Monday, August 15, 2016

Feather Picking in Pet Birds

Feather picking in pet birds from Cockatiels, to larger birds such as African Grey Parrots and Cockatoos, is an unfortunately common problem that we see here in the clinic. Today's blog will look at possible causes of feather picking including medical conditions and physcological factors.
Photo Courtesy of

Whenever we see a patient that may have a behavioural or physcological problem it is important that we first rule out diseases or medical conditions that could be causing the symptoms. A lack of proper nutrition, especially low vitamin A levels can cause several health issues including feather picking. It is very important for birds to be on a well balanced diet. Seed based diets are not adequate for parrorts as they are very high in fat and calories but are low in protein and vitamin levels. We recommend weaning birds who are on an all seed diet on to a pelleted diet such as Harrison's. This can be very difficult for birds who are used to eating only seeds and sometimes we need to use table foods such as corn on the cob (cut into small wheels), carrots, whole green beans or whole peas in the pod to supplement the diet if the bird will not accept a pellets diet. Be imaginative and cut food into small pieces at first so your bird does not become frightened of the new foods.

Another important factor is the lighting the bird is exposed to. Most pet birds should be getting 12 hours of daylight and 10- 12 hours of darkness per day. If your bird is on a different schedule you should ask us about how you can very gradually change the photoperiod to reach the ideal length of time. The intensity of the lighting available is also important. In the wild most birds are exposed to high intensity UV light as they live in open areas or high in the canopy. Adding a UV light to your bird's housing set up is a good idea as it is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and increases your bird's vitamin D levels.

Many parrots are originally from a tropical, humid environment and as such a daily misting with water or at the very least daily access to a bath should be included in your parrot's routine. In addition to making sure the diet, lighting and humidity are ideal we may recommend running some bloodwork, examining a feather under the microscope, examining a fecal sample or even performing a skin biopsy. These tests are important to make sure we are not misdiagnosing a bird with a physcological problem when it may actually have something completely different.

Once we have addressed any underlying medical conditions and husbandry practices we can move forward with considering behavioural or physcological causes. Boredom is something to consider before starting with anti-anxiety medications. Most parrots are highly social and are adapted to living in pairs or groups. Scheduling regular interaction with your bird each day, teaching your bird new tricks and bahviours and making sure you have appropriate toys are all essential. When considering what type of toys a bird needs we should think about their natural instincts. In the wild shredding and picking at wood and leaves is a natural daily bahviour. Most birds will be unhappy with indestructible toys and would prefer something they can tear or pick at. Large toys may intimidate a bird and owners should be careful to introduce extrememly small objects at first and work gradually up to larger ones. Once your bird has accepted toys you should rotate them in and out of the cage to help your bird stay engaged.

Training using small food rewards.

If you have been working with your bird and we have addressed the many diverse husbandry needs of your pet and the feather picking continues then we may consider starting anti-anxiety medications. If a bird is causing severe self-trauma from the feather picking we may recommend using a soft or hard collar to prevent picking. This is meant only to be a short term solution to protect the skin. It is normally not successful in stopping long-term picking unless you are also using behaviour modification training. The collar can also be stressful on your bird so it is not a tool that we will use for all patients.

An example of a homemade soft collar

Feather picking is a complex problem with many possible causes which means that treatments must also be diverse and management is long-term and requires effort on the owners part. This is not something we can fix with a short course of medication and it is important for owners to understand that at the outset. If you notice feather picking in your avian friend contact your veterinarian as soon possible. The sooner we can intevene the better the chances of resolving the problem.


thanks for reading!!

Dr Ingrid
Monday, June 27, 2016

What is going on inside your pet's mouth?!

What is the most common health condition we see in our patients every day?  I'm sure you've already guessed from the title of this blog but it's dental disease.  If you have a dog or a cat you may have noticed their breath doesn't smell so nice. You might have also noticed their gums look more red in colour as compared with a person's gums. Many people assume this is normal for dogs and cats. Though dental disease is very common it is not normal.  It is estimated that 85% of dogs and cats over the age of 4 years have periodontal disease--this means disease of the gums, and the bone and other tissues that hold the teeth in place. 
This is what the normal teeth and gums should look like

 The cause of the problem begins when plaque begins to build up on the surface of the teeth. Plaque is made up of a mixture of sticky mucous like substances and bacteria. Plaque begins to form on the teeth within 2 DAYS after a professional dental scaling and polishing.  If the plaque is not removed it will continue to harden and form tartar. Tartar is rough and is irriatating to the gums and changes the environment of the mouth allowing bacteria to creep underneath the gum tissue to live and grow.  These bacteria produce by-products that destroy the tissues that surround and hold the tooth in place. The end result is a loose tooth that is often lost.  In addition to lost teeth the bacterial growth can lead to abscesses (pockets of pus build up). The chronic inflammation of the mouth can affect the entire body as it is constantly fighting off the infection in the mouth.

