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Could your dog be a life saver?

As one of the nurses working at Milton Keynes Veterinary Groups main hospital, I am excited to be working with Pet Blood Bank UK to register the hospital and hold dog blood donor sessions.
Pet Blood Bank UK is a non-profitable charity which provides a national canine blood bank. Just like people, sick dogs sometimes require blood transfusions, with one single donation saving the lives of up to four dogs. My own dog, Westwood (pictured above) was a donor for Pet Blood Bank UK and donated several times. Unfortunately, as he is now receiving immunotherapy injections, he is no longer able to donate. In order to hold sessions at the practice, we must provide Pet Blood Bank UK with a list of 50 possible dog donors. Pet Blood Bank UK will then contact owners directly to arrange appointments. Dogs can donate up to four times a year.

To be a donor, you dog needs to be:
  • Fit and healthy
  • Between 1-8 years of age (extra-large breeds need to be slightly older before they can donate)
  • Weigh more than 25kg
  • Have a good temperament
  • Have never travelled abroad
  • Vaccinated
  • Not on any medications (there are a few exceptions)
There are certain dog breeds that frequently have a Negative blood type and there is a higher demand for these donors. For this reason we are encouraging the breeds below:
  • Airedales
  • American bulldogs
  • Boxers
  • Dobermans
  • English bull terriers
  • Flat coat retrievers
  • German shepherds
  • Greyhounds
  • Lurchers
  • Mastiffs
  • English pointers
  • Weimeraners

The comfort and health of our donors is very important to us and Pet Blood Bank UK. All dogs will be weighed and undergo a physical examination by a Pet Blood Bank UK veterinary surgeon each time they donate. Dogs will also be microchipped if they are not already. A small blood sample is obtained to check your pet is healthy, determine their blood type, and to ensure they are not showing any signs of dehydration or anaemia before their donation.
If all is well then 450mls blood is collected. Dogs are gently restrained on their side, and blood is taken from the jugular vein in the neck. The actual donation only takes 5-10 minutes, although you should allow around 40 minutes in total for your appointment. A light dressing will be applied to your dogs neck after donation and their pulse is checked.
Dogs are then given lots of praise and cuddles, followed by a well-deserved drink and bowl of food, and a doggie bag of treats to take home. You will be asked to sit with your dog for a short period of time prior to them having a final check before they are sent home to take it easy for the rest of the day.

For more information, or if you are interested in registering your pet becoming a blood donor, please contact the surgery on 01908 397777 and ask to speak to Jess.

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The Hog Blog

Hedgehogs are found throughout Great Britain and most of Europe. Unfortunately, recent surveys carried out by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species indicate that hedgehog numbers in both urban and rural areas are falling every year. This has led to hedgehogs being declared a priority conservation species in 2007.

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A day in the life of a veterinary nurse

Firstly, it is imperative to point out that no two days at work are the same for a Veterinary Nurse. A day as an operating nurse at our Walnut Tree hospital starts early in the morning, when we come in and start the day with the most crucial job of all. Putting the kettle on! That being done we start to prepare the operating theatres where our patients will be undergoing surgical procedures that day, ensuring that everything is prepared and safe. The oxygen and nitrous oxide levels will be checked, specialist dental suit prepared and the laboratory machines tested. At this time our patients who will be staying with us for the day begin arriving, and we begin the admission process. This typically involves speaking with the owners, running through what will be happening during the day including any risks or concerns and then finally signing the consent form. We often spend time asking about your pets recent behaviour or any medical problems they have been experiencing, and trying our best to re-assure you that they are in safe hands.


We will take your pet through to our prep room, take a weight for them and often take a blood sample for pre-operative blood tests or place an intravenous cannula. The blood sample will be run by our in-house machines (also operated by a registered veterinary nurse) and the results shown to a Veterinary Surgeon. Your pet will be settled and made comfortable in either our dedicated canine or feline ward whilst the Vet Nurse calculates and draws up the most suitable Pre-med that the vet has chosen. This usually consists of an anti-anxiety drug and a pain relief combined so that your pet is feeling calm whilst with us and the pain relief has time to work before anything begins. The surgery and prep area is then set up with appropriate anaesthetic equipment, which is all safety checked by our nurses. The nurse and vet who will be working together will discuss your pets specific case before they begin and then change into their surgical scrubs.


