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Veterinarian Dr Sarah Zito answers your pet healh questions


Dr Sarah Zito, BVetMed MANZCVS PhD


Q: My friend’s cat was recently diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and I am worried that my cat Tarzan may have the same problem. How would I know and, if he does have it, can it be treated?

A: Hyperthyroidism is a very common disorder of older cats, in which their thyroid glands become overactive and produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormones. These hormones help control the body's metabolic rate and are also involved in the regulation of many body processes. Too much of the thyroid hormones can cause cats to become very ill. Cats with hyperthyroidism tend to lose weight despite having an increased appetite and eating more food. They often also have increased thirst and drink more; increased activity, restlessness or irritability; an increased heart rate; and a poor and scruffy looking hair coat. Some cats get diarrhoea and/or vomiting, and some may pant when they are stressed (which is unusual in cats). Occasionally a cat with hyperthyroidism will show non-typical clinical signs such as generalised weakness, lethargy, and loss of appetite but this is far less common.

If Tarzan is showing signs such as those described above you should take him to your veterinarian. Based on the clinical signs and a physical examination your veterinarian will likely be able to tell you if he or she suspects that Tarzan might be hyperthyroid. A blood test to measure the level of thyroid hormones will be needed to confirm the diagnosis. Sometimes additional tests may be needed. Other tests will likely be performed at the same time to assess other potential concurrent problems (such as kidney disease); there are often abnormalities in other laboratory tests in hyperthyroid cats (particularly an increase in liver enzymes is common). Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on what these mean and whether further investigation is needed.

It is really important that cats with hyperthyroidism are diagnosed and treated appropriately. When hyperthyroidism is uncontrolled it can have important negative consequences in the body including damage to the heart (eventually causing heart failure if untreated) and high blood pressure (which can damage organs such as the eyes, kidneys, heart, and brain).

The good news is that the majority of cats that develop hyperthyroidism can be treated very successfully and make a complete recovery, with complete reversal of all the signs of hyperthyroidism. There are a number of different options available including medical management with anti-thyroid drugs, surgery to remove the overactive thyroid gland, dietary therapy, and radioactive iodine therapy. Each option has its pros and cons and your veterinarian will be able to advise you which is the best option for your cat and circumstances.

2Q: Are my cat and dog at risk of poisoning if I use rat bait around my house?

A: Yes. Rodents, humans, dogs and cats are all at risk from rodenticides (rat bait). Rodenticides can affect any mammal and birds in the same way as they affect a rodent.

Most rodenticides are anticoagulants (e.g. warfarin, brodifacoum, bromadiolone, and flocoumafen); these interfere with the ability of the blood to clot and lead to haemorrhage and death from blood loss. There are also some rodenticides that work differently to the anticoagulant poisons (such as cholecalciferol and zinc phosphide).

Rodenticide baits are made to attract animals; non-target species (i.e. animals other than the rodents that are the target of the poison such as pets and wildlife) may also be attracted to the baits and ingest the poison, even children are at risk. Non-target species can be poisoned by ingesting the poison itself or by eating another animal that has ingested the poison. So, if for example a cat could get secondary poisoning from eating a rat that had eaten a brodifacoum (anticoagulant poison) bait. Anticoagulant poisoning can lead to uncontrolled bleeding in any part of the body, but the bleeding is often internal and so the poisoned animal may show signs other than external bleeding. These signs might include: difficulty breathing, weakness, lethargy, coughing, vomiting, blackened tarry faeces, pale mucous membranes, bleeding from the gums, seizures, bruising, shaking, abdominal distention, and pain. It can take some days for signs to develop following exposure.

As well as being a danger to children, pets, and wildlife, all of these poisons are a very cruel way to kill rodents. To safeguard children, pets, and wildlife and avoid cruelty to rodents other, more humane, methods of rodent control should be used rather than rodenticides, where at all possible.

3Q: We recently had two Guinea Pigs, Peanut and Flossie, join our family. Somebody told me that for Guinea Pigs to be healthy, it is really important that they have enough vitamin C. Can you tell me why and what I can do to make sure my GPs get enough vitamin C?

