Your Pet Questions Answered by Chris Troughton of Heath Vets

I have recently acquired a small kitten (long story!). What I want to know is whether catnip is dangerous for cats and especially small kittens?

Catnip (Nepata cataria) is a common garden flower. It produces an essential oil called ‘nepetalactone’ and some cats react to this by getting ‘high’. The oil is taken in by sniffing, but cats will chew the plant and roll in it; this is believed to release more of the oil to inhale. Not all cats are sensitive to the effect – half of them don’t react at all, and kittens under 3-4 months never do. The sensitivity of old cats is also reduced. For susceptible cats, the effect usually makes them very frisky and playful, but sometimes they can appear sedated. However, the effect lasts only a few minutes (15 maximum) and cannot be repeated for at least an hour. There are no reports of cats ‘overdosing’ and becoming ill, and it is not addictive. Since it doesn’t affect cats under 3 months at all, it is unlikely that your little kitten will even notice its presence. If she should, just enjoy watching her fun!

My wife is paranoid that our two year old Staffie is going to pick up parvovirus from the local park. Is it something that can be transmitted in this way and what are the symptoms that we’d need to look out for if it did pick up this disease?

Parvovirus is a deadly dog virus that causes severe bloody vomiting and diarrhoea, which, if untreated, is usually fatal. With careful and intensive treatment, most adult dogs recover from the illness and it leaves no lasting problems; in puppies the prognosis is not so good, and about 20% of them will die in spite of treatment. The virus is spread via faeces. After becoming infected, the dog incubates the disease for several days before showing symptoms, but already during that time virus is being excreted in the normal-looking faeces, so it is not just diarrhoea faeces which could be infected. The virus can survive on the ground for years after the faeces in which it arrived has gone, so areas like public parks, where lots of dogs defaecate, can, over the years, acquire a significant burden of infection. Fortunately, there are very effective and safe vaccines against parvo, which are part of the routine injections that all dogs should have every year. So as long as your Staffie has his jabs every year, there should be no risk of him catching this nasty virus.

Just a question of curiosity – my dog recently had an ear infection and was administered medication. It was the same medication that he was prescribed a few months before. Do vets need to see the animal EVERY time he has the same problem or, like humans, is there a ‘repeat prescription’ procedure available?

Vets do provide ‘repeat prescription’ medicines for chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes, heart failure, etc. When your pet has a problem that requires constant treatment, once he is stable on his medication, your vet will need to check him from time to time to make sure nothing has changed and he is having no side effects; in between check-ups, repeat prescriptions will be provided. This is the same as for human patients. The only difference is that vets often need to check their patients more frequently because pets can’t tell you they aren’t feeling quite so good – it needs a skilled examination to notice this.
However, if a condition recurs when it wasn’t expected to, we must not assume it is the same as the previous event as that could lead to disaster. To use the ear infection example – you probably noticed your dog scratching his ear or shaking his head. These symptoms could be due to an infection, or they could be due to a foreign body (notably a grass awn) that had got lodged in the ear canal. If your vet just gave you some more ear drops without examining him, your dog could end up deaf with a perforated ear drum! Conditions like an ear infection are actually just a description of symptoms rather than an exact diagnosis and the actual cause of the problem may or may not be the same as a previous set of similar symptoms.

Chris Troughton is Principal and Vet at Heath Vets, Cardiff
T: 02920 621511