Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome

brachyRecently 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

cat springWinter 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

rabbit_PNG3796In 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.

Microchip your pets

microchip catMicrochips are a small implant, about the size of a grain of rice, that transponds a number when scanned. This number is individual to the animal and when entered into the New Zealand Companion Animal Register, can provide details about the animal and owner. Having immediate access to this information is important as it enables owners to be contacted when pets are found or injured. This information can only be accessed by registered organisations.

Microchips are routinely scanned at vet clinics, by animal control and animal shelters, when an animal is presented without its owner. This results not only in prompt return of the animal to its owner, but also allows the owner to consent to urgent and potentially lifesaving procedures.

Microchips can also be used with selected cat or dog doors and feeders, to allow access to certain pets and not others. This can stop neighbourhood cats stealing your pet’s food or coming into your house.

Microchip insertion is a quick and simple procedure. Once the animal is scanned to confirm there is no chip already present, the microchip is inserted via a needle, similar to a vaccination. This can be done without anaesthetic or at the time of a surgery.

Please call your vet and schedule an appointment to have your pet microchipped today.

Cold and Creaky

The cold weather has arrived and we might not be the only ones that find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. You might notice your pet slowing down, taking longer to get up, seeming a bit stiff or lame, or getting a bit grumpy. Cold temperatures can exasperate these signs which are often related to degenerative joint disease (DJD), also known as osteoarthritis (OA), and commonly referred to as ‘arthritis’.

Most often we see OA in our senior pets (generally considered the last 1/3 of their life expectancy) but it can occur at any age. It is also common in dogs that have or have had previous joint damage, such as in cranial cruciate ligament ruptures, luxating patellas, and elbow and hip dysplasia.

OA mostly affects cartilage, the hard but slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones where they meet to form a joint. Healthy cartilage allows bones to glide over one another and acts as a shock absorber. In OA the surface layer of the cartilage breaks down and wears away allowing the bones to rub together causing pain, swelling, and loss of motion of the joint. Bone can abnormally grow on the edges of the joint and pieces of bone or cartilage can break off and float inside the joint space causing further pain and damage. However, our pets do not need to suffer in silence.
There are many ways we can treat OA including specialised diets, laser therapy, rehabilitation, supplements, and various types of medications that help to slow damage and manage pain. The efficacy of supplements is dependent on the type, source, and quality, and it is very important to always use products designed specifically for animals, Never give your pets any type of human pain medications because animals metabolise drugs differently to us and in many cases human medications are unsafe and deadly to pets.

As with any health issue, the sooner OA is managed the better the outcome, but every animal’s needs are unique. In this area, we are lucky as Levin and Horowhenua have one of only a few certified rehabilitation vets in the entire country who can create a personalised plan for your pets OA management to maximise their quality of life. Until then, make sure your pet has a warm, cushioned bed to sleep on and whilst it might seem counterintuitive, movement is an important aspect of OA prevention and even light activity is more beneficial than none.

Please call your vet and schedule an appointment to have your pet assessed to make sure that they are comfortable this winter.

Animals can benefit from Physical Rehabilitation

Almost every dog suffers from arthritis at some point in his or her life. Arthritis can be a painful disease process that can benefit significantly from rehabilitation. The changes in the joints can lead to stiffness, lameness, decreased activity, and loss of muscle and strength. Rehabilitation aims to manage pain, maintain function, and regain normal activity.

Rehabilitation improves the quality of life and wellness of dogs. This is done through weight loss, building and maintaining muscle and strength, and improving fitness. Rehabilitation is appropriate for bringing an injured working dog or canine athlete back to his or her job, as well as for keeping your companion dogs happy and healthy even into their golden years. It enhances recovery following surgery such as cruciate ruptures, patella luxations, spinal surgeries, amputations, fracture repairs, and more. IT also aids in recovery after neurological accidents such as slipped discs (IVDD) as well as in dogs with inherited issues such as hip dysplasia.

Applying rehabilitation principles to animals is a growing trend. This has, in part, stemmed from veterinarians desiring to improve the level of patient care, and is backed by significant supporting data. Veterinarians must go through more than 150 hours of post-graduate education, followed by a written and practical exam to be considered a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner (CCRP) in the US, and one of the vets at Levin and Horowhenua Vets has achieved that.