The patient will then come through into the prep area where they are anaesthetised for surgery. The nurse will assist the vet by holding the patient, raising a vein if needed and keeping your pet calm and reassured through this experience. Once the anaesthetic begins the nurse is responsible for monitoring the vital signs which include: heart rate, pulse rate and quality, respiratory rate and effort, mucous membrane colour, capillary refill time, body temperature and depth of anaesthesia. This information is related to the veterinary surgeon throughout the surgery. The final stage or preparing the surgical patient is to clip and surgically prepare the skin surface. This involves using a special solution containing Chlorhexidine and a concentrated surgical spirit to ensure the area is sterile before surgery begins. The nurse will connect the patient to a specialised anaesthetic monitor in theatre which will display: an ECG of the patients heart, the level of oxygen in the blood, a graphical display of each breath the patient takes, how much oxygen they take in and how much carbon dioxide they breathe out. Combining this with the information the nurse can get from checking the patients vital signs (discussed above) is the safest way of monitoring anaesthesia.


Once the surgery is completed a nurse will recover that patient from anaesthesia, again monitoring all vital signs and alerting a Vet to any potential problems. The monitoring continues until they are back on their feet. Temperature, consciousness level, pulses, respiration and the condition of the wound are recorded and acted on. Once your pet is recovered a nurse will call you to arrange a time for them to come home. The surgical team will typically go through this multiple times in a day (cleaning the theatre between each patient), until all of the operations are completed. The surgical theatres are then thoroughly cleaned, the surgical instruments are cleaned and packaged ready to go through an auto-clave (for sterilisation) and the prep room cleaned down. When an owner arrives to collect their pet, a nurse will go through all of the post-operative care in detail. Any questions concerning the aftercare are answered and the patient is returned to the owner. Each day as a Veterinary Nurse is different, no two pets are the same and each one of our patients is treated as an individual.

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Adders – What is the risk to my dog?

Identification: Most adders are distinctively marked with a dark zigzag running down the length of the spine and an inverted ‘V’ shape on the neck. Males are generally white or pale grey with a black zigzag. Females are pale brown with a darker brown zigzag. Adders are viviparous – they give birth to live young.

The Adder (Vipera berus) is the only venomous snake native to Britain. Adders will only use their venom as a last means of defence, usually if caught or stepped on. No one has died from an adder bite in Britain for over 35 years. With proper treatment, the worst effects in humans are nausea and drowsiness, followed by swelling and bruising in the area of the bite.

What is the risk to my dog?

The adder is a timid and non-aggressive snake, and will only bite when provoked. They hibernate over the winter and emerge in early spring as the temperature increases.

Unfortunately dogs are the animals most likely to be bitten due to their natural curiosity. But adder bites are rarely fatal in dogs.

The severity of the clinical signs varies and depends upon the location of the bite (facial bites are more serious), the size of the patient (small dogs are more likely to be seriously affected), the amount the dog moves after the bite (movement increases venom uptake).

The most common signs are significant swelling at the site of the bite, with systemic signs of depression and lethargy.

  • Less than 5% of patients display more severe signs
  • 96-97% make a full recovery, usually within five days

If your dog is bitten by an adder you should seek prompt veterinary attention. Do not attempt first aid measures such as applying a tourniquet- This is ineffective and can cause further harm to your pet. Carry your dog (rather than allow him to walk) to try and reduce the spread of venom around his body.

  • Keep to the paths – snakes tend to live in the undergrowth
  • Use a short lead if walking in an area where adders might be present – this will also protect the young of ground-nesting birds
  • If you encounter an adder – leave it alone and give it the opportunity to escape to safety

Adders are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is an offence to kill, harm or injure them, and to sell or trade them in any way.

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Caring for your rabbit

Despite being the third most popular pet in the UK, rabbits are sadly still the most misunderstood and neglected; this vastly due to innocent ignorance on the owners’ part not having done enough research before purchasing their rabbit.

