Month: July 2018

Mice and rats: a history

Domestically raised mice and rats are popular pets these days; they are readily available, relatively inexpensive and easy to care for, and usually enjoy human handling.

These animals have been used extensively in research laboratories for many years. Consequently, their medical problems (many of which are inherited disorders resulting from intensive inbreeding) have been traditionally approached on a group basis rather than on an individual basis.

As a result, very little practical and useful information exists on the medical care and treatment of individual pet mice and rats. Furthermore, even less information is available to the pet owner on responsible home care of murine rodents and recognition of their potential medical problems.

The mouse, bearing the scientific name Mus musculus – interestingly, the Great Blue Whale’s scientific name is Balenoptera musculus – is thought to have originated in Asia. Its tremendous adaptability, long-time association with people and our dwellings, and unbelievably prolific breeding potential (one reference cites one million descendants from one breeding pair in 1 1/2 years) has allowed mice to enjoy a worldwide distribution.

Mice are timid, social and territorial animals that spend a disproportionate amount of time in the wild pursuing an omnivorous (animal and plant material) diet. Feeding is most often carried out at night to escape predation. Laboratory and pet mice are not strictly nocturnal (night-active) but tend to exhibit alternating periods of activity and rest throughout the day and night.

In the wild, mice may exhibit aggression among themselves, though establishment of a social “pecking order” tends to reduce this potentially injurious behaviour. Individual males apparently dominate groups of mice using this social pecking order, and females with litters may fight to defend their nests.

Domestication and intensive breeding of mice have resulted in a tremendous genetic diversity of mouse populations. The Swiss Albino mouse has become one of the most popular strains for pets but many others are commonly seen.

  • Scientific name: Mus musculus
  • Life Span: 2-3 years
  • Potential Life Span: 4 years
  • Desirable environmental temperature range: 18-27°C/65-80°F (20-22°C/68-72°F optimum)
  • Desirable relative humidity range: 30-70%
  • Age at onset of puberty: 28-40 days
  • Estrous (heat) cycle length: 4-5 days
  • Estrous length (period during which female is receptive to male for copulation): 12 hours
  • Gestation (pregnancy) period: 19-21 days
  • Average litter size: 10-12 (1st litter usually smaller)
  • Weaning age: 21-28 days

The rat, bearing the scientific name Rattus norvegicus, apparently also originated in central Asia. Rats were domesticated in the 17th century and the process has continued to the present, resulting in many breeds that are docile which makes them great pets.

Rats, like mice, have been used extensively in biomedical research. Most of the tremendous number of breeds and strains currently in existence have resulted from intensive inbreeding efforts by research laboratories over the years.

Wild rats are found in all kinds of habitats and nearly all land masses of the world, an enduring tribute to their adaptability and their long-time association with people.

They tend to be omnivorous (feed on plant and animal material) but exhibit tremendous opportunism in their feeding habits when living in and around human dwellings.

Wild rats tend to be nocturnal (night-active) animals but often use daylight hours to forage for food. Laboratory rats, like laboratory mice, on the other hand, are not strictly nocturnal. Mice and rats are both relatively short-lived animals, which can be disconcerting to owners of these pets.

Some, however, feel that having their children experience the relatively short period of companionship and subsequent death of pet mice and rats is a meaningful way to expose children to the “ups and downs” of life.

Hamsters: a history

Hamsters are small, virtually tailless, velvet-furred rodents with enormous cheek pouches. They originated in the Middle East and south eastern Europe. The most common and popular breeds, both as pets and laboratory animals, is the golden or Syrian hamster.

Color and hair-type varieties of the golden hamster include cinnamon, cream, white, and “teddy bear” (the long-haired variety). Most of the hamsters sold as pets or used in research are the descendants of 3 litter mates domesticated in 1930.

  • Scientific name: Mesocricetus auratus.
  • Potential life span: 2-3 years.
  • Adult body weight: 100-150 grams (adult females are slightly larger than adult males).
  • Desirable environmental temperature range: 18-24°C/65-75°F.
  • Desirable relative humidity range: 30-70%.
  • Recommended age at 1st breeding: male: 10-14 weeks; female: 6-10 weeks.
  • Length of oestrous (heat) cycle: 94 hours.
  • Gestation (pregnancy) period: 15.5-16 days.
  • Average litter size: 5-10 young.
  • Age at weaning: 3 weeks.

