Conference Season – Fun & Learning

Vets don’t stop learning the minute they leave vet school. In fact, quite the contrary. CPD, or Continuing Professional Development, is something that we all have to keep up with in order to retain our MRCVS registration and as well as reading, Webinars, practical courses, and in-house presentations and talks, much of the CPD we complete is delivered via conferences and shows. These are a great chance to add to our knowledge, by attending lectures, presentations and workshops by recognised experts, as well as meet various companies and other relevant organisations in the exhibition hall, and meet up with friends and colleagues. Conferences are as much social events as they are educational exercises, and I personally love the fact that I get to easily catch up with friends who I might not have seen since vet school.

Two of the conferences and congresses going on at this time of year are the following:

British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) Congress

British Cattle Veterinary Association15th – 17th November, The International Telford Centre, Telford. This is the place to be if you’re involved in cattle practice. Close to the Harper Adams College University, Telford is the perfect site for the UK’s cattle vets to get together to discuss all aspects of cattle production, from dairy to beef, and to get in some serious CPD.

The London Vet Show (Small Animals)

London Vet ShowThis is the one I am heading to and runs for two days (15th and 16th November) at London Olympia. It is a relatively new congress yet has grown steadily, offering a really good range of CPD opportunities, including the BVA (British Veterinary Association) Careers stream and several practical workshops, as well as a big trade show and dedicated Party Night.

Liquid Japanese Tech Awesomeness

Black + Blum, eau good water bottleReturned to work today to find my new ‘toy’ had arrived from the insanely talented guys at Black + Blum, designers extraordinaire. It might not look much but this simple water bottle is anything but. It is based on a Japanese filtration system that uses a Binchotan charcoal stick, which sits in place inside the bottle, lasts for six months and purifies even the dodgy tasting tap water at work such that it literally tastes of nothing. Might not sound quite so exciting in black and white, but it was pretty cool! I like the taste of ‘nothing added water.’

Anyway, like I say, just thought I would share that with you in case you too liked funky and functional design.

A new UK vet school. Good news?

Anyone considering applying to study veterinary was handed some potentially very good news recently as the University of Surrey announced that it was establishing the UK’s newest vet school, with the first cohort of undergraduates due to enter in 2014. This came as quite the bolt out of the blue for most members of the veterinary profession, with only six years having passed since the establishment of Nottingham Vet School. On the face of it another vet school may well seem like an excellent step for the profession, but is it? Do we really need another vet school? What effect will it have on the training of new vets? How will it affect the veterinary job market in a few years time, if at all? These are but a few of the questions that have been raised since the news and we will explore some of the initial thoughts here.

How will Surrey be different?

“One Health – One Medicine”

According to the University of Surrey website, and recent press-releases, the focus of the new vet school will be on the closer integration between advancements in both human and veterinary medicine and science, a theme championed by pioneering Surrey orthopaedic and neurology veterinary surgeon, Noel Fitzpatrick, who is apparently very heavily involved in the planning and establishment of the new school. Students will have the opportunity to work across faculties, learning about the work of not only veterinarians but also exploring advancements in such areas as human prosthetic developments and material science.

Another key focus, according to the PR, is going to be on livestock medicine. Westpoint, a large farm animal veterinary company with operations across the country, are also key players in the coming about of the new school in Guildford, and will be instrumental in delivering much of the farm animal teaching. The model for the school appears to be somewhat similar to that developed by Nottingham, with the importance of close links with local practices, from small animal first opinion and specialist, to equine, farm and research, with such institutions as the BBSRC Pirbright Institute representing key partners.

Is establishing another vet school necessary?

