Periodontal Disease:

Dental disease is the most common diagnosis in dogs and cats over one year of age. Over half of pets are noted to have dental calculus (tartar) on their yearly physical examinations, and that percentage increases with age. Disease in the mouth doesn’t stop at whether the crowns of your pets teeth are clean and white, in fact, it can go much deeper. Let’s immediately jump to a huge dentistry concept and why it’s essential pet parents are in the know!

The most appropriate term used by vets is PERIODONTAL DISEASE

What is PERIODONTAL disease? 

Periodontal disease refers to the issues that arise associated with not just the tooth itself, but just as importantly, the structures that surround and support the tooth. This includes structures like the gingiva (gums), the periodontal ligament (connective tissues that hold the tooth in the socket), and even the alveolar bone (bone that meets the ligament in the skull). Approximately 50-60% of the entire tooth structure is located UNDERNEATH the gum tissue.

How does periodontal disease start?

Bacteria in the mouth release a “biofilm” which calcifies on the crown surface. This begins to form what we know as “tartar” or dental calculus. These bacteria also stimulate the local immune system and cause inflammation along the gumline. If this process progresses and bacteria continue to cause calculus formation and inflammation, these changes begin to work their way under the gingiva and start to affect tissue essential for tooth attachment. With time, the periodontal ligament and surrounding alveolar bone can become inflamed, infected, broken down and even abscessed to necrotic. 

Why is dental care important for our pets?

Periodontal disease is a common source of pain and infection in our pets that even the best intentioned pet owners can miss. Many pets continue to eat and act normally until the problem is so severe, that teeth need to be extracted. I’ve seen pets with teeth that are actually rotting out of the animals mouth and the pet is still eating. It’s incredible what our pets will persist through. These teeth can not only be extremely painful, but can also act as a source of infection and bacterial spread to the rest of the body, particularly for pets with other existing conditions like cardiac (heart) disease. 

How do I help provide the best care for my pets mouth?

Regular visits to your vet are important to get a look at the inside of your pet’s mouth. The best way to evaluate your pet’s overall oral health is with what’s called a COHAT (Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatments). This involves the same general process with what humans get at the dentist including an examination, full mouth dental x-rays, a full scaling/polishing, followed by any specialty treatments needed. Because our pets don’t like to allow us to look in their mouths, this is all done safely and effectively under general anesthesia by your vet. Some pets may only require a dental cleaning every few years, while others may build up tartar so quickly a cleaning is required every 6-12 months. 

NOTE: This process is completely different from what is referred to as “non-anesthetic” dental cleanings. Non-anesthetic dental cleanings are not recommended by vets for several reasons including safety/stress of the pet, the lack of assessing over half of the tooth structure (what’s under the gums), and the inability to smooth out the tooth surface after hand scaling type removal of tartar – leaving MORE grooves in the teeth for tartar to re-adhere to. 

Home care is just as important to keeping your pets mouth a happy place. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) website provides an extensive list of safe and effective home care products, including treats that are safe for teeth. Home care should not replace full dental cleanings at the vet when indicated, but instead should be in support of/in addition to. Home care can include: 

  • Teeth brushing with pet safe toothpaste/toothbrush
  • Dental treats
  • Dental health foods, both over the counter or prescription
    • Hills Prescription Diet t/d tends to be a winner for me in both dogs and cats! 

To check out some of these veterinarian recommended products and tips, visit the Veterinary Oral Health Council Website:

A happy, healthy mouth is absolutely essential when it comes to ensuring your pets best possible life. Between home care, and using your vets expertise to know when full cleanings are warranted – we’ve come a long way in treating periodontal disease! 

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

Does my pet have osteoarthritis?

Is your pet slowing down? We hear pet owners say this often, especially as our pets age. While we understand that some changes are inevitable with age, “slowing down” isn’t necessarily a normal change for our pets. Often the changes that pet owners see are actually caused by pain. The most common source of this pain is osteoarthritis. In this blog, we are going to talk about some key points for pet owners when it comes to keeping our pets with osteoarthritis as pain free as possible!

Why “slowing down” isn’t normal….

