Mark Pizarro

Mark Pizarro has 25 articles published.


in Animals & Pets

Pets are companion animals, adding one to your household should be a well thought out process where the pros and cons are carefully weighed. Purchasing or acquiring animals on a whim often leads to a spate of unwanted animals soon after and also to many deaths of pets through sheer ignorance of people who do not know the requirements and costs of looking after animals. 

An animal acquired as a pet has many requirements that the new ‘care provider’ has to adhere to. The animal will need shelter, food and water and someone to care for it every day, they don’t know it’s a weekend or you are away for a couple of days etc etc. 

Christmas Pet Safety Tips

 Christmas is a wonderful time of year – but not always for your pets! Here are some tips for keeping your pets out of danger.

Food to avoid giving your pet at Christmas

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Chocolate (can be toxic to pets especially dark chocolate and cocoa powder)
  • Coffee
  • Mouldy or spoiled foods
  • Salt
  • Chicken or Turkey bones (they can splinter)
  • Raisins and grapes have on rare occasions caused acute irreversible renal failure in dogs, so be aware of this. 

Avoid giving your pet any of your leftovers as this can cause diarrhoea. This is particularly the case with dogs that are used to a dried diet, owners often feel that their pet has to partake in the Christmas binge and this can result in acute gastroenteritis.

 Also keep your pet away from cooked bones: they can splinter or get lodged in your pet’s throat or can cause serious damage by puncturing the intestinal tract.

Pet hazards around the Christmas tree

  • Fallen Christmas tree needles are very sharp and can easily get stuck in your pet’s paws or throat. Sweep tree needles up regularly.
  • Do not hang your chocolates from your Christmas tree: they can be toxic and your pet will be tempted if he can see and smell them.
  • Cover up electric cords and flashing tree lights so your pet can’t chew them and electrocute himself.
  • Try using fairy lights that don’t flash as some pets when up close can get very scared by these.
  • Christmas tree decorations can cause a nasty accident or be fatal to your pet. Cats, and young pets especially, will show a great interest in decorations hanging from your tree. Try to use unbreakable decorations and nothing too small. Avoid tinsel or ribbons as these are dangerous to the gastrointestinal tract if your pet swallows them. I have on numerous occasions had to perform lifesaving surgery on cats who have swallowed long strands of tinsel. 
  • Be very careful with any balls purchased for your dog to play with, if they are large enough to swallow but too small to pass through the intestines they will cause an obstruction.
  • Make sure your tree is well anchored so your pet can’t pull it over.
  • Cats have a fetish for eating tinsel, on many an occasion I have to operate on cats as a result of this. On one occasion the client waited too long before presenting the cat for surgery and sadly the animal died

Other Christmas dangers to pets

  • Remember loud noises will panic your pet, such as Christmas crackers, poppers, balloons, and champagne bottles.
  • Remove your Christmas wrapping paper (and toys) from the floor to avoid your pet chewing or swallowing it.
  • For your pet’s safety this Christmas always buy your pet’s presents from a reputable outlet.
  • In many households this is often the only time of year that your pet is exposed to large gatherings of noisy excitable people and children. This can scare your pet, and this may result in unusual behaviour, placid dogs have been known to get aggressive in this scenario. Therefore make sure your pet has some place where it can find a degree of sanctuary.
  • Locally lilies and poinsettias are seen as common Christmas decorations; these are poisonous to pets and must be kept well out of reach.

A Vets Insight

in Animals & Pets


Pet cats can live to a ripe old age, with better awareness of diseases and good use of prophylactic medication we can possibly get your feline to live that bit longer so that you can enjoy its kneading on your bed sheets and the morning wake up call for an extended period.

As with all illnesses/diseases the sooner the condition is diagnosed then the better the prognosis and the more effective any medication will be. Sometimes only the smallest physical or behavioural change can be an indication that some organ is not quite functioning at 100%.