The cheek pouches are a relatively unique anatomic feature of hamsters. They are actually a cavernous outpouching of the oral (mouth) cavity on both sides, extending alongside the head and neck to the shoulders. These pouches are used to store food and allow the hamster to transport food from where it is gathered to the hamster’s den or nest. The food is then eaten later, at the hamster’s leisure.

Hamster owners not familiar with these cheek pouches often panic when seeing them fully distended for the first time, thinking they represent tumours or abscesses. Another relatively unique anatomic feature of hamsters is the paired glands in the skin over the flanks. These appear as dark spots within the hair coat and are much more obvious in males than females. These glands are used to mark a hamster’s territory and also have a role in sexual behaviour.

Hamsters are very popular pets today because of their availability, affordability, small size, cuddly appearance, often docile temperament and relatively clean habits. They are not very long-lived, which can be disconcerting to owners, especially children.

Many parents, however, believe that having their children experience the relatively short period of companionship and subsequent death is a meaningful way to expose children to the “ups and downs” of life. For many years hamsters have been used in biomedical research laboratories. Consequently, their medical problems have been traditionally approached on a group basis, rather than on an individual basis.

As a result, very little practical information exists on the medical care of individual hamsters.

Gerbils: a history

Gerbils, i.e. Mongolian gerbils, are small rodents with long furry tails that have a tuft of fur at the end. They are larger than mice, but smaller than typical hamsters (syrian hamsters, not dwarf hamsters).

The wild type coloration is “agouti”, where each hair is banded, usually gray next to the skin, then a yellowish colour, then ticked with black, with off-white hair on the belly. However, through selective breeding, several lovely colour variations are now seen.

In their dry native habitats of Asia and Africa gerbils have few natural enemies and seem more curious than fearful of humans. The Mongolian gerbil, the most common species sold in stores, is a born burrower and will develop networks of tunnels with food storage, nesting, and sleeping sites. Gerbils are 4-6 inches long, excluding the tail, and have a lifespan of 3-5 years.

The gerbil family is made up of roughly 100 species. There are 14 basic groups of gerbils. The species most commonly kept as pets is the Mongolian Gerbil, whose scientific name is Meriones unguiculatus. Gerbils whose scientific name begin with “Meriones” are also known as “jirds” which roughly means “large desert rodent”.

The Mongolian gerbil is therefore also known as the Clawed Jird. Other jirds also kept as pets include Sundevall’s Jird (Meriones crassus), the Libyan Jird (Meriones libycus), and Shaw’s Jird (Meriones shawi). Shaw’s Jird is large, even tempered and makes a good pet, and when fanciers use the term jird they are often referring to this species. Therefore, the term “gerbil” most commonly refers to the Mongolian Gerbil, and the term “jird” most commonly refers to Shaw’s Jird. Confused? There’s more:

There are two other species of gerbil which do not belong to the genus Meriones, but that are also referred to as jirds. These are the Bushy Tailed Jird (Sekeetamys calurus), and the Fat Tailed Jird (Pachyuromys duprasis). However, these are more commonly referred to as the “bushy tail” and the “duprasi” respectively. There are many other species of gerbil, some of which are less commonly kept as pets, but they are too numerous to cover here.

Gerbil fans say that gerbils make good pets due to their temperament, and ease of care. They tend to be easily tamed and are not as skittish as some other small rodents.

They also aren’t as inclined to bite unless threatened (as always there are exceptions). Coming from a dry natural habitat they are designed to conserve water, so produce scant urine and dry droppings, making it fairly easy to keep their cage fresh and clean.

They go through several sleep/active cycles in the course of 24 hours, although they do tend to be more active at night. They are very curious and will explore anything, and can be quite entertaining. Gerbils are social animals, living in colonies in the wild, so do not do well as a solitary pet.

Keeping a same sex pair (litter mates usually do well together) is much preferred. If you have a single older gerbil, it can be difficult to introduce a new one though as they are quite territorial.

