Four hens – Ruby, Ginger, Snowy and Penny

Four hens – Ruby, Ginger, Snowy and Penny

When I visited Steve recently during a trip to the UK, he had a few questions about his new livestock. He had recently become an amateur poultry keeper but he had a problem: his hens weren’t laying any eggs. Steve had been inspired to start poultry-keeping when he came across the eight hens that are kept by his children’s school as part of an “eco-school” idea.  The school scheme works with the help of parents on a rota: when it’s your turn to look after the hens for a weekend, you get to keep the eggs. After tasting the fresh eggs, Steve liked the idea of producing his own. He spent some timing researching the subject on the internet, and he bought a book about home poultry. His birthday happened at around that time, and a large parcel arrived, gift-wrapped for him by his family: it was a flat-pack hen kit. After an hour of fiddling with Allen keys and screwdrivers, it was ready: a little wooden shed with perches inside and a nest box at one end. The kit included a water drinker and a food-hopper.  Steve added on a home-made hen run, made with timber and chicken-wire. He visited a local animal feed store, buying wood chippings for bedding, layers’ pellets to feed the birds, and some ground-up shells to aid their digestion. He was ready to get started. He bought his hens from a local breeder, as “pre-point of lay pullets”. These are almost fully grown, at 16 weeks of age, but they don’t start laying till 20 weeks, so the idea was to give the...
Bright is a four month old Burmese Python

Bright is a four month old Burmese Python

Alan is originally from the Philippines, but he’s lived in Ireland for the past seven years. Back at his family home, he has a huge Reticulated Python, which is the world’s longest snake and a native of south-east Asia. His pet snake is fifteen feet long, with a body as thick as Alan’s thigh, and it’s being looked after in his absence by his parents. It has a huge appetite, and is fed on adult hens, as well as an occasional piglet runt from a nearby farm. Alan was missing his snake, which is why he decided to get a smaller version for his home in Ireland. Bright is a young snake that Alan heard about when visiting a pet shop. His original owner saw that Alan was interested in the snakes in the shop, and asked him if he’d look after Bright for a while. Alan soon found that he was enjoying Bright so much that he offered to buy the snake, so he’s now in his care permanently. Alan has done plenty of research on the internet, so he has learned all about the best way to care for Burmese Pythons. Most of the illnesses affecting pet snakes are the result of poor husbandry – getting the initial set up right is very important, with the correct environment and diet. Bright lives in a large plastic aquarium-type box (known as a vivarium), which is well ventilated, but doesn’t have any gaps big enough for a snake to wriggle through. (Snakes are renowned as escape artists, and many snake owners have lost their pets in their own homes)....
Nubby the 7 month old Guinea Pig

Nubby the 7 month old Guinea Pig

Sandra and her children are guinea pig enthusiasts. Earlier this year, the guinea pig matriarch of their household, Nutty, died at the impressive age of eight years. After a few guinea-pig-free weeks, Sandra decided that the “Nutty-sized” gap in their family life needed to be filled. She went down to the local pet shop to see what was on offer. Guinea pigs are social creatures, living in groups in the wild. It’s kinder to keep them in pairs or small groups. When Sandra found two guinea pigs for sale in the pet shop, she decided to buy both of them, so that they could continue to enjoy each other’s company in her household. The guinea pigs were a male/female couple (soon named Nubby and Maybelle), and they were six months old. Sandra realised that it was very likely that Maybelle would be pregnant, so she didn’t worry about separating the two of them. The pregnancy of guinea pigs is unusually lengthy, at nine weeks (three times as long as hamsters and mice) so Sandra expected that baby guinea piglets might be born in the late spring. Maybelle didn’t have an obviously swollen abdomen, so it didn’t seem as if anything was going to happen quickly. The two guinea pigs got on well together, nuzzling each other, and cuddling up close together in the nesting area. Two weeks after they’d arrived in her home, Sandra noticed that Maybelle seemed to behaving differently to Nubby. It was as if she was being tetchy with him, pushing him away and refusing to sit beside him. Sandra didn’t think any more about this...
Winston is a nineteen year old Tibetan Terrier

