Cold and Creaky

arthritisThe cold weather has arrived and it might not just be us that finds it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. You might notice your pet taking longer to get up, seeming a bit stiff or lame, generally slowing down or getting a bit grumpy. Very often this is a sign of age related degenerative joint disease (DJD), or osteoarthritis, commonly referred to as simply ‘arthritis’.

DJD 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 absorbs energy from movement. In DJD, the surface layer of cartilage breaks down and wears away. This allows bones under the cartilage to rub together, causing pain, swelling, and loss of motion of the joint. Bone may 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.

Most often we see DJD in our senior pets (generally considered the last 1/3 of their life expectancy). But just because age related changes are normal, doesn’t mean our pets should suffer in silence. There are many ways we can manage DJD, including specialised diets, supplements and various types of medications that help to slow down the damage and manage the pain. It’s very important that high quality products, designed for our pets, are used. The type, source, and quality of ingredients are crucial. Never give your pets human pain medications. They metabolise drugs differently to us, and in most cases human medications are unsafe or deadly to pets. One measure you can take at home is ensuring your pet has a warm, cushioned bed to sleep on.

Your veterinarian will assess what stage your pet is at and offer the most suitable options for managing their condition and maximise their quality of life. As with any health issue, the sooner we see them the better.

Look out for July’s specials on bedding, diets, supplements and more that may help your senior pet through winter, and beyond.



It’s a Catastrophe

Cats may well have an independent nature, but they rely on us totally for their wellbeing. Cats left to fend for themselves very rarely thrive. They face starvation, injury, illness, and suffering. If they’re not de-sexed they face further hardships and contribute to the ever increasing overpopulation of unowned cats. Along with every other animal welfare agency and vet clinic in NZ, we bear the brunt. Approximately 80,000 cats go into shelters every year. 40,000 to 60,000 are euthanased. Many more remain to suffer and die on the streets.

Levin & Horowhenua Vets have, in the last few months, received several stray cats and kittens, some in a shocking state requiring immediate euthanasia on welfare grounds. Many appear to be once-loved pets. None of them have been microchipped. Without identification, we’ve little chance of getting them home. In-fact, studies show that only 4 out of 10 will be reunited with their owners.

If these cats have been deliberately abandoned we’ve no way of identifying the culprits and bringing them to account.

Most owners don’t assume their cats will go missing. Do you know where your cat goes when it leaves the house? Could your cat be chased or attacked by a dog, hit by a car or get lost? Could your cat be mistaken as an unowned cat? Many unidentified loved pets that have gone missing may have been euthanased as unowned animals. In many cases being able to find owners quickly would have meant treatment to save their lives, not end them.

95% of microchipped and registered pets return home.

Lest We Forget


Terrible Toxicities

We’re approaching a time of year where we see a lot of animals with potentially fatal toxicities. Their natural curiosity makes them vulnerable to substances about the home that are harmful to their health. Most pet owners go to great lengths to care for their pets, but there are several hazards which are commonly overlooked, yet easily avoided.

Rat Bait

Most rat baits available to the public contain anticoagulants. These work by preventing clotting of the blood. Symptoms often do not appear until several days after eating as it takes some time for the clotting factors to be depleted. Unfortunately, rat bait is often ingested without the owner’s knowledge and an untreated animal can potentially die from blood loss.

Signs of rat bait poisoning are variable and are caused by internal bleeding. These include:

  • Lethargy, depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pale gums
  • Coughing or difficulty breathing
  • Blood in stool or urine
  • Vomiting
  • Bleeding from nose or gums

Slug/Snail Bait

Most contain a toxin called metaldehyde that affects the central nervous system causing seizures. Initial signs of poisoning occur in as little as half an hour after ingestion. Death can occur within a couple of hours.

Signs of poisoning are usually progressive:

  • Anxious behaviour
  • Mild twitching
  • Uncoordinated walk
  • Salivating or excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Hyperthermia


Most antifreeze formulations contain ethylene glycol. The sweet smell attracts animals, but it is deadly if ingested even in small amounts. As little as half a teaspoon can kill an average-sized cat. Unless you catch it early, the damage to pets’ kidneys is irreversible. Signs can be seen from 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion.

Signs of antifreeze poisoning include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Mild to severe depression
  • Wobbly, uncoordinated or drunken-appearing gait (ataxia) or movement and knuckling of the feet
  • Twitching muscles
  • Short, rapid movements of the eyeball
  • Head tremors
  • Seizures
  • Decreased or no appetite
  • Ulcers in mouth
  • Drooling
  • Little or no urination

Think about your pets as you would your children when considering the dangers of using these products. There may be alternatives that pose less of a risk. Keep all products stored safely, well out of reach of your pets and any spills or leaks cleaned up immediately.

If you suspect your pet has been exposed to any of these poisons it is important to contact your vet clinic immediately. If you know the brand, inform the vet and if possible, bring the container with you. As with all emergencies, the sooner they get to the vet the better the chance of a positive outcome.

