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.

Snakes In The Grass And Other Seasonal Dangers

As we see the final parting shots of a tepid winter, the warmer weather brings a couple of common dangers to parks, gardens and the countryside.

The oak processionary moth (Thaumetopoea processionea) is a native of southern Europe that was accidentally introduced into the Britain in 2005 on oak trees imported from continental Europe. The first outbreak was identified formally in west London in 2006 and the latest data on its presence are available here. As with many invasive species, it is not a problem in its native environment because predators and other environmental factors have evolved to keep populations in check. It has now become a major pest in London where they not only threaten the health of many oak species but pose a danger to human and animal health too. The caterpillars are covered in thousands of tiny hairs which contain the urticating substance thaumetopoein as a defence mechanism to prevent the caterpillars form beaing eaten. Contact with the hairs can cause itching skin rashes, sore throat, breathing difficulties and eye problems in humans and animals that come into contact with the caterpillars or their nests or if the hairs are blown by the wind.

White, silken webbing nests are built in early summer on the trunks and branches of oak trees and white, silken trails can be seen on the trunks and branches, although they blend into the tree after time. Nests are hemispherical, tear-drop shaped, bag-like or like a blanket stretched around part of a trunk or branch and range in size from and inch and a half across to several feet from ground level to high in the oak tree. They can also fall onto the ground. The caterpillar gets its name from the nose-to-tail processions that they make, often in an arrow formation, with a single leader and subsequent rows of several caterpillars abreast.

The Forestry Commission and Defra are working with entomologists from the Forest Research agency and local authorities to eradicate popoulations and many parks spray annually. However, the Veterinary Poisons Information Service has advised on a case of a dog that mouthed plant material from a nest of processionary moth caterpillars and developed tongue necrosis. The damage to her tongue was caused by thousands of hairs penetrating the tissue and by a reaction to the toxic compound thaumetopoein. Signs after exposure in the mouth include hypersalivation, pain, dysphagia, oedema (lips, facial, sublingual, submandibular, tongue), facial pruritis, blisters and necrosis of the tongue, submandibular lymphadenomegaly, pyrexia, vomiting, laryngeal oedema, respiratory distress and cyanosis. There may also be a reaction in the skin and eyes. Prompt treatment is essential.

All cases or sightings of these caterpillars should be reported to the Forestry Commission (or 0300 067 4442) or the relevant local authority.

The adder (Vipera berus) is the UK’s only venemous snake and lives in woodland, heathland and moorland and is a grey/brown colour with a distinctive zig-zag pattern down its back and a red eye. Like most snakes, it mostly avoids people but dogs (and people) can be at risk from being bitten when they tread on snakes hidden in undergrowth or surprise one at close quarters. Although they usually hibernate between October to March, the recent unseasonally warm weather has resulted in four requests for assistance from the VPIS in the last week alone and other reports state that adders can be seen all year round in some parts of the UK. Bites generally happen around the legs, feet or face of a dog that may then exhibit rapid and painful swelling localised around two small puncture marks. Fang marks may not be visible under the swelling. This may progress to pale gums, salivating, lethargy and vomiting or diarrhoea. Bites can be fatal. the VPIS received notification of 101 cases of adder bites in dogs in 2015, five of which resulted in death.

If you suspect that your dog has been bitten, keep him calm and as quiet as possible to prevent the venom from circulating quickly in the bloodstream and get veterinary help immediately. Bites can be treated with just painkillers and anti-inflammatories but anti-venom is also available. This is a preparation designed for humans and may not be in stock in most vets, although they may be able to request a dose from another practice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Insurance Gamble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good News In The SW

A consultation regarding access for dogs along the glorious West Dart river on Dartmoor has concluded with an admirable compromise that should see responsible dog walkers and custodians of the land co-exist without conflict.

An exclusion order banning dogs all year round was applied to the West Dart River Valley in 2005 and was due to remain in place until 2999.

Following a public consultation, the original order has been rescinded and replaced with a requirement to keep dogs on leads all year round. The order is set to last until December 12th, 2024

This seems like a sensible solution that will protect livestock and the environment (assuming that owners also pick up faeces) and enable access.

A good start to the year.

Yet Another Raw Food Recall

In the dying days of 2018, the FSA announced yet another recall of commercially prepared raw food due to the presence of dangerously high levels of salmonella.

The aptly-named “Just Natural” range highlights, however unintentionally, that pathogens are just as naturally occuring as nutrients in raw food. The company has been forced to admit that the dangers posed include handling and serving raw food and cleaning of utensils and feed bowls when pathogens can be spread widely. This is of course in addition to the pathogens shed and spread by animals consuming raw food. Cross-contamination of foods and surfaces can also happen if raw food is not stored or defrosted separately and if hands are not washed thoroughly. Even then, the risks will always be much higher than with cooked food and extend well beyond the household in which the products are used.

Keeping Your Dog Secure Is Not Just For Christmas

Dog theft has been on the increase for some time with thieves understanding exactly the amount of blackmail they can levy for the emotional distress suffered by owners.

DogLost has just circulated an alert about a scam that has seen 70 incidents reported to police across the country and that seems to be prevalent in Mersyside. Of course, it is imopssible to know how many incidents have not been reported, not least because drastic cuts to policing throughout the country make reporting difficult and make people feel as if it is not worth reporting anything if they think that no effective action will be taken.

The Insurance Emporium examined reported dog thefts between 2015 and 2017 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, finding a general rise of 2% in England and wales and a drop of 25% in Northern Ireland. The most commonly stolen dogs in 2017 were:

  • Staffordshire bull terriers
  • Crossbreeds
  • French bulldogs
  • Chihuahuas
  • Jack Russell terriers.

