Old Age is not a Disease

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With the lifespan of our companion animals being considerably shorter than our own, we inevitably see them develop from a puppy/kitten, through the juvenile stages, into adulthood and beyond into their senior years and eventually passing over the rainbow bridge. We commonly hear from owners of senior pets that they are slowing down with increasing age.

However, we must remember, old age in itself is not a disease and many older animals can continue to lead a happy and healthy life. However, as an animal ages, the number of diseases or health problems can increase and require treatment to maintain quality of life. Many people have a plan in place to ensure their own senior care is managed in a comfortable way, so why not consider the same for your loyal companion.

As with people, early detection of diseases can result in more effective treatment or management of their condition. Detection of diseases in your pet can involve routine clinical health checks and diagnostics, as well as monitoring your pet at home for changes in behaviour, eating pattern or weight changes and seeking advice when their habits change.

Common disease processes we see in senior pets include hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) in cats, kidney disease, heart disease, dental disease, arthritis and cancer. Diagnosis of these diseases is the first step so we can treat your pet accordingly. Treatments may include medications, prescription diets, joint supplements, surgery, rehabilitation and physiotherapy, and even toe grips to help stop your senior dog slipping over on smooth flooring.

Make an appointment today to discuss your senior pets needs with one of the friendly veterinarians at the clinic.

Keeping your Pet Safe this Easter

Easter Dogs and Cats Hanging Over White Banner

Easter is often a time for reflection, family gatherings, hot cross buns and Easter eggs. With many activities happening and festive food around, it is an important time to keep your pet safe. Do not share chocolate or hot cross buns with your pet. Instead, include your pet in activities rather than overindulging them with food.

Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine – both are dangerous to dogs, cats, horses and birds! Pets can’t break down theobromine and so it builds up in their system, occasionally with fatal outcomes. The symptoms of chocolate poisoning include restlessness, excitement, hyperactivity, nervousness, trembling, vomiting, diarrhoea, increased drinking and urination, increased heart rate, muscle tremors, seizures and possibly death. These symptoms can happen as soon as 30 minutes after eating. If your pet has consumed chocolate, contact your vet immediately.

Hot cross buns contain sultanas or raisins which are poisonous for dogs. The mechanism is unknown but can lead to kidney failure in dogs. Some dogs only need to consume a small amount before showing toxic signs, while other dogs can eat large quantities without showing any obvious symptoms. The symptoms of sultana/raisin toxicity include vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, abdominal pain, dehydration, reduced or no urine production, foul breath, mouth ulcers, seizures and possibly death. If you dog has consumed sultanas or raisins, contact your vet immediately.

Eater lilies, like all lilies, are one type of flower that is poisonous to cats and dogs. Even ingesting a small amount of pollen can cause severe kidney failure in cats. The symptoms of lily toxicity include vomiting, lethargy, hiding, excessive thirst, drooling, and foul breath. If your cat shows andy of these signs, contact your vet immediately.

Pet Insurance

Owning a pet can be very rewarding and has proven human health benefits. Having a dog around can lead to lower levels of stress for both adults and kids. Pets have been found to decrease the risk of asthma in children, have been linked to lower blood pressure, and researchers have also shown that dog owners are more active. It is therefore desirable to look after our furry companions to ensure they are happy and healthy also.

But pet care can be costly. Veterinary care does not have any government subsidy as we do for our human healthcare, so pet owners will be paying the true cost. As with human medicine, veterinary knowledge is constantly growing and we are able to do much more for our pets than we used to be able to do in the past.

WE need to factor their normal requirements into our budge (food, shelter, vaccinations, parasite control, toys…) and also to make provisions for the unexpected as well.

There are a few options of ways to achieve this, including putting savings aside regularly to use when required, or considering pet health insurance.

Having pet insurance can be very beneficial for those unexpected costs. You choose a level of cover that you are comfortable with, and premiums are calculated based on the age and breed of your pet. Getting your pet insured when they are young and healthy is recommended so that if they do develop a long-term condition, the policy was in place before the condition started. Having insurance may give you greater access to referral of specialist services.

There are several pet insurance companies operating in New Zealand that offer a variety of policies to suit your needs. As with any insurance policy, it is important to read the fine print to know what coverage you have selected and any limitations or exclusions. Policies do not need to be limited to just injury cover; some policies cover illness, day to day care, dental care and a contribution towards vaccinations. Your vet clinic can supply brochures for you to read and consider.

Treating Hip Displacement in Dogs

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Hip dysplasia is the most commonly inherited orthopaedic disease in dogs. It causes pain and stiffness, and affects your dog’s quality of life. Dogs with a loose hip joint (hip laxity) are at higher risk of developing hip dysplasia. PennHIP is a technique of measuring hip laxity and can identify dogs that are susceptible to developing hip dysplasia.

