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

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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. Tail docking is also illegal in most European countries: the fact that it has not yet been banned in Ireland is the only reason why Ireland is unable to become the 23rd European state to ratify the Council of Europe’s European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. (In fact, the UK is also unable to ratify this convention because of the illogical "working dog" exemption on tail docking in England and Wales). Until last week, it seemed that tail docking was about to be phased out in Ireland. Suddenly, this has changed. A new Animal Health and Welfare Act is due to be brought in by the Irish Minister of Agriculture Simon Coveney in the next few weeks. The new law has been carefully drafted in conjunction with veterinary bodies and animal welfare groups, all of whom are strongly anti-docking. The Act specifically prohibits "surgical procedures for cosmetic reasons" and it also bans  "mutilated" dogs from being exhibited in the show ring. These clauses were introduced to stop old-fashioned and unnecessary procedures such as tail docking. So far so good. So it was a bombshell when it was made known last week that the Minister intends to allow tail docking by members of the public, by listing it in a Regulation under procedures that may be performed without the use of anaesthetics or pain relief. The other activities under this section are mostly agricultural tasks, such as ear tagging cattle, castrating sheep and removing piglets tails: these have been allowed to permit such traditional aspects of agriculture to continue (even though it can be argued that, logically, they too should be restricted). The official bodies representing animal welfare in Ireland are incensed at this news: it's worth reading the open letter that has been written to the Minister by Veterinary Ireland, the ISPCA and Dogs Trust. An online petition has been launched to gather public support against the new Regulation: you can sign it here. The petition was started on 10th November, and already has over 5000 signatures. It isn't too late to change the future for Irish puppies: the government must surely be listening to common sense and the voice of the people.
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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. Teeth I have said it before and I will doubtless say it again; Doggy breath is NOT normal!  A dog with a healthy mouth should have little or no smell coming from it and if they have, there is a problem.  Smelly breath is usually due to bacteria colonising the plaque, tartar and gingivitis on the teeth and gums.  Between them these are literally rotting your pets teeth away, which is very painful and will eventually lead to teeth loss.  Not only this, these germs will escape into the blood stream, travel round the rest of the body and put the organs under serious strain.  The heart, kidneys & liver will all suffer, sometimes to the point where they are permanently damaged. Regular check-ups with your vet will pick up any problems early and often simple chews or regular brushing will prevent further issues.  However, if your dog is particularly badly affected, your vet may suggest dental work under an anaesthetic to remove all the tartar and infection, extract any teeth which are beyond saving and restore the mouth to health. Coat and Skin We all know dogs love to get wet, dirty and roll in the most disgusting things (fox poo anyone?) but normally a good shampoo or just a bit of drying out will sort most problems. However, some pooches seem to carry a distinct ‘smell’ around with them wherever they go.  In some cases these can indicate significant health problems and in others just a few tweeks to their care can make the world of difference. There are a significant minority of dogs who suffer from skin allergies, which not only make them itchy but also can make them very smelly.  The odour arises from an abnormal amount of bacteria and yeasts living on the skin and until the disease is under control, it can be very difficult to get rid of.  Medicated shampoos available from your vet can be very helpful but some pets will need oral treatments to bring the problem under control, especially in the early stages.  It also helps to keep the skin and coat in the very best condition possible.  There are several dietary supplements available for dogs which are brilliant for keeping coats and skin in tip top condition, ask your vet what they would recommend. For dogs that just have a bit of ‘BO’ again regular baths, with a proper doggy shampoo, can be very helpful, as can dietary supplements.  In many cases it is worth investing in a regular trip to the groomers as they will be able to bathe them fully, strip and clip the coat, if it is appropriate to the breed, and dry them properly afterwards. The bottom end! Flatulence ‘Silent but deadly’ is the best description for many of man’s best friend’s emanations!  Usually it is just an occasional thing or can be related to a bin raid or unsuitable treats (!) but in some pets it can be a constant (and very unsociable!) problem. Excessive gas production is caused by poor digestion, which can be related either to a problem with the guts not functioning properly or an unsuitable diet.  In most cases it is the latter and a change of food (or several until you find one that suits them) is all that is needed to settle the digestion.  