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Hyperthyroidism in cats

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Hyperthyroidism in cats is the over-production of thyroid hormone usually caused by a benign tumour that grows in the gland.

Signs and symptoms

It a disease which causes a variety of signs, including hyperactivity, weight loss, excessive drinking and urination, increased (often ravenous) appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea.

If untreated, the disease will eventually lead to serious heart disease, kidney disease, emaciation and death.


We have been using radioactive iodine to treat hyperthyroidism in cats since the late 1980’s. The treatment is not at all painful and does not cause any serious side effects. It is considered the most effective way of treating this disease as 90-95% of cats are permanently cured with a single treatment.

The treatment is simple, but because it involves the use of a radioactive compound, there are strict laws in Australia relating to how it is given and the subsequent management. The radioactive iodine is given by mouth in a capsule by specially trained and licenced staff.

We sedate your cat lightly to help them take the medication without stress and to minimise the chance of accidental spillage of the radioactive iodine.

We check carefully that the dose has been swallowed properly, and then the cat is placed in a cage in our special isolation room, here at the Hospital.


By law, cats must remain in isolation for at least one week following treatment, until radiation levels decline to a specific low value, as measured by a Geiger counter.

Although it is a larger one-off cost, it is more cost effective than giving oral medication for life, and certainly less stressful for you and your cat.

Riley was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and before treatment with radioactive iodine he was only 3.6kg. He is eating well now and is now over 5kg!

New grant to search for solutions for inflammatory bowel disease in dogs

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Researchers at the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet Animal Hospital are working to identify new ways to diagnose and treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs by looking at changes in gut bacteria that stimulate the immune system.

IBD is a common chronic intestinal condition of dogs, causing vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss.

Previous studies have suggested specific intestinal microbiota – the community of bacteria and other microorganisms in the digestive system – can drive or exacerbate intestinal inflammation, but this mechanism has not been well-studied in dogs.

Associate Professor Caroline Mansfield is the chief investigator of the project and an internal medicine specialist and Director of U-Vet Animal Hospital. She says that IBD, or chronic enteropathy as it is now called, can cause serious and life-threatening disease in some dogs.

Even dogs mildly affected have impacts on their quality of life, and if not treated they may face chronic and recurrent bouts of diarrhoea, discomfort and lack of appetite.

“Normal dogs should tolerate their normal bacteria, but in dogs with IBD it seems that the bacteria either causes an excessive immune response and therefore inflammation or that the immune system goes a bit haywire and starts attacking bacteria that are normally innocent bystanders” Associate Professor Mansfield says.

Over the three-year study period, she and her team will assess stool samples of dogs with IBD for the type and numbers of bacteria that interact directly with the gut immune system during the dogs’ treatment and recovery.

The study allows the researchers to determine if changes in fecal bacteria can be used to monitor improvements in intestinal health in dogs with inflammatory bowel disease, and may reduce the need to directly examine the intestine via a biopsy to establish a definitive diagnosis.  
It will also lead to a better understanding of how the gut microbiome can be manipulated in dogs with IBD.

Researchers will evaluate bacteria that are coated with immunoglobulins (also known as antibodies) in stool samples of dogs with IBD as these represent the bacteria in the intestine of dogs that are causing or stimulating an immune response in affected dogs.

New analytical tools will be used to establish whether the changes detected in bacteria are functionally important, and how treatment modifies the findings.

Morris Animal Foundation’s Acting President and CEO Tiffany Grunert says the organisation is proud to fund research to help dogs live longer, healthier lives.

"Dogs are, as the saying goes, man's best friend," she says.

"They enrich our lives so much and deserve the best care we can provide."

This study is funded by Morris Animal Foundation.

Contact us for further information.

Feline ureteral obstruction – the need for multiservice management

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Image: Lateral abdominal radiograph of a cat with the SUB system in place. This cat had bilateral ureteral obstructions and therefore both ureters have been bypassed, so there are three catheters total – one from each kidney to the port, and one from the port to the bladder. There is a needle in place in the port (used for urine collection and flushing the system).

Ureteral obstructions are more common in cats than dogs.

Most often, ureteral obstruction is caused by intraluminal disease (ureteroliths, clots, or other debris in the ureter), less often by intramural disease (stricture, neoplasia, inflammatory disease) and uncommonly by extra-mural (such as retroperitoneal masses or bladder neoplasia).