Hitting where it Hurts

In the vast majority of households, our pets are considered members of the family. Unlike for our human family, there is no pet public health system. Their every medical and health need has to be paid for. Veterinary clinics do not receive subsidies, and have to operate just like any other business whilst trying to do their very best for every patient they see.

Furthermore, technology and advancements in veterinary science have increased the options available for treatment. your vet may even wish to refer your pet onto a specialist. All this comes with increased costs.

Being a responsible pet owner requires regular preventative health care, and making difficult decisions at times of unexpected accidents or illness. Even the most conscientious owner can face a pet emergency and un-planned treatment costs can be difficult to cover at short notice. Owners want their pets to receive the best possible care regardless of the situation, but realistically this can put them in financial difficulty. When a decision has to be made, it’s not always easy to go with the ideal option.

Setting aside money or building up a credit at your veterinary clinic can be very useful but injuries or illness often happen before you’ve saved enough. Pet insurance is worth considering, smoothing the costs associated with caring for your furry family, and there are several companies offering pet insurance in NZ. There are also finance options available, and Levin & Horowhenua Vets are pleased to be able to refer clients to a veterinary finance company that may be able to offer clients a monetary lifeline.

Pets bring so much to our lives, but owning a pet comes with responsibilities. However you choose to do it, it’s important you have something in place for those unexpected expenses. Hopefully your pet will be healthy and never experience a serious illness or emergency – but regardless, the peace of mind in knowing you have a plan should something happen is worth it.

Weighty Matters

18-cat-dog-scale-300x140It is estimated that nearly 60% of our dogs and cats are overweight. Excess weight can reduce longevity and adversely affect our pets’ quality of life. Many diseases are directly or indirectly attributed to being overweight including breathing difficulties, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. Life is not fun when playing or grooming is difficult or impossible.

Generally we are not very good judges of weight in our pets. One study showed that among clients with dogs defined as overweight by their vet, 39% thought their dogs were at an acceptable weight. We also believe that they’re ‘happy’ or content, when in fact they’re displaying signs of depression or anxiety. A panting dog is not smiling – he’s trying to cool down. A cat that doesn’t move off the couch isn’t necessarily just ‘doing what cats do’ – he’s possibly unwilling to move because it’s uncomfortable.

Whilst some medical problems can cause weight gain and require specific treatment, weight gain is usually caused by eating too much, especially when combined with lack of exercise. We’re in control of their food, so the solution lies with us.

Putting your pet on a weight management diet can seem daunting. Trying to do it with their normal food can be problematic. You may end up having to reduce the volume of food to the point your pet is left hungry. Many will need a special weight loss food to keep them satiated and ensure they still receive the nutrition they need. This will help with behaviour challenges like begging and looking hungry. Pets do not have the emotional relationship with food as we do. Satisfying their needs can be done without food. In fact, many of these behaviours aren’t about hunger. Your pet may be just as satisfied with play time or a cuddle as a treat. Did you know that dogs develop stronger bonds with people who walk them than with those who provide food?

Just like for our own weight management, it’s neither quick nor easy. There are many issues that come up, but there are solutions. Come and talk to us about your pets weight, and together we can come up with a plan to get them back to their best.

Holiday Horribilis

dog-toilet-bowlA veterinary joke ’12 days of Christmas’ song was, unfortunately, more fortune-telling than funny for Levin & Horowhenua Vets over the Christmas and New Year holidays. From twelve sickly stomachs… seven foreign bodies… two hit-by-cars and … we really did see it all. Our knowing chuckles turned into serious discussions with long hours, upset clients, and some very sick pets. This is a timely reminder for those of you lucky enough to be on holiday over January.

Dogs and cats enjoy eating holiday fare but they are not well adapted to dealing with a sudden change in diet, and the consequences can be unpleasant. Many foods we enjoy are actually dangerous for pets. We should all now know that chocolate is extremely toxic, but things like onions, raisons and even the fat off the ham can make our pets extremely ill. Let your pet’s tummy stay peaceful and don’t share!

Toxicities aren’t just from food. Why pets choose to eat some things remains a mystery, but don’t underestimate your pets’ ability to get into something they shouldn’t. Curious pets can often get into prescription medications or recreational drugs which pose a serious threat. Ingested objects cause all sorts of problems requiring emergency surgery. The last thing we want to do is cause these problems ourselves. Keep that ham bone away from your pooch. Cooked bones are especially problematic – and expensive to treat if it goes wrong.

Changing environments, lots of people around and holiday activities can place our pets in harm’s way. Our pets enjoy the routine of a predictable life. Consider your pet’s wellbeing and safety if venturing away or you have lots of guests coming and going. Dogs especially run the risk of being hit by cars with so much extra traffic around. The beach, rivers and even the back yard have additional hazards at this time of year. Think about your pets as you would your children when considering the risks.

