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That must be the worst part of your job ……

…. is something I hear all the time. People are, of course, talking about euthanasia. They imagine it must be really hard putting pets to sleep. Well, it isn’t. I see it as a kindness, a gift, the final act of love for our pets.

Only very occasionally is euthanasia hard for me and that is usually when I am forced to put an otherwise healthy animal (almost exclusively dogs) down because of behavioural problems.

Very, very rarely is this their fault, the blame lies at the door of those who bred them and denied them the early experiences and socialising they needed to cope with life, or of those who abused them, or never bothered to train them….

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Why do dogs wag their tails?

There are few things more cheering than the sight of a wagging tail but what is your dog actually trying to tell you? Certainly, it can indicate happiness but also a lot of other things as well!
A tail held high and vigorously wagged from side to side indicates its owner is happy and ready to play.

A tail held level with the body and wagged more slowly shows that the dog is in a situation where they are not quite sure what is going on but are interested and paying attention.

A tail held low and wagging only a little or twitching, is often showing that the dog is feeling threatened and you should…

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Stopping the suffering of brachycephalic dogs: an update

Our petition was successful: action has started, with a meeting in London.

In May 2016, VetHelpDirect launched a petition, to be signed by vets and vet nurses only, calling for action to deal with the suffering of short-nosed breeds of dogs. The professions responded vocally, with thousands signing, with hundreds adding their comments to express their frustration with the current situation. You can read these for yourself, but typical examples include:

  • I find it distressing to watch these poor animals fighting for breath whilst owners think it is “cute”
  • I see problems at work more and more due to extremes in these breeds
  • Dogs and cats should not be purposely bred to have conformation that will cause suffering

Our petition was sent messages of support by BSAVA, BVA, RSPCA, PDSA and the Dog Breeding Reform Group, and the Kennel Club responded by calling a special meeting at the Kennel Club HQ in London to discuss the issue: this took place this week, on 15th June. The stated purpose of the meeting was “to allow current research and resources available to dog owners and breeders to be presented, with a view to discussions on where we are now, and how we could productively collaborate to improve the health of dogs now and to the future.”

I attended the meeting on behalf of those who signed the petition…

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Antibiotic resistance: should the veterinary industry be doing more to help?

Antibiotic resistance, like global warming, is a threat to our future that keeps popping up in the media. The topic moved centre-stage today, with the long awaited publication of a major report that specifies the severity of the risk, and the measures that need to be taken to avert the threat.

It’s a long report, at 84 pages, and it’s worth reading for those with a serious interest in the subject, but here’s the gist of what’s being said.

Antibiotics are critical for modern medicine and surgery

First, the issue: antibiotics are a special category of antimicrobial drugs that underpin modern medicine (and veterinary medicine). If they lose their effectiveness, key surgical procedures (such as intestinal surgery, caesarean sections and joint replacements) and important medical treatments that depress the immune system (such as chemotherapy) for cancer) could become too dangerous to perform.

Why should antibiotics lose their effectiveness? Basically, bacteria are sometimes able to develop mechanisms to avoid being killed by antibiotics, developing so-called “resistant strains”. These are then able to multiply in the presence of the antibiotic, rendering the drug useless….

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Urgent call by vet profession to stop suffering of brachycephalic dogs and cats

The Pug in the photo below may look “cute”, but when you look closely, you’ll see that there’s a dark circle in the centre of his throat. This is a permanent tracheostomy which had to be surgically created because the unfortunate animal was unable to breathe properly through his nose and mouth. He had started to collapse, suffocating, when he went about his normal daily activities. The tracheostomy was needed to stop him from dying a frightening, choking death.

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Giving medication to pets: a necessary but challenging task

Giving medication to pets is not easy. In a typical case of a dog with a skin condition, I may send the owner home with three types of tablets to be given twice daily for ten days. As I write up the final details of the patient’s file, I sometimes reflect that I have sent the owner away with a challenging task to complete.

When vets give medicines, we often use the easy route of giving an injection, usually into the skin at the back of the neck. Most animals do not even notice this happening, since the skin in this area is loose, with insensitive innervation. Long acting injections are sometimes available, such as an antibiotic that lasts for two weeks, or a steroid that lasts for a month, but these drugs are only effective for particular cases. In most instances, ongoing medication has to be given by owners at home, and this is usually via the oral route, using tablets or capsules….

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A message from the Easter Bunny for owners of pet rabbits

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I’ve often wondered about the oddness of the Easter Bunny. What does a rabbit have to do with Christianity? And why on earth would a rabbit produce eggs?