In many cases, this slowing down owners see is because of the chronic pain associated with osteoarthritis. These may be signs your pet is uncomfortable:

  • Decreased activity and sleeping more
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficult with using the stairs
  • Hesitance/refusal to jump on/off things
  • Taking more time to get up/lay down
  • Behavioural changes – like not following you around

How does osteoarthritis cause pain?

The primary instigator of pain in pets with arthritis is inflammation. As cartilage becomes worn and more irregular, the forces acting in the joint space change. This wearing will cause progressive damage to the cartilage, which normally acts as a cushion with lubricant to help the joint move. When these features become diminished, abnormal force is applied within the joint and inflammation and joint capsule thickening occurs. Sometimes the surface of the bone itself can become irregular, form new bone fragments, and contribute to pain. 

What sorts of things predispose pets to developing osteoarthritis?

Being overweight is the most common contributor to developing arthritis in our furry family members. Excess weight adds extra pressure on the joints meaning more wear and tear over time. Certain breeds may be affected at higher incidences due to commonly bred joint conformation abnormalities such as hip dysplasia in large breed dogs (retrievers, shepherds, etc.). Prior trauma is another contributor. A common example of this is dogs that have torn their cruciate ligament in their knee. Because of the change in forces overtime, even if surgical repair is performed, these dogs are at higher risk for arthritis later on. Diet, types of routine exercise, and gender may also be contributing factors.

Don’t forget our kittens!

Cats often get forgotten in the world of arthritis, as older dogs tend to more overtly show signs of potential pain. Osteoarthritis is a major problem in overweight and older cats, and is frequently missed by owners. Cats may show the same “slowing down” type changes as dogs, but even things as simple as sleeping more might indicate pain. Sometimes older cats will urinate/defecate outside the litter box because it’s too painful for them to get into the box to go! It’s important to remember that cats are commonly affected by arthritis and may need joint support too.

How can I tell if my pet has osteoarthritis?

In conjunction with some of the signs at home mentioned above, a trip to the vet can help determine if your pet is suffering from joint disease. Your vet can check joint range of motion, look for pain on exam, and take x-rays to see if there are any visible changes to the bone itself. Sometimes x-rays may look relatively normal, but osteoarthritis is still present as inflammation itself is not necessarily seen on imaging. 

What can we do to support our pets joints and manage pain?

A few ways we can help support healthy joints earlier in life is by keeping pets at an ideal body weight, maintaining a regular exercise routine, and starting them on a joint supplement with glucosamine and chondroitin. In fact, we are more likely to support happy joints the EARLIER we start (i.e. before there are clinical signs of possible pain). This is particularly true for our larger breeds of dogs. 

As osteoarthritis becomes more progressive, with the help and expertise of your vet, the following may be used to help with joint disease:

  • Maintaining an ideal to just below ideal body weight to take additional pressure off the joints.
  • Monitoring daily behaviours at home and keeping a journal to better track any changes, especially if changes are becoming more frequent or worsening.
  • Regular low impact exercise is key, keep them moving!
  • Consider short daily walks, passive range of motion therapy, and water or hydrotherapy.
  • Anti-inflammatory and pain medications from the vet.

Don’t be scared of this one! If done responsibly and monitored appropriately by your vet, adding daily medication can significantly improve your pets pain and quality of life!

NOTE: HUMAN PAIN MEDICATION IS NOT SAFE FOR DOGS/CATS. Speak with your vet to determine if veterinary safe pain management is warranted.

Joint supplements can be excellent, and some of the following are used often:

  • Products that contain compounds such as glucosamine and chondroitin. 
  • Products that contain green lipped mussel.
  • Products that contain omega three fatty acids. 
  • Joint supportive diets, particularly prescription joint diets as these are specifically formulated to target joint health.  
  • Holistic therapies including physical therapy/chiropractic sessions, laser therapy, acupuncture, etc.

We’ve come a long way in managing joint pain in our dog and cat patients over the years, and pet owners are becoming more aware of the signs. This means we’re all on the right track to keeping our pets as comfortable and healthy for as long as we can!

