Breaking the Heartworm Disease Cycle

Heartworm disease, also known as dirofilariasis, is a potentially fatal illness in pets worldwide. Heartworms living in the heart, lungs and related blood vessels of infected pets can eventually cause cardiac failure, lung disease and impair other vital organs in the body.

Adult female heartworms residing in an infected dog or cat, breed microfilaria, which are microscopic baby worms that pass into the bloodstream.

As a female mosquito bites and feeds on the blood of an infected animal, it ingests the microfilaria. Within 10 to 30 days, they mature into “infective stage” larvae inside the mosquito. When the infected mosquito bites another animal, the infective larvae passes into the pet’s system.

The infested larvae pass into the bloodstream, moving to the heart, lungs and surrounding blood vessels where they develop into adult heartworms over a period of roughly seven months. Adult heartworms can survive for up to 7 years in dogs whilst they can only live for up to 3 years in cats. A dog may carry as many as 250 worms in its body and they can measure up to 30 centimetres in length.

Infection in Dogs and Cats Compared
Heartworms thrive in a dog’s system because they can develop into adults and reproduce in their host. Heartworms cannot grow to adulthood in cats and therefore don’t survive as long. However, even baby worms can cause a severe condition in cats called heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD). Medication that efficiently treats heartworm in dogs, doesn’t render itself as effective in cats, therefore prevention is key when safeguarding cats from heartworm disease.

Signs and Symptoms:

DOGS: Infected dogs will usually have a mild, unproductive cough as well as reduced appetite that leads to weight loss. A sudden intolerance to exercise may be experienced, marked by shortness of breath and fatigue, even with regular exercise.

As heartworm advances, heart failure may result as well as a swollen abdomen because of excess fluid therein. Caval syndrome is when the blood flow in the heart is severely constricted when dogs are infected by large numbers of heartworms and this can ultimately lead to cardiovascular collapse. Death is almost a certainty if the heartworm blockage isn’t removed quickly.

CATS: Infected cats may display reactions associated with an asthma attack along with intermittent vomiting. They may have fainting spells or seizures and experience trouble walking. Reduced appetite also leads to weight loss. A build-up of fluid in their abdomen is also a possibility, however, in some cases, the initial symptom is sudden collapse followed by death.

Heartworm Testing

DOGS: Even if your dog is on preventative medication, testing for heartworm should be conducted annually. Testing requires a non-invasive blood test administered by your veterinarian that identifies the existence of heartworm proteins. Positive results from the initial test will necessitate further testing.

CATS: Detecting the presence of heartworms in cats involves using both an antigen and an antibody. X-rays or ultrasounds may also be an option. Prevention of heartworm disease in cats is essential as there is currently no approved treatment available.

Treatment for Dogs?
Several treatments of medication called melarsomine hydrochloride (Immiticid®), are required to eradicate adult worms. The treatment is injected into the lower back muscle, but the associated pain is excruciating which is why patients are ideally admitted to hospital for 1 – 2 days to receive pain control, anti-inflammatory medication as well as intravenous fluid therapy.

The majority of microfilariae are only killed when a second injection is given to the host roughly one month after the initial treatment.

Your pooch will then need to begin a year-round heartworm preventative medication. If a dog has been severely laden with heartworm disease, they are likely to have permanent heart damage which will demand long-term therapy.

Caval syndrome, as mentioned above, necessitates the mature heartworms be removed surgically via a surgically cut opening in the jugular vein. This can almost always be avoided through early diagnosis and treatment.

If a dog is undergoing treatment for heartworm disease, it’s imperative that they are kept calm and quiet at all times, and exercise is prohibited for a full month after the treatment has been administered.

A mild cough can be expected for two months after treatment if a dog was heavily infected. However, if they display shortness of breath, heavy coughing, depression and fever, consult your vet immediately.

The good news is that heartworm disease is preventable in both dogs and cats. The bad news is that current heartworm preventative medication is ineffective on adult heartworms so it’s crucial to eradicate heartworms before they mature into adults. Heartworm preventative medication must be given according to a precise schedule, so not to give baby worms (or microfilaria) a chance to develop into adults.

Heartworm disease is easily preventable but expensive to treat. Unfortunately, in contrast to their canine counterparts, there is currently no conclusive cure available for cats. With this said, the best approach to defeating heartworm disease is by safeguarding your cats and dogs with heartworm preventative medicines that your vet will prescribe to you.

Written for inFURmation
by Taliah Williamson

How The Pet Effect Can Affect Your Practice

Most pet owners are intuitively aware of the many benefits of pet ownership. But backing up these instinctive beliefs with real data can have a massive effect — The Pet Effect, to be exact.

A joint venture by Zoetis and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), The Pet Effect campaign promotes the idea that by keeping pets healthy, veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and other pet health professionals are key players in both human and public health.

“How much more relevant is the veterinarian when the pet owner becomes acutely aware of the impact that a healthy relationship with a pet can have on their own health and wellbeing, or their family’s health and wellbeing?” asked Michael McFarland, DVM, DABVP, Executive Director, Zoetis Petcare Marketing.

People and The Pet Effect

The Pet Effect website promotes the positive impact of pets on people by providing research-backed evidence, presented in clever, fun, and unique ways, of the many health benefits of having a furry friend:

  • Childhood Allergies: Having a dog early in life can affect immune development and may reduce the development of certain allergies.
  • Heart Attack Survival: People who never owned a cat have a 40% higher relative risk of death from a heart 
  • attack.
  • Cardiovascular Disease: Being around pets can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Autism: Children with autism spectrum disorder often experience positive behavioral changes when they are around animals.
  • Obesity: Adults who walk their dogs regularly may be less likely to become obese.
  • Blood Pressure: People with pets may have lower resting blood pressure.
  • Depression: Pets can help alleviate several symptoms of depression.
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder: Pets help alleviate the symptoms of PTSD.

