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Halloween safety tips

Halloween Tips31/10/17

 Happy Halloween animal lovers! 

Please remember that today can be a little too scary for animals – here are our best pet safety tips.

Stash your treats away from your pets

Several popular Halloween treats are toxic to pets. Chocolate in all forms—especially dark or baking chocolate—can be very dangerous or lethal for cats and dogs. Be particularly careful with sugar free chocolate or lollies too: anything containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can cause serious health problems in pets. Even the wrappers of chocolates and lollies can be dangerous if eaten, as they can cause a blockage. Keep all your sweet treats stashed away in a place where your pets can’t reach them.

Costumes can be extra scary for animals

Think your mask is scary for your friends? Consider how frightening it could be for your pets too! Remember that your animals don’t understand the concept of costumes, and seeing you or strangers wearing strange clothing or covering your masks might make them anxious.

Keep your pets safe inside

Trick-or-treating might be fun for people, but it can be scary and stressful for your pets. Lots of visitors arriving at the door can be too much to handle, so keep your cats and dogs in a separate room away from the front room. Consider keeping your dog inside for the night if they are usually outdoors too – trick-or-treaters may inadvertently leave a gate or door open, leaving your yard unsecured. And always make sure your pet it wearing proper identification—a collar with identification tags and a microchip will help them be reunited with you if they do get lost.

Playing dress-ups? Keep it simple!

We know it’s tempting to try and involve your pets in Halloween costume fun too. But please remember that for many cats and dogs, wearing sometimes restrictive clothing is very stressful. Any clothing your pet wears (for costumes or practical purposes) should not constrict their movement, hearing, make it difficult for them to breathe, bark or meow. Instead, have fun with seasonal collars or festive bandanas!

Happy ending for Hamilton dog in chains


22815607 10155850294114438 5569216175738327379 nA thick scar is still visible around Maggie's neck, only partly obscured by her chocolate fur. As a puppy, Maggie was tied up outside with a too-small chain and left there for months while 4cm deep wounds festered around her neck. When the SPCA found her at the owner's property, the chain had become embedded into her neck and needed to be surgically removed.

"It took some time to gain her confidence," SPCA animal welfare inspector Jason Blair said. "She was very submissive. Her tail was between her legs. Walking on the grass was foreign to her."

Maggie's owner admitted to SPCA inspectors that he had seen and smelt her injuries. Instead of getting help, he tied her up around different parts of the garden so his children weren't upset by the wounds festering around her neck. He was sentenced to 160 hours of community work, a three-year ban on owning animals and ordered to pay $541.50 in reparations. 

But Maggie has found a happy ending with Vaughan Kestle and his family, who first met his "pedigree mongrel" visiting the SPCA on a whim with his partner, Tanya Podjursky. "She was just bouncing up and down the window, trying to see people. She was quite social," Kestle said. "I liked her straight away. She's very loving. She's like my shadow ... Really, she should hate humans for the rest of her life. But dogs are remarkable things. They don't hold grudges."

Kestle sees no need to stew over the past, but believes Maggie's first owner should be banned from ever owning an animal again. Her recovery in the care of the SPCA was astounding, he said. "They've done a remarkable job. You wouldn't even believe her past, seeing her now."

But even in her new home, Maggie - now a year and a half out of the SPCA - took extra work. Though never aggressive, over the first six months she created havoc, relentlessly chasing chickens, pukeko, cats and cows around the family's lifestyle block. She was living a puppyhood she never had, Kestle said.  "We'd buy her a bed and the thing would just be torn about. She'd have a big smile on her face, like, 'I did that.' 

Click here for the full article on 

SPCA reveals shameful animal cruelty across New Zealand


1 Maggie before and afterAnnual Appeal calls for public support to help animals in need.

A Labrador-cross who was tied up for weeks, and left to suffer from the pain of a metal chain embedded in her neck, is just one of the animals whose horrific story is on this year’s SPCA List of Shame.

The annual list reveals details of 10 of the most shameful animal abuse cases across New Zealand this year. It’s being released today ahead of the 2017 SPCA Annual Appeal, the organisation’s biggest nationwide fundraising drive, from Friday 10th to Sunday 12th November.

