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What should vets do about negative comments on their Facebook Pages?

Most vets realise the value of social media for marketing their services, but many have reservations about the possible downside of this type of direct engagement with the public. In particular, vets are often put off interactive online activity like Facebook because of their fear of negative comments by disgruntled pet owners. Is this a genuine concern, and if it does happen, how should vets deal with it? I've just had my first experience of a "grumpy customer" on Facebook and I learned a few lessons during the exchange. I'd be interested to hear what other pet owners out there feel about the way I handled it. For the sake of confidentiality, I've changed some of the details. It happened on a Sunday evening: an email notification arrived alerting me to a new posting on my Facebook page: "You refused to treat a sick kitten: shame on you!". I responded immediately, by logging on to Facebook and telling the poster that I knew nothing about the situation: we are a four vet practice and it's impossible for any one of us to know about all events happening in our clinic. The reply came back at once: "You turned a friend away because they had no money. It's cruel to turn away a sick, dying animal". I responded again, explaining that our practice had a fair policy to all sick animals, prioritising their welfare, but that in order to respond properly to the comments, I would need to find out more about the specifics of the situation from the practice during office hours. I also said that it was inappropriate to discuss confidential issues in a public forum like Facebook, and I asked the person to send a private Facebook message if they wanted to discuss it further. The person responded by reposting the public allegation that it was cruel for me to turn away a sick kitten. I then did what I had been tempted to do from the start: I used the Facebook "nuclear" option to delete the postings and block the person making the posts. This is the first time that I've ever blocked someone: I like the idea of Facebook being an open forum, with as little "censorship" as possible. I followed up the situation the following day by checking our practice records. It turned out that a long-standing bad debtor - someone who had had several hundreds of pounds written off previously because of a refusal or inability to pay - had turned up with an unwell kitten, and no money. The vet on duty examined the animal and gave advice on first aid, but refused to admit the animal for intensive investigations and treatment without some money being paid in advance. The client had no money at all with them. They were advised to seek help at a local charity clinic, or to borrow a nominal sum of money to allow us to commence treatment. We had heard no more from them until the Facebook posts, which apparently originated from one of their friends. At the moment, it seems that my actions in deleting the posts and blocking the user have resolved the issue of having an unwanted public argument about a private matter. Facebook provides enough control for Facebook Page administrators to allow unwelcome content to be easily removed and for unwanted posters to be rapidly blocked. The automatic email alerts that are sent to notify administrators about new posts mean that as long as someone is watching incoming emails, inflammatory posts like this are unlikely to be missed. I do have some questions. Was I right to delete the posts? Or should I have left them there, as evidence of my willingness to interact online, dealing with complaints as well as compliments? To me, the key issue here is vets' professional obligation to maintain confidentiality. It is not possible to deal effectively with a complaint without discussing the precise detail of the accusations, and these are often private. Even if it had been the kitten owner posting, rather than one of their friends, it would still be inappropriate. Holding a contentious discussion of this type on Facebook is like having a similar type of discussion in a busy waiting room. Suggesting that the poster sends you a Facebook Message instead is the online equivalent of asking a client into a quiet room to discuss the issue in private. This seems like a more appropriate way of dealing with an emotional situation where facts may be disputed on both sides and tempers may flare. Meanwhile, I hope that the sick kitten is doing OK. How far should vets go to help people who don't wish, or aren't able, to make any financial contribution to the costs of treatment? And should people with "no money" be allowed to keep pets at all? Perhaps that's a subject for another blog......
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What NOT to feed your cat.