Every animal has a requirement for certain essential nutrients; they need a regular dietary supply of these essential nutrients, which they are unable to produce on their own. In guinea pigs and primates, including humans, one key essential nutrient is vitamin C (this is why many sailors historically developed scurvy because they did not have vitamin C containing fresh fruit and vegetables to eat on their long sea voyages). Vitamin C is vital for the healing of wounds, and the normal development and maintenance of skin, joints, and mucousal surfaces (such as the gums). A deficiency of vitamin C can also affect the function of the immune system and make the body more vulnerable to other diseases, infections, and conditions. If a GP has vitamin C deficiency he/she may have a rough hair coat; be lethargic, weak, and/or reluctant to walk; and have a poor appetite, diarrhoea, swollen feet or joints, or haemorrhages and ulcers on his/her gums or skin. The bleeding into muscle, the intestines, and other tissues that is associated with vitamin C deficiency makes this a painful condition.

To avoid vitamin C deficiency in your GPs they should be fed plenty of fresh fruit and leafy green or coloured vegetables every day. Vitamin C is often included in special GP diets but these, and vitamin C liquid supplements (which are added to GPs’ drinking water), are not reliable sources of vitamin C because this essential nutrient is a relatively unstable compound and breaks down or oxidises quickly. Therefore, to make sure they get enough vitamin C, GPs should always have plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables as a large proportion of their diet. Fresh leafy green vegetables (such as kale, parsley, and spinach) are a good source of vitamin C for GPs and you can get even more into their diet by adding small quantities of vitamin C rich food such as oranges, kiwi fruit, and capsicum.


SPCA prosecutes man for starving his three dogs

A Northland man has been sentenced by the Whangarei District Court for starving his three pet dogs.

Te Wira Panapa was convicted of ill-treatment of an animal and sentenced to two months’ community detention, ordered to pay reparations of $1845.00 and court costs of $500.00. He was also disqualified from owning dogs for five years. Haze Before

The case began in October 2016, when SPCA Inspectors visited the defendant’s Te Kopuru property and found three dogs, all in thin body condition.

One dog, Tama, was curled up in a tight ball on the bare dirt, chained to a tree. He had access to a bucket half full of black dirty water and was extremely thin. Another dog, Big Boy, was inside a kennel and run without access to water. He too was in extremely thin body condition. SPCA Inspectors also found a very thin 10-week-old puppy Haze, who was running free on the property.

The SPCA Inspectors seized all three dogs and took them for veterinary attention. Veterinary examination showed that Tama, Big Boy and Haze were all emaciated and had a body condition score of 1/5. They had obvious ribs, lumbar and pelvis prominence and no discernible body fat. Big Boy and Tama were also suffering from pressure sores on their hips and hocks.

The veterinarian believed that all three dogs were suffering pain and discomfort from the starvation, and likely had been suffering from malnutrition for several weeks. Under the care of the SPCA, all three dogs gained steady weight and within a month were all at their ideal weight.

SPCA CEO Andrea Midgen says the organisation sees far too many unnecessary cases of animals suffering neglect across New Zealand.

“These three dogs were completely dependent on their owner for their survival. His blatant disregard for his dogs’ health and wellbeing demanded legal consequences.”

“We’re grateful that puppy Haze made a full recovery and we adopted her to a new loving family. Unfortunately, although Tama and Big Boy healed physically, they psychologically did not. The mental trauma of their experience left the dogs aggressive and despite our very best efforts, they were unable to be rehabilitated. SPCA vets had no choice but to euthanise them.”

“While the SPCA is pleased that a disqualification period of five years was handed down, we would have liked to also see a court-ordered education programme so the defendant could learn about his obligations of animal ownership. Education is the best way to truly prevent this type of animal cruelty occurring in the future,” says Ms Midgen.

The wonders behind New Zealand's native birds

Since Aotearoa drifted away from the super continent millions of years ago, our islands have become home to some of the most wonderful and unique fauna worldwide. Visitors flock from all corners of the globe to learn about our native wildlife, which is quite unlike that found elsewhere on our planet. Read on to learn what makes some of our most popular birds so special. You might just learn something you never knew about our treasured feathered friends.

Bellbird / Korimako

Bellbird image by Craig McKenzie

These small but perfectly formed birds frequent the tree tops nationwide. They are known for their sweet and high pitched voice, which was once described by Captain Cook as sounding ‘like small bells exquisitely tuned’. A bellbird’s favourite food is nectar and their brush-like tongue helps them to delve into nectar flowers to reach the sweet stuff, but they also feed on fruits and insects. By feeding on nectar they play a pivotal role in our ecosystem by helping to pollinate our native trees and plants. Who ever said enjoying a sweet treat was a bad thing?

