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Veterinarian Dr Sarah Zito answers your pet health questions

262969 Tilly


Dr Sarah Zito, BVetMed, MANZCVS PhD

Q: My dog Monty always gets sick in the car. What can I do to help him?

There are two main reasons why a dog gets carsick: motion sickness or anxiety related to some aspect of the car travel. Many dogs’ carsickness is actually due to a combination of both of these factors. Imagine that your experience of going in cars always ends with you feeling sick and vomiting, it is pretty likely that you would start feeling anxious about going in the car which can in turn make you feel sick! It is a vicious cycle.

It is important to try and desensitise Monty to the car so that he is no longer anxious or afraid of the car and going in it. This will involve slowly getting him used to being in the car while making sure that nothing bad or scary happens. First of all just sit in the car with Monty talking gently and giving him cuddles and praise. Do this for a few days (or even longer depending on how anxious he is) until Monty seems comfortable just being in the car. Then try just starting the car and letting it run for a few minutes while you sit with him in the car and make the time in the car a happy and positive experience. Then just turn off the car and get out with him. Do this for a few days until Monty starts to show enthusiasm for going to the car. Take things really slowly, the next step is to just drive up and down the driveway once then stop and exit the car. After a few days of doing this you can move onto a trip just up and down your street. Then start taking Monty on short car trips of just a few minutes, ideally somewhere nice that he enjoys going.

Once Monty is alright with that you can slowly increase the time spent in the car. If he gets sick at any stage you will need to go back a couple of steps to a step where he does not get sick and then start your progress again, even more slowly. It is best not to feed Monty for at least a few hours before taking him in the car.

If he vomits when the car is moving despite seeming calm and relaxed then he may need some medication to help with the motion sickness - your vet can help you with this. As he gets better going in the car he may no longer need the medication if the nausea and vomiting is anxiety related. Some dogs who just get motion sick despite feeling comfortable and relaxed with car travel will continue to need medication to stop the motion sickness. That is alright! The most important thing is to effectively control Monty’s motion sickness with the right medication so that the experience of going in the car is not always a horrible one and to make sure that Monty is not anxious and afraid of the car.
Every dog is different and if he continues to get motion sickness despite being relaxed about car travel then you just need to be prepared and make sure he has medication before going in the car.

CaptureQ: At what age can I get my kitten desexed?

It is of vital importance that cats are desexed for many reasons including preventing unwanted litters of kittens and the many health benefits that are associated with being desexed. This is a great question because second only to the importance of getting kittens and cats desexed is the age at which this should be done. Believe it or not, cats can reach puberty and get pregnant as early as 16-20 weeks of age, when they are really still just kittens! Therefore, it is incredibly important that cats are desexed BEFORE they reach puberty and can get pregnant. This prevents unwanted litters but also makes the procedure easier and safer than desexing a cat in season or pregnant which is a risk if cats are desexed after puberty.

Most veterinary practices will be happy to desex owned cats at around 14-16 weeks of age (sometimes earlier) so if you ring some of the veterinarians in your local area you should be able to find someone to help you with this.
The ‘traditional’ age of desexing for cats has long been 6 months of age but this age was not based on any scientific evidence. All the evidence that we have now shows no negative developmental or behavioural consequences to desexing cats earlier than six months and as early as seven weeks) The main reason that veterinarians were previously reluctant to desex cats earlier was due to a perceived increased risk of surgery/anaesthesia in young patients. However, improved techniques and anaesthetic agents now mean that we can safely perform surgery/anaesthesia in young patients. It is routine procedure for animal shelters to desex kittens at approximately eight weeks of age (and over one kilogram in body weight) and many thousands of cats are safely desexed at this age across New Zealand every year There are many benefits from pre-pubertal desexing for the individual cat as well as benefits in terms helping to reduce the number of unwanted kittens. So please have your kitten desexed at or before 16 weeks of age and encourage other people to do the same.

duckQ: Is it OK for me to feed wild birds?

The feeding of wild birds is a controversial topic; many people love feeding birds and feel that they are helping them but there are also many people who believe that people should not be feeding wild birds at all. The potential negatives of feeding wild birds include the possibility of spreading disease, malnutrition (if the wrong foods are given), contributing to an imbalance in the bird species (with more dominant birds proliferating excessively), possibly exposing the birds to a higher risk of predation (as birds may congregate around sources of supplementary food attracting predators such as cats and dogs), and making the birds dependent on human-provided food and less able to survive without human assistance. Potential positives include enjoyment for the people feeding the birds, improving the survival of the birds (especially over winter), potentially assisting threatened bird populations (if the right foods are provided and other birds are excluded) and possibly enhancing environmental awareness and love of nature in the human population.

Overall the experts tend to agree that it is better not to feed wild birds for the reasons mentioned above. However, many people do want to feed wild birds and so it is important that they provide the birds with food that is appropriate and in a way that has the least risk of causing harm. Here are some ideas on how to do this:

Type of food: Different kinds of birds eat different foods so you will need to tailor the food depending on the species you want to encourage to feed. Nectar and fruit are the best foods to offer if you want to attract native species such as silvereye, bellbird and tui (and also kaka and hihi if they live in your area). However, fruit can also attract introduced species such as blackbird and starling. Sugar-water can be used as a substitute for nectar. To make a sugar solution add one part brown or raw sugar to four or five parts water (e.g. 150–200 g of sugar in a 1 litre container). You can feed fresh fruit (such as apple or pear) or dried fruit (such as raisins or sultanas) but dried fruit should be soaked in water overnight before being offered to birds. Seed generally attracts introduced species such as house sparrow, greenfinch, chaffinch, goldfinch and dunnock. If you are planning to feed wild birds seed it is best to use a “Wild bird seed” or “Wild bird mix” as this contains a mixture of different types of seeds and is likely to attract a wider range of bird species than if you just feed single seed types. Fat attracts silvereye and starling and ‘fat cakes’ (a mixture of feed and fat that is formed into a cake) can be made or bought.

Avoid feeding bread: Although bread is the food most frequently offered to birds in New Zealand it is harmful to them. Bread can cause serious malnutrition as it fills birds up without providing them with the protein, fat and nutrients that they need and is also high in carbohydrate and salt which can be detrimental. Bread also tends to attract introduced species rather than native birds. It is best to avoid feeding bread to birds, feed them one of the other more natural and nutritious options available instead.

Placement of food: All foods are best placed somewhere where birds feeding will be safe from cats, dogs and other predators. You can make a platform or feeding table where you place the food or use a bird feeder. You can buy a bird feeder or even make your own.

Hygiene: To avoid the spread of disease between feeding birds and to prevent the growth of mould, which can be harmful to birds, you should keep bird feeding tables or feeders very clean, clear them of any old food daily and wash them every few days with very hot water.

Provide a birdbath: A birdbath can valuable source of drinking water for birds as well as a place for bird to bathe. The birdbath should be placed at least 1.5 m off the ground and out in the open so that predators cannot sneak up on the birds in the bath. It is also important to change the water daily and keep the bath clean by washing it regularly.