Home Alone

dog with headphones The media has been awash with items about podcasts for dogs and gadgets to monitor dogs that are left on their own for long periods.

Marketers are aware that pet ownership is big business; more than a quarter of the UK population owns a dog and/or cat and that rises to over half in the US. Mobile telephone ownership has reached saturation point in many parts of the world and automatic upgrading has slowed, so now the emphasis is on selling connectivity to the “internet of things”.

If the thought that all this interconnectivity potentially enables your every movement to be tracked too and that even your refrigerator could be used to spy on your whereabouts, this cannot under any circumstances be the right thing for canine welfare.

No amount of “algorithmically curated playlists” can make up for quality human company for most of the day. No treat dispensing or ball throwing machine can deliver as much fun as an interactive game between dog and human. Dogs will soon habituate to any noise provided for them, even if they pay it any attention in the first place. A dog with true separation disorder is just as likely to tear his nails out trying to dig through the door whether a podcast is playing or not.

If you find yourself considering whether to buy one of these gadgets, work out the purchase price, running and disposal costs and replacement price at end of life and spend the money on buying some training so that you can recall your dog reliably and pay a trainer to provide quality input while you are out. If you contemplate leaving your dog alone all day while you are at work, then please don’t get a dog. You could always volunteer at a rescue at the weekend instead.

2020 Foresight – A Wish List For The Year

puppy in gift box 2019 saw some legal advances for dogs with the addition of mandatory licensing for breeders and boarders but no additional resources were made available to publicise and police it so it remains largely ineffective. Much still remains to be done, not least legislation that was not drafted but not passed. The ban on third party puppy and kitten sales (aka Lucy’s Law) is due to come into force in April, but, although welcome, will have limited effects on the puppy trade.

So here is my wish list for dogs for 2020:

  • Additions to the AWA 2006 to criminalise aversive training techniques including the use of shock and citronella collars
  • Mandatory licensing of behaviourists, trainers, groomers and walkers, including requirements for qualifications and insurance
  • Mandatory domestic passports for dogs to include origin, microchip details and health records with a compulsory section for declaration of intention to breed, including health checks and countersigned by a vet
  • Limitations on the breeding of brachycephalic and achondroplastic dogs, with all such breeders requiring mandatory additional oversight
  • Removal of severely affected breeds from the UKKC CC qualifications until major health improvements are endemic
  • Sufficient injection resources to police existing and future legislation and for education of canine professionals and the general public
  • Mandatory employment of sufficient dog wardens in every local authority
  • Mandatory restriction of firework use to licensed professionals only with an obligation to use quiet fireworks and a period of public notification in advance of displays where permission is granted
  • Much more implementation of existing law with owners being prosecuted for dogs off lead on roads, obesity and neglect including long periods with dogs left alone on a regular basis.

Happy New Year and here’s hoping.

The Value Of Everything

Companion animals are big business. With approximately 26% of the population owning a dog and/or a cat, feed, veterinary care and accessories alone make a large contribution to the economy. A puppy can easily cost a four figure sum, regardless of provenance; in fact, the more dubious the breeder, the likelier that the price demanded will be high.

Legally, animals are regarded as either wild, chattels or livestock. This effects any value placed on them in the event of an insurance claim or similar legal redress. This makes sense in that, whatever the emotional attachment, animals clearly do not have the capability of representing themselves in any judicial proceeding. However, it of course does not take into account the emotional value that the animal holds for humans.

Whilst this also applies to farm animals, it is the impact of valuation on companion animals that is most likely to change, if the lead taken in the USA is anything to go by. Half of the population in the USA owns at least one dog, compared to just over a quarter of the UK population. Companion dogs have been increasingly commodified in recent years and Americans spent ten times as much on companion animals than on legal marijuana and more than twice as much as on pizza.

Much of this is to be regretted, with many people breeding, buying and owning dogs as they might any other consumable, and consequential effects on canine welfare. However, the other side of that coin is that dogs are paradoxically becoming valued in an emotional sense that goes beyond their legal designation as chattels without attributing anthropomorphic “rights”.