Sensitivity to antibiotics

Guinea pigs as a group are unusually sensitive to certain antibiotics, whether they are given orally or by injection. Potentially harmful antibiotics include ampicillin, penicillin, bacitracin, erythromycin, lincomycin, gentamicin, clindamycin, streptomycin, vancomycin and sometimes tetracycline. Interestingly, even certain antibiotics used topically may produce lethal effects.

The major way in which certain antibiotics cause reactions is by altering the normal microbial balance within the gastrointestinal tract. Once the normal intestinal microfloral balance has been upset, certain bacteria multiply to abnormally large numbers. The multiplying bacteria produce harmful chemicals and gases that can have lethal effects.

Certain antibiotics are directly toxic and do not alter the microbial balance within the gastrointestinal tract. These antibiotics should never be used in guinea pigs. Though injectable antibiotics can cause the problems described above, oral antibiotics are more often associated with them.

Antibiotics should never be given to guinea pigs unless they are prescribed by your vet.

The antibiotics your vet prescribes will be based on what is best for the type of infection they are treating. Many antibitotics are not licensed for use in guinea pigs (this is common in most species which are not cats or dogs) so you may be asked to sign an off-licence consent form.

Some owners and vets like to provide the guinea pig with probiotics during a course of antibiotics to help replace any damaged gut flora.

Miscellaneous health problems in ferrets

Two medical conditions of ferrets that demand special mentions are the ferret’s extreme susceptibility to canine distemper and the unusual consequences of female ferrets coming into heat. These are therefore covered in separate factsheets.

However, there are other medical conditions that affect ferrets that are briefly covered here.

Ferrets lack sweat glands and are somewhat compromised in their ability to maintain normal body temperature in extremely warm environmental temperatures.

If the temperature rises above 32°C/90°F, and if water is restricted or not available to ferrets, heat exhaustion is likely and death quite possible. Providing ample shade and spraying your ferret on hot days will help reduce the likelihood of this problem.

Ferrets can also suffer from either kidneys or urinary bladder stones, which can cause serious problems in ferrets. Both sexes seem to be affected equally.

Signs of urinary stones include blood in the urine, inability to urinate, a swollen and painful abdomen, vomiting, lack of energy and poor appetite.

Surgery is usually necessary to correct this problem, though a special diet may eliminate certain types of stones or prevent recurrence.

Cardiomyopathy is a condition of the heart muscle seen in dogs and cats, which ferrets can also suffer from. Most affected ferrets are males over 3 years of age. The cause for this condition is unknown.

The muscle walls of the heart become thickened, reducing the ability of the heart to pump adequate quantities of blood to the rest of the body. Signs include poor appetite, fatigue, increased periods of sleep, intolerance to exercise, fainting and shortness of breath.

Cardiomyopathy is diagnosed using chest x-rays, an electrocardiogram (ECG), and echocardiography (EKG). All ferrets older than 3 years should have an EKG to screen for this disease.

Ferrets are prone to ringworm, which is a fungal disease of the skin, similar to Athlete’s foot in humans. It has been reported in young ferrets and may be transmitted by infected cats.

As a rule of thumb, products manufactured and intended for use in and on cats (dewormers, flea products, ringworm medications, etc.) are safe and suitable for use with ferrets, with one exception: flea collars should never be used on ferrets.

Canine distemper in ferrets

Ferrets are highly susceptible to canine distemper – a disease normally seen in dogs that is transmitted through moisture droplets. Dogs usually pick it up when sniffing where infected dogs have been, and since the incubation period can be as long as three weeks, it is usually too late to vaccinate once any outbreak has begun.

The initial signs of the disease appear 7-10 days after exposure to the virus and include a lack of interest in food and a thick mucus and pus-laden discharge from the eyes and nostrils.

A rash commonly appears under the chin and in the groin area 10-12 days following exposure, and the pads on the feet become greatly thickened.

Prevention of this disease should be an absolute priority because treatment is useless. Canine distemper is considered 100% fatal in ferrets, with infected ferrets dying approximately 3 1/2 weeks after initial exposure.

Kits should first be vaccinated against canine distemper at 6-8 weeks of age (4-6 weeks of age if kits are from unvaccinated mothers).

A booster vaccination is essential 2-3 weeks later. Yearly boosters are recommended thereafter.


Ferrets make wonderful pets because of their engaging personalities, playful activity and fastidious nature. They can also be easily trained to use a litter tray because they tend to habitually urinate and defaecate in the same places.