The best diets to pick in these circumstances are the ‘hypoallergenic’ kind which tend to contain fewer additives and are usually wheat & gluten free, which makes them much gentler on dog’s stomachs.  Have a chat to your vet about what they would recommend you try. However, some individuals have actual gastrointestinal disease and for them flatulence is usually just one of several symptoms relating to poor gut function.  These pets often need testing (which can include blood samples, faecal samples, xrays and biopsies) to make a specific diagnosis and treatments include medications, dietary supplements and, again, hypoallergenic diets. Anal Glands For many dogs, especially the smaller breeds, these little bottom glands can be the bane of their (and their owner’s) lives!  The anal sacs are two small, thin walled glands situated on either side of the anus (people don't have them, thank goodness!) which produce a smelly, watery scent.  They are why dogs sniff each others bottoms and their mechanism of emptying is very simple; As the solid faeces slides past them, it squeezes the gland and forces out the liquid.  However, if the dog doesn't poo for a while or has diarrhoea, the gland won’t be emptied and can become blocked.  This is painful, feeling a bit like a zit that needs to be popped, and will cause many dogs to display signs including chewing at their tails, licking at their bottoms or, the classic, scooting along on their bottoms.  Sometimes they will succeed in expressing the glands, which causes a truly remarkable smell (once smelt, never forgotten!) that is often described as ‘fishy’. Most dogs with these symptoms will need their glands expressing by a vet,and trust me, this is a job best left to the professionals!  In some cases it can become a recurring problem as the glands are left thickened and scarred by repeated blocking.  For those individuals a proper flushing out of the glands under a sedation can be helpful and for particularly badly affected pets, your vet may advice removal of the sacs completely. So hopefully now you know a few of the things that can turn your beloved family pet into a truly malodorous mutt!  Why not try our Symptom Checker for further information and if you are concerned, do contact your vet. Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at www.catthevet.com
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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. It can also be helpful to leave the stable light on overnight - more light inside the stable means flashes outside are less visible, but make sure your horse copes OK with the lights on overnight first! If you don't have stables, first of all, see if you can borrow one for a few nights, especially if you have a really spooky or nervous horse. If not, the next best thing is to "accident-proof" the field you're planning to turn them out in as far as possible - make sure the fencing is safe, remove any wire, fill in potholes, etc. Also, consider tying white or pale feed sacks to fencing, to make it more visible in poor light - tie them tightly, though, so they don't flap and cause a stampede themselves. Distraction just means keep them busy so they're less interested in what's going on outside. This generally means a well filled hay rack, and any toys your horse likes. Turnips on a rope are good, and horse balls filled with food or treats are a favourite with my two, who'll spend hours chasing the balls round the stable for a mouthful of pasture nuts! Finally, calming. For a herd animal like a horse, the most reassuring thing is having stable mates within sight/sound/smell - this is vital, and if they can touch noses or groom each other, its even better. However, it may not be enough on its own, especially for very nervous individuals. If your horse is particularly panicky, you should contact your vet (as soon as possible now), as they may need prescription medicines to help them cope. If possible, its best to avoid sedation, as it may lead to the horse becoming more nervous next year (as with dogs and cats), but unfortunately, horses are so big and powerful it may be necessary for their safety and yours. Your vet will be able to advise you on the best strategy for your horses. There is increasingly, however, a middle road, as there are a wide variety of calmers on the market. Most are based on magnesium or amino acid combinations; these can be good to take the edge off, but usually need long term use. Others (e.g. Calmex powder) are designed to work immediately, although there is often little scientific proof of their effectiveness. Another fairly new product on the market is Zylkene Equine. This is based on the milk protein casein, which studies suggest is broken down in the body into a benzodiazepine-like molecule. This has a similar effect to Valium to reduce anxiety and stress. As usual, I'd advise you to discuss with your vet the exact product you're thinking of using, as they'll be able to give you impartial advice as to how effective a product is likely to be. This is especially important if your horse is on any other medication: just because a product is natural or herbal doesn't mean it won't interact or interfere with another medicine. That said, not every horse needs anything extra - I'll never forget going to one yard on bonfire night evening and seeing a row of horses lined up at the fence watching the fireworks display two fields off with every sign of enjoyment... The bottom line is that you need to find out what works best for your horse: every horse is an individual, and they need to be managed as such. We may enjoy the fireworks - but not all of our horses do!
