Vets and Pets with Stuart McMorrow

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Q: Our daughter-in-law has a five-year-old Irish Red Setter. She has always been very placid, but over the last few months she has become very aggressive to some strangers and we don’t know why. She’s hasn’t been spayed – could this contribute to her behaviour?

A: In the short-term, your daughter-in-law should use a basket muzzle as a precaution whenever the dog is taken for walks in public, and don’t leave her unsupervised with young children. Sometimes aggression can begin later in life because of an underlying medical condition. Your daughter-in-law should take her to her vet as soon as possible to check there are no underlying health problems causing this behaviour. An unspayed dog can have false pregnancies which can cause behaviour changes including irritability, but this is just one possibility. If she gets a clean bill of health, the vet can advise on how to address the aggression, which would normally include investigating the underlying cause.

Q: We took in a stray elderly cat about a year ago who we’ve called Godrick. He’s settled in well with the other cat in our family and seems to be in good health, but he has an odd habit of grabbing mouthfuls of his bedding and ‘padding’ the pillow in his basket. Is something wrong?

A: As with all cases of unusual or concerning behaviour, I would recommend that you take Godrick to your vet to check there isn’t a medical reason. If he is doing this frequently, compulsive behaviour would be a possibility. Some cats can develop compulsive wool-sucking, where they spend much of their time chewing or sucking on a jumper or blanket. This is often triggered by stress. However, if the behaviour is only occasional, it may be nothing to worry about and your vet will be able to offer advice.

Q: My guinea pig’s nails have grown incredibly long recently. Do I need to cut them?

A: Overgrown nails should be trimmed to stop them from becoming painful. Small pets like guinea pigs need to be carefully handled for a procedure like this, because falling from even a low height can cause serious injury. There is a nerve and a blood vessel in the middle of the nails which should not be cut or the nail will bleed and be painful. If the nails are pale, you should be able to see the blood vessel as a dark line which doesn’t quite reach the end – you can cut until you are approaching this line. If the nails are dark, you won’t be able to see the blood vessel and will just have to cautiously trim the ends. The best approach is for a vet or vet nurse to cut the nails.