Information overload? – Trusting online pet advice

From the minute you bring a new pet home, as well as the companionship, fun and general entertainment there will always be a lot of questions and there will always be plenty of people more than happy to give you their advice and opinions. From your mother (always!) to the lady down the road that’s owned dogs for years, to the man in the pet shop, to your vet (listen to them!) and, of course, the internet. However, sometimes views vary wildly and it can be difficult to know who to trust.

With any health related issue a vet should always be your first port of call; either by booking an appointment or ringing for advice. A good clinic will always be happy to chat on the phone but in many cases will want to see your pet before giving you a definitive answer. This can sometimes put people off but if you are concerned enough to ring, very often your suspicions are correct and there is a problem. However, there are many simple queries that can be handled over the phone, so do pick it up! Even at night and weekends, with a single call you should be able to speak to a vet or nurse, as in the UK all practices are required by law to provide a 24 hour service.

Sometimes though, you might have questions that are more mundane or trivial or want the answer right now and that is when you will fire up Google! However, this is when things can get tricky. There are loads of brilliant sites out there giving excellent quality advice but there is also an awful lot of old wives tails, self-important pontificators and downright bonkers information as well! How do you decide which is which and what to believe?…

Banning no-stun slaughter in the UK: a step forwards for animal welfare or a populist anti-religious minority measure?

Killing is by definition an unpleasant business, with physical trauma to a living creature and spilling of blood. For some individuals, animal slaughter is so abhorrent, that vegetarianism is the only answer (7 – 11% of the UK population is vegetarian, with twice as many women as men). But for the majority of citizens in the United Kingdom, meat is a desirable part of the diet, and slaughtering animals is seen as a necessary part of society. Legislation has been put into place to ensure that animals suffer as little as possible during the process, and this is enough to satisfy most people.

To ensure that animals do not suffer as they die, the law insists that the animal is first stunned e.g. with a captive bolt applied to the brain, or via a strong electric shock to the head. This pre-stunning means that the animal is completely unaware when its throat is cut a few minutes later: there is no sensation of the knife passing through the flesh, nor the blood draining away.

Sensationalist reporting of TB in cats is not helpful: does the media want a cat cull?

Let’s start with the facts about the cats with TB, as reported in the Vet Record: perhaps surprisingly, these have not been published in full in any of the mass media outlets in the past two days:
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BETWEEN December 2012 and March 2013, a veterinary practice in Newbury (west Berkshire) diagnosed nine cases of Mycobacterium bovis infection in domestic cats. In seven of those cases the diagnosis was confirmed by bacteriological culture. The nine affected cats belonged to different households and six of them resided within a 250 metre radius. The animals presented with mycobacterial disease of variable severity including anorexia, non-healing or discharging infected wounds, evidence of pneumonia and different degrees of lymphadenopathy. The latest information is that six of the cats have been euthanased or have died. The three surviving animals are undergoing treatment and are reported to be responding. At the time of writing, no new cases had been detected in local cats since March 2013.
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The newspapers have missed this aspect of the story, and focussed entirely on the fact that the disease, for the first time, seems to have been passed on to two humans who had been in contact with one of the cats. The humans have responded well to treatment……..

Is Paul O’Grady mad to spend so much money on his terminally ill dog?

Paul O’Grady, the comedian-turned-dog-advocate, hit the news this week when he talked about spending over £8000 in vets’ fees to treat his nine year old Cairn Terrier Olga for cancer of the kidney. The Daily Mail reports that Paul has ignored advice to have her put down, and instead he’s paying for intensive chemotherapy and surgery to keep her alive. The story has ignited a debate about veterinary fees and pet insurance: Judith Woods, a feature writer for the Daily Telegraph, has added her own tale of spending £3600 when her Manchester Terrier, Daisy, developed a rare form of kidney disease. She had her pet insured, so her feature extols the benefits of pet insurance for these unexpected occasions.
Paul and Judith are clear in their opinions, with no doubt that they have made the right decision for their own pets. It’s the online comments on the stories that are interesting, with members of the public sounding off with their own thoughts on expensive treatments for pets, and the pros and cons of pet insurance.

The Daily Mail readers’ comments to Paul’s story are mostly short and positive: “It’s lovely that he’s done this for his beloved dog”, “Good on you, Paul, you are a true dog lover” and “If I was as rich as him, I’d do the same”.
Telegraph readers have responded in a predictably more loquacious way to Judith’s feature.
First, of course, there are many “dog lovers” who are supportive of giving pets all reasonable treatment that can be afforded, accepting that high quality veterinary care can be costly, and agreeing that pet insurance can be a sensible way of budgeting for unexpected health crises. When completing a survey of attitudes to dogs on a recent trip to a slum in Delhi, I found that around 60% of the local population “liked dogs”, with 40% disliking them: I now find myself wondering if a similar proportion of attitudes exists in the UK population. For the 60% who care for their pet dogs, it’s hard to consider withholding treatment.

There are plenty of comments from the opposite side of the spectrum – perhaps the 40% who aren’t so fond of dogs. Some of these “anti-treatment” comments are worth discussing in more detail:
“All pet insurance does is persuade owners to consent to prolonged and possibly invasive treatment of their pet. Unless they own a valuable breeding animal they would be kinder and more sensible if they had a really sick pet put to sleep.”

A vet in Delhi – day 6: a selection of photos

I’ve been busy this evening working through my survey results so that I can give a presentation to ASHA about them tomorrow, so I have not had time to write a blog. But to give a sense of the past day here, I’ve put together a selection of photos. The captions should be enough to tell their stories….