Although no-one is suggesting that the founding principles of the new school are sound there is some debate as to whether ploughing resources into a new vet school is the way to further such ties between human and veterinary disciplines. Many argue that it makes far more sense to invest in the UK’s existing vet schools, working to expand on their long and proven record of research and development in the field of veterinary, and building stronger links with faculties and departments that have a direct impact on human healthcare developments, including medical schools, of which every current UK vet school has within their parent universities. Are we not, by creating another focus of veterinary attention, simply threatening to dilute the efforts of researchers at the existing schools, with the long-term result being a greater number of vet schools but with no really outstanding centres for innovation? The other question to ask is what exactly the new school sees itself doing that is going to be so different to the training offered by the other established vet schools, and whether a markedly different course, if that is the plan, is going to ultimately benefit graduates and the profession. If the curriculum is going to be very similar to that offered at existing schools then the question remains “do we need more vets qualifying from the UK each year?” If, however, the emphasis of the new course is to be on very specialist, cutting-edge aspects of veterinary medicine then are we not in danger of qualifying a large number of vets who might be able to discuss the pros and cons of artificial elbows in dogs, for example, but have a superficial to poor grounding in basic, day one veterinary skills. There has already, in my opinion, been evidence of some veterinary graduates leaving university with pretty rudimentary surgical skills, owing, quite simply, to a lack of opportunities to hone such vital skills. I don’t see how this will be helped by the addition of another 100 or so new students each year.

Is there enough work for more vets?

With no reliable source of across-the-board employment data for the veterinary profession the answer to this question is one that is most likely to be debated based on unofficial observations and personal opinions. It is my view that until very recently graduates from the UK’s vet schools have enjoyed the benefit of entering a labour market in which there were more jobs available than vets, with the result being a negligibly low unemployment rate amongst UK vets and thus employment readily available to a swathe of eager and equally skilled vets from outside of the country, especially from places such as Australia and South Africa. This, however, is apparently changing, with reports of veterinary graduates finding it significantly harder to secure their first jobs after leaving university and many joining the ranks of graduates in other subjects in having to undertake unpaid experience, or significantly lower paid nursing and animal technician duties, in order to keep their skills and participation within the profession current. This, it could be argued, creates further issues by increasing the level of competition for entry-level nursing and animal care assistant positions. I can honestly say right now that if anyone told me that after five years at university, with an accrued debt of many thousands of pounds, that I would have difficulties securing a job as a vet at the end of it, I would have seriously considered other career options. One of the questions that I get asked by students considering a veterinary career, and predominantly it appears by males, is how hard it is to find a job after qualifying. Job security and availability is clearly an area of concern to young people and any profession in which supply starts to exceed demand is potentially going to see a long-term tail off in applicants. Physiotherapy is one example of a profession where there are significantly more practitioners qualifying each year than there are posts for them to fill, with the result being disillusioned professionals just starting their careers – not a good welcome to any profession. I hasten to add, however, that there is no concrete evidence for this yet being the case with veterinary, although I would welcome the publication of employment data for veterinary graduates, as this will help us to monitor any trends. A cursory glance at the job pages of the Veterinary Times each week does indeed suggest that there are a good number of veterinary positions available. However, a closer read does reveal that many of the positions specifically request experienced applicants, not necessarily new graduates. Of course, the changing demographic of the veterinary profession, with more vets choosing part-time work to fit around family commitments or just to enjoy a better work-life balance, may well open up more employment opportunities. These are certainly interesting times that we are living and practicing in and it will be fascinating to see how the profession continues to evolve.

What will happen to salaries?

This is another concern amongst many vets, with a number arguing that swelling the supply of vets available will surely lead to salary deflation or, at best, a real reluctance on the part of employers to raise assistants’ salaries during their employment as they will be in a much better position to be able to employ new vets in the event that existing vets leave. The business of salaries is a murky one already, with little readily available reliable data on salaries for vets, and most practices having vets on different salaries, sometimes markedly so, when they are, effectively, doing the same job. My experience so far has been that unless I specifically asked for a fair salary review each year, with at least one example of feeling that I had to move on to another practice in order to raise my salary to a realistic amount for my level of experience, then I would still be on the salary I started out on, which compared to professionals in areas such as medicine, law, accountancy and dentistry would have been lamentable. The fact that vets are, by comparison, underpaid for the complex, difficult work that they do is one that is not generally recognised, with the vast majority of the public assuming that we are all paid fortunes. Although it is not a certainty that the earning potential of vets in the future will be adversely affected by an increase in supply of skilled vets, it is worth considering and recognising the fact that with more applicants per job, the upward pressure on salaries will be much less.

