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Q: What is pancreatitis?

A: Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ situated in the abdomen close to the stomach and has two major functions. Some cells within the organ produce enzymes which empty through a duct into the intestines where they help digest food. Other cells produce the hormones – including insulin – that control the levels of glucose in the blood.

Pancreatitis can affect animals in two ways. Firstly, as an acute disease, it can cause severe abdominal pain – animals are usually very sensitive about being touched, and will often vomit. Pancreatitis can also occur in a more chronic form where the symptoms relate more to the failure of the body to properly digest food – animals lose weight, despite an increase in appetite, produce large amounts of fatty faeces, and may have swollen abdomens.

Q: How does it develop?

A: The cause of pancreatitis is unclear, though it is certainly more common in overweight animals. It can occur in animals that are fed after a long fast or after having been severely malnourished. Meals containing a high level of fat have also been associated with the development of the disease.

Q: Does it affect only older dogs?

A: No, it can strike dogs of any age. Cats can also be affected but less commonly.

Q: Is it curable?

A: Acute pancreatitis is a serious disease and can be fatal. Animals that do recover – and those that have the chronic form of the disease – often have permanent damage resulting in substantial loss of function of the pancreas. This means they may never again produce enough enzymes to ensure good digestion of their food, and will need to have those enzymes replaced in tablet form with every meal for the rest of their lives.

More serious may be the loss of the ability to produce insulin, resulting in diabetes. Once again, this can be treated, but involves owners in careful monitoring of their pets’ diet and sugar levels, as well as in giving them daily injections of insulin.

Virginia Williams

Nail Clipping

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Although routine clipping of the nails of cats and dogs should not normally be necessary, there are circumstances under which it needs to be carried out.

In dogs, we usually only clip when there is overgrowth of the claws. This may occur in animals which, for whatever reason (arthritis, age, laziness(!), or not exercising regularly, or those which, because of the structure of their feet, have nails that do not wear normally. Some dew claws fit into this category, and can overgrow to the extent that they curl right back in on themselves. We also often need to clip - or at least blunt - those sharp little puppy claws which regularly rake their owners legs until the "not jumping up" lesson has been learnt.

In cats, claws are most commonly clipped in those older animals that do not as easily shed the outer layer of their claws, and regularly get themselves hooked into the carpet - or your best jersey! Of course there are those less than sociable felines whose owners require the claws to be clipped for their own protection.

However, before you take to your pet's claws with the clippers, you need to be aware that within the claw there is a bone surrounded by a "quick" which contains blood vessels and nerves (see diagram).

And if you inadvertently clip too short and cut the quick, your pet will let you know in no uncertain terms that it hurts and it will also bleed substantially, so care is needed.

With cat claws, and with those dogs that have transparent nails, the quick is easily visible - pink in colour - inside the nail, so is relatively simple to avoid. It is the dark coloured claws that are more difficult. Some of these have a natural hook on the end that starts where the quick ends. For those that don't, the best idea is to make successive small cuts up from the bottom of the nail making sure that you gradually increase the pressure on the clippers rather than cut straight through - this means that, when you do reach the quick, the dog can let you know you're there before you cut through.

The other thing to remember is that unlike human nails, cat and dog claws are three dimensional, so that human nail clippers will tend to squash the nail, causing damage above the cut. Use proper animal nail clippers to avoid this. The tips on those sharp little puppy claws can often more safely be filed off rather than clipped.

Virginia Williams and Bert Westera


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Mange is a term that is often used incorrectly - "mangy-looking" is a description often applied to any dog that has a skin problem involving some degree of hair loss. Strictly speaking however, the word mange only refers to skin disease caused by mites, small insect-like parasites which live on the surface of the skin, or burrow into it.

There are several types of mites that affect our pets. Demodex probably causes the most severe problems. It is a mite that lives deep within the hair follicles, mainly of dogs. Many dogs carry the mite with no apparent disease, but if the dog’s immune system is not working at 100%, the mites can cause problems such as hair loss, scaling and inflammation, sometimes with secondary infection by bacteria.

The hair loss usually starts on the face and forelimbs, and typically, there is no itchiness. The immune system can become suppressed for a number of reasons - the dog may have inherited a weakness for instance, or it may be fighting of another infection. But stress is also a factor in immune suppression, and we see cases of demodectic mange most commonly in pups that have been raised in less than ideal conditions. Poor nutrition, lack of worming and general lack of hygiene can stress the puppies to the point where they have no resistance against the mites, resulting in extensive hair loss and skin disease.

Because the mites live deep within the hair follicles, they are not visible and a skin scraping is necessary to confirm the diagnosis. They can also be difficult to kill. Treatment will obviously depend on the severity of the infection, but usually involves clipping of the hair, cleansing of the skin plus repeated application of a solution that is poisonous to the mites - severe cases may take several months to clear up completely. If infection with bacteria has occurred, antibiotics will be needed as well.

Demodectic are not usually passed from one dog to another except from a bitch to her pups in the first few weeks of life.

Another mite that causes problems mainly in dogs is Sarcoptes. Unlike demodectic mange, sarcoptic mites cause intense itching as they burrow through the upper layers of the skin. Crusty lesions are usually noticed at the edges of the ears, later spreading over the face and head. Sarcoptics mites can be passed to humans, causing the condition known as scabies, and are easily transmitted from one animal to another, especially in crowded conditions, so infected dogs should be kept isolated.