Ferrets are extremely intelligent, naturally inquisitive and generally have an affinity for people, and the older a ferret is, the more mellow it is likely to become.

To ensure you interact better and bond with your ferret, it is important that you understand your ferret’s behaviour. The following are some of the most common ferret traits.

This is seen in response to fear, and if so is usually accompanied by hissing and/or their hair standing on end; if this happens to your ferret, the best thing to do is to leave him be until he calms down. Ferrets also back-up when they go to the toilet, which is usually into the corner of their litter tray or run.

Young ferrets (kits) tend to be nippy, but no more so than a new kitten or puppy, however they tend to nip with a little more enthusiasm! Some kits never nip at all, but those that do usually grow out of it.

Many new owners mistake nipping for viciousness, even though the same behaviour in a new kitten or puppy is accepted, but nipping is normal play behaviour between littermates and is often transferred to their human companions. Because this can be the case, parents should not allow small children to play with kits to avoid any unecessary nipping behaviour.

There have been a number of documented cases of ferret attacks on infants and very small children, some of which involved serious injury to the child. Parents must either forbid encounters between pet ferrets and their infants or very young children, or closely supervise all of these encounters. It is important to point out, however, that these unfortunate encounters are far less common than those involving household dogs and cats.

If accompanied by backing-up and/or hissing, a puffy tail probably means that your ferret is frightened and should be left alone to calm down.

On the other hand, if your ferret’s tail becomes puffy while investigating his environment or playing, it will mean he is very excited.

The meaning behind this normally depends on what is happening at the time.

Hissing could mean your ferret is angry or frightened and you should leave him along to calm down, or if playing with other ferrets, hissing can be a means of communication.

Your ferret’s body language will usually give your ferret’s mood away!

Ferrets can often be seen shivering or trembling. This usually occurs when they first wake up and is due to excitement and anticipation.

Ferrets very rarely shiver because they are cold.

Like dogs, this is a sign of excitement, and is usually seen when they are playing.


Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical discharges from nerve cells in the brain. Bromide suppresses seizure activity by reducing the electrical charge within these cells.

Bromide is normally given as a potassium salt and is available in liquid, capsule or tablet form. Potassium bromide should be given with food and is normally given once daily in the evening, or divided into two daily doses.

The starting dose is normally 30-40 milligrams (mg) for every kilogram (kg) body weight daily. For example a 30 kg Golden Retriever could receive between 900 and 1200 mg per day. In some cases your vet will recommend loading your dog with an initial higher dose to help get blood concentrations to active levels more quickly.

Your vet will need to calculate the final dose your dog needs depending on the concentration of bromide in your pet’s blood (see below). Every dog gets rid of the drug at a different rate.

There are other factors that may affect the dose of bromide that your dog requires. A high salt diet means the drug will be eliminated more quickly, the converse is also true, and changing your dogs diet may increase or decrease the amount of bromide in their blood.

Therefore, changes to the diet should be made gradually (over at least 5 days) and blood concentrations of bromide should be rechecked every time diet is altered (especially if the dog becomes sedated or has unexpected seizures). Most diets have a similar salt content – with the exception of home cooked diets and prescription diets for heart disease (low salt) or for urinary stones (some are high salt).

Blood concentrations of bromide can also increase if a dog becomes severely dehydrated, e.g. following severe or bloody diarrhoea. If your dog appears more sedated the bromide dose may need to be temporally withdrawn or reduced.

It takes a long time for bromide to be removed from the body so it can be safe to miss a single dose (under veterinary guidance). However in normal circumstances bromide therapy should not cease suddenly otherwise your pet may have withdrawal seizures.

Blood concentrations of bromide should be assessed 8-16 weeks after starting the drug. Ideally blood levels should be measured around 16 weeks after treatment starts as it takes 4 months for blood levels to stabilise after the drug is started. The author aims for a concentration of ~1000 mg/l (15 mmol/l) – 2000 mg/l (25mmol/l). Higher blood concentrations are acceptable if there are no adverse effects eg sedation.

