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.

Spiral of Death

The delays in getting Sydney’s revived tram system up and running have gone on long enough to become the stuff of legend in New South Wales, but the development has thrown up a new problem in addition to the disruption of the seemingly never-ending construction phase: leptospirosis.

Leptospira bacteria can cause disease in humans and dogs which can be fatal. Leptospirosis is zoonotic so can be transferred between humans and dogs, but it is difficult to confirm transmission because the same serovars affect dogs as humans. Only three species of leptospira had been isolated until 1987 when sub-classification identified 19 species and 240-260 pathogenic serovars. Serovars can adapt to their local environment and, to some extent, their identification may vary according to the methodology used. Dogs in Europe are commonly exposed to the Icterohaemorrhagiae serogroups which are transmitted via infected rat urine whereas in Australia, the main vectors were usually other forms of wildlife. It seems that now however, the disruption to the local rat population caused by the building of the tram system in Sydney has enabled the bacterium to spread to the local dog population. The most commonly seen rats in Australia are the Black Rat (Rattus rattus) and the Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) . Both were introduced from ships arriving from Europe and Asia. The two native species, the Bush Rat (Rattus fuscipes) and the Water Rat, also known as a rabe or rakali (Hydromys chrysogaster) are unlikely to be seen in urban or suburban areas. People and other animals can become ill when the urine from and infected rat is present in water or soil that is then ingested or enters the body through a cut. It can also be spread though contact with infected blood or tissue.

Wood mice, bank voles, house mice and yellow necked mice can also carry the disease and, in common with rats, do not become ill. Rats living in confined, damp spaces such as sewers are more likely to be infected so it is thought that urban rodents are more likely to spread the disease.

So far, seven dogs have died in Sydney within 48-72 hours of being diagnosed, two of which had played in a park that had been flooded due to construction works.

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) does not class the leptospirosis vaccine as being core so it is not recommended in all circumstances or geographical locations in spite of the fact that the World Health Organisation (WHO) classify it as the most widespread zoonotic disease in the world. It is not a notifiable disease in the UK. Dogs had therefore not been vaccinated as routine in new South Wales become none had ever been reported as being infected. However, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) considers that leptospirosis is a core annual vaccine for dogs in the UK because they are at risk of contact with rodents and contaminated water and soil, especially in rural areas. The most common vaccines work against two serovars and there are three and four serovar versions available. Wet and warm conditions increase the chances of survival of the bacteria once they enter soil or water.

There has been some controversy spread in social media about the Lepto 4 vaccine but, although more common than in Lepto 2, adverse reactions are still extremely rare. The incidence of adverse reactions for all L2 vaccine products is 0.015% and for L4 0.069%. That means that fewer than 2 and fewer than 7 suspected adverse reactions were reported for each vaccine respectively in every 10,000 vaccines sold. Some were later found not to be attributable to the Lepto vaccination or could not be classified. Even if reactions are extremely minor (a little swelling at the injection site for a short period, for instance), it will be reported as an adverse reaction. That is not to say that worse reactions do not occur and can sometimes be fatal but, as with all vaccines, the risk of becoming very ill and dying from the disease is also very real and mostly far greater than the chance of an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

The morbidity rate for humans is one in every million in England and Wales and the mortality rate is up to 5%. Many people become infected due to prolonged contact with infected water or soil due to their occupation; the high profile case of the death of Olympic gold medallist Andy Holmes when leptospirosis resulted in multiple organ failure following a fall into a river during a rowing event shows how hazardous rivers can be. This is aggravated in times of flooding but also drought as shrinking areas of water concentrate the number of bacteria present.

Under-diagnosis, often due to differential diagnosis and self-limiting strains in the early stages, and the lack of obligation to report means that estimating the prevalence in the dog population is difficult so there are no available figures to date. Prevention still remains the best option. Dogs living near or with regular contact with water or woodland are most at risk. 14.61% of the 89 vets surveyed in the study mentioned above reported diagnosing leptospiris within the previous 12 months in n=13 dogs, 8 of which died either as a result or via euthanasia. All were under 10 years old. Only one of the dogs in the confirmed cases had been vaccinated but had not received a booster within the recommended 12 month period. Additionally, the practices that reported a lower general level of vaccination also reported higher rates of leptospirosis.

