Owning a Rabbit – Part 2

Food and Diet

If you believe what you see in a Bugs Bunny cartoon rabbits only eat carrots. This is a complete myth.  A rabbit’s diet is far more complex.  If you broke it down it would look like this:

80% Grass and Hay – Rabbits digestive systems must have grass and/or hay in order to function properly.  It’s also important they chew grass and hay as it prevents teeth overgrowth. If you use various types of hay it can encourage different chewing patterns and is better for dental health.  One of the main health issues commonly seen by vets is dental disease.  This is directly linked to the inappropriate diets rabbits have. For example too much rabbit muesli (which does not wear their teeth down) and not enough grass/hay. 

If you spot any of the following symptoms it’s possible your rabbit may have dental problems

A wet chin

Weight loss


Going off their food

Eye discharge

A dirty bottom

If a rabbit has a sore mouth it will find grooming/licking too painful so it won’t be able to clean itself properly. Also, because of abnormal tooth roots it can affect their eyes.  If you see any of the above symptoms take your rabbit to see the vet. 

15% Vegetables – If possible, try to give your rabbit various greens each day. Below is a list of some greens that are safe for rabbits to eat and some that are not. It’s not a complete list but it gives you a general idea. Your vet can always give you more advice if you need it. 

Safe Greens                                                                               Unsafe Greens







Brussels Sprouts

Elder Poppies



Carrots (only feed occasionally – they are high in sugar. The leafy tops are OK)






Celery leaves

Most evergreens


Oak leaves






Rhubarb leaves



Green beans




Radish tops


Salad peppers


4.5% Rabbit pellets – It’s fine to feed your rabbit pellets but grass and hay are far more important to their diet and well being.  If you are going to feed it pellets don’t keep topping up their bowl as they may not eat enough of the food they really need.

0.5% Fruit and sugary veg – This should only be fed in very small amounts as an occasional treat due to the high sugar content. Rabbits can digest these types of food really well and over feeding can cause obesity. If a rabbit becomes obese they won’t be able to groom themselves properly. It can also lead to a ‘sticky bum’ and makes a rabbit more prone to fly-strike in the summer months.  Cherrydown Vets run weight clinics so if you think your rabbit is overweight, our nurses can help and advise you on diet and exercise.

Another important part of their diet is their own poo. Rabbits produce two sorts of pellets. The first sort is hard and dry and what you will commonly see in the hutch or garden. The other sort is dark, soft, moist and smelly.  These are called “caecotrophs” and rabbits eat them, usually straight from their behind.  If you see this it’s completely normal. They do this to ensure they get all of the goodness from their high-fibre food.

Finally, make sure water is always available. It doesn’t matter whether you use a bottle or a bowl. Just make sure it’s kept clean.

If you have any questions about anything mentioned in this blog or you would like more advice on feeding your rabbit please call us at the clinic or leave a message on our Facebook page


All cats and dogs will get worms at some stage in their life and many will be re-infected unless they receive regular worming treatment.

There are many types of worms that can infect your pet, these include roundworm, tapeworm, hookworm, whipworm and heartworm to name a few. However, in this blog we will deal with the most common.


All cats and dogs are at risk of getting infected with roundworms. Even indoor pets can catch them as eggs can be carried in on your shoes.  Roundworms can grow up to 15 cm long and are white in colour. As their name suggests they are round and look like string or spaghetti. Normally, worms can be present in pups from approximately 2 weeks old and kittens from 6 weeks old. This is due to them becoming infected from their mother in the uterus and via their milk.  Adult cats and dogs can become infected from contact with soil or grass that contains worm eggs, through scavenging, eating raw meat and eating faeces

Many adult cats and dogs could have worms and you wouldn’t know. However, some may develop symptoms, especially if they are puppies and kittens, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, a bloated/distended belly, lack of appetite and failure to gain weight.

An important thing to note with roundworm (especially dog roundworms), is they can infect humans especially children. The most serious complication of this is potential blindness caused by the worm larvae damaging the eye- a process called visceral larval migrans. Therefore, any dogs around young children must be regularly treated against roundworm. There is evidence that prescription spot on wormers are best as they provide continual protection against roundworm whereas roundworm tablets will kill any roundworms present but do not provide any ongoing protection.