Veterinarians and The Pet Effect 

While understanding how pets affect human health is important, what’s perhaps even more important for veterinarians is to understand how The Pet Effect can benefit veterinary practices.

In the age of Dr. Google, pet owners often seek information about what their pets need from online sources—not just their veterinarian. But The Pet Effect has the power to change that.

“The more the veterinarian can educate the pet owner about their pet’s needs, but also about how their pet can influence the health and wellbeing of their family, then that veterinarian becomes increasingly…relevant in the eyes of the pet owner,” Dr. McFarland said.

The Pet Effect better defines the relationship between the veterinarian and pet owner, and actively discussing The Pet Effect with veterinary clients can:

  • Encourage them to bring their pets into your office more often for wellness visits.
  • Improve practice performance, because research shows that top-performing practices put more stock in improving the human-animal bond rather than improving the bond between the practice and pet owners.

“Companion animal veterinarians…are also a key contributor to public health,” Dr. McFarland said. “The more pet owners understand that, the more I think they are going to consider veterinarians first and foremost as a credible source of information about their pet.”

Source: American Veterinarian

Sidestepping the Perils of your Garden Plants

There is a surprisingly large number of plant species that render themselves poisonous to our furry companions. Although some are more toxic than others, it’s important to survey your garden, identify these perilous plants and either restrict or remove them for the safety and wellbeing of your pet.

Did you know that by either adding bran flakes to your pets’ food or including more vegetable fibres in their diet, they may be less inclined to seek out your garden vegetation?

A practical way to assess the most common of these poisonous plants is to classify them according to which system in the body they affect:


Melia azedarach (Syringa berry tree)
Alternative common names:
Seringa; Persian lilac; bead tree; berry tree; Cape lilac; China berry; China tree; white cedar (English), maksering; sering; bessieboom (Afrikaans), umsilinga (isiZulu)
Why?: The leaves, bark, flowers and ripe fruits of the Syringa berry tree are poisonous, with the berries containing the highest concentration of meliatoxins, causing a high mortality rate in affected animals who eat the fallen berries.






Cannabis sativa
Alternative common names: “Marijuana” or Dagga” plant
Why?: It’s the THC in the plants leaves that cause intoxication in animals when they either ingest the actual plant, or ingest the owners supply of the dried leaves, or products make form the leaves like cookies or other edibles. Second hand Marijuana smoke is effects pets.






Amanita Pantherina
Alternative common names: Panther Cap and False Blusher
Why?: Amanita Pantherina or “Panther Cap” is extremely poisonous. They grow under large trees in South Africa and are thought to have been accidentally introduced with trees imported from Europe. They typically flush when the temperature drops after good rain.






Datura (Moonflower)
Alternative common names:
Devil’s trumpets, Moonflowers, Jimsonweed, Devil’s Weed, Hell’s Bells, Thorn-apple
Why?: An annual weed with prickly fruit consisting of tiny pitted seeds. All species of Datura are poisonous, especially their seeds and flowers.
Did you know? Angel trumpets (Brugmansia spp.) are closely related to Daturas and are also highly toxic. These beautiful woody trees and shrubs are nevertheless popular ornamentals throughout the world.






Brunfelsia pauciflora (Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow)
Alternative common names:
Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow, Morning-noon-and-night, Kiss Me Quick, Brazil Raintree
Brunfelsia pauciflora is a species of flowering plant in the family Solanaceae, the nightshades. All parts of this plant can be poisonous to pets but it is often the seed pods falling off the tree that are particularly attractive and often eaten.






Clinical symptoms:

  • muscle tremors and/or spasms
  • restlessness
  • respiratory difficulties
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • excitement alternating with depression
  • excessive barking
  • agitation
  • hallucinations
  • staggering gait
  • dry mucous membranes of the eyes and mouth
  • increased respiration rate or constant panting
  • ataxia (loss of coordination of the limbs, head, and/or trunk)
  • paralysis
  • digestive upsets
  • drowsiness
  • seizures


Ornithogalum thyrsoides
Alternative common names:
Chincherinchee, Star-of-Bethlehem or Wonder-flower, Tjienkerientjee, Tjienk, Wit-tjienk, Viooltjie (Afr.)
Why?: A bulbous plant species that is endemic to the Cape Province in South Africa. Pets are effected when they chew on the plant and ingest it.






Ricinus communis (Castor-oil plant)
Alternative names:
Castor Bean, Castor-oil-plant, Mole Bean Plant, African Wonder Tree
Castor seed is the source of castor oil, which has a wide variety of uses. The seeds contains ricin, a highly toxic component that inhibits protein synthesis; ingestion of as little as one ounce of seeds can be lethal. Ricin is also present in lower concentrations throughout the plant and is toxic to dogs, cats and horses.






Araceae family:
All the plants in the Araceae family contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals in their leaves and stems. Chewing or biting into this plants leaves or stem release sharp crystals which become embedded in the mucous membranes of their mouth and tongue causing severe pain and irritation of the mouth and GI tract.

Toxic plants included in this family are:

– Elephants Ear (Caladium, Malanga)






Dumb Cane (Charming Dieffenbachia, Giant Dumb Cane, Tropic Snow, Exotica, Spotted Dumb Cane, Exotica Perfection)






Delicious Monster






Arum Lily (Calla Lily, Pig Lily, White Arum, Trumpet Lily, Florist’s Calla, Garden Calla)






Alternative names:
kaffir lily, caffre lily, cape clivia, and klivia
The flowers contain lycorine and other alkaloids that are toxic to cats when ingested. Although the bulb is considered the most toxic part of the plant, cat owners should not allow their cat to eat any part of this dangerous plant. Large quantities must be ingested to cause symptoms of toxicity however it’s estimated that complete kidney failure can occur within 24 to 72 hours after ingestion. Because of this, it is imperative you take your cat to a veterinarian as soon as you recognize any of these symptoms or if you catch him in the act of eating the plant. There is no antidote for clivia poisoning, but there are other effective treatment methods available.  






