Rural Notes 08



The advent of Christmas will mean different things to different people, but to the veterinary profession it means a predictable rise in some seasonal conditions of a most unseasonable nature. My colleagues in the medical profession tell me that much the same applies, with doctor’s surgeries seeing certain trends precipitated by the stresses and strains unique to Christmas, and so it is with us.

The list of health risks is long and varied, but for future reference, and whilst it is fresh in my mind, I thought it might be interesting to list those complaints which our practice has attended to in the 3 weeks running up to and including Christmas.

Topping the list, as they seem to every year, are the infectious ailments. Affecting dogs more commonly than cats, these compose a range of diseases which are spread from one infected animal to another, and result mainly in digestive upsets or respiratory complaints. The causes of these are complex, but I think will include the fact that many people have time off over the festivities, resulting in more dogs being walked at the same time in the same place than normal. If one patient happens to have acquired a bug, then the more dogs they meet, the more likely they are to pass it on. I like to imagine that people are inclined to be a little more sociable over the holiday period, and will spend longer talking with fellow dog walkers, increasing transmission time should one pet happen to be carrying an infection.

Equally, lots of people travel to friends and family at this time, increasing the risk of exposure to populations of bugs not resident locally. Undoubtedly, colder, damper weather favours chest problems, and December is probably our peak month for this. And certainly, the month of December is fraught with temptations to give pets ‘treats’ which they wouldn’t normally get, and which might easily destabilize digestive function.

Dogs with hacking coughs or upset tummies can really spoil a Christmas for the whole household, so I would stress the importance of making sure all vaccinations are up to date, and resisting the temptation to feed ‘Benji’ some smoked salmon or sherry trifle, just bacuase the rest of the family is having it.. We always appear to have an unfair share of chocolate poisoning. Most dog owners are aware chocolate is toxic to dogs, but all dogs have a great sense of smell, and most love chocolate. The usual issue is that wrapped presents containing chocolate have been placed under the tree, without the owner even aware that chocolate was present. Darker chocolate means greater problem. Affected animals can and do die, so it is worth confirming with the sender that their gift is choccie-free before placing it on the ground where it can be sniffed out and gobbled up as soon as your back is turned.

Likewise, most cat owners are aware that Lilies are exceedingly poisonous to cats. All parts of the plant are toxic, even the pollen which can ‘dust’ their coat if they brush past and then be swallowed when they lick themselves whilst grooming. As with chocolate in dogs, there is no specific antidote and cats can and do die from this. My advice to cat households would be to donate any gifts of lilies to friends who are cat-free.

This year we have also seen pine needle injuries in dogs and cats following them having poked their nose inquisitively into the tree and ulcerated their corneas. We have had a couple of severe skin allergies resulting from the pine needles or resin of a real tree, and of course, we’ve had a sharp rise in the number of bones retrieved from the innards of dogs, who have been ‘treated’ to leftovers- turkey and pork and lamb all seen over the holidays. Not to mention one terrier who had an unknown penchant for hazelnuts and swallowed a couple of dozen whole. They were all passed uneventfully, probably because they were firm and smooth, so didn’t stick together. History doesn’t convey whether they presented a risk to human health as they were passed!

None of the above are intended to signal we shouldn’t indulge our pets at Christmas- merely to consider what is safe for them. It's rather fun thinking about presents for our pets. Just make sure to keep the receipt- One much loved favourite cat of the practice, called Ally McCoist, was given a sparkly new blue collar for his Christmas. To his owners dismay, he went out smartly sporting it that same evening, and came back without it. However, on Boxing day evening he also disappeared, returning the next day once more, this time wearing an equally dazzling but very red collar. Changed in the Sales? If only they could talk, as they say.


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Glen Watson
Partner at Links Vet Group