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……..

A vet in Delhi day 7: summary and conclusion

I’ve spent my final day in the slum and it’s time to draw it all together and reach some conclusions. What’s it all been about, what have I achieved, and what’s going to happen next?

First, to explain: the rationale behind my work has primarily been human health. It’s shocking that rabies is still a major killer in India, despite the fact that it’s completely preventable. If 70% of the street dogs in an area are vaccinated, the disease dwindles and disappears to insignificant levels. Surely this is a goal that is achievable?

The current estimated incidence in India of around 3 deaths per 100000 people per year means that over 20000 people, mostly children, die unnecessarily every year. In a slum like Mayapuri, with a population of 12000, there’s probably around one death every three years. Feedback from my questionnaire suggested that this may be close to the truth. Rabies is common enough to be a constant threat, but rare enough that it’s easy for people to forget about it. Yet it is such an horrific, unnecessary death that everything possible must be done to prevent even one fatality.

ASHA deals effectively with many health and welfare issues in the slums, vaccinating children with BCG, MMR, Hepatitis, Tetanus and Polio: before ASHA arrived 15 years ago, no babies were being vaccinated – the uptake is now 100%.  ASHA also treats adults for TB under the DOTS programme, and offers a range of birth control methods.

There’s no doubt that the charity’s work has transformed the lives of the slum dwellers. But what about rabies? When I asked this question last year, it seemed that it was a bit of a grey area: ASHA is so busy with other priorities that it’s easy for rabies to slip under the radar. When I discovered this, I felt that there was an opportunity for me to use my background as a vet to look into the issue when visiting the slum with a group of volunteers from my local church.

Mission Rabies – who are already in the process of vaccinating millions of dogs around India – do not have an immediate plan to focus on the Delhi area, but they were exceptionally helpful in assisting me with this project. They drafted a questionnaire for me to use while here, and they advised me on important aspects such as informed consent and male/female interpreters.

So what did I discover? Well, I found out how difficult it is to do social research. I had thought I might gather several hundred questionnaires over 3 days, but the process took longer than I had expected: up to 15 minutes for each interview via an interpreter, then time spent seeking out the next candidate. I ended up with just 40 completed questionnaires: not as many as I’d have liked, not enough to be significant in a formal sense, but still perhaps enough to gather valuable feedback about the subject.

What did I learn?

First, I discovered some interesting socioeconomic facts.

  • 75% of households live in just one room, shared between an average of four people: no kitchen, no bathroom, no hot water
  • 95% of slum dwellers own a mobile phone
  • 90% own a television
  • 65% own a bicycle.

Second, I discovered that street dogs are a significant part of the slum community, with an average estimate of one dog per 17 humans (the range was one per 5 to one per 20 people). The only way to get a more accurate figure would be to do a detailed dog census, which would be a major logistical challenge in itself, but the estimates are enough to make the point that there is a substantial population of dogs..

While only 15% of people said that they “owned” a dog, 57.5% said that they feed local dogs at least once a week. This ties in with the reported attitudes to dogs: 40||% said that they “liked” dogs, 15% were indifferent t while 45% of interviewees said that they “did not like dogs” (presumably the latter never feed them).

Third, I investigated the local people’s knowledge about rabies. I found a low level of awareness of the disease. 80% of respondents had not heard of rabies, and only half of the 20% who said that they had heard of rabies were able to explain the disease to someone else. Some people thought that rabies would make them “bark like a dog”. Furthermore, only 45% of people thought a dog bite could be fatal, with 55% of people disbelieving this. There’s clearly a need for community education about rabies in order to prevent future cases.

More positively, despite the lack of knowledge about rabies, 90% of people would go to hospital if bitten by a dog (where they would be given the post-exposure rabies vaccination). As well as doing this, some people would take other action, including putting red chilli powder on the wound, and resorting to “witchcraft”. The 10% who “did not know what to do” if they were bitten by a dog are worrying: they would be very vulnerable to developing clinical rabies if bitten.

What’s going to happen next?

If nothing is done, nothing will happen. The situation will remain the same, and people will continue to die of rabies at a rate of around one person every three years.

Clearly this cannot be allowed to happen.

ASHA already have an effective network of community health volunteers on the ground, keeping an eye on the health of inhabitants in their local area, and passing on information to them about health and disease using handouts and flash cards. On my last day in the slum, ASHA kindly arranged for me to give a presentation to a dozen community health volunteers from Mayapuri and another nearby slum. I was able to pass on the initial results of my survey, and to discuss the challenge of rabies awareness with them. I …

Caring for the older cat (part 1) – helping your feline friend through old age

Sammy is 12 years old. That is a respectable age for a cat, so I was very happy to hear from his owner that he was still very well in himself and she had no concerns at all. The purpose of my visit was a routine health check and vaccination and based on Sammy’s good report, I was expecting to issue him with a clean bill of health. However as I began to collect a thorough history, it became apparent that things were not as simple as they had first appeared. ‘Now that you mention it, Sammy HAS been drinking more than he used to, but I thought that was normal for older cats so I didn’t think twice.’ He had also had a great appetite lately, in fact he’d been eating an extra pouch a day, and he had been more talkative lately. All things that his owner had associated with good health but could actually be signs of illness. On physical exam it turned out he had lost some weight and muscle mass, and that he had a lump under his neck. A blood test was recommended and the results confirmed hyperthyroidism. He was started on medication and is now back to his normal self, his owner couldn’t believe the difference! She was surprised how the changes had happened so gradually that she didn’t notice them, but was very happy to have her old cat back. And Sammy certainly agreed…..