Clinical symptoms:

  • vomiting
  • acute diarrhoea
  • bloating
  • cramping
  • blindness
  • multiple organ failure
  • severe pain
  • paralysis of the tongue
  • excessive salivation
  • difficulty swallowing because of a numb mouth and throat


Alternative names:
Sago Palm, Fern Palm
Cycad palms produce three toxins: cycasin, beta-methylamino-L-alanine, and an unidentified toxin. All parts of the plant are toxic, but the seeds contain higher levels of cycasin than other parts of the plant. Dogs usually ingest the seeds. Although toxic, the young leaves are palatable.






Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae)
Alternative names:
The most common species being Microcystis. Dogs are exposed to this species by drinking or swimming in water contaminated with it. Intoxication occurs when they groom themselves, subsequently ingesting the toxic algae.






Amanita phalloides
Alternative names:
Death cap mushroom
One of the most poisonous of all know mushrooms, the death cap is extremely toxic to animals even when only a small amount is ingested. It’s toxins cause acute liver failure and can also damage other organs such as the kidneys and the intestinal tract. These toxic mushrooms resemble several edible species (caesar’s mushroom and the straw mushroom) commonly consumed by humans, increasing the risk of accidental poisoning. Amatoxins, the class of toxins found in these mushrooms, are thermostable: they resist changes due to heat, so their toxic effects are not reduced by cooking. Found growing under large trees like oak, chestnut and pine.






Clinical symptoms:

  • appetite loss
  • excessive salivation
  • depression
  • early symptoms can manifest themselves as gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting, salivation and diarrhea
  • permanent liver damage



All Lilies are toxic to cats so owners should make sure that their cats never have access to these plants. The entire plant is toxic and toxicity may occur when mouthing on or ingesting parts of the plant. Ingesting any part of the plant can cause kidney failure within 36 – 72 hours.

Toxic plants included in this family are:

– Asiatic lily





– Calla lily






– Day lily





– Easter lily





– Peace lily
The Peace lily is mildly toxic to animals when ingested. The peace lily is not a true lily from the Liliaceae family. True lilies are far more  toxic to cats and dogs. The Peace lily contains calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause skin irritation, a burning sensation in the mouth, difficulty swallowing, and nausea.





– Tiger lily





– Lily of the valley






Clinical Symptoms:
Nephrotoxin in the above mentioned lilies can lead to renal failure within 24-72 hours of consumption. It only takes ingestion of one leaf to commence renal decline.

  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drooling
  • Increased urination, followed by a drastic reduction in urination for 1 – 2 days.


Oleander family of plants:

Nerium oleander
Alternative names:
Nerium, Oleander
Nerium oleander is one of the most poisonous commonly grown garden pants and is toxic in all its parts






Yellow oleander
Alternative names:
Lucky nut
All parts of the Yellow oleander plant are toxic to most vertebrates as they contain cardiac glycosides.






Digitalis (Foxgloves)
Alternative names: Foxgloves, Dead man’s bells, Witch’s gloves
Depending on the species, the Digitalis plant may contain several deadly physiological and chemically related cardiac and steroidal glycosides.  The entire plant is toxic (including the roots and seeds).






Lily of the valley
Alternative names:
May bells, Our Lady’s tears, Mary’s tears
The bulbs, flowers and berries of the Lily of the valley are poisonous. The whole plant has toxic levels of cardiac glycosides, but the bulbs contain the highest levels. Nearly 40 different cardiac glycosides have been found within the Lily of the valley plant. They also contain saponins, which is also toxic to cats and dogs.






Clinical symptoms:

  • Early indications of ingestion manifest themselves in the onset of gastrointestinal tract symptoms, such as diarrhoea, vomiting and excess salivation.
  • More severe signs subsequently follow including acute heart and respiratory distress, disturbances in cardiac rhythm and heart failure.
  • low blood pressure
  • seizures
  • coma


All  onions, raw or cooked are dangerous. They contain thiosulphate which is toxic to cats and dogs. The ingestion of onions causes a condition called hemolytic anemia, which is characterized by damage to the red blood cells. Onion toxicity can cause the red blood cells circulating through your pet’s body to burst.






Clinical symptoms:

  • anaemia
  • jaundice


Rubber euphorbia (Poinsettias)
Poinsettias, of which there are many varieties, contain a milky latex in the stem that is severely irritating to the skin, mucous membranes and gastrointestinal tract. The toxic principles in the latex of euphorbias are diterpenoid esters. These plants are sometimes regarded more of an irritant rather than toxic, however, poisoning by poinsettias is more frequently encountered in cats.






Dianthus caryophyllus (Carnations)
Alternative names: Carnation, Clove Pink, Pinks, Wild Carnation, Sweet William
Why: Particularly in cats when their skin comes into contact with the flower.






Grass seeds:
Grasses such as Spear grass, Rooigras (Themeda triandra), Assegaaigras and Bur Bristle grass (Setaria verticillata) have seeds that can penetrate the animals skin. This is most common between the toes of the animal but the seeds can also penetrate the skin, nose, eyes, eyelids, ears, gums or soft palate. Once the seed has penetrated the skin, they are able to migrate far inside the body.






Clinical symptoms:

  • Symptoms associated with grass seeds and awns are determined by the shape of the seed and are specific to where it has lodged itself on the pet:
  • Eyes may become inflamed and red.
  • Sneezing or nasal discharge.
  • Scratching the ear or shaking of the head.
  • Chewing on an agitated area of skin may result in abscesses developing.
  • dermatitis

What to do if your Pet is Poisoned?