The PennHIP technique was established at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1993, with the main objective of reducing the prevalence of hip dysplasia in dogs. It replaces traditional hip testing methods where the positioning required for the x-rays artificially tightens the hip joint; traditional hip testing methods had made little progress in reducing hip dysplasia so an alternative was developed.

PennHIP is the most accurate hip screening method and can be performed on pups as young as 16 weeks of age. Assessment of your dog’s hip health is important for breeders to help select breeding stock with tight hips, and reduce incidence of hip dysplasia in future generations. It is also important for pet dogs, as early intervention can help delay signs of hip dysplasia.

PennHIP consists of a series of three x-rays taken under sedation. It includes traditional hip assessment x-rays as well as a ‘distracted view’, which simulates the forces on the hips when the pet is standing. The x-rays are sent off for assessment, and a report received giving your pet a hip score, as well as the breed average, and the risk of developing osteoarthritis (hip dysplasia).

If you have any questions regarding hip dysplasia in your dog, treatment options or PennHIP testing, please contact Levin and Horowhenua Veterinary Centre. We have a veterinarian certified in the PennHIP technique that can help you and your dog.

Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome

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Recently brachycephalic (short-faced) animals have become increasingly popular to own. While they look cute, a proportion of these animals (dogs, cats and rabbits) struggle with day-to-day life due to extreme breeding. Brachycephalic breeds have shortened face bones, which give them their flat-faced, child-like appearance, but this changes the relationship of the soft tissue and bone of the head. These changes affect the airway, and can have considerable animal welfare implications.

While some brachycephalic animals have good respiratory function, some will have Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome. This is a group of abnormalities that can occur when animals are bred for a shortened face. It includes narrow nostrils, elongated soft palate (excessive soft tissue at the roof of the mouth restricting the airway) and a hypoplastic trachea (underdeveloped narrow windpipe). Brachycephalic animals can have one or more of these abnormalities, and if significant to an individual, it is equivalent to a human breathing through a straw all of the time.

Animals with brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome can show a wide range of symptoms from noisy breathing or snoring, to exercise intolerance, collapse due to inadequate oxygen, heat stress and even death. Although noisy breathing can be common with brachycephalic breeds, it is not normal for a healthy animal and should be assessed by your veterinarian to see if corrective surgery can improve the quality of life of your pet.

Thankfully the future of these breeds is optimistic as there is ongoing research to evaluate their ‘respiratory function’ with a view to enabling breeders to select parents who will improve the welfare of the breed as a whole.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the breathing of your pet, please contact us at Levin and Horowhenua Veterinary Centre, to arrange a time to have your pet assessed.

Think Twice Before Gifting an Animal

Pets are for lifeThe holidays are arriving and lots of gift-giving will be occurring. Quite often animals are given as gifts during this time of year. While this is not always a bad gift idea, do think twice before giving an animal to someone who is not expecting to take on the responsibility of a pet. Pet ownership should not be an impulse decision. Planning is an important step in bringing an animal home including deciding on the species, breed, and age of the animal. The recipient should have the chance to consent to pet ownership and be able to choose a pet that fits his or her lifestyle. For example, a border collie may not be the best gift for a sedentary person living in town with a small section. A puppy may be great for someone with time and patience for training, but an adult cat might be better for someone who works long hours. Pet ownership is a long-term commitment.
Animals are living longer than they have before in part because of the improved diets and medical care available. That being said, this care is not necessarily cheap. Providing a quality environment, attention, proper diet, veterinary care, and adequate exercise requires both a significant amount of money and time. Emergencies can occur at any time and people are often not financially prepared for them, especially if a pet has come as a surprise. Animals can make wonderful gifts if given appropriately. Make sure that if you plan to gift an animal to someone, that the receiver is able to take part in the decision making surrounding their new pet. Many animals are relinquished each year due to owners’ inability to properly care for them. If given properly, the pet you are gifting will instead enjoy a long and happy life in their new home.

Responsible Breeding


Deciding to open your heart and home up to a new puppy is an exciting time with many factors to consider. They will be part of your life for many years, and potentially growing up with your children, so getting a puppy that suits your lifestyle and maintaining good health over this time is important.

With a growing concern for animal welfare, we suggest you consider ethical issues when looking for a dog. If you do not have specific breed requirements, consider adoption of either a puppy or an adult dog; there are always some looking for a new home. If you decide to purchase through a breeder, we recommend selecting a New Zealand Kennel Club Accredited Breeder, or follow The New Zealand Veterinary Association recommendations as follows:

  • NEVER buy from a puppy farm. It only supports them and further puppies will be produced.
  • Visit the breeder to see the facilities and where the puppy is being raised.
  • Meet the puppy’s parents to assess their health and temperament; whether they have required any corrective surgery, or if they are related. Check how old the bitch was at mating (ideally between 1 and 6 years old), how many litters she has had (no more than 3), and if she has required a caesarean (no more than 2).
  • Support breeders who test for inherited disease, and use these results in selecting the mating.
  • Do not support breeders who produce puppies with exaggerated features.
  • In breeds that tend towards exaggerated features, choose a breeder who is actively selecting away from those features (such as flat face, short legs, excessive skin).
  • A puppy should be over 8 weeks of age when going to their new home, should have been socialised with people and other animals, have been on preventative parasite treatment (fleas and worms), had a vet check and had their first vaccination. The breeder should also provide ongoing support to the new owner over the transition period.