These are the most common symptoms that could indicate that something is not quite right:

A slight increase in drinking and
urination, polyuria/polydipsia

• Weight loss or gain

Abnormal behaviour, e.g defaecating outside litter box, increased vocalisation

• Decreased vision

• Difficulty eating 

Different illnesses can cause several of the symptoms described above, so a visit to the veterinary clinic is essential. It is our job to get you an accurate diagnosis, your pet could be suffering from renal disease, high blood pressure, diabetes , liver failure , etc , thankfully at the clinic we have a complete selection of diagnostic tools to help get your cat diagnosed rapidly and effectively . The sooner treatment is started the better the long term prognosis, we have had cats living well into their 20s thanks to this.

What should you feed your elderly cat?

Cats thrive on diets that are high in moisture (canned or fresh), relatively high in meat protein and fat, and balanced in essential minerals and nutrients. Pet food manufacturers and nutritionists rely on the specific research in formulating commercial diets and all brands are quite similar in their nutrient analysis. Cats do not, by nature, thrive on carbohydrates or plant-derived proteins.

Don’t feed your cat generic or house brand because their low price dictates that their ingredients be low quality. Mid or average priced cat foods tend to have better quality ingredients and most brands market top-of-the-line premium formulas that are likely to be a bit better. Those are the brands I suggest. 

Should I Feed A Diet Formulated Especially For Senior Cats?

Based on research, most “senior diets” have increased amounts of vitamin D and B6, calcium and fiber, with some added antioxidants and omega fatty acids thrown in for good measure.

Older cats do seem to have a reduced ability to digest fat and protein. Studies found that 50% of cats 15-25 years old are underweight. Perhaps that is due to their reduced sense of smell and taste, decreased intestinal absorption, bad teeth or a side effect of one of the common chronic diseases of older cats. Several of these “Senior Diets” have fewer calories than those marketed for midlife. Be careful about using those if your cat is already thin. 

If your elderly cat has a tendency to constipation, the extra bran fibre might be helpful. If you believe in the protective power of antioxidants, you should see to it that your pet receive them for its entire life. If your cat needs added fibre because it has diabetes, the added fibre might be helpful, however their senior formula is too high in carbohydrate for that use. Their increased glucosamine might help old cats that have arthritis. But the amount they consume will be less than with many joint supplements. 

So, if you plan to offer your cat dry diet, a “Senior Formula” is a good food. But there is not much science to back up the slight formula modifications that have been made. 

Another problem with “senior” formulas is their one-size-fits-all caloric content. Many older cats tend to be too chubby until they reach about 12 years of age. After that, many become too thin. Some gain or lose too much weight somewhat earlier or later. Overweight cats need a diet formula that is less caloric while underweight cats need just the opposite.


The simple answer to this question is yes.

Cat’s metabolism is totally different to dogs; they cannot go more than 3 or 4 days without eating, especially if they are obese/overweight at the start. 

A cat that does not eat for a few days is prone to developing fatty liver, a potentially fatal disease if not diagnosed early and if not treated aggressively. This is a condition commonly seen in the elderly obese cat that may go off its food for another problem (but can affect cats of any age), but the anorexia then results in the liver developing serious disease.

In summary your elderly feline may require a lot of tender loving care as the years progress, be aware of any small changes in behaviour or feeding habits etc as they may be a warning that not all is well. We are now running a Senior Wellness Plan for our older patients at the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic. With advances in veterinary care we are able to help the older sick animal but the earlier the diagnosis the more we can do. 

For more information please phone Gibraltar Vetinary Clinic on
200 77334

A Vets Insight

in Animals & Pets

Cystitis how serious it is?

Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder wall; it is multi-factorial in origin, it can be caused by a simple bacterial infection, bladder stones, tumours, polyps. 

The cause of the problem very much decides its prognosis, I shall try to go through the symptoms and its treatment bearing in mind that it can be a medical emergency in certain cases.