Tapeworms are flattened intestinal worms that are fairly large and can grow up to 60cm long. They are made up of many small segments approximately 3-4mm long and each segment contains eggs.  Cats and dogs  get infected with tapeworms by eating a flea that has fed on tapeworm larvae.  This usually happens when they are grooming.  Once the flea is digested the tapeworm eggs hatch. Tapeworms attach to the wall of the intestine with hook like mouth parts and as they grow they shed segments which will appear on the animal’s faeces or around their anus.

As with roundworms, you may not even realise that your dog has tapeworm. They feed on the blood and nutrients of the animal, but no immediate symptoms or changes are present.  Normally symptoms will appear over a longer period of time.

The most common symptoms of Tapeworm are small, rice looking particles in the faeces or around the anus, diarrhoea, poor fur and skin condition, weight loss, increased appetite, lethargy, bloated stomach (there could be many tapeworms present in the intestine) and persistent anal itching (you may see your dog “scooting” across the carpet or licking its anus to relieve the itching).

If you think your pet may have worms it’s important to take it to the vet to have it checked.  There are some highly effective treatments which will kill worms. These are available as liquids, pastes, tablets or powder. However, not all the products are equally good and some work against certain types of worms and not others.  Your vet will be able to advise on which product is best.

For more information on worms you can contact the clinic for advice. Alternatively, you can leave a question on our Facebook page and someone will get back to you.  We also stock a range of worming products


For the best information on this please see our blog here

Distemper in Ferrets

Distemper in Ferrets

Distemper is a contagious disease of dogs & ferrets caused by a virus. It is very serious and can be fatal. Most dogs are protected from distemper by their annual inoculation, and it is now a very rare condition in the UK, simply because of the availability of reliable vaccines.

Recently there have been several cases identified in pet ferrets, especially in The Midlands. However it has spread South & has turned up in Maldon (near Chelmsford)


Whilst these may vary, the first sign is often mild conjunctivitis with a yellow or green discharge from the eyes. A high fever develops over a few days & it may lose it’s appetite and become lethargic. Another sign to check for is a reddening and thickening of the skin on the chin, lips and anal areas. This then becomes hardened and the animals footpads become thickened and hard. These signs do not occur with any other ferret disease.

Other signs exhibited include diahorrea, severe depression, strange behaviour and seizures. The disease can cause death within a few days and there is little in the way of treatment for this. The best course of action is preventative treatment.

Preventative Treatment

Whilst there is not a licenced vaccine for ferrets, it is possible to protect them using the dog vaccine. Although off-licence, this has been used in many ferrets for many years and appears to be safe. In light of the current outbreak, we are now recommending that pet ferrets be vaccinated. Working ferrets, or those that go outside regularly, should be vaccinated annually.. Strictly indoor ferrets should be vaccinated every 2 years.

There is no reason why the disease cannot transmit from ferrets to dogs, so owners of unprotected dogs should also make an appointment to ensure their pet is vaccinated. For more information please speak to our staff.

Breed related diseases in Dogs – Boxer

Did you know that dogs are affected by the greatest number of naturally occuring genetic disorders of any non-human species. Many of these conditions seem to appear in specific breeds.  This is the second of our series of breed related diseases in dogs, and this time we feature Boxers

Below we discuss the commoner diseases that Boxers are prone to.  Some of these are known to be genetic. Please note: These are not the only diseases Boxers can get.

Aortic Stenosis

This is where there is a partial obstruction of the flow of blood as it leaves the left side of the heart (the left ventricle) through the main blood vessel (the aorta) and carries blood to the rest of the body.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Boxer Cardiomyopathy

This is an inherited disease where the heart muscle becomes inflamed and doesn’t work as well as it should.  Causes include a genetic predisposition and viral infections.  The condition is most commonly found in Doberman Pinschers and Boxers and can result in heart failure and sudden death.  Signs to look out for include exercise intolerance and fainting.

