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The Creature Comforts story

Creature Comforts Vet was established by Australian husband and wife team Dr David Gething and Trilby White in Hong Kong in 2002.  In 2014 Dr David Quach, also an Australian Veterinarian, joined the team enabling Creature Comforts to better serve all of their customers and provide private consultations in Cantonese when required.

Over the many years that Dr David Gething has been treating the pets of Hong Kong he’s developed a reputation as one of those rare doctors who can easily explain a pet’s medical condition and clearly describe the benefits of various treatment options. His writing has appeared in multiple publications including the South China Morning Post, Peak Magazine and Hong Kong’s Expat Living.

Dr David’s veterinary knowledge base is very broad after so many years practicing veterinary medicine and a lifetime of animal ownership.  His aim with this blog is to share some of his ideas about pet ownership with all those animal lovers out there.

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Do Your Pets Have Itchy Skin ?

There is no doubt about it, skin allergies are frustrating for both pets and their owners, and are one of the most common reasons for bringing a dog to the vet. Skin allergies cause irritation and itching, often resulting in scratching hair loss, skin damage, grazes and bacterial infections. Cats often lick and overgroom rather than scratching, but the end result is the same.

Allergies are probably the most common cause of itchy skin in dogs, however they are not the only cause, so if your pet is itchy or has skin problems it is worthwhile having them fully checked and treated by your vet first.

To get a little technical, an allergic reaction occurs when the immune system responds excessively to a normal substance, such as a pollen, dust mite or spore. This reaction results in the skin becoming irritated and inflamed, which in turn damages the natural protective skin barrier, allowing further irritation and in some cases bacterial infections. This can then set up a vicious cycle of itching and scratching. Unfortunately, the hot and humid climate in Hong Kong may increase the chance of both allergic reactions and secondary infections.

Commonly affected areas include the feet, ears, armpits, and belly. In some cases, signs can also be quite subtle – a dog or cat that is frequently seen licking or biting their feet or a pet with recurrent ear infections may well have an underlying allergy causing the problems. Allergies can occur in any breed, but some breeds such as Poodles, Shih Tzus, Schauzers, Pugs and Golden Retrievers and Persian cats are more likely to develop skin problems, and signs are frequently first observed in dogs and cats between 6 months to 3 years old.

There are several types of skin allergy in dogs: environmental allergies, food allergies, contact allergies and allergies to insect bites. It’s often difficult to determine the exact type of allergy based on just the signs, but it can be important in helping to eliminate or avoid the cause of the allergy.

Environmental allergy (also called atopy or hayfever) is by far the most common cause of skin allergy in dogs, and is due to sensitivity to normal particles called allergens in the air. Common environmental allergens include dust mites, pollens and molds, and signs may often be more common at certain times of the year, such as the start of summer. Allergens are impossible to completely eliminate, even in the cleanest of houses.

Contact allergies tend to affect only the part of the animal that comes in contact with the allergen, often the belly and armpits. Contact allergens may include carpet fibres, washing powders or anything the dog closely touches. Allergens can often be reduced by changing cleaning products or rinsing floors or clothing thoroughly with water.

Insect bite allergies, especially flea bite allergy, can also be a big problem. Some animals can react much more strongly to a flea bite, resulting in intense itching and irritation. For this reason, all dogs with itchy skin should be taking flea prevention.


Lastly, food allergies make up approximately 10-20% of skin allergy cases. Food allergies can cause an upset stomach, loose stools and gastrointestinal irritation, but in many cases the only sign of food allergies is itchy skin, especially around the mouth and feet. Food allergies are often present all year round, unlike environmental allergies, and commonly involve beef, wheat, dairy, egg and chicken. One of the best ways to help with food allergies is to cut out any snacks or treats and monitor the response. This will need to be done for 6-8 weeks in order to give time for the skin to adapt.

Similar to allergies in humans, allergies in pets are difficult to permanently cure. However, with a little care and planning we can greatly reduce allergies and also minimise the use of medication.

Important steps include:

1.Bathing.

                   

The first step in helping an allergic pet is to keep them clean and regularly bathed. I would normally recommend washing an allergic dog every 10-14 days in a shampoo designed for sensitive skin, such as AloveenPAW Sensitive skin Shampoo and Divine Pets Tea Tree Shampoo.  Many allergic dogs develop a secondary yeast infection, resulting in a greasy coat and a really “doggy smell”. In these dogs I will alternate the skin-soothing shampoo with an anti-yeast shampoo such as Malaseb or MediDerm Gentle Medicated Shampoo. Reducing skin allergens and yeast is one of the biggest steps to treating many allergy cases.

Regular washing of the bed and household cleaning of pet areas by natural cleaning products will also help reduce the levels of dust mites, spores and other allergens.  Divine Pets – Tea Tree Kennel Wash is 100% natural and safe for pets.

2.Healthy Diet.

The next step is to choose a healthy, balanced diet. Although only 10-20% of dogs and cats are specifically food allergic, feeding a healthy, balanced diet will greatly help improve skin health in any dog. Dogs with food allergies should use a hypoallergenic diet such as Royal Canin Hypoallergenic or Hills Prescription Diet Z/D . Cat hypoallergenic diets include Royal Canin Hypoallergenic and Hills Prescrption Diet Feline Z/D. Dogs and cats who are not specifically food allergic (such as those with inhaled or contact allergies) ,can have regular, good quality commercial or natural food. There is more information on pet diets here :

Remember that pets with a food allergy also need to cut out treats and snacks – any source of allergens can set their skin off.

