7 Questions Before You Register with a Veterinary Clinic

DSCF0997_editedRealistically most people attend their nearest vet. If you are lucky enough to have a choice then here are a few things to think about to avoid potential disappointment further down the line.

Out of Hours Policy

All vets must provide 24 hour emergency cover BUT this can take different forms. Traditionally your own veterinary surgeons cover this out of hours answering the phone 24 hours a day 365 days a year. This will still be the case in many vets however emergency clinics are popping up all over the place and in many cases their veterinary surgeons cover the on call for a large number of practices.

Pros – you get a wide awake staff and a clinic set up specifically to deal with emergecnies; the staff may have further qualifications in emergency and critical care.

Cons – the emergency clinic might be miles away from your usual clinic; you (and your pet) won’t be familiar with the staff or the building; they may have a different pricing structure to your own vet; they may not have ready access to your pets medical records.

DSCF0995In-Patient Care

In some veterinary clinics there will be 24 hour supervision of hospitalised patients. Usually these are the clinics also providing 24 hour emergency cover.

Some clinics will use the out-of-hour emergency provider to look after their in-patients and this will mean someone will have to transport the animal to another location.

In other clinics the animals will be checked during the night. Obviously no animal is neglected but in some clinics there may be lonely parts of the night if animals are otherwise stable and not requiring treatment.


All veterinary surgeons graduate as a jack of all trades and are familiar with routine procedures but if your pet needs more complex treatment, for example surgery on a broken limb or more sophisticated diagnostics, can these be done in the same clinic or will you have to be referred to another practice.

Some clinics will be a one stop shop with specialists in all fields. Other clinics will do the basics and send you elsewhere for more complex procedures.


Most cats find a trip to the vets stressful but some practices make the visit easier than others. There are cat friendly clinics and these will have separate waiting areas, a separate cat ward and maybe even cat-only clinics to avoid cats having to endure a room full of barking dogs as well the vet.

Open clinics or Appointments

Very few vet practices have open clinics because they are inevitably busy and chaotic. However, they can be handy for some people if they don’t mind the wait. Most clinics run appointment systems but it would be worth knowing the average waiting times as even with an appointment time the waits can be lengthy in some practices.


Clinics operating over various sites are handy so you don’t have to travel so far. This is great for routine appointments. However, bear in mind branches are often smaller than the main clinic meaning they are less well stocked, have less staff and your animal may have to be transported to a main clinic for further treatment.DSCF1237_edited


I’ve put this last deliberately. Price is always the first thing people think about but I think it’s better addressing the above points first. Decide on the level of care you feel comfortable with. Every pet owner is different. Some people like cheap and cheerful others want the gold standard. Generally, the level of care you want is directly proportional to the cost.

If you want to compare prices, asking about the price of a dog booster or cat spay is advisable as these procedures should be roughly comparable across clinics. You may also be interested in how much they charge for a prescription.




Tails.com (review):Tailored dog food to your door

WP_20160301_006.jpgI’m no pet nutritionist and despite having a background in veterinary medicine I tended to feed my greedy Labrador cross whatever was handiest. He’ll eat anything and has a stomach of steel!  But, now he is an elderly man of nearly 12 I decided to try a different approach. Spurred on by a little faecal incontinence I wondered if a change in diet might help…essentially I was looking to de-bulk his poo! Anyway, a trial code offering 2 weeks of dog food delivered to my door for £1 was dangled in front of me and a few clicks later I found myself signed up to Tails.com. I admit I expected to cancel it after the first delivery. To my surprise, a year later, we’re still enjoying dog food to our door. Obviously home delivered dog food is nothing new but the unique selling point of Tails.com is that the diet is tailor made to your dog, and yes, it has helped his faecal incontinence a little.

Certainly what comes out the other end is much healthier looking than it used to be!

So, our boy gets a balance of “senior care“, “mature vitality” and “joint care“. What’s more, you get a scoop to measure the exact daily requirement for your dog, even taking into account whether or not they get scraps off the table. For anyone with an overweight dog I think this could really help with the diet!

The ingredient list is transparent for any hard core nutritionists out there. I was impressed by the high percentage of meat (this is not for vegetarians!) compared with other brands. The diet also includes some of the currently fashionable supplements – glucosamine, chondroitin and L-carnitine. Now, I’m the ultimate sceptic and as far as I know these supplements haven’t been conclusively shown to make any difference but they are popular and some people swear by them. They do no harm so I say, why not. It’s better in the food than me having to buy  and administer them separately! I’m also not sure my dog needs tailor made kibble for easy chewing in older dogs – he’s a Labrador – but, if you have a dog less greedy or with dental problems then this may appeal to you?