Blood concentration of bromide should also be assessed every 6-12 months, 8-16 weeks after a change in dose and if there is a breakdown in control (i.e. unexpected seizures). Some vets like to try to measure the lowest levels of bromide in the blood (usually just before the next dose is due). However these trough concentrations are not essential. It is however, good practice to always:

  1. Use the same laboratory for testing samples.
  2. Obtain the blood samples at the same time after medication.
  3. Fast your pet for at least 12 hours before a blood sample is taken.

Lipaemia (fat in the blood) can greatly affect bromide results and if excessive the assay cannot be performed.

If seizures are still not adequately controlled (clusters of >3 seizures or seizures occurring more frequently than every 6 weeks) when the bromide serum concentration is greater than 1500 mg/l (20 mmol/l) then your vet may want to consider adding or changing to another drug.

Sedation and poor co-ordination

This is may be seen at the start of therapy, after increases in doses, or with the addition of another drug (especially phenobarbitone). This effect typically wears off within a week. If it doesn’t, or is excessive, then your vet may advise reducing the dose of bromide or switching your pet to another drug. If the dog is drowsy shortly after dosing then try giving the medication last thing at night. Splitting the dose, i.e. giving twice daily can also reduce sedation in some dogs.

Increased urination and drinking

Bromide acts like a diuretic. If your pet is receiving bromide they must always have access to water otherwise they can get dehydrated. Some animals on high doses may wet in the house overnight or when left for extended periods.

Increased appetite

Your pet is likely to have an increased appetite when they are on bromide therapy, however this does not mean they require more food. Weight gain can be a difficult problem to avoid especially if your dog is already on phenobarbitone. It may help to feed a lower calorie food so that your pet can eat more without gaining weight. Extending mealtimes for example using a Bustercube™ ( may also be useful.

Gastrointestinal disease (vomiting and diarrhoea)

Also see pancreatitis below. Potassium bromide is a gastrointestinal irritant and should be mixed with food. Some dogs are unable to tolerate it although in this instance it is worth trying a different formation, e.g. liquid instead of tablets.


Epileptic dogs are at greater risk of pancreatitis i.e. inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreatitis may result in clinical signs such as vomiting and anorexia and in severe cases can be life-threatening. It is likely there are multiple risk factors for this disease including obesity, persistently high resting triglyceride, a high fat diet, a tendency to scavenge and high doses of phenobarbitone combined with bromide.

Skin disease

In humans bromide may cause skin changes – so called bromism – and this is one of the reasons this drug in not used for people. It does not appear that this syndrome occurs in dogs, however dogs with pre-existing skin disease, e.g. atopy may be itchier when receiving bromide and in some cases it may not be advisable to use this drug.

Liver function

Bromide does not require liver metabolism and is one of the few liver safe anti-epileptic drugs.

Kidney function

Kidney function may also affect bromide elimination. This is only a problem if the pet develops acute kidney failure. In this situation the kidneys shut down and the bromide concentration rises and literally anaesthetises the pet. In this circumstance your vet will give your dog fluids and diuretics to flush the bromide out of circulation. Bromide does not damage the kidneys.

Cats and bromide

Bromide results in lung disease in 50% of cats that receive it and therefore is not a recommended therapy for this species.

Antibiotic resistant bacterial infections

MRSA (Meticillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a nasty bacterial infection that has been widely reported in the media. It has been in the news for the sometimes fatal infection of people and has been dubbed ‘the superbug’ and ‘flesh eating bacteria’. MRSA can also occur in pets; however, dogs more commonly can be infected with a different, although similar infection: MRSI (meticillin resistant Staphylococcus intermedius) or MRSP (meticillin resistant Staphylococcus pseudointermedius).

MRSA (Meticillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a bacterium that is resistant to the antibiotic meticillin (which is a type of penicillin). The earliest recorded MRSA was identified in humans in the UK in 1961. It was first reported to be a major problem in human hospitals in the USA in the 1970s, and in the 1990s it became recognised as an important cause of hospital associated infection in human hospitals all over the world. These hospitals acquired strains of MRSA (HA-MRSA) cause the majority of human infections.

The skin is commonly home to huge numbers of bacteria that do not normally cause any problems. Staphylococcus is one of these bacteria. All people and animals carryStaphylococcus bacteria on their skin as part of their normal body flora, and as many as three in a hundred (3%) people carry the MRSA bacteria without realising or having any problems as a result. Figures also suggest that between two and nine in a hundred (2-9%) dogs and one in a hundred (1%) cats are carriers of MRSA in the UK.