 

3.Omega-3 Supplements.

The other natural treatment that I use with my own pets is an Omega 3 skin supplement such as Nutravet-Nutra Coat , Naturvet Omega 3 or Grizzly Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil for adding on the food . These reduce the level or itching and scratching by preventing inflammation, and they also help keep the skin and coat glossy.

4.Flea Treatment.

Itchy pets should also be on flea and tick treatment – if you’re flea allergic no amount of healthy food or bathing will take the itch away. Good flea and tick prevention medications include Bravecto , Seresto and Frontline Plus.

5.Veterinary Care.

                          

I would always recommend an itchy, allergic pet is checked by your vet. There are a number of issues which can cause itching, and in some cases they may need medical treatment. Animals who are very itchy may also require medications to reduce the allergy, and in some cases to treat secondary infections. The good news is that there have been some real breakthroughs in treatment of skin allergies over the past few years, and some of the new medications have been life changing for many pets, as well as being much safer than the older steroid-based treatments.

Allergies can be difficult to tackle, and we normally have to approach the problem from multiple angles, including skin cleanliness,diet, supplements, flea prevention and in some cases medication, but with a multi-faceted approach there’s no reason to be itchy and irritable any more. Please let us know if you’d like to discuss further.

Dental Problems in Rabbits and Guinea Pigs

Rabbits’ teeth grow for life

Rabbits and guinea pigs have quite different teeth to humans and most other mammals. For most of us, our teeth stop growing fairly early in our lives, and the teeth you have as a young adult are the teeth you will have for the rest of your life. The teeth of rabbits and guinea pigs on the other hand continue to grow for life. These critters have a diet of fibrous plant material which requires lots of chewing, and hence wear and tear on the teeth. To stop the teeth grinding down, they constantly grow throughout their life.

Overgrown teeth can cause dental malocclusion

This continued dental growth works very well in the wild to make sure their teeth are always well formed and ready for use, but it is unfortunately common to see pets that are fed an inadequate diet resulting in reduced use of the teeth. These teeth continue to grow, and eventually can become much longer and taller than normal, a condition called dental malocclusion. This affects their ability to eat properly, and in severe cases can prevent the pet properly closing the mouth, resulting in discomfort, pain and if severe, starvation.

How can you tell if your pet has dental malocclusion?

The most clear sign of dental malocclusion is, as the condition suggests, overgrown teeth. If you hold your rabbit or guinea pig gently and lift their lip the front teeth (incisors) will look very long and spindly, and in some cases may be bent or not properly meet up. In marked cases the pet will not be able to fully close their mouth, and the lips may be open at all times. Quite often they will have wet lips and chin from saliva staining and drooling, and there may be a bad smell from the mouth. This will prevent the pet from eating properly and you may notice weight loss and lethargy, and in severe cases the teeth can press back into the gums and jaw, resulting in swelling and pain on the face and sometimes watery eye discharge.

How can owners prevent it?

Dental malocclusion is painful and it significantly affects a pet’s quality of life, but with a little care it can be easily prevented. The first step is proper nutrition. Many owners make the mistake of feeding only a commercial pellet diet, believing it is a complete source of nutrition. These diets are good in that they usually contain vitamins, minerals, protein and energy, but they should only make up ten percent of a rabbit or guinea pig diet at most. This is sometimes compounded by the fact that the pellets are usually delicious, and they will definitely be eaten before more healthy foods such as hay and vegetables. I like to think of pellets as powerbars or cookies – fine in small quantities but not something you should eat all day.

Diet should be 75% hay, 15% veges, some fruit and less than 10% pellets

Rabbits and guinea pigs should have the majority of their diet as hay (approximately 75%), with 15% vegetables and the occasional piece of fruit, and less than 10% of their diet should be pellets. There are a number of different types of hay, but the best for rabbits and guinea pigs is either Timothy, Grass, Orchard and Oat hay. Alfalfa hay can be fed in small amounts but is much higher in calories. Hay should always be available in your rabbit or guinea pig’s pen, and you’ll notice that they spend a lot of the day chewing. In addition to grinding their teeth down and keeping their mouth healthy, hay is also excellent roughage that aids digestion, promotes healthy intestinal bacteria and nourishes the gut.

Vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, and are also tasty and enjoyed by most guinea pigs and rabbits. Green, leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, parsley and kale with raw some raw carrots are an excellent staple, along with smaller amounts of broccoli and cauliflower. They can also have the occasional small piece of apple, mango or banana, but too much can cause stomach upset, so be careful. Rabbits and guinea pigs should never be fed onions, garlic, rhubarb, peas, potatoes or beans, or any seeds that could get stuck such as cherry seeds.

If you’re worried – ask your vet

If you are concerned that your rabbit or guinea pig may have overgrown teeth I’d recommend you speak to a vet familiar with small critters. In mild cases a change in diet may be enough, but if the teeth are too overgrown they may need to be trimmed back before the rabbit or guinea pig can properly chew. Don’t worry, this isn’t as difficult as it sounds in most cases, but it does need to be done by someone with expertise in the area.

Dental malocclusion is probably the single most common issue I see in pet guinea pigs and rabbits, and it can significantly affect their quality of life, to the point of being life threatening if severe. It is easily prevented with a little care and knowledge, and treatment is also usually very successful.