Some owners will vaccinate and then titre test their dogs to assess the level of antibodies still present before deciding whether to undertake booster vaccinations. This is not suitable for leptospirosis because the correlation between antibody levels and protection is poor and the antibodies do not persist for very long. Protection is advised as being valid for twelve months. It is not known whether natural infection results in life-long immunity. Vets will make decisions regarding the most suitable leptospiral vaccination regime by taking into account the knowledge of serovars in circulation locally, the ability of the available vaccines to provide effective coverage against the relevant serogroups, weather, flooding and environmental risks, the lifestyle of the dog, travel plans that may risk exposure to leptospirosis and public health considerations. However, a thesis written in 2014 found that only 60% of dogs attending vets had been given a vaccination. leptospirosis can be misdiagnosed in the early stages and, by the time that signs are unequivocal, mortality rate is likely to be high. Some serovars can be highly contagious. Infected humans can shed bacteria for up to a year after becoming infected and leptospira can cause abortions in cattle, sheep and pigs.

Signs of infection include:

  • High fever (which can then drop)
  • Gastroenteritis with vomiting and diarrhoea which may include blood
  • Jaundice
  • Dark urine
  • Marked dehydration
  • Congestion of the mucous membranes
  • Lethargy
  • Acute renal failure
  • Death.

Bacteria and other organisns are engaged in a constant “arms race” and there is always the risk that a new strain may appear and prove fatal. Even when dogs have been vaccinated, access to potential sources of exposure should be reduced by ensuring that dogs avoid drinking from, wading or swimming in fresh or stagnant water and marshland. Leptospirosis dies when exposed to bright sunlight and in temperatures above 20ºC (68°F), so dogs should definitely be kept away from stagnant water in shady areas. Rodent populations can be controlled by not discarding food or food-related litter or feeding wildlife. your dog may not become ill or die if he is infected but another dog or human might.

Don’t take the risk for yourself or others: vaccinate.

The Dope About Dope

DogsNet was contacted today by an organisation asking for support in promoting owner-administered cannabinoids for dogs. Promotors claim that cannabinoids can “serve as an alternative medication to help treat symptoms in dogs with cancer, seizures or anxiety”.

This is an extremely worrying trend that goes hand in hand with the provision of online veterinary “consultations” and which encourages owners to take matters into their own hands. Owners who do so in the UK may run the risk of being prosecuted under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 which makes it illegal for anyone other than a registered veterinary surgeon to diagnose illness and to prescribe or administer treatment to an animal. Additionally, veterinary surgeons in the UK must abide by the European Union Veterinary Medicines Directive (2001/82) which mandates them to prescribe as a first line treatment, preparations that are licensed for animal use where they exist and thereafter:

a. A veterinary medicine product authorised in the UK for use with another animal species for that condition, or another condition for that animal species.
b. If there is no such medicine:
i. An authorised human medicine or
ii. A veterinary medicine product not authorised in the UK, but authorised in another EU member state for use with any animal species
c. If there is no such medicine, a veterinary medicine product prepared extemporaneously by a pharmacist, veterinary surgeon or person holding a manufacturing authorisation for that type of product.

Anxiety, pain, cancers and seizures are all treated, often extremely efficaciously, by existing supplements and drugs, some of which come under the veterinary cascade.

In the case of anxiety, it is essential to determine the root cause before considering relief. Over the counter preparations for anxiety can be used effectively in conjunction with a professionally provided behavioural plan and should always be used with the knowledge of the animal’s veterinary surgeon.