  1. Have your veterinarian’s contact details along with an ER vet and Pet Poison Helpline pre-saved on your phone so it’s always available in case of an emergency.
  2. As soon as you suspect your pet has ingested a toxic substance, remove them from the area where the suspected intoxication occurred.
  3. Remove any residual poisonous substances from other pets or your children’s reach.
  4. Call your veterinarian or the national 24-hour Poisons Information Helpline on 086 155 5777.
  5. Ensure your pet is breathing and acting normally.
  6. Keep a sample of the toxic material and any other information that may be useful to the vet or the Pet Poison Helpline expert.
  7. Do not give your pet any form of prescription or over-the-counter medication to try remedy the situation without your vet’s consent.
  8. Do not feed your pet milk, oil, salt or any other home remedies.
  9. Never induce vomiting without first consulting your veterinarian.

Keep in mind that there is a narrow window period when professionals can induce vomiting or pump the stomach of toxins to save your pet. Your reaction time may make the ultimate difference in saving your loved one’s life, so act immediately.

The severity of the associated symptoms fully depends on the quantity of toxin that has been ingested and how promptly they are treated thereafter. Plant poisoning in our pet pals is uncommon, but there have been reported cases of related fatalities. By being aware of the types of plants you have in your garden, you can prevent an unnecessary incident or tragedy from happening.

Additional toxic plants to keep your pet away from:

  • Azalea
  • Baby’s breath
  • Begonia
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Cyclamen
  • Gladiola
  • Hosta
  • Ivy including the following: California, Branching, Glacier, Needlepoint, Sweetheart and English.
  • Milkweed
  • Morning glory
  • Pothos
  • Tulip/Narcissus

Avoid Other Forms of Pet Poisoning @ Home:

  • Store all household cleaning material, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, paint-related items, chemicals and vehicle-related products in secured cabinets out of your pet’s reach.
  • Even small doses of medication such as antidepressants, vitamins, pain killers, cold medicines and diet pills can be deadly to cats and dogs so keep them out of reach from your pets.
  • Only use pest baits or traps (for rats, mice, snails or cockroaches) in areas that are inaccessible to pets.
  • Only administer prescribed medication from your vet to your dog or cat as many human medications can be fatal to animals.
  • Everyday household items can cause serious harm to your pets, so keep the following inaccessible to them:
  • Consult your vet before applying a flea prevention product to sick, old or pregnant dogs.
  • Do not use products intended for dogs on cats, and vice versa.
  • Restrict your pets from accessing areas that have undergone insecticidal fogging or house sprays as indicated on the instructions.
  • Restrict your pets from gardens that have been treated with herbicides, fertilisers or insecticides until they have dried entirely.
  • Consult with a product’s manufacturer if you are unsure how to use it safely in your house.


Written for inFURmation
by Taliah Williamson

Disclaimer: The information produced by Infurmation is provided for general and educational purposes only and does not constitute any legal, medical or other professional advice on any subject matter. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new diet or treatment and with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you suspect that your pet has a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.


Pets – Guardians against Anxiety and Depression

Image: Pixabay

The proof is in the pudding! Research has proven that residing with four-legged critters can contribute to igniting people’s happy hormones. A recent survey conducted by the Human-Animal Bond Institute calculated that a whopping 74% of pet owners confirmed that owning a pet enhances their mental well-being. Other studies support this by demonstrating that interacting with animals soothes and even eliminates associated symptoms of depression and anxiety.

How Pets Can Help You

There are a multitude of studies proving how animals are innately capable of supporting people on an emotional level, whereas humans have become desensitised to accessing these deep-seated emotions. The following benefits are what these miraculous little fuzz angels can offer you…

  • Friendship, love and comfort
    Animals can instinctively sense when their pet parents are feeling unwell or down. Depression is inclined to make people feel lonely and worthless, but the unconditional love that pets so willingly offer their owners, makes it difficult for one to feel isolated in their consoling presence.

  • Routine

Having a pet consistently requires that you feed, exercise, and care for them which impels you to enforce a daily schedule, thereby giving you a sense of routine and most importantly, purpose!

  • A Calming Effect

Cuddling your furry companion has proven to reduce the notorious stress-inducing hormone, cortisol, whilst simultaneously increasing oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is otherwise known as “the love hormone” or “cuddle chemical” as it stimulates emotions of trust, mental stability and relaxation.

  • A Healing Effect:

According to reports, petting an animal induces tactile sensations that suppress anxiety, and even blood pressure. The positive effects of pets on people have been thoroughly investigated in medical science and have demonstrated that people living with pets are generally healthier and live longer than those who don’t. Studies have also shown encouraging results associated with lower cholesterol levels, reduced anxiety, fewer visits to the GP as well as better response rates to medical treatment.

  • Keeping Fit:

Having a pet increases the likelihood of getting outdoors more frequently to take them walking. This is not only beneficial for your pooch, but it allows you to get the necessary exercise required to lift your mood and help manage any symptoms related to depression. It also gives the owner a sense of accomplishing something constructive in a day.

  • A Social Effect

People with depression are likely to isolate themselves from society which further triggers depression’s overwhelming sense of loneliness. By taking your pet out for walks, one is encouraged to mingle with like-minded animal lovers, thereby sparking human interactions that may possibly lead to friendships and support networks

Pivotal Pointers before Committing to a Pet

  • Just like humans, animals are emotional beings with feelings and needs. They are a long-term commitment! Although pets are believed to reduce depressive and anxiety levels in people, it’s unfair to expect the relationship to be a one-way street. Owners must reciprocate with love, attention, care and respect to sustain a valuable, mutually-beneficial and rewarding relationship with their furry loved one.
  • The comfort provided by pets is only rewarding to those who value animals. There is no magical formula in suppressing anxiety or depression by simply owning a pet. You must feel a genuine connection of love and respect for your pet or you will be dismally disappointed with the results.
  • The expenses associated with owning a pet, such as food, veterinary, boarding, daycare and grooming bills, can accumulate quite quickly. Ensure you are financially able to properly take care of a furry loved one now and in the future.
  • Ensure the breed of pet complements your needs, your lifestyle, bank balance and your personality. Some breeds are better suited to some people more than others in terms of temperament, friendliness, size and durability, so do your research!
  • Rescue shelters are inundated with little fur angels, desperately awaiting loving homes. Although they’re unlikely to be pure-bred animals, they will compensate for this with an attitude of infinite gratitude, loyalty and love for you.
  • If you feel you can’t truly commit to permanently owning a pet, consider volunteering at a rescue center or take up horse-riding, which has proven therapeutic benefits. Alternatively, investigate potentially fostering an animal on a short-term basis so you can assess if you are up for the commitment.

