Like millions of other dog lovers across the country I was deeply shocked by the original Pedigree Dogs Exposed program that was shown in 2008. Even though I’ve always been very concerned about the issues of inbreeding and physical deformities in pedigree dogs it was still a real eye-opening program that laid bare the true extent of the suffering endured by some pedigree dogs. It was also amazing to see quite how incompetent and out of touch the Kennel Club interviewees were in the film and very worrying to realise that these people have a major influence over the welfare of millions of dogs.
After the initial outcry and war of words over the issue there seemed to be a developing consensus that things had to change – even the Kennel Club which one could argue was largely to blame for many of the problems having overseen the breed standards over the last 100 plus years seemed to be finally taking these issues seriously. I was very encouraged by some of the developments and the regular flow of press releases from the Kennel Club highlighting all the positive ways in which they are reacting to the problems seen in the film.
So with this background, I was fascinated to see what had changed as I sat down last night to watch Pedigree Dogs Exposed part 2 – and it was a thoroughly depressing watch. Although much had been promised by the Kennel Club and various breed societies, it was clear from the program that the mindset of many breeders was still stuck in denial and the basic problem of dogs being bred for looks rather than temperament or personality had not been addressed in any significant way. It was shocking to see so called champion dogs from the last couple of years still displaying grotesquely deformed characteristics and the major surgery some of these poor dogs had to endure in order to give them just the most basic qualities of life, such as being able to breathe.
Of course there are many responsible breeders out there who do care deeply about the health and wellbeing of their dogs, but while there are still breeders out there such as the boxer breeders shown who refused to engage with the issue of juvenile kidney disease, it will be hard for the reputation of dog breeders in general to recover.
So what should be done? Well I agree with many of the comments I received on Twitter last night that what dogs need and deserve is an independent body overseeing breeding with the sole goal of championing health and wellbeing. I don’t want to see the end of breeds, just a change of direction away from the breed standards that promote physical deformities and inbreeding practices that lead to genetic diseases. We could easily have healthy Bulldogs, and happy Pugs and the rest if there is just the will to make it happen – and less of an obsession with certain looks amongst the breeding and showing world.
At the risk of opening a can of dangerous worms, what do you think…?
In my most recent appearance on Live with Gabby on Five I discussed the issue of the risk to pregnant women from the disease toxoplasmosis which can be transmitted by cats. My intention was to advise that pregnant women should avoid dealing with cat faeces and raw meat, which are the main two sources of infection of this disease, which can in rare circumstances cause serious birth defects and miscarriage.
However, following a few concerned calls from pregnant women and contact from the charity Cats Protection, I’ve realised that I might have slightly overdone my advice and inadvertently given the impression that pregnant women should have nothing at all to do with cats! So I thought I would help to put the record straight here and reassure those of you who are pregnant that there is no need to abandon your cat!
As Cats Protection explained, studies actually show that cat owners are statistically no more likely to get toxoplasmosis than non-cat owners and the chance of contracting the disease from your cat is very small indeed. For example, studies have shown that stroking a cat will not spread infection to people.
However, it is still something that pregnant women need to be aware of as however small the risk, there is no point taking any undue risks where unborn children are concerned. The NHS gives a number of tips on how to reduce the risk of developing a toxoplasmosis infection (from NHS Direct website http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/toxoplasmosis/pages/prevention.aspx), the following of which relate to cats:
- Avoid cat faeces in cat litter or soil. Wear gloves if you are changing a cat litter tray, and if you are pregnant, or immune deficient, ask someone else to do this for you. Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards
- Feed your cat dried, or canned, cat food, rather than raw meat
- Do not handle or adopt stray cats
IN addition, to support its recommendations, Cats Protection has produced a short film on toxoplasmosis, which can be viewed at www.cats.org.uk/toxo.
So I hope that all helps make the situation clear, and reassures any panicking pregnant people out there that they can carry on enjoying their cat’s companionship.
I’ve just finished writing my column for The Metro for next week and one of the questions was about the issue of urinary incontinence in female dogs. The dog in question has had various health issues over the last few years but is now suffering from quite severe urinary incontinence which is obviously distressing for her and her owner. As you’ll read in next week’s paper, the owner has tried the two most common forms of medication for this problem which are drugs called Propalin and Incurin, but neither has really worked. Unfortunately there aren’t any other routine medical treatments available so my advice was based around what she could do to help her dog to live with the symptoms of incontinence rather than coming up with a way of curing the problem.
My suggestions were to make sure she is taking the dog out as regularly as possible to help keep her bladder as empty as possible, and also to consider using absorbent pads or dog nappies. This might sound like a rather bizarre suggestion with more in common with my recent article on dressing up pets than sound medical advise, but in fact nappies for dogs are becoming a well recognised solution for cases like this and something I would definitely recommend. Sadly many dogs are put to sleep because of incontinence when either they or their owners can’t cope with the mess and smell any more and this can be really tragic as in many cases there is nothing else wrong with the dog and they could go on to live a happy life for many months or even years if the incontinence problem is addressed.
Absorbent pads and nappies might look funny and seem like an extreme solution but they can make the difference between life and death in some cases so if you’ve got a dog with this issue and you don’t know what to do, take a look at the nappy products out there and think about trying them before you reach the end of the road.
As we’re all too aware, most trends start in America and then inevitably end up over here. If this is the case, the next big trend we can expect to take off over here is for extreme pet fashion. According to an article on the BBC news website, fashion for pets is the next big thing, and sales of pet clothing will hit £35 million in the UK by 2015 – which is an awful lot of coats and booties!