Dental Health for Dogs and Cats

Teeth Cleaning

 

Do you brush your pet’s teeth?

It’s odd how sometimes we don’t apply the same health goals to our pets as we do to ourselves. Most of us wouldn’t dream of going through the day without brushing our teeth one or more times, but most pet owners don’t brush their dog or cat’s teeth at all – and those that do generally only do it once every week or two. And I can completely understand why – my own dogs are very reluctant to have their teeth brushed, and I think if I tried to brush my cat’s teeth he’d bite my finger off.

Unfortunately, this means that the average pet’s dental health and dental hygiene leaves much to be desired. This is a pity, because dirty teeth can have quite wide-ranging health consequences, and there are some solutions that are actually pretty simple and well tolerated, or even liked by the dog or cat.

To go back to the basics, pet’s mouths (and our mouths too for that matter) have quite high levels of bacteria. The combination of a wet, protected environment and leftover food scraps makes for an ideal environment for bacterial growth, which forms a slimy layer called plaque on the surface of the teeth. This plaque can be removed by brushing or abrasion from eating hard treats or chew toys.

Plaque and tartar buildup can cause big problems

The plaque that isn’t removed causes a couple of significant problems. Firstly, the bacteria in the plaque eats the food scraps and produces acids, which then damage the hard protective enamel on the surface of teeth. Over time, this acid damage will lead to cavities. Secondly, the plaque will harden over time into tartar, a thick hard yellow-grey deposit on the teeth. This tartar is like a sponge, acting as a reservoir for bacteria which can result in gum inflammation and infection (called gingivitis and periodonitis), as well as tooth infection and even tooth loss. Tartar is too hard to be brushed off, but can be removed by a veterinary dental cleaning. Plaque and tartar, and the related bacteria, are also the cause of most cases of bad breath, both in people and in pets.

High levels of plaque and tartar can present an even more significant problem, holding bacteria up against the gums and promoting the entry of that bacteria into the bloodstream. In serious cases, this bacteria can then cause blood poisoning and potentially infection in other organs such as the kidneys and the heart.

Simple ways to keep teeth clean 

On a more positive note, good dog and cat dental care is actually not that difficult, and there are a number of simple and pet-friendly ways that owners can help to keep teeth clean, cavity free and healthy. The first step is for owners to make an assessment of how good or bad their pet’s teeth are. If the teeth are generally white and healthy, possibly with a small amount of light yellow or grey discolouration, and the gums are a normal pink, the dental hygiene is good and at home prevention and care will be the best plan. If, on the other hand, any teeth are black, badly cracked, have significant yellow or brown deposits (tartar), the gums are very red and painful, or the mouth has a foul rotten smell, further veterinary treatment may be required. Common signs of mouth pain and dental disease also include the pet rubbing the mouth, drooling or not wanting to eat dry food or hard treats. If you’re unsure I’d recommend asking your veterinarian.

Don’t use human toothpaste

At home dental care and prevention is best for pets with generally healthy teeth and gums. Brushing is one great option. Make sure when brushing to clean chewing (molar) teeth at the back of the mouth as well as the biting teeth (incisors and canines) at the front. And remember to always use pet toothpaste (such as PetSmile Toothpaste) – some human toothpastes contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is highly toxic to pets.

What if your pet doesn’t like having his teeth brushed?

Many pets don’t really enjoy having their teeth brushed, but there are now a lot of good alternative options. Dental cleaning gels (such as Maxiguard Oral Gel) can be applied to any area of the mouth. The dog or cat will then lick this around the mouth, and it will clean the teeth without brushing, and without harsh chemicals or bleaches. I’d also recommend good dental toys or treats to help a pet naturally clean their teeth by chewing. There are a number of commercial toys and products which are excellent, although for my pets I like the natural chews such as dried venison strips, kangaroo tendons or deer antlers. These treats are tasty – secretly cleaning the teeth while your pet enjoys chewing and playing. There are also a number of pet foods that are specially designed to keep dog’s teeth clean, such as Hills t/d and Royal Canine Dental. These foods are all natural, and contain toothpaste impregnated in the kibble to clean the teeth while they eat.

Sometimes veterinary teeth cleaning is required 

Even with the best at-home care, most pets will need to have their teeth cleaned professionally during their lives – same as us. This involves a trip to the vet where their teeth are assessed, and then carefully scaled and polished using a special ultrasonic dental machine to remove all of the dirt, plaque and tartar. If there are any teeth that are dead or damaged beyond repair these will need to be removed, but the animal will feel immediately better after they have bad teeth taken out, and it will not affect their eating. The ultrasonic dental cleaning does require an anaesthetic – mainly because we need the dog or cat to sit perfectly still for about half an hour as their teeth are cleaned, and also to prevent them swallowing or inhaling any tooth fragments or debris. The procedure is very safe, and is the only way to repair and clean teeth with lots of tartar and damage. A dental cleaning should be followed up with at-home care to try to prevent the tartar and tooth decay from forming again.

Vet teeth cleaning

Dental issues are surprisingly common in pets, and it really is an area that most of us don’t spend too much time thinking about, but is an important part of animal health, never mind preventing socially awkward dog-breath. Keeping teeth clean does pay significant health benefits, not only for the teeth, gums and mouth, but also for the body as a whole, preventing spread of bacteria and problems into the rest of the body. If you’re concerned about dental care, or about your pet’s level of tartar and plaque, your vet will be happy to give talk and give your dog or cat an assessment to determine the best plan for good dental hygiene.