The most common symptom that patients present with is increased straining and frequency of urination. The animal in question has the urge to go to the toilet more frequently because of the bladder irritation, therefore clients notice behaviour changes, often these animals are very clean animals that have never had an accident in the house, but as a consequence of the cystitis they cannot control the urge to urinate. It is important that they are not told off when this happens, they cannot control the need to urinate, and scolding the pet could actually compound the problem. Often there is blood in the urine and the animal may spend excessive time licking their genital areas.

In the more elderly animal a bacterial cystitis is more common, usually as a result of an ascending infection; therefore a short course of anti-inflammatories and antibiotics is usually sufficient to treat the condition. However if the problem starts to recur then it is important that the condition is worked up properly as one of the other causes might be a factor.

Another common cause of cystitis in dogs and cats are urinary calculi, these are crystals that are formed in the urine that often coalesce to form larger stones. These crystals can be formed as a result of a metabolic anomaly in the patient or secondary to a primary infection. In the male dog and the tom cat this can lead to a medical emergency, the male urethra is narrower than in the females therefore as a direct result of this a urinary stone can cause an obstruction. If this obstruction is not removed then the animal will deteriorate rapidly, develop kidney failure and die a slow agonising death. This problem is seen more commonly in cats, so if your cat is spending excessive amount of time on the litter tray then it is important that you get him to a vet immediately.

The most common cause of cystitis and urethral obstruction in cats is stress related, so if there are any changes in the cat’s environment then be aware that this may set off a bout of cystitis and often a urethral obstruction too.

Polyps are seen infrequently, but bladder tumours in dogs are seen more commonly, transitional cell carcinoma is seen relatively frequently and unfortunately carries a very poor prognosis, it tends to affect most of the bladder wall so surgical excision is not an option, they can only be managed medically.

If you have your dog or cat presenting with symptoms of cystitis then get it treated promptly. Personally I ultrasound all of my patients, an ultrasound tends to be used as the first diagnostic tool, it is better at picking up stones,(some stones do not show up on x-ray). The ultrasound is also better at accessing the bladder lining, therefore polyps and tumours can be picked up earlier   and treatment can be implemented and therefore the prognosis will be improved.

In summary cystitis in your pet can be treated easily in the majority of cases but can become complicated if ignored and may carry a poor prognosis if the underlying cause is serious or the condition is not treated promptly and efficiently.

For more information please phone Gibraltar Vetinary Clinic on
200 77334

Allergy season is upon us

in Animals & Pets

The dry season is upon us where dogs and cats suffer most from allergic reactions and we must do our utmost to alleviate any discomfort your pet might have.

With dogs the primary clinical manifestation of allergies is skin disease. The primary clinical sign is pruritus or itchiness and it is imperative that your pet is given relief as soon as possible. If they do not the actual act of scratching or licking leads to a secondary infection, bacterial and fungal, this then results in further pruritus and therefore you get a domino effect where the infection causes more itching and the problem escalates. Neglected skin allergies will lead to brown stained fur, thickened skin and often deep skin infections.

Treatment is going to vary depending very much on the severity of the problem, the sooner it is treated the quicker it will resolve and the cheaper it will be. 

What you must be aware off is that skin allergies are unlikely to be resolved long term with one treatment. In the majority of cases they are seasonal and likely to be a persistent problem for the whole of the season. In some animals it becomes a problem that is there the year round.  With seasonal pruritus the best treatment involves taking prophylactic medicine throughout the season and then stop it when the weather turns and it is cooler and there are not so many allergens around. 

With pets where the skin condition persists throughout the year there are other options such as monthly injections or allergy testing so that a vaccine can be formulated specifically for the requirements of that individual animal. This has success in certain cases. 

Cats also suffer from allergic skin dermatitis but the primary symptom for felines is asthma. It follows a very similar pattern to human asthma, the cat develops respiratory distress with increased breathing rates and diaphragmatic breathing, and in most cases coughing. With cats, coughing is nearly always associated with asthma, in dogs on the other hand it is usually associated with heart failure. 

