AMR – Dog Owners Need To Take Responsibility

salmonella Two extremely worrying bulletins have been published by the Food Standards Agency this week. One concerns the recall of Nature’s Menu “Country Hunter” frozen pet food because of the presence of salmonella and the other the dangers of anti-microbial resistance to pathogens found in food.

Nature’s Menu Country Hunter food is described by the vendor as being “A tasty complete and nutritionally balanced Country Hunter raw meal of Farm Reared Turkey”… that “contains raw minced bone for added nutrition”. If the meal is already “nutritionally balanced”, why the need for raw, minced bone “for added nutrition”? This is a complete nonsense (never mind the poor punctuation) that tells the purchaser nothing. Of course, Nature’s Menu are not alone in being deliberately obscure about the marketing and labelling of pet food.

At the risk of dragging semiotics into the debate, the name “Country Hunter” strikes me also as being bizarre. Two suggestive words thrown together actually make no sense whatsoever in context. Is this meant to suggest that the turkey has been hunted in the country by a chap with a nicely oiled Purdey? Maybe not, because we are also informed by the label that the turkey is “farm-reared”. Well, it is hardly likely to be roadkill or reared round the back of the producer’s cousin’s council flat. Perhaps they are trying to suggest that it is “free-range” in the same manner as those “polite notices” are meant to fool people into thinking that they are “police notices”. Legally, to be labelled as “free range”, turkeys must have continuous access to an outdoor range that is largely covered in vegetation during the daytime. However, even if products are labelled as being derived from “free-range” livestock, which this product is not, it is entirely possible that the poultry will still spend the bulk of the day indoors and be reared in high densities because it is not economically viable to do anything else at the price you are being charged for the food and the scale on which it is produced. Possibly it is trying to suggest that you have a gun dog that lives a wonderful life doing what it was bred to do. Were that the case, you are highly unlikely to be feeding it this food.

They go on to say “We only use quality, human grade meats in our raw meals, and absolutely no meat meals or meat derivatives. All of our complete and balanced meals are veterinary approved and made to FEDIAF guidelines.” Well, here are the FEDIAF guidelines should you choose to read them. They are well-written and it is good practice to abide by them.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with meat meal. Meat meal is simply a highly concentrated protein powder that is produced when meat and water are cooked to remove most of the moisture and the resulting residue is baked. For instance, chicken comprises about 70% water and 18% protein. After rendering, the resulting chicken meal contains just 10% water but 65% protein. The important factor to consider when assessing meat meal is the quality of the meat that went into it in the first place.

Similarly, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with meat derivatives. Legally, they are defined as being “All the fleshy parts of slaughtered warm-blooded land animals, fresh or preserved by appropriate treatment and all products and derivatives of the processing of the carcass or parts of the carcass of warm-blooded land animals”. As with meat meal, the quality of the products that went into it producing the derivatives are the most important factor to consider. Feral dogs and the domestic dog’s wild cousins eat all parts of the animals that they kill or scavenge (but bear in mind that wild dogs have different digestive systems and processes in order to cope). This includes hair, hide, offal and bones – the products encompassed in the term meat derivatives. They get a nutritionally balanced diet because different parts of the animal yield different nutritional requirements. Canids, including domestic dogs, are omnivores and will eat the stomach contents of grazing animals (which cats as obligate carnivores do not) and will eat vegetation in addition to meat. Muscle meat of the type that many humans think is best for their dog is only one component of a dog’s nutritional needs and, if fed to excess without balancing nutrition, can lead to serious problems in growing dogs, especially medium and large breeds, and may overload kidneys and liver in old or sick dogs.

Adding raw, minced bone to food could also be problematic. Apart from the potential for pathogens in uncooked bones, feeding too much calcium can make your dog very ill indeed. It is not uncommon for dogs fed raw bones to accumulate large amounts in their stomachs which can cause constipation and may obstruct the gut. They can also cause tearing as they pass through the dog’s digestive system. Farm animals are bred to grow quickly which can result in their bones being less dense and thus more brittle than slower reared animals of older breeds. This can be exacerbated by the fact that, free-range or not, many farm animals sinply do not get sufficient weight-bearing exercise to assist with creating bone density. Bones can and do result in broken teeth. Balancing calcium and phosphorous levels is essential and this can be difficult as, even if they are present in the right amounts in a raw diet, they may not be nutritionally available and could be difficult to digest.

