Category Archives: Advice

Pets and Christmas Food

A lot of the lovely food you feast on over the Christmas period can be very harmful to our faithful companions. Watch out for the following favourites that are most definitely NOT for your furry friend!

Chocolate

All kinds of chocolate and cocoa-based products – including chocolate tree decorations and chocolate advent calendars – should be kept away from pets because chocolate contains a stimulant called theobromine. Theobromine is toxic to dogs and cats: it can lead to a racing heartbeat, dehydration, digestive upsets, seizures and in severe cases DEATH. The darker the chocolate, the more harmful it is. Make sure any presents you leave under the tree do not contain chocolate if you have a dog.

If you feel you really want your pooch to join in the Christmas fun, there is such a thing as chocolate suitable for dogs, which contains zero theobromine. It’s this or nothing for Fido.

Christmas Cake

Never share fruit cake, mince pies or Christmas pudding with your pet, no matter how much they beg, because raisins and currants are highly toxic to cats and dogs, even when cooked. Dried fruit poisoning can cause diarrhoea and vomiting and, in very serious cases, could lead to kidney failure!

Fizzy Drinks

Apart from being full of sugar or artificial sweetener – both of which are very bad for your pet – many fizzy drinks also contain caffeine, which has a similar effect to the theobromine in chocolate. Rapid breathing, restlessness and a racing heartbeat are the potential symptoms of serious caffeine poisoning.

Nuts and Crisps

Salty snacks are a festive staple, but they’re bad for your pet in many ways. Peanuts and crisps contain too much salt and fat, and macadamia nuts are highly toxic: they can cause sickness, a high temperature, tremors and heart palpitations. The effects of macadamia nut poisoning can happen very quickly, so keep all nuts well out of reach.

Sugar-free sweets and Chewing Gum

These days, the sweetener xylitol is often used to replace sugar in sweets, cakes and chewing gum. Too much xylitol has a laxative effect on humans, but the consequences for your pet are much more serious. An excess of Xylitol can spark a sudden surge of the hormone insulin which, in turn, can cause seizures, vomiting, lack of co-ordination and potential liver damage.

Cheese

Keep festive cheeseboards away from hungry pets because dogs and cats can often struggle to digest the lactose in dairy products. Too much cheese can give your pet a tummy upset.


If you think your pet has eaten something potentially poisonous during the festive season, always contact your vet immediately.

So what CAN your pet eat at Christmas… aside from his own food, that is?

Christmas Turkey

The pièce de résistance of every Christmas dinner, your furry friend can enjoy small quantities of your turkey as long as all pieces are boneless, skinless and free from gravy or other marinades which can upset your pet’s stomach.

Potatoes

A super tasty side dish, again only feed your pet potatoes in small quantities – as they are starchy – and ensure they are plain with nothing else added, such as butter and salt.

Winter Vegetables

Carrots, parsnips, green beans, courgettes, brussels sprouts, broccoli, peas, spinach and cauliflower not only make yummy Christmas dinner trimmings but all great for your pet. Make sure you rinse off any excess butter or oil before giving to your furry friend and always feed in small quantities.

Keeping pets safe at Hallowe’en

Unfortunately Hallowe’en and the days and weeks preceding it can be a very distressing time for animals. The Louth SPCA would like to remind owners to be especially vigilant about their pets at this time of year. Many dogs and cats are either harmed or run away in fright over the next week, quite often ending up dead on the busy and dark roads!

Here are some tips for keeping your pets safe.

  • Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise earlier in the day. Once it starts getting dark, fireworks become more frequent.
  • Keep your dogs INSIDE during fireworks, preferably with human companionship. Bringing your dogs out during fireworks is never a good idea. Do NOT leave your dog in the back yard this week at all!
  • Provide a safe place inside for your dogs to retreat. When scared of sounds they can’t orient, dogs often prefer small enclosed areas. If your dog is comfortable in a crate, that is a good option. If you dog or cat likes scurrying in behind the sofa, put a blanket in there for them.
  • If possible, keep the windows and curtains closed. Covering the crate with a blanker or lowering the blinds can also be helpful. Removing visual stimulation can also help calm dogs.
  • Make sure all your dogs are wearing ID tags with a properly fitting collar. If you your dog is not microchipped, they really should be! In fact, it’s now the law in Ireland.
  • Give your dog something fun and distracting to do – like a frozen Kong filled with his favorite treats, or a big chewy pig’s ear that will keep him busy for a good while.
  • If you MUST go out, leave the TV or radio on louder than usual to muffle the sound of fireworks outside.

