Pawprint Magazine

Published by the SPCA, Pawprint is an animal welfare magazine that highlights the latest work of the SPCA and membership activities, as well as current animal welfare issues.

Pawprint is published three times a year – February, May and August, and is available in both Chinese and English. As a member privilege, SPCA members enjoy a free subscription to Pawprint. For members of the public, however, the magazine is available online in PDF format.

If you are a member and wish to change the language preference for your Pawprint subscription, please contact our Membership Department at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 2232 5548.

If you are a representative of a Hong Kong school and would like to subscribe to Pawprint, please contact our Education Manager at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Issue 93 - 2014/02 2014/04

Issue 93 - 2014/02 2014/04


  • Latest News at the SPCA    2
  • Cover Story      The Border Clowder    6 - 9
  • Focus                Safe and Sound in Spring    10 - 11
  • Feature             Cruelty in a Cup    14 - 16
  • Inspectorate     Inspector Profiles    18 - 19
  • Inspectorate     SPCA Case Files      20 - 21
  • Veterinary         Vet Facts      22 - 23
  • Veterinary         Vet Profile: Dr Sarah Riley     24
  • Veterinary         Vet’s Case Book     25
  • Veterinary         Vet’s Tips     26 - 27
  • Happy Ending    My Last Words     28

Click here to download

(text only version)

  • Latest News at the SPCA                                                                           2

    Acupuncture on Pets

    The SPCA is pleased to introduce our new veterinary acupuncturist, Dr Doris Cho, to continue our long tradition of providing alternative medicine for Hong Kong’s pets.

    As in humans, acupuncture can help alleviate conditions such as musculoskeletal, nervous, urinary tract, skin, respiratory and geriatric diseases. Through the insertion of fine needles into specific acupuncture points, acupuncture helps to restore homeostasis (the internal balance of the body).

    Acupuncture is generally not painful and is well tolerated by most animals. The needles usually stay in place for 15-20 minutes and most animals under treatment become relaxed and even sleepy! In addition, acupuncture can be effectively combined with conventional western medicine and rehabilitation therapies, e.g. surgery, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy (underwater treadmill). Dr Doris will be running acupuncture clinics at our Kowloon and Hong Kong Centres.


    Exotic Animal Medicine

    The SPCA strives to promote a broad depth of knowledge amongst our veterinary team through special interest clinics. As such we have recently started to offer regular clinics catering to the needs our more exotic pet owning members from rabbits and hamsters to snakes, reptiles and birds!

    We now provide consultations to plan dietary and environmental requirements for your exotic pet. In addition, if your pet is sick investigations including blood tests and radiographs are available at our centres. Treatment plans will be discussed and explained to you and can be tailored to suit your pet’s condition. We are fortunate to have a team of four veterinary surgeons with a special interest in exotics covering a wide number of our clinics. Dr Isobel Jenkins heads up our team and is available for consultation at our Hong Kong and Kowloon Centres.


    Find out more about our acupuncture services at:



     Wanchai Centre
     For booking, please call 2802 0501

     Kowloon Centre
     For booking, please call 2713 9104


     Every Thursday

     Every Tuesday

     Exotic Animal Clinic

     Every Wednesday

     Every Thursday


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  • Cover Story              The Border Clowder                                                            6 - 9

    The Border Clowder
    Pawprint reports on a cat trapping operation in Sha Tau Kok. 

    Last year, the Cat Colony Care Programme (CCCP) received a request from a carer in Sha Tau Kok, who knew of a site where some 30 feral, undesexed cats were reproducing rapidly. Access to the border zone is restricted to permit holders only and the lack of veterinary services in the area means carers could not bring the animals out for neutering. Though our Animal Welfare Vehicle (AWV) does service border areas, the particular location of these cats in Sha tau Kok meant that local carers could not accomplish this alone. As such, with the help of CCCP carers, the SPCA organised a massive trapping and desexing operation in late August to help neuter the “breakwater gang”.


    Lone Island

    The site in question was a breakwater populated with some 30 feline residents. Surrounded by the sea and cut off from the shore, the breakwater gang relies solely on the kindness of a local fisherman who brings them fresh water and food every day. He takes good care of the cats but worried about the future of this colony. For two years, he could only watch helplessly as these cats multiplied rapidly. Life on the breakwater is particularly hard – many kittens do not survive and the cats are solely dependent on him for their sustenance. CCCP carers’ intervention helped the cat feeder understand the importance of desexing while the SPCA provided appropriate resources to help with cat population control. 