It is also worth pointing out that animals cannot exhibit symptoms, which are subjective, but do exhibit signs, which are objective, and frequently missed by owners (and sometimes vets). Recognition of pain in particular can be problematic with even vets being reported as referring animals for behavioural problems when in fact the cause of the aberrant behaviour has been pain. The thought that owners would be dosing their animals with quack preparations whilst their underlying condition remains undiagnosed or untreated is horrifying.

A recent review of scientific literature regarding the use of cannabinoids in veterinary medicine noted that attempts to provide medical uses of cannabinoids in the 1960s ended in failure because the therapeutic effects could not be isolated from the psychotropic effects”. The Veterinary Poisons Information Service states that “Clinical effects of cannabis toxicity in dogs are similar to those reported in humans, and usually appear after 30-90 minutes if ingested, and 6-12 minutes if inhaled. Out of the 286 cases with follow up presented to VPIS [this was within a twelvemonth period], the most common clinical effects reported were ataxia, dilated pupils, vomiting, drowsiness and hyperaesthesia. Both bradycardia and tachycardia were documented as well as hyperthermia and hypothermia; only 18 dogs remained asymptomatic…While dogs typically recover from cannabis intoxication with no long-term effects, complications, the exposure to a potent strain or the ingestion of a large amount of the drug can be fatal.”

The way that cannabinoids affect the human and canine body is extremely complex. Cannabinoids do not only affect the body’s cannabinoid receptors but those that affect mood-altering hormones as well as those that affect inflammatory processes. Thus far, evidence concerning the effects of cannabinoids in animals has only been found at an experimental level during the pre-clinical testing of specific substances in laboratory rodents (mice, rats and guinea pigs). A much smaller number of published papers concern pre-clinical testing of cannabinoids in rabbits, ferrets, cats and dogs and very few of those provide reliable sources concerning the clinical use of cannabinoids in veterinary medicine for companion animals. The majority of articles published about companion animals concern marijuana poisoning and its treatment. One study tested the effects of an ophthalmic solution containing 2% THC on aqueous humour flow rate and intraocular pressure in 21 clinically normal dogs. Aquaeous humour is a fluid that helps to regulate the shape of the eye and pressure is measured as an indication of, amongst other things, glaucoma. The study found a moderate reduction in mean intraocular pressure in the dogs. Another study found a reduction in skin inflammation produced by hypersensitivity to the Ascaris antigen in six beagles that were injected with Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA).

Not something that an owner would be fiddling round with and hardly a body of evidence in support of clinical use.

The literature review concluded “It should also be taken into account that the majority of cannabinoids possess psychotropic properties which may change the behaviour of animals (eg locomotion) and that these substances have addictive potential”.

Furthermore, the authors state: “The reluctant attitude of veterinarians towards the use of cannabinoids/medical marijuana in animals could be associated with the risk that owners will make attempts to treat their animals using cannabis-based products, which can lead to intoxication”.

They are not kidding. The VPIS raised similar concerns in 2016 when they noted “With recent votes legalising the use of both recreational and medicinal cannabis in some US states (Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon) and the growing popularity of cannabis-infused pet products, there has been a lot of discussion around its effect in animals. The US’ Pet Poison Helpline have reported a 200% increase in the number of enquiries they have received on this agent…Trupanion, an American pet insurance company, reported receiving a claim of over $6,000 for a Shetland Sheepdog who ate a tray of “weed brownies” and needed to be hospitalised for seven days.”

The fact that various over the counter preparations are openly on sale in the UK would suggest that they are so lacking in potency as to be virtually ineffective. They will probably prove to be profitable because, let’s face it, some people still believe in homeopathy and some vets still peddle it.

There is certainly scope for investigating the potential for clinical use of cannabinoids but, there are already plenty of products available that have been proven to be effective and, more to the point, are dispensed by qualified professionals.

At best, dosing your dog with cannabis (aka snake) oil will probably not do much harm in and of itself (other than to your pocket), but not getting professional veterinary advice almost certainly will if your dog is suffering from any of the things that the purveyors of these products claim to be able to alleviate.

You can find more information at Rational Veterinary Medicine.