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As well as keeping them safe from fireworks, remember there are other hazards at this time of year for pets. Here are some do’s and dont’s:

  • DON’T leave animals in a room with lit candles or pumpkins. Dogs can have lethal tails, wagging all over the place. Make sure that lighted candles are kept where they cannot be knocked over by a wagging tail or by a curious cat. Not only could your pet start a fire, but they could severely burn themselves in the process.
  • DON’T dress animals up in costumes as many pets find this uncomfortable and stressful. It’s cute, be it’s also dangerous!
  • DON’T take pets trick-or-treating. Dogs can become very distressed and confused by all the noise and activity with strange smells, costumes and loud bangs from fireworks.
  • DON’T let animals near bonfires, candles or other dangerous items.
  • DO make sure that rabbits and other caged animals are safely secured in a garage or outbuilding, away from the sight and sound of fireworks. As an alternative, the cage can be covered with thick fabric to muffle the sound, making sure there is sufficient ventilation. Horses should be securely stabled or moved to a different location during fireworks displays in the area.
  • DO keep pets away from Halloween decorations and tell children not to share any sweets and chocolate with their pets. Chocolate is very bad for pets.
  • DO take a pet suspected of ingesting a harmful item or substance immediately to a veterinarian.
  • DON’T ignore animals in need. Report animal abuse and neglect immediately to An Gardai Siochana or contact the Louth SPCA at 042 9335045 (even if no answer, please leave a message. It WILL be checked).

Drought Impacts on Wildlife

Prolonged drought conditions can have impacts on wildlife. These impacts range from relatively minor – such as decreased fat reserves – to impacts resulting in a significant loss of wildlife.

While some of these impacts from drought can be closely monitored and tracked, other impacts are difficult to monitor or evaluate.

Currently, Louth SPCA staff are closely watching the impacts the current drought conditions may have on the county’s wildlife populations. A summary of the potential impacts on wildlife is provided below.

Disease outbreaks

Drought conditions can affect wildlife populations in many ways, from changing homeland ranges in an effort to find water to creating conditions that can impact health. High temperatures and low rainfall can contribute to outbreaks of Clostridium botulinum or avian botulism, which is a bacterium that typically resides dormant in the soil. Under the right conditions, this bacteria can replicate and produce toxins. These toxins are typically concentrated in maggots and other invertebrates that feed on decaying matter that is a good source of protein for the botulism bacteria. Birds like waterfowl then ingest the toxins through feeding on these organisms or drinking infected water. Species that are most impacted by a botulism outbreak are associated with wetland communities including ducks such as mallards, wood ducks, and teal and waterbirds such as yellow legs, pelicans or great blue herons.

Habitat

As drought conditions increase, the impacts on plants can be readily observed, since plants simply reduce the number of stems they produce while others shrivel and die back. This reduction in plant growth results in less available hiding cover, which could increase predation rates for wildlife as well as produce fewer flowers for insects and, as a result, less available food. Species that could be impacted by this decreased habitat quality would be ground nesting birds such as turkeys and pheasants as well as ground dwelling mammals such as ground squirrels.

Nesting birds

The timing of this year’s drought conditions is not likely to have a significant adverse impact on nesting wildlife, since most birds have fledged the nest and are no longer confined to a specific nesting site. The potential exists, however, that high temperatures and low moisture levels can result in bird losses.

Reduced food sources

Extremely dry conditions also reduce the available water sources that many insects are dependent upon for a portion of their life cycle. Although reduced insect levels can be a positive for people getting outside in the evenings, lower insect levels for bats can mean less food and as a result, lower fat reserves for migration and hibernation. In addition to potential mortality that reduced food sources may cause, wildlife in drought conditions may also need to travel greater distances to find available food. This extra effort also subjects them to increased predation rates themselves and an increased likelihood of accidents.

In addition to reduced insects for food, the production of other food sources – such as berries and mast, which include acorns or hickory nuts – could also be reduced. Similar to a reduction in insects, a reduction in the available berries and mast can impact wildlife by requiring additional travel to find adequate food sources, causing both mortality from increased predation or accidents as well as indirect mortality from reduced fat reserves needed for hibernation. These impacts can ultimately result in reduced number of young next year.

Another potential impact that residents in the drought areas may experience is an increase in the number of wildlife visiting yards and outbuildings searching for food and water sources. As food sources decrease in the wild, some wildlife species such as the fox may search out easier food sources such as pet food dishes, cattle troughs or gardens that are regularly watered.