Yorkshire and the north-west of England had by far the highest incidences of recent dog theft in England and Wales, perhaps reflecting relative poverty as well as the distribution of dog ownership across the country. Wales had by far the lowest, again reflecting the relative distribution of population and dog ownership. West Midlands police recorded a 24% fall in reported thefts between 2016 and 2017, while the East Midlands force reported a 43% rise. Again, this only reflects the thefts that were reported, not necessarily the prevalence.

The Campaign group Pet Theft Awareness are calling for relatively minor changes to existing legislation to assist in preventing theft and in making the offence more serious, which could also lead to tougher sanctions on conviction.

Many vets will automatically scan patients and owners can and should ask for chips to be checked as they can fail or migrate, although this is rare. However, the resistance of the BVA amongst others to making this compulsory is not unfounded. It is not reasonable to expect vets to take on the duties that should be undertaken by dog wardens because it blurs the line between clinical care and policing and could place the vet in a position of expending a great deal of (unpaid) time if an animal is indeed suspected of being illegally imported or stolen.

It is important therefore, that we continue to put pressure on government at all levels to make adequate provision for supporting existing legislation with adequate resources, not least the new requirements introduced in October.

As ever, the best remedy is prevention:

  • Keep your microchip details up to date (this is a legal obligation)
  • Make sure that you have a correctly inscribed tag on your dog’s collar and that your dog always wears a collar and tag when out (this is a legal obligation unless you have a dog that is working by herding, hunting or picking up game)
  • Neuter unless you have a very good reason not to so that your dog is less attractive to potential puppy farmers
    (clinical, showing etc)
  • Be on your guard if asked about the cost of your dog or the gender and tell the enquirer that your dog is neutered
  • Train for reliable recall and reinforce periodically
  • Supervise your dog as much as possible and ensure that doors, fences and gates are secure by checking regularly for damage and keeping your dog in sight during building works or if doors could be left open by visitors
  • Don’t leave your dog unattended in a garden even if in a kennel
  • Don’t leave your dog unattended in public, including in a car.

Take responsibility for keeping your dog safe and secure – and not just at Christmas.

If the worst happens and your dog is stolen, report it to police and to DogLost and do not be tempted to pay a ransom or accede to another demand such as collecting the dog. If your dog is insured, you may find that your insurers will cover the cost of publicity and some even provide templates. You can also take out enhanced cover from some microchip companies that provide this service.

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.

Treacherous Thames – Canine Casualties on the Tideway

When most people think of lifeboats they have images of dark and stormy nights, Grace Darling battling huge waves and dramatic launches from seaside slipways. It may be surprising then, to realise that the busiest lifeboat station in the UK is on the river Thames at Tower Bridge, with the other three Thames stations at Chiswick, Gravesend and Teddington being the next busiest. The Thames has had its own lifeboats since 2001 when a safety enquiry following the Marchioness disaster saw the establishment of Tower Bridge station. Uniquely, the Thames stations are manned permanently and vessels are required to be afloat within 90 seconds of being notified of an incident. Chiswick has 3 E-class inshore boats that were designed specifically for the conditions on the Thames: the Chelsea Pensioner (E-003), the Joan and Kenneth Bellamy (E-006) and Dougie and Donna B (E-008). E-class boats are the fastest vessels in service with the RNLI and can reach up to 95% of casualties between Canvey Island and Teddington within 15 minutes.

The Thames is a dangerous place. The tide can rise and fall up to 24ft twice a day and hide all sorts of submerged hazards as well as create treacherous currents and dangerous mud. The average water temperature is 12C (54F); cold water shock can occur at any temperature below 15C (59F). 34 people died in the river between 2000 and 2014. It doesn’t help that charming riverside pubs can create not-at-all-charming drunks who either fall in or think that they are invincible and can swim in all conditions.

Chiswick came into operation in January 2012. Up until the end of 2017, crews had attended 3,328 incidents and rescued 1,707 people, some of whom would otherwise have died.

The dangers aren’t just faced by humans but by dogs too. Involuntary ingestion of river water and the dangers of being infected by leptospirosis (Weill’s disease) can kill dogs and humans. Even the strongest swimmers can and do get swept away by the tide and can get trapped in a variety of hazards by unexpected currents that may not be visible from the bank. Already this year, the Chiswick station, operating between Richmond half lock and Battersea, has been called out for the seventh time to rescue a dog. Crews have also had to rescue handlers who try to retrieve dogs from the water and, as with the seashore, can be in greater danger than the dog that they are trying to bring in. Even if dogs don’t enter the water voluntarily, they can and do fall in not least when banks are slippery with weed and mud (and that’s the polite description, at least until the Thames Tideway becomes operational).

This is what happened when two dogs and their handlers got into difficulty on the Thames this summer.

There were a total of 132 lifeboat launches to dog walking incidents in 2015, with 119 handlers being rescued.

Don’t let yourself or your dog add to the statistics. Respect the water, keep your dog on the lead and/or get a canine lifejacket*. Don’t let your dog swim in the Thames or other tidal waters and make sure that there is no danger from algal blooms and similar in running or still water.

Never go in after your dog.

If your dog does get into difficulties, call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard and keep yourself safe and, if necessary, warm.

Chiswick lifeboat station costs £495,000 per annum to run. The RNLI is completely independent of government and relies on volunteers and fundraising to operate. You can support Chiswick or any other part of the RNLI by taking part in a regular event such as SOS day at the end of January or National Lifeboat day in May or local events or by making a purchase from the RNLI shop* . Drop some change or even notes, into a tin. Even a small donation can help with the annual running costs.

Most of all, you can help by keeping yourself and your dog safe around water.

* CreDO and DogsNet.org do not take responsibility for products advertised on or purchased from third party websites.