Category Archives: Vet News

Dr, Dr….. Does it make any difference?

In December 2014 the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in the UK launched a consultation with it’s members, of which I am one, on the subject of whether UK-trained vets should be able to use the courtesy title ‘Doctor/ Dr.’ The main reasons, it is proposed, are that there is the risk of confusion among the public about the level of qualification of vets given that many non-UK trained vets do routinely use the ‘Dr’ title whereas we do not, and that people incorrectly assume that someone going by the title of Dr is clearly far more qualified than a professional who does not. The second reason is simply one of aligning ourselves with our fellow professionals internationally, most of whom do work with the title of Dr, as do I now that I practice in the UAE.
The issue of whether or not vets should, or should even want to, be addressed by the title of Dr raises questions of what exactly the benefits of doing so are. Does it confer any benefits to the holder? Would it be expected to change the professional standing or day to day life of UK vets if they were to suddenly be entitled to introduce themselves as “Dr So-and-so”? This is where the real interest lays in my opinion. The initial, knee-jerk response to the question is “well, of course we should! We ARE doctors!” But we’re not. We’re surgeons, which is traditionally why we never adopted the title. Look at our colleagues in the medical profession who do tread the surgical career boardwalk. They cannot wait until they qualify as surgeons and are able to shed the ‘Dr’ prefix. There seems, apparently, to be a certain degree of prestige associated with NOT being a doctor. Strange.
On the subject of whether it really makes a difference to our clients I question how much, if any, it really does. If the title were restricted to practitioners of the clinical medical sciences then fair enough, although it would still not differentiate between dentists, medical doctors and vets, or indeed any other practitioner who might make use of the prefix. The fact is that you go to physically seek out the services of one of the aforementioned, which then provides the strong clue as to what brand of ‘Dr’ you are getting – it is a context-dependent differentiation. If people are really that confused and that bothered – which I daresay they are not – then surely we should be proposing to make it really obvious that they are in fact dealing with a vet by adopting the professional title ‘Vet’ instead of ‘Dr.’ It would leave very little doubt in the mind of a client that you were in fact a qualified vet if you started your interaction with “Hi, I’m Vet Chris” as opposed to “Hi, I’m Doctor Chris.” To be honest, the fact that they were standing in my consult room in a vet clinic, probably with a sick animal in tow, might mean they get it regardless of the title used. Then, of course, there are all of the other non-medical peeps who are entitled to band about the ‘Dr’ title on account of having completed a doctorate at university. PhD in Political Science? You’re a doctor. Completed a thesis in Financial Modelling? You too are a doctor. Now that’s confusing!
Has it made any difference to me as a vet being able to introduce myself as a doctor? Personally, no. There was perhaps some initial feeling of pride at being able to do so and some clients do seem to respond to me and my colleagues with a degree of deference and respect that could be attributable to the title but my gut instinct says that these same clients would behave politely regardless of whether I was a Mr or Dr. They’re just nice, polite people who respect us for the professionals we are. I still get my fair share of difficult and downright rude and dismissive clients regardless of being known by the ‘Dr’ title. I suspect that my experience would mirror that of any UK colleagues, doctors or not.
So, are we really that bothered with the idea of being able to refer to ourselves as doctors? Sure, it’s fun in a smug, lets impress people at social gatherings, kind of way for a short period of time but it soon becomes just another unimportant thing that ultimately makes zero meaningful difference to our day to day professional lives. I would thus suggest that there are other more important things that we as a profession, and the RCVS as our governing body, could be devoting their time, effort and our money towards. For example, addressing the ongoing issues surrounding breed-related problems in dogs, or putting their weight behind campaigning for a fair milk price, or even just working more on educating the general public about what it is our profession does and it’s worth to society. Whether we call ourselves doctor or otherwise is not going to make these other issues go away. I have completed the RCVS consultation survey and made my views known. It will be interesting to hear the collective thoughts of the profession and general public in March, when the survey closes.
If you would like to read more about the proposal and offer your own point of view then you can via the RCVS page here:

Vet News

NewspaperThis time of year is always super busy for prospective vets, with preparations for interviews in full swing. As such, many of our Vet News Editors have taken a bit of a sabbatical to focus on their interviews. We all wish them the best of luck and look forward to their articles next month. Having said this, one of our editors, Emma, has dug deep and in spite of preparing for an interview on Friday has written a great article on efforts to encourage farmers to scan their ewes.


Farmers encouraged to scan ewes

Emma Plowright (Farm News Editor)

lambsIn early lambing flocks in the Midlands and northern England, pregnancy tests have revealed greater than normal numbers of barren ewes. This has been a cause for concern among farmers with many worrying that Schmallenberg virus is responsible for the figures. Experts have however urged that farmers do not panic as there are many possible explanations.  

One of these is that the recent incredibly wet weather has led to compromised nutrition. Poor nutrition in sheep can lead to subfertility or infertility. Naturally, this means that a ewe is more likely to be barren.  Thinner ewes produce fewer eggs and are more likely to reabsorb an embryo if fertilisation does occur.