It is generally believed that rabbits are easy to look after and make great pets for small children; this is a very common misconception. Rabbits are highly intelligent creatures who require a lot of space, exercise, stimulation and companionship; they are often harder work to keep happy and healthy than a dog or cat due to their very specific dietary needs and their complex social structure. There are also the additional routine health costs to consider; your rabbit will need annual vaccinations and routine worming just like your cat or dog. They can sometimes be aggressive if not neutered or handled enough so a lot of time must be spent with them. If care is given correctly, a rabbit can easily live to at least 10 years old, providing years of companionship and joy for their owners.


We recommend vaccination against both myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease. Both diseases are highly contagious and are fatal for rabbits that become infected.

The vaccine we use to vaccinate your rabbit protects them against both diseases and lasts for 1 year so your rabbit will have to come to the surgery annually to remain fully protected. It takes 3 weeks post vaccination for your rabbits immunity to build up properly and we can vaccinate from 5 weeks old.

It is important to note that both diseases can affect house rabbits, so just because your bunny lives indoors, does not mean it is safe. House rabbits should be vaccinated too!


Myxomatosis is caused by the Myxoma virus which is widely distributed in the wild rabbit population. You might argue that your rabbit never comes into direct contact with animals from the wild and so does not need vaccination. The problem is that the virus is carried by biting insects such as fleas and mosquitoes so the disease can be passed on without direct contact.

The first sign is the development of puffy eyelids and a purulent (pus-producing) conjunctivitis, this starts to develop within just 7 days of your rabbit becoming infected. Swelling under the skin extends around the eyes, ears and genital region. Unfortunately most rabbits succumb to the infection 18 days to three weeks later.

A milder form may be seen in partially immune rabbits. In these the symptoms are solid masses; they often appear as lumps over the ears and head. They may be single or multiple. In some cases lumps may appear on the rest of the body. With proper nursing they will normally survive but the masses may take over six months to disappear.


Rabbit haemorrhagic disease is caused by a calicivirus; it’s spread by consumption of food or water contaminated by infected wild rabbits or contact with birds or insects that can bring the virus to your rabbit on their feet or in their droppings. The virus itself is extremely tough and can survive for many months in the environment, and can even resist temperatures of 60C.

Infected rabbits will either start showing signs within 3 days of becoming infected or may die suddenly without the owner noticing a change.

If there are signs they include anorexia (not eating), pyrexia (fever), lethargy and collapse. There may also be convulsions and coma, dyspnoea (difficulty breathing), a mucoid foaming at the mouth or a bloody nasal discharge. Some animals survive this acute phase but succumb a few weeks later of liver disease and jaundice.


There are a number of parasitic worms that can affect the intestine of the domestic rabbit just like in cats and dogs, so routine worming of your bunny is of the utmost importance.

The signs of a possible worm burden include the presence of thick brown threads of mucus in the droppings, abdominal pain, impaction of the rabbits intestine (if there is a large number of worms), which causes stasis of the gut.

Treatment and prevention is with an oral paste which is administered to the rabbit for 9 days every 3 months.

Also, in order to prevent worm invasion in rabbits, it is essential that owners ensure that hay/forage is not gathered in areas where there are numerous dogs, cats, rodents. Good hygiene practice is also very important, so a rabbit owner must ensure that any fresh greens and vegetables be washed carefully with running water, hay and straw used as litter is changed regularly and hay that cannot be changed daily be given on a feed rack, where it cannot be soiled with faeces or urine. It is also important that the toilet areas are cleaned daily with hot running water and disinfectant.

Encephalitozoon cuniculi

E.cuniculi is a tiny single celled protozoal parasite, which primarily infects rabbits and is a significant cause of disease. It is also important to rabbit owners as just occasionally it can infect humans, especially if they are immunocompromised. A recent survey demonstrated that 52% of pet rabbits sampled in the UK were currently or had recently been infected.

This disease often causes a prolonged underlying condition in rabbits, with active disease being characterised by neurological signs such as weakness, head tilt , paralysis and even seizures. It may also cause kidney failure (the organism is shed via the urine), lens changes, and heart disease. It may also be carried by rabbits with no clinical signs!

