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FIREWORKS it’s that time of year again!

As the clocks go back and the nights draw in, it can be a very distressing time of the year, for both pets and their owners. Over 40% of dogs in the UK are reported to suffer with a fear of fireworks. It should also be remembered that cats will also suffer with the fireworks.

Animals who do differ with firework phobias will display a range of problems, varying from those animals who simply bark at the fireworks to try and make them go away, those that hide from them, those that show obvious signs of distress, right through to those that appear to freeze. For us as owners, these signs can be greatly distressing to see. Yet for the animals this fear will not only cause emotional trauma, but often lead to physical injuries as well.

So what do we, as pet owners, do to try and reduce the problems our animals suffer due to firework phobias? Simply put, there is not one simple solution. Yet, by adopting numerous strategies, we should be able make this time of year easier for our cats and dogs.

The following strategies may apply to a greater or lesser extent to certain individual situations, and often many different approaches need to be taken at the same time.

1. If at all possible avoid the fireworks, which is easier said than done these days. If you do have a friend who lives in a remote area consider spending time with them on the worst of the fireworks, for example when the local display is on. Sadly, we all known that now firework night seems to last many weeks.

2. To reduce the impact of the sound of fireworks you can try to create competing noises such as loud music. Remember not to play this too loudly as this noises itself may end up causing anxiety. In extreme cases noise-cancelling headphone can be used. Mutt Muffs are available through www.safeandsoundpets.com

3. It may seem obvious, but do close blinds and curtains well before any fireworks start to reduce the effects the sights the fireworks have on our animals.

4. Absolutely avoid any form of punishment. This will simple lead to more anxiety and even cause your pet to become aggressive.

5. Comforting you animal when they are scared is a controversial area. Definitely try to be at home during any known firework events. Although you shouldn’t pet or over fuss your animal when they are worried, as this can reinforce the fearful behaviour, it may help some pets to hold them firmly and lean into them, while using long, form massaging strokes, rather than normal petting.

6. Create a safe haven cover an indoor crate with a blanket and put their bedding and one or two familiar toys inside. This will become a darkened den for them in which to hide, but it’s a good idea to try to get them used to this area before firework season.

7. In many situations the most helpful method to help control firework phobias is through the use of a technique called desensitisation and counter conditioning. Essentially, this is getting your pets used to the sounds of fireworks by playing a CD at a volume that doesn’t provoke a fearful reaction, and rewarding them for this non-reaction. The volume is gradually increased, and a strict programme followed over several weeks to months. This needs to be, therefore, started well before firework season and should not be undertaken if fireworks are likely to start soon. One of the most successful programs is Sounds Scary and is available through www.soundtherapy4pets.co.uk for less than £10. If your pet suffers from firework phobia we would strongly recommend purchasing this now and to start the program in the New Year once all the fireworks have finished, and to then consider repeating the program next summer.

8. Various medications are available to reduce our pets anxieties. These medications are used alongside a behaviour modification plan such as the desensitisation and counter conditioning described above, and need to be started weeks or months prior to the fireworks starting. Often at the hospital we asked at the last minute to supply something to help to calm pets. Medications are available that reduce anxiety in the short term, and will help at the time but have no lasting effect as your pet will again suffer with the same fears next year. A key point for owners is not to be scared to use these drugs. By not medicating animals when appropriate we may be simply prolonging their suffering.

9. Pheromone treatments area available such as Adaptil. These are available as a plug-in, collar and now a tablet and may help some dogs, but not all.

10. Dietary supplements such as omega-3 supplements, zylkene and calmex again may help some dogs with mild phobias.

11. It is now possible to purchase a tight fighting wrap such as an Anxiety Wrap which is design to apply constant pressure to help relax muscles. Studies suggest these may help some, but not all, dogs. They are available through www.anxietywrap.com.

12. To date there has been no study which has successfully shown any definite beneficial effect for behavioural change for any homeopathic treatment studied in companion animals.