Written for inFURmation
by Taliah Williamson

Also read: Turmeric for Depression & Anxiety: Is Curcumin a Good Antidepressant?


Disclaimer: The information produced by Infurmation is provided for general and educational purposes only and does not constitute any legal, medical or other professional advice on any subject matter. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Always seek the advice of your vet or other qualified health care provider prior to starting any new diet or treatment and with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you suspect that your pet has a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.

How a hug from your dog can drive the blues away

How a hug from your dog can drive the blues away

How a hug from your dog can drive the blues away

Ask any pet parent what the favourite part of their day is and guaranteed it will be getting home to their beloved dog or cat; always happy to see them, always open to love. 

Pet therapy has become a very real phenomenon using this unconditional love to offer those suffering from depression some much-needed healing.

Dr. Guy Fyvie, Hill’s Pet Nutrition nutritional advisor, says: “There’s evidence that pets can reduce stress, anxiety and depression and in some cases even cure it. People with pets are happier, interact more with others and are less likely to visit the doctor.”

Pets have been found to increase their pet parent’s self-esteem and help improve their social skills.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) says that pets are increasingly being used to assist patients with mental conditions.

Why? Well, pets have an amazing ability to lift our spirits just by being there and are a great source of companionship. Our pets are also very entertaining – their crazy antics and little quirks often have us in stiches. 

Ever wondered why watching pet videos on YouTube, makes you happy? Our pets help us escape our daily stresses, they make us laugh, which in turn releases those feel-good endorphins. Having a pet makes you feel like you have a purpose. 

Walking, feeding, pampering, brushing and playing with a pet will get you up and moving (if not for you, then because your pet needs your attention and care).

Lucy Breytenbach, Animal Science Behaviour & Welfare Canine Behaviour Practitioner from Honey’s Garden, agrees. “Any dog with a sensitive disposition and who is in tune with a human’s emotions can be trained to be an emotional support dog. 

“Emotional support dogs respond to changes in their pet parent’s emotional state, such as scratching, nail biting, leg shaking or hair pulling. They may be taught to give cuddles on command and provide emotional comfort. These dogs may be trained to provide comfort to many people and be taken to retirement homes, hospice and children’s homes, among other places”

Training of emotional support dogs involves teaching tasks such as notifying their pet parent when someone is approaching or standing behind them and Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT), proven to help lower anxiety. 

The principle behind DPT is to have the dog apply gentle pressure to parts of your body. Training also involves using valuable treats and their everyday diet. “We use Hill’s to feed our dogs as it’s nutritious qualities help to ensure a long, healthy life, which is what we need from our service dogs,” says Breytenbach.

Source: IOL

Also read: The Wonder of Service Dogs

The Wonder of Service Dogs

The Wonder of Service Dogs - image

Service dogs are truly inspirational! Being furry guardian angels to people with disabilities, these selfless creatures devote themselves wholeheartedly to their owners, ensuring they can meet all their daily needs and tasks efficiently.

What are Service Dogs?

Service dogs are canines that have been through intensive training with the purpose of assisting a physically or mentally disabled individual by conducting day to day tasks that they would be otherwise unable to perform. Various types of service dogs are specially trained for serving people with specific purposes, for instance those who are vision and hearing impaired as well as patients who have been diagnosed with psychiatric disorders, diabetes and epilepsy.

Types of Service Dogs

  • Visual Service Dogs
    These service dogs are specifically trained to support their visually impaired handlers in conducting day to day activities. Also known as “Guide Dogs” or “Leader Dogs”, these canine companions are supposed to wear a white guide dog harness, purposely designed for use by individuals that require visual assistance. Sturdy breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Labradors and German Shepherds are popular candidates for this area of specialisation.

  • Hearing Service Dogs
    These special canines are specifically trained to respond to their handler’s surrounding sounds such as doorbells, phones, cars, alarms and impressively, their name! This capability enables the dog to alert their hearing-impaired handler.

  • Psychiatric Service Dog (PSDs)
    PSDs are specialised in assisting and supporting their handlers suffering from depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Autism, Schizophrenia, Panic and eating disorders as well as Social Anxiety Disorder and Agoraphobia. Their scope of tasks can range from reminding their handler when to take their medication, to calming them down when on the verge of or during a manic or panic attack. They’re also able to intervene and interrupt their handler’s OCD behaviours and are also specially trained to disrupt a traumatic memory or hallucination of their handler suffering from PTSD.

  • Seizure Response Dogs
    The responsibility of these canines is to perform specific tasks for handlers prone to seizures. Commonly delivered tasks include alerting someone in case their owner experiences a seizure, fetching medicine and applying deep pressure for ending a seizure episode. While service dogs can be trained for promptly performing these tasks, they incredibly only develop the skill to intuitively sense the onset of a seizure as the bond between their handler and them strengthens over time.

  • Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs)
    Also known as “Blood Sugar Alert Dogs”, these responsible companions are well-trained to use their special K9 alert devices for placing a 911 call if their handler experiences abnormally high or low blood sugar levels. Most DADs have handlers from different age ranges that may not necessarily present signs of any disability.

Service Dog Training Process

  • Puppy Raising
    A puppy raiser is a service doggie-term for a foster parent. Puppy raisers are people with specialised training to nurture and rear puppies until they reach 14-16 months of age. From here, they commence with service dog training programs.