Also if you dog’s stomach is less steel-like or maybe if they have allergies then I’m sure the food can be made with this in mind. Maybe a good option for dogs on exclusion trials?

Price wise it compares to a mid range brand and considering it comes straight to your door it’s great value for money.

Anything that comes straight to your door in Northern Ireland without a silly surcharge gets a big shiny gold star:-)

Finally, the usability of the Tails.com web platform is fantastic. The website is incredibly simple and effective. You can set up your account in minutes and have food dispatched almost immediately. If you need more/less food you can cancel or pause your deliveries to suit. I’ve never had a problem.

So, if you want to try it out for yourself you can use my “Fetch Your Friends” code: LAURAVHH. You will get 2 weeks of tailored dog food to your door for £1. There is no catch and you can very easily, with one click of a button, cancel your account if you’re not impressed. If you use my voucher code I will get £10 credited to my account but the truth is I was half was through writing this review before I even realised the “Fetch You Friends” deal existed. It doesn’t change my opinion…we love Tails.com regardless:-)




Confessions of a bottle sterilising sinner

My sterilisation sins confessed…

WP_20160229_001You purchase a shiny microwave steriliser and even clean the microwave. You place all the bottle components in their correct spot in the steriliser making sure the steam can circulate beautifully.

You read the instructions on the formula box and re-read them again just to be sure. After measuring everything in your meticulously clean measuring jug you empty the kettle, fill it up again with sparkly new water, boil and wait. You wait exactly 30 minutes for the water to cool. You set a timer just to be sure. Then go go go, get that bottle made up. Then you frantically try to cool it to drinking temperature with some crazy hand dance moves under the cold tap. Your other hand is busy trying to console the “hungry” baby.

Baby decides she doesn’t want the bottle after all. You discard milk immediately. In 5 minutes you repeat the above process again, making sure you wash your hands first of course.

Meanwhile, baby drops a dummy. You swoop in immediately. After thoroughly washing it in soapy water and sterilising it again…you hand it proudly back to the hysterical baby. Add “buy more dummies” to the shopping list.

Tiredness creeps in. You wonder if it would be terrible to make up a bottle a little ahead of feeding time? Just one. Baby seems to survive OK. How about two? Before you know it you’re secretly making up a full day of bottles and putting them in the fridge. You’re on the slippery slope.

Before you know it you’re guessing how much water’s in the steriliser and that water’s been cooling for 30 minutes…right? Can I fit all four bottles in the steriliser at once? The lid’s a bit wonky but I’m sure it’ll be OK…right..?

Ahhh, they’ve dropped their dummy again. I’m sure it’ll be OK if it’s rinsed under a tap?

You pick a dog hair off a sterilised bottle. It’s a sterile hair…right? You watch baby eat a mouldy rice cake off the floor and justify your actions.

You Google “What age can I stop sterilising bottles?”

They drop their dummy again. You wipe it on your trousers and hand it back….

Please tell me it’s not just me? If you’ve managed a year of perfect sterilising then well done. I’m just not that perfect!! Please don’t call social services…I’m trying my best:-)

My Petit Canard

Top Spots for NI Tots: Armagh Planetarium

Wee Green Folk thought we’d try join in  with NI Science Festival this weekend and made a trip to Armagh Planetarium along with Chewbacca and some of his Star Wars buddies – I have no idea what the rest are called! WP_20160227_004

Armagh is about an hour’s drive from Belfast which coincided beautifully with a morning nap for B. J was suitably entertained with  a sticker book and repeated explanations that we were going to Armagh to see model planets and were not actually going to the moon…I like to call it managing expectations! I find the line defining reality is rather blurred and broken in the mind of a 2 year old.

Of course we arrived spot on 10am  – the few benefits of early starts. The carpark was empty except for a dog and his smiley owner.

Inside the planetarium we were pleased to find admission was free and there were still places available for the “Little Yellow Star” preschool show…bonus. We planted a flag on the moon and stuck our heads through various cardboard cut out astronauts. We even made our own rockets. As you can see arts and crafts are not our forte. The rocket was launched outside in a watery whoosh much to J’s delight! B looked distinctly unimpressed but then our rocket was pretty shoddy!WP_20160227_014

“Little Yellow Star” was a pre-school animated cartoon in the big domed theatre. It was a lovely experience and kept both kids entertained for 15 minutes – no mean feat. It ran through some of the star constellation animal shapes. I had no idea there was  a whale up there! The narrator was live and he did a great job!