Atrial Septal Defect

This is where the dog’s heart has an opening in the wall (septum) between the right area and left area of the upper part of the heart.  A Consequence of this is that some blood from the left atrium flows through the hole in the septum into the right atrium and increases the total amount of the blood that flows toward the the lungs. The increased blood flow creates a swishing sound, which is known as a heart murmur.

Skin Disease

Canine Acne

Allergic Skin Disease

These include food allergies and environmental allergies (atopy). Itchy feet, faces, armpits, groin and bottom are the commonest signs

Seasonal Flank Alopcia

A non itchy hair loss on the flanks

Endocrine (hormonal) Diseases: 

Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid gland)

Cushings Disease

Eye Problems:

Corneal Dystrophy

The outermost layer of the eye is known as the cornea and is a clear, dome shaped surface that covers the front of the eye.  A corneal dystrophy is a condition where parts of the cornea lost their normal clarity due to a build up of cloudy material.  The disease is inherited, affects both eyes equally and is not caused by outside factors, such as diet or injury

Cherry Eye

This where the gland of the third eyelid, prolapes as a pink fleshy mass  protruding over the edge of the third eyelid. It cn become inflamed and ulcerated.

Corneal Ulceration

Boxers are very prone to corneal ulcers and they can be very challenging to treat.

Other Ailments for Boxers Include:

Tumours – Boxers are prone to many types of tumours including mast cell tumours, haemangiosarcomas, melonoma, lymphosarcoma etc.

Cryptorchidism – Retained testicles

Hip Dysplasia

GDV or Bloat

Histiocytic Ulcerative Colitis – This is an inflammatory bowel disease and is found most commonly in boxers.  It causes inflammation and sores, called ulcers, in the lining of the large intestine.

If you have any questions about the about the above topics please feel free to contact the clinic

Breed related diseases in Dogs – Labrador

Breed related diseases in Dogs.

Welcome to our new series of blogs on breed related disease in pedigree dogs. Unfortunately, certain pedigree dogs are prone to certain diseases. We thought these guides would be helpful for people who own the breeds so that they can be more aware of some of the diseases their pet may suffer from and will be able to pick up the symptoms of disease more rapidly. We also thought they would be useful for people thinking of buying a specific breed so that they can be aware of some of the problems that may exist.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of all the diseases that each breed can get- just the more common ones that we see regularly.

So, to start with, let’s look at the Labrador Retriever:

  • Allergic skin disease including Atopy and Food allergies
  • Hip dysplasia (animals used for breeding should be screened for)
  • Elbow dysplasia (animals used for breeding should be screened for)
  • OCD of hock and shoulder
  • Cruciate ligament rupture
  • Lipomas
  • Entropion
  • Cataracts
  • Congenital eye defects such as Generalise progressive retinal atrophy (animals used for breeding should be screened)
  • Laryngeal paralysis
  • Ectopic ureters

If you have any questions about any of the above, please feel free to contact the staff to discuss them.

The Vets Says – Elbow Dysplasia


Elbow dysplasia is another developmental problem some dogs can be prone to. German Shepherds, Labrador Retreivers,Rottweilers and Bassett Hounds are some of the breeds we see most commonly with this condition.

Normal Elbow Anatomy
The elbow joint is formed where the 3 long bones of the foreleg meet; namely the humerus (runs from shoulder to elbow) and radius and ulna (run from elbow to carpus or wrist). All bone ends are covered in smooth articular cartilage and the joint is surrounded by a tough joint capsule. The synovial membrane lines the joint and produces the lubricating synovial fluid.
The ulna has a number of bony prominences on it.These include the anconeal process and the coronoid process.

Elbow dysplasia is an abnormal development of the elbow joint. Elbow dysplasia is a group of diseases that include osteochondrosis, fragmented coronoid process (FCP) and united anconeal process(UAP). Basically, some of the normal bony prominences that develop in the elbow are diseased.  There is strong evidence of a hereditary component in the German Shepherd dog and FCP and UAP are particularly common. As with hip dysplasia Xrays of potential breeding stock is recommended to screen for the disease. This appears to be done very infrequently despite the fact that like hip dysplasia mildly affected dogs can appear normal most of the time.