Males and females are different colours, with the males donning olive green feathers with paler underparts, a purple tint to their head and darker blackish wings and tail. The females are much browner in colour and often have a white-yellow stripe across going across their cheek to the base of their bill and blueish feathers on their head.

[Image by: Craig McKenzie]


Kea image by Andrea walmsley

Did you know that parrots have four toes, two that point forward and two that point backwards? This makes for wonderful balance in high up canopy tree tops. Our native Kea parrot is very special as they are the only alpine parrot in the world and are, in fact, one of the most intelligent bird species. Due to their high intelligence, they have gained themselves a name for being very cheeky and mischievous. Some scientific researchers believe that Kea may even be as a smart as a 4-year-old child, which is very impressive!

Kea exist only in the South Island of New Zealand in colder areas and nest in beech and mountain forest around the Southern Alps and south west coast. Fully grown, they can be 46cm long and 700-110g in weight. Their wing span is pretty impressive, as during mid-flight it can reach up to 1 metre in length.

[Image by: Andrew Walmsley]


Kiwi rotoroa islandThis beautiful and unusual species is a national icon. Their characteristics are quite exceptional and despite being birds, they are flightless and their feathers are different to most birds in that they are fine and hair like and give them a fluffy appearance. This is because they have adapted to suit a ground based lifestyle as they move through dense bush to forage for food – standard feathers would get stuck to leaves and branches.
They are also nocturnal, meaning that they are active during the night and making them very hard to see. Kiwi are very shy creatures and you are more likely to hear their call echo through the air during dawn or dusk then catch sight of them. Interestingly, a Kiwi has a profound sense of smell and are the only birds to have their nostrils at the bottom of their bill, to help them smell out food under the surface of the ground.

[Image by: Rotoroa Island]

Morepork / Ruru

Morepork image by julie mudgeYou may have heard their distinctive haunting call ripple through the forest air at night – the Morepork is New Zealand’s only surviving native owl. Its Maori name – Ruru – is such because of its melancholic and monotonous call where they repeat ‘quork quork’. This can only be heard during the night while they are active.

As with most owls, Morepork are nocturnal and hunt for their prey at night. They are actually pretty silent hunters and will swoop from the skies targeting their prey which may include insects and small birds and animals such as mice.

They are small owls with distinctive bright yellow dazzling eyes and brown ruffled feathers. These fascinating small creatures have very acute hearing and can detect even the slightest movement with their incredible eyesight, helped by their head that can through 270 degrees!

[Image by: Julie Mudge]


takahe image by ian armitageThis unusual prehistoric-looking bird is a relic from the days when flightless, vegetarian birds roamed most of New Zealand; now they are one of the only birds of this kind left. Once thought to be instinct because of introduced predators, the flightless Takahe were then rediscovered in remote and mountainous parts of Fiordland in the South Island and later introduced to some wildlife reserves in the North Island and some offshore islands

They are often mistaken for the much more common Pukeko, who share a common ancestor making them distantly related. However, the Takahe are much larger and more colourful, with wider orange beaks and stout legs. Pukeko can also fly whereas Takahe cannot.Takahe primarily inhabit grasslands and use shrubs for shelter, although they also have adapted well to harsher alpine conditions, preferring alpine grasslands and river flats. They graze on grasses and seeds to get the nourishment that they need, also opportunistically feeding on large insects. These birds are threatened by predation by introduced animals such as stoats, and also must compete for food from introduced red deer.

[Image by: Ian Armitage]


Tui image by craig mckenzieIt is likely that you will hear the beautiful melodies of this native bird before you see them. However, they are just as iconic for their looks as they are for their voice with white fluffy plumes adorning their throats, contrasting against their darker feathered bodies that, in the light can have an iridescent blue, green and bronze sheen. Tui are, just like Bellbirds, a part of the honeyeater family and feed mainly on nectar from flowers and plants. This incredible species are very intelligent and they can mimic other sounds they hear in their forest habitat, such as the call of the bellbird.They have two voice boxes, which enable them to produce a range of songs and notes, with some being so high pitched that they are inaudible to the human ear. They are sociable bird and you will often see them in pairs or groups, but they are very territorial and can aggressive towards other birds when defending their feeding territory! They are very important for New Zealand forests as they are the most common pollinator of flowering plants as well as dispersing the seeds of trees.