Feline ureteral obstruction can be difficult to detect, as no signs might be present until there is bilateral obstruction or unilateral obstruction with reduced contra-lateral kidney function. Often, signs can be very vague such as decreased appetite or abdominal pain. Most of the time, no clinical signs will be recognised by the owners. However, if there is bilateral obstruction, acute kidney injury will develop.

In the presentation known as “big kidney-little kidney”, clinical disease can be seen when there was previous ureteral obstruction in one kidney leading to hydronephrosis, followed by end-stage kidney disease (small kidney, irregular and fibrotic) with compensatory hypertrophy on the other side (large kidney). Typically, these cats present acutely when the large (healthy) kidney function is reduced (for example with a new obstruction or development of partial obstruction).

Detection and recognition
The detection rate of renal obstruction or partial obstruction has improved with the advance in abdominal ultrasound imaging in cats, though in some cases a contrast study (after pyelocentesis) is needed to further assess for partial obstruction.

Early recognition is key. After 7 days of obstruction renal function is reduced by one third, and after 40 days of obstruction no return of function is expected.
In the case of partial obstructions, the development of dysfunction is slower. In terms of decision making, the aim is to make a surgical decision within days in cases with either partial or full obstruction (rather than as an out-of-hours emergency procedure).

Although medical management can be attempted, such as the use of diuresis, amitriptyline and prazosin, this is typically not effective, with an estimated overall response of approximately 13%.
Surgical intervention with ureterotomy to remove obstructions (+/- stent placement) can be attempted in some cases. A nephrostomy tube can also be placed to decompress the kidney and improve renal function, but is not typically an option for long-term management. More recently, a subcutaneous ureteral bypass system (SUB) was developed. This involves two separate catheters, one from the renal pelvis to a port placed in the subcutaneous tissue, and the other from the port into the bladder. Urine flows from the kidney to the bladder via the catheters and port, bypassing the ureteral obstruction. 

Following SUB system placement regular rechecks and ongoing management is required as complications including secondary infections are possible. However, long-term outcomes can be very good, with median survival times of over 2 years reported.

At U-Vet, management of feline ureteral obstructions and SUB placement is a collaborative effort, including specialists in diagnostic imaging, surgery, internal medicine, and critical care. SUB placement is not necessarily the best option for every case of ureteral obstruction, or for every owner, but can be life-saving in many cases.

Image: SUB system 

Medical problems to watch out for in older cats

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Like us, as cats age they can be more likely to develop problems.
Some of the more common diseases in older cats include kidney disease, diabetes and hyperthyroidism.

If you are seeing changes in your cat such as weight loss, change in appetite or thirst, lethargy, vomiting or diarrhoea, the first step is to make an appointment with your vet for a thorough evaluation.

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease in cats do not often have a specific cause, but screening for underlying problems that may be treated (such as infection) is important.

Signs of kidney disease in cats include:

  • increased thirst and urination, which may include having accidents in the house or incontinence.
    If you notice you are having to fill the water bowl or change the kitty litter more often, this may be an indication that your cat is drinking more.
  • a reduced appetite
  • weight loss
  • vomiting

Diagnosis is usually made on blood and urine tests, and monitoring blood pressure is also important in cats suspected of having kidney disease.
An ultrasound of the abdomen is often done to look more closely at the kidneys themselves.

Although most types of kidney disease cannot be cured, they can often be managed for long periods of time.
A prescription diet is often recommended, and other medications may be used in some cats.


Diabetes in cats is thought to be similar to type 2 diabetes in people. Cats who are overweight may be more likely to develop diabetes.

Signs of diabetes are:

  • increased thirst and urination (as for kidney disease)
  • weight loss (despite an increased appetite).

Diagnosis is typically made on blood and urine tests.
In some cats, diabetes may be reversible (temporarily or permanently), depending on underlying conditions.
In other cats, lifelong treatment with insulin injections is required.

Dietary management and weight control are also important parts of management of diabetes in cats.


Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland is overactive and produces too much thyroid hormone.
In cats, this is typically caused by a benign growth of the thyroid gland, though in rare cases it may be due to thyroid cancer.

Signs of hyperthyroidism include:

  • increased appetite,
  • weight loss
  • sometimes behavioural changes such as agitation or restlessness.

Other signs can include:

  • increased thirst and urination or
  • vomiting and diarrhoea may also be seen.

High levels of thyroid hormone in the blood can cause changes in the heart, so a heart murmur is common in hyperthyroid cats.


Diagnosis is usually made with blood tests.
Other tests may be recommended for some cats (e.g. further evaluation of the heart).