  • Pre-Screening
    Pre-screening is required for all potential service dogs and this process takes approximately two weeks. During this time, dogs are X-rayed and tested for possible medical and/or behavioural issues. Pups that pass the pre-screening phase then proceed to the next training stage.

  • First Term
    After a three-month period, these dogs are expected to have polished up on their response skills to basic obedience and command training learnt as puppies. In addition, they learn retrieval commands as well as to work and be around a wheelchair. Dogs surpassing the training criteria of the first term advance to the next semester whilst those that don’t seem to be ideally suited to the task are adopted by loving families, very often being the puppy raisers.

  • Second Term
    This challenging block of training runs over another three-months where dogs are taught over 40 different commands. They are also prepared to perform efficiently in varying environments, so they are more adaptable to meeting a diversity of people.

    Again, at this stage, not all dogs are considered ready, while those that are will continue to the next training phase, bringing them closer to their service dog qualification. By this stage, the trainer is so familiar with the pooch that they are easily able to identify the perfect owner for him or her.

  • Team Training
    This phase takes place over two weeks, in which the dog’s new handler is educated in handling their doggie devotee. A graduation ceremony is then hosted where the trainers entrust the leash to the new owner.

Applying for a Service Dog

Individuals over the age of 18 years who demonstrate physical limitations in performing daily tasks can apply for a service dog. All prospective handlers must pay a small fee of R5.00 upon the satisfactory completion of the training course which shall also mark their first day as the canine’s owner.

We highly commend the trainers of these incredibly intuitive service dogs for their commitment to educating these canines with the objective of improving the lives of those who suffer from disabilities. Great respect and gratitude is especially owed to all the service dogs out there, selflessly sacrificing their time for the sole purpose of enriching their disabled human companions’ existence. Thanks to these saving graces, the phrase “Man’s best friend” has never rung truer.

Written for inFURmation
by Taliah Williamson



Six problems your dog’s diet could be causing

Six problems dog’s diet causing - image

You’ve played fetch, gone for a walk, dewormed, bought a new comfortable bed, and provided an endless supply of squeaky toys, and your fur-kid still seems a little down, which leaves you with that helpless feeling and no clue what’s wrong with them.

From rumbly tummies to skin allergies and changes in mood and behaviour, not being able to help them feel their best is heart-wrenching. However, half the battle is won if you’re confident that the food you’re feeding them on the daily isn’t the root cause of bringing them down.

Head Behaviourist at Dogtown South Africa, Gordon Banks, offers these helpful tips to better understand how your dog’s food and diet could lead to unwanted conditions:

  1. Unexplained changes in behaviour
    One of the biggest reasons for behavioural changes in dogs comes down to inconsistencies in their diet. To ensure that your beloved fur-child always feels their best, focus on feeding them a scientifically-formulated and balanced food that is nutrient rich and filled with high-quality proteins.

    Do some research on the various dog food offerings out there and stick to a specific, good-quality brand to prevent unexplained behavioural issues.

    “Nutrients in the food need to be balanced and in the correct ratio,” says Banks. “Any changes to a dog’s diet – whether it’s switching to a new brand or adding some home-made extras – can alter the balance of the food, resulting in both physiological and behavioural issues.”

  2. Depression, tiredness and irritability
    If you’ve noticed that your dog has become less playful and energetic, preferring instead to lie around or sleep longer hours, or perhaps even lashing out at you or family members, it’s time to investigate the nutritional content of their food.

    “An excess or deficiency in protein, carbohydrates, and fat content can all be attributing factors in behavioural disorders like depression, lethargy, irritability and aggression,” says Banks. “In addition, physiological disorders like obesity, cardiovascular problems, mobility, joint problems and neurological changes can also be attributed to improper diet.”

  3. Excessive weight gain or loss
    Too much food can cause breathing problems, joint issues and even heart disease, while too little food at meal times not only impacts energy levels but may also result in nutritional deficiencies.

    “It is vital that your dog receives the recommended quantity according to breed, size and activity levels. Not feeding your dog enough can leave them feeling irritable, and excessive feeding is also a contributing factor in unwanted behaviours like depression and aggression.”

    Be sure to check the back of food packaging for recommended daily portions or consult an expert for help. Look for products that mimic the ancestral diet of dogs as closely as possible, as these diets would not have included the quantities and additives found in many of today’s foods.

  4. Destructive chewing and ‘guarding’
    Dogs that chew up everything from your shoes to the living room sofa or tend to ‘growl’ and become territorial of their food are often stressed or even bored.  Stress and boredom are the most common causes of destructive chewing in domestic household dogs, but it could also be the case that they need more food at mealtimes.

    “Most experts recommend feeding adult dogs twice a day to help with their digestion and stabilise their metabolism. Dogs that experience an empty stomach for a large portion of the day will often display these and other adverse behaviours,” Banks says.

  5. Stomach torsion
    Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), more commonly known as stomach torsion, is when the stomach twists and dilates into itself. This causes excessively bloated tummies in dogs and puts pressure on the internal organs.

    “While feeding dogs just one meal a day in the morning might seem like a good way to get them to burn off the energy during the day, this also places their digestive systems at risk of being ‘overloaded’ with too much food in one serving,” says Banks. “This can lead to an inefficient processing of nutrients in the longer run, which gives them a greater chance of developing a stomach torsion.”

  6. Allergic reactions due to incorrect ingredients
    Animal protein contains essential amino acids required in a good healthy diet. A dog’s digestive system, by nature, is designed to process protein from meat sources rather than from grains, which are known to lead to skin irritation and eczema in canines.

    “Diets that include an excess or unbalanced amount of grain content can place strain on internal organs that are not intended to readily process it, and many allergies – skin related allergies in particular – can be attributed to a high grain content in the diet,” says Banks.

    A balance of protein, vegetables and good fat content is essential for ensuring your dog has the best chance at a healthy, happy life!