Liz Genever from EBLEX is encouraging farmers to scan their ewes 75-85 days after tupping. This way, if ewes are barren, there is still a time to tup again. She highlighted the fact that it is the length of the days which determines the ewes’ fertility. As we get deeper in to winter, the chances of getting ewes into lamb decreases.  She advises that up until mid-December, there is still a chance to get the barren ewes into lamb whilst after Christmas she believes it to be very unlikely. Where large numbers of ewes are not in lamb, there will be economic consequences for the farmers involved.

The normal barren rate on a sheep farm is around 4-5%. When farmers notice that rates are higher than this, Genever advises that they should contact their vet immediately. Blood tests can then be carried out to see if the ewes have been exposed to an abortion agent. In this way, the cause of the problem can be understood and approached appropriately. Toxoplasmosis, for example, is a major cause of early embryo loss in sheep and blood tests can confirm its presence in a flock.


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.


Vet News – What’s Occuring?

Vet NewsWe had a little break for a month – a summer holiday, if you like – but we’re now back with some interesting articles and happenings that should be of great interest to anyone preparing for vet school interviews, or just wishing to explore what is topical in the world of animals right now.

As usual, our super team of Vet News Editors have delved into the top topics this month and have brought you the most interesting selection of news titbits and general interest articles to get your teeth into. As ever, enjoy!



Foot and Mouth Disease

Els de Vrijer (Vet News Farm Editor)




Two-day ruptured vesicle on a steer with FMD

Farmers all over the U.K. have been urged to “not be complacent” as a Middle Eastern Foot and Mouth outbreak has spread closer to Europe. The disease broke out in Egypt and Libya in February this year, and has now been reported to have spread to the Gaza Strip, right on the border of Egypt. Jef Hammond, head of the Foot and Mouth Disease World Reference Laboratory stated it was only a “small step” from Turkey; a country which would provide the disease with a gateway into Europe.

FMD lesions on the feet of a pig

The disease is caused by a virus, of which there are seven types. This particular strain, the SAT-2 strain, is usually found in sub-Saharan African countries, and is new to Egypt. This means the livestock there have absolutely no immunity. There are few routine quarantine regulations in African countries, meaning that the disease spreads rapidly; for many already poor farmers in Africa it has been devastating, as the only method of foot and mouth prevention is slaughter.

The United Kingdom suffered from outbreaks in 2001 and 2007, which resulted in devastating losses for farmers across the country. This acute infectious disease is easily spread, from fluid in the blisters that is causes, through saliva, milk, faeces and blood as well as through the air. Clinical signs are blisters around the mouth, loss of appetite and milk yield as a result, and foot pain or sudden lameness.



Further spread of SBV predicted as virus is confirmed to have survived the winter

Emma Plowright (Vet News Farm Editor)

lambsCome lambing season last year, the newly emerged Schmallenberg virus was in the veterinary limelight as farms across east and south Britain were affected. The RVC have now confirmed that the midge borne virus has survived the winter. With warmer weather approaching, it is predicted that the number of midges will rise, leading to more widespread incidence of the disease throughout the rest of the UK.

At the RVC, tests were carried out on approximately 150 cattle and 1000 sheep. These tested for antibodies against the virus which, if present, indicated a previous infection. Between March and June 2012, animals which had previously tested negative now tested positive. This showed that the virus had over-wintered and is circulating again.  Around 3% of the animals tested positive. When the tests were carried out again at a later stage, the numbers were found to have increased further.

Professor Peter Mertens, leader of the IAH vector-borne disease programme predicted that the spread of the disease would start from about now and stated that he saw “no reason why it couldn’t spread to most of the country this year”.  What are the dangers of this? The virus causes mild/moderate symptoms (reduced milk yield, weight loss, fever and diarrhoea) in adult cattle, is not fatal and causes no known long term problems. More seriously, it can also lead to deformed offspring, abortion late in pregnancy and still births in sheep, cows and goats. Lambs born with such deformities are killed. Naturally, this is of greater concern to farmers. Although the disease is currently considered ‘low impact’ and low risk to humans, it could have a devastating effect on individual farmers’ incomes.

A vaccine has been developed and should be available in around four months’ time. However the UK Breeding season is now approaching (most sheep will be mated between October and December). The 30 day period after conception is the time when a ewe is most likely to contract the virus. A period of 3-6 weeks is also exists between vaccination and developing immunity. As the vast majority of ewes will be served before the vaccine is released, or before they have developed immunity, they will not be protected against the disease this breeding/lambing season.

Until an affected lamb is born, it is not possible to diagnose SBV in sheep but as the 2012/13 lambing season progresses it will become clear to what extent farms further north have been hit by the virus. John Fishwick, past president of the BCVA, is encouraging Vets to reassure farmers not to panic and be ‘taken over by speculation’. He stated that he doesn’t believe SBV will ‘be the next mad cow disease’. With reference to the midge borne bluetongue virus, which had a huge effect in 2007, Martens commented that SBV is ‘”still serious, but it is not as bad as that”.



