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.

‘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.

I Love Lucy

Much has been made in the press in the last couple of days about the passing of the so-called “Lucy’s Law”, with headlines trumpeting that puppy farming has now been banned.

Except that it hasn’t.

As anti-puppy farming campaign C.A.R.I.A.D state, this latest legislation just has the potential to cut off part of the supply chain, because what it actually prohibits is the sale of puppies and kittens via third parties. The only sales that will now be legal are those made directly by the breeder, subject of course to other legislation such as licensing and the sale of animals at the permitted age.

All well and good but in many ways, it changes nothing, other than making it a fraction harder for puppy farmers and back street breeders to organise their supply chain.

  • It is already illegal to import or sell puppies under 8 weeks old
  • It is already illegal to important puppies that are not suitably vaccinated with the appropriate accompanying documentation
  • It is already illegal to falsify paperwork, including PET passports, health records and pedigrees
  • It is already illegal to sell puppies when they have not been seen with their mother
  • It is already illegal to sell puppies without providing a socialisation plan

So what?

Puppies are still being imported in huge numbers, sold under age and/or with fraudulent or no paperwork, sold without a socialisation plan and sold when presented without their mother, either on their own, because the sellers claim that the bitch died or when they use a substitute bitch.

The percentage of owners that are aware of the existence of the AWA 2006, never mind their responsibilities under just this piece of legislation is small and has been decreasing since 2011.

Go out onto any street and count how many dogs are off lead alongside a road. Some of them wil have no collar either and, even if they have, it may not have a legal tag attached. Some will not be microchipped and of those that are, some will not have kept the database up to date. Many will be boarded in establishments without licences, many will have bought form breeders without licences.

All of this is illegal.

Very little is actually done about it though, because there are no resources made available to educate the public or to police the legislation.

Much of the legislation is confusing, even for professionals, and there is evidence to suggest that practitioners are not interpreting or implementing the legislation consistently.

Far too much is left to local authority discretion. DEFRA noted in <a href=”https://www.local.gov.uk/guidance-dog-control-and-welfare-police-and-local-authorities” target=”_blank”>a 2017 report</a> that “Reference was made to a lack of certainty in some areas over the split of responsibility between police and local authorities with respect to dog control issues. Varying degrees of enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 or engagement on dog control between local authorities was highlighted as an issue. Resourcing was identified as a challenge against a background of a high number of cases.”

Licence fees and fines vary widely, leaving both responsible practitioners and miscreants at the mercy of a post code lottery.

It is in this context that “Lucy’s Law” needs to be seen, because tragically, there are going to be very many more dogs that continue to suffer as Lucy did unless a radical shakeup is made of the welfare priorities for local and national government.

The Kennel Club need to actually dedicate themselves “to protecting and promoting the health and welfare of all dogs” by not continuing to register puppy-farmed dogs, expelling members such as Eric Hale, actually doing something radical to stop in-breeding  (commissioning studies is all well and good but any idiot can tell the KC why so many German Shepherds can’t walk properly or brachycephalic dogs breathe) and the stop supporting the breeding of thousands of dogs with appalling conformations.

Puppy farming could be ended overnight without the need for legislation and the consequent expense of policing it because all it needs is for people to:

  • Stop buying puppy-farmed dogs
  • Stop taking in dogs because they pity them and thinking that they are rescuing them rather than leaving space for the next one
  • Stop expecting to be able to buy dogs off-the-shelf
  • Stop buying dogs from websites such as Pets4Homes and Gumtree
  • Stop buying dogs from back street breeders
  • Stop buying dogs from breeders without having checked and cross-checked their licensing status.

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.

Leave Boot Camp To The Army

An increasing number of services are being offered to dog owners that effectively mean that they contract out most of their ownership.

At work all day?
Hire a dog walker.

Can’t be asked to clean or groom your own dog?
Hire a groomer.

Got no recall?
Stick a GPS on your dog.

Suddenly find that what seemed cute in a puppy is a serious nuisance in an adult dog?
Send your dog away to boot camp.