Treatment of cats with asthma should be as rapid as possible, there is nothing worse than respiratory distress and the feeling that you can’t get enough air into your lungs. This will involve aggressive steroid treatment to bring the condition under control. With recurring episodes of this disease there has to be some prophylaxis put into place, the best option is using an aero chamber with an inhaler, again similar to humans. The only problem I have when I advise this is client and pet compliance, some animals can be difficult to treat this way so this can sometimes be an uphill battle. 

Dogs can sometimes suffer from asthma type symptoms but in the majority of these cases there is usually another factor that complicates the problem. The most common being that the owner is a smoker and this results in damage to the animals lungs due to passive smoking, so don’t smoke in the vicinity of your pet especially in enclosed spaces or better still don’t smoke. 

In summary for allergic conditions , treat early and aggressively  and be prepared to give your pet prophylactic treatment throughout the season, that way you can all enjoy the summer.

A Vets Insight

in Animals & Pets

Heat stroke  – The risks

I have covered this subject before. But as summer arrives I feel that I should remind pet owners of the seriousness of heat stroke. Heat and problems with exposure of your animal to extremes of temperature can be life threatening for your pets and you should take precautions always, especially when in doubt.

Always remember what is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander. This means that different pets require care which in many cases has to be tailored individually.

I will try to summarise the main areas of problems:

  • NEVER leave your pet unattended in a car.  In warm weather even an overcast day can still lead to high temperatures in cars in a very short period of time. 
  • Avoid walking your dog on hot surfaces. One very common injury I see are burnt pads on dogs where they have been exercised on roads/pavements. This injury is unlikely on grass verges but there are not many of those around in Gibraltar
  • Extreme caution has to be taken with brachycephalic breeds such as pugs, bulldogs etc. These animals are not designed for exercise in hot atmospheres. These animals tend to have very narrow airways; therefore an increased respiratory rate can lead to inspiratory stridor, difficulty in breathing, and can lead to collapse and death.
  • Similar precautions have to be taken with dogs with cardiac conditions, avoid exercise in hot weather; this may lead to extra stress on the circulatory system and can lead to cardiac failure. If your pet suffers from a heart condition keep a very close eye on its respiratory rate, an increased rate could indicate that your animal is decompensating and could be going into heart failure.

Swimming. Loads of dogs love swimming especially in the warmer weather. Again be careful with brachycephalic breeds, these tend to not be as efficient at swimming as the longer nosed breeds. Make sure that they you are close at hand just in case they come into difficulties.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is a condition that results from hyperthermia (an elevation in body temperature). This increase typically occurs as a response to a trigger, such as inflammation in the body or a hot environment. When a dog is exposed to high temperatures, heat stroke or heat exhaustion can result. Heat stroke is a very serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Once the signs of heat stroke are detected, there is precious little time before serious damage or even death can occur.

Dogs do not sweat through their skin like humans; they release heat primarily by panting and they sweat through the foot pads and nose. If a dog cannot effectively expel heat, the internal body temperature begins to rise. Once the dog’s temperature reaches 42 degrees centigrade, damage to the body’s cellular system and organs may become irreversible. Unfortunately, too many dogs succumb to heat stroke when it could have been avoided. Learn how to recognize the signs of heat stroke and prevent it from happening to your dog.

Signs of heat stroke in dogs

The following signs may indicate heat stroke in a dog:

  • Increased rectal temperature (over 40 requires action, over 42 is a dire emergency)
  • Vigorous panting
  • Dark red gums
  • Tacky or dry mucous membranes (specifically the gums)
  • Lying down and unwilling (or unable) to get up
  • Collapse and/or loss of consciousness
  • Thick saliva
  • Dizziness or disorientation

What to Do if You Suspect Heat Stroke

If you have even the slightest suspicion that your dog is suffering from heat stroke, you must take immediate action.