Academics Simon F Header, Deven Carlson, Hank Jenkins Smith and Joe Ripberger used a formula, previously devised for valuing human life and calculated that the value of a companion dog is $10,000 (£7,500). A similar calculation has valued a human life at $10M (£75M). This is considerably more than the “price of a replacement” sum that could be granted in law in any compensation claim.

Of course, emotionally our canine companions are priceless and it is uncomfortable for many to consider their dog in monetary terms. In some instances, setting a so-called shadow price on the life of a dog at least takes into account that emotional value and means that in cases of negligence for instance, a much fairer level of compensation can be sought. It remains to be seen if the judiciary or professional bodies in the UK will follow the USA’s lead, but it is surely only a matter of time.

Autumn Wonders Or Autumn Disaster?

autumn fungus The warm and wet conditions that have been seen across most of the UK have resulted in a plethora of fungi. There are more than 15,000 species of fungus in the UK, some of which are toxic to humans and dogs.

There have been several canine fatalities and incidents in the UK this autumn.

The common names of mushrooms that shouldn’t be eaten by humans provide clues as to the likely consequences and include the deadly webcap (Cortinarius rubellus), death cap (Amanita phalloides), destroying angel (Amanita virosa), funeral bell (Galerina marginata), fool’s funnel (Clitocybe rivulosa), panther cap (Amanita pantherina) and angel’s wings (Pleurocybella porrigens)

However, a wider range of mushrooms can be fatal to dogs.

The Clitocybe family of mushrooms are among the most likely to cause toxic symptoms because of the presence of muscarine.

Clitocybe rivulosa

Clitocybe rivulosa

Clitocybe fungi are white, off-white, buff, cream, pink or light-yellow with gills running down the stem, and are mainly found in decomposing ground litter in forest – just the places where dogs love to sniff. Clitocybe rivulosa is the most common of the small whitish Clitocybe species found in Britain and often grows on lawns.

Inocybe fungi

Inocybe fungi

Inocybe mushrooms, are also common in the UK and have high levels of the toxin muscarine. They are usually small and brown, although some can have a purple hue. The caps are conical with a raised central section, but flatten as the mushroom ages. The cap is also often appears frayed and the mushroom can exude a distinct musty smell.

Clinical signs of poisoning usually occur within two hours of ingestion and include salivation, lacrimation, urination, diarrhoea, bradycardia, hypotension, shock, dyspnea, wheezing, increased respiratory secretions, abdominal pain, miosis, visual disturbance and rhinorrhea.

Keep an eye on your dog at all times and, if you have a voracious scavenger, use a well-fitting Baskerville muzzle – it may save your dog’s life. If you suspect that your dog has eaten anything toxic, get to a vet immediately. Call when you are on your way if possible and explain the circumstances so that your vet can get specialist advice in advance and take a sample with you if you can, taking care to wash your hands thoroughly.

The Silent Victims of Poverty

Years of austerity take their toll on companion animals as well as humans.

Successive PAW Reports from the PDSA have shown that most owners grossly underestimate the cost of keeping a pet, with 62% of dog owners having unrealistic expectations. 16% of them purchased a dog because their children demanded it.

Of the people in the lowest third of national income levels:
82% have not registered their animal with a vet
12% have not registered with a vet
24% have not neutered
37% have not vaccinated
40% have not followed up with boosters
33% have no de-wormed
22% have not de-flead
61% are not insured.

Food banks are now being opened up to provide pet food. Owners may compromise on the quality of diet provided because they do not want to pay more or because of the need to budget. Either way, dogs may be being fed a poor diet, which of course makes it more likely that they may become unwell, leading to requirements for further expenditure.

Not for noting has the PDSA have labelled companion animals the “silent victims of poverty”.

Apocalypse Now

There has been a great deal of hysteria recently about the global climate but meanwhile a much more immediate danger is seeping under the radar, largely ignored.

