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How to walk your dog safely in the dark months of winter

As the clocks go back next Sunday (28th October) at the end of British Summer Time, millions of dog owners in the UK will be walking their dogs in the dark when they come home from work.  Road casualty statistics show that there is an 18 per cent rise during the winter months in the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured in road accidents: it's darker, wetter and windier out there.

Road traffic accidents - RTA's - are the most common cause of serious injury to pet dogs.  While it's true that many accidents happen when dogs are out on their own, a surprising number happen to dogs that are accompanied by their owners. And even more surprisingly, dogs can even be hit by cars while on the leash. I remember one case, where an owner was walking on a narrow footpath, with their dog on one of those extendable leashes. It was a dark evening, with poor visibility. Cars were swooshing by at speed. A cat darted out of some bushes beside the road, and the terrier leapt after it without thinking, straight into traffic. The oncoming car braked heavily, but couldn't avoid hitting the dog. The unfortunate owner was left shocked, with a badly injured dog at the end of his leash.

It's important to take steps to ensure that you - and your dog - are as safe as possible during those evening walks in the winter. The UK's biggest dog charity, Dogs Trust, has put together some useful tips to help.

  • Keep control of your dog and don’t let him off lead unless you are in a safe area which is well lit
  • Wear  high visibility clothing such as jackets, vests or reflective strips on your clothes so you can be easily seen by motorists
  • Work out a winter dog walking route which, in urban areas, includes both wide pavements and bright street lighting
  • If there is no pavement, walk against the flow of the traffic and keep your dog on the side farthest from the road
  • Carry a torch which will help you be seen and also enable to you see to pick up your dog’s mess. Or, consider a head torch so your hands are free
  • Walking in groups can be safer than on your own
  • If possible, take your dog in the car to a place where you can walk away from the roadside. Many parks and sports fields have lighting but always check that dogs are allowed first
With some thoughtful planning, you can make dog-walking a safer, more enjoyable activity, for both you and your pet. Take care out there this winter.
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BEVA Congress 2012 – How Horse Vets Keep Up to Date

