Idiot of the Month Update

A few months ago I wrote about a rescue dog that was being handled badly.

Owner and dog are still together and, as dogs often do, this lovely girl is muddling through in spite of the way that she is being treated. The owner has shaved her coat off so she now has no protection against the elements and her once-beautiful coat is now growing back as spikes. No doubt the owner is congratulating herself that the dog felt cooler in the recent hot weather and of course, she no longer has a coat that can be groomed.

In common with many rescue dogs, she seems to be enjoying a late-flowering puppyhood and was having a wonderful time romping round with my dog and the others on the lawn. She flung herself at his feet and happily kicked his face as he nuzzled her belly and mouthed her affectionately, growling softly. The other owners looked on in delight, with the exception of the owner of the rescue dog.

She was squirming in horror and covering her eyes as the dogs took it in turns to rough house. “Stop it, stop it: I can’t bear it. I don’t like to see them like this”, she said. I replied tartly that her dog didn’t seem to share her view and was in fact having a whale of a time. Faced with the pressure of other quiescent owners, she backed off and let the dogs have their fill of fun.

What a sad example of a human-dog dyad. Perhaps there is something very wrong in her life that makes her incapable of recognising her dog’s enjoyment. She no longer has the excuse that her dog is old and ill, but she seems hell bent on squeezing the joy out of her glorious young dog and, in the meantime, is oblivious to all the truly wonderful moments that dog ownership can bring.

As ever, it will be the dog that suffers most in the long run.

Mad Englishmen and Dogs

The Evening Standard reported on Monday that two Labradors died following exercise in 21ºC heat. With temperatures reaching ten degrees higher and more I am horrified to see dogs racing after balls and being left outside shops in full sun and being forced to run. Pads can also burn on hot pavements. If it uncomfortable to keep your hand on pavement for longer than 5 seconds, then it is too hot for your dog’s feet.

Dogs have a core body temperature on average 2 degrees higher than a human and are wearing a fur coat. Dogs do not lose heat as efficiently as humans and can continue to overheat for quite a while after exercise even if they are in a cool area. This is particularly true of young, old, overweight and brachycephalic dogs and dogs with underlying conditions such as heart, liver and kidney problems.

Many owners now clip their dogs which means that they have removed any effective natural protection against the sun (or cold and rain) and the ability to reflect heat.

Signs of heat exhaustion (hyperthermia) start at a temperature around 40ºC-41ºC (104ºF to 106ºF). At this stage and if caught early, dogs can usually make a full recovery but veterinary advice should be sought. A temperature over 42ºC (106ºF) can be fatal: immediate veterinary assistance is needed.

A dog suffering from heatstroke will display several signs that can include:

  • Rapid panting
  • Bright red tongue
  • Red or pale gums
  • Thick, sticky saliva
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting – sometimes with blood
  • Diarrhoea
  • Clinical shock
  • Coma.

Remove the dog from the hot area immediately and lower his temperature using cool water (tepid water for very small dogs). Increase air movement around him using a fan if possible. Do not cool the dog too quickly. The rectal temperature should be checked every 5 minutes and cooling stopped at 30ºC (103ºF). Dry the dog thoroughly and cover him. Go to your vet as soon as possible as the dog will need to be checked for dehydration or other complications.

Allow free access to water. It may help to put a pinch of salt and sugar in or use a veterinary rehydrating powder. Do not try to force the dog to drink.

Dogs who suffer from heatstroke once have an increased risk of suffering again.

The best remedy is prevention. Do not take your dog out in high heat and humidity and use a cool coat if that is unavoidable. Use a damp towel or cool mat for your dog to lie on at home and keep him in the shade. If you have a brachycephalic dog and/or one with BOAS, keep his weight down and monitor continually in hot weather as well as taking all the usual precautions. Consider surgery to alleviate the problem.

What’s In A Meme?

Meme is a neologism coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1989 classic The Selfish Gene that describes an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. A meme acts in a similar way to a gene that carries genetic information in plants and animals but instead acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or anything that can be mimicked. Like genes, memes can self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.

So what has this got to do with dogs?

Anthrozoologist Hal Herzog has proposed that keeping dogs as pets and, in particular, preferences for specific dog breeds are memes. He proposes that he acted as a “vehicle through which the dog-as-pet meme” replicated… “inadvertently spreading the dog-as-pet meme by raising my children with dogs and by extolling the joys and tribulations of having companion dogs in my classes.” He thinks that this may well be a mechanism to explain the explosion in popularity of specific dog breeds as such cultural changes can replicate many times faster than genetic changes.

This monkey see, monkey do approach would explain why, against all rational, and I would argue ethical considerations, the expected registrations of the French bulldog, to name but one brachycephalic breed, is expected to exceed 28,000 this year with the UKKC alone. It would seem that the desire to fit in by conforming to popular behaviours and the reverence for supposed role models – indeed actual models – that have helped to make this breed fashionable is much stronger than the obvious fact that most cannot give birth naturally and cannot breathe without extreme difficulty. (In addition to the common occurence of cleft palate/hare lips, anasarca puppies, congenital abnormalities of the vertebrae, hip dysplasia
luxating patellas, straight stifles and loose ligaments, hindquarter paresis and spondalytis). One owner happily stated to me that he spends a fortune on air conditioning so that his dogs do not overheat and that he would prefer his dog to sleep with a ball in his mouth so that he does not die from sleep apnoea than contemplate surgery to correct BOAS.

Perhaps, as well as providing many enlightening insights into attitudes towards animals in his excellent book Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, Professor Herzog may have solved the mystery why otherwise kind and straight-thinking people can profess to love their dogs and perpetuate and ignore misery and deformity.

No Room for Complacency

High-level campylobacter prevalence (>1000cfu/g) among the nine retailers surveyed by the FSA was 5%, compared to 7.8% in January – March 2016. Marks and Spencer, Morrisons and Waitrose had significantly lower levels (2.5% – 2.8%) compared to the average and to smaller retailers and butchers where the average was 16.9%. There was a slight reduction (50% – 48.8%) in chicken skin samples that tested positive for campylobacter at any level compared to the same period last year.

However, there is no room for complacency as 7% of chickens surveyed still tested positive for the highest level of contamination. It is also possible that people feeding raw diets may also buy chicken from smaller outlets, believing it to be healthier and there is no control over the source of raw chickens in commercially prepared diets.

The reduction in the level of campylobacter whilst welcome, does not negate the very real dangers of raw feeding for dogs, not least in respect of other pathogens, inbalance of nutrients in the long-term and the mechanical damage caused by ingesting and excreting bone fragments.