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?

Do you know when your pets are poorly?

It may seem like a silly question, of course you would know when your pets are sick wouldn’t you? They share your life, your home and you know them really well, just as you do other members of your family. However, what many people don’t realise is that our animals are extremely adept at masking signs of illness and often by the time we realise there is a problem, they have been struggling for a while.

This blog was inspired by a cat I saw last week. She was owned by some lovely clients; regulars with their other pets and they definitely have their best interests at heart. I didn’t blame them for not noticing sooner this one was poorly because a) felines are notoriously good at hiding illness and b), you know, I’m a vet, so really I should be quite good at spotting when animals are sick but I don’t expect others to be……..

Ask a vet online – Why is my staffy rubbing his bum on carpet after his glands were done? – Anal gland problems in dogs.

Question from Jo Padfield

Why is my staffy rubbing his bum on carpet after his glands were done?

Answer from Shanika Winters (online vet)

Hi Jo and thank you for your question about your dog’s anal glands. I will explain a little about what anal glands are, where they are and why dogs have them followed by a discussion of what can go wrong with them and how these conditions are treated.

What are anal glands?

The anal sacs (commonly called the anal glands) are a pair of sacs found either side of the anus (bottom); they are around 1cm across and open via a duct (tube) in the anus. As with your dog the anal sacs often become blocked and or infected and this is called anal sacculitis. The substance inside the anal sacs is produced by glands that line the inside of the sacs, this smelly substance should be passed each time your dog does a poo, and leaves a scent marker to other dogs.

What goes wrong with the anal sacs?

Diseases of the anal sacs include anal sacculitis as mentioned and less often tumours. Other conditions around the bottom include anal adenoma (small non-cancerous lumps around the anus), anal furunculosis (cracked infected skin around the anus usually found in German Shepherd Dogs) and perianal hernia (where muscles weaken and separate either side of the anus allowing pelvic and abdominal contents to push through, seen in older uncastrated male dogs)…………..

Difficult Diabetic Cat – Could Acromegaly Be To Blame?

I know, it’s kind of a funny sounding word. But if you have a diabetic cat that your vet just can’t seem to stabilise, it’s definitely not a laughing matter. Acromegaly has recently been found to affect up to a quarter of diabetic cats in the UK, many more than previously thought, so it’s worth talking about. It’s also probably underdiagnosed, which means your vet may not think to look for it, so if you’ve been told that your cat’s diabetes is particularly difficult to control, read on!

What is acromegaly?

The name acromegaly actually comes from human medicine, because in people, it causes abnormally large hands, feet and facial features. Although you can see similar signs in cats (a broad face with a protruding lower jaw and larger than normal feet), it’s much less common so another term you may see used is ‘hypersomatotropism’ which literally means an excessive production of growth hormone. It’s caused by a benign (ie, unlikely to spread to other tissues) tumour on the tiny pituitary gland, situated at the base of the brain. The pituitary gland secretes lots of useful hormones that control all sorts of functions in the body, but in this case it’s growth hormone produced in huge quantities by the growing tumour that causes the problem. The majority of affected cats are males unlike in dogs, where acromegaly is usually caused by changes in the mammary gland and is therefore seen almost exclusively in females that haven’t been spayed.

What’s the connection between acromegaly and diabetes?

Too much growth hormone floating around the body decreases its sensitivity to insulin, which is the hormone that controls sugar metabolism. If the body doesn’t respond very well to insulin, the blood sugar gets too high and the cat becomes diabetic…….

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…….

The Drugs Don’t Work – Or Do They?

Today I put to sleep a lovely old Collie owned by a lovely man. It was definitely the right decision, the dog was really struggling on his legs and had become very depressed and withdrawn. This is a common senario and very often the way that arthritic pets come to their end. In fact, a very similar thing happened to our beloved family Labrador, Molly, a few years ago and although she was still trying to get about and clearly happy to be with us, she was obviously in a lot of pain which could no longer be controlled. Euthanasia in these situations is a true kindness and although still desperately upsetting, is by far the best thing for the pet.

However, just as I was discussing the euthanasia of this dog with his owner, he said something that stopped me in my tracks.

‘Well, we did try him on some of your arthritis medication a few months ago but to be honest it didn’t seem to be doing anything more than the Asprin I was giving him, so we stopped it’

Now, at this stage in the process there was no point in me making any comment on this statement (or my thoughts on giving pets human medications!) and you may think it sounds like quite a reasonable thing to say but to be honest, I really had to bite my tongue.

Arthritis is a very common problem in older pets but it is also very under-diagnosed because the signs can be difficult to spot, mainly because our animals are so stoical in the face of chronic pain…………..

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?………………….

Caring for Constipated Kitties

I thought I might write a few words about this sticky subject after seeing a particularly unfortunate case the other day.  Minty is a slightly grumpy, independent and strong-willed 15 year old cat who until a week ago, had been ageing gracefully.  She had lost a bit of weight and done a bit of vomiting, and had the occasional faecal ‘accident’ inside the house. But she was eating well and seemed well in herself, though she usually kept herself to herself.  The owner went away for the weekend and left Minty some dry food and water down as she had done many times before to no ill effect, but when she returned home on Sunday evening she noticed that something was wrong – Minty was crying in the litter tray.  When she looked inside, she realised that Minty hadn’t actually defecated at all in the past few days.  When I saw her the following day, Minty was dehydrated and I could feel a large, hard mass of stool in her colon.

X-rays showed that her condition was quite severe, so we anaesthetised her and performed an enema, manually removing some of the stuck faeces and softening what remained.  We also gave her some IV fluids to rehydrate her, and lots of pain medicine as both the procedure and the condition can be very painful.  Fortunately for Minty, she recovered well from her anaesthetic and within a few days started to pass stools on her own again with the help of some other medications.  But if it hadn’t been caught and treated when it was, it could have been a very different outcome.

What causes constipation in cats?………

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……..

Ask a vet online – ‘My 3 year old yorkie gets very destressed when left on his own howling and barking, neighbours are complaining’

Question from Sue Michele Whitehouse

My 3 year old yorkie gets very destressed when left on his own howling and barking, neighbours complain so I try and take him wherever possible with me, but sometimes this isn’t possible and he can sense I am going out and starts getting upset before I even leave him………thanks
Hi Sue, and thank you for your question about your Yorkshire terrier. What you have described your dog as suffering from sounds very much like a condition known as Separation Anxiety. I will try to explain what separation anxiety is, how it affects dogs and some ways to try and combat it.

Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)

So what is Separation Anxiety?
Separation Anxiety (SA) as the name suggests is when your pet becomes worried and or distressed when alone. There are many ways in which dogs can show their distress including vocalising (barking and howling), chewing at furniture or themselves (often chew or lick at paws), toileting in the wrong place, pacing around, hiding, drooling and generally being miserable.

Why do some dogs suffer from Separation Anxiety (SA)?
As with most behaviour related problems there is not a definite explanation as to why a particular dog develops a condition such as SA but it may well be related to poor socialisation as a puppy or changes in the household. The peak socialisation period for a puppy is around 1-2 months of age, during this time it is really important that your puppy is exposed to lots of different people, animals, places and situations. Household changes can include: moving house, new family members, new pets and changes to family members daily routine such as starting a new job……

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