Interesting Time for Veterinary Education

How things have changed over the course of the past few decades, from the huge swing in the demographic of the profession to the changes in how veterinary services are delivered, levels of specialism and the establishment of not just one but now two new vet schools, it feels as though we are entering a very interesting phase as veterinarians and I for one look on with deep interest. The new vet school is happening – that is a fact – and the first twenty-five students are due to be enrolled in September 2014. What isn’t confirmed is whether the course will be accredited by the RCVS, although based on Nottingham’s experience I would say that it is a technicality and there is no reason not to think that the new vets graduating from Guildford in 2019 will be awarded MRCVS status. The question of what the profession they will enter will look like, however, does remain an interesting one. Exciting times indeed.

What can you learn from a Fall to Earth?

Space jump – what lessons for vet students?

Jump from the edge of Space
A lot can be learn’t from Felix’s jump into the unknown

As Felix Baumgartner shifted towards the edge of his balloon capsule I was, like a good seven million others, already on the edge of my seat, waiting for a monumental feat of daring, planning and, some might say, down right stupidity to finally play out after five years of planning. As a skydiver myself I was hopelessly hooked on the idea of free falling from space, knowing first hand the sheer exhilaration of falling – although it feels more like flying, hence the appeal – at terminal velocity toward the Earth, surveying our wonderful planet from a vista from which it was intended to be seen. However, what Felix was attempting, and subsequently achieved, was of a whole other magnitude. Seeing the Earth from the capsule and watching Felix “go over” and then plummet toward the ground at speeds faster than a speeding bullet was the ultimate adrenaline junky buzz, and I could hear skydivers the world over jumping up and down and high-fiving one another. Although I very nearly missed the big event on account of a dog who chose that specific period of the day to start seizuring, despite not showing even the hint of a twitch all day, it was a big moment for daredevils, science and sheer real-life entertainment.

But what lessons, if any, can you take from a man who voluntarily leaps into the great unknown, with the risk of a pretty gruesome death a very real risk, that can apply to vet school and the task of applying? Surprisingly, quite a few!

Felix Jumps into…. Vet School:

1. Have a vision & believe in it – Felix had a big vision and in spite of many, I am sure, telling him he was insane and that what he was wanting to do was impossible, he ignored the naysayers, applied himself and stayed focused on his ultimate aim. How many of you are surrounded by people telling you that vet school is beyond your reach and that it would be better for you to focus on a career choice that is “more attainable?” Unless you have the focus and determination of Felix, then most of us might be swayed by such negativity and change track, possibly looking back years later to ask “what if?” Don’t be that person. If you believe that veterinary is for you and are prepared to research, apply yourself and strive for your ultimate goal, then go for it and like Felix, work hard toward making the leap.

2. Plan like you’re going to jump from space – Felix and his team left absolutely no stone unturned and planned for every eventuality in the five years leading up to the big jump itself. Although there were a couple of hold-your-breath moments during the ascent and jump, the thorough planning of the team and Felix’s skill and preparation saw to it that they were minor hiccups rather than catastrophes. You know you want to be a vet and you know when you need to submit your application. As such, sit down and do some serious planning. Make the most of excellent resources, like this newsletter and the new website, to ensure that you leave no stone unturned and make the big jump into vet school as smooth as a space-freefall.

3. Pick your team wisely – You’re probably thinking “team? what team? I’m the only one applying to vet school.” Thats correct but then Felix was the only one to jump from the capsule. What got him there, in large part however, was the support and guidance of some fantastically motivated and skilled people who shared the same vision. You should find such people to surround you in your preparations to apply to vet school. From enthusiastic and supportive teachers at school, to generous professionals willing to conduct mock interviews, to work-experience placement providers, and positive friends and family, your support network is potentially huge and with the right help and guidance from them, you will find the journey towards vet school applications a lot less lonely and so much more rewarding.