Veterinary physical rehabilitation uses noninvasive techniques including cryotherapy, heat therapy, therapeutic ultrasound electrical stimulation, laser therapy, shockwave, aquatic therapy, and specific physical exercises. The goals of rehabilitation and physiotherapy treatments are specific for each individual patient.

If you are interested in seeing whether your dog can benefit from a personalised rehabilitation programme, contact the clinic for an evalulation.

What you need to know about Parvo

Helping you keep your dog safe

Recently there have been parvovirus outbreaks across the country; the Horowhenua district has had its fair share of cases. Here is what you need to know about “Parvo”. 

What is “Parvo” ?

Parvo is caused by canine parvovirus. It is a very contagious, hardy virus that is easily spread and survives long periods of time in the environment (several years).  Because it lasts so long in the environment it is impossible to know where a dog might get it from. Dog parks, side-walks, public paths, roads and beaches may be contaminated and are not considered safe for unvaccinated dogs.  

Parvovirus attacks rapidly dividing cells in the body, particularly in the gut and the bone marrow. As the gut cells die dogs stop eating and develop severe vomiting and diarrhoea (the signs we usually associate with parvo, and the dog stops absorbing enough nutrients and becomes severely dehydrated.  

As the bone marrow dies, the dog stops being able to produce red and white blood cells. This causes the immune system to fail, preventing the dog from fighting the virus and other secondary infections. 

Left untreated, canine parvovirus infections are usually fatal.  

How to prevent Parvo 

Preventing canine parvoviral disease is easy. Vaccinate your dogs.  

We are lucky to have access to an extremely effective vaccine for canine parvovirus that is around 99% protective. However, the vaccine is only protective if the course has been completed and all booster shots are up to date.  

Usually a dog requires a minimum of three vaccines as a puppy with the last one being at 16 weeks old or older.   Puppies may not be protected until at least one week after their final 16 week old vaccine. 

Another vaccine is required 6-12 months later, followed by 3 yearly boosters. 

 Vaccine Protocols 

o    Puppies 

·         3-4 vaccines as a puppy finishing at or after 16 weeks of age 

·         A booster 6 months to 1 year after initial course (i.e. at 9-16 months of age) 

·         A follow up booster every three years. 

o    Adult dogs 

·         Unvaccinated or overdue adult dogs may require a single shot followed by a booster 6 months to 1 year later,  

·         Then a follow up booster every three years 

o    Vaccination protocols may vary geographically and depending on individual circumstance.  

Until a dog is fully vaccinated it is important to avoid all public areas. This means not taking your puppy out to dog parks or for walks in public until one week after their final shot. As puppies need to be socialised, it is usually recommended that you bring fully vaccinated dogs to play with them, or take them to properties of friends or family who have fully vaccinated dogs on “safe” properties (i.e. properties that are known not to have had a case of parvovirus for several years) 

Signs a dog might have Parvo 

The most common signs of parvovirus are vomiting and diarrhoea in an unvaccinated dog. Diarrhoea is often bloody and the dogs are usually lethargic, not eating and look miserable.  

However it may take several days for a dog with parvo to develop diarrhoea. Often in the early stages of the disease they may simply be “a bit off”, “not themselves”.  

The most important thing is to call your vet and seek advice for any sick unvaccinated dog.  

 If you think your dog has parvovirus do not take it off the property or bring it into a vet clinic without talking to a vet first.  

Most common signs of parvovirus 

o    Vomiting 

o    Bloody diarrhoea 

o    Fever 

o    Lethargy 

o    Inappetance 

o    Dehydration 

How do we treat Parvo?

Treating parvovirus in dogs is all about supportive care. Patients should be hospitalised and given intensive care. This involves IV (intravenous) fluid therapy, nutritional support, repeated blood tests, electrolyte support, antibiotics, antinausea and pain medication.  On top of this they have to be kept in isolation to prevent spread to any other dogs. This makes their management very difficult and often very expensive.  Cost of care can exceed $1000.  The majority of treated dogs will survive, but even with the best care, some dogs can still die. The best treatment therefore is prevention by regular vaccination.  

Cleaning up 

If you suspect a dog may have had parvovirus on your property, it is possible to clean your property to reduce risk to future dogs. It is a difficult task to clean a property and you should seek veterinary advice on how to clean up properly before you allow any unvaccinated dog onto your property again.