  • First, move your dog out of the heat and away from the sun right away.
  • Begin cooling your dog with cool water. You may place wet rags or washcloths on the foot pads and around the head but replace them frequently as they warm up. Avoid covering the body with wet towels, as it may trap in heat.
  • DO NOT use ice or ice water! Extreme cold can cause the blood vessels to constrict, preventing the body’s core from cooling and actually causing the internal temperature to further rise. In addition, over-cooling can cause hypothermia, introducing a host of new problems. When the body temperature reaches 39 stop cooling. At this point, your dog’s body should continue cooling on its own. However keep monitoring in case temperature starts to rise again.
  • Offer your dog cool water, but do not force water into your dog’s mouth. Try not to let your dog drink excessive amounts at a time.
  • Call or visit your vet right away – even if your dog seems better. Internal damage might not be obvious to the naked eye, so an exam is necessary (and further testing may be recommended).

For more information please phone
Gibraltar Vetinary Clinic on
200 77334

Heartworm and your pets

in Animals & Pets

Heartworm is a disease of dogs and cats, it rarely causes illness in cats but can be a significant problem in canines.
Is it endemic in Gibraltar? 

Cases of heartworm are few and far between, therefore it is not a disease that isn’t yet endemic in our local pet population but things might be changing!!

I have had my first case of heartworm in a local dog that has only left the territory once to be kenneled in Spain about 3 years ago.

This is a worrying turn of events so the advice has to change.

Heartworm, Dirofilariaimmitis, is a parasite where the adults live in the right ventricle and pulmonary arteries of the heart. The female worm once fertilised releases its offspring, tiny juvenile worms, microfilariae into the blood stream. These microfilariae circulate around the body where they reach peripheral capillaries under the skin. They can circulate in the blood for up to 2 years.

Mosquitoes that may happen to feed on the animal will take on this parasite along with the blood that it imbibes. Once in the mosquito the parasite goes through a development phase before migrating to the mosquito’s salivary glands. This development can only occur when the ambient temperature is over 14 degrees centigrade. Once the mosquito is carrying the microfilariae it will infect any further dog or cat that it feeds on. When an animal is infected the microfilariae migrate to the muscles where they go through another phase of their development before finally entering the circulatory system to reach their final destination, the pulmonary artery and right ventricles. The final development stage into an adult occurs here with females measuring up to 30 cm in length. The whole process of infection to fertile adults in the heart, the pre-patent period, is between six and seven months.

Diagnosis of this disease is a fairly simple affair; historically it could only be diagnosed by taking a blood sample from a peripheral blood vessel and then examining the sample microscopically. This method unfortunately can lead to a lot of false negatives for many reasons so we do not rely on this method now. Blood samples are now tested directly for parasite antigen and/or antibody and these tests are extremely reliable.

Heartworm can be a fatal disease with dogs presenting with clinical signs of congestive heart failure. However the symptoms might be varied, weight loss, anaemia, weakness, anorexia, ascites(fluid in the abdomen).

In cats symptoms might be more subtle, asthma type symptoms, weight loss, but often the only symptom is sudden death/ collapse. 

With advances in medicine there are various alternatives now to treat this illness with a complete resolution of the disease. As long as the illness is diagnosed early enough. However treatment is a longwinded process taking several months and can prove to be quite expensive. In rare cases there can be an anaphylactic reaction when treated so prevention is by far the preferred option.

Prevention can take one of three routes:

  • An annual vaccination against heartworm. Before the vaccine available often caused allergic reaction but the new products on the market are a lot safer
  • Ectoparasite treatment to prevent the infected mosquito biting your pet. These work but there one has to be careful. You must use effective collars and spot-on treatments but the owner must remember to keep applying the products and be aware that is the animal is washed or bathes regularly there will be a reduction in protection
  • There are monthly tablets that can be administered that kill any microfilaria if infected by a mosquito 

Personally where there is high risk to your pet I would advise using two of the options listed above, best to ‘be sure to be sure’.