   All this inflammation and destruction of tissues is painful. Most pets won't show you any obvious signs that their mouth is sore because it has been a chronic problem they have learned to live with. The graphic above shows signs to look for. In my experience bad breath and yellow or brown tartar are the most common signs. If  your pet is having difficulty eating this is a sign the dental disease is very severe! Don't rely on your pet to tell you if they have dental disease. Instead look at their teeth and gums yourself or ask your vet or a veterinary technician to take a look for you if you aren't sure what to look for.

 So what is the solution to this dental disease epidemic? Certainly once dental disease has become advanced a professional scaling and polish with possible tooth extractions is required. However, as you read above, plaque begins to build up again within 2 days of our professional cleaning. This means that home care for teeth is essential for preventing the dental disease from quickly returning. Home care can take many forms. The gold standard is daily tooth brushing. We offer free demonstrations of tooth brushing to help owners get on the right track. The dental diets also offer excellent benefits with larger kibble sizes to scrape up against the tooth to remove plaque. Some dental diets also contain special ingedients to prevent plaque from calcifying into tartar.  Water additives and dental chews can also be added to compliment brushing or dental diets but are unlikely to be enough on their own to prevent dental disease.

Now that you know the basics of dental disease in pets don't hesitate to get started on a home-care regimen. If you need help or have any questions call, e-mail or drop by the clinic!
Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Dog Bite Prevention

 Last week I had the pleasure of doing a radio interview to talk about the importance of safety around dogs and dog bite prevention. This is a topic that I feel passionately about. Pets can enrich our lives in so many ways but they can also pose a danger. I have seen first hand the damage that can be done if people are not taking proper safety precautions.  So I am adapting my interview into a blog post.

So question # 1 : What Causes a dog to bite?
This is a very broad question and there are many possible answers but a few common reasons are as follows: a dog may be trying to protect something such as a toy or food, or their owner or owner's property.  Another very common reason for biting is out of fear of a perceived threat. Overexcitment during play or chasing can also lead a dog to bite. Finally injury or pain can predispose an otherwise docile dog to becoming aggressive.

Question #2: What are some signs of stress in dogs?
These are great things to become familiar with. If you see a dog showing these signs it's a good idea to give them space and leave them alone. One of the keys to dog bite prevention in many situations is to let a dog have space and let them choose if they want to interact with you or not.  Signs of stress include yawning, rapid panting, pinning the ears down or to the side, licking the lips and showing the white parts of the eyes.  If you approach a dog and it turns its head away from you, holds its tail very low or has a very slow wag the dog is trying to tell you he doesn't want you to come closer.
Right before a bite a dog may become suddenly stiff, hold its head low and possibly curl its lip.  A good rule of thumb is if a dog is wiggly and relaxed it is unlikely to bite but a dog that is stiff like a statue can be dangerous. 
Photo provided by

Question #3 What role does proper obedience training play in reducing dog biting events?
Proper obedience training and socialization of young dogs and puppies is crucial to helping prevent dog bites.  Firstly puppies should not be removed from their litter too young as they learn proper bite inhibition (not to bite too hard) from their mothers and litter mates.  Puppies should not go to new homes before the age of 8 weeks and to be honest staying in the litter even longer is beneficial to social skills.  Once you have your new dog its important to expose it to new people, and other dogs that you know are friendly and that are up to date on vaccines. Ask your vet before introducing a young puppy to new dogs to make sure you won't put your puppy at extra risk of infections.  Obedience training is recommened for all dogs as it will help your puppy get used to new people and other dogs in a controlled setting. It will also teach a young dog how to communicate with their owner, builds trust between dog and owner and can help fearful dogs to become more confident and comfortable.

Question #4 Should young children ever be left alone with a dog?
This one seems like a no-brainer but I can't emphasize enough that young children should NEVER be left alone with a dog. What I think is especially important to know here is that it's not just umfamiliar dogs or dogs outside the family that we need to be careful with. In fact 3/4 of dog bites are inflicted by known or family dogs and most victims are children.  The majority of bite incidents also occur on the victims own property. This means most dog bites actually occur with a known family pet.  I also want to mention that just being in the same room with the child and dog doesn't cut it. If your child and the dog are out of your reach then your child is still at risk for a bite.