    The fisherman’s role was vital to getting volunteers to and from the breakwater. To avoid unsettling the cats, traps were baited ashore and then transported to the breakwater to be set up. From how a trap should be positioned to getting the bait exactly right in terms of portion and flavour, our experienced carers have got it all down to an exact science. This crack team of carers came from different parts of Hong Kong; some are veterans and others relatively new. Regardless of experience, they all know that their targets would have to be hungry enough for the baits to work effectively. Unfortunately, our fisherman friend had already fed the cats the night before the operation, so the team could only patiently wait.


    Good Intentions

    When the team was working at the dock, an old lady stopped by to chat. We found out that it was her who had placed her three unneutered cats on the breakwater two years ago, creating this woeful situation.

    Over the years, we have heard of individuals or groups advocating the creation of an island or a closed-off area where all stray animals are to be relocated to. Though well-intentioned, such a set-up encourages abandonments, so even if the animals are all desexed their population will keep getting bigger. In the breakwater case, no one has taken responsibility of the cats – our fisherman has taken upon himself to feed and care for them, but they’re never his responsibility to begin with. And if one day he chooses not to continue, the cats will starve. In conclusion, an animal island situation is not advisable because it goes badly wrong in most scenarios.


    The Waiting Game

    Several members of the team stayed on the breakwater while others watched from afar. Unsurprisingly, this unusual flurry of activity made the cats extremely vigilant. Many decided to hide in the nooks and crannies of the rocky breakwater as carers waited motionlessly under the merciless summer sun. After some two hours of waiting in vain, the team decided to leave the breakwater altogether to give the cats some space and left for the dock to continue the waiting game.

    The first round of trapping started at around noon and in three to four hours, the team successfully lured about half a dozen cats into the traps. In such large-scale operations, traps have to be used multiple times. Trapped cats need to be transferred safely to carrying crates so the traps can be set again. Carers took turns to transfer the trapped cats into carrying crates so the empty traps could be reset, while the others remained at the dock and continued with the trapping.

    Technically, the process of transferring cats can take place anywhere as long as there is enough space for manoeuvring, but we later learnt that it is ideally done in small, enclosed space; trapped cats will escape whenever they get the chance. Re-trapping escaped cats is much trickier because they’ve learnt their lesson! As such, our carers set out to locate the perfect place for the transfer – and they did so in a public disability toilet.


    Catchers in the Dark

    Street cats are usually very elusive during the day. As nocturnal animals, they come out from their hiding places to look for food at night. CCCP carers usually start setting traps at sundown, sometimes even later, and labour till late into the night before delivering the trapped cats to the CCCP room at the SPCA Headquarters in Wanchai.

    In the Sha Tau Kok operation, the 30 odd cats were confined in an isolated, small “island” with relatively fewer hiding places, making a daytime operation possible (really, the cats had nowhere else to go). Even then, trapping during the day didn’t produce much result until late afternoon when the cats got much more active (and possibly hungrier).


    The Next Day

    To capitalise on the desexing operation on the following day, carers also trapped other cats from nearby sites. As night fell, trapping became more difficult – on top of the limited vision, it had started to drizzle. While the team’s spirit wasn’t dampened by the rain, it sent the cats into hiding. By 9pm, the day’s trapping efforts had resulted in the successful capture of 28 cats (with 17 caught on the breakwater) and the team decided to call it a night. Arrangements had been made with a CCCP carer in Sha Tau Kok to store the crated cats in her home overnight. With the crates securely stowed, everybody went home to get some rest in anticipation of another action-packed day.

    Typically, carers would transport trapped cats to SPCA centres for desexing but Sha Tau Kok poses a different set of challenges because of the requirement of special permits for access. The area is also a rabies control zone because it borders China, so no animals are allowed to leave the zone. As a result, the next day began with the Animal Welfare Vehicle navigating the muddy roads of Sha Tau Kok in search of a place to park while the carers proceeded to retrieve all the cats.

    Our Animal Welfare Vehicle is a mobile surgical unit dedicated to animal desexing, allowing the SPCA to reach remote areas in the New Territories to promote and provide low cost sterilisation for dogs and cats. On board of the AWV, an SPCA vet and two veterinary assistants got ready to perform a marathon of desexing surgeries and veterinary checkups for each of the trapped cat. At the end of a long day, all trapped cats were desexed with the exception of one friendly kitten which was sent to foster care before being put up for adoption. The massive Sha Tau Kok cat trapping exercise concluded with the remaining 27 cats all returned to their original locations. We have also continued to work with carers in the area to trap the remaining cats.

    Learn more about the CCCP at


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  • Focus                          Safe and Sound in Spring                                       10 - 11

    Safe and Sound in Spring
    Stay out of harm’s way in the spring countryside.

    As temperature is on the rise and we are all itching to bring our canine friends to the countryside for a bit of fresh air, Dr Will Thomas and Dr Sarah Riley have a few words of caution to us enthusiastic dog owners so we don’t forget our dogs’ safety.