Bladder Stones in dogs and cats – What are the signs and how can they be prevented?

What are bladder stones?
Bladder stones affect millions of dogs and cats world-wide every year. In many cases they can be asymptomatic, causing no outward signs or discomfort, however in some cases they can cause serious discomfort or even become life threatening.

Bladder stones, and their smaller relatives urinary crystals, are accumulations of minerals that generally form when chemicals dissolved in the urine precipitate out of solution. These initially form microscopic deposits, but over time they can grow to form crystals, and eventually larger stones. Bladder stones can become sizeable – it’s not uncommon to see stones as big as a golf ball and sometimes even larger.

What causes bladder stones?
Bladder stones are generally the result of a combination of factors, including a high-mineral and high-protein diet, abnormal urinary pH (acid or alkaline urine), and the dog or cat’s underlying breed and genetics.

There are a number of different types of crystals and stones, but the two most common are struvite and oxalate. Struvite crystals are composed of phosphorus, magnesium and urea, whereas oxalate crystals are composed of calcium and oxalate. All of these chemicals are found in meat, and animals on an unbalanced, high meat and high protein diet are much more likely to develop stones. Diet also strongly influences urinary pH, another major factor in crystal and stone formation.

Lastly, chronic bacterial infections of the bladder predispose an animal to forming crystals and stones by altering the urine chemistry, and acting as a microscopic seed on which the crystal can start growing.

What are the common signs of bladder stones and crystals?
Many bladder stones cause little discomfort or irritation, at least initially, but over time they grow and rub and cause irritation. This can result in blood in the urine, straining to urinate, and passing small amounts of urine frequently. It is also quite common for pets to urinate inside the house (or outside the litter box for cats) because they are distressed.

In some cases, a small bladder stone or even a conglomeration of crystals can pass down from the bladder and become stuck in the urethra (the pipe connecting the bladder to the outside world). This can block the flow of urine, a life-threatening emergency. Signs of a urethral blockage include straining but not producing any urine, often while making painful moans. If the urethral blockage is not cleared quickly toxins will build up in the body, resulting in weakness, lethargy and vomiting.

A urethral blockage is a critical situation and the cat or dog must be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

How are bladder stones diagnosed?
Your vet will perform a careful physical examination, but definitive diagnosis requires an x-ray and/or an ultrasound, as well as a urine test.

How are bladder stones treated?
Most bladder stones need to be surgically removed in an operation called a cystotomy. This involves carefully opening the bladder and removing the offending stones, then flushing out the pipes to make sure no crystals or small stone fragments remain. Great care must be taken as with any surgery, but the procedure is generally fairly straight-forward and complications are rare. The bladder stones that were removed would normally be sent for laboratory testing to determine the stone chemistry and how to prevent more stones forming in future.

In some cases, it may also be possible to avoid surgery, instead slowly dissolving the stone using a special diet. This does take a number of months, but in depending on the stone type it can be a gentle and effective treatment.

If your vet suspects that a stone is blocking the urethra and the animal cannot pass urine they will immediately pass a catheter to relieve the blockage and stablise the pet prior to any surgery.

Can bladder stones be prevented?
Definitely. Due to improvements in diet and care, bladder stones are much less common than they were even ten years ago. The most important step in preventing bladder stones is feeding a high quality diet that is suitable for your pet’s breed and age. Commercial or home made diets are both excellent choices, as long as they are well formulated and balanced. For a commerical diet, check for an AAFCO accreditation on the side of the packet. This certifies that the food has been formulated according to accepted veterinary guidelines. For home-made diets I’d suggest following a recipe from one of the online home-cooked diet websites.

If your dog or cat has been diagnosed with crystals or urinary stones they will need to be on a special diet, as they are highly prone to forming new stones in future if not treated. These diets are carefully balanced with low levels of the offending minerals. Due to the very specific formulation these stone prevention diets I’d recommend using a commercial prescription food. Your vet will be able to advise you on which specific diet is suitable for your pet based on their previous stone and urine test results.

All pets should also have free access to as much water as they would like.  Some vets recommend feeding a canned or wet diet as well to increase water uptake. You can also encourage your pets to drink more by installing a water fountain – these work really well with cats who often prefer to drink from running water. Remaining well hydrated will prevent over concentration of urine, which greatly reduces the chance of crystal formation.

Summary
Stones and crystals used to be a major problem for both dogs and cats, but with recent advances in diet, diagnosis and treatment these conditions are now very treatable and preventable. And the healthy balanced diet isn’t just good for stones and crystals – a good diet is one of the most important steps to maintaining overall health and longevity.

Taking care of tortoises, turtles and terrapins

Tortoises, terrapins and turtles – some common care tips and potential issues.