Thanks to the work of SPCA Inspectors, some of the animals on this year’s List of Shame survived to have a second chance at a happy, healthy life. This year’s ambassador, Maggie, was found tied up with a chain deeply embedded into her neck. The owner had tied her up away from the house, saying it was to hide her horrific injuries from his children. Removal of the chain with bolt cutters revealed pusfilled wounds up to 7cm wide and 4cm deep around the dog’s neck. She has since made a full recovery, and been rehomed with a loving, new family in Gordonton, near Hamilton.

SPCA Chief Executive Andrea Midgen, says, “We dealt with close to 15,000 welfare complaints in 2016. We need the public’s support to end this shameful cruelty in New Zealand once and for all. We receive almost no government funding to run the SPCA Inspectorate, which costs approximately $9 million every year.”

This year’s list includes upsetting stories about acts of violence and neglect – including the beating of a Labrador puppy who suffered two fractures to his left hind leg, a female dog who was hit three times on the head with a hammer, and a cat who was found with the tips of her ears cut off.

“The List of Shame will shock people. It’s very clear that with such cruelty going on, the SPCA’s work needs to continue – to protect those who cannot speak for themselves. The Annual Appeal aims to raise much-needed funds, which will be used to care for abused animals and educating people to help prevent cruelty,”
added Andrea.

Donations to this year’s SPCA Annual Appeal can be made to street collectors around the country from Friday 10th November, or online

Veterinarian Dr Sarah Zito answers your pet health questions


Q: I have recently inherited a 6 year old Cockatiel called Barney. I’ve never had a pet bird before and I would like to know what can I do to do to stop him getting bored and give him a good quality of life?

A: It is great that you want to give Barney a good quality of life. A good diet, regular checkups and routine health care are all important for his physical health but his mental well-being is just as important. So it is fantastic that you are asking about this aspect of his care. Captive birds are often bored and this negatively impacts their quality of life but can also lead to the development of behavioural problems such as feather plucking, self-mutilation, destructiveness and screaming.

It is important to provide an interesting and enriching environment for Barney.

  • Give him as big a cage or aviary as possible, no cage is too big!
  • Make sure that he has plenty of perching places at various heights in the cage and these should be natural (but non-toxic) tree branches. The branches need to be wide enough to prevent Barney’s toes from wrapping the whole way around the perch, should be of different sizes and should be replaced regularly (they will become damaged, soiled or chewed over time). Perches at different heights will encourage Barney to climb and swing on the branches which will provide him with exercise; this is also extremely important for pet birds.
  • If possible Barney should also be given the opportunity to explore outside his cage for more exercise and fun, but you will need to train him to do this safely and make sure he cannot escape the area or hurt himself first.
  • Barney will also need somewhere he can bath safely; this can be achieved by using a large and fairly flat dish with shallow clean water in it.
  • Captive foraging is a great way to keep your bird busy and prevent boredom. Birds in the wild spend 6‐7 hours every day using their beak to forage for food. Captive foraging means offering Barney his food in a way that he has to actively find his food and develop methods for obtaining access to that food source. It is necessary to start with easy foraging methods so your bird can adapt to these new methods of obtaining his food. Then, as he gets the hang of it you can introduce more complex foraging challenges.
  • There are many foraging techniques that can be used, here are a few examples:
  • Wrapping his food inside a safe material such as butcher’s paper or used envelopes. You can close the ends by twisting and then Barney will need to break into the package to get his food.
  • Hiding his food by placing a small amount in a food bowl mixed or buried with a safe material such as paper kitty litter, wood shavings or shredded paper. Barney will then need to dig through and search for the food.
  • Covering his food bowl with paper so that he has to remove the paper to get to his food.
  • Using foraging toys to put his food in; there are commercially available toys, such as baffle cages, piñatas, puzzles and kabobs, or you can make your own, these can be constructed from basic bird safe materials like untreated wood, leather and paper.
  • Last but not least, spend time with Barney; interaction with their human is something most birds really enjoy.
By following these suggestions you will ensure that Barney has a much more interesting and rich life.

Q: Someone told me that owning a cat has been linked with the development of schizophrenia. Do I need to be worried?

The link that has been reported in the past is an epidemiological association between some human psychoses such as schizophrenia and Toxoplasma gondii infection or cat ownership. However, this just means that humans with certain psychoses were more likely to be infected with Toxoplasma gondii or own a cat; this association does not mean that there is a cause and effect relationship. Almost any animal can be infected with Toxoplasma gondii but cats play an important part in the parasite’s life cycle. Despite this, human infection with Toxoplasma gondii is often not from a cat. Rather it is most often a result of ingestion of undercooked meat that contains the parasite; humans may also be infected though ingestion of the parasite’s oocysts (similar to an egg) from cat faeces in the environment.