Gizmo eatingClients often ask me what they should feed their cats. It sounds like a simple question, but the answer is far from straight forward. The biggest debate amongst veterinarians at the moment is whether or not a cat should be fed dry food or wet food, or both. Personally, I tend to lean towards wet food as it seems to be the more natural option for a lot of different reasons that I won’t go into in this article. But I don’t necessarily recommend that to all of my clients. My own cat, for example, loves almost any dry diet but seems to hate wet food, so this is clearly not a good option for her. Being fussy creatures by nature, in most cases, the best food for your cat is the one that they will eat. But this isn’t always the case. Read on to see some examples of what NOT to feed your cat... “I feed my cat only the finest fillet steak! Costs me a fortune, so it must be good for her, right?” Short and long answer to that one – absolutely not. It’s true that in the world of well-balanced, scientifically formulated complete pet foods, you generally get what you pay for. More expensive foods, on the whole, tend to be of better quality than cheaper ones. But that only applies to complete, well-balanced pet foods. Just because a human food is expensive (ie, humans really like it and therefore are willing to pay a high price for it), doesn’t mean it’s going to do your cat any good at all. Sure, a bit of steak here and there isn’t going to hurt them, but by feeding your cat exclusively the muscle meat of any animal, they will quickly become deficient in a wide range of vitamins and minerals. There is, for example, very little calcium in muscle meat, to name just one. Other expensive human foods can even be dangerous for cats, even in small volumes. So if you ever feel like splashing out on your cat’s diet, put back the caviar and foie gras and ask your vet for their recommendation instead. “But sometimes all she’ll eat are her treats, so I just give her those!” The problem with this one is that unless your cat is extremely ill and you’re happy to get them to eat anything at all, this simply isn’t true. Cats are absolute masters when it comes to training their owners at mealtimes. And they’re not stupid. A normal, healthy cat will not starve itself. But they’ll certainly have you believe that they will. A normal cat (again, we’re not talking about sick cats here) who only eats treats, or some rubbish, unbalanced cat food, does so because their owner keeps providing it. Take it away and offer a balanced cat food, and eventually they will eat it. They may make you feel like you are the most horrible human on the planet for denying them their favourite food, but they will eat it. OK, you may have to try a few different flavours before you find one that they won’t argue about with you, but there is a good cat food out there that they will eat. And they will thank you with their good health, though not necessarily in any other way... Look at it another way, if somebody offered you a salad and a chocolate bar, you’d probably choose the chocolate bar. But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t eat the salad tomorrow if that’s all there was! A word of caution though, if you try to change your cat’s diet, always do so gradually by mixing it in for a few days to avoid stomach upset. And if they really do go for more than 24-48 hours without eating their new food, speak with your vet for advice because it can be dangerous for a cat to not eat for too long and there may be an underlying medical problem that you didn’t know about. “My cats deserve a special treat, so I give them tuna for dinner every night” And I’m not talking about a complete and balanced tuna-flavoured cat food here, but tinned tuna for humans. In this case, it’s not the tuna itself that’s the problem (unless of course your cat is unfortunate enough to be allergic to tuna), rather the fact that it is fed as a meal every night. Too much fish can have inappropriate levels of calcium and phosphorus, and could lead to other problems like thiamine deficiency if raw fish is fed too often. There can also be low levels of toxins like mercury in some fish that won’t harm you if eaten occasionally but can build up if eaten in large quantities. It’s also worth noting that it is particularly important not to feed more than just the very occasional small treat of liver, as eating too much liver can cause serious vitamin toxicities. Like most things, moderation is key. Again, you might enjoy eating pizza for dinner every night, but it probably wouldn’t do your body any good. If you’d like to give your cats a treat, try giving them a different treat each time, provided each one is safe and not too high in fat, and give just a small amount of it, not a whole meal’s worth. “I’m sorry, did you say crisps?” Of course, there are some human foods that shouldn’t even be fed in moderation. You’d be amazed what some people will admit to feeding their cats as treats ‘because they really seem to like it’. Sure, your cat may love crisps, but they have absolutely no nutritional value for them (or us, really...), and are simply high in salt, fat, and carbohydrates. They may not necessarily hurt them, but they certainly don’t need them, and it’s not difficult to find them a more appropriate snack. Common human foods that probably shouldn’t be fed to cats in any quantity, no matter how much they seem to like them, include sweet or savoury biscuits, processed sandwich meat, and chips among many other things. You could also add milk and cheese to this list, although I haven’t had much luck convincing clients to give these treats up as they are used so commonly. Cats would not and probably should not naturally drink milk, and can in fact be allergic to it, it is only our domestication of them that has created this ‘need’. And then there are things like onions, chocolate, alcohol, tea, coffee, grapes and raisins that can be toxic in even small quantities so these should never be given to cats. Daisy pinching foodWhether the problem is finding a food that your cat seems to like, your cat constantly crying out for food, or your own overwhelming desire to treat them to something you think is nice, it’s important to remember that as the carer of this domestic animal you are generally in control of your cat’s diet. If your cat is overweight, chances are you’re feeding it too much, no matter how much they tell you they’re starving. If your otherwise normal, healthy cat will only eat the most expensive smoked salmon, it’s because you offered it to them and they decided it was good enough to hold out for. And if you’re unlucky enough to have a cat that hunts you down and cries for a tasty treat even though you know they shouldn’t have it, be strong and walk away, or better yet, try some kind of distraction such as a toy or a good stroke. It’s not always food they’re crying out for, sometimes it’s the attention of being fed. But if it persists, be sure to take them to the vet for a checkup because constantly crying out for food can actually be a sign of hyperthyroidism or other serious illness. Whatever the cause, if you find yourself with a feline feeding issue, speak with your vet because many times the solution is easier than you think. And remember, just because your cat wants it, doesn’t mean it’s in their best interest to have it! If you are worried about any specific symptoms your cat may be showing, talk to your Vet or try our Interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help assess how urgent it may be.
