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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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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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If you care about animals, why aren’t you vegan?

Are you an animal lover with a vague unease about eating meat? Have you heard all the recent buzz about veganism, and wondered if it’s for you? If so, you’re like me: read on.

Last month, I was one of the fifty thousand people who took part in Veganuary, which meant living a vegan lifestyle for the month of January. It was an eye-opening experience. I learned about how much of my daily diet was simply a meat-eating habit rather than conscious decision-making. I discovered how easy it is to prepare delicious and nutritious non-meat, non-dairy, non-egg meals….

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BBC’s Today Programme asks a profound question: how much is a dog’s life worth?

Dogs and vets’ fees took centre stage in the UK media yesterday when they featured on the BBC’s Today programme, the most popular show on Radio 4, with over 7 million listeners every week. One of the presenters, Evan Davis, brought his whippet, Mr Whippy, into the studio, and a discussion on vets’ fees followed. Mr Davis recounted how he’d spent £4000 on fixing Mr Whippy’s broken leg (including a course of hydrotherapy) while fellow presenter Justin Webb admitted that it had cost £5000 to save the life of his dog Toffee after he’d swallowed a sock.
In both cases, the costs had been covered by insurance (as it is for around half of British pet owners), but the incidents provoked a debate about the size of vets’ bills, and the ethical dilemma about how much should be spent on treating pets.
As Davis put it: “When we got the dog, I thought… he’s like a watch – if the repair is going to cost more than the new one – he cost £500 … then you basically throw the dog away and replace it with a new one. But of course, once you’ve got the dog, you don’t think that way”. The presenters then discussed how much they’d be prepared to spend of their own money if their pets weren’t insured, and Davis summed his view up neatly: “If you compare the dog’s leg to the life of a small child in a poor country, obviously the child prevails. But if you compare the dog’s leg to a holiday, I would pay for the dog’s leg any day.”
I suspect that most pet owners would share this view. Dogs become part of the family, worthy of significant sacrifices in our personal lives.
Davis then came up with an interesting idea: just as the National Health Service has the National Institute for Care Excellence (NICE) providing national guidance and advice to improve health care, why isn’t there a pet equivalent – perhaps a Veterinary Institute for Clinical Excellence (VICE). The presenters pointed out that there is a financial temptation for vets towards to do unethical treatments at huge costs, extending the life by not very much, possibly causing suffering. So should there be some way of countering this temptation? Should there be some guidance body to make judgements on how far it is right to go?
The problem, of course, is that every case is individual. And the wisdom of proceeding with a case can only be judged properly with the benefit of hindsight, when it’s all over.

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Do I need to worry about “Alabama Rot”?

You may have read in the news recently of another cluster of dogs affected with the exotically named “Alabama Rot”. Also known as “Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy” (CRGV), this condition is still poorly understood. As a result, there’s a lot of worry and speculation, and vets are receiving increasing numbers of panic-stricken phone-calls from dog owners! So, what do we actually know about CRGV?
What is it?

Firstly, let’s specify what it isn’t – for example, despite excitable media reports, it isn’t a “flesh eating bug”. Nor is it a “superbug” or a variant of the Ebola (or any other) virus.

Technically speaking, it is a form of thrombotic microangiopathy, a condition where blood clots form in the small blood vessels in the body, blocking off blood supply. For some reason, the skin and the kidneys are most sensitive; without a blood supply, the tissue dies, causing ulcers on the skin, and failure of the kidneys….

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Is that “veterinary nurse” really a veterinary nurse?

Language and terminology is important. Our society recognises this fact, and in some walks of life, you cannot call yourself by certain terms unless you are appropriately qualified.

The medical field is the area where so-called “protected titles” are most prevalent: there’s a long list from “music therapist” to “dietician” to “clinical scientist” to “physiotherapist” and “paramedic”. If you read the list, you’ll be surprised, and I suspect that you’ll be reassured too: it’s good to know that when you go to see a “hearing aid dispenser”, under law they must be properly trained and qualified.

There are serious penalties for people who try to set themselves up as one of these practitioners when they are not entitled to do so: anyone using one of these titles must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council, or they may be subject to prosecution and a fine of up to £5,000.

Interestingly, not all professional titles are protected. The words “doctor” and “nurse” have been in general use for hundreds of years to describe a variety of people, and so they are not specifically protected. The title “doctor” is used far more broadly than just for medical doctors, with a number of professions (including dentists and now vets) using it as a courtesy title, as well as people who hold academic doctorates, such as PhDs.

