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.

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

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.

Hidden In Plain Sight

I recently wrote about the seasonal dangers of hidden adders and oak processionary moths, but the Veterinary Poisons Information Service highlights a recently published paper reporting that there is a canine hazard hiding in plain sight – the common stinging nettle (Urtica dioica).

Two gun dogs developed signs of neurological toxicity after working in the same area on the same day. One was a seven-year-old castrated male springer spaniel weighing 18kg and the other a two-year-old spayed female Labrador retriever weighing 21 kg. The dogs presented with slightly different signs that included a skin reaction (urticaria), rapid, abnormal breathing (tachypnoea), hypersalivation, constricted pupils in both eyes, reduced ability to walk showing in all four legs, twitching muscles and decreases in normal reflex actions. One dog suffered three episodes over a three week period and the other just one. Both dogs made a complete recovery after veterinary treatment. Some dogs have been reported as circling and showing signs of gastrointestinal problems and collapse after exposure to stinging nettles.

Pretty much everyone will have been stung by nettles – was it just my dog who chose to defecate amidst nettles or brambles? They are also often a hazard when wearing short sleeved clothing when it is easy to brush against them on overgrown paths. Nettles grow hairs known as trichomes that contain, amongst other chemicals, histamine, acetylcholine and 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin), all of which can cause toxicity in humans and other animals. Different species of nettle contain different concentrations of toxins and individuals vary in their susceptibility.

I am particularly interested in this report because I suspect that I might be particularly susceptible to at least one toxin. If I am stung, symptoms often persist over several days and flare up when I think that they have died down. I don’t know of anyone else that reacts in the same way.

So, it seems that we need to be cautious when our dogs are rooting around, seemingly unperturbed by nettles and perhaps consider it as a possibility if any of the above signs are seen following a walk or after a dog has been working in nettles.

This Year’s Crufts Controversies

Tragically, it seems inevitable that there would be something considering how little improvement we have seen in many suffering breeds and how entrenched poor breeding and judging still is.

In the show ring, Pedigree Dogs Exposed reports that the pug Eastonite Randy Andy won Best of Breed. I would like to think that one glance at this dog would make even the most ardent fan of snorting, brachycephalic dogs think that something was awry – literally – (I live in hope). Not the KC judges, however (I am not surprised).

The dog has severely stenotic nares and strabismus. In other words, it can barely breathe and it, again literally, cannot see straight because one eye is turned outwards permanently due to a shallow eye socket. The KC breed standard says that this dog’s eyes should be “full of fire” when it is excited. Maybe because it is so angry that humans keep on writing stupid rules and rewarding severe defects deliberately caused by in-breeding.

It is common knowledge that first cousin marriages in humans double the chance of severe birth defects in offspring. Various studies have proved that being born to a marriage of first cousins produces a one in sixteen chance of suffering from a congenital abnormality. First cousins have an in-breeding coefficient of 6.25%. If a grandfather produced an offspring via his granddaughter, their in-breeding coefficient would be 12.25% and father to daughter 25%.

Eastonite Randy Andy has an in-breeding coefficient of 19.8%. This compares to the breed average of 4.9%.

So much for the KC Pug Health Scheme. The KC Pug Information Pack says that “The Kennel Club will not register merle pugs, including those imported from overseas. This is because the merle gene in this breed carries an increased risk of impaired hearing and sight problems”.

True. However, the KC does not seem to worry that extreme in-breeding of registered dogs that are a “recognised” colour is just as likely to result in problems such as those presented in poor Eastonite Randy Andy, whose owners will no doubt use the BOB as a promotion to perpetuating his line as much as possible. The information pack does not even mention BOAS. Recent research, funded by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, found that half the dogs in the study of 189 pugs, 214 French bulldogs and 201 bulldogs were suffering from BOAS which was likely to shorten their lives by 3 years – approximately one third of their expected life span. That is equivalent to lopping nearly 27 years off the average life expectancy of a man in the UK purely because of deliberate in-breeding fuelling the demand for severely deformed dogs. 30% of affected dogs also have a tendency to regurgitate saliva or food in addition to not being able to breathe, frequent fainting and the ever-present danger that they will just die in their sleep.

Where the KC leads, others follow.