A Vets Insight

in Animals & Pets

Spring has sprung

With the onset of spring there are certain medical conditions and pests that come to the fore as the climate becomes warmer. 

The Processionary Caterpillar, is an insect that can  cause hives in people and even death for pets. The caterpillars are covered in very fine sting hairs that can cause nasty reactions and in pets that might try and eat them can cause nasty mouth lesions with tongue necrosis being the most common symptom. 

The Processionary  caterpillar has an annual cycle, so it will be seen every year. The cycle begins in summer, where eggs are laid. With the arrival of the cold, they build the nests in the pine forests. When the temperature begins to rise, it accelerates development until they become caterpillars that descend down the trunk to the earth in procession, one after another and forming long lines until they bury themselves and form a chrysalis.

N.B . they are insects, have 6 legs, might have prolegs or little hocks which may appear to be legs. 

In addition, allergies are more frequent in spring (like humans, atopic allergies are increased by the presence of allergens in the environment such as pollen). In Gibraltar this combined with the perpetual cloud of builder’s pollution that has engulfed Gib for years leads to a massive increase in allergies in our pets. The most common symptoms are itching in dogs and asthma in cats.

 Leishmaniasis is another warm weather illness that is spread by the bite of the Sand-fly and is more frequent during the spring and summer months. It is caused by a protozoa and once your dog has contracted this illness it is for life. It can be controlled and managed but rarely is it eliminated.  Among the symptoms we find are weight loss, hair loss, long nails, nose bleeds and lethargy. 

During the warmer months there are more insects that can cause result in a nasty bite like bees and wasps. Not much you can do to prevent this, they are always accidents where a pet is at the wrong place at the wrong time. If reaction is severe then seek veterinary assistance.

In addition, there are also more fleas and ticks that could affect the health of our pet, as they feed on blood they can cause itchiness and infections and can also spread disease. Proper ecto-parasite protection is essential, consult your veterinary surgeon for what works best for your pet. Prevention is always better than cure.

 Grass seeds will also be a problem over the next few months, the aerodynamics of the seed make them easy for them to imbed in your pet’s coat and then migrate into the skin causing ulcers, abscesses and infection. 

On a more positive note the weather is better, time to get out walk your companion animals, get some exercise, enjoy the sun and build up those Vitamin D levels.

A Vets Insight

in Animals & Pets

Barbary Macaques

To steer away from pet companions this month I would like to write an article on the Gibraltar Barbary Macaque, an animal that is engrained in our history and our folk tales. 

When I was a child we were told that the macaques travelled to Gibraltar via a tunnel that originated at St Michael’s Cave and traversed the Straits of Gibraltar !!!! The more likely explanation is that they were imported  from Morocco , probably by different entities over the centuries , the Moors and the British Army are the most likely. 

There are in the region of 200 macaques spread across the Upper Rock Nature Reserve , these are divided into different packs . Previous genetic work done on the macaques has shown that the macaques originated from two regions in Africa . One line comes from the Rif Mountains in Morocco and the other comes from Algeria.  The females from these two blood lines are distinctly different , the Moroccan blood line adult females are larger animals , they weigh approximately three to four kilos more than their Algerian sisters !!! It is as a result of there being two different genetics pools that the Barbary macaque has been so successful in Gibraltar , if there had been only one blood line there would have been problems genetically as a result of inbreeding and very little genetic divergence.  

Packs are divided down family lines, all the group structure is held together by the females in the pack . As a general rule mothers, daughters , sisters etc form the nucleus of the pack and stay together , it is the males that move away from the pack when they reach puberty and it is this that leads to genetic diversification as they move from one pack to another .      