Winston is a nineteen year old Tibetan Terrier

Yvonne took Winston on as a tiny six week old puppy, and for nearly twenty years, he’s been a central part of both of her life. He’s been a healthy dog over the years, and regular visits to a professional dog groomer mean that he’s always looked his best. The first signs of a brain problem started six months ago. At the age of eighteen, Winston was already beginning to live a quieter life, going for shorter walks, and spending much of his time sleeping in his favourite spot at home. He had a habit of running into the house, and jumping onto the couch, but on one occasion, when he tried to do this he stumbled, and had to scramble to get up. Yvonne put him down on the ground and watched him carefully, and she noticed that he was walking in large circles rather than in his usual straight line. When she brought him to see me, the first thing that I noticed was that his eyes were flicking rapidly from side to side. This was an indication that the balance mechanisms, located somewhere between his inner ears and the centre of his brain, were not working properly. The most common cause of this problem is known as “old dog vestibulitis”. This is often referred to as a “stroke” because of the fact that it happens in older dogs, and it superficially resembles a mild stroke in humans. In fact, it is a completely different disease process, with the brain itself remaining unaffected. The problem is due to inflammation of the balance centre in the inner ear....
Nympho is a 55 year old donkey

Nympho is a 55 year old donkey

Nympho the donkey has been with Henrietta since she was only ten years old. He was roughly twenty years old when he arrived at the family smallholding, and for most of his life, he shared a field with another male donkey, called Maniac. Since Maniac died eight years ago, Nympho has lived on his own, but he’s a social animal, seeking out company from time to time. There are horses in nearby fields, and he likes to stand near them. He also fraternises with wild deer that visit his paddock. In the winter months, he gets restless, and manages to break out of his field to find grass in the adjoining fields. Henrietta has found him at her back door, looking for attention and pony nuts. Nympho has always been adored by young children. As a girl, Henrietta used to sit on his back for short rides around the fields, and he continues to offer entertainment to the younger generation. He’s often visited by Henrietta’s nieces and nephews, Maria, Louisa, Richard and Alexander and he’s still happy to carry them around. He spends most of his time ambling around fields, grazing on the plentiful grass. He has a thick furry coat, but Henrietta worries about him being warm enough on chilly winter days, so from time to time she’s bought pony-type coats for him to wear. On these occasions, Nympho has given demonstrations of the stubborn nature for which donkeys are renowned. He wriggles and struggles as the coat is put on, and even when it has been secured in place with straps and buckles, he doesn’t give up. The...
Zolza the Yorkshire Terrier had Haemorrhagic Gastroenteritis

Zolza the Yorkshire Terrier had Haemorrhagic Gastroenteritis

Zolza has had an eventful life so far. She was born in Poland, and was brought to Ireland when she was only six months old. Bartosz and Magda had obtained a pet passport for her, and her arrival here should have been smooth and simple. Unfortunately, there was a mix-up with the transporting company, and her passport ended up in Paris when Zolza landed in Dublin. She had to stay in the quarantine kennels near Dublin Airport for four days while her passport was retrieved. It was a worrying time for her owners, because they didn’t speak much English at that stage. They found it difficult to communicate clearly with the Irish officials about the complexities of the situation, but Zolza was released into their care in due course and everything ended well. Eighteen months later, Bartosz and Magda can now speak English fluently, and even Zolza has become bilingual. She understands “Siad” in Polish, as well as the English translation of the word: “Sit”. Zolza is a typical lap dog, spending most of her time close to her owners, and even sleeping on their bed at night. They watch her carefully, and when she developed a “runny tummy” and went off her food, they were concerned. When she started to pass blood and mucus instead of a normal stool, they brought her straight down to see me. It’s always serious when an animal passes blood instead of normal stools. There are many possible causes, including viral diseases, serious bacterial infections and poisoning. If early treatment isn’t given, animals can die, so it’s a sign that should never be...