Although a common pet, the chelonians (tortoises, turtles and terrapins) are one of our most underestimated and misunderstood domestic companions. Chelonians are all similar in appearance, but have some fundamental differences. Turtles generally live their entire lives in water, coming only on to land to lay their eggs, and have adaptations such as webbed feet specially designed for swimming. Tortoises on the other hand are generally entirely land-dwelling, and many can’t even swim, having strong but stubby legs. Terrapins are the in-betweeners, living a life half in water and half out on land, and share features of both turtles and tortoises.
Above all else, the most important step in keeping any tortoise, turtle or terrapin happy is the providing the correct environment. Habitats vary widely, from dry, arid desert for species such as Star Tortoises or African Spurred Tortoises (the most common dry-land species in pet shops), to an enclosure requiring both land and see for a species such as the Red Eared Slider Terrapin (probably the most common tortoise found in pet-shops, and the type usually seen for sale in the Wanchai and Mong-Kok markets), to completely aquatic environments for species such as the Pig-nosed Turtle.
Make sure also to research the temperature, humidity and conditions required by the chelonian. And of course check make sure you check how big your pet will grow – some of those penny sized tortoises can end up growing to over fifty kilograms in adult body weight, and remember that many species will live for decades.
The long and short of it is that it’s vital to do the research before obtaining a chelonian to ensure that you understand their requirements and the correct habitat to provide. Over half of the medical conditions I see in domestic tortoises are related to their habitat – either not being able to get out of the water and bask, the enclosure being too warm or too cool, or too small for the tortoise. Environmental hygiene is also very important, turtles and terrapins can foul water quickly and enclosures require good filtration, or regular water changes.
The second most common cause of issues in domestic tortoises is incorrect diet. As with habitat and enclosure, dietary requirements vary widely between species. Most tortoises (the dry land dwelling species) are entirely vegetarian, and feeding diets with too little fibre or in some cases even the wrong types of vegetable and fruit will result in intestinal disturbances and nutritional imbalance. Terrapins and turtles however, including the Red Eared Slider and Pig-Nosed Turtle, are often omnivorous, eating both meat and vegetables and should be fed a mixture of vegetables, fruits, fish and meat.
For all pets, it can be an excellent idea to add some tortoise pellets (designed for your breed), as well as a mineral and vitamin supplement powder to the diet. Even with the best of efforts it can be difficult to fully balance a chelonian diet, and adding a high-quality commercially formulated product will help prevent any nutritional imbalances, whilst maintaining a natural diet.
Correct housing and diet will prevent the vast majority of issues, however even with the best care and nutrition there are a number of conditions to watch out for. The most common diseases we see with pet chelonians include respiratory disease, shell-rot, vitamin A deficiency and metabolic bone disease.
Respiratory diseases are probably the most common issue affecting domestic tortoises and terrapins, but their signs are often quite subtle. A runny nose, open-mouth breathing, eye infections, heavy breathing or lack of appetite are all common signs of respiratory tract infection. For a tortoise or terrapin who stops eating, is lethargic or seems unwell, respiratory illness is always a suspect, and your vet may need to take a chest x-ray to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment is generally with a course of antibiotics, and in some cases injections may be required. Unhygienic or inappropriate surroundings are a common cause of respiratory infections, so the best prevention is good care.
Shell rot is the common name for shell infections of turtles and terrapins. Shell rot can either be dry (usually a fungal infection) or wet (often a bacterial infection). Shell rot often starts with an injury, but in some cases can be due to an overly humid environment. The shell will often appear cracked, damaged and in severe cases may bleed. At times sections of the shell can also become loose or peel off. After a longer period of infection, an affected turtle or terrapin’s shell will appear moth-eaten and damaged. Treatment is generally via twice-daily application of an iodine solution such as Betadine and in some cases oral antibiotics.
Vitamin A deficiency is also a common issue for domestic tortoises and terrapins, especially those seen in Hong Kong. It is most common in pets kept indoors and fed a very bland or single ingredient diet. The most common sign of vitamin A deficiency is swollen, inflamed eyes that if severe can become blind. Along with broadening and improving the diet, the main treatment for vitamin A deficiency is a series of injections to restore the vitamin balance.
Metabolic bone disease occurs when a tortoise and terrapins, or a reptile, develops bone weakness and osteoporosis. Metabolic bone disease is generally due to a nutritional deficiency, but there are a number of possible factors. All tortoises and terrapins require exposure to ultraviolet light (such as sun-light or reptile-specific fluorescent lighting) to produce vitamin D3, which is vital in proper bone growth and development. In addition, they require adequate calcium in the diet, which is often lacking in simple or single-ingredient diets (such as tortoises that are only fed on prawns). Common signs of metabolic bone disease include a weak, flexible shell, swollen jaw, and in severe cases pathological leg fractures. Treatment is generally based around improving the lighting of the enclosure or allowing the tortoise to bask in sunlight for a couple of hours per day (with shade as required), in addition to supplementing the diet with either liquid calcium or a calcium powder dusted on to the food.
In summary, tortoises, terrapins and turtles make fascinating pets, but their requirements for care vary greatly. Illness and diseases are often a product of diet and housing, and careful research and fact-finding prior to obtaining a tortoise will prevent nearly all of the most common issues. Different types of tortoise have widely varying requirements, so careful preparation will save many troubles and issues, and keep give your tortoise a long and happy life. Tortoises are often very stoic, and only show signs of illness when they are seriously unwell. The most common early warning signs include a lack of appetite, lethargy, sleepiness, as well as physical discolouration or alteration to the shell. If you’re concerned your tortoise may be unwell I’d recommend seeking veterinary attention as soon as possible – most issues are relatively easy to treat if caught early, but can be more difficult to reverse if left.

Dogs vs Snakes

Dog owners in Hong Kong are blessed with amazing hikes and outdoor spaces the likes of which many city-dwellers world-wide would be envious.  However with these exciting resources comes some pretty serious risks including Tick Fever and Leptospirosis.  Another danger, although not as common, is snake bite. Snake bites often cause severe pain and swelling, and in some cases can be life threatening.