Treatment options for hyperthyroidism in cats include lifelong medication, surgical removal of the thyroid gland, or treatment with radioactive iodine (I131), which is also used in people.
Here at U-Vet, we treat many cats with I131 with good results. 

What is a Veterinary Specialist?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

A veterinary specialist is a highly trained veterinarian who is board certified and has completed advanced training in various veterinary medical or surgical disciplines. To be qualified as a veterinary specialist, they must have completed at least four years at a veterinary school, a one-year internship or equivalent time in practice, two to three years in a residency program that meets the standards of a recognised specialty college or board, publish at least one paper and pass a series of rigorous examinations. Not all vets with a ‘special interest’ have completed this training.

Most veterinary specialists work at large hospitals or referral centres with access to state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, advanced training, support staff and other veterinary specialists.

Veterinary specialists are often leading in veterinary research, clinical trials, diagnostic imaging and treatment options while also provide education to veterinary students and the veterinary community.

At U-Vet we have specialists in small animal medicine, small animal surgery, neurology, oncology, diagnostic imaging, anaesthesia, emergency and critical care, clinical pathology, equine surgery, equine medicine and equine sports medicine. We also have visiting ophthalmologists, cardiologists and dermatologists.

Do you need to see a veterinary specialist?

Similar to the human health care industry, where you may be referred to a medical specialist by general practitioner, in the veterinary industry, animal conditions would usually be evaluated by a general practice (primary care) veterinarian. Your general practice veterinarian may then refer the animal to a veterinary specialist, if the advanced care and procedures are required. The veterinary specialist will work closely with you and the general practice veterinarian to ensure best quality of care.

Call for donors: cats to help other cats at new feline blood bank

Thursday, May 31, 2018

A new feline blood bank is being launched at the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet Animal Hospital in Werribee.

U-Vet’s ability to store cat blood for life-saving transfusions means the animal hospital now meets the highest standards for feline emergency and critical care.

Veterinarians are calling for owners to volunteer their cats as blood donors to provide urgently-needed transfusions for other felines.

Blood Donor Program co-ordinator Kerry Bozicevic said cats require emergency blood transfusions in the same way humans do.

“If a cat loses blood due to trauma, surgery, immune system diseases, cancer or has a blood clotting disorder, it may require a blood transfusion to survive and to return to a meaningful life,” Mrs Bozicevic said.

“Time is critical when in need of a life-saving blood transfusion, and having blood products readily available may make all the difference.”

Each blood donation is separated into its red blood cell component and its plasma component. This allows the most efficient use the of blood donation, with red blood cells given to those cats with a very low red blood cell count, and the plasma component given to cats that are bleeding due to blood clotting issues.

“One blood donation can potentially save the lives of two cats,” Mrs Bozicevic said.

The U-Vet Feline Blood Bank collects blood from cats kept as pets and volunteered as donors by their owners.

Donating cats need to be:

  • between 1 and 5 years of age
  • 4kg or more in weight
  • healthy and with a calm temperament
  • up to date with vaccinations and parasite control
  • a Victorian resident (never travelled out of the state) and already not a blood transfusion recipient

All possible donor cats are tested to ensure that it is safe for them to donate blood and that the blood is of the highest quality. In the blood bank, red blood cells can be stored for 35 days. Plasma can be stored for up to three years.

For more information and to donate:

Enquiries and more information

or email UOM-Blood-Donor-Program@unimelb.edu.au

U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital is home to one of the first centres for veterinary emergency and critical care in the country. Its emergency room is staffed to see sick pets 24 hours, every day of the year, with about 5000 patients annually.


Investigation into diseases and diet in pet dogs

Wednesday, May 02, 2018


Veterinary staff at the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet Hospital have been caring for dogs and trying to understand the basis of the recent rise of megaesophagus cases in Australia.

There are currently over 100 cases of Australian dogs diagnosed with megaesophagus that have also been fed Advance Dermocare petfood in the recent past.

Image: Confirmed cases of megaesophagus as of April 2018 (one point represents the postcode of a referring veterinarian).

Megaesophagus is an enlargement of the oesophagus, the muscular tube connecting the throat to the stomach. A ‘megaesophagus’ is like a deflated balloon where the muscles of the oesophagus can’t propel food or water into the stomach. As a result the dog regurgitates frequently and has difficulty in getting enough nutrition.

U-Vet staff are undertaking independent studies on behalf of family pets into the basis of recent megaesophagus cases, in addition to those studies being conducted by Mars Petfood.

