Ask the Vet: Your first few pet health questions are answered

The Mail's new online feature, Ask the Vet, in association with the Ash Tree Veterinary Practice.
The Mail's new online feature, Ask the Vet, in association with the Ash Tree Veterinary Practice.

Welcome to the Mail’s new Ask the Vet feature where readers can get there pet health questions answered.

The new website feature sees resident veterinary expert Nigel Jacklin, from Ash Tree Veterinary Practice in Northampton Road, Harborough, answer your pet queries.

Ask the Vet...a new Harborough Mail online feature. Pictured is vet Nigel Jacklin and Poppy

Ask the Vet...a new Harborough Mail online feature. Pictured is vet Nigel Jacklin and Poppy

Here are this week’s first questions and Nigel’s answers.

Brenda Garner asked: “We are a multi-cat family. Nothing has ever been mentioned on my visits to the vet, regarding dental health.

“I know that cats in particular are very good at hiding disease and pain, I just wondered whether they should be having yearly dental check-ups and is it something that you do?”

Nigel said: “Dear Brenda, thanks for your question. Cats, and indeed, dogs can suffer from dental issues similar to those of people including gum disease and tooth decay.

“One of the important reasons to have your cat annually vaccinated is because it provides an opportunity to give them a full clinical check-over by the vet, including the health of their teeth and gums.

“Patients enrolled on our practice health plan (see our website for details) are entitled to two free ‘well-pet’ health checks per year.

“Specific dental checks can also be arranged on an individual basis as required. If any problems are present our vet team would advise an appropriate course of action that may include dietary modification for more minor cases or dental work under anaesthesia for those more advanced problems. “Teeth-brushing by owners is poorly tolerated by cats but many dogs are very happy to have their teeth brushed daily by their owners using special brushes and pet toothpaste. I hope this helps.”

Jane Smith asked: “I have a five-year-old boarder terrier who suffers from allergies. He is allergic to beef, lamb, rice and cat dander.

“He eats only ZD food and takes a low-dose steroid daily. He occasionally has flare ups where his tummy goes red and sore which I treat with a steroid cream.

“He has in the past tried Atopica but couldn’t tolerate it. Is this a good long-term plan or would he benefit from another course of treatment?”

Nigel said: “Allergic skin disease can be very complex to manage. It is important to appreciate at the outset that in the majority of cases the aim of treatment is to control the condition as opposed to making a one-off cure (similar to asthma and hay fever in people).

“There are often many factors involved. It sounds as though investigations have been performed in your dog’s case involving either blood samples or intra-dermal skin tests. The results of such tests allow us to try to avoid exposure to things that may trigger the allergic reaction where possible (such as food allergies). That is where the ZD diet that you are using can help as it contains hydrolysed proteins which are proteins in a form most unlikely to trigger allergic reactions.

“However, exposure to environmental triggers can be more difficult to avoid as they are everywhere. In such cases, if there is a year-round problem, it can be worth considering immunotherapy. This is when a vaccine is made for the individual patient based on blood or skin tests. The response to such vaccines varies between individuals. Some improve significantly while others appear unaffected.

“Low-dose steroids, sometimes combined with antihistamines, are frequently used to keep a patient’s symptoms under control. Provided they are used carefully under veterinary supervision they can be very effective with minimal side effects.

“Veterinary formulation hypoallergenic, anti-bacterial and anti-yeast shampoos can be of benefit in a number of cases too.

“It is also important to use good-quality anti-parasitic control, such as Stronghold, to minimise any additional skin irritation due to fleas and mites.

“So the short answer to your question is ‘yes’. If your current management strategy for your dog’s skin is keeping on top of things most of the time then it is an appropriate long-term therapy.

“Finally, there is a new drug called ‘Apoquel’. It has just been launched to treat allergic skin disease and may be worth considering in your pet’s case. I hope this helps.”

Veterinary expert Nigel is an experienced vet in all aspects of pet health, with particular interests in orthopaedics and cardiology.

He has worked exclusively with pets since he qualified from Cambridge University nearly 20 years ago and has always practised in the East Midlands, with the last seven years spent at Ash Tree Vets.

He splits his time between Ash Tree’s main surgery in Market Harborough and the branch surgeries in Kibworth, Desborough and Rothwell.

Nigel (pictured, inset, with his pet dog Poppy) lives in the district with his two cats, Thomas and Lucy, his West Highland White terrier Poppy and not forgetting his wife and three children.

Whether your concern is your dog’s drinking habits or your cat’s coughing.

To submit a question to the Mail’s Ask the Vet online feature, email your question to or

The Mail will publish the questions on our website towards the end of each week and then pick the best questions each month for a newspaper column.

Nigel looks forward to hearing from you.