While some pets and working animals have long enjoyed the comfort and protection of clothing, the new trend is for fashion rather than function, with a focus on dressing up pets to look cute, funny or simply fashionable. And with this new trend comes the inevitable question – is it right to dress up our pets purely for our own enjoyment as opposed to specifically for their benefits?
This question has provoked a real debate in the pet community as demonstrated by the comments associated with this article. Typical of those against this trend is this comment from Bart: As someone who has studied animal behaviour in depth I get really sick of people anthropomorphising their pets. This is where most common behavioural problems come from when people treat their animals like human babies rather than as dogs or cats. If you feel the need to treat your pet as a substitute for a baby you need psychological help.
However not all of those commenting were against dressing up pets, with one stating As long as it doesn’t cause any discomfort or annoyance to the pet then leave the owners alone. They aren’t doing anyone any harm and should be allowed to dress their pets however they want.
From my perspective as a vet and animal lover I can see both sides of this argument. As I’ve said before on this blog, it is easy to condemn this kind of thing as exploitative and not in the best interests of the animals, but I do think it’s important to put it in perspective and look at the actual impact on the animals involved. From what I have seen when I’ve met pets who have been dressed up and owners who enjoy dressing their pets up, the vast majority are pampered and very well looked after with no obvious ill effects from the clothes. It may well seem odd and uncomfortable for most pet owners, but surely it’s better for pets to be loved too much than too little as is sadly so often the case nowadays.
Of course it’s vital that the welfare of pets is not affected by any activity such as dressing up, but I do think it’s wrong to jump to the conclusion that it must be wrong simply because it looks strange and even downright silly to most of us!
Over to you – let me know your thoughts…
After the mild weather in January lulled as all into a false sense of security, it looks as though winter has finally arrived with a vengeance – so I thought it would be a good time to publish my tips for keeping your pets safe in the cold weather again:
Dogs are generally tough animals with the majority of breeds having thick well-insulated coats that are very effective at keeping out the worst of the winter weather. However that doesn’t mean that you can take their wellbeing for granted in weather conditions such as we’re seeing at the moment as extreme cold and snow can present some significant risks to their health and wellbeing.
- Hidden dangers – heavy snow falls can hide all sorts of hidden dangers from barbed wire to broken glass and this can lead to bruises, cuts and even broken bones. So take care on your dog walks and try to stick to well known routes to minimise the risks of unwelcome surprises from under the snow.
- Sliding – Dogs often don’t know when to take it easy and strains and fractures from sliding on icy patches can be a problem in this kind of weather. It’s worth taking it a bit easier than normal and not throwing balls or sticks unless the ground offers secure footing to try to reduce the risks.
- Ice – every year a number of dogs fall through thin ice and either drown or suffer from hypothermia so it’s vital to take extreme care if you walk your dog near large bodies of water such as lakes. And never ever encourage your dog onto the ice by throwing a stick as you can never be sure how thick and strong it is. If your dog does fall through the ice don’t put yourself at risk as you could easily follow them in – either try throwing them something to climb onto or call for help.
- Ice-balls – not a major danger but hairy dogs in particular are prone to getting ice stuck between their toes and this can lead to bruising and pain if left to accumulate.
- Cold – most dogs are well insulated so the cold isn’t too much of a problem but for short haired dogs and those not used to this kind of weather it can be more of a problem. There are lots of winter accessories available for dogs including coats and mitts and these are worth considering if your dog isn’t naturally well equipped for this kind of weather. At night make sure your dog has plenty of bedding to snuggle into as even if they are in the house temperatures can drop pretty low at night. For dogs living outside warm bedding is obviously even more crucial, and deep piles of fresh straw are one of the best insulating beddings. Only dogs who are used to living out should be left outside in this kind of weather, and even for these hardy animals it’s worth considering if they would be more comfortable inside (although surprisingly many outdoor dogs actually prefer being in their cosy kennel to being in the house).
Cats are pretty good at looking after themselves in the cold, usually preferring to stay in the warm and dry and watch the snow fall from the safety of a windowsill or radiator hammock. However there are still some potential risks to their health in extreme weather conditions:
- Urine retention – cats who usually go to the toilet outside can sometimes be so reluctant to go outside for a wee that they hold onto their urine to the point that it can be dangerous. Retained urine increases the risks of blockages, particularly in male cats, and urinary tract infections which are more common in female cats. To reduce the risks, make sure you offer at least one clean litter tray in an easily accessible place.
- Ice – cats are generally more cautious than dogs and are also obviously lighter so they tend to be less at risk from falling through thin ice. However where snow is covering a thin layer of ice they can be caught out and this can lead to dangerous immersion in freezing cold water.
In the wild rabbits would be safely tucked up in their burrows several metres underground, but domestic rabbits tend to have much less well insulated living accommodation. A typical hutch offers little protection from the cold, and without plenty of dry bedding rabbits can be at risk of hypothermia. It’s generally advisable to bring rabbits indoors or at least into the garage in this weather, but if they are outside make sure you check them several times a day at least and ensure that their bedding is warm and most importantly completely dry. It is also vital that they have access to drinking water so make sure you de-ice their water regularly during the day.
Pond fish are generally pretty good at surviving in cold weather even when ice forms on the surface of their pond as they will spend their time at the bottom where the water remains at a minimum of 4 degrees C. However if the surface of the water remains frozen for more than a few days toxic metabolic by-products such as carbon dioxide can build up in the water turning it ‘sour’ so it is important to maintain a hole in the ice in longer spells of cold weather. This is best done by pouring hot water onto the ice rather than physically breaking a hole as the shock waves from this can be very distressing to fish, particularly sensitive species such as Koi carp.
Longer term the best solution is to use a pond heater. These are relatively cheap devices that maintain a small hole in the ice using a very low level heater and are the most reliable way of keeping fish safe in prolonged cold spells.