Incontinent cat? Tired tortoise? Just stay tuned . . .

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The Independent Online
Welcome to 'Pet Line', the vetinerary surgery of the airways. If you have a problem with your Pomeranian, trouble with your tortoise, or a catastrophe with your cat, help is at hand. But first . . . the dog-walking weather.'

With the patience of a saint and the wisdom of one of the great philosophers, every Sunday at 6am, Bradley Viner, host of LBC radio's phone-in for anxious animal lovers, answers questions about an extraordinary array of pet ailments.

No two calls are the same on 'Pet Line'. Callers' animals seem to have problems I've never dreamt of. But then, people on 'Pet Line' live for their pets.

Some of my favourite moments have included a goldfish that lay on the bottom of his tank without moving for weeks ('there's nothing wrong with him, he's just lazy') and a pair of parrots that had been necking so passionately they rubbed each other's feathers off.

Another memorable caller (Pete from Peckham) had an 18-year-old cat (Charlie from Peckham). 'His pupils are always open wide, like headlamps. They're beautiful to look at but he keeps bumping into things.'

The poor animal was practically blind. Luckily, he had lost his sight gradually. 'Cats that go blind overnight do have problems,' advised the vet.

Cats and dogs on 'Pet Line' are big on digestive problems. 'Leaky cats' are ten-a-penny. ('Try putting tin foil down, they hate peeing on it.') Dogs seem to have 'loose motions'. ('A diet of lamb and rice might help.') Sounds quite nice.

Even when Bradley's away, 'Pet Line' boasts its very own holistic vet and an animal dermatologist as substitutes.

The dog-walking weather this week was quite good.

'The pollens are up. The fleas are out. Bacteria and yeast tends to grow on every available surface at this time of year . . .'

The first caller was June from Hemel Hempstead.

June's cat had been bald 'for almost a year now'. Most bald cats pull their own fur out, apparently, usually because of fleas. June had been using a flea collar. 'The best thing to do with flea collars is throw them away.'

Fortunately, June's cat is an adult. You can't use insecticides on kittens. 'If she was a kitten, she'd be absolutely snookered,' said the vet, compassionately.

The nightmare of fleas paled into insignificance with the next caller, Mary in Tooting.

'How's Tooting today?' asked the vet, chirpily. At 6am? Dark, probably. Mary's Alsation cross ('a Battersea beauty') was covered in warts. 'She isn't just warty, she's very warty.'

The dermatologist had a particularly pragmatic way of dealing with the problem. 'I suggest an annual or bi-annual Wart Day. You have to take off the ones that are causing the problem. They'll come back of course.'

His wise words had the ring of Confucius to them. 'The poodle or cavalier with a lot of warts will get more warts.'

Remind me not to get a poodle or cavalier then.

But even poodles aren't as bad as boxers. Boxers are prone to, 'well, everything. Especially acne. Especially under the chin. We always used to teach students that if they are asked which sort of animal gets a particular sort of problem they should say it's a boxer.'

On to the next caller ('from warty dogs to Coral in Cookham'), and a call that's upset me all week. Coral's tiny, fragile voice quivered with distress.

'I'm concerned about my tortoise. He came out of hibernation in March and he was fine. Now he's gone back in and he won't come out again. He won't wake up. He won't eat. I've had him for 38 years and I'm wondering whether it's the weather or whether . . . whether . . . he's just old . . . You know . . . Whether I'm going to lose him.'

Empathising poetically with her anxiety, and obviously agreeing with me that this was a matter of some urgency, the vet suggested Coral go straight to her vet (with her tortoise).

'He might need rapid treatment. Cold weather in spring can have a devastating effect.'

Oh no. I felt like taking her myself. Luckily, the news wasn't all bad.

'There are certain injections that can brighten up tortoise and although, certainly, he's getting on a bit, tortoises do live to a very great age.'

Thank goodness for that.

If you're reading, Coral, ring in again this week and let us know everything's OK. You know I'll be listening.

The names in this piece have been changed to protect the identities of the pet owners.

Miles Kington is on holiday.

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