    Fangs Ahoy
    Snakebites and the likes

    Snake is not an animal that springs to mind when thinking of the concrete jungles of Hong Kong! Nevertheless there are more than 50 species of snakes living peacefully in the local countryside, from tiny “slug” snakes to 12-foot pythons, right in the midst of where our beloved pets go out for walks and play.

    Fortunately snake encounters are rare and even when they happen, most dogs have the good sense to run in the opposite direction. However, on the occasion where a bite happens, being prepared with the knowledge of what to do can make the difference between life and death.

    Depending on the species of snake and the toxin, you may see a variety of symptoms, ranging from severe pain and swelling in the region of the bite, muscle weakness and paralysis through to uncontrollable bleeding. These symptoms can start very quickly (minutes with a cobra bite) or be delayed (more than 12 hours with keelbacks).

    In the unfortunate event that your pet gets bitten by a snake, here are a few dos and don’ts to help you better handle the situation:



    • Treat all bites as an emergency. You should inform your veterinary surgeon that you’re on your way so they can start to prepare anti-venom. Snake venom can be split into two categories depending on the species of snake – neurotoxin (affecting the nervous system) or haemotoxin (affecting the blood) which of course influences the choice of treatment. If possible take a picture of the snake or if dead collect the body – but never put yourself at risk
    • Stay calm! Both you and your dog! Excitement will only make your pets heart beat faster, causing any toxin to rush around the body and reach its intended destination quicker.
    • Immobilise the limb and if possible carry your pet to transport them. Movement will increase the spread of toxin out of the bite area as the muscles contract and the blood pumps. Bites to limbs generally experience more successful outcomes than bites to the chest or abdomen.
    • Keep all bites below the level of the heart to avoid circulation of the toxin.



    • Apply a tourniquet. This can cause much more damage than the snakebite and could cause your pet to loose their limb. Even when bitten by a venomous snake, venom is only injected in less than 50% of cases.
    • Attempt to “suck” or “cut” out the venom and be sure to never place ice on the bite.


    Dr Will Thomas
    Veterinary Surgeon

    For more information, speak to your veterinary surgeon. With prompt veterinary attention, administration of anti-venom and nursing care, fatalities from snakebites are uncommon. 

    Should there be an emergency, call the SPCA emergency hotline at 2711 1000


    Hong Kong Hot Dogs
    How to stay cool and comfortable

    Due to the hot and humid climate here in Hong Kong, our four-legged friends are all too often affected by heat stress. As we move into the spring and summer months, the risk of your dog overheating becomes ever greater and the number of “hot dogs” presented to our clinics starts to rise.

    Heat stress occurs when a dog’s ability to regulate its body temperature is overwhelmed, and the excess heat causes damage to cells and eventually whole organ systems.  This article is aimed to help keep your dog cool and calm in the hot, sticky months!


    What are the key risk factors?


    Controlling Body Temperature

    For dogs, the main method of heat regulation is through panting. Unlike humans they do not have sweat glands in the skin and rely on the exchange of hot air from within the lungs for the cooler air outside in order to loose heat. Unfortunately this system is very limited when the outside temperatures start to rise, for example if a dog is left in a car/enclosed room or is confined within a dog carrier. It is therefore essential to allow your dog access to fresh air at all times.

    Dogs that are muzzled for prolonged periods will also be at risk as muzzles often take away their ability to pant. Please keep these times to a minimum and use “open basket” muzzles, which allow for some panting.


    Breed Predisposition

    Certain breeds are more likely to succumb to heat stress than others. The short nosed (brachycephalic) breeds are the highest risk group, including Pugs, Pekingese and all types of Bulldog. They have very restricted airways (narrow and prone to collapse) and, as such, reduce ability to transfer heat compared to longer nosed breeds. Dogs with thick coats will also be at risk, Corgis and Huskies being two examples, due to excessive insulation. Overweight animals are similar to those with thick coats, as the fat layer insulates them and also reduces the effectiveness of their respiratory system.

    Extra caution should thus be taken with brachycephalic breeds, thick-coated breeds and overweight animals. Consider clipping a thick or long coat down to around one inch in length (one inch to protect from sunburn and insect bites).


    Living Conditions

    Some dogs in Hong Kong spend a large amount of their lives outdoors and not in air-conditioning. Always provide shelter from the sun and an ample supply of fresh water.



    Heat stroke can be induced by excessive exercise. Hiking is very popular in Hong Kong and even fit animals can find themselves in difficulty.

    Always take plenty of water for a day in the countryside and provide your dog with regular shade breaks. You can cool your dog by applying water to their head and body.


    It’s warm! What to look out for?