Equine Education (Part 1 - CPD) As vets, we're always trying to do the very best for our patients. However, veterinary medicine is constantly changing - every year, hundreds, even thousands of new papers are published, new drugs become available, and new machines and tools come on the market. What was the "gold standard" of treatment for a disease ten years ago might now be proven to be more harmful than helpful! At a recent conference (BEVA Congress - see below for more on that...), John Walmsey, one of the foremost and best respected members of the profession, gave the plenary lecture talking about the massive changes that have taken place in equine veterinary care in the four and a half decades since he graduated. The drugs we have now are far more effective, the machines and tools more robust and more useful. Even ten years ago, MRI in the horse was really rare and (to be honest) unreliable; now it's a standard tool in working up a complex lameness. As a result, with the field of knowledge constantly changing, it's more important than ever for vets in practice to keep up! The process of keeping up to date is known as CPD (Continuing Professional Development), and we are expected to do at least 5 days a year. It can be made up in a number of ways, including lectures, seminars, webinars, practical courses and reading journals and papers. Like most equine vets, I receive the big journals Equine Veterinary Journal and Equine Veterinary Education, which (respectively) publish papers on equine science and equine surgery and medicine. I also try to attend relevant courses and lectures as often as I can. In September, I was at the BEVA (British Equine Veterinary Association) Congress in Birmingham. This is one of the biggest gatherings of horse vets in the world, and I try to go most years. Congress lasts for three days of lectures and seminars, as well as a large commercial exhibition. It's a great place to go to pick up the latest ideas, new treatments and medicines, and catch up with colleagues from across the country. I sometimes think we learn almost as much from talking over cases with colleagues as we do in the lecture theatres! This year was notable for...
  • The debate over firing of tendons. (Quick recap on that one - the Royal College, our regulatory body, does not permit firing of tendons etc; some equine vets think firing should be permitted again in certain circumstances; however, others disagree. The argument goes on!).
  • Andy Bathe from Rossdales in Newmarket had some hilarious stories about working at the Olympics, as well as a number of thought provoking points. For example, some of the showjumpers were receiving a wide range of different (legal) medications to keep them performing at their peak throughout the competition; and every single dose of every single medication had to be certified by an official vet on a separate form. That led to a HUGE pile of forms for the FEI vets to certify each day!
  • There was also a long session on current approaches to laminitis - unfortunately, none of the existing theoretical studies are an exact match for the real disease, and researchers are still plodding along, gathering information. Sooner or later, we will have a good understanding of the condition; however, at the moment we have to be content with identifying horses and ponies who are at high risk, and managing them to minimise the risk. There aren't any easy tests available to measure how high the risk is, however, so it still comes down to the clinical judgement of the vet on the ground.
  • New work being done on RAO (Recurrent Airway Obstruction, what used to be called COPD). Almost all the vets in the audience, as well as the panel of experts, agreed that this year has been especially bad for summer pasture associated RAO, and that cases seem much more resistant to normal treatment than usual. No-one knows why, but it seems likely that the unusual weather has resulted in more pollen than usual (or at least, more of the particularly reactive pollens). One lecturer from Switzerland had a fascinating paper to present on the genetic basis of RAO - he and his team have identified at least 2 different genes that can cause it, one of which is also associated with extra resistance to worms and other parasites. Unfortunately, though, it looks like it will be a long time before there is a simple genetic test, because there are another 11 genes that are also involved... as usual with any horse disease, nothing is as simple as it at first appears! However, he did have one useful tip... In Switzerland, a horse with summer-RAO is routinely moved into the mountains, which seems to reduce the severity. Obviously, this isn't always practical here, but one UK-based expert on the panel suggested moving to the coast for the same reason - to remove the horse from the source of the allergens that are causing the problem.
  • As well as the main lectures, there is always one lecture theatre devoted exclusively to Clinical Research - vets and scientists (and mostly people who are both) present their papers on all sorts of subjects, ranging from Soft Tissue Surgery to Reproduction to Imaging to General Medicine. If I tell you that papers presented include "Carbon Dioxide laser surgery with adjunctive photodynamic therapy as a treatment for equine peri-ocular sarcoid: Outcome and complications in 21 patients" and "Validation and reliability of orthoganal ultrasonographic projection dimensions of the kidney in the horse", you should get some idea of the level of science being presented!
Of course, after Congress, every delegate takes home a copy of the Proceedings - a (big fat) book containing a summary of all the lectures and papers presented. In addition, all the lectures are recorded and vets can access them online, if there was a lecture in particular that they missed. For a lot of us, Congress is only the beginning - on the train home, or over the next few weeks, vets across the country will be reading up on papers and lectures in their particular areas of interest. At most practices - including mine - whenever anyone has been on a course or conference, they then have to boil it down into practical, "hands-on" information. We then present it to the other vets (and nurses etc, if it involves new techniques or machines), so that everyone's patients can benefit from the new knowledge. Sometimes it's hard - it can be very difficult for all of us to accept that a long-cherished treatment has been proven not to work! - but for the sake of all our patients, we work hard to use the most up to date information, and not to be trapped in old, comfortable ideas that aren't as effective. The other side of veterinary education, of course, is the education and teaching of students that happens in practice. I'll be talking about that in my next blog!
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Cost of Vets – A sad story but an important message