Enjoy the rest of the holidays, and take care of your pets.

Food for Thought

With the seemingly endless list of choices, selecting the best food for your pet can be a difficult decision to make. Catchy marketing, persistent myths, and the influence of the latest human trends and fashions all add to the confusion.

When choosing food for your pet, the most important point to remember is that any diet needs to be complete and balanced – it must contain the correct levels of nutrients to meet your pets’ needs. Several crucial factors need to be considered – the specific requirements of their species, their life-stage, lifestyle, and any medical conditions they may have, or are prone to.

Cats and dogs are not mini-humans.  Our pets do not have the emotional relationship to food that we do, and they have different criteria for determining palatability. They’re not interested in variety or how food looks, but they do care about smell, texture and taste.

Nor are they simply domesticated versions of their wild cousins. Aside from genetics, our pets live in a vastly different world to that of their ancestors. We want our pets to live long and healthy lives, not short lives based on survival and reproduction, so it makes sense that they may actually maintain better health on a more evolved diet.

Veterinary nutrition has advanced over time from foods that provide maintenance for survival to premium diets which target the age, size, reproductive status, and unique requirements of the animal. This continual progression of diets has allowed the formulation of diets that contain ingredients that actively promote health; diets aimed at preventing possible problems before they occur; and specialised prescription diets formulated to help in the treatment of certain diseases or health problems. These diets can significantly improve your pet’s quality of life.

The result of many years of research, these premium diets are constantly being tested and improved as our understanding of health problems and the role of nutrition grows. They contain consistent, high quality ingredients that are more digestible. This means more nutritional value per serving, less waste out the other end, and better value for money.

Lumps and Bumps

morethantwoFinding lumps or bumps on our pets can be a worry. There are many reasons for them to appear. They may be small or large, soft or firm, covered in normal skin, or be bleeding. They may appear suddenly, grow slowly, or grow rapidly. Although the majority of lumps and bumps are harmless, it’s nearly impossible to tell if a lump is serious just by looking at it. Don’t ignore them, wait for them to get bigger or to change before you see a vet. Most lumps cause few problems for our pets, however it is possible they may be irritating, painful, or be a sign of serious illness. Some lumps can be life threatening if left untreated.

After an examination your vet may want to perform a test on any suspicious lumps. This may involve a relatively simple fine needle aspirate (FNA) to collect cells, or a biopsy (surgical removal of a part or the whole lump) to be sent to the lab for a diagnosis. Ultrasounds or x-rays are sometimes required to see how the lump forms under the skin, or if it has spread to other parts of the body, as with some cancers. What we see on the surface may be just the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Lumps and bumps can also involve organs or bones.

Once the diagnosis is made your vet will be able to give you an appropriate treatment plan and prognosis for your pet. Your pet’s health and wellbeing will be considered in all cases. Many lumps will simply need monitoring; others will require extensive surgery to remove large areas of tissue.

Occasionally some pets will need medical treatment (chemotherapy) after surgical removal of the lump. Veterinarians are now even able to make special titanium implants to replace bone tissue removed because of a lump (tumour).

Regardless of the cause, most lumps and bumps can be successfully managed, so check your pet regularly, and if you find a lump or bump, book an appointment with your vet.

Itchies & Scratchies

catdogitchingThe warmer weather means the fleas are up and ready to bite; our pets are outside in the garden; and their winter coats are shedding. All good reasons to get itchy and scratchy. Make sure their flea treatment is up-to-date and give them a good groom. But what if they’re still itching or their skin is looking red or inflamed, or worse, and your pet is in discomfort? First book an appointment with your vet. Don’t jump to conclusions about what is causing your pet’s itchy skin.

Allergies are a common cause of skin conditions in dogs and cats. The main difference between us and pets is that they tend to get skin conditions, rather than runny eyes and noses. Itching, scratching, chewing, biting, licking, or rubbing the skin can all be signs.

There are three main types of allergies related to skin conditions in our pets. Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD), Food Allergy and Atopy. A pet may have one or a combination of these conditions.

Fleas are a common cause of skin allergies, especially in cats. Even if you do not see fleas on your pet, treating year round is vital for any pet with FAD.

The least common cause of skin allergies is food allergy. The vast majority are caused by an allergic reaction to proteins. Most of the symptoms involve itchy skin, but can also cause vomiting or diarrhoea. Gastrointestinal signs are more common in cats. Determining a food allergy can be

complex and requires consultation with your vet.

It is estimated that up to 15% of dogs have atopy, a genetic predisposition to react to allergens such as pollen, house dust and mites, mould, grasses, trees and shrubs. The allergens can be inhaled, pass through the pads of the feet and even ingested. Preventing exposure to these allergens is extremely difficult. Atopy tends to be progressive with each allergy season.

Allergies can be hard to control and are chronic in nature. This can be very frustrating for pet owners. It’s vital to see your vet, get a proper diagnosis and get started on the appropriate therapy early.