Females can breed from as early as 3/4 years of age and they produce one offspring every year( rarely twins are born). Females tend to remain fertile until well into their 20’s. We have a population of approximately 200 macaques , on average 100 are female , with approximately 70 being breeding females.  

If we had 70 births every year it wouldn’t take too long before we were overran by macaques and one of the luxury blocks being built would have to be used to provide housing. 

So how are numbers controlled? Vasectomising males is a complete waste of time. Females in season mate with multiple males, a way to maintain dominance and social cohesion.  So the only way to control population is by contracepting the females.  There are two main ways to carry this out, either using contraceptive implants that last around 3 years or by laparoscopically sterilising the females. The latter procedure involves tying off the fallopian tubes, in this way the females continue to menstruate and mate normally without getting pregnant. This is crucial as in this way there is less social interference in the group , if the females had their ovaries removed this would stop the normal breeding cycle and have an impact on the pack’s social structure.  Thanks to investment by this Government under the direction of Prof John Cortes we now carry out laparoscopic sterilisation. A few years ago we used to have around 50 births a year, last year we had 15 births. 

This is just a small insight into what goes on with our macaques , having wild free ranging macaques is a treasure and one we must protect, they are not a nuisance as some people think they are , they are a valuable part of our heritage and one that must be cared for, both as sentient animals and what they represent culturally . 

For more information please phone
Gibraltar Vetinary Clinic on 200 77334

A Vets Insight

in Animals & Pets


Over the last ten years there has been an emerging problem diagnosed in small breed dogs primarily, affecting Chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers, Shih Tzus and French bulldogs mainly but it can happen in any dog although pedigree dogs appear to be worst affected.

This problem is as a result in a fault in the development of the blood circulation that perfuses the gastrointestinal tract and the liver. The body is an intricate system and what seems like a minor circulation problem can have profound effects on the whole metabolism and health of an animal. Sometimes the clinical signs of this illness can be so obtuse that a clinician may have problems diagnosing this problem.

In a healthy normal animal, digestion of ingested food in the intestine results in the formation of ‘impure’ products and toxins that are absorbed into the capillaries in the intestine, these then enter the hepato-portal vein, a blood vessel that transports all these products in this ‘dirty’ blood to the liver. The liver is a fabulous organ, is filters all this blood, takes out all the toxins and potentially harmful by-products of digestion and then returns ‘clean’ blood via the hepatic vein to the caudal vena cava and thus the general circulation. This blood will now be full of nutrients, glucose, fatty acids, amino acids ,minerals, vitamins etc all the raw materials needed by cells throughout the body to survive.

There are complications when there is a fault in this system, what happens is that the animal is born with an abnormality, a fault that happens during the embryonic development of the animal.  The problem lies in that a blood vessel remains that feeds the blood absorbed from the intestine directly into the vena cava or the hepatic vein(general circulation) therefore bypassing the liver and the filter system. 

As a direct result of this unfiltered blood entering the general circulation the animal will develop a clinical illness.  Symptoms vary from animal to animal, in many cases there is not a complete shunt therefore clinical signs can be nuanced.

What one has to understand is that there is no abnormality in the actual liver or its function, the problem is that blood from the intestine enters the blood directly. What this means is blood feeding the liver via the hepatic artery will carry in these waste products so eventually the blood will be ‘cleaned’ but not after it has made various circulator passes throughout the body. This explains why the clinical signs can be varied as there are many different elements involved!!

Possible clinic signs:

• Weight loss

• Anorexia

• Polyuria/polydipsia ( drinking and urinating excessively)

• Cystitis

• Kidney stones

• Gall bladder stones/sediment

• Nervous signs, e.g head pressing, fatigue, depressed, not alert,  ( hepatic encephalopathy)

• Poor coat

• Seizures/ epileptic fits

Treatment of this condition tends to be very effective and rewarding with the animals leading a normal life. Surgery is an option in a small number of cases but the mortality rate is high so it is difficult to advise clients to go down this route. Even with surgery medical treatment is still required afterwards. Medical control to reduce the absorption and production of toxins in the intestine combined with a prescription diet and in certain cases liver supplements tends to be the treatment of choice.