Hong Kong is home to 52 species of snake, but fortunately only a small number of these pose a serious risk to dogs (or people).  If you suspect your dog has been bitten by a snake, get him to the vet immediately.  Secondly, if you see the snake responsible, try to either take a photo or remember what it looks like, but don’t ever risk getting bitten or try to catch the snake. Antivenin is species specific and the vet can’t treat with antivenin unless they know what type of snake is responsible for the bite.  If your dog is bitten by a snake you should stop any activity or exercise immediately and get them to the vet as quickly as possible. The good news is that most snakebites if treated in a timely manner by experienced veterinarians will not be fatal.

Emergency veterinary clinics are usually better equipped to deal with snake bites and more likely to carry the appropriate anti-venom. The Animal Emergency Centre on Hong Kong Island stocks the antivenom for Hong Kong’s most venomous snakes.

The five most common snakes in Hong Kong are the Bamboo Pit Viper, Chinese Cobra, Red-Necked Keelback, Many-Banded Krait and common Rat snake.

Bamboo Pit Viper

robert_ferguson_-_hong_kong_snakes-26

The Bamboo Pit Viper is responsible for around 95% of snake bites in Hong Kong every year. Its bite is venomous and extremely painful.

This snake is unique in that it will not necessarily slither away if disturbed – it hunts by ambushing its prey and is not worried about loud noises.  They are nocturnal, can see very well at night and may actively attack a dog that tries to approach it. They are one of the few snakes that will be aggressive.

Although bites from the Bamboo Pit Viper can be fatal, they are usually very successfully treated if your pet is taken to the vet quickly.

Cobras – The common Chinese Cobra or more rare King Cobra

Chinese Cobra

The Chinese Cobra is next most likely culprit when it comes to snakebites in Hong Kong. It is active both day and night, however unlike the Bamboo Viper, it will not aggressively attack its prey and will usually try to escape.  If it can’t escape and is cornered, it will rear its head, spread its hood and strike the victim. Bites from the Chinese Cobra are very serious and the victim should be rushed to vet as quickly as possible for treatment.

King Cobra

The King Cobra is rarer, though some say even more dangerous. Hong Kong snake catcher Dave Willott says “It is very fast and (…) it is aggressive. The thing about them is that they can raise their body off the ground and within about half a second they can cover six foot. They glide. They are amazing. Obviously you have to be really careful”.

If you’re unsure what type of snake you’re dealing with, the presence of a hood over the neck area is a pretty good sign that it’s a venomous snake.

 

The Many Banded Krait

many banded krait

The Many Banded Krait is next on the list, although they are much rarer than the Bamboo Viper and Cobra. Bites from this snake are extremely toxic, and can lead to respiratory paralysis and heart failure. It will bite readily if picked up, and has a very flexible neck that can twist, so make sure you leave this one well alone if you encounter it. Many Banded Kraits are easy to identify due to their unique markings.

 Burmese Python

Although not venomous, the Burmese Python also poses a risk to dogs in Hong Kong. At up to 90kg it is Hong Kong’s largest predator and has been known to eat large dogs.

Python

Pythons will wrap their prey, crushing them to death before eating them. They will not attack human adults, however dogs (and small children) are at risk. Dave Willott, one of Hong Kong’s snake catchers, advises pulling the pythons tail as hard as possible if your dog is attacked. Keep pulling, start walking backwards and if you’re aggressive enough the snake will eventually let go. The Burmese Python is a protected species in Hong Kong and the numbers seem to be rising. However if you stick to well frequented hiking trails you are less likely to encounter one. Most encounters have been in the country park areas of Sai Kung. If you are hiking in areas that are known black-spots you should use a leash to prevent your dog running off.

If you do encounter a snake that are concerned is dangerous please call 999 and the police can arrange a professional snake catcher to come and help.

The good news for dog owners of Hong Kong good news is that snake bites are actually quite rare, and if you are unlucky enough to encounter a snake, most bites are successfully treated after prompt treatment at the vet.  Try to take a picture of the offending snake if possible, but if you can’t get a photo or the snake has disappeared don’t despair – the vet can still treat the bite even if we don’t know which snake caused it. Common signs of snakebite include swelling and pain as well as puncture wounds where the fangs entered the skin.  If you are unsure if your dog has been bitten, get him to the vet as soon as you can to make sure – the quicker you can get medical attention the better. And it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Creature Comforts affiliated 24 hour Emergency Hospital, The Animal Emergency Centre carries antivenin for all of these dangerous snake species. If you suspect your pet has been bitten by a snake, please call immediately on 2915 7979 for advice.

Leptospirosis – a killer of young, healthy dogs

Every year, we see multiple infections of leptospirosis in our clinic, however this year has been a particularly bad year.

Leptospirosis is a bacteria-like organism that is usually spread by rat urine. Rats live in the bushy areas around The Peak, Clearwater Bay and Sai Kung and after heavy rains, their urine will be washed down into streams and waterways around these areas.

In most cases of Leptospirosis we have seen, the affected dogs have had a history of playing in and drinking fresh water from streams. Owners are often under the assumption that if the water is running, it is clean and good to drink. However, this is definitely not the case.

Leptospirosis will usually result in liver and kidney failure. The early signs are innocuous – sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea are seen. However when the signs of the kidney and liver failure appear it is usually too late for any leptospirosis treatment to have any effect – the damage has already been done. The organisms are actually killed very quickly with antibiotics, but the damage is so severe that most dogs don’t recover. Once the symptoms appear, it is usually too late.