The pathogens that are indisputably present in raw food can and do harm humans as well as the dogs that are fed raw diets. Illness caused by salmonella, e. coli, listeria, giardia, campylobacter, to name but a few, can range from the unpleasant to the fatal. This is becoming a more serious problem, not just because of the popularity of feeding raw diets and the likelihood that more people are thus exposed to pathogens via pets, but because of the increasing difficulty in treating bacterial illness with antibiotics.

Anti-microbial resistance builds up because of overuse and/or misuse of antibiotics; this is now a major risk to public health worldwide. Humans are exposed to resistant bacteria through human-to-human spread, animals, the environment and the food chain. There is currently uncertainty regarding the types of anti-microbial resistant bacteria found in foods on sale in the UK and of the contribution food makes to the problem.

One of the points that Nature’s Menu make is that they are veterinary-approved. Well, there is a massive range of opinion amongst vets on all sorts of matters. Some recommend and practice homeopathy as well as endorsing raw diets, for instance. However, the vast majority of vets neither support homeopathy nor raw feeding. A growing amount of peer-reviewed research and evidence backs this up.

So, don’t rely on the opinion of someone in the park or the “evidence” of one dog that has supposedly had a miracle turnaround on a raw diet. Read the research, give weight to the experience of canine professionals who have fed and worked generations of dogs and, above all, bear in mind that, if you feed raw, it is not only your dog’s health and well-being that you may be compromising, but any human with whom he comes into contact.

A Thousand Little Insults

tight-lead I was walking alongside a local common this weekend, as it happens, without my dog. I noticed, coming towards me from the opposite direction, a woman walking a Cavalier King Charles spaniel on an extendable lead. The dog was several feet ahead of the woman and, as she got nearer, she let it veer across to the other side of the path to carry on sniffing. This meant that about 10 feet of lead was stretched across the path about a foot from the ground.

When she got to within a foot or two of me, the woman suddenly jerked the dog by the neck and, without reeling in the lead, hauled it across the path, simpering at me to show how considerate she had been.

The dog was extremely startled and, needless to say, the woman oblivious to its feelings.

I wondered how many times that this woman inflicts this treatment on her dog. Then I wondered how many owners are meting out exactly the same treatment to their dogs, day after day.

This week most right-thinking people would have been outraged by the thug who throttled his Staffy, booted his head and then swung him against the side of a train carriage. There is a petition to ask the prime minister to intervene and increase his sentence from a meagre 21 weeks. Punishment alone is unlikely to change his behaviour but this does seem a pretty feeble reaction from the judiciary who no doubt would have imposed a much tougher sentence had it been a child. The poor dog died three days later.

It is easy to feel outraged by blatent cruelty such as this, but most people are oblivious to the daily cruelty that they inflict on their dogs, choking them, shouting at them or just being mostly cross. Not training a dog to walk properly on the lead (or to cope with the environment in which they are forced to live) and lazily using gadgets such as flexi-leads, halters and headcollars in lieu of their own lack of input inflicts constant, continuous insults on dogs and damages their trust in the very people that no doubt, declaim their “love” for their pet.

Which is worse: a sudden, voilent assault or constant daily battery? Not much of a choice is it.

Idiot of the Month

dog-and-scooter This month’s award really does make me wonder what goes through some people’s heads when they own dogs. I was leaving the park after a good, four hour session on Saturday morning and I encountered two, apparently unaccompanied, children on scooters at the top of an underpass on the A4. One of the children was holding a small terrier-type dog on a long lead. It immediately lunged at my dog, snapping and barking, and the kid would have frozen excpet it was struggling with controlling the scotter on the slope.