Question #5 What should you do if an unfamiliar dog approaches and is off leash?
There is a really excellent education program aimed at children called "Be A Tree" that teaches what to do in this scenario.  Step 1 is fold your branches meaning bring your arms to your side and clasp your hands in the center. Step 2 Watch your roots grow. Look down at your feet and don't make eye contact with the dog. Step 3 Count in your head until help arrives or the dog goes away. Pretty simple and easy to remember. If you are on the ground when a dog approaches curling up into a ball or the fetal position is an alternative method to protect yourself.  I think all children should be taught "Be A Tree" as early as possible.
Photo from

Final Question: what are your final words of advice for dogs owners and parents?
For dog owners: keep your dogs on leash when out in public and keep your dogs up to date on their rabies vaccines. Rabies is a real public health concern and we do have it in Manitoba. For parents: teach children as early as possible to learn the signs of a stressed dog compared to a relaxed dog. Teach children not to hug or ride dogs and that it is best not to pet a dog directly on top of their heads. These precautions alone should help reduce your risk of being involved in a bite incident.  Children and dogs can make great companions and friends but only if the right steps are taken to protect both the child and the dog.

Thanks for reading!
Dr Ingrid
Saturday, May 28, 2016

Winrose Warriors Dog Wash and BBQ

Winrose Warriors Dog Wash and BBQ Sunday June 12, 2016 11am-2pm

Only 2 weeks to go! The clinic has been busy preparing! We look forward to seeing you and your pooch!!! Our friend Jaeger stopped by for a visit to see what the spa facilities looked like!

Check out some of the talent that has been stopping by to show us their moves!

We hope to see you all soon!  All proceeds from the event will  go to CancerCare Manitoba!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Winrose Warriors present First Annual Dog Wash, Lip Sync Battle, BBQ and Bake Sale

Winrose Warriors presents
 First Annual Dog Wash, Lip Sync Battle, BBQ and Bake Sale
DATE: Sunday June 12, 2016
TIME: 11am-2pm
LOCATION: 534 St. Anne's Road WPG MB R3R0V1
Join the Winrose Warriors for our First Annual Dog Wash, Lip Sync and BBQ
100% proceeds to CancerCare Manitoba.
We spend most of our time looking after our four-legged furry friends, but we wanted to take a moment to help support our two legged ones as well. We all know someone who has been affected by Cancer. Join us in the fight against Cancer.

Come and join us for an afternoon of fun and excitement.

Got a special doggy friend that needs a good bath? Stop by for a dog wash for 10$ donation

Hungry for some awesome BBQ or Baking? Stop by for some good grub! Hotdogs, Hamburgers, Cotton Candy and fresh baking!

The epic lip sync battle is shaping up to be some amazing entertainment! Amazing acts such as the Spice Girls, the Blues Brothers, Big and Rich and many more to be announced soon!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Recognizing Pain in Our Exotic Pets and Patients

 This is part two of our blog series on recognizing pain in our pets.  Rabbits, small mammals such as rats, as well as birds and reptile pets will be discussed. Much like cats, many of our exotic pet friends will try to hide or conceal signs of pain or injury. This is because most exotic pets are very close to their wild relatives. In the wild  survival often depends on being seen as healthy and robust by other members of the group and by potential predators. 

 Lets talk about rabbits and small mammals first.  We are lucky to have lots of available research on pain and pain medications in rabbits. A rabbit that suffers from a sudden pain or injury might let out a piercing squeal. Afterwards the rabbit may sit facing the back of the cage and sit with a hunched back. You may also notice rapid, shallow breathing and bulging eyes with sudden or severe pain.  A rabbit that has a more long lasting, or chronic pain might be less active, not wanting to move around, or it could be acting dull.  A rabbit in pain often eats less or not at all, though they may drink more water than usual. In the clinic we have found that grinding of the teeth and pulling out tufts of hair can sometimes be associated with pain. Two of the most common causes for pain in rabbits that we see here at Winrose are: dental disease and stomach and intestinal bloating. If a rabbit stops eating, even for as little as 8 to 12 hours, their stomach and intestines can become bloated. This can cause a very uncomfortable and painful sensation. When we treat this condition, called GI stasis, we are always sure to send home a pain medication to help our bunny patients start feeling well enough to eat again. 

 Guinea Pigs are very vocal little animals and when they are in sudden pain they can let out urgent, repeating, squeals.  Like rabbits they may sit with a hunched posture or they might drag their hind legs.  They can act agitated or very subdued when they are in pain, depending on the cause and the individual animal.  We have a few very good options for pain medications in guinea pigs that can be safely and easily given at home. Rats, mice and hamsters are some of the other small critters that visit the clinic on a regular basis.  These little guys will sometimes vocalize when in pain and other times may run in circles or have a hard time walking normally. They can be agrressive when in pain or like guinea pigs they may be very quiet.  We are able to treat these small pets with the same medications that we use in rabbits and guinea pigs so don't hesitate to bring them in to the clinic if you notice any of these signs. 