Downstairs there are various exhibitions with enough ipads and light projection shows to entertain little ones for a wee while. The adults were a little confused by the 3D glasses – maybe these days our eyes are just too used to fancy graphics to be easily impressed! It would have been fascinating to read some of the displays – maybe we’ll come back for a adult visit one day.

Outside the planetarium is the Astropark which makes a lovely walk. There’s a scale model of the solar system and we enjoyed standing on each planet in turn. Beware to read the markers. It wasn’t until the end we realised earth was scaled up by 200 times! We only made it as far as Pluto. It’s tiny – no wonder it’s been downgraded to a  minor planet! Anyway, little legs were getting tired and a cheesy sandwich picnic was calling. This was our first outdoor picnic of 2016 and a lovely family moment… if not a bit chilly. All in all it was a lovely day out and a nice chance to introduce J to some science although I suspect he still thinks the moon’s made of cheese- you win some you lose some!WP_20160227_026

Should I care about Parabens?

When I do some “Ethical ” shopping on-line, especially for make up and toiletries, I always see the label “paraben free” and think “ohhhhhhhhhhh, that sounds good!” But, I admit I have no idea what a paraben is and why it matters anyway. So I thought I’d collate the headline “facts” or at least the big opinions out there. Another dummies guide…



What are Parabens?

  • For the last 70 years parabens have been used as preserving chemicals in toiletries and make-up and in most products you find in a steamy bathroom. They’re added to stop things going mouldy.
  • They are hard to spot on an ingredients list. The common names end in “-paraben” but watch out for synonyms. I get the impression pharmaceutical companies might be trying to hide them? If my A-level chemistry serves me correctly any ingredient containing the letters “benz” or talking about “esters” is likely to be a paraben in disguise.

Why Should I Care?

Some folk question if it’s a good idea to cover our bodies in parabens. They are known to be absorbed into the body. Parabens are a little like oestrogen hormone and increasing oestrogen in our bodies might have negative effects including…

  • increased risk of breast cancer (in men as well!)
  • lower sperm count and other fertility issues


Why Shouldn’t I Care?

  • There is no scientific evidence parabens in cosmetics cause a problem.
  • Parabens have passed all the necessary safety checks needed by the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Only very small amounts are found in the our cosmetics so the level of paraben exposure would not be significant enough to cause a problem.


My Feelings

It’s impossible to know if parabens are as bad as people say. There is a lack of scientific evidence but then there is a lack of scientific evidence for a lot of things we take for granted! Doing proper randomised control trials involving people is very difficult and often limited by ethics.

Generally in life, I tend to air on the side of caution. I wear a helmet when I ride a bike and don’t use my phone when driving. But I do understand the flip side. I’ll happily drink a few glasses of wine at the weekend and if I was hit by a bus tomorrow I’d probably prefer to be wearing deodorant when they haul me off to A & E.

I think aiming for paraben reduction in my life is probably achievable. Especially in the area of kids who will be most susceptible if there is a problem.

On the plus side, I don’t feel quite so silly now I vaguely know what it is I’m avoiding:-)


Review: Little Tikes Activity Garden

Review: Little Tikes Activity Garden

It sits a little uncomfortably with me how much my kiddies love this toy. I’m a lover of slow toys made with natural, sustainable materials. So far for B’s 1st birthday I’ve bought her a xylophone and Robinia blocks from the lovely Myriad Toys. They arrived yesterday and are beautiful….

…I digress. I console myself that if we must have a large plastic toy in the middle of our living room at least it’s a very much loved and played with bit of plastic. To be fair Little Tikes don’t rate too badly on the ethical front anyway. Ethical Consumer gives MGA Entertainment an Ethiscore of 14/20 which is actually really high!!! Good news for all those Baby Born’s and Baby Annabel’s out there as it’s the same company behind them. However, I admit this was an impulse buy and not a premeditated ethical purchase! Luckily this is one of very few successful impulse buys. Two years on and we’re on our second child and she loves it just as much as her big brother.PicMonkey Collage 10

We bought it when J was just starting to sit up. We propped him up inside and he spent ages playing peekaboo and passing balls through the hole in the window. Once he got on the move he loved crawling through the open “slide” end. Now he’s 2 1/2 it’s “My house” where he role plays being the postman or the Tesco delivery man! It took him a while to master the doorbell although his sister has caught on much quicker!