Recently a large, well-conducted and scientifically rigorous study from the UK has given some more clarity on the subject. This study followed several thousand children through to early adulthood and found that there was strong evidence that cat ownership during pregnancy or early childhood had no relationship with the development of psychoses during early or late adolescence.

There is the possibility that exposure to Toxoplasma gondii may be linked to certain psychotic disorders but cat ownership does not appear to increase the risk. It is unusual for people to get infected by Toxoplasma gondii from their own cat. Even if a cat has been infected by the parasite, they only shed oocysts for a very short time just after they are first infected and not again (unless they are immunosuppressed in which case some may shed again). It is important to remember that healthy cats that carry the parasite but were not infected recently do not pose a risk of infection to humans. So in short, no you do not need to be worried, I certainly am not and I am in contact with a lot of cats!

 Q: I think that Pugs are really cute and am thinking of getting one. Do they have any health issues that I need to know about?

A: Pugs are lovely little dogs but unfortunately they are one of the many pedigree breeds of dog that have exaggerated physical features which cause them considerable health and welfare issues. In particular, most Pugs (and other short nosed or ‘brachycephalic’ breeds such as Boston Terriers and British Bulldogs) have serious difficulty breathing. This is because they have been selectively bred over time to have a drastically shortened muzzle. However, the soft tissue inside the head, such as the soft palate, has not shortened and this blocks the dog’s airways. In addition, brachycephalic breeds often have nostrils and windpipes that are not wide enough and this makes it even more difficult for them to breathe.

The malformations that brachycephalic dogs suffer from have been actively selected for to exaggerate the dogs’ physical appearance and lead to serious consequences. Brachcephalic dogs may pass out or collapse due to a lack of oxygen or they may overheat, even fatally. These problems are particularly likely to occur when the dog exercises or gets excited. Many of these dogs cannot sleep properly because they find breathing so difficult and may even have to sleep sitting or standing up.

These problems are so widespread and serious that they have been formally recognised and named as Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome. Many of the affected dogs need major surgery to try to correct the physical malformations, relieve their serious symptoms and improve their quality of life. In addition to these serious breathing problems, many brachycephalic dogs like Pugs also have eye problems due to their protruding eyes, and also have such problems giving birth that they have to have caesarean sections to deliver their puppies. Anyone who loves dogs, owners, breeders and veterinarians need to work together to address and prevent these problems. Dogs deserve better.


Common skin problems in dogs


mason 2There are hundreds of different diseases that affect the skin of dogs. Since the skin can only react in a limited number of ways many of these diseases look very similar, which can make skin disease difficult to diagnose accurately. If your dog has a skin problem, it is important to see your veterinarian to help determine the kind of skin problem and the appropriate treatment. Sometimes it will be necessary to see a veterinarian who specialises in skin (a veterinary dermatologist) for problems that are hard to diagnose or treat.

Discussing all skin problems found in dogs would fill many books, so we’re going to concentrate on the problems most commonly seen in this article!

Atopic dermatitis

Also called atopy, this is a very complex and multifactorial disease that involves:

  • An allergic reaction to environmental allergens (such as grass, weed/tree pollens, moulds, dust mites or insects); this is similar to hayfever and atopic eczema in people.
  • Abnormal skin that does not function normally as a barrier and so allows increased penetration of allergens and infections; this leads to stimulation of the immune system.
  • Secondary infections, usually with bacteria and yeast.
 Genetics play important role in atopic dermatitis and some breeds seem predisposed, these include Beagles, German Shepherds, Labrador, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and West Highland White Terriers.

Factors that would indicate that your dog might have atopic dermatitis include:
  • The signs of skin disease started early in your dog’s life (<4 years old).
  • Your dog is itchy, this may be the only sign initially. The itch is likely to be affecting the feet, face, ears, around the eyes, abdomen, groin and/or bottom. The itching often results in your dog causing some trauma to their skin, this results in some or all of the following: hair loss, red inflamed skin, erosions, crusting, thickening, scaling, hyperpigmentation (darkened skin) and malodourous greasy skin.
  • The itch improves if your dog is given corticosteroids.
  • Your dog gets recurrent skin or ear infections; these may be bacterial, fungal or yeast.
  • Your dog is a purebred or a cross of one of the breeds that are commonly affected by atopic dermatitis.
 The diagnosis of atopic dermatitis is based on the presence of some or all of the above signs, the clinical elimination of other diseases that could cause similar signs and response to medication.