    1.   Your dog becomes tired and, in extreme cases, collapses.

    2.   Excessive panting and struggles to settle.

    3.   The mucous membranes (in the mouth) become deep pink to red in colour and there is excessive salivation.

    4.   Vomiting and diarrhea.

    Though certain breeds of dog are more at risk, all owners should be very cautious of their dogs overheating in the summer months. If you see any of the above signs, or if you’re concerned for other reasons, please call for veterinary advice as soon as possible. Your quick action could save your dog’s life!


    Dr Sarah Riley
    Veterinary Surgeon


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  • Feature                       Cruelty in a Cup                                                        14 - 16

    Cruelty in a Cup
    Learn the truth behind the expensive Kopi Luwak and why you shouldn’t drink it.

    Hong Kongers take their coffee seriously – huge chains, independent cafés and everything in between dot the streets, with many café goers on the hunt to find the best coffee money can buy. Among the many different blends, there is one so highly sought after that it fetches more than the much-revered Blue Mountain; by weight it is even more expensive than gold.

    Previously relatively unknown, Kopi Luwak has grown in popularity in Hong Kong after it was featured on a local TV show a few years ago. Subsequent media coverage captured the imagination of the Hong Kong public, fascinated by the novelty for this unusual coffee and desperate to shell out their hard earned money to have a taste. Coffee businesses quick to accommodate curious patrons willing to shell out anything between 150 to nearly 300 for a small cup of brown caffeinated drink, started putting these drinks on their menu. Little do these “coffee connoisseurs” know that each cup contains much more than just coffee – when you drink kopi luwak, you drink cruelty.


    Kopi Luwak?

    Kopi Luwak is Indonesian for “civet coffee”, also known in Cantonese as cat shit coffee. Civets eat coffee cherries as part of their diet, and coffee beans (undigested stones) that are passed through their digestive tract are harvested from scats. These are cleaned before being roasted, creating the blend that is known as the kopi luwak. Civets are believed to select and feed on prime coffee cherries but collecting their excrements in the wild involves extensive tracking of these animals, which is time consuming and difficult. The process allegedly only yields as little as 500kg every year.

    It would have been fine if the kopi luwak trade had stopped at collecting civet poop in the wild. However, the supposed “scarcity” of kopi luwak and the prospect of cashing in on the coffee’s novelty factor have given rise to the exploitation of civets on a large scale. The unlucky civet species that got caught up in the coffee trade is the Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). These solitary, nocturnal creatures live in the trees of dense forests as well as urban areas. Their diet consists of fruits, insects and small animals. To make kopi luwak truly profitable, poachers capture civets from the wild to be kept as coffee producing “machines” on farms.


    Civets in Captivity

    In the farms, civets are kept in cramped cages in close proximity to each other. Being wild animals, this is extremely stressful – caged civets chewing their own paws off due to the stress of captivity is not something unheard of. Farmers produce kopi luwak by feeding civets only coffee berries and harvesting the coffee beans from their faeces afterwards. The poor creatures are therefore force-fed coffee berries as their only source of food. This is a far cry from a civet’s varied, natural diet; most suffer from severe malnourishment. Around 1.5kg of coffee berries, an equivalent to 125 shots of espressos, are fed to a farmed civet daily. With the recommended coffee consumption for humans being no more than four cups a day, this outrageous caffeine overdose can only be detrimental to civets’ health. Because of these terrible conditions, most farmed civets die in a few years; other are released to the wild, where they seldom survive due to their weakened health, when they can no longer process coffee beans in their guts.


    Coffee beans that have passed through the digestive tract of a civet are said to have a reduced acidity and boast a unique aroma. However, according to the Speciality Coffee Association of America, given the same coffee berries, civet processed coffee scored much lower than their unprocessed counterparts. So exactly why are people still drinking kopi luwak?



    Much like shark’s fin and fur, the demand for kopi luwak is created by false marketing that promises an exclusive, luxury product. However, based on quality alone, kopi luwak simply does not stand up to scrutiny of real coffee experts. The hype – bordering on false claims – fuels curiosity; the supposed rarity and the hefty price tag delude the coffee-drinking public into believing the hype of this “exotic” coffee.

    Ironically, the overwhelming majority of kopi luwak is now from thousands of malnourished civets poached from the wild, imprisoned on farms in terrible conditions and force fed coffee beans till they die.

    While some kopi luwak is sourced from the wild, the rampant mislabelling in the industry means it’s almost impossible to ensure the kopi luwak you’re drinking is cruelty-free. As such, we advise coffee drinkers to stay away from kopi luwak entirely. Cruelty aside, do we really need to cough up 300 dollars for a bad cup of overhyped poop coffee? Don’t fall for the hype – kopi luwak is not just mass produced, it’s mass produced in appalling conditions. The next time someone expresses an interest to try kopi luwak, tell them to curb their curiosity. The civets will be grateful for it.