4. Prepare for the extreme – During his free fall, Felix started spinning rapidly with a very real risk that he would pass out from the effects, which would have been disastrous. He was, however, able to correct his situation and bring things back under control, ultimately leading to success. What enabled him to do that was a combination of focused preparation and practice, including ‘mock’ jumps so that he could get used to some elements of what he could expect during the real thing. Parallels with mock interviews are clear – by preparing and practicing under conditions that are as close to the real thing as possible, then you’ll find that when the unexpected does happen, you’ll avoid entering a spin of your own.

5. Celebrate monumental successes – One thing we can all be sure of is that once back on terra firma, Felix would have had one hell of a party. And so he should have! It is really important to celebrate and recognise achievements, especially those that we have to strive for. Make sure you celebrate your achievements on your route towards vet school.

So there you have it. You can learn something from a man who throws himself from space!

Chickens: Fact is Stranger than Fiction

Chickens can stress vets outAs a small animal vet I am not alone in breaking out into a bit of a cold sweat when I see the word “chicken” on my consult list. The truth is that we see so few birds in general practice that our knowledge is often limited. Having said this, we are professionals and nobly rise to the challenge, learning as swiftly as is possible and applying this newly learned knowledge in the following consult.

It was after such a case, in which the chicken presented to me had diarrhoea and a temperature, that I set about to plug the obvious void in my knowledge and came upon the excellent book by fellow vet Victoria Roberts, “Diseases of Free-Range Poultry.” Although I certainly don’t now count myself as an expert, I certainly no longer dread the next chicken, rather clucking quietly in anticipation.

Check out Victoria’s site for yourself

Vet Lessons

I had an interesting case the other day which made me think how cool it would have been to learn about, well, interesting cases when I was applying to actually be a vet. So that’s the inspiration for this little feature: an interesting vetty subject to get your teeth into around coursework, exams, and other stuff that passes the time 🙂

The first topic is…..

Luxating Patella

I saw a 1 year old CKCS (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) bitch for X-rays under anaesthetic due to a history of intermittent lameness on her left hind leg. The vet who examined her initially thought she might have some back pain and so booked her in for X-rays to delve deeper. On taking a look at her before we knocked her out (medically, I hasten to add) I noticed that her left knee-cap (patella) wasn’t sitting where it should, which was within the trochlear groove, which is basically the channel that runs over the end of the femur and  directs the pull of the large muscles of the hind leg over the knee (stifle) joint to insert onto the tibial crest on the tibia, resulting in extension of the lower leg. This little dog’s patella, however, was sitting to the inside of the knee, and although I could easily move it back into place, every time she flexed (bent) her stifle, it popped back to it’s abnormal position (luxated).

X-rays of her spine, pelvis, hips and stifles were all normal, and her right patella was normal. There are four grades of patellar luxation, with grades 1 and 2 not requiring any intervention. This case was a grade 3 and so will benefit from surgery to a) deepen the trochlear groove – think of it like having an egg on a saucer versus then placing it in a bowl where it will be much more likely to stay – and then b) shift the tibial crest with the muscle insertions still attached over to a new position and fix it there with a pin, so that the direction of the pull of the muscles is along the correct line, resulting in less pull to luxate the patella. Pretty cool stuff!

Thought I’d pop down to the new vet school

University of SurreyWhat do you do when you write books on getting into vet school and vet careers, have a day off and find yourself living just down the road from the site of a proposed new vet school? Yep, so I did.

First Impressions

The main reason I wanted to visit was to gain a first impression of the university and campus, much the same way that you would if you were to attend an open day or, better still, pop along for a visit as, well, a uni student. The fact is that I look like any other student, or maybe a youthful lecturer (cue mocking laughter), and so was not concerned about just wandering around and getting a feel for the place. In fact I am writing this post whilst sat drinking a hot chocolate in the on-campus Starbucks, which is heaving I might add.