Dogs with elbow dysplasia show signs of front leg lameness. This may be in one or both legs as the disease often affects both elbows. Often there are signs of stiffness after rest. The lameness often gets worse with exercise. Often a relatively minor trauma to the elbow can flare up clinical signs.

On examination the vet may feel thickening of the elbow joints and pain on movement. Assessment of foreleg lameness can be very difficult if both legs are affected.
Xrays are the next step. They usually need to be done under general anaesthetic as perfectly positioned xrays are needed to recognise characteristic changes that are often very subtle.
Even then, a definite diagnosis may not be possible from xrays. Often the only changes visible are those caused by arthritis that usually occurs in dysplastic elbows very early on in the disease. Immature dogs with evidence of elbow arthritis often have elbow dysplasia.
Sometimes arthroscopy (looking directly into the joint with a special piece of equipment) is needed to diagnose elbow dysplasia. With this equipment the cartilage surfaces and bony prominences can be directly viewed.

The major part of the decision making process in treating elbow dysplasia is whether to operate or not. Due to the abnormal development of the joint and so abnormal forces going through the bones osteoarthritis is an envitable sequel to elbow dysplasia. The decision is whether osteoarthritic change will happen faster with or without surgery.
Medical treatment is aimed at managing the secondary osteoarthritis.Often surgery is needed. Surgical removal of diseased bone and cartilage usually results in improvement in the lameness. This may be done via the arthroscope or by opening the joint up surgically. Arthroscopy (sometimes called keyhole surgery) is less traumatic than opening the joint up completely but it is more difficult to view all the areas of concern. Ultimately it is the surgeon’s choice.

Despite surgery, arthritis will tend to continue and ongoing medical treatment is likely.

Elbow dysplasia is a common and serious disease affecting many dogs. Radiographic screening programmes are becoming more widely available to detect affected dogs. Dogs affected with elbow dysplasia should not be bred from.


An In-Depth Look at Arthritis (Degenerative Joint Disease)

Arthritis strictly means inflammation of the joint and there are many possible causes of this. When we talk about arthritis we are usually talking about a specific type of arthritis called degenerative joint disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis.

DJD is the commonest joint disease seen in many different breeds of dogs and cats and is often a major reason for euthanasia. DJD affects the movable synovial joints such as the elbow and hip joints. Synovial joints are formed where the ends of two bones meet. The ends of the bones are covered in very smooth ARTICULAR CARTILAGE. The SYNOVIAL MEMBRANE lines the inside of the joint capsule and produces SYNOVIAL FLUID which lubricates the joint. The tough JOINT CAPSULE covers the outside of the joint. Articular Cartilage is made up of :

  • water
  • cartilage cells called chondrocytes
  • the matrix ( material that fills the gaps between the cells). This is made of collagen fibres and a ground substance rich in substances called proteoglycans such as chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, keratin sulphates and glycosaminoglycans. Articular cartilage is translucent and glass-like to the naked eye.


  1. The main biochemical change that occurs in cartilage when DJD is present is loss of proteoglycans. This is due to the proteoglycans in the cartilage matrix being broken down by enzymes. It is unclear whether these enzymes are produced by the chondrocytes within the cartilage or come from outside the joint. The major role of articular cartilage is to provide a smooth, friction free movement between the bone ends. Due to this proteoglycan loss the cartilage loses the ability to do this. Furthermore, the cartilage becomes eroded away because it loses its normal structure.
  2. Synovial fluid production reduces further reducing joint lubrication.
  3. New bone forms around the joint. These are called osteophytes.
  4. Synovial membrane is sometimes inflamed (called synovitis)
  5. Surrounding joint capsule becomes thickened (fibrosis)
  6. Bone ends underneath the cartilage becomes thickened (sclerosis)

