Ban The Bang

As the nights close in, the inevitable countdown to “firework season” begins for many animals owners, not to mention an increasing number of people such as those with cognitive decline or PTSD who are just as confused and/or distressed.

In spite of several attempts to persuade the UK government to ban the public sale of fireworks, they refuse to take a lead and change the current, unworkable legislation regarding fireworks.

So, it’s good to hear that the supermarket Sainsbury’s has taken a lead and decided not to sell fireworks in its stores. Now, whilst it’s perfectly possible that the decision is entirely commercial, the effect is that it removes the option from a major retailer and, given the support shown on Sainsbury’s Twitter account from a variety of sources, will provide positive publicity for the retailer to boot.

It may well be that other retailers decide to follow Sainsbury’s lead which can only be beneficial to all who dread having to cope with the trauma, the workers in emergency services who do not have to risk their own safety or people who just want a decent night’s sleep.

In the meantime, there is much that can be done to mitigate the effects of fireworks so that cosy dark nights and autumn colours can become enjoyable again. Contact a qualified, registered behaviourist for advice.

Not Brain Surgery or Rocket Science but…

Clicker training and its human equivalent TAG Teaching is becoming increasingly popular in many fields, not least in trainings dogs – and owners.

At its simplest, clicker training uses a marker (often, but not always a clicker) to inform the learner when a desired behaviour has been performed and, once it has been paired with a reward, that a reward is forthcoming. Pairing the click with the reward uses classical conditioning, discovered by Nobel prize winning scientist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov in the early years of the 20thC. The development of the technique to train animals using what was then termed as operant conditioning came in the mid-20thC with BF Skinner.

Karen Pryor discovered Skinner’s work in the 1960s when tasked with training dolphins, since when it has been used to teach a wide variety of animals without using the punishment that was often directly and indirectly applied by trainers. She can also be credited as a pioneer in spreading the technique throughout the dog world.

Theresa McKeon, Joan Orr and Beth Wheeler then adapted the technique for teaching humans and named it TAG Teach. It has not only been used to train dog owners, but athletes, golfers, dancers, business managers, occupational safety trainers and managers and in students with special educational needs, especially autism.

The principles behind clicker training and TAG Teach can be applied to any learning. Positive reinforcement has been proven in many studies to be far more effective that traditional correction-based teaching and can be an important aspect in maintaining good mental health in traditionally pressured learning environments such as dance and medicine.

Now that achievement has been recognised by the science community in the awarding of an IgNobel prize to Karen Pryor and Theresa McKeon for their published paper describing how TAG Teaching improved the teaching and learning in students and practitioners undertaking two complex surgical tasks.

The Ig Nobel prizes were first awarded in 1991 by journalist and Harvard graduate Marc Abrahams. Some awards are pure jokes, satirising anti-science such as homeopathy and even being “awarded” to fictional characters. However, many reward genuine scientific achievements, albeit those that are regarded as being a little off the beaten track.

Of course, those of us that use clicker training and TAG teaching in our daily practice think that nothing could be more normal, but if the “improbable research” label helps it to become more widely known, all power to its elbow.

…and congratulations to the winners.

Banking On It

Assistance dog using ATM Increasingly local authorities, transport companies and businesses are removing payment options and attempting to force people to connect to the internet via computer or mobile telephone. This is frequently done in the name of convenience, but it is pretty one-sided and has everything to do with cutting jobs and costs and nothing to do with providing good service.

Whilst 95% of UK households own a mobile telephone, the 5%, representing nearly 3.5 million people. The Office for National Statistics found that, in 2018, 8.4% of adults had never used the internet and 7% of those that had were victims of online fraud. 33% of people who did not undertake online shopping cited security problems as the reason.

Meanwhile, bank closures continue apace as do closures of ATMs. More than 3,000 banks representing one third of UK branches have closed since 2015 and others have reduced their hours. Coupled with poor or non-existent public transport in rural areas, this has the potential to leave the most disadvantaged in society unable to access their own money.

So what has this got to do with dogs?

Service dogs are often trained to assist with using ATMs, but the design needs to incorporate a ledge on which the dog can rest his paws and there needs to be plenty of room behind. Even where ATMs still exist, they may not therefore, be accessible.

Time to take the banks to task and stop the rot, for everyone’s sake.

Going To Extremes

Whilst the world seems to be becoming increasingly stressful for humans and dogs, it seems that some people can’t get enough of an adrenalin rush. So-called extreme sports have attracted sufficient attention in recent years to be a magnet for advertising and now, it seems, dogs are being hauled along for the ride too.