So, what first impressions and what can a whole new set of veterinary pioneers expect to find when they arrive fresh faced and eager to begin their studies. My visit started with having to fork out a scandalous amount of change on car parking, with the only options being ‘all day’ or ‘all day.’ The fact that my pockets were made lighter did at least make the gentle uphill stroll to the centre of the Stag’s Hill Campus a little easier, with the route taking me past a number of classic student accommodation blocks, although the new crop of vet students are due to be based, and housed, at the university’s Manor Park campus, located a little further west, on the edge of the Royal Surrey County Hospital & Research Park. The ‘centre,’ if you can judge the students union as that, is a fairly typical twentieth century affair, with mostly uninspiring concrete block buildings housing the usual range of services, from cafeterias to bars to student information offices to the aforementioned international coffee chains. The biological and health sciences blocks, which it can only be assumed at this stage might host some of the vet teaching, sit directly behind, or in front of depending on your orientation, of the union and I am sure that the teaching and research being conducted inside is infinitely more inspiring than the exterior facades.



There are some quite pretty areas of the main Stag Hill campus, from the lake to Guildford Cathedral, which sits within the campus and atop an easily scaled hill. With the sun shining brightly today it was easy to see why a group of staff (I think) had elected to take their exercise class in the cathedral’s impressive shadow. There are a number of newer buildings and, like any university with ambition and space, the campus seems to be growing. It remains to be seen whether the vet course will see the building of brand new facilities, although I suspect it will, and even whether the new students will even be taught on the main campus. [Since writing this, it has been made public that new facilities will be built on the Manor Park campus, including research and teaching labs, diagnostic and teaching pathology facilities and clinical teaching areas. The work is due to start in 2014, with completion scheduled for August 2015. The first twenty five students to enter the vet course will therefore use existing facilities, which may include those based on the Stag’s Hill campus]. I look forward to learning more along with you all as we get closer to the first round of admissions.

Student Life

What of the students themselves? The first thing to report is that there is a good cross section of students represented on campus and a good international blend, with English, Russian, Chinese, and a number of other languages entering my hearing range as I sit and type. It will be interesting to see what happens when 100 or so over-achieving future vets are thrown into the mix. My prediction is that it won’t take long for them to make their mark 🙂 I had the pleasure of striking up a conversation with two students in the cafe, one studying Chemistry and the other English, and so was offered a first-hand insight into life as a Guildford student, although the establishment of a vet school was news to them. One interesting fact was that the Student Union is the largest in the country and is consistently ranked highly for the range of facilities and services offered. Mentoring and student support also appears to be a big focus, with some claiming that there could even be too much on offer, if that were possible. With Guildford only a short walk from the campus, there are obviously more social and cultural opportunities available than those offered on campus alone. Quite whether Guildford can match the cultural richness of most of the other vet school cities, such as Cambridge, is questionable and the university itself doesn’t have anywhere near the history or, dare I say it, perceived prestige as the more red-brick of it’s veterinary counterparts. As a predominantly affluent area, it didn’t come as a surprise to hear that two of the university’s big pub-crawls have been cancelled due to complaints from city residents about the noise. What, pray tell, will they make of AVS Sports Weekend then?! They wont know what’s hit them! But will this matter? Does this matter? Is it surely not more important that the vet course delivers the very best education and training whilst students have access to modern, affordable amenities such as health and fitness – they will as the sports complex is awesome, complete with a 50m pool and climbing walls – and, anyway, London is no more than a short train journey away so those wanting their culture fix will be able to sate their appetites and in doing so rub shoulders with RVC students (vet school rivalry anyone?).

Overall, I guess that my initial impressions are probably guided in large part by the fact that I am somewhat biased and loyal to my alma mater, a fine red-brick university with a very rich history and set in a beautiful and culturally deep city, so I will try and reserve judgement. All most aspiring vet students really care about, at the end of the day, is whether they get a place and there is employment at the end of their training. The arrival of the University of Surrey on the scene makes the chances of the former a little more favourable although it is still being debated how the latter will be affected. We watch this space.