When your fur-kids aren’t feeling their best, start by taking a closer look at their diets, and be sure to look at the nutritional information on the pack before deciding which dog food to feed them. Look out for ingredients and related information on protein sources to ensure your pet receives the right amount of nutrients on a daily basis.

Field + Forest for adult dogs and puppies is a complete range of pet nutrition products for pet owners who want to feed their companions the best very that their money can buy. The grain-free signature recipe flavours come in Turkey + Duck, Salmon + Tuna, and Game + Lamb and the Protein Centric, grain-free formulations, contain no less than 60% premium proteins where meat is the primary ingredient for a well-rounded nutritional diet for puppies and adult dogs alike.

Source: Field + Forest



Ceasing Sudden Weight Loss in Cats

Ceasing Sudden Weight Loss in Cats

Ceasing Sudden Weight Loss in Cats

Just like us humans, your feline friend’s weight (whether over or underweight) is an indicator of existing or impending medical conditions, and any associated indications should be addressed in a timely manner. As pet parents, we seem to worry more about the weight our feline friends are accumulating than the weight they may suddenly be losing. Sudden weight loss or cachexia in cats should be managed with the same level of concern as drastic weight gain.

If you witness a sharp fall in your cat’s weight which exceeds ten percent of their usual body weight (when fluid loss is not responsible), this should be a cause for alarm. Read on to find out why drastic weight loss in your cat is menacing to their health and how to stop those shedding kilo’s in their tracks before causing permanent damage.

Causes of Weight Loss in Cats

If you notice a sudden drop in your purry pal’s appetite and they have simultaneously experienced drastic weight loss, chances are that they may be suffering from anorexia. This is a concerning medical situation for your feline friend as anorexia leaves feline’s prone to developing fatty liver syndrome, a potentially fatal condition in which the liver is required to metabolise large quantities of stored fat to provide the body with the energy it needs to function adequately.

In some cases, a cat might continue to retain their normal appetite and still undergo weight loss which may seem inexplicable. However, a number of reasons could clarify this mysterious observation. Excessive noise, dirty food bowls, bowls being too close to the litter tray, or other pets being present in your cat’s feeding quarters could set off psychological issues in these sensitive creatures, such as depression and stress, that could spur on sudden weight loss.

Medical conditions that could be related to this case include:

  • neurologic disorders making it challenging for them to pick up or swallow food
  • oesophagus paralysis
  • fever
  • diabetes
  • heart, liver or kidney failure
  • intestinal parasites
  • gastrointestinal problems such as obstructions
  • cancer
  • hyperthyroidism
  • dental problems
  • chronic blood loss
  • pet food or diet quality
  • feline infectious peritonitis
  • pancreatic disease
  • gallbladder disease
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • surgical removal of segments of the bowel
  • infections (bacterial, viral, fungal or chronic etc)
  • Addison’s disease (where the adrenal glands underproduce the necessary corticosteroid hormones the body require)
  • pregnancy or nursing
  • prolonged exposure to cold
  • skin lesions leading to significant loss of protein


Weight loss itself is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. A viable diagnosis will allow your vet to establish the root cause behind this symptom and how it presents itself with other clinical signs.


Your veterinarian will initiate their diagnostic examination with a series of tests to identify the primary cause for the weight loss. After conducting a general check-up of your feline companion, your vet may prescribe one or more of the following tests:

  • ultrasound of abdomen, liver and gall bladder
  • fecal studies
  • biopsy
  • detailed assessment of the pancreas
  • bile acids test
  • X-rays to check the condition of heart, abdominal organs and lungs
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
  • urinalysis
  • comprehensive biochemical profile


Based on the results of the physical exams and prescribed diagnostic tests, your vet may proceed to treat your kitty’s symptoms if they are too severe in nature for your cat to endure. Nonetheless, a treatment for the condition which is contributing to the weight loss will also be prescribed. This treatment will most likely be administered in association with dietary modifications to restore your cat’s physique to the optimal weight it once was. If your cat is experiencing conditions that make absorbing food challenging, your vet will recommend an easily-digestible dietary solution. Similarly, if your kitty is allergic to certain ingredients contained in their food, removing the offensive components could solve the weight loss problem entirely.    

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If your kitty has lost their appetite and is consequently losing weight, it may even be necessary to intervene by way of force-feeding your cat with feeding tubes or intravenously to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients until the vet can treat the cause of anorexia. Appetite stimulants may also be prescribed to trigger hunger pangs.


As a responsible pet parent, ensure that you schedule regular physical examinations with your vet. Follow-up visits are also essential to closely monitor any changes in weight and keep track of your kitty’s treatment progress.


Written for inFURmation
by Taliah Williamson

Taking Feline Diabetes Down

Feline diabetes

Diabetes mellitus is being found in a startling number of cats and if left untreated, the consequences can be fatal. It’s essential to be attentive of the signs potentially suggesting the presence of this condition so you can give your cat the best possible treatment at a chance of a quality life.

What is diabetes mellitus?

In a healthy cat, sugar in the form of glucose, is required by the body for energy. The pancreas produces the hormone, insulin, which attaches to cells and indicates when to absorb glucose. This absorption provides essential fuel to the liver, muscles and cells in fat deposits, simultaneously reducing the glucose levels in the blood. Diabetes mellitus is a disease in which some feline bodies are unable to produce or respond to the hormone insulin, thereby causing a dangerous surge in sugar glucose levels.

Type I diabetes is when the pancreas is unable to produce sufficient levels of insulin, resulting in higher concentrations of glucose. Type II diabetes is caused by the body’s cells’ inefficiency to respond properly to insulin. Cats with diabetes typically suffer from Type II.

Clinical Signs

  • Weight loss irrespective of increased appetite
  • Excessive thirst and urination, thereby causing a possibility of dehydration
  • In neglected cases, nerve damage to the hind limbs may occur
  • Depression
  • Coma
  • Death


Your vet will not only enquire about potential symptoms your cat maybe experiencing, as mentioned above, but they will need to test blood and urine to establish the glucose concentrations therein. Although these symptoms could signal your kitty has diabetes, they may also be the result of several other diseases.

