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Ask the vet: Dead sparrowhawk

Published 18/04/2009

Q. Last week a young sparrowhawk crashed into my living room window. I rushed him to the vet, but sadly he was dead. What made him do that?

Peter, Newtownards

A. I can tell you that this is a very common problem and I have had many of these lovely birds presented to me over the years with exactly the same history. Birds have very strong necks and have many more vertebrae than humans. Because of the mobility of the neck, a limp (dead) bird often appears to have a broken neck, but this is almost never the case.

I have performed post-mortem examinations on some and invariably there is a severe haemorrhage under the skull. I have always imagined these young birds just misjudge their dive and crash uncontrollably. I would be keen to hear from anyone who knows a more scientific reason!

Q. My Labrador has started drinking so much water that he is weeing all over the place! Is it safe to restrict his water intake?

Anna, Belfast

A. The short answer is probably not! Polydipsia (the dramatic increase in thirst) will usually have a medical cause, and restricting intake may cause massive, and potentially life-threatening, dehydration. In most cases dogs drink more to replace fluid lost from the kidneys, so the primary problem is usually excessive urination causing the thirst, not the other way round. I guess most people are familiar with thirst caused by sugar Diabetes, and dogs can get this also.

Most diabetic dogs lose weight as well as get thirsty so they are relatively easy to diagnose. If your dog has not got diabetes or kidney disease, your vet will need to do a complete health work-up to diagnose the condition. These work-ups can be a bit frustrating as dogs don’t read the textbooks. Your first action should be to measure the total daily water intake (full 24 hrs) and collect a urine sample to accompany you and your dog to the vet. Urine collection is usually easy in dogs: just take a clean dry bowl or used take-away carton to the garden first thing in the morning, and hold it under the urine flow when he/she goes. Such fun!

The neighbours may think you have gone completely mad. I wish you well — nearly all causes can be treated, but delay in diagnosis may jeopardise renal function, so please don’t leave it too long.

Q. My 14-year-old cat has just been diagnosed with kidney failure. What do you think may have caused it?

Graham, Dundonald

A. I am sorry to hear that. A careful veterinary investigation is necessary to differentiate these types and target therapy appropriately. Many times the exact cause cannot be determined. Eating any part of an Easter lily can cause renal damage. Anti-freeze is lethal: it is vital to dispose of this chemical safely. No matter the cause, thankfully there are now several treatment options. Did you know that just eating the correct prescription diet can at least double life expectancy? Monitoring for urinary infections and severe hypertension (high blood pressure) can also improve the quality of life: this is no longer the devastating diagnosis it once was.

Belfast Telegraph

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