The effects of not vaccinating humans is beginning to be noticed and worryingly similar declines in vaccinating companion animals are being noted.
However, the real spectre at the feast is growing antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Just as we are seeing outbreaks of epidemics of diseases such as measles and mumps that had become comparatively rare in the past half century, there is an increase in cases of sepsis and tuberculosis to name but two, that are resistant to our current range of antibiotics. No new major antibiotics have been developed since 1987. AMR is already causing 700,000 deaths per annum and is predicted to cause 10 million deaths per annum globally by 2050. Things that we once paid little attention to, from minor scratches to surgical procedures are becoming increasingly riskier.

It is in this context that the latest research [1] published on the harm caused by raw feeding should be considered. The authors identified “……raw meat sold at retail level (beef, poultry and fish)…as a major source of exposure of humans to AMR bacteria, including Enterobacteriaceae with resistance to drugs categorised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as critically important antimicrobial agents (CIAs)”. Steak tartare and sushi aside, most people eat cooked meat and fish and exposure to pathogens is limited. However, this is not true of raw food sold for animal feed or bought to feed animals.

Major studies in Canada and the Netherlands have advised that raw feeding poses a danger to animal and human health and now a review of raw diets sold for canine and feline consumption in Switzerland has come to the same conclusion.

The diets were purchased in September and October 2018 from pet shops in six cities and online. Four more samples were obtained from a firm that was officially certified based on hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) hygiene standards through the county veterinary office.

The EU regulations 1069/2009 and 142/2011 specify permits limits on the presence of Enterobacteriaceae for by- products of slaughtered animals intended for animal feed. 72.5% of the food in this study exceeded that threshold across all suppliers.
Additionally, salmonella was isolated from 3.9% of the samples in spite of the fact that the EU regulations cited above prohibit the presence of salmonella in raw foods sold for animal consumption. Previous studies found salmonella in 7% of raw diets sold in Sweden and the USA and 20% in The Netherlands and Canada. Research published in 2016 found that 18.3% of faecal samples tested in dogs visiting UK vets carried AMR E.coli strains. Again, the authors concluded that close contact with pathogen-shedding dogs poses a potential risk to humans and provides a “…potential reservoir of AMR bacteria or resistance determinants…In the studies of dogs in the UK, feeding dogs RMBDs, especially raw poultry, was identified as a risk factor for faecal ESBL-producing E. coli. Accordingly, the high rate of contamination (60.8%) of RMBDs with ESBL producers, as well as the very high rate (74%) of MDR among the Enterobacteriaceae detected in this study is of great concern.”

The authors of the latest study rightly conclude that “The significance of these findings should not be underestimated…” They further stated that raw lamb was a major source of dangerous salmonella pathogens in Europe.

Of course it is not just the presence of the pathogens but the way that they spread. AMR bacteria colonise the animal and human gut. This latest study found that “… two RMBD samples were contaminated with E. coli harbouring the plasmid-mediated colistin resistance gene mcr-1. Colistin has become a crucial last resort antimicrobial to treat infections caused by MDR Gram-negative bacteria… to our knowledge, their occurrence in commercially available RMBDs has not been documented before. It is also particularly alarming that one of the mcr-1 harbouring E. coli isolates belonged to the pandemic clonal lineage ST69 which is associated with community-acquired and healthcare-associated urinary tract infections (UTIs) worldwide.
“Our results suggest that RMBDs of the types analysed in this study represent a hitherto under appreciated source of ESBL-producing Enterobacteriaceae.”

This is truly scary because you are far more likely to suffer harm because of the fallacy that feeding dogs and cats raw food is somehow “natural” and healthy than you are to be harmed by the weather.

1 Nüesch-Inderbinen M, Treier A, Zurfluh K, Stephan R (2019) Raw meat-based diets for companion animals: a potential source of transmission of pathogenic and antimicrobial- resistant Enterobacteriaceae, Royal Society open science, V6(191170), http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.191170

Ban The Bang

As the nights close in, the inevitable countdown to “firework season” begins for many animals owners, not to mention an increasing number of people such as those with cognitive decline or PTSD who are just as confused and/or distressed.

