Hypocritical humans: most people agree that pets should be properly looked after, yet most pets suffer because of human negligence

As my colleague Cat has written in a recent blog here, hundreds of thousands of children plead with their parents for a pet at Christmas, only to lose interest in them a few weeks later when the novelty wears off. Dogs Trust and other animal welfare groups continue to work to change this attitude of pets as “fun objects”, reminding us that they are living creatures that need a lifetime of care.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that 91% of people agree that it’s important to care for pets properly, there’s a mismatch between this aspiration and the reality. The once-yearly survey on pet welfare in the UK, by leading pet charity PDSA and YouGov shows that a high proportion of the UK’s pets are badly neglected. As a direct consequence of human action (or inaction), many pets suffer from illness, loneliness, obesity and stress (which can lead in turn to aggressive behaviour).

The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report delivers a useful annual insight into pet health and well-being. This is the third year the report has been published: it’s become a good way of benchmarking the progress (or lack of progress) in animal welfare in this country. Some of the key findings in the latest report are worth highlighting.

The overall picture

The Animal Welfare Act has been in place since 2006, placing an obligation on owners to provide adequately for their pets in five key areas: environment, behaviour, health, diet and companionship. Yet only 38% of owners are familiar with the laws that govern pet ownership – a decrease of 7% (940,000 pet owning households) since the first report in 2011.

Ireland is living in the past: it’s about to become legal for members of public to dock puppies’ tails.

Tail docking is a illogical, nonsensical form of puppy torture, and it looks set to become legal in Ireland.  The procedure is brutal: a pair of scissors, a sharp knife or a tight ring are used to chop off a young puppy’s tail. There is no anaesthetic, and it clearly hurts a lot (they squeal loudly), but the pups are too small and helpless to do anything about it. The pup above was brought to me for treatment after the amateur tail docking job had resulted in a chronic non-healing wound.

Tail docking has been banned in the UK since 2007: it’s completely illegal in Scotland, and in England and Wales, it’s only allowed for a small number of working dogs or when the procedure is needed for medical purposes under theAnimal Welfare Act 2006 or the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. It’s also illegal to show dogs that had their tails docked after 2007.  The subject has been debated in detail elsewhere, but the evidence is clear: tail docking causes pain to puppies, and it does not reduce the incidence of tail injuries in adult dogs, even in working animals.

Do you want a young version of your elderly dog? Dog clones are now available in the UK

Clones- precise genetic copies of living creatures – used to be the stuff of science fiction. They are now a reality: a South Korean company has just launched its dog cloning service in the UK. For £63000, they will create a carbon-copy of your pet, either from a biopsy of a living dog, or from tissue harvested from a recently deceased animal.

If you cannot afford this, one lucky owner is being offered a genetic replica of their dog for free. An online competition is currently underway, and the entire process, from start to finish, will be filmed for a Channel 4 documentary which will be shown next year.

Animal clones have been a reality since Dolly the sheep was cloned back in 1996. The first cloned puppy was produced in 2005, and over 200 cloned dogs have now been created.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed: five years on, do dogs suffer less?

It’s hard to believe that it’s already five years since the BBC documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, was first broadcast. The programme stirred up unprecedented controversy about the practice of breeding and showing pedigree dogs in the UK. In the aftermath, the BBC cancelled its long standing high profile coverage of Crufts, and major sponsors backed out of supporting the Kennel Club’s flagship event. Promises were made that “things would change”, investigating committees were set up and reports were issued.

Five years is a significant period of time, so it’s an appropriate benchmark to pause, and to ask the question: are things better than they were? After all the talk, have things improved?

Weigh-in Wednesdays

Help your pet’s health with the Friends for Life campaign and Weigh-in Wednesdays.

Pet owners are often not aware of any problems with their pets, but research has shown a shocking statistic that almost half the pets seen in practice by vets are overweight.

There seems to be plenty of media coverage about human obesity and weight problems, but what effect does excess body fat have our pets? Not surprisingly many of the same health issues as humans. These include heart disease and circulatory problems, the increased risk of diabetes, joint disease and a poor respiratory system. Signs of these problems in an overweight animal could include not wanting to walk very far, pain on movement, breathlessness and coughing. Many pet owners are aware of these common problems, however, there are far more health issues associated with having an overweight animal: There can be poorer immune response, difficulty in giving birth, incontinence, heat intolerance and fatty changes can cause liver problems for cats…….

Animal experiments: numbers rising while studies show low levels of production of beneficial results

Vivisection is a controversial subject - I’ve written about this several times before in my Daily Telegraph blog.

There are two news stories this week on the subject.

First, figures released by the UK government show that animal  testing in the UK has increased by almost ten per cent,  with more than four million experiments taking place a year, the highest figure since 1982. These figures have been “spun” by both sides of the debate, with the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection understandably describing them as “shocking”, while supporters of animal experimentation maintain that the overall trend of  ”experimentation” is downwards, with the apparent increase in numbers due to the recent development of genetically modified mice that have been bred to carry specific genes or to develop signs of human disease to assist progress towards cures. Whatever the truth, it’s clear that the figures deserve careful analysis before reaching sweeping conclusions: but who has time to wade through the reams of Home Office statistics?………………….