Causes of DJD

1.Primary DJD is a disorder of ageing. Cartilage degeneration occurs but the cause is unknown. 2.Secondary DJD much more common in animals. Secondary DJD occurs as a result of a number of problems including: -abnormal loading of the joint due to the joint not developing properly eg hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia -due to instability in the joints e.g cruciate ligament rupture -as a result of infections or immune mediated damage to the joint -due to joint fractures

Clinical Signs of DJD

Clinical signs vary depending on the severity of the DJD and the number of joints affected. Stiffness (especially after rest) and reduced activity are very common. These signs are often attributed to getting old and as a result treatment is often not given. Animals who are stiff and lame are in pain even though they rarely cry out or complain. Affected animals may be lame on one or a number of legs depending on how many joints are affected.


Examination by the veterinarian may reveal pain, crepitus (clicking or crunching), swollen joints. Xrays are the best way to diagnose DJD and there are a number of characteristic findings. As secondary DJD is most common it is important to look for underlying reasons for the DJD e.g hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia etc. Xray changes and clinical signs sometimes do not always agree e.g changes may be mild on an Xray but the dog may be very lame and vice versa. Treatment is based on clinical signs rather than Xray changes.


DJD is usually progressive regardless of treatment. Identifying an underlying cause e.g FCP in the elbow may mean that surgery is required to deal with the initiating cause. Most cases of DJD are treated as follows:

  1. Weight control. The importance of this can not be over emphasised. Many dogs and cats are overweight and even a small amount of extra weight can make a major difference to the forces put on the joints e.g during the movement of going from sit to standing a force that is nine times your pets weight is loaded throughout each knee. Therefore, if your pet is 5kg overweight there is an additional 35kg on each knee just when standing up !!. Furthermore, obesity is now recognised as an inflammatory condition. Obese animals have higher levels of inflammatory products in their blood stream and these may aggravate the DJD.
  2. Exercise Put simply, too much exercise is as bad as not enough. Excessive exercise will cause pain and lameness in dogs with DJD. This may manifest itself as lameness during exercise or, more often,  as stiffness after rest after exercise. Little and often gentle exercise is much better than long walks irregularly. On the other hand , too little exercise means that joint mobility and muscle tone is adversely affected. Swimming, especially controlled hydrotherapy, is an excellent exercise for dogs with DJD. Also, physiotherapy can be hugely beneficial
  3. Drugs a)    NSAIDs. The cornerstone of DJD treatment is Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS). They have both anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain killing) effects. All NSAIDs have the potential to cause side effects in some animals. These include: –       Gastro-intestinal side effects such as vomiting and diarrhoea can occur. More seriously ulceration of the gastro-intestinal tract can occur. This causes vomit with blood in it, black tar like faeces (malaena), and can be fatal if left untreated. –       Exacerbation of degradation of the articular cartilage by increasing cartilage breakdown or by reducing glycosaminoglycan synthesis. Thus, the drug that is most commonly used for treating DJD has been shown to speed up the progress and deterioration of the disease. –       Kidney toxicity. Nsaids can be damaging to kidneys especially where there is existing kidney disease or when there is risk of low blood pressure such as dehydration, heart disease, general anaesthetic –       Affect blood clotting –       Liver toxicity especially if there is pre-existing liver disease. Occasionally bizarre liver reactions occur. Therefore, as with all drugs they must be used carefully and under strict veterinary supervision. Despite these potential side effects thousands of  dogs and cats are safely treated with NSAIDS. b)    Steroids. Steroids will help to reduce joint inflammation but have many side effects making them generally unsuitable for treating DJD c)    Surgical treatment to correct underlying problems. Also joint replacements such as hip replacements. d)    Polysulphated glycosaminoglycans (PSGAG). This is a compound that is used to try and reduce cartilage degeneration in the the joint i.e it slows down the progress of DJD. PSGAG is administered via an injection. The proposed way that it works is by inhibiting the enzymes that breakdown the cartilage and stimulating the production of lubricant in the joint. There have been a number of laboratory studies showing the effect of PSGAG on reducing the activity of the degrading enzymes. There is nota huge amount of clinical trial data to prove the efficacy of PSGAGs but clinical experience suggests that there is a benefit in certain individuals. Dogs that have cancer should not be treated with PSGAGS because it can cause bleeding in such dogs. e)    Nutraceuticals include chondroitin, glucosamine, and magnesium ascorbate. The theory behind using these products is that they provide precursors for the repair of damaged articular cartilage or at least slowdown the degeneration of the cartilage. There is anecdotal evidence they work but no high quality clinical trial data. They have very few reported side effects but they may not have any effect at all! Also, because they are not highly regulated the purity and composition of some of these products cannot be verified. f)      Fatty acids may reduce inflammation in DJD by reducing the production of a substance called prostaglandins. Long chain omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid seem to be effective. g)    Antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E may also have beneficial effects in DJD. Again clinical data in dogs is scarce but there are possible benefits demonstrated in mice experimentally.