The expected outcome for helping animals with firework phobia should be good if we follow and commit to a thorough desensitisation program. This will take time and patience. It has also been recognised that many animals who suffer with firework phobia also experience other behavioural issues such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder or Separation Anxiety. If you feel this may apply to you and if you are truly committed to your animal’s emotional well-being, there are many qualified people to help both you and your pet. Don’t be frightened to ask for help!

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Cat clinics at Stoke Road

In September 2013, we introduced a new Cat Clinic at Stoke Road in Bletchley. Held on Tuesday afternoons, this allows us to cater specifically for your cats needs and minimise the stress they may experience when visiting us.During the clinic times, we have a strict ‘no dogs’ policy, giving your cat a peaceful wait for their appointment. We will also use plug in ‘Feliway’ diffusers in our reception area, further promoting a calm atmosphere for your cat. All of our staff are trained to handle cats in a quiet and confident manner, and if you would prefer a nurse to help you hold your pet in the consulting room, they are always eager to assist. In the waiting room, there is a cat carrier tree. This is so that they can be up off the floor, so in turn they feel more secure and can survey their surroundings.

On Saturday 14th June 2014, we will be hosting a “Cat Clinic Client” Event. We are inviting guest speakers to talk about most things feline! Your invitation will follow in due course – save the date!

Cat clinics are open to all our feline friends, for vaccinations, repeat prescription check-ups and general health checks, and everything in between. Our computer system is linked across all of our surgeries, so even if Stoke Road is not your normal branch, we are able to access your cat’s previous notes and treatment details, and reception staff can make appointments from any site.

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Choosing the right cattery

It’s the time of year that everyone starts to dream of sunnier climates. The weather is cold, generally gloomy, mostly wet, and we all end up day dreaming of the most elusive thing in the UK – Sunshine. So you book your holidays, daydream about what you’ll pack and gladly think about the most difficult choice being to sunbathe by the sea or by the pool. But while you’re dreaming of your perfect escape, who’s going to look after the family member who won’t be coming with you? Choosing the right cattery can be a daunting decision, leaving behind a family member in the care of a relative stranger is no easy task. So how do you know which to pick? We’ve put together a small guide for you on what to look out for to make sure that your cat’s holiday is just as amazing as yours.

1) General considerations
  • Know your price range – Catteries will range in price depending on their location, and services available. As with all things, generally the more you pay, the better the service provided will be. In the MK area prices will range from £8.50 to £15 per day, with some discounts for multiple cats!
  • Inspections – If the cattery you’re interested in doesn’t allow any prior inspections, then seek somewhere else. Meeting the people who will be looking after your family member while you’re away is really important and shouldn’t be underestimated.
  • Websites – If they have a website then it’s worth looking into all that they offer, and if there are any specific terms and conditions you must abide by before lodging your cat there.
  • Testimonials – On their website is great, but those on a hosting website e.g. yell.com are better as they’re not controlled by the cattery owners and so not subject to bias. This means you can get a real idea of what other cat owners before you have really thought about the cattery.
2) Accommodation
  • Housing – Your cat shouldn’t be housed with cats from other households, so individual housing should be available. That being said, if you have multiple cats, it would be better for them to be housed together and so “family accommodation” or cat flaps opening up several individual pens to one another should be available. The housing should also be heated, even in the summer the British nights can get chilly, its important that your loved one stays comfy and cosy so they can enjoy their holiday.
  • Environmental Enrichment – At home your cat will have access to a range of different environments to play around in, a cattery should ideally provide facilities for play and scratching around to ensure that your cat doesn’t get bored during their stay.
  • Outdoor Access – It is important for cats to have the access to the outdoors that they are used to but in a safe environment. Ideally the cattery should have an outdoor run providing a safe area for cat’s to have the outdoor exploration they are used to. Also some catteries may offer outdoor access ad lib, so your cat may come and go as he/she pleases.
  • Safety Passage – Should your cat prove to be a bit of a Houdini, a safety passage should be in place so that if an escape attempt is made, they can be caught and returned to the safety of their pen, quickly and without any problems.
  • The Surrounding Area – If your cat isn’t used to dogs, then ideally the cattery shouldn’t be in range of a doggery, or any noisy neighbours!
3) Cattery requirements
  • Vaccinations – A good cattery will require that your cat is fully up to date with their vaccinations before entering the cattery to ensure that there is no spread of disease at all.
  • Flea and Worming treatment – Most good catteries will also ask that your cat is treated for fleas before their stay, and some may also ask for up to date worming treatment.
4) Additional considerations
  • Prescription/special diets – Catteries should either offer most diets themselves or be happy to deal with feeding special prescription diets.
  • Medications – Some catteries will be happy to administer medications, its worth checking if they will do this and if there is any extra cost incurred.
  • Grooming – Long haired cats will need grooming on a regular basis, you will need to check if the cattery will provide this service and if there is any additional cost involved.
  • Veterinary arrangements – These should always be sorted BEFORE you leave for your holidays, you will need to give the cattery your consent for veterinary treatment if it is necessary. Checks should also be made as to which veterinary surgery will be used in the event that your cat does require attention.
  • TLC – Your cat is used to having a loving, caring owner at home and so should be spoilt with love and affection whilst on holiday too! Ensure that there are provisions made for time to be spent fussing your cat.