Dogs are expensive so most owners will need to work and some will hire a dog walker or day care. This still leaves 24% of dogs in the UK (2.1 million dogs) alone for more than five hours on a typical weekday. At the moment, dog walkers are unregulated. How many owners check that their walker is even competent, let alone insured? How many owners putting their dog in day care have checked that the day care provider is complying with the law? How many don’t want to know because all they care about is the convenience? Even when day care providers and walkers have been proven to be abusing dogs and causing injury and even death, owners are loath to prosecute.

Owners profess to love their dog but many can’t be bothered to wield a grooming brush. At best, dogs are hosed down frequently putting their skin and coat at risk. At worst they are left until the owner can’t stand it anymore and then taken to a groomer. Groomers are not regulated by legislation and again, few owners will bother to find out if they have any professional credentials such as membership of the British Dog Groomers’ Association or hold a City & Guilds Certificate for Dog Grooming. Handling techniques are frequently aversive and far too many groomers are shaving coats that should never be cut.

Few owners know how to identify signs of stress in their dogs and monitoring a dog using a camera or sticking a GPS tracker on its collar are no substitute for human company, proper consideration of welfare or only letting a dog off lead when it is safe and the dog has reliable recall. Plonking a treat or a ball dispenser down for five hours is not a solution either.

In 2018, only 20% of dogs ever attended a training course with 3% of those dropping out before the course was complete. Again owners don’t always check that trainers are registered with professional bodies and that is not always a guarantee that the trainer is abiding by the guidelines. Two trainers in my area, both of whom who have been members of the APDT for decades, use aversive methods on dogs and, for that matter, are pretty rude to owners.

78% of owners state that they would like to change at least one behaviour displayed by their dog. 26% complained about pulling on the lead, 25% of dogs are afraid of fireworks, 22% jump up at people, 6% show aggression to other pets and 4% aggression towards people.

Many of these owners are choosing to send their dogs away to residential training. Owners learn nothing and dogs don’t get to work with the person with whom they live. “Trainers” are laughing all the way to the bank. There are no guarantees that decent welfare standards will apply: the designation “boot camp” says it all. It is possible to teach owners an awful lot over the course of a week or two. Three 1-5 minutes sessions a day for their dog, conducted using the right techniques can work wonders very quickly when backed up with a consistent approach in a variety of circumstances. Training without owners being present can never offer that.

It is not possible to assess how many dogs suffer and how much, some by just being wrenched from all they know and handled by strangers. No doubt many owners are delighted by what they see as a quiet dog when the dog is actually traumatised. A short while later, the unwanted behaviours will return and maybe in even more extreme forms.

Sometimes it ends in downright tragedy. An owner in California was awarded $60,000 when her German Shepherd died when at a remote “training” facility. The dog died from hyperthermia – he overheated. Other dogs in the facility were later found to have been deprived of food, water and adequate shelter. The location was not where the German Shepherd’s owner had been told the dog would be trained. The “trainer” declined to appear in court or answer the complaint, but stated that he plans to appeal against the judgement and that he is not to blame for the dog’s death in spite of being found guilty of eight counts of animal cruelty.

Even if the owner gets some financial redress – and the judge made an award that took into account the distress as well as the monetary value of the dog – nothing will bring her dog back or ameliorate the animals’ suffering.

Last year, a London-based “trainer” won a case in the High Court when an owner complained that her dog’s behaviour had worsened after being “put through a two-week intensive boot camp” at a cost of £2,800. The judge ruled that “To suggest that, after 14 days, any previous behavioural issues would be, as it were, permanently gone forever is unreal. That would ignore the fact that we are not dealing with a machine here, but a puppy. Puppies behave in particular ways and training is always intended to achieve certain results, but those results are not guaranteed”.

It’s a pity that the judge did not go on to add that it is the owners that need educating – the dogs will follow.

The 71 year old owner had complained that her puppy was “out of control” and running riot in her one-bedroomed flat, biting and jumping up at her owner. Sounds like a normal puppy to me and one that needed a lot more stimulation than was provided by the sound of it.

Neither trainer nor owner come out of this well, although both are clearly sufficiently wealthy to have pursued the case as far as the High Court. What a pity the money was not spent on educating the owner to train the dog herself alongside a suitably qualified trainer. It is not recorded whether the unrealistic owner re-homed her dog.

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.

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.

Raw Food Recall Alert

There have been two recalls on raw petfood in recent months, one because of high levels of salmonella and the other because the feed manufacturer had not complied with the legal requirement for inspection. meanwhile, advocates of raw feeding continue to spread supporting anecdotes that have no basis in proven, peer-reviewed fact.