Regular doses of the worming paste Panacur (Fenbendazole) is recommended for prevention of the parasite. This dosing is incorporated into the rabbit’s regular worming treatment. We strongly recommend that if you have bought/adopted a new bunny, that all of the rabbits in the household (including the new one) be treated with the paste for 28 days.


Having your rabbit neutered is one of the most important steps you can take to help your pet enjoy a happy, healthy and long life. The main reason for neutering is to keep more than 1 rabbit together, which is very important as these are very social animals and require company to thrive. It also ensures that they are less likely to become aggressive and territorial.

Rabbits reach sexual maturity at 4-5 months of age depending on the breed. We advise males be neutered from 4 months old and females from 5 months old. Neutering prevents any unwanted behaviour associated with sexual maturity, unwanted pregnancies where males and females are housed together, and prevents certain health problems, for example, uterine cancer in female rabbits which affects up to 80% of the unneutered population of over 5 year olds. If necessary we can neuter rabbits earlier but this is on a case-by-case basis.


Correct feeding is of paramount importance in rabbits!

In the wild rabbits spend many hours chewing grass. This is a tough fibrous material that also contains abrasive silicates. In winter they consume dried grass that they have stored in their burrows. All year round they will top up their diet with dark green leafy weeds as well as fruit and roots that they come across.

In captivity we have developed commercial rations that are low in fibre and minerals and high in protein. Rabbits enjoy these diets and grow quickly. However, they are calorie-rich and do not require nearly as much chewing/grinding as the natural diet. Even if grass and hay are provided the rabbit will preferentially eat the wrong foods resulting in dietary imbalances and deficiencies.

It is therefore best to keep the diet as natural as possible as most rabbit illnesses are as a result of inadequate nutrition. Their intestines rely on a high quantity of indigestible fibre to function properly and to grind down their constantly growing cheek teeth effectively. The bulk of the diet of the pet bunny should consist of grass and good quality meadow hay; this should be available at all times. Hay can be fed from racks or nets to minimise contamination by urine and faeces and this also increases time spent feeding.

Green foods are also important and a variety should be fed daily to all ages of rabbits. They should be introduced gradually. Examples are broccoli, cabbage, parsley, watercress, celery leaves, dock, basil, kale, carrot tops and beet tops. Wild plants can be given if available, e.g. bramble, groundsel, chickweed, and dandelion but remember to wash them. It is important to note that some plants are toxic to rabbits, so if you are unsure, please do your research first!

Commercial concentrate rabbit diets are not essential if a rabbit has hay, grass and greens available at all times. Commercial rabbit diets can be too low in fibre and too high in protein, fat and carbohydrate. It is advised that rabbits have a very limited amount of concentrated food (approx. 1 egg cup daily for adult rabbits and 2 egg cups for young bunnies).

Rabbits will selectively feed if given a muesli type diet and often leave the unappetising grains at the bottom of the bowl. It has been scientifically proven that muesli type rabbit foods cause long-term gut and teeth issues and so should be avoided completely The best type of concentrated food is a pellet formed diet e.g. Burgess Suparabbit Excel Lite which is higher in fibre than most others on the market which is essential for a healthy gastrointestinal system.

Fruit and high fat or high carbohydrate treats should be avoided completely e.g. shop bought treats, beans, peas, bread, breakfast cereal, crisps etc. as they can lead to gastrointestinal disturbances.

Sudden changes in diet must always be avoided. Any change in diet needs to be made gradually over several days to weeks. When purchasing a rabbit it is important for a new owner to be informed of the rabbit’s diet so that any changes can be introduced gradually.

It is important to remember that fresh drinking water must be available at all times, ideally from a bottle.


Rabbits should be housed in enclosures where they have enough room to stretch up fully on their hind legs and should always have a run attached to the enclosure to allow daily exercise.

Rabbits are social animals and should be provided with a companion wherever possible. The ideal combination is a neutered female and neutered male. All introductions should be supervised and should be carried out on neutral territory. It is not recommended that rabbits be kept with guinea pigs, as bullying by the rabbit often occurs. Rabbits can also harbour Bordetella bronchispetica which causes disease in guinea pigs.