A vet visits a Delhi slum day 5 – asking about dogs in the world’s biggest motor workshop

When I return to the slum each morning, I’m repeatedly reminded of a type of hell: there is mud, grime, and two other aspects that are difficult to convey via a blog – a strong “workshop” smell (oil, fumes, solvents etc), and most of all, NOISE. Maypuri is known as the biggest motor workshop in the world, and wherever you go, there are deafening sounds of metal beating against metal, metal drilling through metal and engines roaring. Unemployment here is not the highest in the world, at 20%: there is work, but it’s tough, noisy, dirty work. Beat-up vehicles litter the streets, where they are picked at by people with spanners, screwdrivers and sledge hammers. I saw a dumper truck being reduced from a slightly bashed but otherwise perfect vehicle to absolutely nothing at all after being picked at all day by a small army of hard working labourers.

Nothing is wasted. People collect 5cm lengths of wire, random nuts and bolts, springs and anything at all. Children as young as five are sent by their parents to search for bits of metal, using wooden sticks with big magnets on the end. The oily grime on their skin is permanent: hot showers or baths don’t exist here.

I have found myself questioning my priorities as I walk through them holding a questionnaire to ask about the stray dogs. Many of them seem bemused: nobody has ever asked them about dogs before. Why dogs, when people are clearly suffering?…

A vet visits a Delhi slum day 4: getting down and dirty with the questionnaire

We are staying in the YWCA close to Delhi city centre, so every morning we are collected by a minibus and dropped at the slum. I was faced with the first shock of the day as soon as I stepped out of the minibus. Most street dogs lift their heads to look at you as you walk past: this young one didn’t, so I stopped to get a better look. I called to him, then I gently touched him but he didn’t move. I picked up his hind foot, aware that I could be bitten if he was frightened, but he remained motionless. He was still breathing, but he was unconscious: he was dying.

I couldn’t do anything to help him. I called back an hour later, and as I ‘d expected, he was dead. At the end of the day, I looked again, and his body was gone. This type of incident must be a daily occurrence out here, but for a newcomer like myself, it’s hard to get used to….

A vet visits a Delhi slum: day three- a different slum, different problems

Today (Monday) was the first official day of our pre-organised slum project: I am one of a team of nine volunteers from Ireland hosted by an inspiring human health/education charity called ASHA. I’m the only vet: the rest are from a varied background, including a doctor, nurses, educational workers and members of the public from our local church. If you’d like to read my summary of the background to ASHA, I’ve written another blog entry which you can read by clicking here.

The deal was straightforward: we committed to raising a certain amount of funds per team member to give to ASHA as a donation (and we paid our own airfares and costs out of our own pockets). ASHA then agreed to use us for a week as volunteers in one of the slums that they’re based in.

Most of our team are doing work in the ASHA community centre in the slum. With my particular interest in animals, I’ve chosen to take time away from these activities to investigate the street dog/rabies issues.

After our briefing at ASHA HQ, we travelled by minibus into the slum that will be our base this week: Mayapuri. Situated in West Delhi, this slum occupies a narrow strip of land immediately adjacent to the main railway line out of Delhi. Measuring around 3km long and only 50m wide, this strip of land has been a landing pad for immigrants arriving in Delhi from other parts of India for over forty years.

Mayapuri is an industrial zone, known as a massive car scrap yard where you can buy any spare part for any vehicle. As we walked into the area, we were surrounded by noise: metal banging against metal, drills, engines and shouting. There was grime everywhere, from ankle-deep mud underfoot to men with oil stained clothes, hands and faces. The ASHA community centre is an oasis in the centre of this mayhem: a high-walled courtyard of relative peace….

Marius the giraffe – right or wrong? The great divide

“Danish zoo kills healthy giraffe and feeds it to the lions”
The headlines are appalling, and the international outcry has been almost as dramatic as if the Danish zoo authorities had fed a human to the lions. Do the protesters have a point, or is the zoo simply being honest about an unfortunate but necessary situation?
The answer to this question highlights a major divide in the broad community of animal lovers: those who are in favour of animal rights, and those who believe in animal welfare.

Animal rights people believe that animals have similar rights to humans. Animals are sentient, living individuals, often referred to as “non-human persons”. They have a right to exist and to be granted the Five Freedoms – freedom from pain and disease, freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom to express natural behaviours and freedom from fear and distress. They also believe that animals have the right to life, and that humans do not have the right to take that life away. People who believe in animal rights really  ought to be vegans, since they do not believe in the right of humans to exploit animals for meat or milk. They believe that animals should not be viewed as property, or used for food, clothing, research, entertainment or as beasts of burden. They believe that animals deserve equal consideration to humans: if animals are not given equal rights, this is “speciesism” which is as bad as racism. They believe that in the future, we will look back on our time and see our attitude to animals in the same way as we currently view human slavery….

The truth about your dog’s food? Or sensationalist entertainment dressed up as “the truth”?

Feeding your pet properly is one of the most important aspects of good pet care: in an online Twitter discussion this week, there was broad agreement with the statement that “Nutrition is the single most important environmental influence on a pet’s health and well-being” . But how should an owner choose the best way to feed their pet?  The much-anticipated programme on Channel Five this week, “The Truth About Your Dog’s Food”  is bound to make people reconsider how they feed their pet pooches.

There are many different types of pet food available, from a variety of sources, and it can be confusing for pet owners. There are many “right” ways to feed a pet, not just “one true way”, but it’s common for people to find a way that works for their pet, and then to believe that this is the best way for every animal. I believe that this is the reason why people sometimes become fanatically passionate about certain ways of feeding pets (such as “raw meat and bones”)

I know that my profession – a veterinary surgeon – has been criticised for selling pet food, and there are conspiracy theorists out there suggesting that vets are influenced by the pet food companies that offer financial support to some educational programmes. If you are a believer in such wild nonsense, then don’t read any further – it’ll just be a waste of your time, because you already know that you are not going to agree with what I say….

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