    True luxury does not have to come at a cost of animal welfare. After learning the truth about kopi luwak, the Intercontinental Hong Kong, Langham Place Mongkok Hong Kong, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, along with some other five-star hotels and high-end shops, have dropped the drink from their menus.


    Find out more about the cruelty of kopi luwak at the Project Luwak at or visit their Facebook at projectluwaksg


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  • Inspectorate               Inspector Profiles                                                      18 - 19

    Johnson Fung - Assistant Inspector

    As an Assistant Inspector, Johnson has been receiving trainings to prepare him for the various situations he could get into on the job. A few months into his new job, he’s already playing a key role in our rescue operations.

    In November last year, our hotline received a call from an anxious parrot owner asking us to rescue his escaped pet. The said parrot was spotted on a tree right across from his home. An Inspector dispatched to the scene found that its bird band was stuck on a tree branch ten metres above ground and would require assistance from an experienced climber, which was why Johnson was dispatched to the scene along with reinforcements.

    After careful observation and evaluation, the team sent Johnson up the tree and he reached the branch where the parrot was resting. The plan was to saw off the branch so the bird could be rescued when it fell. Disappointingly, the parrot escaped in the blink of an eye when the branch fell off.

    On the following day, the pet owner once again asked us for help when he located his parrot again. This time the bird found himself on another tree on a steep slope, and his bird band got caught up among tree branches. Johnson was dispatched to abseil from the top of the slope to somewhere close to the tree. A second attempt of rescue freed the bird from entanglement, but also sent it flying towards a basketball court, located on the rooftop of a nearby school. Our birdy had the misfortune of getting the bird band stuck for a third time, but Johnson didn’t give up. After hours of labour, the team finally managed to reunite the naughty parrot with its very happy owner.

    Animal rescue is an incredibly challenging and difficult job, but each time Johnson safely delivers a precious life from danger encourages him to be even more courageous in meeting his next challenge; every happy reunion fuels his desire to help save more lives.


    Vi Tse - Volunteer Inspector

    Vi “Captain” Tse is a full-time businessman, a member of the Hong Kong Auxiliary Police, and a volunteer SPCA Inspector – talk about multitasking! Since becoming a Volunteer Inspector two years ago, he has been put on duty regularly to assist our fulltime Inspectors in their rescue missions. Each and every rescue is a unique and memorable experience for Captain, even something as simple as receiving abandoned animals.

    Seeing a rescued pet safely back in its owner’s arms gives Captain the greatest job satisfaction. Not long ago, he was called to a scene where a pet kitten fell victim to the “feline high-rise syndrome”. Loitering right outside of its 20th-floor home, the kitten later found itself safely in the hands of Captain and another Inspector. With the kitten back at home, the anxious owner thanked our Inspectors tearfully – naturally a moment of pure joy for Captain.

    His job in the front line means seeing young and sick animals on a regular basis. Before making their way to our adoption centres, most of them need experienced foster families to help them make a full recovery. In a way, Captain has taken his job home – he has now become a foster parent to care for animals in need. His family, especially his two lovely daughters, has really enjoyed helping to care for the animals that come to stay temporarily at their home.

    If, like our volunteer Inspector, you would like to help animals by making a difference in their rehabilitation and helping them find a forever home, sign up to be our foster parent! Please visit


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  • Inspectorate               SPCA Case Files                                                    20 - 21

    “Animal Cruelty is a Crime ! ”

    Inspectorate Figures at a Glance:     October - December 2013

    Hotline calls received              9,340

    Animals handled                     1,123

    Animals rescued                     486

    Complaints investigated          385

    Pet shops inspected                138

    Wet markets inspected            278


    01 Convicted (October)

    In July this year, a Shih Tzu had been suffering from a maggot-infested wound for a period of time without its owner providing any veterinary care and treatments. The owner was arrested and was later charged with cruelty to animals and sentenced to two weeks in prison. The dog was rescued but the wound was so serious that it was euthanised on humane grounds.


    02 Convicted (October)

    In February this year, 53 pedigree cats and seven dogs were kept in an apartment of about 700 square feet without proper care. Many of them were not provided with food and water and were living in such filthy conditions that some got sick and four cats were even found dead on scene. The owner was arrested and was later charged with three counts of cruelty to animals and one count of keeping a dog without a licence. He was fined $70,000 and sentenced to six months in prison (suspended for three years). Most of the animals were rehomed.


    03 Rescued (October)

    A stray dog’s left front limb was caught in a gin trap hidden on a slope inside some heavy bushes in Tai Po. Our Inspectors spent some 45 minutes trying to locate the dog and even longer to set it free. The dog was immediately sent to the SPCA hospital for treatment and care. After a necessary leg amputation, it has now recovered and is waiting for a good home at the SPCA.