I extricated myself and headed towards the alley leading off the main road where I saw a woman, evidently the one “in charge” of the two kids, sauntering along without a care in the world.

Where does one begin?

Why on earth were the kids allowed to take a reactive dog, unsupervised on a major road whilst riding scooters? Why were they allowed to take any dog for that matter? Why were they left unsupervised on scooters by a major road? Why wasn’t the dog socialised?

Why, oh why can we not do something about legislating to educate people before they buy a dog?

Going With A Bang

dog-firework As we are about to come into the weekend that many dog owners and owners of other animals dread, is it time to reconsider our approach to fireworks? Personally, I have always hated fireworks and have no idea why some people get pleasure out of a few flashing lights and loud bangs and screeches. It was bad enough when it was restricted to November 5th and possibly the nearest weekend, but now, any gathering seems to be an excuse for fireworks from outdoor concerts to private parties.

This not only means that the duration of firework noise is extended, but that animal owners cannot predict when to take precautions to keep them safe or just less stressed. I have never encountered neighbours who had the courtesy to warn of their intention to let off fireworks and the law is regularly flouted with regard to restrictions on when they can be used.

Every year, although there are serious injuries caused by fireworks that put unnecessary pressure on already over stretched emergency services, recent attempts to restrict fireworks to public displays only have been rejected by parliament. The subject was last debated on June 6th, 2016. The short answer was “We are aware that fireworks can cause distress to animals. Restrictions on the general public’s use of fireworks and permitted noise levels already exist and we have no plans to extend them.”

This is no much consolation to those of us who have to deal with the serious effects that animals, including dogs, have to suffer as well as the distress to owners.

It seems unlikely that a call for a ban on public sale will have any success in the foreseeable future, so what if there was more publicity about better fireworks? The town of Collecchio near Parma, Italy has introduced local legislation requiring all citizens to use silent fireworks for the good of the community. In the UK, the UK Firework Review provides information about a variety of quieter and silent fireworks. There will probably always be people who get a thrill out of creating a great deal of noise who may not be persuaded, but it is possible that a substantial majority of people might.

Surely anything that reduces the noise will make life a little easier for stressed and frightened animals and their owners?

Get out there and spread the word! In the meantime, sign the petition for the mandatory use of silent fireworks in the UK.

Happy St Hubert’s Day

st-hubert In Catholic iconography, November 3rd is dedicated to St Hubert, patron saint of, amongst other things, dogs and hunting. Hunting packs all over the country will be holding St Hubert’s Day celebratin tonight and over the weekend. (A slap up game lunch on the IoW for me on Sunday!)

Hubert was born around 656 CE and died in 727CE. The eldest son of a nobleman, he renounced his title and eventually became bishop of Liege having devoted himself to poverty and piety having previously lived for the chase. Legend has it that he had a vision of a crucifix between a stag’s antlers while about to take a shot, but this is thought to be conflated with the legend of Saint Eustace. The stag supposedly dictated the ethics of hunting to him – always take a mercy shot, observe a closed season and shoot to cull.

The use of the “St Hubert’s Key” continued until as late as the early 20th century as an attempted cure for rabies. A bar, nail or cross was carried or attached to a wall of a home as supposed protection against the disease. A priest would prick the forehead of a person that was assumed to have contracted rabies. A black bandage would be applied for nine days while the heated key was placed on the body where the bite had occurred. It is possible that the heated key, if applied immediately, could cauterise and sterilise a bite wound, effectively killing the rabies virus. Hubert was only one of many Christian saints attributed with the ability to cure rabies, the key having supposedly been given to him by St Peter. It is likely that the superstition died out once an effective anti-rabies serum was available from the 1880s onwards.

The 14th C Saint Roch is also credited as being the patron saint of dogs. He was purportedly saved by a dog who licked his wounds and brought him bread when he had retreated form his home when sick. This legend too may have been conflated with that of the much earlier Saint Racho of Autun who died at about the same time as St Hubert was born. His feast day, appropriately, follows the dog days of summer and is on August 16th.