Some facts about the new vet school:

  • Will be based at the University of Surrey’s Manor Park campus
  • The school’s ethos will be on ‘One Health,’ emphasising the links between animal and human health
  • The school’s key focuses are proposed to be veterinary pathology, livestock medicine, and research
  • The university has forged various partnerships with organisations including the VMD (Veterinary Medicines Directorate), Pirbright Institute, and local veterinary providers, including Westpoint Farm Vets, Liphook Equine Hospital, and Fitzpatrick Referrals
  • Students will have the opportunity to see practice and spend time studying overseas through the university’s participation in the University Global Partnership Network (UGPN), which is a trilateral agreement with North Carolina State University (USA) and the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil)
  • The first intake in September 2014 will be just 25 students – tiny in comparison with the average vet school intake
  • Once all building work is complete, the proposed annual intake is for 100 vet students

Vet News

Vet NewsYour Vet News Editors have put aside their UCAS applications, shelved thoughts of their own interview preparation and turned their focus to bringing you some more great news, stories and interesting vet and animal-related content to get your metaphorical teeth into.

This month sees us look at subjects as varied as GM Cows, Leptospirosis in Sea Lions and Horse Neglect. As ever, enjoy and we hope you find the articles of interest.



Allergy-free milk produced by GM cow

Els de Vrijer (Farm Vet News Editor)

Milk cartonScientists in New Zealand have successfully produced a cow that has been genetically modified so that she produces milk which does not contain a protein to which some people are allergic. Around 3% of infants are allergic to the whey protein betalactoglobulin, or BLG. The symptoms are eczema, vomiting and diarrhoea, and often sufferers refrain from drinking cow’s milk.

Using a technique called RNA interference, the scientists successfully managed to inhibit the production of the protein. RNA interference, or RNAi, is a natural process that cells undergo to turn down the activity of specific genes. RNAi is triggered by an unusual kind of double stranded RNA, which destroys molecular messengers, mRNA, that carry information coded in genes to the protein-making centres of the cells. During their research, the scientists underwent the in vitro screening of 10 micro RNA’s in order to see how the knockdown of BLG could be achieved. They were successful in genetically modifying the cow using this technique, so that the double-stranded RNA which was added to the cell prevented the production of this BLG.

Although the calf, named “Daisy” was born without a tail, the researchers are certain that the technique is safe for the animal and that her lack of tail is purely a congenital defect. Normally, a cow would not start lactating until she is around 2 years of age, but in this case hormones were used to stimulate her lactation. Her milk had no detectable trace of the BLG protein. The scientists did notice, however, that levels of casein, another protein in the milk, almost doubled.

Whilst there are some obvious benefits of this milk, particularly to those who suffer from the allergy, there are several unknowns. We do not know what milk yield these cows will have, and whether the protein will be absent in the milk for the duration of the cow’s lifetime. Equally, whether it will be viable for farmers is another question; there is such pressure on dairy farming as it is, an expensive technology may not be worth the effort for many. Lastly, there are also ethical concerns, as the milk stems from a genetically modified organism. Ironically, this also leads to the issue of whether the milk will be safe to be consumed legally. Under the GM legislation that is currently in place in New Zealand, the consumption of this type of milk would be illegal.

References: (Targeted microRNA expression in dairy cattle directs production of b-lactoglobulin-free, high-casein milk. Anower JabedStefan WagnerJudi McCrackenDavid N. Wells and Goetz Laible)


Live exports from Ramsgate resume

Emma Plowright (Farm Vet News Editor)

Sheep in transport lorryLast month, live exports were suspended from Ramsgate port following incidents which resulted in the death of 47 sheep. After the council’s decision to impose the ban was overruled by high court injunction, a councillor has described live animal export as “disgusting” and “indefensible.”

The ban was put in place by Thanet council in September when sheep died in two separate incidents.  When one lorry was stopped, vets and RSPCA officers found that forty-two sheep were lame, one was seriously ill and one had a broken leg and none could access their drinkers. The port also lacked the proper facilities for the animals – In another case, two sheep were drowned when the floor of a temporary holding pen collapsed.

The environment minister, David heath, stated that he believed the incidents were “absolutely unacceptable” and that review into the events has been launched. The chief executive of the National Sheep Association also said that the incident “could have been avoided if regulations and controls, which are effective in the majority of cases, were followed”.

Ipswich port briefly took over Ramsgate’s exports, only to suspend them as they too lacked to necessary facilities.

Thanet council had stated that they would lift the ban when the required facilities were built but following an appeal by three Dutch companies, exports have already resumed from the port. It is anticipated that Thanet district council will appeal against this decision.  Animal rights protesters have also staged demonstrations at the port to show their opposition.