Royal Canin market so-called breed-specific food. Royal Canin say on their website “At Royal Canin, we believe that every dog is unique. We research breed-specific traits before combining scientific and nutritional research from our veterinarians and nutrition experts to create precise nutrition for your dog. Whatever your breed of dog, this range contains a multitude of formulas tailored to individual dog breeds. ”

“Whatever your breed of dog?” hardly. You’re catered for (literally) if you have a beagle, bichon frise, boxer, CKC spaniel, Chihuahua, Cocker spaniel, Dalmatian, dachshund, French bulldog, GSD, golden retriever, great Dane, JRT, Labrador, Maltese terrier, miniature Schnauzer, poodle (size not specified), pug, Rottweiler, Shih Tzu, WHWT or Yorkshire terrier. That leaves 196 of the UKKC “recognised” breeds untouched then, never mind the remaining 150 or so that the FCI “recognise”.

Royal Canin go on to state that their breed-specific food “…features high-quality protein sources, unique nutrients, and [is] designed with specific shape, size and texture for each dog’s facial and jaw structures and biting patterns.”

Unique nutrients? This amounts to a few more herbs here and a few more (unproven) nutraceuticals there by the looks of it.

I couldn’t find any detailed information on the UK website but the Australian site does have a breakdown of the breed-specific food. Some are more active and require joint support. Others need their appetites kept under control. Then there are those whose jaws make it hard to pick up kibble. These needs are why Royal Canin make specific breed-specific diets”.

Why would more active dogs require joint support? Surely a dog that is suitably stimulated and exercised just needs to eat well, not be stuffed full of prophylactic joint supplements. There is of course no control over owners who may feed additional supplements. This suggest that amounts in food are so low as to have little efficacy, not least given that there is no warning not to give additional supplements and there is no loading dose which would be the case if a vet prescribed them.

There is very little relaible information on the nutrient requirements of different breeds. Thus, breed-specific dog and cat foods may not contain breed-specific, optimum nutrient contents , never mind a suitable dose for an individual. There are definite breed-specific nutritional needs such as carefully formulated food for large breed puppies to control growth and prevent surplus weight damaging joints. Useless though if the dog is then over-exercised. Great Danes have a unique metabolism and require more calcium and protein than small and medium-sized breeds to ensure that their bones and muscles develop properly. Arctic breeds can suffer from zinc deficiency, Bedlington terriers can suffer from copper storage disease and both Bedlingtons and Great Danes are affected by copper and calcium toxicity at lower intake levels than other breeds.

That aside, the Crufts controversy was caused by Royal Canin’s marketing of “bulldog-specific” food. Now, as they point out in their marketing, severely brachycephalic dogs can find it very difficult to eat due to the poor conformation of their face and teeth and the fact that many are struggling to breathe simultaneously through their mouths (not a normal way of breathing for dogs) just to get enough air in to survive. Many struggle to even pick up kibble and are more prone to dental caries and related health problems because of the misalignment of their bite. The explosion in the numbers of such dogs being bred, registered by the KC or not, provides a potentially lucrative market for dog food companies, especially if they can convince owners to buy breed-specific food. The in-breeding coefficient of KC-registered bulldogs is 8.4%. Pretty grim, and much worse than the pug or the French bulldog (2.5%)

Royal Canin, official sponsors, compounded the issue by using a drawing of a severely brachycephalic dog to advertise their breed-specific foods at Crufts. The massive deformed face was flaunted on a giant banner until protests by vets and other concerned individuals obliged them to remove it and apologise. This occasioned the usual counter-protests from breeders who are perpetuating the phenotype but was not picked up to a great extent by other media. Perhaps it is a form of compassion fatigue because there are so many reasons for Crufts to raise the hackles of people genuinely concerned for canine welfare.

Minor in comparison, but an indication that poor practices are creeping into non-showing activities at Crufts was the acceptance of Rachel Ward’s Shimmer in the agility ring when it was dyed pink. Allegedly she was told to remove the dye but she clearly did not, and perhaps it is time for other disciplines to tighten their rules to prevent this sort of abomination being perpetuated.