MRSA is spread by direct contact between infected people and animals. MRSA can be spread from people to animals and less frequently from animals back to people. It can also be picked up from contaminated objects in the environment such as towels, bedding and medical equipment.

Based on clinical cases observed, many experts believe companion animals are generally transient carriers of MRSA, which means they may only carry the bacteria for about 2-3 weeks before the bacterial population disappears. If you can avoid contact with your pet during this time and wash your hands regularly after touching them it should be possible to protect yourself against infection.

MRSP (meticillin resistant Staphylococcus pseudointermedius) is also a bacteria that is resistant to the antibiotic meticillin. Healthy animals can carry MRSP, and it is common on the skin and in the nose of healthy dogs. MRSP infections in people are very rare and so spread of MRSP to pets is usually from direct contact with an infected animal.

Being colonised with MRSA or MRSP may present no problems for the host. These bacteria are most likely to cause disease if they are able to get onto an animal that is already sick, has a wound or whose immune system is compromised (whether by disease or drug treatment, e.g. chemotherapy). MRSA infection in UK pets is relatively rare.

If a healthy dog living in a household where an individual is discovered to be carrying an antibiotic resistant infection then it is best to isolate the pet from that household until they are cleared of the bacteria. This usually happens just with time, but active decolonisation (removal of the bacteria from the skin) can be achieved by baths in chlorhexidine shampoo and topical antibiotic treatment into the nose.

Detection of the bacteria on a swab from your pet’s skin surface does not mean they are infected with the bacteria. Indeed it is not unusual to find antibiotic resistant bacteria on the skin of apparently healthy animals. These bacteria can be acquired from a visit to a hospital or veterinary hospital (where antibiotic resistant bacteria are more prevalent than in the “normal” environment) or by direct contact with a carrier or infected individual human or other animal.

Animals that share their home with people at high risk of exposure to MRSA, i.e. healthcare workers, veterinary professionals and those who are immunocompromised, have been reported to be more at risk of becoming infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria.

If you are carrying MRSA you may not know provided you remain otherwise healthy. Infected people may have skin signs such as infections and spots and more severe cases occur in wounds after surgery. It is not possible to tell what is causing a wound infection just by looking at it. To make a diagnosis your vet or doctor would need to take a swab from an infected area and send this away for culture and identification in a laboratory.

Since Staphylococcus bacteria are most commonly found on the skin this is where infection tends to occur. If your pet has a longstanding skin infection (which may appear as itchiness, pustules, boils or ulcers), particularly if this does not respond to routine antibiotics from your vet, you should be consider the possibility of an antibiotic resistant infection.

Although relatively rare in pets, MRSA and MRSP infections can cause severe infections and sepsis which may result in death.

When animals are colonised with MRSP without obvious clinical signs there are no recognised methods for removing the resistant bacteria from them. You must take good care with hygiene and hand washing. Faeces may carry the infection so ensure you pick up any excrement immediately and dispose of it before other animals can come into contact with it. Although MRSP does not survive well in the environment, you should wash your pet’s bedding separately and if possible dry it in a tumble drier to decontaminate it. There are some instances, however, where dogs may remain as carriers of MRSP for prolonged periods of time.

In cases of skin infections – the most common type of infection found in animals – an option may be either applying antibiotic cream to the skin infection, treat the animal with other antibiotics, or a combination of both. Your veterinarian will determine the appropriate treatment for your animal. If you have to handle infected wounds make sure you wear gloves and dispose of contaminated gloves and bandaging appropriately (your vet will be able to advise you on this).

Both MRSA and MRSP infections are resistant to a number of widely used antibiotics, meaning it can be more difficult to treat than other infections. However, despite the media portrayals most MRSA and MRSP infections can actually be successfully treated.

When faced with antibiotic resistant bacteria it is essential to identify which antibiotics are effective, your vet will need to take swabs and may need to take advice from drug or infectious disease specialists to choose the right treatment. In addition, good hygiene is essential, e.g. cleaning and washing of the wound can be helpful as these bacteria like to live in dirty, enclosed environments where oxygen levels are low.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when strains of bacteria change (mutate) and become resistant to specific antibiotics. Antibiotics may also destroy the normal flora of the body, such that resistant bacteria have the chance to multiply in numbers. In addition, the overuse of antibiotics, e.g. using antibiotics to treat minor conditions and not finishing a recommended course of treatment may also promote antibiotic resistance.