With primary liver disease the symptoms can be similar but the prognosis is always guarded as opposed to pets with liver shunts. In  these cases the liver itself is not working properly and therefore medical treatment will not be as effective.

In summary if your pet is diagnosed with a hepato-portal shunt the prognosis is good for your pet . What is important to realise is that it does not have liver failure and therefore the condition can be managed well medically. Also do not fall into a false sense of security if all symptoms subside with treatment and therefore you decide to stop therapy. The condition will not go away, so if you ignore it then the problem will come back and bite you in the proverbial backside.

Brachycephalic Syndrome

in Animals & Pets

As a direct result of this increase in these breeds we are seeing a rise in cases of animals suffering from Brachycephalic Syndrome. What effectively this means is that there is an airway obstruction in these pets that results in these animals having to make more of an inspiratory effort when they breathe.

This is a medical condition that affects short snouted dogs and cats. Brachycephalic breeds are particularly common nowadays with a massive increase in numbers of French bulldogs, pugs and Staffordshire bull terriers.

There are four main anatomical deformities that cause this constriction:

• Stenotic nares

• Elongated soft palate

• Everted laryngeal saccules

• Narrow(hypoplastic) trachea

• Stenotic nares

This problem is visually obvious and can be seen in a normal consult. Looking at the nose the nasal folds are collapsed inwards, as a direct result of this the animals have a constricted airway, it would be like trying to breathe through your nose whilst pinching your nostrils.

Elongated Soft Palate

At the back of the mouth on the dorsal aspect behind the hard palate lies the soft palate, a tissue that acts like a valve preventing food going up the back of the nasal cavity. In these problematic breeds there is often a problem where the soft palate is too long and fleshy and this results in a restriction of air flow through the pharyngeal area.

Everted laryngeal saccules

At the entrance to the trachea in the larynx there are laryngeal saccules. Due to negative  inspiratory pressure in animals suffering with  stenotic nares and the elongated soft palates this often results in eversion of the saccules , this in turn further compounds the narrow airway. This element of the condition can be prevented in many cases if surgical correction of the nares and palate are tackled early.

Narrow hypoplatic tracheas.

This is pretty much self explanatory and there is nothing much that can be done with these cases. These animals will also always have a respiratory problem.

Consequences of these issues be catastrophic for the animal. The increased respiratory effort over a long period of time has knock on effects on the cardiovascular system, and long term will cause heart failure and chronic respiratory problems.

Signs/ Synptoms to look out for:

• Loud inspiratory noise

• Mouth breathing

• Very little exercise tolerance/collapse

• Narrow nares

• Sleep apnoea

• Snoring

• Regurgitation /choking/vomiting

• Cyanosis(blue tongue)


With advances in veterinary medicine and equipment surgery of the nares and the elongated soft palate can be done with very little risk to the pet. It is very important that this is done early when the dogs are still young as this will mitigate long term damage to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. THIS IS NOT A CONDITION TO IGNORE UNTIL ANIMAL GETS OLDER. Surgery is not 100% curative due to the major anatomical problems but they will alleviate symptoms and will extend the life of your pet.

At the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic we have invested heavily on a laser machine to undertake laser surgery  , this means that soft palate  surgery is as safe as spaying your pet, this is practically no bleeding and there is very little damage to the surrounding tissue. Therefore there is hardly any post operative swelling; this was often the problem with the older more primitive techniques.

In summary Brachycephalic Syndrome is a common ailment of brachycephalic breeds that if left will substantially decrease the lifespan of your pet. If you feel your pet is suffering from the above please phone the clinic on 20077334 and make an appointment to discuss your case, don’t ignore it, surgical correction could extend your life’s pets.

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