11 month old B loves it equally as much and has just mastered the shape sorter letter box. She’s also found it a fantastic place to practice pulling up and now cruises around in circles.

Probably most surprisingly it’s one of the few a places that both kiddies will play together…for a little while at least!

The only parts that they don’t bother with is the telescope and the electronic phone unit. To be honest I’m glad because telescope tends to block the door a little and the phone is actually quite hard to put back onto the receiver. Both of which would probably make my 2 year old’s head explode with frustration! I was trying to imagine what I would put in the phone panel as an alternative. My top three ideas were:

  1. Climbing frame/wall. They climb over it anyway so why not make it purpose built!
  2. Ball track and pounder
  3. Lots and lots of holes to feed a ball through – the hole in the window alone has given hours of fun!

Anyway, have you experienced the joy of a Little Tikes Activity Garden? One of the few plastic toys that I’d say is well worth the money.


Is Your Cat Poo Green?

Having looked at the greenest option for dog poo disposal it’s only fair to look at cats. There is one main reason cat poo cannot be thought of in the same way as dog poo…Toxoplasmosis.

Some catDSCF0890s excrete Toxoplasma gondii which is zoonotic (i.e. infects humans). It can cause illness especially in those with a weak immune system and it can cause foetal damage and miscarriage if pregnant women are exposed. (For those of you in farming circles it causes similar problems in sheep – one cat can lead to an abortion storm in an unvaccinated flock!)  I was surprised to find out  water treatment systems don’t always kill this parasite!! Don’t get me wrong, not all cats are super shedders of this organism. When a cat is first infected it only sheds infective oocysts for around 14 days. With that in mind the first big question is whether or not your cat goes outside.

The 100% Indoor Cat

Here we need cat litter. Clumping cat litters contain clay retrieved from environmentally damaging mining. Many litters also contain silica which isn’t friendly for cat or human lungs. Torn up newspapers are quite a good option although people have less old newspapers lying around these days. If you want to purchase an eco-friendly litter there are lots to choose from. Friendly Natural cat litter made from straw, Yesterday’s News made from newspaper and World’s Best Cat Litter are among an expanding market.

But what do you do with the soiled eco-friendly litter?

The first point to note is that the risk of your cat excreting infective oocysts is minimal. If they have not been outside in the past 2 weeks where could they have picked up Toxoplasmosis from? Now, if you are feeding a raw meat diet then that’s a different matter. But if they have been inside for at least 2 weeks, they are fed “normal” cat food, are otherwise healthy then I see three options…

Bag and Bin

If you read my dog poo review you’ll know I wasn’t too impressed when I discovered that even supposedly biodegradable bags don’t really break down in land fill conditions:-( Really, there is no eco-friendly way to put cat litter in the bin.

Flush it down the Toilet

Having assessed the Toxoplasmosis risk as being negligible this actually seems a pretty good option. Check that your eco-friendly cat litter is suitable for flushing – many of them are.


Similar to dog poo I’d be a little wary of using the end product around veggies or where kids are playing but if you have a use for the end product, maybe around fruit trees, then why not? In the highly unlikely event that your cat somehow was excreting Toxoplasmosis oocysts the heat in the compost bin would probably kill the oocyst anyway. If you want to go down the composting route check out this link for a how to guide. There doesn’t seem to be a cat poo composter on the market in the same way there is for dogs.

Dig a Big Hole

Another option is to dig a big hole and bury the litter. Seems pretty straightforward if you have a suitable site, a shovel and a little time.

The Less than 100% Indoor Cat

Cat which go outdoors are  a little more risky in terms of Toxoplasmosis as they pick it up from wildlife. There is no way of knowing if/when your cat has been infected as they don’t get sick. Young cats will be inherently more risky. Although the risk is small it is still present and that means composting and flushing don’t seem like such a great idea. Let’s face it many of these cats will bury their poo themselves and in fact that’s probably the most eco-friendly option! You can’t really argue with nature in this case! If you can train your cat to poo well away from veggies and children then well done:-)

If these cats are also using a litter tray when indoors then I have no better option but to bag and bin the soiled litter.

Technically, you could go down the route of blood testing your cat to try to assess whether it’s been exposed. If you get a positive result then you would reasonably safely open up the flushing and composting options. Whether it’s ethical to take a blood sample from your cat for this purpose is entirely up to you !

Any other ideas let me know!

Reliable Sources:

Toxoplasma gondii infection