The Vets Says…Gastric Dilation and Volvulus (GDV) or Bloat

GDV can also be known as Bloat or Gastric Torsion


GDV is a life-threatening emergency. It is a common condition in large,deep chested breeds such as German Shepherds, Weimeraners, Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, St Bernards and URGENT VETERINARY ATTENTION is needed. Although larger breeds are most commonly affected any size dog can suffer from GDV.One of the most important factors as to whether a dog survives this condition is how quickly they receive veterinary attention. Unfortunately, even with excellent treatment death rates of upto 45% have been reported in studies.


The exact cause of GDV is not known. Something causes gas to accumulate in the stomach (gastric dilatation) resulting in the dogs tummy (abdomen) getting bigger and bigger. In many cases this is accompanied by the stomach twisting (volvulus). It would seem logical that gas accumulation occurs first and then the stomach twists. However, some studies have shown that twisting may occur before bloating in some cases. Many studies have been carried out in an attempt to identify the cause of GDV. No absolute cause has been found but the following have found to be risk factors that may increase the risk of GDV:

  1. Large and giant breed dogs and deep chested dogs are at highest risk.
  2. Dogs with a first degree relative (eg father-son) with a history of GDV are at higher risk. Ideally these dogs should not be bred from.
  3. Risk increases with age
  4. Risk may increase after spleen removal
  5. Rapid gulping of food may increase risk
  6. Eating from a raised dish may increase risk
  7. Stress (grooming, dog shows, boarding, other dogs) may precipitate GDV
  8. A happy easy going personality may reduce the risk

As a result the following recommendations can be carried out at home to reduce risks of GDV:

  1. Feed several small meals a day

  2. Avoid stress during feeding eg separating dogs in the household.

  3. Restrict exercise before and after meals. Do not allow dogs to gorge on water after meals or exercise

  4. Do not use an elevated food bowl

  5. Do not breed from a first degree relative that has had GDV

Clinical Signs

Classically a dog with GDV will be bloated. The tummy (abdomen) swells up. They are uncomfortable and restless. Breathing rate increases. Attempts to vomit are unsuccessful. Quickly they develop signs of shock such as pale mucous membranes, weak pulses, cold extremities and soon will collapse.

Progress of the disease

GDV has many profound and serious effects on the body. Dogs die very quickly if left untreated. The respiratory rate (breathing) system struggles due to the pressure on the diaphragm from the gas build up. Blood supply to the stomach is rapidly loss leading to death of the stomach wall and pancreatitis. Major blood vessels are crushed by the expanding stomach stopping the circulation working. The heart begins to beat out of rhythm. Very quickly shock develops. Urgent treatment is needed.


History and clinical signs will alert the vet to a GDV. Xrays can be used to confirm the diagnosis and differentiate a dilatation (gas build up) from a GDV


Initial treatment is aimed at treating the shock to prepare the dog for general anaesthesia and surgery. Rapid intravenous fluid therapy and oxygen is needed. Also hear arrhymias are treated. Stomach decompression via a stomach tube or needle/catheter can be attempted. When the dog is stable enough they are anaesthatised – this is very risky in such cases but is vital for treatment. During the surgery the stomach is decompressed ( all the gas removed) and twisted back into its normal position. Then a gastropexy is performed. This is a technique to attach the stomach to the body wall permanently. There are many different ways of doing this and depends on surgeon’s preference. If the stomach has been twisted for a while there may be areas that are necrotic (dead). These have to be removed during the surgery and greatly reduce the chances of success. Sometimes the spleen is damaged at the same time as the stomach twists and needs to be removed. There are many possible post operative complications including infection (peritonitis), pancreatitis, heart arrhythmias etc


It can not be stressed enough that urgent treatment is needed in suspect cases of GDV. There is nothing that can be done at home so do not hesitate to contact your vet.