There are two types of leptospirosis vaccination available. One is included in the annual DHPPiL combination vaccine that all dogs receive. It is completely ineffective as a preventative treatment against the local leptospirosis. The other current leptospirosis vaccination in Hong Kong is called Leptovax 4, which protects against multiple serovars (types) of leptospirosis. Upon receiving the vaccine, dogs will develop antibodies to leptospirosis that will boost an immune response during infection. It is possible for dogs who have received the leptovax 4 to still contract the disease, however they will have a better chance of fighting the infection than non-immunised dogs.

However, the most effective way to avoid needing leptospirosis treatment in the first place is to never let dogs play or drink from running water anywhere in Hong Kong. Puppies should be taught not to drink from streams and all dogs should be kept on a leash around watercourses if they are prone to drinking and playing in them. Owners should make sure they take drinking water for their dogs during walks so the dogs continue to have access to water. There are some great portable water bowls for dogs that can help make this a lot easier.

If you notice your dog is off colour and the dog has a history of playing in or drinking from fresh water streams, you should call us immediately. Make sure you mention your concern about leptospirosis – early signs often look like a regular case of gastroenteritis and if the vet doesn’t know about the history they probably won’t suspect leptospirosis. It’s much better to be safe than sorry in these cases.

Although it is a devastating disease, owners should keep in mind that it is still relatively rare.  We usually see less than 10 cases per year. Contrast this to hundreds of cases of Tick Fever. And if you keep your dogs out of waterways, the chances of catching the disease are very low.

Nelson was a very lucky Clearwater Bay dog who received immediate medical attention. Because of his owners’ quick actions, Nelson has survived lepto and has made a full recovery.

Nelson the black Labrador and Leptospirosis survivor
Nelson the black Labrador and Leptospirosis survivor

The latest in tick prevention

As a vet in Hong Kong, one of the most common and expensive diseases that I treat is Tick Fever.

Bravecto and Seresto have been a real revolution in flea and tick treatment. Bravecto is a tasty pill that lasts 3 months. Seresto is a collar (not smelly) that lasts 7-8 months.

People normally buy Bravecto when they don’t want the dog wearing a collar for cosmetic reasons, or they’re worried about the collar getting lost.

People buy Seresto when they want to put something on that will last up to 8 months, and for the most cost-effective solution.

They both work within 2 hours of administration, and both are used as a standalone product by themselves – nothing else required just one or the other.

They are both extremely effective against fleas and ticks, but at the same time are very safe. They work on a nerve that fleas and ticks have but dogs and humans do not, so absolutely no risk. You only need to use one or the other, not both. And they are both much more effective than frontline + preventic collar.

So to give you the advantages over frontline + preventic:

1. Much more effective

2. Safer – drugs have lower toxicity

3. Less resistance in the wild ticks and fleas

4. Easier – one tablet / collar is all you need.

5. About the same cost to treat for Bravecto, cheaper for Seresto. They’re both about $500 depending on dog size, so this is roughly the same as 3 months of Frontline and Preventic. Seresto, over 7-8 months, is clearly cheaper again.

To check out the range of Bravecto and Seresto products have a look at https://www.vetopia.com.hk/en/dogs/flea-and-tick/flea-tick.html.

Pumpkins and Pooches – Halloween Dog Walk!

Pumpkins and pooches

Vetopia, Creature Comforts’ online store, is very proud to sponsor Kirsten’s Zoo Pumpkins and Pooches dog walk on Sunday the 1st of November.  There will be great prizes and t-shirts, as well as the opportunity to dress up in your best Halloween costume. So come along and bring your dogs – each participant will receive a special ‘doggy’ bag full of fantastic gifts for your pet. See you then.

Information Sheet

Where to start:  The walk starts at the entrance to Aberdeen Country Park on Mount Cameron Road. This is at the top of Wanchai Gap, where Stubbs Road meets Blacks Link, Middle Gap Road and Coombe Road.

Start point
Registration:  This will take place between 9.15 and 9.45 at the registration point marked on the map above (walk past the children’s playground on your right and you will see a black and white striped barrier – registration is just beyond that). You will be asked to provide contact details and amount of sponsorship raised / donation. All participants with dogs will receive a complementary ’doggy bag’.

 

The Walk: There are two walk options, as indicated on the map:-

A: Short Walk – approximately 25 minutes to the meeting point

Short Walk - 25 minutes

B: Long Walk – approximately 1 hour to the meeting point

Long Walk - 1 hour

Whichever option you choose, there will be a prize giving at approximately 11am at the Meeting Point shown on the map.  From the Meeting Point you can either walk back to the start the way you came (approx 25-30 mins- short walk route). Or
35 minutes along the Hong Kong trail as marked on the map.

Extra Walk

 Prize Giving: At the meeting point (11am) Prizes will be given to:

  1. The best fancy dressed dog
  2. The best fancy dressed adult
  • The best fancy dressed child
  1. The participant with the most money raised
  2. The participant with the second most money raised

How to pay Sponsorship and Donations: Kirsten Zoo is a registered Charity No. 91/12599. All funds will go to animal welfare-homing abandoned cats, dogs and other strays. Please let us know if you want a tax-deductible receipt (for donations/sponsorship over $200).