Happy Cattery hunting, and Happy Holidays from all of us at Milton Keynes Veterinary Group.

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TB in Cats and the risk to people

With the news this week that two people have been infected with tuberculosis, almost certainly from their cats it is a worrying time for cat owners. Evidence at present suggests that the risk of transmission to people from their cat is considered very low and in the Milton Keynes area this risk is luckily probably even lower. Tuberculosis is caused by a group of organisms called Mycobacteria. These organisms are generally quite slow-growing and also quite resistant to antibiotics.

There are three main species of mycobacterium that we need to concern ourselves with regards to cats and they are Mycobacterium tuberculi, Mycobacterium bovis, and Mycobacterium microti. 90% of human TB is caused by M.tuberculi and some by M.bovis. Infection in people with M.microti is extremely rare. Cats on the other hand are quite resistant to M.tuberculi with M.microti and M.bovis causing most of their infections. TB in cats invariably presents with non-healing, discharging skin sores, rather than respiratory complaints. In the days before pasteurisation it was commonly caught from drinking infected cow’s milk but now it is invariably caught by being bitten on the front legs and head by small rodents which themselves have TB, so cats that hunt are at much higher risk.

We had an unusual case of TB in a cat Milton Keynes a few years ago. She initially presented with a discharging lump below her eye which on analysis was confirmed as TB but was unable to be classified. She had 6 months of triple antibiotic therapy and seemed cured. A year or so later she appeared with inflammation in the left eye which resolved with treatment. A few months later she came back with this lesion in her eye, a similar one in the back of her right eye and a gritty lesion in the lymph node in her back leg from which we were able to culture the T.microti. She also had extensive lung involvement on x-rays. After several more months of treatment the lesions resolved although she remains blind. A year or so later she relapsed with lesions on her spine but she is now on continuous treatment with antibiotics but remains a very sweet happy cat.

The problem with TB is that the organisms are extremely difficult to grow and over 50%, in most studies are unable to be cultured. For those of us in Milton Keynes however the good news is that in those cats where we do culture there TB the typing has a strong relation to geography. In a study done between 2004-8 nearly all the cases of M.bovis in cats came from the West of England and Wales, while nearly all the cases from the South East of England were M.microti. TB is difficult to treat in both people and animals and there is also the ethical dilemma of using what are the most effective treatments in people in animals which may lead to greater resistance. TB in cats is uncommon, but also easy to miss therefore if owners have a pet that is unwell they should consult a vet. However the one ray of sunshine is that cats in our area that do catch TB are likely to be carrying M.microti making the risk to their families very low.

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