Myth 1: Raw food is the “natural” diet of the domestic dog

Fact: There is overwhelming evidence that domestic dogs evolved by scavenging around human settlements. As most humans changed from being nomadic hunter-gatherers to being settled farmers, dogs evolved to accommodate the change in diet and became capable of digesting more starch. This capability varies from breed to breed, even today, so that northern breeds have fewer starch receptors than, for instance, sight hounds that developed in the fertile crescent. Dogs “natural” diet is whatever man throws away or deigns to feed, possibly supplemented by a small game. This is abundently evident in the 80% of the world’s dogs that live in feral groups.

Myth 2: Raw food is frozen which is sufficient kill pathogens

Fact: Not all raw food fed to domestic dogs is frozen and not all frozen food is free of dangers including helminths (parasitic worms), protozoans (causing giardiasis, toxoplasmosis, cryptosporidiosis and leishmaniasis etc), bacteria, viruses and prions. All however are destroyed by the high temperatures used when commercial cooked foods are prepared. Cooking also makes food more digestible and bio-available. As to the latter, just because it’s present, it doesn’t mean that dog’s body can utilise it.

A recent study in the US found that 20-35% of raw poultry and 80% of raw food diets for dogs tested positive for salmonella and 30% of stool samples from raw-fed dogs tested positive for salmonella. Raw food diets have also tested positive for E. coli and Yersinia enterocolitica (bacteria that may cause gastrointestinal upset). Otherwise healthy dogs may be able to cope with ingestion of these bacteria, but very young, old, or immunocompromised dogs may not be able to do so. Further, the faeces continually contaminate the environment, putting other animals and people at risk.

Myth 3: Raw food is healthier than cooked or commercial food

Fact: Study after study has shown that raw diets are often deficient in calcium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc and can contain excessively high vitamin D levels. Homemade diets are particularly likely to result in medium-long term malnutrition. Whilst some adult dogs can cope with calcium and phosphorus imbalances, they may affect the strength of the bones of growing dogs. Ironically, many owners say that they feed raw because of allergies, but zinc deficiencies may cause skin disorders. It would be interesting to see how many owners of dogs suffering from allergies researched the breed and the likelihood of their dog suffering allergies due to in-breeding before becoming an owner. High quality, commercially prepared complete diets are balanced nutritionally and contain all required trace elements in bio-available forms. This is without even considering the risk that raw diets pose to animal and human health.

Chicken is a popular choice of food for raw feeders, some even feeding chicken wings. Chicken in the Uk has high levels of contamination with campylobacter. The Food Standards Agency has been so concerned about this that it has been running a campaign in conjunction with major supermarket chains and has succeeded in diminishing contamination. However, the FSA stated that this is not the case with chicken sourced from independent butchers, where high levels of contamination are likely to prevail.

Myth 4: Raw diets are better for oral health

Fact: Studies in wild dogs have found that 41% had periodontitis, although only 2% had dental tartar: teeth may appear cleaner but gums may not be healthier. Wild dogs live far shorter lives than domestic dogs who may have to endure painful and harmful damage to teeth and gums for many years if not cared for properly. Bones also chip and crack teeth.

Myth 5: Feeding raw bones is “natural” and safe

Fact: Many owners believe that feeding raw bones is safer than feeding cooked bones, but there is no evidence to support this view. Domestic dogs simply don’t have the power in their jaws to crush uncooked bones and are not likely to be fed hide and hair. Wild dogs possess a protective mechanism that enables undigested hair and hide to wrap around bone fragments as they are excreted and in any case, crush bones far more efficiently and completely.

Moreover, farm animals are reared intensively and quickly causing their bones to be brittle. Chickens often suffer fractures because of rapid growth that does not enable bones to develop fully and because they are bred to have large amounts of muscle which adds further strain. Bones are therefore much more likely to shatter and create potentially lethal shards.

Bones get stuck in the stomach and intestine. If they perforate the gut, consequential infection can be fatal and, at the very least, agonising. Bones get stuck in the oesophagus preventing the dog from breathing which, even if the dog survives, can lead to permanent blindness from hypoxia.

