Never Knowingly Left Outside

Good news in the dog days of summer- one place to shelter from the rain might be your nearest branch of John Lewis.

The major retailer, taking a leaf out of a certain President’s book perhaps, has announced on social media that all (well-behaved) dogs on fixed leads will be allowed in their retail outlets. This brings John Lewis into line with other large retailers such as Liberty’s and Selfridges.

Good news for owners and it wil probably not harm sales of canine accessories and insurance either. Best of all, fewer dogs will be at risk of being harmed and stolen when left unattended by owners in Aberdeen, Ashford (Kent), Basingstoke, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Cheadle, Chelmsford, Cheltenham, Chester, Chichester, Croydon, Dartford, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow,High Wycombe,
Horsham, Ipswich, Kingston, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London (Brent Cross, Heathrow, Chelsea, Westminster, St Pancras, Stratford, White City), Milton Keynes, Newbury, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Peterborough, Poole, Reading, Sheffield, Solihull, Southampton, Southsea, Swindon (2 stores), Tamworth, Trafford, Tunbridge Wells, Watford, Welwyn and York!

Happy shoping: now for the Post Office…

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.

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.

Breed-specific Legislation Must Go

A 9 year old was left alone with a dog in a confined space in Cornwall last weekend with fatal consequences – and in all likelihood may be fatal for the dog too. The dog was not a banned breed.
Could the dog be truly said to have been dangerously out of control or was it just reacting from provocation and fear? Investigations are continuing, but maybe we will never know.

Last Thursday, at the other end of the UK in Glasgow, a Lakeland terrier attacked a six-week-old. It is in hospital. The dog was taken by a relative to be euthanised. Again, we do not know how this dog had been treated up until the point that it bit or whether the owners had taken any measures to accustom the dog to having a child in the house or to prevent access. It was a terrier – hardly surprising that it found squalling arousing.

Neil Parish MP, the chair of the EFRA select committee called for a full-scale review of existing legislation and voiced misgivings about the efficacy of breed-specific legislation last October following an 81% increase in hospitalisations for dog bites in the dozen years leading up to 2017. The Sunday Times undertook an FoI request and found that less than a third of dogs involved in attacks over the past 15 months belonged to one of the four proscribed breeds. A similar FoI request found that in 2017, Surrey police seized 6 dogs under the DDA. 3 were subsequently placed on the exempt register and 1 on the interim exemption register, 1 was released as not being of a proscribed “breed” and 1 was euthanised. Kennel costs amounted to £19,700 or £3,283.33 per dog. What a monumental waste of resources.

Meanwhile, an FoI request to Kent police revealed that in 2016, 745 offences were recorded where a person was fund to be in charge of a that was dog dangerously out of control and that caused injury. This represents a 46-fold increase since 2011. 2 additional offences involved an assistance dog.

Last week, a short walk from where I live, a dog imported from Croatia attacked and killed another dog and bit the owner who intervened. The dog had been in the country for just five weeks but was being walked off lead in a small green space that is also open to the road. It had been imported to give it “a better life” according to the subsequent police report. The owner left the scene but was traced.

Hard to see how this dog’s life has been improved; in fact, the chances are that it will be summarily ended, through no fault of anyone but the “rescue” and the owners.

It also was not a proscribed breed.

Unless we introduce education, legislation and sufficient resources to make both effective, the catalogue of incidents will only increase and more and more dogs will pay the ultimate price.

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.

Memorial To Maly – A Ban On The Public Sale Of Fireworks

Nine years ago today I lost the dog of a lifetime. I didn’t even realise that he was until he was nearly half way through his life. Maly was a collie/shepherd, the offspring of an unplanned mating a friend’s dog and a reluctant acquisition on their part. My friend was in an abusive relationship that would contribute greatly to her early death. Much of the abuse spilled over to affect Maly, indirectly and directly. He began to look to me for comfort and assurance and frequently, regular exercise. As I became more aware of the domestic circumstances, I suggested that perhaps I take Maly on. At the time, I was freelancing as a professional performer and this was used as a, not unreasonable, excuse for refusal. Maly ended up becoming a piece of property which neither side would relinquish but which neither really wanted. Eventually my friend moved out of London, exacerbating her isolation and her domestic problems. She died just three and a half years later.

Knowing that she was terminally ill, she had asked me to take Maly but I had nothing in writing and, in spite of looking after her in her final months, her family shut me out at the last. Her partner and most of her family were drunk before they got to her funeral. I made the decision to simply walk off with Maly and take him back to London. I got him microchipped the next day and began the long, slow road to rehabilitating what was by then, a very traumatised 11 year old dog.

Maly died on his 16th birthday, just five years later. They were undoubtedly the best five years that I will ever have with any dog and all too short. In that brief time, he discovered a love of competing in shows, usually walking away with the trick class, being the brightest dog and fastest learner that I have ever encountered. He was Your Dog Golden Oldie of 2009 and I still get a thrill when his images are used in the magazine.