Concentrating wildlife

As drought conditions increase, many wildlife will seek alternative habitat locations where habitat conditions are more favourable for them to raise young, seek shelter and provide a water source. Some species that would concentrate in these drought conditions would include a wide array of wildlife that would frequent the remaining watering holes to wetland dependent species such as waterfowl and amphibians, specifically frogs and toads.

How can litter be dangerous to wildlife?

Well, let us tell you….. everyday objects that seem perfectly safe, can sadly become hazardous when found accidentally by animals. By disposing our rubbish safely instead of littering we are making choices that could save many lives. Plus, protecting animals from harmful rubbish is easy – we can choose to dispose of our rubbish responsibly by recycling, reusing or simply putting it in the bin!

Balloons

While a nice touch at a party, many animals can actually try to eat balloons and then choke or become impacted by disregarded decorations. You can help protect animals by cutting up balloons before putting them safely into your bin. It’s really that simple! Oh, and balloon releases are also very threatening to wildlife, always deflate and bin once the party’s over.

Sadly even balloons marked as degradable may take a number of weeks to degrade yet it only takes a second for an animal to swallow a balloon.

Chinese lanterns

Chinese lanterns, also known as sky lanterns, can also seriously injure animals through ingestion, entanglement and entrapment.

Containers and cans

Animals looking for food can get trapped in cans or injured by sharp edges. To help prevent harm to animals, clean and empty containers after use and pinch cans shut or cut containers in half before recycling whenever possible.

Elastic bands

Elastic bands, although seemingly harmless can in fact wrap around small animals and the beaks of birds. If swallowed they can also cause choking. By reusing bands where possible or cutting them open before putting in a bin, you can really help prevent harm to animals.

Fishing tackle

Fishing litter is responsible for the injury of thousands of wild animals every year with animals getting entangled in line and hooks which can pierce skin or be swallowed.

By fishing responsibly, you can avoid accidental harm to the local wildlife and environment.

Glass

Broken glass can also cause serious injury and animals can sometimes get trapped in jars. Be sure to clean and recycle glass to help prevent injuries and avoid unnecessary harm.

Plastic bags

Animals can climb inside plastic bags and suffocate, or attempt to eat them and choke. Simply tying a knot in the top of plastic bags before recycling can help prevent deaths.

Plastic can holders

Animals can also get entangled in plastic can holders, and suffer deep wounds or even choke. Help prevent suffering by always cutting the loops before recycling.

How to Keep Your Dog (And Other Pets) Cool

As we all know, one of the most life-threatening mistakes people can make is to leave a dog in a vehicle during hot weather. Dogs can’t perspire, as humans do, to cool themselves off via evaporation, so they have to pant to cool themselves. If the air that they are taking in is too hot (as it is in a parked car in hot weather), then panting has little cooling effect and the dog quickly overheats.

Many people think their dog will be OK if they leave the windows open, but even with the windows wide open, the car can quickly become hot enough to cause heatstroke, brain damage, and even death. Your pet may pay dearly for even a few minutes spent in a sweltering car.  Please leave your pets at home during hot weather.

Heat stroke in dogs

Signs of heat stroke include heavy panting that does not resolve as the pet rests, increasing distress, a tongue color that is dark red to almost purple, weakness or collapse, hyper-salivation, vomiting and labored breathing. If you suspect a dog or cat is suffering from heat stroke, move him to a cooler environment immediately and apply cool water to the abdomen, ears and foot pads. Don’t pour ice water over the whole animal, submerge him in a tub of cold water or cover him in a cold, wet blanket. Once he is stable, get him to a vet as quickly as possible, even if he seems to be cooling down and his temperature seems normal. Things may be happening on the inside that are not obvious from the outside.

Walking a dog in hot weather

If you walk your dog on lead, keep in mind that asphalt can get very hot during the summer. In fact, it can get hot enough to burn a dog’s pads, causing him pain for days. You might want to do only short walks early in the morning or later in the evening, when the temperatures are lower. Before taking your dog for a walk, check the ground for hotness with one of your own hands or bare feet. If you can’t keep your hand (or foot) on the ground for more than three seconds, it’s probably too hot to walk your furry friend. Dogs who are older or overweight, have a thick coat or have a pushed-in nose (such as bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs) are especially at risk of overheating. On walks, bring water for both you and your pet, or a collapsible bowl if there’s a water source on your route.