Ask a vet online – ‘my dog only has one testicle down – what is the best age to have him neutered?’

Question from Pam Gilmour

Hi my chi(huahua) is 6 months , he only has one testicle. I will be having him done, what would be the best age to wait to see if it will come down?

Answer from Shanika (online vet)

Hi Pam and thank you for your Question regarding the best age to have a dog castrated which has a retained testicle.

I will start by explaining a little about the testicles, what they are, where they develop and what can go wrong along the way.

The testicles are two oval shaped structures normally found in the scrotum (loose sac of skin near your dog’s bottom). Testicles are male sexual glands and produce the hormone testosterone along with sperm and various other secretions which assist in reproduction.

The testicles start developing while the puppy is inside the mother’s uterus (womb); they are at first located inside the abdomen (tummy) and just behind the kidneys. A few days after your puppy has been born the testicles should be in the scrotum, they travel from their starting point down through the abdomen and through an opening called the inguinal ring in order to get to the scrotum….

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.

Is your dog a stinker? – why your dog might be smelly!

All dogs smell, anyone who owns one knows that but there is a difference between ‘Eau de wet dog’ and a proper SMELL. Sometimes these can creep up on us unawares and it’s only after some time away from your pet or when visitors come and politely, but firmly, distance themselves from your pooch do you notice and other times they can appear overnight. However, like any other change in your pets behaviour or health, they should always be taken seriously.

So, what could cause your dog to smell (worse than usual!) and when should you worry? Lets look at our pets, if you will excuse the pun, nose to tail;

Ears

Ear infections are common in dogs, especially breeds with floppy, furry appendages, but any dog can develop odourous, painful problems. They will often shake their heads, scratch at their ears and when you inspect under the ear flap you usually find a discharge, which can vary from a thick, black waxy to a creamy pus-like consistency, red, sore skin and quite a stink! Any dog with these symptoms should be taken to a vet as soon as possible. Ear infections left to fester can cause permanent damage and will be very sore for your pet….

Fireworks in the equine world! – How to keep your horse safe this Bonfire Night

This year, 5th November is on a Tuesday – and that means we’re not expecting a Fireworks Night so much as a Fireworks Week!

As prey animals, horses are by their very nature predisposed to panic at loud noises, especially in the dark. Bright flashes of light don’t help either! And panicked horses are rather inclined to run into things and hurt themselves (I’ve spent many hours stitching up horses who have lost arguments with fences, hedges, gates and stable walls).

There are three important elements to keeping horses safe when there are fireworks in the air:

1) Help them to avoid injury

2) Distract them

3) Keep them calm

To avoid injury, I generally recommend that horses be stabled when fireworks are expected. That probably means dusk to dawn for the next fortnight or so, but if possible, find out when displays are expected in your area. You can then focus on those dates and times (but don’t forget that many people will set off a few rockets for themselves and their families). Inside their stables, horses can still become frightened, but they’re not surrounded by the scary noises, and they can’t bolt and get up so much speed, so they’re less likely to cause themselves serious injuries….

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.

Ticks…little suckers! – how to identify and rid pets of these parasites

Ticks are small parasites from the spider family. They attach themselves to our pets and feed off their blood. They can spend several days in this position, gradually becoming larger as they engorge. They can also transmit diseases, some of which can be severe, but these are thankfully not very common in the UK.

What are ticks?

Ticks are from the spider family and feed by sucking blood from our pets. They spend the majority of their lives in the environment and only attach to pets once or twice a year, so they can continue their lifecycle, which can take two to three years to complete. They tend to be found in moorland type areas and are most prevalent in the Spring and Autumn. The most common kinds of ticks found on pets in the UK are either Hedgehog or Sheep ticks…

Lost in translation – do you know what your cat is really trying to tell you?

‘Miaow!’ One simple word, so many possible meanings. Is she happy? Is she hungry? Is she scared? It’s all in the tone in which it’s delivered. And that’s just the miaow – researchers have documented 19 different vocal patterns in domestic cats ranging from purrs to chirps to growls, along with countless body language cues. Do you really know how to interpret them? Test your feline language skills below…

1) A deep, rhythmic purr
We’ll start with an easy one – a purr means she’s happy, right? Possibly, but that may not always be the case. In fact, cats purr for many reasons. Young kittens and mother cats purr during nursing, possibly as a way of maintaining contact and communicating contentment. Adult cats purr when they’re in the company of other cats or humans that they are friendly with, especially during grooming or petting or resting together. And as most cat owners probably already know, they also purr when they want something. This ‘solicitation’ purr contains some of the high frequency peaks also found in a human baby’s cry, and it is commonly thought that cats use this to their advantage when asking for food at 5am. But what many people don’t know is that cats will sometimes also purr when they are nervous or even painful. We don’t know exactly why they do it, but the important thing to remember is that purring doesn’t necessarily mean that a cat is happy, you need to look at the rest of their body language for clues. Think of it like a human smile – we do it when we’re happy, but also when we want something or when we’re nervous….

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