A Dog’s Dinner

lifespan and obesity in dogs A retrospective study involving 50,787 12 breeds of companion dog aged between 6½ and 8½ has found unequivocally that carrying too much weight shortens life expectancy.

The instantaneous risk of death was higher for all the obese dogs in the study and in all breeds, median life span was shorter in the overweight dogs than in the dogs of normal weight. On average:

Overweight small dogs had a reduced lifespan of 1.9 years for males and 1.8 years for females

Overweight medium-sized dogs had a reduced lifespan of 1.4 years

Overweight large dogs had a reduced lifespan of 0.6 years.

In addition to reduced lifespan, overweight dogs have reduced quality of life and are at greater risk of suffering from diabetes mellitus, musculoskeletal problems and some types of cancer. Additional weight also predisposes dogs to suffering from respiratory, cardiovascular and kidney problems and causes chronic low‐grade systemic inflammation contributing to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.

The financial impact of owning a dog with an obesity‐related disease has been estimated to be approximately £770 per annum. Of course, reducing food intake will save money too.

UK vets report that approximately 40% of the dogs (and cats) that they see are overweight or obese. It is nearer 60% in the USA.

Many owners know how hard it can be to resist temptation and reduce food intake and/or eat more healthily. The pet food market is big business, being calculated to be worth £4.5 billion in 2019. Owners are being persuaded to buy more and more treats for their dogs as well as basic food, with the poorest quality food being the cheapest just as humans are bombarded by adverts for junk food and sugary drinks.

The good news is, not only will it extend your dog’s life and improve his quality of life to keep his weight to a normal level, you won’t feel tempted or hungry in the process.

Next time that you reach for the dogs treats consider why you are doing it. Is it guilt because you have left your dog alone or just a way of showing your dog how much you care for him? Instead of spending money on treats, why not get a dog sitter or show your dog that you care by playing a game or going for a walk. It could be worth nearly 2 years of your dog’s life.

Home Alone

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

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

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

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

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

2020 Foresight – A Wish List For The Year

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

So here is my wish list for dogs for 2020:

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

Happy New Year and here’s hoping.

The Value Of Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

Autumn Wonders Or Autumn Disaster?

autumn fungus The warm and wet conditions that have been seen across most of the UK have resulted in a plethora of fungi. There are more than 15,000 species of fungus in the UK, some of which are toxic to humans and dogs.

There have been several canine fatalities and incidents in the UK this autumn.

The common names of mushrooms that shouldn’t be eaten by humans provide clues as to the likely consequences and include the deadly webcap (Cortinarius rubellus), death cap (Amanita phalloides), destroying angel (Amanita virosa), funeral bell (Galerina marginata), fool’s funnel (Clitocybe rivulosa), panther cap (Amanita pantherina) and angel’s wings (Pleurocybella porrigens)

However, a wider range of mushrooms can be fatal to dogs.

The Clitocybe family of mushrooms are among the most likely to cause toxic symptoms because of the presence of muscarine.

Clitocybe rivulosa

Clitocybe rivulosa

Clitocybe fungi are white, off-white, buff, cream, pink or light-yellow with gills running down the stem, and are mainly found in decomposing ground litter in forest – just the places where dogs love to sniff. Clitocybe rivulosa is the most common of the small whitish Clitocybe species found in Britain and often grows on lawns.

Inocybe fungi

Inocybe fungi

Inocybe mushrooms, are also common in the UK and have high levels of the toxin muscarine. They are usually small and brown, although some can have a purple hue. The caps are conical with a raised central section, but flatten as the mushroom ages. The cap is also often appears frayed and the mushroom can exude a distinct musty smell.

Clinical signs of poisoning usually occur within two hours of ingestion and include salivation, lacrimation, urination, diarrhoea, bradycardia, hypotension, shock, dyspnea, wheezing, increased respiratory secretions, abdominal pain, miosis, visual disturbance and rhinorrhea.

Keep an eye on your dog at all times and, if you have a voracious scavenger, use a well-fitting Baskerville muzzle – it may save your dog’s life. If you suspect that your dog has eaten anything toxic, get to a vet immediately. Call when you are on your way if possible and explain the circumstances so that your vet can get specialist advice in advance and take a sample with you if you can, taking care to wash your hands thoroughly.

The Silent Victims of Poverty

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

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

Of the people in the lowest third of national income levels:

12% have not registered with a vet
24% have not neutered
37% have not vaccinated
40% have not followed up with boosters
33% have not de-wormed – some of the 67% that have will have used largely ineffective over the counter products
22% have not de-flead- again, some of those who have will have use effective products
61% are not insured.

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

Not for nothing has the PDSA labelled companion animals the “silent victims of poverty”.

Apocalypse Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.