The Notoedres mite causes a similar type of problem in cats - again very irritating, with dry crusty lesion on the ears, face and neck.

Once again, these mites need to be identified from a skin scraping to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment involves softening and removal of the crusts before applying skin preparations. Injections of substances that pass to the skin through the bloodstream are also effective.

A mite that lives mainly in the hair and fur is cheyletiella, found in cats, dogs and rabbits, which causes excessive scurf or dandruff. It is easily passed on to other animals and humans, but is relatively mild and easy to clear up, because the mites don’t penetrate the skin.

One of the mites we see most commonly, and one which is easy to see through an auroscope, is the so-called "ear mite" - Otodectes. This lives in the ear canal of cats and dogs, causing intense irritation - animals scratch at their ears and shake their heads, sometimes causing hair loss, and occasionally causing the rupture of a blood vessel in the ear flap so that a large blood clot forms. Early in the infection, there is often a dark brown discharge from the ear - later, if bacterial infection occurs, the discharge may become thick and yellow.

The ear mite is readily passed from one animal to another, so all animals within a household should be checked if infection is found in one. Treatment involves cleansing of the ear canal, plus the use of drops and systemic injections.

- Virginia Williams & Bert Westera

The Geriatria Cat

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Question 1:

I have a 17-1/2 year old, long-haired female cat. She has this terrible habit of howling/wailing which we believe is just for attention, but we are beginning to get a little weary of her 5.30am wake up call. Has she just gone a bit senile? Do most old cats behave in this way or is it peculiar to certain breeds or types?


The haunting wail you describe is not unusual in older cats of all types. Occasionally it can signal some underlying problem but more often than not the cat seems basically healthy. Senility in animals is a difficult thing to judge but there are certain behavioural changes that can occur with age that could indicate a deterioration of mental faculties. Less fastidiousness about the toilet habits and general cleaning is common for instance, while cats that pace and wail like yours often seem to be disoriented to varying degrees at such time. Hearing impairment in the older animal may account for some of the excess volume of sound these cats produce.

Its wise to get your geriatric animals regularly checked, but if she is generally healthy, you may just have to put up with the wailing!

Question 2:

Because of her age my cat spends most of her days asleep indoors and therefore needs a dirt box. She is sometimes lacking in total hygiene and quite often smells of urine. What would be a good solution to clean her with?


A good quality pet shampoo is the best thing especially if you need to clean her frequently. Human soaps have a different acidity from animal ones and can cause skin problems. Don't use disinfectants because they may burn the skin, especially if it is already damaged through being soaked in urine.

Question 3:

Being a mostly "indoor" cat now, her claws are looking fairly long, Should these be clipped and can we do this ourselves with nail clippers?


Older cats tend not to sharpen their claws as often so that the outer casing is not shed so readily and the claws grow longer. They also find it harder to retract their claws and often get them caught in the carpet for instance, so it is a good idea to clip them back, but get a pair of cat nail clippers. - If you use human nail clippers, they will crush rather than cut the claws, causing cracking right up to the nailbed, possibly resulting in the nails growing back malformed. Cat claws are transparent and you can easily see the bone within the claw - take care to cut below this or your cat will not appreciate it - the nail will not only bleed but it will also hurt a lot!

(Note: Refer to section on Nail Clipping)

- Virginia Williams & Bert Westera

Fleas & Ticks

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Virginia Williams

Q: Are flea powders and sprays still effective?

A: Not only are the older products less effective than the new generation of flea treatments, they are also up to 200 times more toxic. This is because their active ingredients are much less specific, so have the potential to affect not only the flea but the cat or dog as well. The newer products are targeted directly at the flea, some preventing proper functioning of the nervous system, others interfering with the development of the eggs and larvae, while having little or no effect on the animals themselves.

The other major advantage of the new generation flea products is their ease of use. The development of slow-release antiflea products means that the simple squeeze of a tube onto the skin at the back of the neck every few weeks, or a six-monthly injection or a monthly tablet can take the place of that dreadful battle you used to have, holding down a reluctant cat while you attempted to get a good coverage of powder. As always, however, it is important to use a combination of products that will both kill adult fleas on your pets and in the environment, and prevent the development of more fleas by breaking the flea life cycle.

Q: I thought ticks were only found on dogs in the country, but recently saw one on a city dog which had been out in the forest. Id never seen one before. Can you tell me a bit about them and what to do if a dog gets one.

A: Most ticks found in New Zealand are cattle ticks, which is to say that they need cattle in order to complete their life cycles, and may be found on grass in areas where cattle have grazed. They will however attach themselves to other animals if theyre available, dogs included. Ticks look like dark brown spiders, with eight short legs. They attach themselves to an animal by the pointed mouthparts on their heads, and their round bodies expand as they suck up blood from their -host", so they end up looking a bit like a small brown cyst.

Ticks should be killed before detaching them from the dog - otherwise the mouth parts of the tick tend to get left behind in the skin of the dog where they may cause irritation and infection. Ticks will be killed by many of the flea products available from your vet, although applying methylated spirit directly onto the tick (not the whole dog!) will also do the trick.