As atopic dermatitis has three main components that contribute to the disease, all three must be treated:
  1. The allergic component of the disease is best treated with immunotherapy and desensitisation. This involves intradermal allergy testing to identify the allergens involved and the creation of a special allergy vaccine specific to your dog’s allergies. If immunotherapy is ineffective, not possible or not desired, the allergic component of the disease needs to be controlled with some form of anti -inflammatory medication. There are a number of different medications available, your veterinarian can advise you on the one that is most appropriate for your dog.
  2. Improving the barrier function of the skin can be achieved by using some of the following: essential fatty acid (Omega 3 & 6 essential fatty acid oils) oral supplements, a special veterinary skin support diet and special shampoos and conditioners that help improve the skin’s hydration and provide short-term relief of irritation.
  3. Secondary bacterial and yeast infections need to be controlled. The type of organism causing the infection will need to be identified through cytology and the most appropriate drug used based on those results. This may involve oral drugs such as antibiotics and/or medicated shampoos, residual antiseptic conditioners, anti-fungal creams/lotions and medicated rinses.
 It can be challenging to control atopic dermatitis but it is a disease that significantly impacts the quality of life of your dog. Therefore, it is very important to have the disease properly diagnosed and treated so that your dog can live a happy life without the discomfort and serious side-effects of the disease.

Flea allergic dermatitis

When a flea feeds on your dog’s blood it injects saliva into the skin. In some dogs, repeated exposure to flea saliva can cause them to develop an allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva; this results in an inflammatory response, causing severe itching and self-trauma. The areas most commonly affected are around the base of the tail, along the back and the back of the thighs. It is important to note that, once the allergy has developed, the inflammatory response can be triggered by only a tiny amount of flea saliva. Often there are very few or no live fleas present on an animal that has flea allergic dermatitis.

Unfortunately, once the allergy has developed, there is no cure but the allergy can be controlled. Initially the dog is likely to need some anti-inflammatory medication to relieve the symptoms, as well as an effective flea treatment. Control of flea allergic dermatitis involves elimination of fleas from your dog and their environment. Thankfully there are now some very effective products available to achieve flea control. It is best to talk to your veterinarian about the most up to date and effective flea control options.

Otitis externa

masnOtitis is a general term that means inflammation of the ears. In otitis externa the inflammation affects just the outer part of the ear (the ear canal and often the ear flap).  This is a very complex disease potentially involving many different underlying factors and it is important to identify these in order to effectively control the disease.

The most common reason that a dog is presented for treatment of ear disease is because a bacterial or yeast infection has developed. However, infections are hardly ever the primary ear disease process; instead the infection is usually secondary to inflammation of the ear. Examples of primary disease processes that can cause ear inflammation are: allergies (a very common cause), parasites, keratinisation disorders and autoimmune diseases. In addition, there are many conditions that can predispose a dog to develop ear inflammation, for example: ear conformation problems (hairy, narrow or pendulous ears), excessive moisture (often from swimming), obstructions of the ear canal (e.g. a polyp or tumour) and systemic illness.

The clinical signs shown by the affected dog will depend on both the underlying disease that is triggering the inflammation and on any infection that has subsequently developed. The affected ear is often red and swollen, there may be discharge in the ears (this may be yellow or red coloured and/or dark brownish red tinged) and crusting. The dog is normally shaking their head, scratching at the affected ear and may find it painful to have the ear touched.