There is no doubt that one of the best things about living with a social animal such as a dog is that so many activities can be shared. Many dogs would benefit from being included in far more of their owner’s life instead of being shunted off to dog walkers, kennels or left on their own. Many more would benefit from the stimulation of sharing in an activity, competitive or otherwise. The Campaign for Responsible Dog Ownership actively promotes inclusion and better access for dogs in many walks of life (no pun intended).

However, canine welfare must always be paramount and the inclusion of dogs in activities such as surfing and paragliding needs to be seriously questioned. There is perhaps some justification for strapping a service dog to a parachute, but even there, we should be making some serious decisions about whether we should involve animals in our internecine wars for as the Animals In War Memorial states “They had no choice”.

Owners are notoriously poor at detecting stress in their companion animals. Whilst some dogs may actually enjoy the activity to which they are being subjected, if only because it is social, others undoubtedly do not or may be prone to harm by being, for instance, exposed to a great deal of salt water or indeed, mechanical injury. Just take a look at this dog. If I saw the image as it appears at the top of this post, I would be pretty sure that this is not a happy dog. His eyes are wide and fixed, his commissure is tight and his body is rigid with tension. However, context is all. The dog with al teeth bared and wide open mouth may, after all, just be about to catch a toy, however fierce it looks. …and the context – oh yes, this poor dog has just been strapped to a man who has jumped out of a plane and is now plummeting to earth without any opportunity to do otherwise. I can promise that I for one would look far less sanguine under the same circumstances. There are some advantages to possessing a mind that functions mainly in the present.

Dogs are been taken into the skies to satisfy their owners desire for one-upmanship as they post a bragging image on social media too. Many companies offer flights above popular tourist spots, but helicopter tour company FlyNYON not only promote “open door” flights where tourists are encouraged to hang out (literally) and take photographs, they are allowed to subject their dogs to the same danger. the Company’s website has a small notice about their charitable donation to a canine shelter but does not mention anywhere what the policy is on dogs. Maybe that is thanks to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer who has wisely spoken out against this policy and who, along with Senator Robert Menendez, has requested that the Federal Aviation Administration should intervene and prohibit humans and dogs from flying under these circumstances.

There have been four fatal crashes of non-military helicopters in the US so far this year, with one in the Grand Canyon and in New York City resulting in the deaths of ten tourists. At least when humans take to the skies, they can weigh up the likelihood of harm and make their decision, but their dog cannot.

By all means, let us share our lives where appropriate with our dogs, but let us remember that they are dogs, not furry humans and leave them behind if thrill-seeking is the aim.

Just The Ticket for Rover

Plaudits due to dog owner and Go Coach proprietor Austin Blackburn who is participating in Kent’s Follow My Lead campaign which encourages dog owners to explore the Garden of England. Go Coach operates 50 vehicles on 46 routes around Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge. The routes cover dog-friendly castles, country parks and gardens and handlers will receive treats and poo bags as well as not having to pay a fare for their dog.

Go Coach states that it carries up to 5,500 passengers per day. How many can you add with four paws?

This is an excellent campaign which is aimed at increasing tourism, but it is important to remember that not everybody can drive and dog-friendly public transport can mean the difference between making a journey and not going at all.

It is terrific to have some good access news for a change. 3,500 people signed a petition to Transport for Greater Manchester demanding dog-friendly access to the tram system, but TfGM leader Richard Leese said that although he was not opposed to “the principle of the idea”, taking a dog on a tram would be “cruel”, “dangerous” and “not something any sane person would allow.” Of course, all operators are obliged by law to allow assistance dogs to travel and TfGM also allow dogs to be transported if they are being taken to the PDSA in Old Trafford. When they do, no one has brought a prosecution under the AWA 2006 for cruelty, the HSE have not prosecuted anyone for causing danger and no one has been sectioned for daring to travel on a Greater Manchester tram with a dog.

Nottingham trams have an even more convoluted policy. They “graciously” acknowledge their obligation to transport assistance dogs as long as the handler is visually or aurally impaired, but anyone with a different impairment must apply in writing for permission to board with their dog. Everyone else will only be allowed to travel with an “inoffensive” animal, carried in a “suitable container” but only if the tram staff agree. In other words, fine if you have a small dog and you don’t run up against the ignorance or prejudice of the staff.