Indoor bunnies

House rabbits should have a secure cage area where they can be restrained when the owner isn’t present. Wire cages and plastic boxes are suitable. Exercise around the house should be encouraged. They will readily learn to use cat flaps to gain indoor/outdoor access.

Rabbits can be easily trained to use a litter tray, by repeatedly placing them in it. It may be necessary initially to place some droppings in it.

Electrical cables must be protected from chewing, and poisonous house plants avoided.

Chewable toys are enjoyed, such as cardboard boxes, telephone directories, commercial cat or bird toys and even towels which they like to burrow into.

It is important that your rabbit has adequate ventilation if housed indoors as poor ventilation could cause respiratory infections.

Outdoor bunnies

Rabbits are generally hardy and can be outdoor all year round but must have adequate shelter from extremes of weather e.g. rain, strong draughts, snow and also extreme heat. Direct sunlight should be avoided as heat stress occurs easily. The hutch should be raised off the ground. A waterproof roof and panel to cover the mesh-fronted area in bad weather should be provided.

A solid fronted nesting area and a mesh fronted living area should be provided, and they should be bedded on wood shavings and hay or straw (avoid barley straw as it is very coarse and can cause injury to the eyes). Good ventilation is essential to prevent respiratory disease.

Rabbits need daily exercise and to graze. The hutch should be placed within an enclosure, or an ark or run should be attached so the rabbit can always have access.

Rabbits will burrow so precautions should be taken to prevent escape. Rabbits can jump well and covering the run or pen with a mesh top will prevent escape, as well as providing protection from predators.

Rabbits should always be provided with bolt holes such as empty cardboard boxes, or drain pipes to use if alarmed.

Contact with wild rabbits should be prevented to prevent disease and fly and mosquito control should be considered in the summer months.

Fly Strike (myiasis)

During the summer months, pet rabbits may be affected by maggot infestation. Different terms are used for this but fly strike is the most common.

Healthy rabbits are generally not affected by fly strike. There are three main problems that lead to the condition. First, a wound to which the flies are attracted and on which they lay their eggs is an obvious site where maggots can cause damage. More commonly, a rabbit that cannot take and eat its soft faeces ‘caecotrophs’ (either due to arthritis or obesity) will quickly have matted and soiled fur around its anus. This, from the fly’s point of view, is an ideal opportunity to lay eggs. When the maggots hatch they spread from the area (commonly up the abdomen) and may cause a tremendous amount of damage as they eat through the tissues while the rabbit is still living. Thirdly, damp bedding is an ideal environment for egg-laying and maggot growth and development; these may then migrate onto the rabbit. This is a fatal condition if not treated.

The key factors in preventing fly strike are to ensure that bedding is clean and dry, and that daily cleaning of toilet areas is carried out; the whole accommodation should be completely emptied and disinfected 1-2 times weekly. Checks of your rabbit should be carried out twice daily, if you find any wounds or ulcerated areas of skin then please seek veterinary attention. A rabbit owner should also make sure that their rabbit is able to keep its bottom clean, if the rabbit keeps soiling itself, then there is usually a health reason as to why e.g. obesity or arthritis. If your rabbit is unable to keep itself clean, then please seek veterinary advice.


Rabbits are prey animals and therefore prefer to be on the ground or underground so this must be taken into consideration when handling them. They need to feel secure so the aim is to keep all 4 feet on a secure surface. They can be scruffed or held between their fore limbs with one hand, and their bottom supported at all times with the other hand to prevent them kicking out with their powerful hind limbs and causing back injury. Never pick up a rabbit by its ears.


The aim of pet health insurance is to provide for that unexpected expense. Procedures and techniques unheard of a several years ago are now commonplace in rabbit medicine. Unfortunately few pet owners are aware of the true cost of medical or surgical procedures. Pet health insurance is designed to cover such situations and the policy cost per month is minimal. For example, the insurance company Pet Plan offers a rabbit policy that covers rabbits for the entirety of their lives and costs approximately £5 per rabbit per month.

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