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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. The science behind the process is fascinating. A small piece of living tissue is obtained from a pet by collecting a small skin biopsy from the back of the neck or the inside of the leg. If the decision to carry out cloning is taken after the end of a dog's life, it's not too late: a viable sample can be collected up to five days after a dog's death. The samples are shipped in refrigerated containers to the cloning company. The cloning company has residential female dogs who act as egg donors: when they come into season, eggs are collected from their ovaries by a flushing process. The genetic material (the nuclei) of each donor egg is removed, and one of the living cells from your pet is injected into each egg. The egg and your pet's cell are then fused together, and the result is a cloned embryo, which is an identical genetic copy of your dog. The embryo is transferred into a different female dog, who will carry the embryo in her womb until it develops into a newborn puppy. Samples are then collected from the puppy to compare with your original dog, to confirm that the puppy is definitely an identical genetic copy. There are many questions about the science, including welfare concerns for the donor and surrogate female dogs, and the wider issue of the possibility of the same methods being used to create cloned humans. If you reached old age without children, wouldn't it be intriguing to create a child that's a mini version of yourself? You could then die in peace, knowing that "you" were still alive and seventy years younger. The science and the ethical debates are interesting, but what about the practical reality of acquiring a precise copy of a beloved pet? Would a cloned version of your dog live up to your expectations? There's no doubt that the clone will have an identical genotype to the original animal, but the worldly manifestation of the animal - the "phenotype" - is what really matters. The phenotype includes your pet's appearance, behaviour, mannerisms and other ideosyncracies. This is partly dictated by the genotype, but it's also strongly affected by other factors, such as the physical environment, diet, and social interactions. If you took a dozen puppies with identical genotypes and subjected them to different rearing environments, you would end up with a dozen dogs that were distinctly different from one another. They would not be "the same animals", any more than two human identical twins are "the same people". There's no doubt that the technology is impressive, but is it ethically sound? Is there a risk that vulnerable people, grieving deeply for recently deceased pets, will waste their life savings chasing the illusion that they are buying a young version of their much-missed pet? If you are exceptionally wealthy (or the lucky winner of the competition), then cloning could be a way of obtaining a similar type of animal to a much-loved pet. But before signing on the dotted line, you need to remember a simple fact: your pet is being copied, not resurrected.
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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. How to tell if your pet has ticks Ticks often get mistaken for warty growths or nipples (and vice versa!).  They look like small, grey beans attached to your pet's skin and will grow gradually larger over a period of a few days.  They are most commonly found on the head, ears and legs as they prefer sparsely haired areas. Generally ticks don't cause the animal any discomfort or irritation and are often found by accident when you are grooming your pet.  However, sometimes after they have dropped off they can leave a small sore patch where they have bitten. How to treat your pet for ticks If you find a tick on your pet, the most important thing to do is to never just pull them out.  Simply pulling on the tick is likely to leave the head still buried in the skin, which can cause a nasty reaction. If you do decide to remove it directly, the best thing to use is a tick puller, a small L-shaped tool designed to slip between the tick and the skin and 'twist' them out.  The twisting action keeps the head attached.  The tick pullers will be available from your vet and it is always a good idea to get a demonstration on how to use them first. Frontline spot-on, which is available from both your vet and over-the-counter, has an action against ticks and as long as your pet has been treated in the past month it will still be active.  However, although the tick will die within a few hours of attaching, it can still take a few days for it to fall off your pet.  It is comes as a spray but this is only available from vets.  There are other spot-ons active against ticks, ask your vet for advice on the best one to use.  There is also collars available which are impregnated with chemicals which stop ticks biting and are active for 6 months.  Again, these are only available from your vet. Tick borne diseases These are rare in the UK but with more and more pets traveling abroad with their owners, vets are seeing more  of the exotic tick borne diseases.
  • Lymes Disease – this is the only tick borne disease that is seen in the UK.  It is a bacterial infection and is usually passed by the sheep tick.  The symptoms are variable but can include; lameness, high temperatures, lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes and a distinctive 'bulls eye' pattern around the site of the tick bite.  It is treated with antibiotics and infected dogs generally do very well.
  • Ehrlichiosis – this is usually only seen in dogs who have traveled to Europe or the USA.  The symptoms include a high temperature, lack of appetite, weight loss and bleeding.  It is diagnosed by blood tests and although most dogs respond well to treatment, some will need hospitalisation.
  • Babesiosis – again this does not occur in the UK but is occasionally diagnosed in dogs who have traveled outside the country. Symptoms include lethargy, weakness, high temperatures and even collapse.  It can be challenging to treat.
These diseases are amongst the reasons why it is so important to protect your pet against parasites if they travel abroad.  The official regulations only require you to treat your pet just before you return to the UK but it is sensible to talk to your vet about protection for your pet during the whole length of your stay.  Tick borne diseases are very rare in cats.
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