Culling Postponed

Hannah Johnstone (Farm Vet News Editor)

Badgers and TBBovine Tuberculosis is a zoonotic disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. It is thought that the increasing prevalence in cattle is to be blamed on badgers transmitting the disease. The disease can take years to develop and there are few clinical signs e.g. lumps on the body, luckily it is unlikely that the whole herd will become infected. Cattle that are infected have to be slaughtered, in 2009, 25,000 were slaughtered; costing taxpayers £63 million, bovine TB is an expensive problem.

The government set up Randomised Badger Culling Trial for 9 years beginning 1998, the trials proved that culling badgers within affected areas saw a 16% decrease in cattle affected with TB. This then led to the decision to undergo science-led culls in the most affected areas particularly in the West and South-West, the plan was to eradicate 70% of badgers. Huge controversy was caused by the proposed plans to cull. Animal welfare groups set up an e petition so far gaining 160,000 signatures, in the hope for a debate in the House of Commons.

Recently this year in October 2012, the culls were announced to be postponed until summer 2013 as the ‘70% target cannot be met’ due to time, cost and also the recent hosting of the Olympics and Paralympics. This caused anger amongst farmers in TB endemic areas, but was a delight for animal welfare campaigners. It is said that there will be no change in the policy as there is still scientific reasoning for the culling to go ahead. It has been quoted by BVA president Peter Jones that ‘Scientists agree that culling badgers does reduce the levels of infection in cattle herds, and we know that no country has dealt with bovine TB without tackling the disease in wildlife.’ For example New Zealand had a similar TB issues with regards to the common bushtail possum.

RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant strongly disagrees with the culling and hopes that the postponement ‘marks an end to all cull plans’, he insists that ‘this is good news for badgers, cows, dairy farmers and animal lovers alike. Hopefully it marks the beginning of the end for these unscientific, foolish and cruel plans to cull badgers.’ On the other hand farmers are outraged by the recent news, although ‘the government is still committed to the policy’. One ‘angry dairy farmer, frustrated by bTB’ Phil Latham argues ‘That’ll be more diseased badgers, more cows with TB, more farming businesses/families/staff affected. Bigger problem! Is this good?’ Rob Wilcox also a dairy farmer added ‘The badger cull is being postponed; we’ll just keep culling cows instead then.’

The responses to the culling have caused yet again huge controversy in the farming world and within the animal welfare groups. There has been huge speculation about the cost of the culling and the bad news that this will bring for taxpayers. The question is, will this cause for further research in alternatives for eradicating TB e.g. vaccination for cattle and badgers, or will the culling carry on as planned?




Leptospirosis in Sea Lions

Georgie Holiday (Farm Vet News Editor)

Sea Lions, mother & pupLeptospirosis is the world’s most common zoonotic disease, spreading to humans when they come into contact with water contaminated with the urine of infected animals. The disease can affect a huge range of species, including dogs, mice, cows, sheep, rabbits and many more, but over the past several years it has been spreading throughout wild sea lion populations, causing irreversible kidney damage.

Spiral-shaped bacteria called Leptospira cause the disease and remain alive as longs as they stay moist, which is why they are so easily spread in urine. The disease was first documented in sea lions in the early 1970s, although it has become a major cause of death throughout the 2000s, with repeated epidemics occurring every few years.

Sea lions are often diagnosed with leptospirosis without any lab work. Because they are marine mammals, they rarely need to drink water- they get plenty of moisture from their food sources- but sea lions infected with Leptospirosis are usually observed drinking large amounts of water, and sometimes even sucking on sand to get as much water as they can out of it. This is because the Leptospira bacteria has infected their kidneys, making them unable to filter toxins and regulate their hydration, causing them to seek other ways to get water into their body.

In rare cases, when the disease is caught early enough, Leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics. Usually, however, it is fatal- it causes renal failure, which eventually leads to death.