 Many bird owners may recognize that a sick or painful bird will often sit in a hunched or drooping position and may fluff their feathers.  Birds in pain might move about excessively or may be unable to move at all and can sit in the bottom of their cage.  Birds have very different pain receptors when compared with mammals, so we will select specific medications that will work on their unique pain receptors.  Reptiles are also unique. They often hide, stop eating and are very lethargic, not moving much at all.  Sometimes they will display colour changes and can become agressive if disturbed.  There is limited available research about the use of pain medications in reptiles but we have one or two medications that we use safely and routinely that seem to be very effective. 

I hope you found this series helpful. If there is any question of whether or not your pet may be in pain, it is best to bring it in to be examined by one of our veterinarians.

Thanks for reading!
Dr Ingrid

Tuesday, January 26, 2016
How do I know if my pet is in pain??

                 A big part of our job as veterinarians is to ease suffering and treat painful conditions. Recognizing the signs of pain in animals is not a simple task. Animals can’t tell us verbally if they are in pain and different species (cats, dogs, birds) show different signs when they are in pain. In addition to the variation between species there is variation between individual patients. Just like with people, animals can have different “pain thresholds” and some may be more sensitive, while others are more stoic.  As veterinarians we have formal training in recognizing and treating pain in animals but sometimes it can be a challenge helping owners understand when their pets are hurting. Animals often don’t react the way that a person would expect them to when it comes to pain.  My goal with this blog is to help owners become more adept at recognizing when their pet might be in pain. We will cover cats and dogs in part one and I will post part two on rabbits and exotic pets in the coming week.

Let’s start with dogs and pain first. Many owners expect that when a dog is in pain it will yelp, cry, whimper or hold up the affected body part.  This may be true for some dogs, especially if they have an acute or sudden injury, but it doesn’t hold true in all situations. Other signs to watch for include shaking or shivering, reluctance to move or lack of appetite. If a dog has a sore abdomen it may stand with its head hanging lower than its body, or may adopt a “praying posture” with it's front legs outstretched.  Many times a dog in acute pain will be less interactive with the owners. Dogs, cats, and many small mammal have very similar physiology to people, so if they are diagnosed with a condition that would be painful to a person it is safe to assume it is painful for them. This is true even when we are not seeing any obvious signs of pain.  Sometimes we have owners phone in and tell us that their dogs is limping but that they do not think it’s in pain.  In most cases if an animal isn’t putting full weight on a leg, it is at least partially due to pain. Exceptions can include nerve damage or certain mechanical abnormalities of the leg.   Chronic pain, which is what occurs in cases of arthritis and also with dental disease is different than acute (or sudden onset) pain.  Dogs in chronic pain may be stiff to rise, slower on walks, or may want to walk shorter distances or have trouble with jumping or stairs. Often people tell us they think their dog is just getting old. Although arthritis is much more common in senior pets it is not considered a normal part of aging and there are lots of treatment options (see my blog post on osteoarthritis in senior pets from November). 
Photo Credit to

Though cats are physiologically very similar to dogs and people when it comes to pain perception they are psychologically very different (as anyone with a cat can attest to!).  Recognizing pain in cats can be a real challenge. Some signs of acute pain can include sitting in a hunched position, lack of appetite, squinting of the eyes or hiding and decreased activity. When it comes to chronic pain and arthritis things can be even more subtle. Sleeping more, hesitation before jumping, urination or defecation outside the litter box and any changes at all in a cat’s posture when walking can be indicators of arthritis.  Usually the best way to tell if a cat has chronic pain from arthritis is to try them on a pain medication and see if there are any noted changes in behavior.  Sometimes owners will see improved mobility on the pain medication other times they might just notice their cat is sleeping less or has a better appetite. When doing a trial of pain medication I encourage you to stick with it for at least a week even if you are not seeing any changes. The inflammation in the joints has built up over months and can take time to go down when using anti-inflammatories. Just like in people, pets sometimes respond better to one medication than another and we may need to try a couple of options before we find one that will work well in your pet. 

This hunched position can mean back or abdominal pain
A quick note on dental pain: dogs and cats will most often continue to eat despite having painful mouths. They have strong survival instincts and for many food is their favorite thing. Don’t assume that because your pet is eating that means it does not have pain in it's mouth. If gums are red and swollen then there is associated pain and because dental disease is often chronic in nature, building up slowly over time, the signs of pain are not always obvious. Animals learn to get by despite the pain but this does not mean they won’t benefit from some pain medications.

Remember that most over the counter human pain medications are not safe for your pet so if you have any concerns that your pet might be in pain the best thing to do is to call your veterinarian.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned to part two on rabbits and exotic pets!

Dr Ingrid