Pet Vet: Your Questions Answered
If you’re worried about your pet’s wellbeing, Bristol-based veterinary surgeon Dr James Greenwood is on hand to address your concerns and answer common questions.
I’m worried my dog might suffer separation anxiety when I return to work after lockdown. What should I do?
It’s important, first, to say there is a difference between those dogs that would normally cope with being left alone and those suffering from true separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a complicated and stressful condition for both dog and owner, which can cause an animal that’s left alone to become destructive and bark all day long. If you’re concerned your dog has separation anxiety, seek help from the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) and enlist a clinical pet behaviourist.
Otherwise, there’s a lot you can do to help your pet get used to a return to ‘normal’. For the past three months, dogs have been by their owners’ sides 24/7, so we need to teach them independence again. From today, allocate some time when you keep yours in one room, while you go into a different part of the house or leave altogether, so she starts to spend some time alone. Each day, gradually increase the amount of time you leave her. It’s also important to leave something to occupy her senses while you’re not there, for example turning the radio on or scattering bits of food around the room.
What’s the best way to socialise my puppy once lockdown measures are lifted, without overwhelming him?
When we socialise puppies, we’re teaching them that there is no reason to fear particular situations or scenarios – such as encountering traffic, meeting lots of people or travelling in the car.
Socialising with other dogs is the perfect way for young puppies to learn interactive play and to pick up good habits, but it’s not a ‘free for all’ – this time must be supervised carefully and, as his owner, you need to remind him that you’re his first port of call. Mark good behaviour by giving him a treat, and ignore bad behaviour. Social distancing does pose challenges, but hopefully, as restrictions ease, there’ll be someone with a dog that your puppy could have regular close interaction with, which will provide plenty of learning opportunities.
I’m worried my dog’s poo is unhealthy – what symptoms should I look for before taking her to the vet?
As a general rule, if your dog is bright, happy and still drinking water – and it’s only a single incident of diarrhoea – you should withhold her normal food and, instead, offer small, frequent portions of something very bland (cooked chicken mixed with boiled rice, for example, or tinned food from your vet). Often, simple cases of loose, sloppy poo will sort themselves out within 24 hours. If it goes on for longer, turns bloody or there are other symptoms such as vomiting, lethargy, weight loss or loss of appetite, I’d definitely suggest contacting a vet.
I’ve noticed that my cat has lost her appetite – what can I do to help?
It’s not unusual for cats to be quite fastidious; they need a lot more variation in their diet than dogs. If you haven’t tried other foods, it might be worth changing up the menu. However, if a cat doesn’t eat for more than a day or so, it could lead to a secondary liver condition, so it’s important to identify what’s behind this loss of appetite as quickly as possible. It might be that eating is causing discomfort, so I’d advise getting her teeth checked by a vet – dental disease is very common in cats. If a loss of appetite is combined with weight loss, vomiting, drinking or weeing a lot, that indicates there is a background cause that needs to be investigated.
I’m afraid my dog has a noise phobia – what can I do to prevent him from being scared of loud noises?
The loud noises associated with Bonfire Night can cause animals distress, but it is possible to prepare your dog well before the event. For example, you can play a sound–desensitisation CD at a low volume, so he gets used to the sound of bangs and crackles. Remember to follow positive reinforcement – if he starts to get a bit panicky, reassure him and provide a safe hiding place he can escape to. Noise phobias can be complicated to overcome, so you may need to enlist a clinical pet behaviourist.
There’s also effective medication for reducing anxiety during or after a noisy event. It’s definitely worth speaking to your vet about this, because noise phobias are really stressful for dogs and it’s horrible to see them visibly upset. You could also try dietary supplements, which have a calming effect, or appeasing collars.
Meet Dr James Greenwood
A familiar face on CBBC’s The Pets Factor, James recently started his own podcast – ‘Vet Together’ – which offers advice and invites celebrity guests to discuss their pet’s adorable antics. For more animal updates, follow James on Twitter and Instagram: @drjgreenwood