Blood tests to diagnosis diabetes are not always clear-cut because even healthy cats may display elevated glucose levels in their blood, resulting from stress onset by a veterinarian visit, otherwise known as hyperglycemia. Therefore, healthy cats that don’t have diabetes, may have temporary heightened blood glucose concentrations when tested by a vet. To avoid this misconception, veterinarians will alternatively measure the levels of fructosamine in the blood. Cats with acute diabetes will show increased levels of fructosamine which is assumed not to be considerably influenced by stress levels. Fructosamine levels are therefore, accurate in ascertaining the valid blood glucose measures, thereby establishing an accurate diagnosis of diabetes in cats.


Treatment of cats with diabetes aims to:

  • Reduce and/or prevent any further weight loss
  • Reduce and/or prevent any further indications of excess thirst and urination
  • Regulate appetite
  • Re-establish blood glucose to normal levels

Insulin Therapy

Diabetic cats are typically treated with injectable insulin and owners can learn to execute the procedure at home. With practice, owners and cats will feel more at ease with the process. Insulin preparations vary in terms of duration and the outcomes associated with fluctuations of blood glucose. Your vet will periodically administer insulin over a duration of between 12 – 24 hours, as a control to determine the type of insulin and dosage rate that ideally manages your cat’s particular blood glucose concentrations.


Low carbohydrate diets have proven to control blood glucose concentrations in the body. If your cat is underweight, because of the diabetes, ensure to feed them numerous meals a day or allow them unlimited access to their food, both day and night. On the other end of the spectrum, ask your vet to prescribe a diet suitable for an overweight cat which will likely assist their bodies in maintaining more balanced glucose levels.

Management and Monitoring

Although there is no cure for feline diabetes, it can be managed if the owner is well-informed and dedicated to treating the condition. If the disease is treated with commitment, a cat can live a high-quality life for an extended number of years. In some cases, cats may go into remission, no longer depending on insulin treatments. However, owners should still be consistently vigilant of any clinical symptoms of diabetes and maintain a low carbohydrate diet.

Parents of diabetic cats should closely watch their purry pal’s appetite, body weight, water consumption, urination frequency, the quantity of insulin given as well as blood or urine glucose levels. All this information should be recorded and conveyed to your veterinarian on a regular basis. Weakness, lethargy, tremors, seizures and vomiting are signs of hypoglycaemia. In such cases, a glucose solution, dextrose gel or honey should be smeared onto your kitty’s gums followed by an immediate consult with your veterinarian.

As daunting as feline diabetes appears, it really is manageable, and your cat can still live a long, high quality life. With some research and education from reputable sources; commitment to administering the necessary treatments and keeping a watchful eye on your kitty, you’ll be able to take feline diabetes down!

Written for inFURmation
by Taliah Williamson



Combating the winter blues

Image: Pixabay

Cover me in sunshine: Mood boosting advice to help rid the winter blues
During winter, many of us will experience what is commonly known as the “winter blues.” This phenomenon is often attributed to the seasonal changes in weather, the decrease in daylight hours, and a lack of sunshine. The underlying cause of this condition lies in the reduced exposure to sunlight, which disrupts our body’s internal clock and affects the levels of melatonin and serotonin, two important hormones that play a role in regulating our mood.

While the winter blues are not medically diagnosed, if you find yourself feeling a little sad or down in the dumps, with less energy and drive, there are a few things you can do to help.  Marycke Ackhurst, pet behaviour expert from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, says that pets are known to be able to provide us with comfort and help influence our mood. “One of the main reasons pets offer these therapeutic effects is because they fulfill the basic human need for touch. Stroking, holding, or having a pet sit on your lap can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs provide great motivation for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression.”

The latest American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Healthy Minds Monthly Poll findings revealed 86% of pet parents feel their pets have had, and continue to have, a positive impact on their mental health, with the following key benefits:

  • Help reduce stress and anxiety (69%)
  • Provide unconditional love and support (69%)
  • Offer companionship (69%)
  • Provide a calming presence (66%)
  • Are true friends (63%)

Image: Pixabay

“We don’t have specific SA statistics but would imagine that the picture isn’t vastly different locally,” Ackhurst adds. With this in mind, she provides the following tips to help fight off the winter blues and to keep the spring in your step: 

  • Getting outside into the sunlight – find a spot inside or outside where the sun can warm your bones.  Just as your cat enjoys lazing in the sun, this too can work wonders for your mood. 
  • Keep your body moving, even though you may be tempted to stay indoors, exercising outside in the sun is not only good for your mood and health but it is good for your dog too. Just like us, our pets tend to become lethargic in the colder months, and if your pet suffers from joint issues, it is even more important to keep them moving. Ackhurst says if your pet does have health issues it is important to consult your vet to determine the extent and type of exercise that is best for them.  
  • We may be tempted to indulge in unhealthy sugar and carbohydrates when it is cold, but our diet is as important as ever during winter, so including fruits and vegetables is key and don’t forget to monitor your pet’s diet too.  
  • Mood boosting cuddles can be a click away! If you are wanting to adopt a new pet into your family, download the Pet Matchmaker app, available on the iStore or Google Play Store, to help you find the perfect pet to match your personality and lifestyle. After all, what could be better than cuddling up on the couch with your pet on a cold winter’s night?
  • Even though you may feel like hibernating during winter, spending time doing the things you love with the people you love will help to keep your mood on the up.  Whether this be meeting friends for a Sunday morning walk or hike, visiting the cinema, or having friends over for a game’s night.  There is no need to lock yourself up at home till spring arrives. 

If you feel that you or a loved one may be suffering from depression, please contact a medical professional or South African Depression & Anxiety Group (S A D A G) on 080 012 1314 for help. 

Source: Hill’s Pet Nutrition