can Help Lower The Chances Of Cruciate Injury

Unfortunately, there is no definite way to prevent  a cruciate injury but you can help lower the risk if you 

  1.  Avoid sudden strenuous activities by ensuring that your dog has a good warm-up walk for at least 10-15 minutes before going off-lead to play with other dogs or chase balls etc. and by making sure that your dog starts chasing toys/balls from a standing position rather than from a sit or lying down position.
  2. Give regular, moderate exercise every day
  3. Ensure that the dog does not become overweight as this will add to the strain on his/her joints. If you need advice on your dog’s weight, please speak to one of our veterinary nurses.
  4. Feed a good quality diet that is appropriate for your dog’s age, size and activity levels.

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

piggy bank

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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Caring For Your Pet’s Eyes

Pug eyes

Your pet’s eyes function in the same way that your own do and are made up of the same components including

  1. Cornea, the transparent outer covering of the eye
  2. Pupil, the circular membrane in the centre of the eye that lets light from the environment enter the eye
  3. Iris, the pigmented membrane that surrounds the pupil and contracts or expands to regulate the amount of light that can enter the eye
  4. Lens, a transparent structure that adjusts its shape as needed to focus
  5. Retina, a sensitive membrane that lines the interior surface of the eyeball. The retina receives the focused light impulses that have entered through the lens and then sends them to the brain,as visual information
  6. Optic nerve, this sends signals to the brain

Keeping eyes clean

Cleaning away any discharges or tear-staining from around the eye area may be necessary for your pet, especially if your pet is short-nosed (brachycephalic breed), has slightly protruding eyes, has light coloured fur that is prone to tear staining or has an eye infection or problem.

  • Wash your hands so that you do not introduce any dirt or infection. Care should always be taken not to touch or contaminate the surface of the eye.
  • We recommend that you use either a sterile solution of boiled and then cooled water on some cotton wool pads or pet eye wipes (available from most pet stores).
  • Always wipe from the inner corner of the eye towards the back of the head or down and away from the eye, using a different side/piece of the cleaning pad each time you wipe.
  • Make sure you always use a separate piece of cotton wool or eye wipe, for each eye to prevent cross-contamination if an infection is present.
  • You may need to ‘soak’ any particularly stubborn eye gunk to make it easier to wipe away. Just gently hold your damp cotton wool pad or eye wipe onto the area.
  • If there are just tiny bits of gunk/sleep at the corners of the eye – you can wash your hands and then just use a finger or your thumb to remove/wipe this away easily.
  • If your pet is particularly hairy, you may need to trim some of the fur away from his or her eyes. Always do this carefully, using round ended scissors and if you are any doubt ask a groomer or vet nurse to do it for you.
  • Do Not use anything in your pet’s eye that you wouldn’t put in your own eye and Never use a salt water solution in or near the eye!

Cleaning the eye

Common Eye Problems

Although eye problems can occur in any species and breed, we tend to see them more commonly in the brachycephalic breeds and their crosses (flat faced, short nosed) such as Pugs, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Persians and Exotic Shorthair cats. Their facial shape and sometimes protruding eyes tends to predispose them to more problems, so if you have one of these types of dog or cat make sure you check their eyes daily.

Cataract: Opacity in the lens in the eye. Similar to humans, this problem can occur with old age, trauma or disease.

Cherry Eye: This looks like a small red, inflamed mass in the corner of one or both of the eyes. It is caused when the third eyelid/nictitating membrane of the eye does not attach properly, which leads to a prolapse and allowing the membrane to flip up and over. It can be quite common in young dogs and is occasionally seen in cats and some breeds of rabbits.

Conjunctivitis: This happens when the lining inside the eyelid becomes red, inflamed and very painful. It may be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, injury, allergic reaction or a foreign body in the eye or conjunctiva.

Dry Eye: This is also known as Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca and is caused by inadequate tear production, which may be initially be due to trauma or infection, Symptoms of dry eye include a thick, yellowish discharge and chronic infections because the lack of tears means that the eye is not able to flush away bacteria and particles such as dus and pollen.

Ectropion: A condition (usually inherited) where the eyelid rolls outwards; giving the impression of ‘droopy eyes’. This can cause the eyes to become very dry which can be very painful .

Entropion: A condition where the eyelid rolls inwards, which causes irritation to the eye and its surrounding tissues because the eyelashes and hair rub against the surface of the eye. This condition may be an inherited problem in some breeds.