Provide water for a dog at all times

Providing water for your dog is always important, but it’s especially critical during hot weather. If your dog is inside during the day, make sure you supply fresh, cool water that remains in a shaded spot throughout the day, since sun coming through a window can heat a bowl of water. Most dogs won’t drink hot water no matter how thirsty they are.

If your dog stays outside during the day, make sure his water bowl isn’t in a place where he will tip it over. Water bowls can be tipped over by dogs trying to make a cool spot to lie down. If necessary, buy a tip-proof water bowl. Also, make sure he has a shady place where he can get relief from the sun. Kiddie pools are a nice way to give dogs their own clean puddle in which to play.

Cats

Cats, of course, also need plenty of cool water during hot weather. White cats can become sunburned if they lay in the sun too long. Even if they’re indoor cats, they can get sunburned through a sunny window.

Rabbits

Rabbits can also be adversely affected by extremes of temperature. To control the temperature of their environment and to keep them safe from predators, rabbits should be kept inside. The temperature inside their houses should not drop below 15 or go above 23 degrees. Heat stroke can occur in a rabbit at 26 degrees.


A little empathy goes a long way in protecting our pets from extreme weather. Basically, if it’s too hot for us to stay comfortable in the car, in the yard or on a walk, it’s even HOTTER for our furry friends. Use your common sense, and don’t kill your pet with stupidity!

Caring for Chinchillas

Chinchillas are clean, quiet, odourless and attractive rodents that have been bred and farmed for their soft dense fur. Historically, chinchillas lived in an area that included parts of Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Chile, but today, colonies in the wild are known only in Chile.

They are quite shy and are more appropriate as pets for adults and older children. Typically chinchillas can live for 10-20 years.


Owning and caring for a chinchilla can be very rewarding, but it is also a big responsibility. Chinchillas have only been kept as pets for a relatively short time and experts are still learning about how best to care for them.

There is no one “perfect” way to care for chinchillas but certain essential needs must be met. It is up to you how you look after your chinchilla, but you must take reasonable steps to ensure that you meet all their needs.

Here’s what you need to know before considering one as a pet.

Chinchillas are highly social

  • Chinchillas are highly social and in the wild live in colonies of more than 100 individuals.

Chinchillas need a high fibre diet

  • Chinchillas’ teeth grow constantly. They need to eat lots of hay, which is abrasive, to help wear their teeth down.

Chinchillas have an unusual digestive system

  • Food is passed through the gut and special droppings, called caecotrophs, are produced. Chinchillas eat these caecotrophs, allowing the food to be reingested.

Chinchillas sleep in the daytime

  • Chinchillas are most active in the evening and at night.

See also our previous fact sheet on these little guys.

Buying A Fish

A fish can make a fun family pet. Every species has its own personality and needs, so make sure you know what you’re looking for.

Do your research

Read up about different species – how big they grow, and what other species they can share tanks with. Some species are up for a battle. Some might even eat each other. So make sure you make the right matches. And remember, fish require specialist veterinary care which could be expensive.

Look into equipment

Different species might need different tanks, pumps and water to stay happy. You’ll need to check all of its needs such as if it’s a saltwater or fresh water fish and set up its new home before you buy. Seek advice from an experienced aquarist to establish your aquarium. Advice is also available from books, websites and specialist shops.

Buy from an experienced keeper

They’ll be able to give you all the advice and knowledge you need.

Travel

Ensure that the fish you buy are healthy and free from any sign of injury or disease. Plus, make sure you provide adequate facilities to transport your fish home and ensure water temperatures are the same when transferring them to their new environment.

Quick delivery

It’s very stressful for a fish to be posted to you, plus compromises their health, so never agree to this form of transport for your fish. It is advisable to view it in its environment and collect it from there in person.

The diseases that we protect dogs against through vaccination

One of the most important things you can do to give your dog a long and healthy life is to ensure that he/she is vaccinated against common and serious canine infectious diseases. Your dog’s mother gave her puppy immunity from disease for the first few weeks of existence by providing disease-fighting antibodies in her milk. After that period it’s up to you, with the help and advice of your veterinary surgeon, to provide that protection.

How do Vaccines Work?


Vaccines contain small quantities of altered or “killed” viruses, bacteria or other disease-causing organisms. When administered, they stimulate your dog’s immune system to produce disease-fighting cells and proteins – or antibodies – to
protect against disease.

When Should my Dog be Vaccinated?