Hip Dysplasia Part 1 – What it is and what causes it.

Hip dysplasia is a common condition in dogs. It predominantly affects larger breeds of dog and is particularly common in German Shepherds, Labrador retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Great Danes and St Bernards. However, any breed of dog and even cats can be affected. To fully understand it we must first consider the normal hip joint.


The hip joint is formed between the acetabulum of the pelvis and the head of the femur (thigh bone). The head of the femur is a ball shape that fits snugly into the socket on the acetabulum. All the bony surfaces of the hip joint are covered in smooth articular cartilage to allow pain free movement of the joint. The joint is also lubricated via a special viscous fluid called synovial fluid, which is produced from the synovial membrane. The femur is kept in position by the round ligament which runs from the head of the femur to attach to the acetabulum. The joint is surrounded by a tough fibrous layer called the joint capsule; there are two hip joints the right and left.


Hip dysplasia is an abnormal development of the hip joint. Usually both hips are affected. The hip joint is unstable so that the head of the femur (the ball) does not fit snugly in the acetabulum (the socket). This is known as subluxation. Hip dysplasia causes pain and lameness because the articular cartilage gets worn away, the joint capsule becomes stretched, the joints become inflamed and eventually arthritis develops.


Hip dysplasia is called a multifactorial disease. This means that there are more than one potential cause. Both hereditary (genetic) and environmental factors play a part in the development of the disease. Environmental Factors:

  1. Excessive food consumption resulting in rapid weight gain and growth increases the risk of developing hip dysplasia. Overfeeding itself does not cause hip dysplasia but will increase the risk of it developing in genetically susceptible individuals. Furthermore, studies have shown that restricted feeding regimes have reduced the amount of hip dysplasia seen in the at risk breeds. Why excess food causes a problem is unclear. It may be simply that excess food produces excess weight gain and this produces an excessive force on a potentially susceptible hip. However, there may be more complex and subtle reasons than this relating to the effect of food intake on various chemicals and hormones in the body.
  2. Repeated mild trauma such as excess exercise while growing such as running up and down stairs and jumping on and off furniture may also be important. It is thought that in a susceptible hip, mild trauma can cause inflammation of the synovial membrane (synovitis) which results in excessive production of synovial fluid. This may then reduce the stability of the joint worsening the hip dysplasia.

Genetic factors There is a strong hereditary basis to hip dysplasia in dogs . The exact number and location of the genes is not known at present. As technology advances and  gene mapping is performed the exact genes responsible for hip dysplasia will become apparent. Dogs produced from dogs with hip dysplasia tend to be dysplastic and vice versa. However, some dogs with perfect hips can carry the genes for hip dysplasia and if they are mated with another dog with the genes the puppies have a high risk of developing hip dysplasia. Due to this genetic factor most countries have some form of hip xray screening programme to detect dogs with hip dysplasia. Dogs or bitches that prove to have radiographic (Xray) signs of hip dysplasia should not be bred from. When selecting a puppy it is vital to know if the dam (mum) and father (sire) have been tested. Your vet can advise you more as to what the test results mean as they vary from country to country. No screening system is perfect and possibly due to this many breeders do not get their breeding dogs tested. Breeders may also be concerned that the results of such tests could hurt their business and reputation. Finally, some dogs with hip dysplasia can appear to the untrained eye as normal either because the lameness is very subtle, both hips are equally affected and so no overt lameness is present or because the problem is intermittent. Even mildly affected dogs should ideally not be used for breeding.