    Our Inspectors sweep the countryside for illegal traps regularly. See them up close in action on our YouTube channel “SPCA Hong Kong” or simply use the QR code here.


    04 Rescued (October)

    A puppy was found trapped inside some sewage pipes in Hang Hau. Inspectors had to remove the heavy stone bar and crawl inside to rescue the puppy. After much effort the puppy was saved and taken to the SPCA hospital for veterinary examination.


    05 Convicted (November)

    In September 2013, two dogs were left unattended in a filthy village house without food and water. The owner was arrested and was later charged with cruelty to animal and fined $1,500.


    06 Convicted (November)

    A witness reported that an old woman severely beat her puppy in a village house, causing serious injury in the puppy which subsequently had to be euthanised to end its suffering. The owner was arrested and charged with cruelty to animals and was sentenced to two-week imprisonment.


    07 Convicted (December)

    In October 2013, a puppy had its snout bound shut by a plastic strap by its owner the whole time it was staying with him, who was arrested and charged with cruelty to animals. He was sentenced to 200 hours of civil services and fined $2,000. The puppy was rescued and homed by the SPCA.


    08 Rescued (December)

    A kitten was reportedly trapped in the underground drainage system in Tsz Wan Shan. Our Inspector managed to open a concrete lid nearby and after a game of hide-and-seek, was able to rescue the kitten and took it to the SPCA hospital for veterinary examination. The kitten was eventually rehomed by the SPCA.


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  • Veterinary                  Vet Facts                                                                    22 - 23 

    Toxic Threats … and Treats

    There are many substances in a typical Hong Kong flat or the street outside that can be poisonous to your pet. Some of these the animal may find for itself but some may be given as a treat by an unaware owner. Here are some of the more common ones:


    In Plain Sight

    Rodenticides (rat poison)

    These may be found in the home or placed in the street by the government (usually with a warning sign in the vicinity). If eaten they affect the ability of the blood to clot and can be deadly. Swift treatment by a vet is essential.


    Heavy metal toxicity

    This is unrelated to an owner’s musical preferences but refers to poisoning by metallic substances, usually lead. This can slowly happen over a long period. Lead food and water bowls must be avoided. Lead-based paint is another common source. Signs may include incoordination, seizures and stomach upsets.


    Paraquat (weed killer)

    On a personal note, having lost a dog to it myself many years ago, the herbicide is a terrible and deadly poison to cats and dogs, causing irreversible lung damage that requires the euthanasia of the animal. It should never be used in your yard or garden.



    While beautiful to look at, many species are highly poisonous to cats who can be attracted to eat them (or drink water from a vase). Poison is present in all parts of these plants and results in kidney failure. Those of greatest concern are any plant from the genus Lilium which includes Easter lilies, Tiger lilies, Asiatic lilies, and the genus Hemerocallis, which includes Day lilies.


    Human flu and painkiller medication

    It is natural for an owner who thinks their animal is in pain or has a “fever” to want to assist but human drugs like paracetamol and acetaminophen can be deadly to animals, especially to cats, even in small doses. Vets use different drugs for these conditions and should always be consulted. As with all human medications these drugs should be locked up out of harm’s way, out of the reach of children and our pets!


    Hidden in Treats

    Grapes and Raisins

    Another poison that can cause renal failure is found in grapes and raisins. These should be avoided in pet diets.



    Dogs enjoy this almost as much as humans do but substances within it (theobromine and methylxanthines) are poisonous and can be fatal if high enough doses are eaten. Particularly dangerous are the darker, concentrated chocolate types but even milk chocolate can be toxic if dogs eat enough. Never give chocolate to your dog and be careful that temptation is not put in their way, especially at Christmas and Easter! Coffee or caffeine-containing substances should be avoided for the same reason.



    This presents a double danger. Their pits are toxic especially to rodents and birds, and in addition they are one of the most common objects to be surgically removed when lodged in a dog’s intestine!



    If eaten over a long period, onions can cause problems with the red blood cells of dogs and cats, resulting in anaemia, illness or death. They should be avoided and the ingredient list of processed foods checked.


    General guidelines with pets and poisons

    Avoidance is obviously better than treatment. Dogs in particular are not too careful about what they eat. If you witness your animal eat a poison or potential poison, veterinary care should be sought immediately. If the substance is still in the stomach, the vet may be able to induce vomiting to get it out of the body before it does much harm. Even if it is too late for that, your vet has a greater chance of successfully treating a poisoning if treatment is started earlier.


    Dr Adam West
    Senior Veterinary Surgeon


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  • Veterinary                  Vet Profile: Dr Sarah Riley                                       24

    Dr Sarah Riley
    Veterinary Surgeon, British



    Bachelor of Science (BSc) (Animal Behaviour and Welfare), Bachelor of Veterinary Science (BVSc), University of Bristol & Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (MRCVS), UK.