New study shows that spayed & neutered dogs live for longer and die of different diseases compared to entire dogs

It was just last month that I wrote a blog here about the pros and cons of the decision on whether or not to spay/castrate your dog. This seems to be an area which is coming under increasing scrutiny by researchers, perhaps because it is relatively easy to analyse stored data to discover differences between spayed/neutered and entire populations. After all, the contrast between two study groups doesn’t get much more black and white than that: spayed/neutered or entire.

In one of the most recent studies (published online in April 2013), the historical records of over 80,000 sterilized and reproductively intact dogs were examined from a database of dogs presented to North American veterinary teaching hospitals over a period between 1984 and 2004. The cause of death and the lifespan of each animal was noted. To make the data as “clean” and unbiased as possible, the researchers removed around half of the records. First, they took out all young dogs, and all those where the spay/neuter status had not been recorded. Then they took out all those dogs that had died from congenital disease (i.e. disease which the animal had been born with, which obviously could not be influenced by neutering). Finally, they removed all of those dogs where no specific cause of death could be categorised. This left them with 40,139 dogs for analysis of the relationship between the effect of spay/neuter on age and cause of death……..

Was I wrong to castrate my young male dog? And is it wrong to spay young female dogs?

I knew I wasn’t going to breed from my Hungarian Viszla so I made the decision to have him neutered which I did at six months old. Since then I have been told by the breeding fraternity that neutering at such an early age is a factor in dogs getting bone cancer. I cannot bear that I may have done something in good faith that could affect my beloved dog’s future health. What is the truth?

This question from a VetHelpDirect reader is an increasingly common query from pet owners responding to internet rumours and discussions that are doing the rounds. As is often the case, the truth is complicated: we still do not know everything about the impact of spay/neutering, but we do know that there are pluses and minuses to having the operations done……

Dog Vaccinations: are they really necessary?

Tomorrow is World Veterinary Day (WVD), an annual event that highlights the role of veterinary profession around the world. This year’s theme is the importance of vaccination to animal health. Over the past two hundred years, scientists have created vaccines that have prevented – and, in some cases, eradicated – diseases in humans and animals.

Yet if you talk to pet owners online, the question of the need to vaccinate is one that keeps cropping up. People worry that vaccines may even be causing illnesses, and sadly, they sometimes feel that they cannot trust the advice from their vet, because the vet benefits financially from the sale of the vaccine.

There is a danger here that pet owners may stop vaccinating their pets, and if they do, it’s likely that they will get away with doing so for a number of years. Vaccines have caused serious illnesses to become rare, so that there may not be an immediate threat to most pets. The problem is that if people choose not to vaccinate, there will be a growing population of unprotected animals that are vulnerable to viral disease if an epidemic does occur…..

High graduate debt, falling demand for pet health care & corporatisation. The veterinary profession is changing: is it for better or worse?

There’s a lot of debate going on right now about the future of the veterinary profession. Many vets are worried about the current trend which basically follows this path:

1) Huge demand to study veterinary, especially among young females (80% vet students are female)

2) Not enough places at vet schools: traditionally, the number of student places has been capped in order to avoid flooding the market with far more vets than jobs

3) The realisation by universities that there’s money to be made in teaching vet students, and that there’s a strong demand from students who don’t make it into the established vet schools. The first new vet school in over 50 years opened recently in the UK, and at least one more is planned. Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, veterinary courses are taught in English, offering entry to the vet profession with a lower academic barrier if students are prepared to pay the fees

4) This is linked to the rising cost of veterinary education, with students in England paying £9000 per year x 5 years plus living costs

5) The result is that new vet graduates are qualifying with large debts, in higher numbers than ever before

6) Meanwhile the veterinary market is contracting, with people spending less money on pets, and so there are fewer jobs for vets available

7) Result: increasing numbers of underemployed young female vets with large debts

8.) Next part of jigsaw: there are fewer young vets to buy into established vet partnerships, and an increasing trend for chains of vet clinics to go “corporate”, owned by shareholders whose main aim may be profit rather than the traditional broader professional view of a vet fulfilling a calling to earn a living

9) Result: vets become pawns in the animal care field, with young female vets desperate to pay back loans by working for corporations. As employees rather than part owners, they become subject to pressures common in other walks of life (“For your bonus, you need to sell so much food, book in so many dentals, see so many people every hour”)

10) The long term potential result: erosion of trust in vets as pet owners question whether something is recommended because it is really needed, or because the vet needs to reach a target. This erosion of trust has already begun in recent years, with consumers questioning everything that professionals do: the sequence that I’ve outlined above will exacerbate this trend.

This trend in the veterinary professions seems to be a global one, and as ever, the USA seems to be further down the path than the rest of us. An excellent article has just been published on this in the New York Times – read it here……………

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