The diagnostic investigation of otitis externa should involve two separate but important and interconnected components:
  • If an infection is present, it will be preventing resolution of the ear inflammation. Therefore, the organisms (bacteria or yeast) that have proliferated must be identified. To do this your veterinarian will need to collect a sample from the ear and examine it under a microscope. It is also often necessary to collect samples and submit these for culture and sensitivity testing to select the most appropriate therapy for the organism (as the bacteria involved may be resistant to some antibiotics).
  • The primary cause of the inflammation must be investigated and identified. If this is not done then the ear inflammation and secondary infections are likely to continue to recur and long-term resolution is difficult. Your veterinarian will need to perform a thorough examination of the ear and down the ear canal with an instrument called an otoscope. This process allows your veterinarian to check that the ear drum is intact (this is important to establish prior to giving ear drops as some of them are toxic to the inner ear and can cause problems if the ear drum is perforated and allows the ear drops to enter the inner ear) and allows the identification of physical factors in the ear that may be involved in the problem such as foreign bodies (e.g. grass seeds), polyps or tumours. It may be necessary to sedate or aneasthetise the dog to perform this thorough examination of the ear canal, particularly if the dog is in a lot of pain. Other diagnostic tests may also be necessary to investigate possible underlying causes such as allergies.
 In order to successfully resolve otitis externa both the infection (if present) and the underlying disease process must be treated effectively. Effective treatment often involves some or all of the following:
  • If there is a significant amount of debris and discharge in the ear canal this must be removed, as it prevents penetration of any eardrops, can inactivate antibiotics and increases the inflammatory response. Cleaning out the ear canal may necessitate sedation or aneasthesia if the dog is in a lot of pain, there is significant inflammation and/or there is a lot of debris and discharge in the ear canal.
  • Oral and topical medication will then most likely need to be prescribed to reduce inflammation and eliminate the infection. The choice of medication is usually based on examination of the ear sample, and the culture and sensitivity results.
  • If an underlying cause such as an allergy is identified it must also be treated so that the infection does not continue to recur.

Demodectic mange

Demodectic mange is a parasitic infestation caused by demodex mites and is a relatively common skin problem, particularly in young dogs. These mites are found on nearly all dogs and live inside the hair follicles. The mites are a normal part of the skin but in some dogs there is a problem that allows the mites to proliferate abnormally and cause disease. The demodex mites are species specific and so there is no danger of humans becoming infected.

There are three different kinds of disease syndrome caused by demodex mites:

  • Localised disease in which the excessive mite proliferation is restricted to a few small areas (<6 in total). Localised demodectic mange is characterised by patches of hair loss with the skin underneath becoming crusty, itchy, red and/or moist. This form of demodectic mange most commonly occurs around a dog’s front legs, eyes, muzzle and other parts of the head. In most cases, localised demodectic mange will resolve itself and treatment is not required. However, treatment will often speed the resolution of the mange.
  • Generalised disease in which the excessive mite proliferation involves larger numbers of lesions and in various body regions; in severe cases it can spread across a dog’s entire body. This is a much more serious condition than the localised form and immediate and aggressive treatment is needed. Dogs with generalised disease commonly develop a secondary bacterial infection, which can be very serious. There is a lot of variation in the clinical signs seen with generalised disease but these can include: hair loss, pustules (like little pimples), papules (little lumps in the skin), crusts, hyperpigmentation (darker colouration of the skin) and swelling (most commonly of the feet). Generalised demodectic mange is divided into juvenile and adult onset disease; these each have different causes and prognosis:
    • Dogs that have juvenile onset demodectic mange generally have an inherited abnormality of their immune system that means they are unable to control the mites and stop them proliferating abnormally.
    • Dogs that have adult onset demodectic mange generally have a concurrent underlying disease that is suppressing their immune system. This is a more worrying form of the disease as it is often indicative of serious underlying disease that must be identified and treated.
 It is possible that the affected area may develop a bacterial infection with any form of demodectic manage, although it is unusual in the localised form. If an infection is present pustules, papules and crusts may affect the skin. If a dog is suspected to have demodectic mange they should be taken to see a veterinarian as soon as possible. Localised demodectic mange may resolve itself without requiring treatment but veterinary attention is still recommended.

Diagnosis of demodectic manage usually straight forward. The veterinarian will need to take a deep skin scraping from the affected area; the sample obtained is examined under a microscope to identify the mites. It is very important that animals with adult onset disease have a thorough investigation to identify the underlying cause of the immunosuppression that is allowing the mites to proliferate.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment will be discussed. This will depend on the individual case but, if necessary, may involve systemic (injections or oral medication) or topical (e.g. an insecticidal dip) medication. Treating generalised demodectic mange can be an involved process and can take some time. Dogs with adult onset generalised demodectic mange will need their underlying disease identified and, if possible, treated.  Dogs that have secondary bacterial or fungal skin infections will also need injectable, oral or topical antibiotics, oral or topical anti-fungal medications and/or special medicated washes as appropriate to the individual.

Regular skin scrapings to look for the mites need to be taken throughout the treatment process. This will normally be performed after 4 weeks and then every 2 weeks. Two negative scrapings in a row will indicate that the mange has been resolved and the treatment can stop.