The veterinary world has the chance to learn many lessons from what has happened in human medicine. It is important that we protect the antibiotics that we have and ensure that they can still serve us well in the future. If you are prescribed any antibiotics for your pet make sure you follow your vet’s advice exactly and always finish the course of antibiotics – even if your pet seems better.

Further information on MRSA and MRSP in pets, including how to manage an infected pet, is available on the Bella Moss Foundation website and on the BSAVA website

Periodontal disease and how to prevent it

Periodontal disease affects the area around the teeth and will eventually lead to tooth loss. Prevent this by brushing your dog’s teeth, using the step-by-step guide included here.

Your dog’s teeth deserve as much care as your own!

The periodontium is the structure that surrounds and supports the tooth. It comprises the periodontal ligament – which holds the tooth into the socket – and the gum (gingiva). In periodontal disease, all or part of the periodontal ligament is destroyed and the gum recedes.

More than three-quarters of dogs over four years old have periodontal disease. It starts with formation of plaque, the transparent adhesive fluid made up of protein, sloughed cells and bacteria that we remove by cleaning our teeth. Plaque starts forming twelve hours after dental cleaning and, if not removed, reacts with mineral salts in the food to form hard tartar (dental calculus). Calculus irritates the gum, changing the balance of acidity to alkalinity in the mouth and allowing bacteria to grow. By-products of these bacteria “eat away” at the tooth’s periodontium leading eventually to loss of the tooth.

  1. Gingivitis: inflammation and possible swelling of the gum line.
  2. Early periodontitis: the gum bleeds when prodded and gives less support to the tooth.
  3. Established periodontitis: the gum recedes away from the tooth giving even less support.
  4. Advanced periodontitis: the tooth begins to wobble.

X-rays of the inside of your dog’s mouth give your vet different views of the teeth. Gum examination using a periodontal probe detects any soft tissue changes (periodontal pockets).

X-rays show areas of bone loss and where pockets are likely to be – but do not show pockets or their depth. If more than half the bone around a tooth has been lost, it is unlikely that the tooth can be saved. The periodontal probe, in addition to showing gum bleeding and inflammation, enables the depth and shape of any pockets to be measured.

  • Stage 1 (gingivitis) – professional teeth cleaning and home care.
  • Stage 2 & 3 (early & established periodontitis) – home care and application of an antibiotic gel.
  • Stage 4 (advanced periodontitis) – removal of the tooth or gum surgery to reduce the periodontal pocket.

Tooth brushing is the key to prevention and is an easy process with most small animals.

  1. Select a dog toothbrush: many types are available, including a minibrush that fits over your index finger.
  2. Select a dog toothpaste: the best ones contain enzymes to help control plaque, and fluoride may be included to help control bacteria. Do not use human toothpastes because they sometimes contain baking soda, detergents or salt.
  3. Brushing technique: place the toothpaste between the bristles rather than on top of them to allow the paste to spend the maximum possible time next to the teeth.

Most pets accept brushing if approached in a gentle manner. Start when they are young, if you can. It’s quite easy, but even older pets will accept the process. Start slowly, using a soft cloth to wipe the teeth, front and back, in the same way you will eventually use the toothbrush. Do this twice daily and after about two weeks your dog will have become familiar with it all. Then take the toothbrush, soak it in warm water and start brushing twice daily for several days, only adding the toothpaste once your pet accepts this brushing.

Place the toothbrush bristles at the gum edge where the teeth and gum meet and then move the brush in an oval pattern. Be sure to gently force the bristle ends into the area around the base of each tooth and also into the space between teeth. Complete ten short back-and-forth motions, covering three to four teeth at a time. Then move the brush to a new location. Pay most attention to the outside of the upper teeth.

Tooth brushing from an early age will ensure that your dog becomes used to it and is happy to have it done. It will keep plaque from forming and keep periodontal disease at bay. It will save your dog from tooth decay, toothache and eventual loss of teeth. Just as important, it will also prevent the bad breath often associated with decaying teeth.