Raw bones are covered in pathogens: if left out, those pathogens will multiply. Although healthy dogs have quite good protection against food that would definitely fell a human, young, old and otherwise compromised dogs can become very ill indeed.

Myth 5: All additives are bad: processing is bad

Fact: Additives in good quality commercial, cooked food ensure that essential trace elements are bio-available and present in the right amounts if fed according to guidelines. This is vital for growing dogs and throughout life. Processing occurs at high temperatures which ensures that pathogens are largely eliminated and increases the shelf life of products. This makes good quality food easily available to all owners with minimal input required other than feeding and storing correctly. Processing (cooking) makes food more digestible; it does not destroy essential digestive enzymes. Processing (shaping) makes food available in small pellets which can be fed gradually and used to assist training and bonding when fed by hand.

RSPCA Censured Officially Yet Again

The standard of corporate governance at the RSPCA remains in question as further problems in the management of the organisation come to light. The RSPCA went two years without a permanent chief executive after Gavin Grant left in 2014 having secured a 45% pay rise when compared to his predecessor. The appointment of Jeremy Cooper in 2016 seemed to hold out great promise as he recognised why the RSPCA is held in such low esteem amongst animal professionals and the general public and he stated, “We are going to be a lot less political. It doesn’t mean we won’t stand up for animals. But we are not a political organisation.” The fact that he remained in post for barely a year in spite of having attempted to impliment a five year strategy for the RSPCA speaks volumes for an organisation that clearly has no intention of mending its ways.

Chris Sherwood was appointed chief executive in August this year against a background of criticism in parliament dating back to 2013 for bringing private prosecutions rather than referring alleged offences to the Crown Prosecution Service and for spending £330,000 in a private prosecutions of the Cheshire, Cheshire Forest and the Ledbury Hunts which, unsurprisingly, did not result in convictions.

Quite apart from views on hunting or badger culls, the general public make generous donations to the RSPCA in the expection that they will investigate cases of genuine animal cruelty. In 2017, the RSPCA received 1,331 calls relating to 4,616 horses and ponies and by their own admission said that “…cases relating to horses were a “crisis” which showed no sign of abating. the same could be said of individual cases of cruelty, never mind the every day casual cruelty meted out to companion animals that goes on day after day. the RSPCA wanted the AWA 2006 and proclaimed it as a triumph. How many of the 40% of people whose dogs are overweight or obese have been prosecuted for over-feeding which is a clear breach of the Act? How many peopl ehave been prosecuted for mis-housing and mis-feeding cats and rabbits and causing suffering? The RSPCA received £143.5M in donations in 2016, £11.5M was in the form of legacies. In the same year, the Information Commissioner’s Office levied fines of £20,000 for breaches of the Data Protection Act 1988 in their fundraising practices following 503 complaints about its practices. The RSPCA blamed it on a “coding change” to their database.

Now the Charity Commission has issued an official warning to the RSPCA after finding that the chair, vice-chair, treasurer and deputy treasurer mis-managed the process of agreeing a very large pay-off to its former acting chief executive, Michael Ward, who was forced to step into the breach when Jeremy Cooper left and that they “…failed to act with reasonable care and skill in relation to the negotiation with the former acting chief executive”.

Chris Sherwood, formerly chief executive of the charity Relate, accepted the poisoned chalice of RSPCA CEO: he may well find that his marriage guidance skills come in handy with his own board. The official warning concludes that members of the council should receive formal training in corporate governance and must ensure that the council adheres to the charity’s code of conduct. They are required to commission an independent report on the processes followed in recruiting and appointing a new chief executive; that will make interesting reading.

Since the passing of the Charities Act 2016, only five official warnings have been issued by the regulator who stated that, in the case of the RSPCA, the level of engagement was “…concerning considering the Charity’s size and importance” and that the “unusually high turnover” of chief executives combined with significant periods of time when the RSPCA was without a substantive chief executive in post were additional matters for concern.

The RSPCA responded that they were confident that they were “heading the right direction” as a “modern charity”. As it happens, I have had reason to have personal experience of the RSPCA in recent weeks and it does nothing to lead me to think that anything has changed.

Meanwhile, as ever, it is always the animals that suffer. Fat cats take payouts whilst barely making in dent in the number of fat cats, beaten dogs, starved horses and any other number of suffering animals.