I had taken a job in a vet at the time Maly became very ill. I nursed him at home on a drip for five days and, on a gloriously sunny March 1st, exactly 16 years after he was born, knew that I could do no more. My colleagues, a vet and the senior nurse, came to my house and together we ended his life and took his still beautiful but lifeless body into the practice for storage.

The following days were ones of raw, agonising grief. I felt as if I were a fish that was being gutted alive. I woke myself up calling for him. I spent a long weekend in the country with friends staring at the sea for hours, numb with misery. If they hadn’t fed me, I doubt that I would have bothered to eat. I had dealt with many bereaved clients at the vet and discussed final arrangements with them. I knew that I could not bear for Maly to be reduced to ashes. I began to search for someone to set his skeleton.

It took weeks. I called museums and veterinary schools but it seemed that the few people who possessed the necessary skills had either retired or given up the work.

Then I found Luke Williams at Skeletons UK. Not only is Luke an extraordinarily talented young man whose work is in demand all over the world, he is one of the most sensitive people I have ever come across. He kindly picked me up from the station after an horrendous journey (apart from the emotional impact, taking a frozen dog on crowded trains without help is not to be recommended). We ended up in the pub sharing gallows humour as a release from all the tension, although I still shudder when I go through Birmingham station remembering how hard it was to transfer to the local train. He explained every step of the process and afterwards even sent me images in a book, keeping me updated throughout the months that the work takes. I was just about to ask Luke to preserve Maly’s heart, but he anticipated my wishes, enabling me to bury it in the garden of the house where he was born along with a ‘time capsule’ telling his story.

Finally the time came when my beautiful skeleton was ready. This time, I managed to get a lift there and back. Maly-bones now looks over my bedroom. I confess, I converse with him all the time and always rush in to see him when I have been away.

A year after he died, I took on a rescue Siberian Husky. I felt disloyal, guilty and sometimes even resentful of him for some time after. I deliberately took on a dog that I knew was in a bad way and was a huge handful as it left me less time to fret over my lost love. He died three months ago at a ripe old age, leaving another gaping hole in my life.

I have been longer without Maly him and miss my Sibe more than I ever thought possible. They have both led me to places and situations that I would not have imagined and I am now awaiting a successful mating that will lead to my new puppy.

Maly was a typical collie-type in that he was inherently noise-sensitive. 11 years of abuse added to his distress, and it took me a long three years of patient desensitisation and counter-conditioning to help him recover. I was proud as punch when he walked past a stand of guns with barely an anxious glance in their direction. Fireworks used to be a nightmare and I was profoundly grateful when my Sibe proved to be bombproof. He even slept through an attempt by a drunken, drugged woman to break down my front door in the early hours, including 20 minutes where she kept her hand on the (loud) doorbell continuously.

Most owners won’t be so lucky, which is why I’ve made a submission to the current parliamentary select committee enquiry into changing the law on fireworks. Pressure to restrict the sale and use of fireworks to organised, licensed displays has increased over the last few years and, in spite of refusing to act on it when last investigated, a new petition has triggered another enquiry. Please add your signature to the petition and add your voice to the enquiry submissions so that we can look forward to an autumn and winter without sleep-disturbed nights and trauma in our companion animals and wildlife.

The Great Insurance Gamble

The history of insurance begins well before the rise of capitalism when medieval merchants decided to hedge their bets against loss and theft. The modern insurance industry dates from the rise of industrialism in the eighteenth century, with London leading the pack. The first animal insurance policy is generally credited to Claes Virgi who founded the Länsförsäkrings Alliance in Sweden to insure horses and livestock in 1890. Sweden also created the first dog insurance policy in 1924. Britain didn’t follow suit until 1947, but now has the second-highest number of animals insured covering 23% of the non-equine companion animal population. By contrast, only 0.7% of the similar population of companion animals are insured in the US.

The principal behind insurance is of course a communal gamble. The insured population provides the pool of resources from which the members can claim according to the rules of the insurer. Thus, the scheme would not work without the element of a gamble in that paying in could be worth it but, from the insurer’s point of view, knowing that only a minority will claim otherwise they would make no profits and the scheme would eventually be bankrupt. Insurance of any sort is therefore constant arms race between providing enough to make the scheme seem worthwhile but not paying out too much so that the scheme collapses.

Companion animal insurance has also led to another “arms race” in that it has made available treatments that could not be dreamed of, even for humans, a few years ago but with a consequential rise in premiums to cover the huge cost of diagnostic technology, surgical interventions and pharmaceuticals as well as behavioural services and complimentary therapies such as hydrotherapy and TTouch. This is possibly beginning to lead to a decline in the number of people taking out health insurance as schemes become unaffordable and the risk of not being insured seems a better option.