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

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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

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

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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

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

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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I wormed my pet, but I’m still seeing worms?

Reasons why you might see worms despite worming

You gave your pet their regular wormer, so everything is good right? You took your dog out and there it was. The worm. Your cat came to curl up next to you and there was a little grain of rice and it was moving. We get questions about sources of parasites in pets regularly. Occasionally we’ll get questions from pet owners who are using parasite prevention but unfortunately still find worms from their pet. Albeit less common, we encourage people to have faith and go over these reasons why you might be seeing breakthrough parasites in your pet.

They didn’t actually eat the wormer.

  • Some pet parents put their wormer tablet directly into their pet’s food and walk away to do other things, especially dog owners. This works great for good eaters like my goofy golden retrievers, but the pickier pets will sneak around that tablet like they’re Gordon Ramsey judging a food competition. You need to ensure your pet consumes the wormer. We know this may seem silly but pets can find all sorts of ways to get around eating pills, even when hidden in the best treats!

Your pet is exposed to heavier levels of parasites on a regular basis.

  • Pets that are often in the following scenarios have a much higher potential of parasite exposure/infection: dog parks, dog daycares, group play boarding facilities, training events, flat/rental properties with common pet relief areas, areas with heavy wildlife populations (many can carry parasites), neighborhoods with high numbers of outdoor cats, pets that like to hunt (cats for rodents/birds) etc. More animal exposure means more opportunities for potential infection.

You are not worming regularly.

  • Worming 1-2 times per year is not enough to keep parasites away. Many of our common parasites have life cycles that are completed in as little as a few weeks up to 2-3 months. Because of this, wormers are often recommended to be administered monthly to every 3 months to break the life cycle of the parasite if your pet has become infected. Checking with a vet to ensure you are using the right product for your pet and are treating frequently enough is a must!

The wormer you are using does not cover the type of parasite your pet contracted.

  • There is not ONE wormer that protects or treats ALL types of parasites. We wish there was, however this makes appropriate and targeted worming for your pets lifestyle all the more important. Most of the common wormers on the market will prevent the major culprits including roundworms and hookworms, however not all products will also cover additional parasites like tapeworm or lungworms. Again, being aware of WHAT your wormer covers is important and can be discussed with a vet. There are some parasites out there that are not covered by common wormers and require a more specific treatment from a vet. For this reason, faecal testing is essential so we know what parasite is actually present. Side note – don’t forget many intestinal parasites are microscopic, so regular worming along with faecal checks at the vet are recommended.
  • Common scenario: Pet owner giving cat a wormer that only treats roundworms and hookworms and cat becomes infected with tapeworms (contracted from eating a dead rodent), much to the owners dismay and frustration. The first assumption is the product does not work, when in reality the product is not a drug that treats tapeworms!

Your wormer works great, but your pet was infected in between doses.

  • It’s important to make a distinction between wormers vs. flea/tick preventatives. Wormers are not preventing EXPOSURE to the parasite, but rather stopping the life cycle/killing off the parasite upon administration. Wormers do not remain in the system persay between doses to prevent infection like flea and tick monthly preventatives do. The hope is that regular targeted worming stops development of specific parasites and is given at appropriate intervals so that these parasites do not have the opportunity to grow into adults then shed eggs to infect other pets. Rarely pets, particularly those with higher exposure risk, will manage to pass an adult in between doses which may indicate a need for a change in worming frequency. Also note, pets may pass dead worms as well.

These are important considerations we like to cover with pet owners when they ask questions about wormers, their efficacy, and how they work. The wormers used in the veterinary community are extremely safe and effective products. We would say by far the most common reasons for people to have issues is they don’t realize what their wormer actually protects against or are not giving it at appropriate intervals! That’s what vets are here for, to be the reliable source of this information and make guided recommendations for what is best for your pet based on their needs.

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

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The Top 5 Reasons You Are Still Seeing Fleas

Fleas, fleas, fleas and how to treat them

Treating monthly and still seeing fleas? This might be why…

You’ve been doing the right thing by treating your pet with a preventative treatment on the correct schedule but hang on, you’ve just seen a flea. How has this happened? At VetBox we get this question often and we know it can be frustrating. Rest assured you are doing the right thing by treating your pet, but here are our top 5 most common reasons you may still be finding fleas on your pet and in your home. 