Running Commentary

As we are (I hope) coming to the end of a miserably hot summer I find that it beggars belief how many people continued to inflict heavy exercise and exposure to direct sun on their dogs without any apparent concern for their welfare. Most owners have a very poor grasp of how to fulfil their dog’s needs for stimulation and exercise and assume that “a good run” is ideal regardless of the weather or the obvious distress of their dog.

The numbers of people running with dogs and towing them behind bicycles has increased massively in recent years and with it consequential stress and probably injury to dogs. It hasn’t been helped by the heavy promotion of running and cycling and dog ownership as being beneficial (to humans) without a simultaneous education campaign about canine welfare and owner responsibilities.

No doubt the runners soak their own aches and pains in a hot bath or pay for a massage but do they ever consider how sore their dogs are after they have been pounding tarmac for an hour? What exactly possessed the owner whom I see in the park to force his limping, overweight (black) dog to run with him a few short weeks after having cruciate ligament surgery, itself damage exacerbated by her excess weight? But damaged ligaments and sore muscles are not the only danger to dogs that are made to run.

When the message that dogs can die in minutes in a hot car hasn’t got through to professionals, never mind the public, no wonder that owners give little consideration to heat stress in their companion dogs. It is not just people competing with their dogs in sports such as Cani-X, Bikejor and sled racing but individuals who decide that they can kill two birds with one stone by getting the “chore” of the dog walk and their own exercise completed in one go.

A new study investigating the body temperature of dogs competing in Cani-X is therefore a very important step towards establishing reliable guidelines as to the effect on canine welfare when dogs run.

This study and those that it cites confirm that there are many factors that affect whether a dog will suffer from heat stress, or worse, heatstroke, when obliged to run, including the weather conditions on the day. Heatstroke can be fatal condition and can occur after just six minutes of exercise in hot conditions. Owners have little or no understanding of how their dogs regulate heat as evidenced by the number of people shaving off their dog’s coat or swaddling their dogs in raincoats just because they don’t want them to get dirty. The warmer that the environment becomes, taking into account humidity and wind as well as “actual” temperature, the less efficient that the dog’s natural mechanisms of heat loss become.

There are other factors to consider in addition. Dogs measured after competing in Cani-X were significantly hotter than bitches and dark-coloured dogs developed significantly higher temperatures after running when compared to medium-coloured dogs, but not when compared to pale-coloured dogs. The dogs with the hottest post-running temperatures were thus more likely to be male and dark coated. Also, dogs that completed the course in the fastest times had higher post-running temperatures. This would suggest that a sprinter, such as a greyhound, would be hotter after running a typical race than might a Siberian Husky after running a long-distance sled course. Dogs running up a slope also had significantly higher temperatures after racing than those running on the flat.

The study suggested that, theoretically, all racing dogs would exhibit potentially dangerous high temperatures once the temperature reaches 22°C (taking into account the humidity and wind factors). The longer that the dog’s temperature remains high (approximately 3°C above the average resting temperature) the more likely the dog is to sustain long-term damage from heatstroke. In all of the races where dogs’ temperature was measured in the study, at least one dog developed a body temperature that would be considered to be at risk for developing heatstroke, with the highest recorded temperature being 4.5°C above the average resting temperature (bearing in mind that there is some individual variation). All of the dogs returned to a normal body temperature within 10–20 minutes of finishing their race. However, had the ambient temperatures been higher, this may have taken longer and owners also need to realise that dogs do not cool down immediately after stopping any more than people do. Running with a dog and then transporting it in a hot car and/or leaving it in a hot room may inhibit cooling considerably. It must also be noted that some of the dogs that had been raced when it was snowing still exhibited potentially dangerous high temperatures after running.

Owners who compete regularly with dogs are likely to monitor their water intake and regulate their diet with a great level of precision and understanding of their dogs’ requirements. Owners who haul their unfit dogs around the park are not. As the study’s author commented, “An unfit, poorly acclimatised, dark coated male dog may be at greater risk of heatstroke running in late autumn than a pale coated, female dog in regular training, running in the middle of summer”.

It beggars belief that owners with brachycephalic and achondroplastic dogs force them to run but it is easy to see that they do in any park on any day. Small dogs are also less able to regulate their temperature and are often those rugged up at every opportunity, including on warm, wet, muggy days when they too, are forced to run.