[Image by: Craig McKenzie]

Goats aren't lawnmowers; how to care for your pet goat

Are you thinking about adopting a goat? Goats are curious, playful animals and can make wonderful pets! Like all animals, they require special care - they can’t be adopted just to do some ‘goatscaping’! Here are our useful goat care tips. Beautiful white goat

Despite the popular myth, goats don’t make good lawnmowers! Goats are herbivores and require a proper diet of good quality hay, grass, plant materials, and additional supplements. Furthermore, they are ‘browsers’, which means they like to nibble on plants selectively, and they prefer not to eat from the ground. Goats love to forage so will appreciate a variety of different types of plant material, but please remember that many plants are poisonous to goats. Avoid feeding your goat rhododendron, honeysuckle, evergreen, buttercup, any plant from the nightshade family, any part of flowering plants, or any bulbous plants such as daffodils or tulips. If there is any doubt whether a plant is safe for your goats, then do not feed it to them.

Make sure fresh, clean water is available to your goats at all times. Water containers should be positioned so that goats are unable to knock them over, defecate, or urinate in them. 

Tips for feeding goats:
• Goats prefer not to feed from the ground, so try to place foods at different heights that they can forage as they would do in the wild.
• New foods must be introduced gradually in small amounts alongside foods your goats are familiar with – goats do not cope well with sudden changes in diet.
• When feeding goats together, spread the food out so they are not competing for space to feed.
• Clean food and water dispensers regularly. Goats can be fussy about the cleanliness of the water they drink.

Stimulating environments 
Goats are highly intelligent, social animals and need an environment that stimulates them both physically and mentally. The best environment for goats is one with a lots of space to run and play, and varied terrain or objects to climb on or explore. Their surroundings need to be clean, comfortable and offer suitable protection from the elements and possible dangers. 

Your goats’ enclosure must be large enough so that they can exercise, explore, play and climb. Tree stumps, logs, sturdy huts, raised planks, large tyres and wooden benches all are great items for goats to jump and climb on. Remember that goats love to chew, so always monitor their environment to check if the enrichment provided is still suitable.

Goats are also curious and playful animals that need to be provided with stimulation to help prevent them getting bored or developing problem behaviours, such as chewing or trying to escape. Provide different food or present it in creative ways, such as hanging it from various heights. Change your goats’ environment regularly so that there are always new things to investigate. Make sure that any new enrichment items are non-toxic and safe for your goats. 

The great escape Baby goat and adult goat
Goats are incredibly inquisitive and active, and they are also known for being excellent escape artists and can be very destructive. It's important that all fencing for goats must be strong and sturdy, and without any crevices or platforms that may allow your goat to escape.
Fencing should be a minimum of 1550mm, depending on the size of the goat and must comply with any government or local council regulations. Larger or more agile goats may need higher fences. Note that goats are able to squeeze through hedges, however thick, and climb most banks and stone walls.
Goats can become trapped in unsuitable fencing. Gaps in the fence must be small enough that goats will not get their heads and limbs stuck, and so that any small goats cannot squeeze through. Owners of horned goats will need to take particular care not to have netting-type fencing as the goats’ horns can easily become tangled in these fences.
Monitor your fence boundary for signs of damage or digging underneath. As well as requiring repair, these may be indicators that your goats are bored and need more enrichment.

Safety and shelter 
Your goats’ environment should be free from toxic or hazardous substances or items, for example poisonous plants or sharp nails. Being browsers, goats tend to inspect and nibble most things in their environment! In addition, fences and woodwork should not be coated in anything that might be toxic to the goats if it is consumed.

It's importnat to note that goats should not be tethered. Tethering prevents them from being able to express their natural behaviour and can also put them in significant risk from entanglement, or injury. Sores or injuries can also develop under their collar. In addition, tethered goats may be in danger from mistreatment by unkind humans or attacks from other animals such as dogs.
Tethering is only acceptable during short-term veterinary or husbandry procedures, and where the goat is supervised. When it is necessary to temporarily use a tether, specific care must be taken to select a type and length which ensures that the goat is prevented from likely or actual harm. Any collar used must be soft, with a swizzle D cup connector, and only chains that cannot be tangled should be used.