Heritable Diseases

Heritability is a term associated with breeding and is an indication of the likelihood that a particular characteristic will be passed from one generation to the next. Individual differences are important, it makes us who we are, but why do we consider heritability in regards to animal breeding?

In animals (and people), genetics can influence the chance of developing some diseases. Selective breeding in animals can influence the chance of certain characteristics being present, and over time this can change the population as a whole. This is how breeds of dogs can look very different to those seen historically. Heritability can influence both positive and negative characteristics of a breed.

Some characteristics are more influenced by genetics than others, and these have a higher heritability value. These characteristics, if associated with disease, are easier to improve, and can eventually reduce the severity of the disease across a breed. Common genetic diseases affecting dogs are hip dysplasia, allergic skin disease, brachycephalic obstructive airway disease (breathing), and mitral valve disease (heart). Treatment for such genetic diseases can be expensive, and affect the quality of your dogs’ life.

So how can I reduce the chance of my new puppy getting a genetic disease? Once your puppy is born there is nothing you can do to change its genetics, although there are treatments for some diseases. However, selecting a puppy with parents who have had good results in various genetic tests, will greatly improve your chances of a healthier dog. Recommended genetic tests depends on the breed of dog. If you have individual questions regarding genetic testing feel free to contact Levin and Horowhenua Vets.

Spring is here

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Winter is finally over, and spring has begun. As the days get longer, we can start to get out in the garden and plant some vegetables. As we tidy up the yard there are things to consider, in order to keep man’s best friend safe.

Slug Bait

Most slug and snail baits contain Metaldehyde, which is poisonous to dogs and cats. If eaten it can cause a range of symptoms from vomiting and diarrhoea, to seizures and potentially death. A safe alternative is Quash, which is an iron-based slug bait, which is considerably safer for children and pets.

Cocoa Husk Mulch

This is a by-product of cocoa bean roasting, and is marketed as a great mulch. Although it smells great for chocolate lovers, the mulch contains Theobromine which is poisonous to dogs. If eaten it can cause hyperactivity, rapid heart rate, seizures and death. A safer alternative is using traditional garden mulch, bark or straw.

Blood and Bone meal

These by-products from the commercial food chain, are considered organic fertilisers and can have many benefits for the garden. They are made from ground up bone and dried blood, which has a strong smell that many dogs are attracted too. Poisoning can occur if a dog eats a large quantity by breaking into a stored bag, or consuming it from the garden. The severity of poisoning symptoms depends on the amount consumed, from mild gastrointestinal upset, to vomiting, diarrhoea and pancreatitis.


As organic matter decomposes it can produce mould, and dangerous mycotoxins. When consumed by an animal, it can cause a variety of symptoms, from agitation to seizures. It is safest to prevent access to the compost pile or bin.


Disulfoton, Fenthion and Malathion are organophosphate pesticides, which are often added to rose care products. They are potentially harmful to dogs and cats by damaging the nervous system even when consumed in small amounts.


Many types of Lily can be extremely toxic to cats. Consumption of pollen, vase water, or even a few petals can be fatal for cats. If you own cats it may be best to avoid having these beautiful flowers in your garden or house.

Vaccinating your Rabbit

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In New Zealand the only virus we need to vaccinate rabbits against is Rabbit Haemorrhagic Viral Disease (RHVD) which is also known as Rabbit Calicivirus. RHVD spreads rapidly between rabbits but can also be carried by insects, or brought in on food and clothing. Most rabbits who contract RHVD will show few or no symptoms for the first two to three days and then die suddenly. After death blood is sometimes seen from the nose or mouth, and charactersistic lesions can be seen in the liver and the lungs.

Until a few months ago we only had one strain of this virus in the country: RHVD1. A once yearly vaccination with a vaccine called Cylap, was very effective at preventing this disease.  Earlier in the year the RHVD1K5 strain was introduced to help manage the wild rabbit population, Cylap was known to be effective against this strain also. In May this year a third strain, RHVD2 was found in New Zealand. This new strain is not covered by the existing vaccination meaning that we have had to import a different vaccination called Filavac.

Filavac covers all 3 strains of RHVD found in New Zealand and comes in individual doses, meaning that clinics no longer need to book all of their rabbit vaccinations on a particular day. All rabbits that have previously been vaccinated with Cylap will not be protected against the RHVD2 strain and will now need to start an annual vaccination programme with Filavac instead.  Rabbits can be vaccinated from ten weeks of age.

Please contact Levin and Horowhenua Vets to discuss your rabbit’s vaccination and health needs.