Insurers use a variety of means to assess the likelihood of paying out on any given claim. This can lead to a wide variation in the rates of insurance as well as the excess levied (the amount that is payable by the insured person before they can claim on their policy). Excesses are fair in that it would be untenable for insurers to deal with comparatively petty claims but unfair in that they do not (and possibly cannot) take individual’s circumstances into account. Excesses can also be gambled on as some policies allow owners to choose the excess which will of course be reflected in the overall price. Quoting different rates according to breed is also not unreasonable. The owner of a brachycephalic dog for instance, is likely to make far more claims than the owner of a crossbreed with hybrid vigour. Risk also increases with age, so policies tend to get more expensive as the animal ages regardless of any claims, although this is sometimes hidden in policies that even out the cost across the duration of the policy. As with other forms of insurance, the comparative wealth of the population where the purchaser lives will affect the excess rates even if the individual has a low income as do the number of claims made in an area.

I myself am a typical example. Insurance rates for animals where I live are more than double that of other parts of the country. Although the exact details of how insurers work out rates are considered commercially secret, living in an area where the population is relatively affluent means that the locals are more likely to buy an expensive pedigree dog in the first place and more likely to buy insurance to cover fees that include referral services and para-professionals such as behaviourists. They may be better informed about the availability of such services and of course, more likely to have access as the services will be located where the clients are. This made insurance for my pedigree dog (bargain basement rescue!) out of the question for me. The sum that I was quoted for a 3½ year old dog represented 4% of my monthly income. Had I been earning the median income in the year in which I obtained the quote for the city in which I live, it would have represented just 2% and of course, even less for someone living in an affluent area on a much higher salary than the median. Consumer Intelligence data obtained from quotes between May 2017 and May 2018 found that the average annual premium for dog insurance costs UK owners a third of the amount that I was quoted in 2011.

It isn’t just dogs that cost more to buy initially that will affect the rates that insurers charge, but the relative availability of dogs from puppy farms and back street breeders who are extremely likely to need expensive care, as well as the popularity of severely brachycephalic and achondroplastic dogs amongst young, relatively affluent people. The more that in-breeding affects the supply of all dogs and the more that poorly bred dogs are crossed to provide a dog with “oodle” or “uggle” at the end of its name, the more expensive insurance will be for everyone. Obviously the type of insurance will affect the cost and, in general, you gets what you pays for. Accident only is probably the biggest gamble of all as it won’t pay out for illnesses that are the more-likely to occur. Time-limited insurance often comes as a shock to owners when their “cheap” policy turns out only to cover them for 12 months and their dog has a chronic problem. The nest gamble is to decide with on-time limited insurance what the maximum cap in any 12 month period per condition should be. A friend maxed out her insurance in a couple of weeks after her dog was bitten by an adder. Lifetime insurance is the most expensive up front but provides the most comprehensive cover as the cap is re-applied annually. It is the most effective for chronic conditions typically seen with age or in dogs with a particular susceptibility die to in-breeding. Premiums usually increase annually and that can be sharp as the dog enters higher age brackets. Companies also raise the excess which can be as much as 35% of the claim with a 9 year old dog. Not a problem if you have a giant dog who may not reach that age anyway, but a consideration for a breed or cross that may get well into double figures. Puppies are also more expensive to insure than adolescents as they are more likely to be accident-prone and as an effect of the prevalence of sickly puppy-farmed dogs. In addition, not all policies cover all conditions. Many consider essential dental work such as tartar removal to be “cosmetic” for instance. Not all pay for para-professional services such as hydrotherapy or behavioural consultations.

One of the litany of complaints levied at vets is that the “first question that they ask” is whether the animal is insured. I would be willing to bet that the actual first question is more along the lines of “What seems to be the problem?” However, the perception is that all vets are profiteering and will automatically offer the most expensive option if they know that the animal is insured. How many owners consider that the vet may temper the options according to whether they think that the owner will be able to afford the treatment so as not to make they fret if they cannot afford a more complex alternative? No vet should offer more intervention than is deemed necessary to treat the presenting condition, although of course, they may offer less for clinical as well as financial reasons, with the option to progress if no improvement is seen. Of course vets want to use their skills to give animals in their care every chance but they also have to deal with the real world and know that cost is a consideration in addition to welfare. Opinion among vets and owners differs widely as to how much intervention is desirable.

Having just lost a dog myself, I know how agonising it can be to have to weigh up costs as well as clinical and ethical considerations. That is not just the cost of treatment but the cost of aftercare following intervention including time that may be lost from earning or to look after a very sick dog or to pay back a loan. There are no guarantees that intervention will be successful but the cost will remain to be paid and may affect the ability to own another dog. The only illness that my dog had in the 7½ years that he lived with me was the terminal one that was diagnosed a few weeks before his death which was well within the bounds of the average for his breed. So, in the event, the cost of insurance would not have been worth it. Some of that was due to luck and some to judgment in the decision to buy that dog in the first place and the care and training that he had that made him less prone to accident, illness and disease.

Clinical and ethical considerations would always come first for vet (save for the rare criminally irresponsible individual) and owner but it would be untrue to pretend that money is not an issue for both. As to insurance, it may well be that the balance tips away from favouring insurers if fewer people can afford the products. In that case, it is possible that insurers will offer ever-more complex products in which case – caveat emptor.

At the end of the day, animal insurance has been beneficial to owners, animals and veterinary and human science in general but it, like owning a companion animal is a relative luxury that, like all luxuries, must be weighed in the balance before undertaking.