Similarly, the title “nurse” is not protected: as well as medical nurses, it’s used by nursery nurses in nursery schools, and sometimes by veterinary nurses.

The fact that the terms “doctor” and “nurse” are not protected can lead to issues where the public can be mislead by individuals who use the terms to their advantage (such as a person who is an academic doctor trying to pass themselves off as a medical doctor). For this reason, the terms “doctor of medicine” and “registered nurse” are protected titles, but for the public, arguably this is not sufficient to avoid confusion.

There are some professions that would like to have protected titles, but for various reasons, this is not possible. Anybody can call themselves an “engineer”, a “scientist” or a “surveyor” because these terms are said to be in such widespread use. These professions have had to add prefixes to their titles to try to minimise confusion, such as “incorporated engineers”, “biomedical scientists” or “chartered surveyors”.

Only properly qualified and registered vets are allowed to call themselves “veterinary surgeons”, but there is a major anomaly in the veterinary world: anybody, even without training or qualification, is allowed to call themselves “veterinary nurse”. The veterinary nursing profession has so far had to use the protected title “registered veterinary nurse” to be used exclusively by properly trained and qualified nurses, but there’s a strong argument that this is not enough. Most readers, I’m sure, would agree that if they were dealing with someone calling themselves a “veterinary nurse”, they would assume that the person was qualified. Unless something changes, it’s very likely that unscrupulous individuals will use this confusion to their advantage, misleading people into believing that they are qualified.

What has to change? Clearly, the term “veterinary nurse” needs to be made a protected title. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the British Veterinary Association and the British Veterinary Nursing Association all believe that this is necessary. They are asking Parliament to change the law to protect the title “veterinary nurse”, and they need as much help as possible to achieve this.

Please sign the official petition to register your support. The aim is to get 100,000 signatories which will trigger the issue will be considered for a formal parliamentary debate. The petition is currently at 20,594 signatures and the petition closes on 14th February 2016 so time is running out. The engineering profession tried a similar tactic to protect the word “engineer” last year, but the attempt failed after their petition only reached 6176 signatures.

It makes clear sense that the term “veterinary nurse” should be trusted as the recognised name for a skilled, trained and qualified profession. If you agree, please sign this petition now, and ask as many as possible of your friends and contacts to do the same.

Please follow this link to the petition.

The RCVS has also produced a short animation stating the reasons behind the petition:  watch this by clicking here.

Animals are the ones who will benefit from “veterinary nurse” being protected: so if you care, take action now.…

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Ask a vet online – How often should my dogs get boosters?

Karen Taylor asked:

How often should our dogs be re-vaccinated (boosters)?

Answer:

Hi Karen, thanks for your question about booster vaccinations. This is an area that’s become quite controversial in the last few years, and there’s a lot of confusion about the subject. In addition, there’s a lot of very poor-quality information out there, so I’ll try to make this quite clear and obvious!

To put it as simply as possible – see your vet every year for a health check, and discuss your vaccination strategy with them.

For more detail… now read on!

What are vaccinations?

Put simply, a vaccination is a way of teaching your dog’s immune system how to recognise and defeat the micro-organism that causes an infectious disease, without the risks (of illness, potential long term health problems or death) inherent in a “natural” infection.

This is achieved in one of three ways:

1) A weakened form of the disease-causing organism.

These are called “modified live” or “attenuated” vaccines, e.g. for Distemper and Parvovirus; the organism included is unable to multiply and/or cause clinical disease, but it is active enough to stimulate a strong immune response. Most modified live vaccines give a stronger and more long-lasting immune response than an inactivated vaccine; however, they aren’t suitable for every disease (because some organisms cannot be weakened enough to make them safe)…

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The story of Dan, a coughing Springer Spaniel

 Dan was a nine year old Springer Spaniel who loved strenuous physical exercise. His owner, Dr Mullen, was a medical doctor who was an enthusiastic hill walker, so they made a good team. They would spend days off in the Dublin mountains together on six-hour hikes through the countryside. Dan was brought to see me because he had developed an irritating cough, and Dr Mullen was worried.

The cough did not affect Dan during exercise. He was still able to run for hours without any problem, but the following morning, immediately after getting up, he would cough repeatedly as he walked around the room. It seemed to be a productive cough: sometimes he swallowed after the cough, and other times Dr Mullen found patches of white phlegm on the floor. When Dan had been up and about for half an hour, the cough seemed to clear, and he’d be fine for the rest of the day…

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