Dogs that are only taken out to run with owners have no opportunity to sniff and socialise and are often interpreted as being aggressive by other dogs as they run past in a desperate attempt to keep up with their owners. I have seen extremely fearful dogs quivering with stress as they weigh up whether to risk running past another dog or lose sight of their owner who, more often than not is either oblivious with headphones blasting muzak into their ears or running on whilst screaming at their dog to catch up.

It is amazing, especially this summer, that more dogs do not suffer from heatstroke as a consequence, although the long term damage to their social requirements and toll on their bodies is less apparent.

All owners need to be alert to the potential for heat stroke and over exertion in their dogs and to ensure that they neither drink too much or too little.

Many thanks to Emily J Hall and Anne Carter Pullen for making their research available and for the permission to link to the canine heatstroke website.

It’s in the DNA

DNA sequencing is the process of determining the precise order of nucleotides within a DNA Whole genome sequencing has made the complete DNA sequence of an organism available for analysis and study. The first organism to be sequenced in 1977 was a virus and the human genome project was launched in 1990, with the first draft of the full sequence being published in 2001 and the final draft in 2003. The dog genome was published in 2005 and <ahref=”https://research.nhgri.nih.gov/dog_genome/study_descriptions/publications-study.shtml#genomics_dog_breeds” target=”_blank”>several peer-reviewed publications detail research into the origins of the domestic dog, variations in physical characteristics and canine diseases.

Originally an expensive process, DNA testing and sequencing has become considerably cheaper and 19 laboratories across the globe support commercial provision of approximately 200 DNA tests, most commonly undertaken for disease prevalence and to determine breeds in crosses. However, not all DNA tests are the same. Knowing what breeds constitute a cross may provide a broad idea of temperament but the effects of epigenetics and other environmental factors, not to mention training, play a huge role in determining how a dog will behave. Even where susceptibility to disease and defects are concerned, DNA tests need to be treated with caution, as indeed do other tests such as screening for hip and elbow dysplasia which need to be seen in the context under which the results are reported as well as assessing the validity of the tests themselves. Inaccuracies in human genetic tests can be as high as 40% and with humans and dogs, the tests are often only partial, with companies failing to screen for all known disease-linked mutations. For example, a mutation in the ABCB1 gene occurs in many herding dogs including collies, Australian shepherds and Shetland sheepdogs that renders them susceptible to poisoning by commonly used veterinary medications such as flea and worm treatments., Although there is a genetic test available to screen for one type of this mutation, it appears that two other types are not screened for which may result in dogs being designated as clear when they are not.

An article in the prestigious journal Nature has raised serious concerns about the scientific basis behind DNA testing to predict the likelihood of disease occurrence as well as concerns regarding conflicts of interest. They state that most genetic tests for health are based on small studies where the accuracy and ability to predict health outcomes has not been validated. Owners are likely to come across the results via breeders and/or vets, neither of whom are unlikely to possess detailed knowledge about the limitations of such tests. This can not only lead to owners being misled, but to dogs undergoing invasive and unnecessary testing and even being euthanised on the basis of the results.

As with human DNA testing, researchers look for mutations on “candidate genes” that might lead to future genetically-linked health problems. However, just possessing a mutation is not guarantee that disease will develop: this has only been found to be the case in 2% of human candidate gene studies. In human genetics, collaboration between industry, academia, doctors and patients has resulted in a more detailed and nuanced assessment of the effect of candidate genes. No such collaboration exists, or is likely to in the near future, where canine health is concerned.

There is also plenty of scope for conflict of interest and little or no regulation with a predicted explosion in the availability of relatively cheap testing for dog owners.
The authors of the study are calling for:

  • The establishment of common standards in testing methodology and the reporting of test results
  • The establishment of guidelines drawn up by interested parties and which may form the basis for legislation
  • Comprehensive sharing of anonymised data
  • Recruitment of dedicated expertise to manage and analyse data
  • The development of a cadre of professional genetic counsellors to provide support and advice to owners following genetic tests with potential for affiliation with counterparts in human genetic counselling at leading academic medical centres.

Genetic testing is a vital tool for improving dog health and it would be a tragedy for dogs if commercial incentives and incomplete knowledge were to lead to it being generally discredited because it has been falsely presented. We have seen the damage being wreaked from the false information spread about vaccination. It should serve as a warning.