Food For Thought

Yet another recall of raw dog food occurred at the end of last month due to high levels of salmonella present in frozen raw beef, tripe and turkey produced by a Welsh company Homeland By Products Ltd.

As the FSA note on their website, “Salmonella is a bacterium that can cause illness in humans and animals. The product could therefore carry a potential risk, because of the presence of salmonella, either through direct handling of the pet food, or indirectly, for example from pet feeding bowls, utensils or contact with the faeces of animals. In humans, symptoms caused by salmonella usually include fever, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. Infected animals may not necessarily display signs of illness, but symptoms can include diarrhoea.

The products listed have a use by date of May 2021 so could potentially be in circulation and use for another two years.

Earlier this year, Avondale Pet Foods recalled its Just Natural Chicken and Tripe raw food; eight weeks before that, The Raw Food Factory recalled tripe and pork products. Both companies released foods with unacceptable levels of salmonella.

It is impossible to tell how many people – or animals – could have become ill because of their exposure to salmonella, but anyone who is young, old, ill or immuno-compromised is at risk.

Most raw food proponents will use the word “natural” at some point to convince owners that their diet is better than foods that have been treated to kill pathogens. In the sense that the potentially deadly bacteria that they can harbour are “natural”, then they are indeed offering a “natural” diet.

However, feeding principally raw meat to dogs is no more a natural diet for them than forcing them to be vegetarian – or worse – vegan.

There is plenty of evidence to attest to the unsuitability and danger of feeding raw foods to dogs and cats and equally plenty to explain how most dogs have evolved to eat starch precisely because they co-evolved with humans as they made the transition from hunter gatherers to farmers. That transition incidentally, led to a decline “…in oral health, increased spread of pathogens, infectious disease and zoonoses, as well as a variety of ailments which have been linked to nutritional deficiencies and increased physical stress on the human body”. Dogs may have fared rather better, not least because food became more plentiful and easier to digest after cooking and other processes undertaken by the humans from whom dogs scavenged.

A new study of dogs that lived alongside humans in Bronze Age Spain in 3,000 -2,000 BCE concluded that “The long journey of dogs in the company of humans is evidenced by a diet that for millennia was a proxy to that of humans, usually reflecting the same general trend in the proportion of animal and plant foodstuffs.”

In other words, humans and dogs were omnivorous. Four sites in the region were studied, one of which contained a skeleton of a wolf which, when analysed, showed that the wolf alone had eaten a diet high in meat: “…the diet of the dogs…was not particularly rich in animal protein, as would be expected in a wild carnivore. In fact, the wolf at Can Roqueta does reach a characteristic carnivore offset…All the dogs at Minferri …probably had an omnivorous diet, perhaps including leftover food.”

So what are we to conclude?

Dogs are not wolves. Neither dogs nor wolves are obligate carnivores (unlike cats). Dogs have evolved for millennia to eat the same sort of diet as the humans alongside which they lived and still live. This is still true of the 80% of the world’s dogs that are feral.

The remaining 20% can benefit from developments in canine nutrition which mean that commercially available processed foods are easy to feed, easy to store and have contributed to increasing longevity in companion dogs. Of the estimated 47% of companion dogs in the UK that are overweight or obese, the vast majority are fed poor quality food, sometimes the same poor quality food that their owners are eating, and, again like their owners, simply eat far too much.

That cannot be blamed on the food.

The potential to make not only your dog ill, but anyone who comes into contact with the pathogens that are being shed, can be.

Prevention or Prosecution?

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill had a first reading in the House of Commons (without debate) and is currently awaiting a date for a second reading. The Bill is part of recent DEFRA initiatives regarding animal welfare, including the introduction of the latest licensing regulations. The Bill proposes to increase the maximum custodial sentence for people convicted of cruelty from the current paltry six months to up to five years.

