Monday, 30 November -0001

Should dogs eat chocolate?

RSPCA vet David Grant has the answers to your most nagging animal dilemmas

Written by Melanie Whitehouse

Later this summer, TV vet David Grant will retire from the RSPCA’s Harmsworth Hospital after 25 years. The kind, unflappable face of the hit BBC series Animal Hospital, he has treated almost every problem imaginable in his long career. At its peak, the programme pulled in more than 12 million viewers and in 1996 earned David an MBE for services to animal welfare. ‘I have had a lucky life but I’m a vet, not a celebrity,’ says David.

Here, David advises on some classic animal welfare issues:

1 Should we cook bones for dogs?

Large, raw beef marrowbones are enjoyed by most dogs but are not vital if the dog is on a balanced diet, such as one recommended by your vet. Don’t feed cooked bones – they may splinter and can cause an obstruction if a large part is swallowed whole.

2 Should cats be given milk?

Most cats enjoy a saucer of milk but some are intolerant to it, especially if they drink too much, and occasionally develop allergies to milk protein. Milk is not necessary for cats fed on good-quality-brand food. I prefer the wet variety for my two cats because it has much more meat in it.

3 Is it true that cats and dogs shouldn’t eat tomatoes, potatoes and chocolate?

Tomatoes contain an alkaloid called tomatine, which can cause tummy upsets in dogs. Potato skin and green parts contain solanine, which is very toxic raw, but safe when cooked. However, I don’t usually advise feeding cooked potatoes to pets because it’s unnecessary. Chocolate should never be fed to dogs or cats – it contains theobromine, which can cause severe heart irregularities. Dark chocolate is particularly toxic.

4 Is keeping a cat in a flat without a garden, cruel?

A cat used to going out will not take kindly to being confined to barracks, but if it has only known life in a flat it will be perfectly happy. Indoors, cats need space to run around and toys to play with to stimulate them.

5 How much exercise do dogs need?

It depends on the breed. I recommend three walks a day of at least 20 minutes, though many dogs prefer more. If your dog can’t manage this, take it for a check-up, as this could indicate heart or lung disease.

6 Should we give dogs and cats vitamins?

Dogs and cats fed well on goodquality food do not need vitamins, although there are occasions when your vet might advise vitamin supplements (B vitamins in cases of liver disease, for example).

7 What is the longest time you can leave a dog home alone?

It’s not usually a problem once the dog is mature – from about two years old. Before that there is a risk of separation anxiety, which may manifest itself in chewing furniture, barking and howling. Ideally a dog should not be left longer than three hours.

8 Is there a natural cure for fleas?

People favour Brewer’s yeast or garlic, but there is no evidence they are effective. There is a new, beef-flavoured tablet for dogs, Comfortis, given in food once a month, which kills fleas in four hours and lasts a month. The active ingredient is spinosad, a potent insecticide discovered in soil bacteria in the West Indies, so in a sense, it could be considered natural.

9 Is it possible to have a dog or cat that is allergy free?

There are no allergy-free dogs or cats because allergy to the dead skin flakes, saliva and sebaceous gland secretions on the surface of the skin can develop in the owner. Dogs that do not shed hair – Portuguese water dogs, poodles and hairless dogs – may be less allergenic, as are some breeds of cats such as the Cornish Rex.

10 What should you do about bad breath in dogs?

It may be caused by strong-smelling food (treatable with a different diet) or underlying diseases such as kidney problems. Overwhelmingly, though, the cause is teeth and gum disease. If the dog allows tooth-brushing, this can be largely prevented. If not, a dental check should be part of your dog’s annual veterinary check-up. Commercial dog chews can help.

11 Do dogs and cats remember cruelty?

I’ve seen a lot of cruelty and they do remember – it can take a long time to regain their trust. This is particularly true of cats, although certain dog breeds such as the Staffordshire bull terrier seem to be very forgiving. The only positive side to it is seeing the victims recovering in loving homes

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