  1. You need to treat all pets in the home.

To successfully get rid of a flea infestation, ALL pets in the home need to be treated, not just the pet who seems to be affected. Some people may see fleas on multiple pets, but more often there is one primary offender who seems to be the flea favourite. This is why it’s vital that all your pets are treated with an appropriate flea treatment each month. 

  1. You need to treat them for long enough. 

It’s not uncommon for pet parents to be concerned when fleas aren’t gone IMMEDIATELY. It’s completely understandable as fleas are 1) unappealing and 2) irritating to you and your pets. That being said, consistent treatment is typically needed for three consecutive months to have the best chance beating a flea infestation. This has to do with the flea life cycle itself. Fleas are incredibly  persistent. They are fantastic at laying eggs that turn into larvae that are especially hard to get rid of. These live in your carpet, bedding, furniture, etc. and hatch into adults in the weeks to come. One female flea can lay 2,000 eggs in her lifetime. In moderate climates (not too hot and not often below freezing), our pets need to be treated with a preventative monthly all year round to break the flea cycle and keep them away. 

  1. You need to use an effective product. 

Not all products are right for every pet. For starters, it’s important that we as vets remind owners to ensure the product they are planning to use is made for either a dog or a cat. There are many products made for dogs that are very toxic to cats, so ensure you have the right product for the right species. Do not split a dose between pets, this will not provide the right amount of treatment to do its job. Some pets may do very well with one type of flea treatment whereas others may need a different product. Not all flea treatments contain the same drug and not all pets respond to every drug the same. You may be one of the fortunate ones that can use an over-the-counter treatment successfully, however some pets need a slightly stronger prescription treatment from their veterinarian. Unfortunately in our veterinary experience we have not found “natural products” to yield much success.

Important note: When using topical or spot-on treatments, you should not bathe your pet or let them swim within 5-7 days of application. These treatments rely on a normal intact fatty acid layer in the skin to be absorbed and spread. Bathing or swimming can disrupt this layer, or even just wash the product off before it is absorbed!

  1. You might have missed a month….or two…..ok nine…

The majority of flea treatments are created to be administered once every 4 weeks. Missing the due date by a few days here or there is typically ok, however if you miss a treatment for your pet and get to weeks 6, 7, or 8 on from the last treatment your pet is no longer protected. One tip is putting a reminder on your phone each month to give flea/wormer treatments so you don’t forget. VetBox subscriptions go one better because you get that friendly reminder from the team each month when your box arrives. Plus treats…bonus!

  1. You need to appropriately treat YOUR HOME!

This may be one of the biggest issues that we when people are having trouble with fleas at home. Owners get halfway there by diligently treating their pets, but forget an equally important part – cleaning their home itself. As mentioned above, flea eggs are produced by the hundreds and are fabulous at shedding off your pet into the house. These will mature into larvae that hide and become dormant in places like bedding, carpet, and furniture. Eventually if not also battled, they will become adults in weeks/months ready to start the life cycle again. We strongly encourage vacuuming all surfaces, washing bedding/blankets both human and pet, in hot water, and considering a safe environmental spray for carpeted areas and upholstery that will inhibit flea eggs and larvae. Often one round of deep cleaning is enough, but repeating these steps may be needed. A quick note, these sprays are made for your home NOT your pet! Keeping pets confined to an area where you have not sprayed while treated areas dry for a few hours is typically recommended. Following manufacturer guidelines and vet guidance is always best. 

A few final tips…

Virbac Animal Health make an effective and safe spray for your home that is widely available including on Amazon, called Indorex Spray. This is a product we often recommend to pet owners as an option in severe home infestations. *Reminder: Please follow product recommendations for application in your home. This is not a pet product!*

No one likes fleas and we want them off your pets and out of your home. Once again the best bet for success is responsible and regular monthly preventative treatments to keep us all happy and flea free. 

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM – MRCVS

Vet at VetBox

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