Whilst this is to be welcomed, the EFRA Committee made additional recommendations that have not been implemented, including that the RSPCA should no longer act as a prosecutor of first resort. The RSPCA slid into this unusual role because animal welfare prosecutions are largely private (not brought by public bodies such as the Crown or Crown Prosecution Services). The EFRA Committee concluded in 2016 that the RSPCA should “withdraw from acting as a prosecutor of first resort where there are statutory bodies with a duty to carry out this role. We are not convinced by its arguments that it is in a better position than the CPS to prosecute animal welfare cases”.

There are plenty of members of the public who are not convinced either.

Horrific cases of cruelty surface periodically and should soon be able to attract appropriate custodial sentences when prosecuted, the daily misery meted out to dogs goes unrecognised by the very people who are genuinely appalled at extreme cases. So many dogs spend their lives subdued under head collars, harnesses that rub, collars that choke and then are shouted at constantly by owners who don’t even recognise that they are doing it. They are rarely allowed time to sniff, eliminate and play without being dragged away or stopped for just behaving like dogs. Meanwhile owners profess to be their parents and ooze sentiment, thinking that the cowed resentment they get back is “unconditional love”.

So many of these problems could be solved by appropriate, fear-free training. As the adage says, “Properly trained, a human can be a dog’s best friend”.

Meanwhile, the improvements to legislation should be applauded but we desperately need resources to be put into educating owners and preventing problems from occurring in the first place.

Act Now For Access

In September 2018, Bedford Estates, on behalf of the landowner, the Duke of Bedford, required that all dogs using Aspley Woods should be kept on-lead at all times, backtracking on a 2011 requirement that dogs should be kept under control.

This means that 800 acres the woods are now largely denied to dogs for off-lead exercise, with the only off-lead areas being access to a few public rights of way (marked in red on this image). The estate initially erected signs stating that the woods are subject to a Dog Control Order which is not the case. Bedford Estates states that the about-turn is required for “consistency of policy” across their estates. Given that the estate properties include most of Bloomsbury and Russell Square in central London, Woburn Abbey and Woburn Deer Park and a golf course, consistency is hardly possible, even if it were desirable.

The current Duke of Bedford. Andrew Ian Henry Russell is heir to two family companies as well as Woburn Abbey and grounds valued at £150 million. His extensive art collection includes 24 Canalettos and paintings by Canal which alone are valued at £450 million. Not content with riches beyond most people’s wildest dreams, the estate sucks in a £50,000 annual subsidy from Milton Keynes and Central Bedfordshire Councils for funding access and conservation via The Greensand Trust. Milton Keynes council has proposed severe budget cuts for the forthcoming financial year including ceasing funding to the Citizens Advice Service and Community Action MK and cutting the funds to the YMCA and Age UK Milton Keynes. The latter would lose £300,000 which currently funds luncheon clubs and home visiting services. Central Bedfordshire Council have pledge to make £14.8 million of “efficiencies” in addition to the £43 million cuts implemented between 2015 and 2018. Yet both councils are still prepared to subsidise an aristocrat who is wealthier than the queen.

The only possible “justification” for this is for providing public access to estate lands; which is now being curtailed for dog walkers.

The ban brings to an end generations of access for off-lead walking in Apsley woods. It adds to traffic nuisance as locals drive their dogs to more welcoming areas and may mean that the additional journey time involved leads to shorter walks for the dogs. Many businesses that benefit from trade garnered from people walking dogs, whether they be local regulars or visitors. off-lead dog walking in attractive areas providing other dog-friendly facilities is a major draw. Owners can take turns to look after a dog in a dog-friendly cafe or on an off-lead walk while the other looks round a stately home. A good day out is had by all and the estate maximises its revenue. Win-win all round. Given than approximately 25% of people in the UK own a dog, restricting access cuts off a large source of potential revenue at time when few businesses can guarantee to thrive. Uncertainty over the situation with PETS passports may already have led to fewer dog owners deciding to take a holiday abroad with their dog; providing more opportunities for an interesting “staycation” would seem to be a no-brainer.

