Pets divulge your lockdown habits Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Thursday, 23 April 2020 08:00
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

I want to talk about the insights we as vets can gain about your lockdown activities. See, your pets are what you do during lockdown.

I’ve been on duty during lockdown as essential services. As many of you may know, I am a lecturer at the veterinary faculty at Onderstepoort, training students in their clinical year. So, the students are all home on lockdown and the veterinary staff with clinical experience are running the teaching hospital in shifts.

It’s quite an adjustment working with colleagues instead of students. We are only allowed to see serious and emergency cases during this period; no check-up and routine procedures, which can wait until lockdown is over.

Financially we can also see that people are very cautious of spending, as income is not assured these days and many hard decisions have had to be made. There are difficult times ahead for the veterinary profession and pet owners, I think.

What I have noticed over the past two weeks, however, is that we are seeing different cases to our normal load. Although Covid-19 is no joke, it is not a bad idea to have a little laugh every now and again. The eyes are supposedly the window to the soul, but we can definitely get an idea of the activities pet owner are engaging in during this period.

People are baking. I could find no icing sugar in the shops the other day. Because people are health conscious and want to cut down on their sugar intake, they are using Xylitol. Xylitol is toxic to dogs – even a small amount – so we have seen many more dogs presenting for Xylitol ingestion: Luckily in early stages with no long-term damage. Xylitol stimulates a rapid increase in insulin secretion, which then causes a severe drop in blood glucose and even liver failure.

People are cleaning out their garages and garden sheds. We are seeing dogs with Rattex poisoning. I always tell the students to ask in their history of patients with Rattex poisoning if the shed or garage has been cleaned out within the last week or if the people have just moved to a new house.

It is my experience that this is a very common history in these cases. We forget we’ve placed Rattex behind the shelf or cupboard in the garage, then move it to clean and then the dog eats the bait.

In the first week we had more poisonings that we generally see in two months. We ran out of the tablets which we dispense home with the patient as had our supplier. So, this is not just happening at our hospital.

Then, in two weeks we saw more cats with bone fractures, probably from motor vehicle impact, than we see in months. This is a bit tongue in cheek, but I guess our cats are used to being alone at home.

They can’t handle the constant noise and people at home, so are moving out and about outside just for some alone time.

Then the good news: Normally at the teaching hospital we see many severe dog bite-wounds on a daily basis, usually from pets in the same household. Our outpatients department often feels like a trauma unit, but in the last two weeks only two dogs have presented.

This is probably because owners are at home and their dogs are being entertained and have company. Dogs are pack animals and need interaction with their owners, not just a big yard.

Additionally, there is nobody walking past the fence or gate, which normally can set off a fight. I see with my own dogs – they were gazing longingly at the gate for someone to bark at in the first week; stations taken up on the driveway, but now they have given up.

Don’t even think of sneaking a walk with your dog. Someone did that on our street early one morning and with the cacophony of noise from the barking as he moved down the street, he might just as well have had a big arrow pointing him out. We haven’t seen him again.

Keep safe during the remainder of lockdown and remember that it doesn’t stop there. It is likely we will need to manage our lives very differently for at least another six months. 

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