Your Pet Questions Answered

Chris Troughton is clinical director of Heath Vets. He’s here to answer all your pet questions.

I was reading in recent newspapers about pet obesity and it’s made me think twice about giving my dog titbits from the table. He’s a 5 year old bulldog and does now seem to be slowing down from the excitable little dog that he used to be. Do you recommend any specific diet or do I stop feeding him titbits?

Obesity is certainly a big problem for many pets these days and it is an important factor in arthritis, heart/breathing problems, and diabetes in cats – all of which can be life-limiting issues. We all love to indulge our pets, but you have to keep a watch on their waistlines, and if they start to bulge, you have to cut back. I’m happy to confess that my dogs get loads of treats all day (starting with their own toast at breakfast!) – but I keep them lean by exercising plenty, and if necessary by cutting down on their treats and their dinners.

Bulldogs are one of those breeds that are quite prone to putting on weight, and because they usually already have some breathing difficulties (due to their squashed faces), this can be a serious issue for them. So if you are concerned, take action now by reducing his total calorie intake. You can do that by cutting out treats altogether, but that’s quite hard on both of you. Instead, I would reduce the titbits, and perhaps change to giving him raw carrots or apples – many dogs love the crunch! At the same time, I would reduce the calories in his proper meals, either by reducing the quantity you give, or by changing to a low-calorie (or ‘light’ ) version of his normal food.

For dogs with serious obesity problems, there are some excellent ‘prescription’ weight-loss diets made by many of the top brands like Hills or Royal Canin. If you are having difficulty controlling his weight, many vets have weight clinics to help you.

How concerned should we be about Alabama Rot? A friend of mine in the north of England said that a local dog was recently put down because it contracted this disease. And how do we know if our dog has picked it up?

Alabama Rot is a relatively new condition which has been recognised in the UK only since 2012, although cases were seen in USA well before that (hence ‘Alabama’ rot). The condition starts with skin sores particularly on the paws and lower legs, but also on the face, body or tongue. These can look like weeping cuts or reddened sore areas, or ulcerated areas of skin. It is believed that many dogs recover from this form of the disease without serious consequences, but a small number go on to develop acute kidney injury and usually this is fatal.

In spite of extensive research, at present we have no idea what causes Alabama Rot, although there any many theories. It appears that all affected dogs have been walked in muddy wooded areas, and most cases occur during the winter months. Because we don’t know the cause, it’s very difficult to know how to prevent the disease, but a sensible precaution would be to wash your dog down if he’s been for a walk in muddy woods. It is not believed to be infectious to other dogs, and people have not been affected.
Alabama Rot is exceptionally uncommon in UK – up to May 2017, there had been only 94 confirmed cases, and 53 suspected. There have recently been a few more, and there have been six confirmed cases in Newport and one in Tonypandy, but none in the Cardiff area. However, if you see any unexplained sores on your dog, it’s sensible to get your vet to take a look as soon as possible.

Over the last 5 months, we’ve had a cat coming to our back door and wanting to come in the house. The cat doesn’t look ill-treated or malnourished but when it first started visiting, we did give it some food. The cat still keeps coming, even though we have stopped giving it food. At what point should I be concerned about the cat’s welfare and do I bring him/her (we can’t tell the difference!) to you?

Cats are great opportunists and seem to be able to spot any ‘cat-friendly’ homes in their neighbourhood which they will visit for extra food or just for attention. So a cat visiting you is not necessarily a stray, and if he (she?) looks in good condition, and you are not feeding him now, it is likely that his real owner is caring for him. I would advise you to discourage the cat’s visits by not giving any attention, and particularly not feeding. I once lost a cat to a neighbour who insisted on feeding her; eventually she decided their home was preferable and she moved in with them. I can tell you that was quite upsetting!

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