Locals feel that a ban on off-lead dogs is virtually unenforceable across 800 acres with multiple entrances. Just two rangers patrol the area and would be far better off spending their time in conservation work. Local dog-walkers have produced and publicised a code of conduct and have offered to mobilise volunteers to support the rangers in policing it. They have also proposed a zoning arrangement, which is common in other estates, and which would provide dog-free areas for other users and also ensure that cyclists do not menace dogs.

Bedford Estates has ignored the proposals and is unwilling to revert to the access agreement signed previously requiring that dogs must be under control when off-lead.

Please sign the petition so that dog owners can continue to enjoy facilities to which they, after all, contribute as tax payers.

Keep up to date with the campaign progress: a threat to one is a threat to all. You may never visit Apsley woods but once this sort of discirminatory precedent is set, it spreads and can have a massive impact on canine welfare. Tomorrow it may be your favourite dog-walking area under threat.

Thanks to Mike Daly of Aspley Off Lead.

Virtual Vets – Any Virtue In It?

I received an invitation to undertake a survey for an online veterinary service last week. I suppose that it was inevitable that someone would set this sort of service up but I have grave doubts about the possible effects.

This particular service was based in Scandinavia. Their website it extremely simple and the “meet some of our vets” section simply has three images of the vets who are listed as being “licensed” but have no biographical details or qualifications accompanying the images. I am not for a moment doubting that they are qualified, but I do wonder how much synergy there is between, for instance, this particular part of Scandinavia and the UK in terms of regulations and practice. Even if there is uniformity of approach in the way that vets are trained, there are inevitable differences in practice, not least because the dog-owning cultures vary widely between rural and urban, for instance, never mind between countries.

As an example, the population of the whole of Sweden is just 2 million more than the population of London for a start, with a population density of 57 inhabitants per square mile as opposed to 3,900 per square mile in London. The estimated total population of dogs in Sweden is just over 800,000: less than on tenth of the population of dogs in the UK. It stands to reason that there is likely to be more homogeneity in the way that dogs are treated and the way that any problems with dogs that arise are dealt with than is possible in the UK. Although neutering in Sweden, is exempt from the legal prohibition on the removal of body parts that has existed since 1988, it is prohibited in Norway unless a vet decrees that an established, specific clinical condition requires it and, in practice, it seems to be largely confined to hypersexual behaviours. Serious behavioural problems may be considered as acceptable grounds, but only on a case by case basis. This is not without controversy but again, with a comparatively small population of animals and people and a fraction of the density that exists in most of the UK. Neutering is just one very obvious example of where different approaches may occur and may lead to unintentional miscommunication and assumptions being made by both parties.

It is not clear, for instance, whether the vets will actually provide a diagnosis or just advice on whether further treatment should be sought. A lot of that process for vets though, is tactile. By the time that an owner feels that something is wrong with their dog, it is usually time to make an appointment anyway, or at least a telephone call. If it is the case that an odd lump or bump is worrying, what is to stop an owner sending a picture to their own vet and then making a telephone call or popping in to see a nurse without paying a consultation fee? Needless to say, the vets will also have no access to the previous history which will have a huge bearing on a diagnosis.

I am concerned that, having spent a fee getting advice online, owners may feel that they have “seen” a vet and not pay for additional help, even if it is advised. Compliance is shockingly poor and can be as low as 36% in some cases. Medications are often not administered or administered incorrectly and owners can delay seeing a vet due to worries about the cost and if their animal dislikes travelling, being in the surgery or being handled. Even when given unequivocal, face-to face advice that an animal needs further treatment, some owners prevaricate and often delay bring in the animal in. It is those owners that I fear may be lulled into a false sense of security by an online “consultation”.