    During my time at university, I took a particular interest in animal behaviour as well as welfare, taking a year off from my veterinary course to study these subjects in more detail (including learning patterns in chickens!) After graduation, for 18 months I worked in a busy small animal practice with a supportive team of vets and nurses in the North West of England (close to where I grew up). I decided to take “the leap over” to Hong Kong as I wanted a new challenge, and I haven’t looked back since.



    I find most areas of veterinary practice interesting, but I particularly enjoy emergency medicine, and behaviour.



    On a previous visit to Hong Kong, I visited the SPCA and really enjoyed the atmosphere and ethos of the practice. I enjoy working for a charity that provides both a high standard of care and a welfare friendly environment.



    I have a cocker spaniel called “Lucie” who sadly still lives in the UK. I am currently one of the SPCA’s foster parents so I am sure it will not be long before I end up adopting one of my cares permanently!



    Traveling in Asia, hiking, skiing, diving, mountain biking and anything else outdoorsy.



    One of my first cases after graduation (and one I will never forget) was “Sky”, a 12-week old Husky puppy. She had been suffering from diarrhoea since arrival from the breeders four weeks earlier and treated with a special diet but soon after that had started vomiting. 

    On arrival at the clinic she looked very sorry for herself and had an extremely painful abdomen. An ultrasound scan of her intestines revealed an intussusception, where part of the intestines folds back in on its self cutting off the flow of food/water through the guts and blocking the blood supply to the affected area.

    She was rushed straight to surgery to correct the blockage and “unfold” the intestines. However, once the offending spot was isolated, it revealed part of the intestines had already started to die off and that around 20cm of tissue would need to be removed.

    After the operation, everyone was extremely worried about Sky and due to her weakened state, she was hospitalised for supportive care for almost a week. Amazingly after much TLC (tender loving care) she made a full recovery; by two weeks post discharge she had gained 4kg in weight!

    Today she is still living happily in the north west of England, and isn’t missing the 20cm of intestine at all! It’s great when your actions can really make a difference and save a life … makes all that studying worthwhile! 


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  • Veterinary                  Vet’s Case Book                                                      25

    Cats Should Not FLY

    Cats falling out of windows are, unfortunately, common presentations at veterinary clinics in urban cities all over the world and Hong Kong is no exception. Sadly, they are so common that the expression “high-rise syndrome” has been coined to describe the risks and injuries sustained to animals by such falls.

    Cats are resilient creatures and often survive falls from a height that would typically kill a human or an average sized dog. Amazingly cats have been reported to have fallen from up to 32 stories and survived! Why is this? Part of the reason is their “righting reflex” – the innate ability to respond and adapt while falling to orientate itself to land on its feet. It is also proposed that from higher floors they are not accelerating when they hit the ground so the force is actually less.

    However, despite the number of patients surviving, when cats fall from heights, they have the potential to severely damage themselves. Common injuries seen include chest trauma (damage to the lungs by blunt impact), facial trauma (such as a broken jaw or teeth), or leg fractures.

    This case concerns “Timothy”, a five-year-old domestic short hair cat that fell from the third story of an apartment building.

    Like all trauma cases, Timothy had a quick and thorough emergency examination on presentation to assess the extent of his injury. Rapid assessment for detection of potentially life-threatening problems, such as chest, head and abdominal trauma that are often deadly, was done and these were prioritised over non-life threatening problems, such as leg fractures. Emergency tests were done on Timothy, including blood work plus abdominal and chest x-rays. Some cases are very severe, requiring emergency treatment such as oxygen cage therapy, blood transfusion, intravenous fluids to stabilize the patient. Emergency surgery for life threatening problems is commonly performed in trauma cases and the SPCA is very well equipped and prepared for dealing with such emergencies. 

    After initial clinical assessment Timothy was deemed stable, and a full musculoskeletal exam was then performed. Fortunately, Timothy did not have any evidence of severe internal injury. Luckily for him the injury sustained was minor – a bone broken in his paw that required a cast for 6 weeks.  His bone healed well and he made a full recovery and is now very active again!

    Has he learnt his lesson? He was lucky this time but might not be the next! Cats unfortunately do not always learn from their adventures and repeat offenders are not uncommon … as mentioned “cat-proofing” your flat – using either grilles or mesh covers – is the best way to go. After all, your cat only has nine lives, let’s not waste them!


    Dr Leonard Hamilton
    Senior Surgeon


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  • Veterinary                  Vet’s Tips                                                                  26 - 27


    Having cared for “flat cats” for over 20 years, my biggest worry has always been “flying cat syndrome”, sadly a frequent reality in Hong Kong. Most cats live in high rises and unfortunately have no idea they can’t “fly like the bird’ they have just tried to catch, resulting in these “flat cats” soaring past the window on the 14th floor!