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Who would win Olympic events between humans and animals?

The London Olympics have captured the full attention of the public and the mainstream media: there's something compelling about watching humans pushing themselves to extraordinary athletic achievements. Yet in comparison to some animals, even exceptionally talented humans are slow and weak. One of the UK's top sports scientists happens to be a veterinary surgeon. Professor Craig Sharp qualified as a vet in 1956, starting out in mixed practice in Crieff. In his leisure, he was a serious athlete, at one time holding the record for the fastest run to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. He soon began to take a serious professional interest in the science of physical exercise. In 1971, he took up a lectureship in the (then) innovative Department of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Birmingham, the start of an illustrious academic career. He's been described as the founder of sports science in Great Britain, working closely with Olympic athletes and coaches. In last week's Veterinary Record, Professor Sharp published a detailed academic article comparing the athletic abilities of different animals with humans. His findings make even top athletes seem like puny weaklings compared with the power and speed of the animal world. In sprint distance races, humans are left standing. A greyhound ran 100m in 5.8 seconds, compared to Usain Bolt's best effort of 9.58 seconds. Over 200m, a cheetah has been timed at 6.9 seconds, a horse took only 9.98 seconds, and a greyhound ran it in 11.2 seconds. Meanwhile, Usain Bolt's world record is 19.19 seconds. A horse has run 400m in just 19.2 seconds, and a greyhound has done it in 21.4 seconds. The fastest human takes over 43 seconds. Animals beat us over longer distances too: the pronghorn antelope can run 800m in 33 seconds (the human record is 1 minute 41 seconds) and the same animal can cover a mile in 1 minute 30 seconds (compared to 3 minutes 43 seconds in humans). Humans do a little better over longer distances and varied terrains. On the flat, a horse can run a marathon in 1 hour and 18 minutes, compared to the human record of just over two hours, but when a "man versus horse" race takes place on hilly farm tracks, forestry roads and rough moorland, the gap narrows. Humans are good at charging through undergrowth, rushing up steep banks, leaping off ledges and running down steep hills. Over one 22 mile race, the horse still won, but the winning margin dropped from 30 minutes to just under a minute.   Humans have even beaten horses over some long distances, although arguably it's not fair: horses are obliged, under animal welfare rules, to take lengthy breaks for food and water, whereas humans are allowed to stagger on without stopping. Running through the wilderness was important to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and we've evolved with anatomical features to do this well. Compared to great apes, humans have long legs and narrow waists. We have short toes: if they were 20% longer, this would double the mechanical work of the foot and make us slower. And our big toes are parallel to our other toes, creating a push-off lever when running. Apes' big toes stick out sideways, similar to our thumbs, making their feet better for gripping objects and for climbing trees, but less good at running. Our lower legs are biomechanically efficient, with elastic tendons on the soles of our feet, and well developed Achilles tendons above the back of our heels. The tendons stretch under our weight then contract like springs, pushing us off at speed, like pogo sticks. Our lack of body fur and all-over sweat gland distribution (only equalled by horses) prevent us from overheating during prolonged exertion. We have an efficient fuel system too, storing around twenty miles worth of energy-providing glycogen in our running muscles. Whatever about speed and endurance, humans don't fare at all well compared to the best in the animal world when it comes to strength. While the human world record for the "clean and jerk" lift is 283kg, an African elephant can lift 300kg with its trunk, a Grizzly Bear can hoist a weight of 455kg, and a Gorilla can carry 900kg. Humans do, however, possess one crucial advantage over the animal world: the large cerebral cortex in our brain allows us to think and plan. The impressive raw speed and brute force of nature is outplayed every time by the cunning human mind.
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