Independent research funds are very limited in the field of veterinary science, so we are seeking your support to understand the potential association of food with megaesophagus, and to develop a range of advanced tests for these and other diet-related studies.

There is currently no specific treatment for cases of megaesophagus with no known cause (called idiopathic), apart from managing the condition and changing the way food is eaten by the dog.

Watch the 7.30 Report: "More than 70 dogs sick as popular dog food is investigated" (30 April, 2018).

 Image: Dr Caroline Mansfield, Head of U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital on the 7.30 Report.

For further information, contact us.


Lily with atrioventricular (AV) block

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Image: Lily playing with her friend

Lily the 9-year-old mixed Bull Terrier initially came to see us for evaluation of limping. However, when she was examined her heart rate was found to be low, about 40 beats per minute compared to 80-120 in normal dogs.

Lily was diagnosed with third degree atrioventricular (AV) block, where the electrical signals from the heart do not get through normally.

This condition also occurs in humans and is treated with a pacemaker – luckily for our pets, we can also do the same procedure in dogs!

Lily had a pacemaker implanted last month and is doing well. Animals can have a wide range of normal heart rates and in general, the bigger an animal is, the slower its heart beats – for example a blue whale’s heart beats only 8-10 times a minute, while a hummingbird’s heart can beat up to 1200 times per minute. 

Image: Lily

'Ernie' the koala is on the road to recovery

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Ernie the four-year-old koala is now on the mend after he was transferred to us from Werribee Open Range Zoo. 

Ernie required repairs to his knee after being hit by a car near Portland last year, fracturing his femur bone. The complications in his injury required specialist treatment from U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital in which two screws were placed in his knee joint.

Among our lucky team of vets to treat him were Dr Stewart Ryan, Head of Small Animal Surgery, and anaesthetist Dr Jen Carter.

"We had to do a repair where we placed the pieces back together and used two screws to hold it in place," Dr Stewart Ryan said.

The Australian icon came back for a check-up and despite a limp when he walks, he is recovering well. Dr Jen Carter commented, "He was wide awake, we got to hear some noises he makes, great grunting sounds." 

For further information, read about our Small Animal Surgery services or contact us.

Read the full story on Nine News.

Advice on feeding your pet dog

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Image: Dr Leonie Richards with her beloved pet dog, Ellie.

Dr Leonie Richards, Head of the General Practice at University of Melbourne’s U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital provides some great tips on what to feed your dog to keep it healthy.

What should I feed my pet?

From fresh meats and vegetables to premium quality dry dog food, or commercial tinned pet food, the choice of foods to feed your pet are plentiful and sometimes confusing.

When it comes to human diets, our growing knowledge of nutritional benefits sees us explore all kinds of specialist diets. Our awareness of what goes into our mouths does have a very real impact on our health and helps us take the issue of good food seriously. When it comes to pets, the correlation between what your pet eats and protecting the health of your pet is just as real.

What are the best food options for your pet?

Feed premium pet foods

Yes, they are more expensive but the high-quality ingredients in premium pet food are formulated by pet food specialists who focus on nutritional research. Premium pet foods are extremely palatable and contain all the essential nutrients your pet needs. This means that smaller portions deliver all the good nutrients your pet needs to feel full, energised and content.

Food freshness is very important

When you purchase pet food, check for freshness. If you prefer to purchase your premium pet food in bulk packs to save money, make sure you seal the packaging or transfer to an airtight storage container to help maintain optimum freshness. Pet food should always be stored in a cool, dry place. Make sure you throw away any uneaten food and always wash and dry your pet’s food bowl before adding fresh food.

Dry food versus wet food

As a general guide, hard food (kibble) is preferred for maintaining dental health and minimising build-up of unwanted tartar. Wet food is also less cost effective as you are paying for water content.

Feed the right amount

Talk to your vet about the specific needs of your pet and always check the label to understand the recommended portion to suit your pet’s breed, age and weight.

Avoid "people" food

Although the idea of giving our pets’ human food is seen as an indulgent treat, it can often be a disaster for their health and should be avoided.

Raw food diets

There is a growing trend to feed raw foods and they are not necessarily good. Our pets have specific food requirements and if you want to feed a raw food diet, seek proper nutritional advice from your vet rather than Google.

Do not feed any form of raw chicken as this has been associated with neurological disease in dogs as well as cases of salmonella.

Feeding bones

There is now huge debate whether to feed bones for dental care - discuss options with your vet. Bones can splinter, cause blockages, lead to constipation and cause teeth fracture.

For more advice and to make an appointment, contact us.