    How do I “cat-proof” my windows? 

    The obvious way to prevent such a catastrophic mishap is to never open any windows, but that can lead to a stuffy, claustrophobic environment. The most sensible solution is to “cat proof’ the windows you plan to open. This can be done by simply fixing mosquito screens or you can go for a purpose made product such as “Flat Cat’ screens (available online from No drilling or expert fitting is required so you don’t need to get permission from the landlord!


    Other interesting facts:

    • Neutering your cat also reduces the risk of a “high flyer” as the desire to find a mate can be a contributory factor!
    • The survival rate of falling cats can depend on the height; in one survey the injuries sustained by cats falling less than six stories was actually greater than those falling from higher floors! Not that I would recommend falling from any floor!


    What other dangers can befall my fluffy friend when I am out?


    Mind the blind or curtain cords

    Keep them coiled out of reach; an open dangling cord is an invitation to play with possible disastrous consequences. At the very least, the blinds or curtains will come down with a crash; at worst a cat can cut its skin, suffer severe internal damage or even strangle itself.


    Unset the table

    Remove all table clothes from unattended tables; cats love to jump up and they sometimes don’t quite make it catching the cloth and everything else comes tumbling down!


    Medicines and cleaning products

    In general, anything that’s toxic to you will be poisonous to your cat as well. The rule of thumb is if you’d keep it out of reach of a child; keep it out of reach of your cat!


    Keep the toilet lid down

    Apart from the obvious unhygienic nature of drinking toilet water (unfortunately cats are not that discerning); small cats and kittens could actually fall in and not be able to get out!


    Poisonous plants

    A cat chewing on your houseplants is more than just annoying; it can be dangerous or even fatal. Those gorgeous smelling lilies you buy to brighten your flat can have fatal consequences for your cat; drinking the vase water or chewing on the leaves can result in acute kidney failure and death. Other potentially poisonous plants include azaleas, chrysanthemums, irises and crocuses.


    Unplug electrical cords 

    Whilst these cords can pose a tangling threat they are also dangerous on account of chewing. It might be the taste or texture of the plastic coating, but for some reason, a lot of cats can’t resist nibbling. Wherever possible run the cords under rugs and carpets or behind furniture that sits flush to the floor and wall. If a cord has to be run where a cat can reach it, buy some inexpensive plastic conduit covering, which is available at most hardware stores.


    Check the washer-dryer

    Keep it shut when not in use and always check before closing the door. I know this one from personal experience – when my cat was a kitten she loved to get in with the dirty washing!

    Whilst not exhaustive, the above tips will help to keep your cat safe and sound at home; cats are just like small children – they enjoy exploring and playing with everything; there is a reason for the saying “curiosity killed the cat”!


    Dr Jane Gray

    Chief Veterinary Surgeon


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  • Happy Ending        My Last Words                                                                                          28

    My Last Words
    A dog owner pens a poignant letter on behalf his beloved pet years after its passing.

    “I can feel it – old age and disease are dragging my feet. I know my time will soon be up and I would like to leave a little something behind for my humans, a note perhaps, so they can find solace in reading it when they grieve their loss. I hope they remember my words well.

    Apart from my love and trust, there are very few things – nothing of monetary value anyway – I have to offer to my humans, let alone leave anything behind. I’ve shared a lifetime with them, during which I’ve tried my best to console them in their sorrow, rejoice with them in their happiness. My humans have taken great care of me and treated me as part of the family. They are the reason I have lived such a happy life. But old age has got the better of me; now I am blind, deaf, and crippled by disease. Even my once acute sense of smell is lost forever – a rabbit could pass right under my nose and I wouldn’t know any better. As I linger on in the last days of my life, my dignity is all but lost. Before I become too sick, I must say my goodbyes, so my weary soul could finally rest in peace.

    I am sad because I am about to leave the ones I love, not because of death. My dear humans, this will be my last words. I ask you to please grant me my final wish.

    You once said, “when Dick dies, I’m not going to keep another dog. I love him so much I don’t think I’ll have any love spare for another one.” Please keep another dog after me. He has my blessing! This dog will keep you company and hopefully share his lifetime with you, just like I have. I know my departure would sadden you. I wish you would keep me in your heart but more than anything I hope you recover from your grieve before long and love your next pet just like you’ve loved me. 

    I’m leaving everything you gave me – collar, leash, jacket, raincoat and all – to your next dog. Whatever dog you choose to adopt, I’m sure it will do everything it can to love you. I hope you remember our fond memories together when you come visit me at my grave. “Here lies a dear friend who loved us as much as we loved him.” As your dog, the only thing I could do is to love you always.”


    14 December 2008


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