This week I was in a situation which made me feel angry, sad, frustrated and powerless all at once. I wanted to share it because I think it highlights a really important issue about vets, pet care and cost. However, I will warn you it doesn’t have a happy ending. There was an appointment in evening consults for a euthanasia, which in itself isn’t unusual, but this one was for a Staffie who was only six and who hadn’t been seen for a year. The history we had was brief, she had last been seen for an ear infection but not since. So, I didn’t know why her owner’s had decided to put her to sleep; I was thinking that maybe she had been under the care of another vet for a problem which had become terminal or that this was a behavioural problem like aggression. However, when she arrived it was quite clear what the issue was. The poor dog had a terrible skin problem; she had sore and swollen feet, a nasty infection in both ears and in places has scratched herself red raw. Despite this she was lovely, happy, friendly girl, desperate for a good fuss. It transpired that she had been like this since she last came to see us, over a year ago, but her owner hadn’t brought her back or taken her to another vet because ‘the treatment hadn’t worked’ and it was ‘too expensive’, meaning that the poor creature had been itchy and painful for all this time. I did try to speak to the man about her condition and how we might help her. Itchy skin is a common problem in dogs and although it can be difficult to find the underlying cause, most cases will respond to treatment, which is usually inexpensive. Like many illnesses we can offer different options for investigation and treatment depending on what an owner wants and the funds available but the outcome is generally an itch-free happy dog who can go on to lead a normal life. However, in this case the owner wasn’t interested in any treatment at all. He had decided he wanted her euthanased and nothing would persuade him to change his mind. What made me so upset about this situation was not really the fact the owner of this dog wanted her put to sleep, (although I did find this difficult when I knew I could do so much to help her), she was his dog and so it was his choice but the fact that he had allowed her to suffer for such a long time before deciding to do something about it. I completely understand that the costs of veterinary care can be a worry for some people but that is no excuse for leaving a pet to struggle for any length of time. We are quite used to working within people’s budgets and we can always explore the option of finding charitable help or arranging payment plans. However, we can’t do anything unless owners get in touch, are open with us and let us know their concerns. So, the message of this article is; if you have a pet who is poorly but you are worried about the vet fees; please speak to your vet, be open and honest about your concerns and work with them to come to a solution which you can afford but that helps your pet. This is far, far better than leaving them to suffer, which is not only unnecessary, it is also cruel. Yes any treatment will require payment but as a pet owner it is your responsibility to provide this for your animals and we are animal lovers too and will do what we can to help!

A new trend: pets with human names

A survey of the most popular pet names of 2012 has just been released by Co-Operative Pet Insurance, and there seems to be an interesting trend: people are beginning to call their pets the same names as their children. The most popular dog names are are Alfie, Molly and Poppy, with Charlie and Max following, whilst the most popular cat names are Charlie, Molly and Poppy closely followed by Oscar and Alfie. The survey shows that pet owners are moving away from traditional pet names such as Rover and Whiskers, and are now choosing human names. The top two pet names also appear in the recently released top 10 children’s names. This is something that I've noticed in practice as a vet: some people are even using names that can't be shortened into handy "calling" names, such as Christopher, Andrew and Margaret. This new approach to pet names reflects a change in the way that people view their pets: they are now often seen as members of the human family. Many people see themselves as "pet parents" rather than "owners", so it seems natural to use children's names rather than animal versions. The humanisation of pets has become visible in veterinary consult rooms too, with some younger vets referring to owners as "mummies" and "daddies". Is there anything wrong with this trend? Should we just relax and enjoy the fantasy that our pets are little furry children? To me, it's fine as long as we don't get carried away with the illusion. The problem is that when people start to treat pets just like little humans, a sense of perspective can be lost which is not always helpful. Dogs are dogs, and cats are cats: yes, they are worthy of cherishing and adoration, but they're not human. Many of the behavioural problems that are common in dogs are connected with the way that people interact with their pets. For their own good, dogs and cats need to be treated like dogs and cats, not like little humans. It's no accident that some people repeatedly have dogs that "misbehave" whereas others have animals with impeccable "manners": it's about the sum of the repetitive daily interactions between humans and pets. I'm not saying that you need to be tough or mean: you just need to remember, somewhere at the back of your mind, that you're not interacting with a fellow human being. So yes, go ahead and humanise your pet, but don't let yourself be completely fooled. Charlie is adorable but he sees the world through dogs' eyes, and Oscar may look wise and thoughtful, but he's still a cat. Top 10 Dog Names 2012 1 Alfie 2 Molly 3 Poppy 4 Charlie 5 Max 6 Bella 7 Daisy 8 Millie 9 Ruby 10 Oscar Top 10 Cat Names 2012 1 Charlie 2 Molly 3 Poppy 4 Oscar 5 Alfie 6 Daisy 7 Millie 8 Tilly 9 Bella 10 Tigger