Shelter provided for goats must be able to withstand and provide protection from the most extreme weather conditions like heat, cold, wind, and rain. Goats especially hate getting wet because they lack natural waterproofing, have a thin coat, and have very little fat under their skin, which makes them susceptible to the cold.

Tips for creating good shelter: Goat behind fence

• Make sure it’s big enough for goats to comfortably stand up, move around in and lie down.
• The shelter should be clean, dry, well ventilated and contain appropriate bedding, such as a layer of straw or wood shavings.
• Raising the shelter above the ground will help to keep it dry. Don’t forget to provide a ramp so that the goats can access their shelter!
• Avoid metal shelters as these are too cold in winter and too hot in summer. Buildings that contain a large amount of glass should also not be used as they can act like a greenhouse, becoming very hot.

The goats’ shelter must be free from any potentially harmful items/areas (e.g. sharp protrusions) and must be regularly checked and maintained to ensure it remains in an acceptable state.
While some herds of goats are happy to share a ‘main goat house’, other herds may not be happy to do so. Monitor the behaviour of your goats to ensure that they are all able to seek shelter safely. If any goats are being excluded, you will need to provide additional shelter.

Don’t forget…

• Goats need friends! Goats are social herd animals that should not be kept alone. It’s best to have at least two goats that get on well together.
• Goats need regular veterinary care. Vaccination, worming, foot care, general health checks and emergency care are all very important for goats. Goats tend to deteriorate quickly when they are ill, so it’s good to keep on top of things!
• Different breeds have different needs. There are a variety of breeds of goat, each with different characteristics in regards to temperament and health. It is important to research what breed of goat will suit you and your lifestyle.
• Uncastrated male goats are not suitable as pets. They develop an extremely strong odour and frequently spray urine. They can also be very boisterous.

Canterbury couple convicted for ill-treating an animal and obstructing an SPCA Inspector

A Canterbury couple was sentenced yesterday after the woman did not follow veterinary recommendations for her terminally-ill cat, and the man obstructed and threatened SPCA Inspectors with physical violence. Ginger cat

The woman was found guilty of ill-treatment of an animal causing it to suffer unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress and failure to ensure that an animal received treatment that alleviated any unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress being suffered. She was fined $3000, ordered to pay reparations of $4221.86, trial expert witness costs of $1500 and a contribution towards court costs and legal fees.

The man was found guilty of wilfully obstructing an SPCA Inspector in the exercise of the Inspector’s powers. He was fined $1500 and ordered to pay a contribution towards court costs and legal fees.

The sentence comes after SPCA Canterbury received a call from a concerned veterinarian regarding a terminally ill Burmese cat belong to a Canterbury woman.

The cat was suffering from uncontrolled diabetes and pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is known to be an excruciatingly painful disease, and it was a veterinarian’s opinion that it was unlikely that the cat’s pain could be managed. Three veterinarians had tried to counsel the owner to euthanise the cat.

Two SPCA Inspectors visited the couple’s home to inspect the cat. The man swore at the Inspectors and threatened them with physical violence. Due to his obstructive and threatening nature, SPCA Inspectors had to await police assistance. A search warrant was obtained and SPCA Inspectors seized the unwell cat and a second cat who also had untreated health issues.

A veterinarian assessed the first cat was dehydrated, emaciated, had difficult standing and would stumble when he attempted to walk. His abdomen was painful, he had poorly controlled diabetes, and chronic kidney failure. The owner’s second cat had several obvious and progressive diseases which were causing her pain and suffering: dental disease, cancer of the ears and a chronic, painful eye condition called entropion.

The first cat was humanely euthanised by a veterinarian. The second received treatment for her medical issues, including surgery on her ears and eye.

“The SPCA understands that making the decision to euthanise your pet can be heart-breaking. But ultimately, as a pet owner, it is our responsibility to ensure that our animals are not suffering unnecessarily, and to follow the advice and treatment as recommended by a veterinarian,” says Andrea Midgen, SPCA CEO.

“Ignoring a veterinarian’s advice...and ultimately allowing them to endure unnecessary, prolonged pain and suffering is simply not okay.”