  • You can pay your sponsorship money or make donations on the day , either in cash or by cheque
  • You can pay your sponsorship money or make donations in advance by:

Paypal – http://www.paypal.com

Just Giving Website – www.justgiving.com

Direct to HSBC – 848 525382 838 – Kirstens Zoo Ltd

Minimum sponsorship of HK$200 per entry

 

What to Bring and things to note:

  • Bring pooches if you have one! – please do not bring any biters or fighters
  • Bring water for both yourself and your pooch – and muzzle if needed
  • Bring treats for your pooch and light snack for yourself
  • Bring mosquito repellant and – just in case – telephone, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses
  • Take your rubbish home and don’t litter the country park
  • Wear sensible walking shoes,
  • Control your dog at all times and don’t let him/her swim in the reservoir, and please clean up after him/her
  • Any children below the age of 14 must be accompanied by an adult
  • We recommend that all dogs are leashed. Please note that dogs over 20kg should be leashed at all times according to HK law.
  • The organiser will have first aid kits available

Veterinarian on site: Dr Andy Krywawych will be joining the walk

 

Post Walk Gathering: For those who want to continue (and fancy a beer!),  there will be a post walk social gathering at Rude Bar, G/F, 79 Wyndham Street, Central – pooches welcome – from 12.45 onwards.  This is the same venue we use for the monthly Dog Adoption Days.

 

Bad weather: In the event of a typhoon signal 1 or above or a thunderstorm warning, the walk will be cancelled

 

Disclaimer: All participants who attempt to or participate in the walk do so at their own risk and forever waive, discharge, release and hold harmless Kirsten Zoo (and its agents) – to the fullest extent permitted by law – of all and any liability whatsoever for any accident, claim, demand, damage, loss or injury to any person, property or animal, or whatever kind in nature including whether in contract, tort, or by law, however so caused.

Pumpkins and Pooches Charity Walk for Kirsten’s Zoo

Pumpkins and pooches

Vetopia, Creature Comforts online store, is very proud to sponsor Kirsten’s Zoo Pumpkins and Pooches dog walk on Sunday the 1st of November.  There will be great prizes and t-shirts, as well as the opportunity to dress up in your best Halloween costume. So come along – Dr David and Trilby will be there – it will be a great day out.

Information Sheet


Where to start
:  The walk starts at the entrance to Aberdeen Country Park on Mount Cameron Road. This is at the top of Wanchai Gap, where Stubbs Road meets Blacks Link, Middle Gap Road and Coombe Road.

Registration:  This will take place between 9.15 and 9.45 at the registration point marked on the map above (walk past the children’s playground on your right and you will see a black and white striped barrier – registration is just beyond that). You will be asked to provide contact details and amount of sponsorship raised / donation. All participants with dogs will receive a complementary ’doggy bag’.

 

The Walk: There are two walk options, as indicated on the map:-

A: Short Walk – approximately 25 minutes to the meeting point

B: Long Walk – approximately 1 hour to the meeting point

Whichever option you choose, there will be a prize giving at approximately 11am at the Meeting Point shown on the map.  From the Meeting Point you can either walk back to the start the way you came (approx 25-30 mins- short walk route). Or 35 minutes along the Hong Kong trail as marked on the map.

 

Prize Giving: At the meeting point (11am) Prizes will be given to:

  1. The best fancy dressed dog
  2. The best fancy dressed adult
  • The best fancy dressed child
  1. The participant with the most money raised
  2. The participant with the second most money raised

How to pay Sponsorship and Donations: Kirsten Zoo is a registered Charity No. 91/12599. All funds will go to animal welfare-homing abandoned cats, dogs and other strays. Please let us know if you want a tax-deductible receipt (for donations/sponsorship over $200).

  • You can pay your sponsorship money or make donations on the day , either in cash or by cheque
  • You can pay your sponsorship money or make donations in advance by:

Paypal – http://www.paypal.com

Just Giving Website – www.justgiving.com

Direct to HSBC – 848 525382 838 – Kirstens Zoo Ltd

Minimum sponsorship of HK$200 per entry

 

What to Bring and things to note:

  • Bring pooches if you have one! – please do not bring any biters or fighters
  • Bring water for both yourself and your pooch – and muzzle if needed
  • Bring treats for your pooch and light snack for yourself
  • Bring mosquito repellant and – just in case – telephone, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses
  • Take your rubbish home and don’t litter the country park
  • Wear sensible walking shoes,
  • Control your dog at all times and don’t let him/her swim in the reservoir, and please clean up after him/her
  • Any children below the age of 14 must be accompanied by an adult
  • We recommend that all dogs are leashed. Please note that dogs over 20kg should be leashed at all times according to HK law.
  • The organiser will have first aid kits available

Veterinarian on site: Dr Andy Krywawych will be joining the walk

 

Post Walk Gathering: For those who want to continue (and fancy a beer!),  there will be a post walk social gathering at Rude Bar, G/F, 79 Wyndham Street, Central – pooches welcome – from 12.45 onwards.  This is the same venue we use for the monthly Dog Adoption Days.

 

Bad weather: In the event of a typhoon signal 1 or above or a thunderstorm warning, the walk will be cancelled

 

Disclaimer: All participants who attempt to or participate in the walk do so at their own risk and forever waive, discharge, release and hold harmless Kirsten Zoo (and its agents) – to the fullest extent permitted by law – of all and any liability whatsoever for any accident, claim, demand, damage, loss or injury to any person, property or animal, or whatever kind in nature including whether in contract, tort, or by law, however so caused.