A little internet research was enough to find some answers. First, our Christian festival of Easter, while clearly celebrating the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, coincides with an ancient time of feasting linked to Eastre (or Eostre), who was the Saxon goddess of Spring and dawn. Eastre’s favourite animal was a large bird, which in mythology, she transformed into a hare. Perhaps coincidentally, both eggs and hares/rabbits have long been regarded as symbols of fertility, celebrated at spring time. Eggs and hares/rabbits have also featured in Christian art and customs, and in the 17th Century, there are the first records from German churches of Easter hares bringing Easter eggs to children.

Whatever about the origins of the large, fully clothed, friendly, egg-producing Easter Bunny, his prominent presence at this time of year offers a useful opportunity to mention helpful information about caring for modern day pet rabbits.

  • While the Easter Bunny is always on his own, pet rabbits love company, needing at least one other rabbit to be happy bunnies. The best combination is a neutered male and neutered female.
  • Although he delivers chocolate eggs, the Easter Bunny would definitely never eat them. Rabbits need fibre based plain diets, with plenty of clean hay, grass and leafy greens such as broccoli, cabbage and kale, not lettuce or rabbit “muesli” which can contribute to serious teeth and stomach problems.
  • The Easter Bunny is often shown wearing a jacket, but real rabbits don’t need clothes. Their living environment should be enough to keep them warm and safe. Their home should be large enough for them to move around freely, waterproof and draught-proof, with clean, dry bedding and a big attached exercise run that allows them run rather than just hop.
  • The Easter Bunny would definitely enjoy an Easter Egg hunt. Although rabbits should never eat chocolate, they are inquisitive, playful animals who need plenty of opportunities to dig, forage and explore.
  • The Easter Bunny is happy and healthy, and the same should go for all rabbits. Pet rabbits should be checked every day for any signs of illness or injury and taken to the vet if there are any concerns.
  • The Easter Bunny never seems to get any older, but typical pet rabbits live for 8 to 12 years of age. To maximise their life span, rabbits needs regular health checks and vaccinations at the vets, just like cats and dogs.

Many families take on pet rabbits in the springtime, and while it’s true that they can make excellent children’s pets, they do need careful adult supervision to make sure that their welfare is optimised.

Happy Easter everyone, and may you enjoy whatever the Easter Bunny brings to you.

 

 …

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Commercial pet food: could insects provide a new form of sustainable ingredients?

The Pet Food Manufacturers Association runs a pet-related seminar every year, often covering novel topics that are interesting to anyone with any connection with the pet world. This year, the topic was “sustainability” – both of the production of pet food, but interestingly, also the production of pets, including the complex issue of dog breeding. This is the first of two blogs from the seminar: the second one will discuss the “sustainable dog production” issue.

The first question is: what does “sustainability” mean? Most of us think about this in terms of our environment – the issue of declining resources, such as clean air, fresh water, fertile soil, forests, oceans and the wider issue of global warming. But for every human endeavour, there is a broader definition of sustainability which includes the ability of the organisation to thrive for coming decades. As well as the resources issue, there are three other important aspects:

1. Full transparency. Our information-rich, internet-driven world means that people expect to know everything possible…

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Babesiosis – a new arrival to the UK

On 16th March this year, newspapers and news feeds across the UK broke the news that a new “deadly tick-borne disease” had been diagnosed in dogs in Kent. The disease turned out to be babesiosis – a parasite of the red blood cells, similar in many ways to malaria, transmitted by tick bites. The condition has now, apparently, reached the UK for the first time. So, how seriously should we take the stories, and are they accurate?

Is this a new disease?

Not at all – it has been fairly common in continental Europe and across the world for many years; as an island, the UK has been lucky enough to avoid it (until now). There have, however, been “mini-outbreaks” before in the UK, so it’s not something we’ve never seen before. The difference is that the previous outbreaks have been in dogs who had travelled to Europe on the PETS Passport Scheme; the new outbreak appears to be “native” to the UK, with infected ticks surviving in the environment….

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Crufts – the best and worst of the dog world?

Crufts starts today – the World’s Largest Dog Show – an annual dog-fest that used to be seen as a “best of British” institution, but which has become controversial in recent years. This year, three different viewpoints have been loudly expressed.

First, the Kennel Club , which is “dedicated to protecting and promoting the health and welfare of all dogs”, predictably stressing the many initiatives taken to promote good health in pedigree dogs. And there’s no doubt that innovations like the Mate Select programme, the Online Kennel Club Academy  to provide education for breeders and judges, the recently released 2014 Breed Health Survey, a range of new DNA tests and other initiatives represent useful steps forwards towards improving pedigree dog health….

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