It behoves dog owners – after all a quarter of the UK population – to continue to put pressure on transport providers and to ensure that when they can travel, their dog is clean, trained appropriately and only settles on the floor.

As you can see from the image here, a calm, sociable dog can even silence a bus load of schoolchildren – and earn the undying thanks of the driver!

Fowl Play

STOP PRESS: Third recall by the FSA of raw food produced by The Raw Treat Pet Food Company in 4 weeks.

The FSA instigated another raw food recall on August 30th, 2019. Raw Treat Pet Food Ltd produced 7 products which were found to have unacceptably high levels of salmonella.
Just two weeks earlier, 9 other products were withdrawn for the same reason and two weeks prior to that, another 4 of its products were withdrawn due to high levels of listeria.

The FSA has released the latest results in its survey into campylobacter levels in chicken. Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK and can cause long-term and severe health problems in vulnerable people. It can also makes dogs very poorly indeed and has the potential to be fatal in humans and dogs.

Two outbreaks of Campylobacter gastroenteritis were investigated in an Australian aged-care facility in April and June 2012. It was later found that a Campylobacter-positive puppy was identified as the likely source of infection. Between January 2016 and January 2018, 113 people were confirmed to be infected with Campylobacter across 17 US states. An investigation by the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service revealed the cause to be multi-drug-resistant Campylobacter infections caused by contact with puppies sold through Petland stores. 22% of infected people required hospital treatment. Luckily, no deaths were reported on that occasion.

Much has been done by the FSA and major supermarket chains to reduce the prevalence of campylobacter in chickens, and since 2017, the campaign has moved onto minor retailers, including small chains and independent butchers (including Kosher and Halal butchers), as the nine largest supermarket chains undertook their own testing regimes. The latest survey of the remainder of retailers was undertaken over the course of a year and revealed C. jejuni in 78% of chicken skin samples and Campylobacter coli in 16% of samples. Both species were found in 6% of samples. C coli was more frequently isolated from birds that had had outdoor access.

The only way to kill Campylobacter in chicken is through thorough cooking.

Feeding raw chicken to dogs could make them, and anyone with whom they come into contact, ill and contributes to antibiotic resistance. Approximately 6% of campylobacter infections in humans have been contracted from dogs. Although rare, infection in humans can also cause problems with the immune system or lead to the potentially fatal Guillain-Barré syndrome . Antibiotics are used as a last resort to treat infected dogs because they are not always successful, due to resistance, and because they also kill useful gut bacteria.

Next time you’re tempted to tell someone how well your dog is “because” you feed raw food, consider that you may be the cause of another dog or a person becoming ill.

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…

Raw Deal

Fancy A Change from Salmonella?

On July 30th, the Food Standards Agency announced that Raw Treat Pet Food Ltd has been obliged to recall its frozen raw beef, chicken, lamb and chicken & tripe food due to the presence of Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes are pathogenic bacteria that cause the infection listeriosis. L. monocytogenes are tough. They can reproduce with or without oxygen, in acidic and salty conditions, in high and low temperatures and in dry conditions. Bacteria can multiply and persist in food processing plants for more than 10 years and so are very hard to control, making them one of the most virulent foodborne pathogens and zoonoses. Listeriosis cases are increasing hugely in Europe, with 2,161 confirmed cases in humans and 210 reported deaths in 2014, 16% higher than in 2013. 20% to 30% of foodborne listeriosis infections in high-risk individuals may be fatal. More than 90% of people infected with listeriosis require hospital treatment, often in intensive care. The World Health Organisation estimated that worldwide in 2010, listeriosis caused illness in 23,150 people, 24% of whom (n=25,463) died.

Most healthy people and animals can cope with low levels of infection by L. monocytogenes (and other pathogens shed by dogs fed on raw food) but young, old or immuno-compromised people and animals are at risk from serious illness and death. Many pathogens are extremely difficult to eradicate, even with the strictness of household hygiene routines.

This is the fourth raw pet food alert (the three previous alerts concerned high levels of salmonella) in the past 24 weeks. In contrast, there was one recall of complete dry food in February 2019 because of a manufacturing error that led to higher than recommended levels of vitamin D being present.

Feed raw and you may think that your dog is in the best of health but you could be responsible for serious illness and death in an old dog or a puppy or a person by spreading pathogens and helping to add to antibiotic resistance.

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.

Food For Thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are we to conclude?

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

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

That cannot be blamed on the food.

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