No Parking

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to bite in the UK with what seems like the beginning of the wave of infections, many dog owners must be very worried about how they will keep their dogs exercised and happy over the coming days and weeks, and perhaps months.

Not every dog owner has a garden and many have very small spaces, perhaps not even with grass. The National Trust, Royal Parks and many local authority parks have already closed gated green spaces and some car parks.

Government advice at time of writing is that one outing a day is permitted to exercise, including walking dogs.

It should be obvious that ensuring one’s own safety as well as that of other people is of the utmost urgency, but the behaviour of many people over the last weekend beggared belief.

Please remember the importance of keeping your dog mentally stimulated and, whilst physical activity outdoors may be limited, keep up and even enhance your training regime, play brain games and keep your dog challenged mentally.

Keep your distance from other people while out walking and take bio-security precautions if you are helping with a dog belonging to someone who is symptomatic or ill.

Keep well, keep safe, keep stimulated!

Looks Can Kill

puppy in gift box New research from the Dogs Trust has revealed various alarming reasons that people give for purchasing a dog.

Unsurprisingly, appearance is often prioritised over health and, horrifyingly, in the case of brachycephalic dogs, because of their poor health. The survey also found that “…owners who kept brachycephalic breeds tended to be younger, buying for the first time and without any prior ownership of dogs”.

Another study found that “…owners of French Bulldogs and Chihuahuas, breeds that are prone to health problems owing to their extreme body conformation, [felt that] the health of the breed was reported to be of less importance in pre-acquisition motivations when compared to the dog’s appearance…Thus, it is possible that health, as a trait, is potentially important in some owners’ acquisition motivations, though here it is poor health that is being favoured.”

This may also explain why some owners are unwilling to allow their dog to undergo life-changing surgery such as correction for BOAS. This is backed up by another study which found that “…owners of brachycephalic dogs were less likely to see either parent of their puppy: 12% of brachycephalic owners saw neither parent, compared to 5% of non-brachycephalic owners. Those who owned brachycephalic dogs were also less likely to ask for any health records, suggesting that owners of these dogs are less motivated to buy a healthy individual within a breed”.

The authors went on to say that owners deliberately purchasing unhealthy dogs diminishes the demand for healthy dogs, or at least health tested dogs and perpetuates the proliferation of puppy farms, back street breeders and online sales.

Looks really can kill.

Going Viral

dog in face mask

Update: March 29th: The Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong that tested positive for Covid-19 tested negative again and was allowed to go home on March 8th. The dog died on March 16th. However, the owner refused to allow a post mortem examination so no cause of death could be confirmed. The dog was 17 years old.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has stated that “There is no evidence that dogs play a role in the spread of this human disease or that they become sick.”

The media has been awash with articles about Covid-19 and the emergent coronavirus in the last few weeks. It is perhaps not surprising that dogs are now featuring in media stories given how many dogs are living in close quarters with humans worldwide.

In fact, humans are more likely to pass on MRSA to their dogs or pick up various zoonoses, including via feeding raw food.

At the moment, it is not possible to tell how infections of coronavirus will progress, but there is a certain amount of hype and panic because bad news sells media advertising. In perspective, approximately 3,000 have died as a result of contracting Covid-19: seasonal influenza is estimated to kill between 100 and 200 times as many humans annually.

The latest sensational headline concerns a dog in Hong Kong that has tested as “weak positive” for coronovarius following infection of his owner.

Mass culling of dogs already occurs in response to rabies outbreaks, in spite of the fact that it is ineffective in curbing the disease. It would be horrific if dogs were to suffer because of panic over this current disease outbreak. Let us hope that common sense prevails; after all, the dog is likely to have inhaled virus shed by his owner as it seems highly unlikely that Covid-19 could have jumped species so quickly.

Larking In The Park

dog park There has been much fuss recently over a New York Times article pointing out the negative impact of dog parks which has now been picked up the BBC in their Radio 4 consumer programme You and Yours for two days running.

The situation in many US states is rather different to that pertaining in the UK where, in spite of access problems in some areas, restrictions on dogs are not quite so widespread. Michigan and Pennsylvania have state-wide “leash laws” that require owners to keep dogs on leads when off their one premises, although challenges have been raised via case law in Pennsylvania where the intent of the law was clarified to be about prevention of roaming other then preventing off-lead exercise.
Several other states prohibit dogs from being off-lead in public parks which had led to the development of the “dog park”: an enclosed area where dogs are permitted off lead. Many mandate that dogs are kept on lead in areas inhabited by livestock or wildlife.

As in the UK, dog-friendly areas vary greatly from small, sterile, parasite-ridden spaces to reasonably large areas. Urban owners are often far better served by varied dog-friendly areas to let their dogs run the owners in the countryside and the density of the dog population is higher.

As ever, the real problem is that owners do not understand their dog’s requirements for stimulation and training and far too many owners purchase dogs and then outsource their care to unqualified, incompetent walkers. The chaos that this has caused in many parks with large numbers of out of control dogs causing havoc and often being abused by their handlers led to many local authorities imposing restrictions on the number of dogs that can be walked at any one time. This in turn led to walkers going out in pairs or groups and further problems led to bans.

Many dogs are now taken out of town, with farmers hiring out fields. Far from solving problems, they continue even further away from owners and are also a poor use of agricultural land.

So are “dog parks” bad?

Well, quality off-lead stimulation and exercise is always good even if the space in which it occurs is not ideal, but how much better would it be if owners would refrain from getting a dog when they don’t have enough time or the inclination to undertake the majority of their care, if dog walkers where trained and regulated and if dogs were so well-adjusted and trained that they could be taken anywhere without fear of incident.

£8, 743 Or A Basket? – You Choose

A seemingly random choice, but one that was all too real for the dog owner prosecuted when a postal worker lost two fingers delivering a card to her address.

No amount of money can make up for the pain, shock and permanent disability suffered by the postal worker and all because the owner couldn’t be bothered to fix a basket to her door and then train her dog not to react.

The Communication Workers Union reported 2,484 dog attacks on postmen and women in the UK in 2019 – a 9% increase compared with 2018 and resulting in 47 attacks every week. 82% of injuries occurred at the front door or in a garden.

It is a simple matter to isolate a dog before opening a door or to fix a basket to catch the post. After all, the dog that bit the postal worker’s fingers is also now at risk from being put down if any other incident occurs through no fault of its own and the owner has a criminal record for having a dog that ws dangerously out of control.

Home Alone

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Foresight – A Wish List For The Year

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

So here is my wish list for dogs for 2020:

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

Happy New Year and here’s hoping.

The Value Of Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Silent Victims of Poverty

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

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

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

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

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

Apocalypse Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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