Foreign Body: Occasionally foreign objects such as tiny pieces of grit, thorns or other plant substances may become lodged in the eye or the surrounding tissues, causing pain and irritation.

Tear duct obstruction: the ducts that normally drain tears from the eyes become blocked resulting in tear overflow onto the face. This may be caused by an infection or be the result of a dental problem. Rabbits and very short-nosed breeds of dogs and cats can be particularly prone to this problem.

Tear overflow: Tears may leak from the corner of the eye, causing staining to the hair in light coloured animals or a build up of crusty “eye gunk” that gets caught up in the animals hair. If the eye area is persistently wet or the gunk is in contact with the eye itself it can lead to inflammation and infection.

Ulcers: The surface of the eye can become damaged or ulcerated following injury or infection.

Persian cat watery eyes

How to tell if your pet has an eye problem

Eyes are very delicate and sensitive organs and when problems occur they can be accompanied by a number of symptoms. If you see anything out of the ordinary you should contact your vet as soon as possible.

  • You pet is blinking more
  • Your pet seems to be squinting or the eye looks half closed
  • Your pet is rubbing the eye (either with a paw or rubbing against something in the house)
  • The eyes are producing more tears than usual
  • The eye or surrounding area looks red or inflamed
  • The eye itself looks to have a scratch, mark or something in it
  • There is any discharge (clear or gunky)
  • The eye looks cloudy or discoloured
  • The eye is bulging
  • Your pet has started to bump into things
Watering/Tearing Eye & Eye Gunk

Watering/Tearing Eye & Eye Gunk

How eye problems are diagnosed and treated

Eye problems are diagnosed with a thorough eye examination by a veterinary surgeon. They may use one or more of the following

Physical Examination – Sometimes eye problems can be linked to or caused by other illnesses and disease within the body, such as herpes virus, Feline Leukaemia, cancer and diabetes.

Ophthalmoscope – used to examine the inside and outside of the eye. The ophthalmoscope consists of a light source, mirror, and view hole through which a circular series of convex and concave lenses can be used to examine different parts of the eye.

Tonometer – measures intraocular pressure

Fluorescein Stain – this is a dye that can be applied to the eye which will stain any areas of injury such as ulcers and scratches or foreign particles.

Schirmer’s Test – this is a small paper strip that is used to measure tear production.

The treatment of eye problems depends on their cause; some pets may need a short course of antibiotic drops to clear up an infection, while those with problems such as Dry Eye may require ongoing treatment with eye drops and lubricating solutions. Pets with problems such as ingrowing eyelashes may require surgery to correct the problem. In all of these cases it is very important that your pet cannot cause further damage or irritation to the affected eye, so a buster collar may be necessary to prevent this.

Ulcers can be seen with a special dye

Ulcers can be seen with a special dye

How to Apply Medication or Eye Drops To The Eye

Your pet may need to have eye medication in the form of drops or a cream at some stage and giving this medication should be relatively simple if you follow our guide. The key thing with pets is to be prepared, have everything to hand and, most importantly, Don’t Faff About – Be direct and quick!

  1. Get the medication ready and within reach
  2. Wash your hands, you do not want to introduce infection to an already sensitive area
  3. It may be necessary for someone else to hold your pet for you while you apply the medication. For smaller animals we recommend placing them onto your lap or on a table.
  4. Gently clean any discharge / gunk away from your pet’s eyes (as mentioned above). You may have to skip this step if your pet’s eyes are too painful.
  5. Gently pull down on your pet’s lower eyelid and up on your pet’s upper eyelid and drop the medication onto the eye or onto the inner part of the lower lid as directed by the vet . I often find this easier to do if you are positioned behind the pet, rather than from the front as it helps to prevent your pet moving their head back and away from your fingers.
  6. Make sure that the medicine container does not touch the surface of the eye or any surrounding tissues Try to hold the eyelids open for a few seconds as this will help prevent the medication from being blinked out .
  7. Reward your pet with a really tasty treat and/or a game of something fun. This is especially important if your pet will need to have eye medication regularly.
Applying Eye Drops

Applying Eye Drops

If your pet has an eye condition that requires eye medication your veterinary nurse will usually be happy to demonstrate how to do this for you.

Opening the eye

Eye Medication