(What are the signs that may tell you your dog has hip dysplasia?) The age at which hip dysplasia becomes apparent  is usually  5-10 months of age due to hip instability and pain, or 3-12 years due to secondary osteoarthritis. Males & females are equally affected. In the younger dogs signs may include difficulty getting up after rest; not wanting to exercise; lameness (both intermittent and continuous) in one or both hindlegs; a change in jumping behaviour; a “bunny hopping” walk or run; clicking while walking. Remember not all signs will be present in all dogs. In the older dogs signs are due to osteoarthritis including difficulty getting up, reduced ability to exercise; stiffness; a waddling walk; muscle wastage; lameness. Next week we’ll look at the Diagnosis and Treatment of Hip Dysplasia.

“The Vet Says……” – Myxomatosis in Rabbits

Perhaps one of the most well known animal diseases, it has had much publicity since it decimated the rabbit population after introduction to the UK in the early 1950’s. So virulent is the disease that 95% of rabbits in the UK had died by 1955. Since then it has gone on to be a major killer of wild rabbits over the years and can also be found in domestic rabbits. The disease is able to mutate and comes back with a slightly different strain making eradication very difficult. The severity of outbreaks tends to vary and there was quite a major outbreak in the South east of England in 2000. Myxomatosis is a threat to all rabbits but the greatest threat is to wild rabbits.

Those domesticated rabbits that live indoors are at least risk but they are still susceptible to it. Domesticated rabbits living outside in gardens and hutches are at an increased risk, especially if wild animals can get in to the garden, or they come into contact with a dog that hunts wild rabbits. The myxoma virus  is mainly spread by biting animals such as mosquitoes, fur mites or rabbit fleas. The fleas can go from one rabbit to another via contact with each other. The best way to protect your pet rabbit is to have it vaccinated against the disease. Myxomatosis  is a dreadful disease and the animals die a horrible long slow death. They can take up to two weeks to die and treatment is rarely successful, so the kindest option is usually euthanasia.


The first sign of the most common form of the disease is often runny eyes and can be confused with conjunctivitis. In myxi however, the genitals show signs of swelling & puffiness  while  the conjunctivitis worsens until it leads to blindness. Nodules can also start to appear on the head and body. Thick pus starts to discharge from the nose and swollen eyes  and death will follow. There are two other forms of myxomatosis and these have a better recovery rate if treated quickly. One causes pneumonia type symptoms and snuffles while the other is again nodular. Symptoms in vaccinated rabbits are much the same but less severe,  and the disease is potentially treatable in vaccinated rabbits.


Domestic rabbits have no genetic immunity against myxomatosis and it is essential these rabbits are vaccinated to give them the best chance of survival. Boosters need to be kept up to date and owners need to look out for symptoms of the disease to catch it as early as possible. If it is thought a rabbit may have contracted the disease, it should be isolated from any other rabbits to prevent spread. If there is an outbreak nearby then it is safest to get a further booster if the rabbit has not had a booster in the last 6 months. Vaccinations can be given at 6 weeks of age and can also be given to pregnant rabbits. Regular 6 monthly vaccinations are recommended. Other steps you can take are to buy hay from farms not infested with Myxi, fit insect screens to hutches and runs & prevent standing water from accumulating nearby to reduce mosquito’s appearing. Check your rabbit regularly for fleas and fur mites and if found get treatment to eliminate them. The vaccination for myxomatosis is unusual in that part of the dose also has to go into the layers of the skin (intradermally) and for this reason it is best given by a vet to ensure it is done correctly otherwise the rabbit will not be properly vaccinated.


This is as previously mentioned and is usually unsuccessful in unvaccinated rabbits. If a vaccinated rabbit contracts the virus then treatment can be successful with good veterinary & nursing care. This will likely include

  • Regular bathing of sticky eyes and genitalia
  • Keeping them in a warm environment
  • Fluid treatment
  • Feeding
  • Antibiotics to prevent secondary infections


As always, prevention is better than cure. Vaccination substantially increases the chances of survival and will reduce the pain and suffering a rabbit will have to endure from catching myxomatosis.