In spite of several attempts to persuade the UK government to ban the public sale of fireworks, they refuse to take a lead and change the current, unworkable legislation regarding fireworks.

So, it’s good to hear that the supermarket Sainsbury’s has taken a lead and decided not to sell fireworks in its stores. Now, whilst it’s perfectly possible that the decision is entirely commercial, the effect is that it removes the option from a major retailer and, given the support shown on Sainsbury’s Twitter account from a variety of sources, will provide positive publicity for the retailer to boot.

It may well be that other retailers decide to follow Sainsbury’s lead which can only be beneficial to all who dread having to cope with the trauma, the workers in emergency services who do not have to risk their own safety or people who just want a decent night’s sleep.

In the meantime, there is much that can be done to mitigate the effects of fireworks so that cosy dark nights and autumn colours can become enjoyable again. Contact a qualified, registered behaviourist for advice.

Going To Extremes

Whilst the world seems to be becoming increasingly stressful for humans and dogs, it seems that some people can’t get enough of an adrenalin rush. So-called extreme sports have attracted sufficient attention in recent years to be a magnet for advertising and now, it seems, dogs are being hauled along for the ride too.

There is no doubt that one of the best things about living with a social animal such as a dog is that so many activities can be shared. Many dogs would benefit from being included in far more of their owner’s life instead of being shunted off to dog walkers, kennels or left on their own. Many more would benefit from the stimulation of sharing in an activity, competitive or otherwise. The Campaign for Responsible Dog Ownership actively promotes inclusion and better access for dogs in many walks of life (no pun intended).

However, canine welfare must always be paramount and the inclusion of dogs in activities such as surfing and paragliding needs to be seriously questioned. There is perhaps some justification for strapping a service dog to a parachute, but even there, we should be making some serious decisions about whether we should involve animals in our internecine wars for as the Animals In War Memorial states “They had no choice”.

Owners are notoriously poor at detecting stress in their companion animals. Whilst some dogs may actually enjoy the activity to which they are being subjected, if only because it is social, others undoubtedly do not or may be prone to harm by being, for instance, exposed to a great deal of salt water or indeed, mechanical injury. Just take a look at this dog. If I saw the image as it appears at the top of this post, I would be pretty sure that this is not a happy dog. His eyes are wide and fixed, his commissure is tight and his body is rigid with tension. However, context is all. The dog with al teeth bared and wide open mouth may, after all, just be about to catch a toy, however fierce it looks. …and the context – oh yes, this poor dog has just been strapped to a man who has jumped out of a plane and is now plummeting to earth without any opportunity to do otherwise. I can promise that I for one would look far less sanguine under the same circumstances. There are some advantages to possessing a mind that functions mainly in the present.

Dogs are been taken into the skies to satisfy their owners desire for one-upmanship as they post a bragging image on social media too. Many companies offer flights above popular tourist spots, but helicopter tour company FlyNYON not only promote “open door” flights where tourists are encouraged to hang out (literally) and take photographs, they are allowed to subject their dogs to the same danger. the Company’s website has a small notice about their charitable donation to a canine shelter but does not mention anywhere what the policy is on dogs. Maybe that is thanks to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer who has wisely spoken out against this policy and who, along with Senator Robert Menendez, has requested that the Federal Aviation Administration should intervene and prohibit humans and dogs from flying under these circumstances.

There have been four fatal crashes of non-military helicopters in the US so far this year, with one in the Grand Canyon and in New York City resulting in the deaths of ten tourists. At least when humans take to the skies, they can weigh up the likelihood of harm and make their decision, but their dog cannot.

By all means, let us share our lives where appropriate with our dogs, but let us remember that they are dogs, not furry humans and leave them behind if thrill-seeking is the aim.

Just The Ticket for Rover

Plaudits due to dog owner and Go Coach proprietor Austin Blackburn who is participating in Kent’s Follow My Lead campaign which encourages dog owners to explore the Garden of England. Go Coach operates 50 vehicles on 46 routes around Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge. The routes cover dog-friendly castles, country parks and gardens and handlers will receive treats and poo bags as well as not having to pay a fare for their dog.

