Sierra is a magnificent 14 year old Scarlet Macaw

Sierra is a magnificent 14 year old Scarlet Macaw

Sierra is a magnificent Scarlet Macaw parrot. He’s a popular and striking bird, with bright colours and long tail feathers. He’s the resident bird at a hotel complex where I was staying in Florida. Sierra has three cages, and he moves from one to the other at different times of the day. His main daytime perch is in, or on, a poolside cage. He likes to keep an eye on visitors in the swimming pool, saying hello in his broad southern American accent, or just screeching at them as they pass by. His second cage is indoors, by the hotel reception. If it’s raining or windy, this is where Sierra prefers to stay. His third cage is his night-time base, where he’s taken to sleep at the end of the day. This cage is his “snug”, and he even has his own bed-side sound system. A specially designed mini-stereo has been set up for him, playing sounds of the rainforest, complete with bird calls, frog croaks and cricket song. This type of background noise is recommended by parrot behaviour specialists, to create a reassuring relaxing atmosphere for a tropical bird like Sierra. He was bred in captivity, so he’s never known about life in the wild, but the noises from his ancestors’ habitat still have some type of soothing effect on him. Parrots can be sensitive birds, and Sierra’s owners take his health seriously. He’s taken to visit a specialist avian vet every three months for a general health check, even though he always seems to be in sparkling good health. He has his nails clipped, his beak checked,...
Junior is a 12 year old Japanese Spitz

Junior is a 12 year old Japanese Spitz

Junior’s an older dog now, at twelve years of age, but he’s still a quick-moving, nimble creature, trotting around the place rather than walking. His recent problem started in the winter months. All of a sudden, he started to carry his left back leg, hopping around on three legs. When he tried to go upstairs, he wasn’t able to manage the staircase, and Eric had to carry him. At first, Eric thought that he might be having tweaks from arthritis, a common problem of old dogs. The weather had been cold, and Eric wondered if this could be aggravating his joints. Junior was a bit better the next day, but he never quite returned to normal, continuing to carry his leg from time to time. When he had still not made a full recovery a month later, Eric brought him to see me. As a vet, the first thing to do with a lame dog is to identify the precise location of the problem. Lameness can be caused by pain, by damage to nerves, and by unstable joints. A careful physical examination is the best way of sorting out which of these is causing the lameness. I started at Junior’s toes, and worked up his body to his hip, twisting and tweaking each joint. Junior didn’t mind me doing this at all, so I knew that his lameness was not caused by pain. I then checked his reflexes, and they were all normal, confirming that it wasn’t caused by a neurological problem such as a “trapped nerve”. Finally, I tested the stability of his leg, by putting firm pressure...
Charlie the 4 year old Cocker Spaniel

Charlie the 4 year old Cocker Spaniel

Charlie has had a huge appetite since he was a puppy. Chris has always tried to be strict about feeding him nothing but a standard diet, but Charlie has a way of looking at him with big eyes, and it’s just so easy to give in. Charlie slowly began to gain excessive weight as a young adult, and the situation came to a head one Christmas. Charlie had a particularly greedy festive season, and when a visitor pointed out that his health would soon be at risk because of his obesity, Chris brought him to see me to discuss what could be done. The first thing that I did was to put Charlie on the scales. He weighed in at just over 27kg (around 60 lbs). A Cocker Spaniel is meant to weigh up to around 15kg (33 lbs), which meant that Charlie was heading for twice his optimal weight. To put this into human terms, he was like a ten stone person who had ballooned to almost twenty stone. I gave Charlie a thorough physical check-over, and he was in perfect health. There was no hint of any of the metabolic diseases (such as an underactive thyroid gland) that can contribute to obesity. The problem with Charlie was simple: he was eating too much food and not getting enough exercise. The answer to his problem was equally simple in theory: feed him less and exercise him more. Chris immediately started giving Charlie energetic walks twice daily, but the food aspect was more challenging. Regular reweighing is the most useful tool in weight loss programmes, and Charlie was given...
Bruce the 1 year old Pug developed an eye ulcer

Bruce the 1 year old Pug developed an eye ulcer

There’s something about Pugs that’s particularly adorable. Psychologists tell us that their circular faces, flattened noses and prominent eyes make them resemble human infants, which gives them a special appeal. They’re known for being charming little clowns. Bruce was playing in the back garden when the accident happened. He’s an energetic, excitable dog, and he was dashing back and forth, chasing a leafy branch held by a friend of the family. Suddenly, he yelped and stopped playing: he’d bashed himself on the face, and he’d hurt his left eye. At first, he seemed to get over the injury rapidly, starting to play again, and behaving normally in every way. It wasn’t till two days later that things deteriorated.  He started to rub his left eye with his paw, whining, yelping, and in obvious distress. He couldn’t open his eye properly; it was swollen, and a discharge trickled down from the corner, like a yellow tear drop. He was brought down to see me. He wasn’t an easy dog to examine, wriggling and grumbling as I tried to get a close look at the sore eye. The surface of his eye was cloudy and after I’d applied drops of a special dye, I could see what was wrong: he’d scratched the front of the eye and it had become infected. The surface of the eye has multiple microscopic layers, like the skins of an onion. If the surface of the eye (known as the “cornea”) is scraped or scratched, the delicate deeper layers are exposed, a problem known as a “corneal ulcer”. Aggressive bacteria can move into the injured area,...
Tips the 15 year old cat developed mega-oesophagus

Tips the 15 year old cat developed mega-oesophagus

Lisa had been away from home travelling overseas. When she returned, she noticed that Tips’ breathing seemed different. He was struggling to catch his breath, he made a hoarse noise when he breathed, and he coughed occasionally. At first she presumed this was a cold or due to old age, but it gradually got worse and his breathing became rougher, as if he was constantly snoring. He had also become needier than his usual self. He’d always been prone to attention-seeking, but he’d become even more demanding, jumping onto people, or attempting to climb up their legs for a hug if they stood anywhere close to him. Lisa brought him to my clinic for a check up, and initially, he was given a course of antibiotics, to rule out the possibility that he’d just picked up a chest infection. He didn’t improve on this treatment, and further investigations were needed to look into his problem in more detail. Blood samples were taken and when they didn’t show up any abnormalities, he was booked in for x-rays. The x-ray pictures confirmed that Tips had an unusual problem known as “mega-oesophagus”. The oesophagus – or gullet – is the tube that carries food from the mouth down to the stomach, through the chest. It’s normally a narrow tube, with a strong muscular lining that pushes food along like a cylindrical conveyor belt.  In mega-oesophagus, the muscle loses its tone, becoming soft and floppy, and no longer contracting properly. The oesophagus becomes more like a floppy, relaxed shopping bag than a narrow, active living hosepipe. For Tips, this meant that when he...