The immunity that a puppy has at birth only lasts for a few weeks. It is then time to begin vaccination. The first vaccination is usually given in two doses, the first dose at around the age of 6-8 weeks and the second about 2-4 weeks later. Thereafter, your dog will require annual ‘booster’ vaccinations for the rest of his/her life to maintain protection. Above all, follow the vaccination schedule recommended by your veterinary surgeon – if there is too long an interval between vaccinations, your dog may no longer be fully protected.

Your pet should be protected against those diseases which are most common, highly contagious and which cause serious illness or death. Such diseases include Canine Parvovirus, Canine Distemper, Infectious Canine Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza and Infectious Tracheobronchitis (also known as kennel cough). A rabies vaccine is required for pets travelling outside of Ireland as it is a requirement of the Pet Passport Scheme.

The cost of the vaccination includes a full health check and clinical examination by our vet, together with advice on any area of your dog’s healthcare.

Many insurance companies make annual vaccination a condition of honoring their policy.

The diseases that we protect dogs against through vaccination:

Canine Parvovirus

Very contagious, debilitating and widespread, the disease caused by this virus emerged in many parts of the world in 1978. Spread through infected faeces, the highly resistant virus can remain in the environment for many months. Symptoms include high fever, listlessness, vomiting and blood-stained diarrhoea. Vaccination is the only certain method of preventing this potentially fatal disease, which is most severe in young pups and elderly dogs.

Canine Distemper

Vaccination against this often fatal, hard-to-treat disease is essential. Though very rare in the UK thanks to vaccination, the disease is still widespread in some parts of the world and continued vigilance with vaccination is needed to prevent the UK dog population from becoming susceptible to the disease. Highly contagious, it is spread by discharges from the noses and eyes of infected dogs. Symptoms can include listlessness, fever, coughing, diarrhoea and vomiting; convulsions and paralysis may occur in the disease’s final stages. Sometimes the disease is also known as hardpad on account of the thickened fissured footpads that develop as a result of infection over time. The distemper virus attacks many organs, including the nervous system, which may be permanently damaged, even if the dog recovers.

Canine infectious hepatitis

Caused by canine adenovirus type I, this disease is transmitted among dogs by contact with secretions, such as saliva, infected urine or faeces. The virus commonly attacks the liver, and also potentially causes eye damage, the course of this disease can range from mild to fatal. Vaccination remains the best protection. A second virus, canine adenovirus 2 contributes as one of the possible causes of infectious tracheobronchitis (or kennel cough).

Leptospirosis

The most common form of this bacteria is widespread in rats and spread in their urine into the environment where it survives well in damp conditions and in water courses, ponds and lakes. It can occur so suddenly that there is little chance of effective antibiotic therapy. Dogs infected acutely with this disease can suffer liver or kidney damage that will need a long period of treatment if they are to fully recover. Just as much a concern is the lower grade disease which may go undiagnosed. It is also a disease that can infect and prove fatal in humans so maintaining the best protection by vaccinating annually specifically against this disease is highly advisable.

Canine Tracheobronchitis (‘Kennel Cough’)

Just as with contagious human respiratory disease kennel cough is easily transmitted from one dog to another, so vaccination is imperative if your pet will come into contact with other dogs in such situations as obedience training, the groomers, boarding at a kennel, neighbours pets or even just playing in the park. The disease is caused by various airborne bacteria and viruses, Bordetella bronchiseptica is one of the main causes of this disease and with the most common viral cause, parainfluenza, can be protected against with a separate intra-nasal vaccine administered as drops up the nose.You’ll first notice its onset by your dog’s dry, hacking cough that sounds as if an object has got stuck in the throat.

Other Vaccinations


After evaluating your dog’s particular situation and risk factors, your veterinary surgeon may also recommend vaccination against other infectious diseases. These might include:

Canine coronavirus

This virus attacks the intestinal system and occasionally proves fatal to puppies. Symptoms may develop quickly and can include vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration, loss of appetite and depression.

Rabies

This incurable and fatal viral disease affects the central nervous system of almost all mammals, including humans. It is spread through contact with the saliva of infected animals through bites or any break in the skin. Though not present in the UK, this disease occurs widely throughout many other countries of the world.

How Effective is Vaccination?


Like any drug treatment or surgical procedure, the success of a vaccination cannot be 100% guaranteed. However, used in conjunction with proper nutrition and good hygiene, vaccination is clearly your pet’s best defence against disease. Plus, when you consider what treating a serious illness can cost you and your beloved dog in terms of both money and distress, prevention through vaccination is extremely cost-effective.