Go Coach states that it carries up to 5,500 passengers per day. How many can you add with four paws?

This is an excellent campaign which is aimed at increasing tourism, but it is important to remember that not everybody can drive and dog-friendly public transport can mean the difference between making a journey and not going at all.

It is terrific to have some good access news for a change. 3,500 people signed a petition to Transport for Greater Manchester demanding dog-friendly access to the tram system, but TfGM leader Richard Leese said that although he was not opposed to “the principle of the idea”, taking a dog on a tram would be “cruel”, “dangerous” and “not something any sane person would allow.” Of course, all operators are obliged by law to allow assistance dogs to travel and TfGM also allow dogs to be transported if they are being taken to the PDSA in Old Trafford. When they do, no one has brought a prosecution under the AWA 2006 for cruelty, the HSE have not prosecuted anyone for causing danger and no one has been sectioned for daring to travel on a Greater Manchester tram with a dog.

Nottingham trams have an even more convoluted policy. They “graciously” acknowledge their obligation to transport assistance dogs as long as the handler is visually or aurally impaired, but anyone with a different impairment must apply in writing for permission to board with their dog. Everyone else will only be allowed to travel with an “inoffensive” animal, carried in a “suitable container” but only if the tram staff agree. In other words, fine if you have a small dog and you don’t run up against the ignorance or prejudice of the staff.

It behoves dog owners – after all a quarter of the UK population – to continue to put pressure on transport providers and to ensure that when they can travel, their dog is clean, trained appropriately and only settles on the floor.

As you can see from the image here, a calm, sociable dog can even silence a bus load of schoolchildren – and earn the undying thanks of the driver!

Fowl Play

STOP PRESS: Third recall by the FSA of raw food produced by The Raw Treat Pet Food Company in 4 weeks.

The FSA instigated another raw food recall on August 30th, 2019. Raw Treat Pet Food Ltd produced 7 products which were found to have unacceptably high levels of salmonella.
Just two weeks earlier, 9 other products were withdrawn for the same reason and two weeks prior to that, another 4 of its products were withdrawn due to high levels of listeria.

The FSA has released the latest results in its survey into campylobacter levels in chicken. Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK and can cause long-term and severe health problems in vulnerable people. It can also makes dogs very poorly indeed and has the potential to be fatal in humans and dogs.

Two outbreaks of Campylobacter gastroenteritis were investigated in an Australian aged-care facility in April and June 2012. It was later found that a Campylobacter-positive puppy was identified as the likely source of infection. Between January 2016 and January 2018, 113 people were confirmed to be infected with Campylobacter across 17 US states. An investigation by the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service revealed the cause to be multi-drug-resistant Campylobacter infections caused by contact with puppies sold through Petland stores. 22% of infected people required hospital treatment. Luckily, no deaths were reported on that occasion.

Much has been done by the FSA and major supermarket chains to reduce the prevalence of campylobacter in chickens, and since 2017, the campaign has moved onto minor retailers, including small chains and independent butchers (including Kosher and Halal butchers), as the nine largest supermarket chains undertook their own testing regimes. The latest survey of the remainder of retailers was undertaken over the course of a year and revealed C. jejuni in 78% of chicken skin samples and Campylobacter coli in 16% of samples. Both species were found in 6% of samples. C coli was more frequently isolated from birds that had had outdoor access.

The only way to kill Campylobacter in chicken is through thorough cooking.

Feeding raw chicken to dogs could make them, and anyone with whom they come into contact, ill and contributes to antibiotic resistance. Approximately 6% of campylobacter infections in humans have been contracted from dogs. Although rare, infection in humans can also cause problems with the immune system or lead to the potentially fatal Guillain-Barré syndrome . Antibiotics are used as a last resort to treat infected dogs because they are not always successful, due to resistance, and because they also kill useful gut bacteria.

Next time you’re tempted to tell someone how well your dog is “because” you feed raw food, consider that you may be the cause of another dog or a person becoming ill.