Increase in case of horse neglect & abandonment

Pippa Lyon (Vet News Equine Editor)

Horse gallopingThe amount of horses being abandoned neglected or abused is on the rise with around 6000 horses at risk this winter. The number of horses in rescue centres has been increasing rapidly over the last 5 years and with all the centres full something needs to be done.

The RSPCA have released a crisis report seeking help from the government and public. The main causes for the increase are overbreeding and the current economic climate.

Irresponsible dealers are at the heart of the problem when it comes to the UK horse population, they are constantly breeding, buying and importing horses that no one wants to buy right now. They end up at markets where they can either end up sold at ridiculously low prices like £5 in homes that do not look after them, or sold to abattoirs as meat to be exported into Europe.

Horses are expensive animals to look after and require a lot of commitment, when the credit crunch hit many people were forced to cut back on veterinary costs, shelter and feed and some even chose to abandon their horses.  Its cases like this when they end up at equine charities such as redwings or RSPCA, Unfortunately they no longer have enough space to take in everyone.

Government agencies and equine charities are working together to improve laws and enforcement of horse movement and dealership in order to control the reckless breeding of some horse dealers.

Meanwhile, the charities believe that the public can play an important role in tackling the growing equine population by not breeding from their own horse and taking responsibility for their animals. The World Horse Welfare Society is urging members of the public to offer a home to a horse if suitable whether it is riding horse or a non-ridden companion.


MRCVS online (horse crisis report published)

RSPCA report (The approaching equine crisis in England and wales)



The Cost of Animal Disease – A quick summary of the IFAH report

Ilakiya Guruswamy (Vet News Small Animal Editor)

DollarThe International Federation for Animal Health (IFAH) has released a white paper entitled The Costs of Animal Disease. It highlights the socio-economic impacts of animal diseases that go much beyond the direct costs of the diseases themselves.

‘Human health and animal health are inextricable linked.’ The report highlights the recent outbreaks of swine flu, foot and mouth in cattle, and bird flu, and uses these as examples of the wide impact animal diseases can have on both the animal and human population.  As 61% of animal diseases are zoonotic, there is potential for many more pandemics.

However there has been much success with animal health control systems, and with private and public effort. The Rinderpest Virus has been eradicated (the second viral disease to be wiped out by humans – after Smallpox), foot and mouth and swine flu has been suppressed, and there is better control of avian diseases, such as Newcastle and IBD.

Having reached a point where many animal diseases are under control, it would be a mistake to conclude that further investments in disease monitoring and impact assessment is not needed. The costs of the diseases change as society evolves, and it is important to monitor these changes to be able to respond to outbreaks in a timely and proportionate manner.

The report illustrates the economic and social costs of animal diseases by examining:

  • A purely animal disease – foot and mouth disease
  • A disease that affects both animals and humans – rabies
  • A disease that affects animals and humans and can be spread through food – salmonellosis.



  • Visible losses. This includes animal deaths and illness or stunting that results from disease or subsequent control methods.
  • Invisible losses. This includes less immediate impacts of animal disease such as reduced fertility or changes in herd which result in the need to have a higher proportion of animals in a breeding group rather than production.


  • Mitigation and control costs. This includes the costs of drugs, vaccines, surveillance and labour needed to carry out control measures.
  • Human health impacts. This includes the costs that arise when animal diseases affect human populations such as treatment costs and losses in productivity due to illness or death.
  • Foregone revenues. This includes the indirect economic impacts of animal diseases resulting from curtailed market access, losses in consumer confidence, and knock-on effects on other sectors of the economy.


As with human diseases, there are difficulties in estimating the costs of animal disease globally as livestock product prices and productivity, and the costs of resources used for disease monitoring and control vary widely across countries and even across different regions within a country. Human health has partly navigated this problem by developing a unit known as a disability adjusted life year (DALY) which relates to the number of years of normal life lost either through early death or reduced ability to lead a normal life through being ill. No equivalent unit has been developed for livestock and there is a split of opinion about the need for such a unit. Economists would argue that, because animals are kept largely for production, costs of disease can be valued and priced through the market. On the other hand, veterinarians often feel that this is inadequate and that units need to be developed that both capture all impacts of disease and can overcome the challenges of disease impact assessment.