The latest fad, for instance, is for administering cannabinoids to “treat” pain and even seizures. More than 100 cannabinoids have been identified in cannabis. The best known is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive properties of which provide the “high”. How many owners know the difference between tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the cannabidiol (CBD) that is the active ingredient in cannabis oils? An oral dose of 3g/kg of the dog’s bodyweight of THC can be lethal in dogs. An online consultation combined with folk lore about such substances could result in a dead dog. How many owners are going to ensure that over the counter products, often bought online, are what they say they are and administer them in a “safe” dose when we know that compliance under veterinary supervision is often poor? There are no formal studies on the use of CBD in dogs or scientific data supporting beneficial effects of CBD use in dogs.

We would do better to educate owners to make daily checks for parasites, grass seeds etc, abnormalities and changes, in recognising discomfort and pain in their animals and in not administering over the counter human treatments which, in addition to being potentially harmful, is also illegal. It is easy to see that online “consultations” could tempt some owners into doing this to save money or if access to their vet is difficult for whatever reason.

‘Til Death Us Do Unite

News has just broken of a vet in the US state of Virginia euthanising a “healthy” shi tzu so that it could be cremated with its former owner.

Such convenience euthanising is not uncommon; vets frequently talk of a “Christmas cull” where animals are put down earlier than perhaps they might otherwise have been in order not to be an inconvenience over the holiday period. Perhaps, in the scheme of things, this is not too awful if the animal was on its last legs anyway and the owners were not prepared to undertake intensive hours of care that would be required to see it through a few more days and maybe weeks or put it through the stress of a hectic holiday.

However, owners also deliberately buy dogs that, whilst technically “healthy” in that they are not suffering from disease, are suffering because of their deliberately distorted bodies. I have personal experience of owners who insisted on a miniature dachshund being euthanised because they were moving abroad to an apartment with stairs that a dog with such an elongated back and a history of spinal problems couldn’t manage several times a day. They didn’t see why anyone else should have “their” dog and eventually the vet acceded because she felt that the alternative was for the dog to die at the hands of a vet that she didn’t know in unfamiliar surroundings. The unnecessary death of that lively 7 year old dog still haunts me, but not as much as the idea that such a dog was bred in the first place, her ridiculously out of proportion back and stunted legs making it pretty much inevitable that she would suffer.

No doubt such owners professed (and believed) time and time again that they love their animals.

Funny kind of love.

Perhaps this is what is meant by the saying that love is blind.

State law in Virginia was powerless to intervene in the case if the shih tzu because dogs are regarded as being chattels. This is also true in the UK. Whilst this is better than regarding them as having rights which they clearly do not possess, it does not go far enough in ensuring that owners do not ignore their moral responsibilities. Sentiment lies at the root of trying to impose “rights” upon animals as if they were humans capable of arguing their case in court. Sentiment and vanity lies as the root of insisting on the death of a dog because you think that it is so attached to you that it won’t cope with another owner after your death or – even worse – just because you don’t like the thought of another owner bonding with your dog after your death.

This is also yet another case of not giving dogs credit for being dogs. Yes, it causes a stabbing pang of jealousy and a deflation of the ego to realise that the dog with which you have an immensely close bond will, in all probability, cope without you, but shouldn’t that be a tribute to your ability to raise a resilient dog? To think otherwise is the equivalent of expecting a human to commit suicide on the death of their partner. Sati, the practice of women immolating themselves following their husbands’ death, wasn’t abolished in Nepal until 1920. In India, although it was officially abolished under the Raj in 1863, a further act had to be passed in 1988, widening the criminalisation of support or “glorification” of the practice. I hope that the fact that this legislation is so recent is shocking. I hope too, that the death of this shih tzu is equally as shocking, albeit one that is considerably more humane. No one is saying that your dog will not go through a period of difficulty, perhaps even akin to mourning, when adjusting to your death, but you have a moral responsibility to ensure that your dog can cope with all eventualities in life and even, in the event that you pre-decease your dog.

Dogs (and all animals) need a hell of a lot less “love” and a hell of a lot more “empathy”.

Then perhaps we wouldn’t place vets in a position of killing perfectly healthy animals, or for that matter, coping with the deformities imposed on them by the warped aesthetics of breeders and owners.