Paratuberculosis/ Johne’s Disease

Georgie Holiday (Vet News Farm Editor)

CowJohne’s disease, or paratuberculosis, is caused by an infection of Mycobacterium paratuberculosis in the ileum of mammals with four stomachs, called ruminants. It is chronic, emaciating, contagious and often fatal.

In order to become immune to pathogens that it encounters regularly, a ruminant has cells in its ileum which pass antigens through macrophages and lymphocytes in order to form the correct antibodies. However, when Mycobacterium paratuberculosis is moved through these cells and engulfed by macrophages, it begins to multiply and eventually kills the macrophage and spreads to the surrounding area. This growing infection causes the mammal’s immune system to release more macrophages and lymphocytes into the area, which thickens the lining of the intestine and causes insufficient nutrient absorption and diarrhea. If they cannot fight the infection off, animals will eventually become emaciated and die.

The mortality rate of paratuberculosis is only 1%. However, it is still a great threat to herds because any animals that are infected, even if asymptomatic, can easily infect others, so the disease spreads very quickly to a large number of animals. When it infects production herds, it causes a decrease in milk production- even if the individual shows no other symptoms.

Paratuberculosis is a large problem for zoos and safari parks because it can infect deer, camels, antelopes and many other wild species. Due to the long incubation time of the disease, infected animals can be moved from herd to herd, carrying M. paratuberculosis with them, for a long time before any symptoms are noticed or a diagnosis is made. Because of this, zoos worldwide have introduced much stricter rules for transference of susceptible species, such as regular screening and long periods of quarantine.


Are Cows Paying for Cut Cost Milk?

Hannah Johnstone (Vet News Farm Editor)

Up and down the UK dairy farmers are feeling the harsh reality of a sudden cut in milk prices. The average pint was around 49p with a mere 16p going to farmers themselves, but with price cuts ranging from anything up to 5p less per litre, farmers are bound to struggle.

The government have said they want a ‘fair deal’ for dairy farmers, yet four of the main dairy processors are declaring the latest milk cuts. One including Robert Wiseman Dairies, who state they cut their prices due to “a collapse in the value of cream in each litre of farm–gate milk over the last 12 months”. Luckily not all processors are impacting 27% of farmers; dairy farmers supplying leading supermarkets (e.g. Tesco’s) are not affected as they are paid directly.

Whilst the average number of farmers “pushed to the brink” continues to rise, it is thought that their 150,200 dairy cows will also be affected. This is a huge problem as far as the RSPCA are concerned. They believe that the milk cuts will affect dairy cow welfare; therefore urging shoppers to avoid buying “cut-cost milk”, as after all milk prices are likely to be linked to production costs. Deputy Head of the farm animal science team in the RSPCA and also a former dairy herdsman, John Avizienius stated, “Although a drop in cost of milk and cheap deals might seem like great news for shoppers we are concerned that ultimately it will be cows which will pay the price.” He went on to say how “Farmers cannot produce milk at a loss, it’s simply not sustainable, they cannot survive like that.” Mr Avizienius ridiculed the idea that “milk is cheaper than bottled water at some supermarkets”. Continuous protests from farmers and unions have shown the impact the issue is having on both farmers and the welfare of their cows, surely shoppers may accept paying a few more pence “if it safeguarded dairy cow welfare”.

On a recent open day to Nottingham vet school, I visited their dairy unit, to witness the robotic milking technique used. Having a herd of 200 dairy cows averaging 11,700 litres, the herd is ranked in the top 5% of the UK. Due to expenses the robotic milking machines are found in few dairy units in the UK. But in the near future could this be the solution to sustainable farming or will it just add upon dairy farmers’ problems?




Ragwort: The Dangers

Pippa Lyons, Vet News, Horse EditorPippa Lyon (Vet News Equine Editor)




Ragwort is a commonly found weed in the UK. It is potentially deadly to animals especially horses and cattle. During the British horse society ragwort awareness week in July the survey identified 20,781 horses grazing either on, or within 50 metres of, fields containing ragwort. Every year animals die painful and unnecessary deaths from damage to their liver from eating Ragwort. The danger that the plant poses is widely known, yet levels in the UK continue to rise.

Horses in a paddock with ragwort, a real dangerAll parts of the ragwort plant are poisonous, including the seeds. Even after the plant dies it remains poisonous, so it can contaminate a batch of hay or haylage. The toxin found in ragwort is absorbed by the intestines and is then transported to the liver where it acts on the liver cells and prevents normal cell division. The liver can still function normally until two thirds has been destroyed. Once this stage is reached, clinical signs begin to appear in a variety of forms.

Many horses will show signs of chronic weight loss, diarrhoea, weakness, general debilitation and jaundice. Unfortunately there is nothing that can be done other than treat the horse’s symptoms.

Ragwort poisoning is very easy to prevent with thorough management of pasture. Ragwort should be completely removed including the root and carefully disposed of.



‘Colour Prejudice’

Ilakiya Guruswamy (Vet News Dog & Cat Editor)

“The more we understand about genetics, the more difficult it is to defend some breed standards’ colour rulings…”

This is the opening line of an article written by journalist Jemima Harrison, best known for her documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, a BBC1 film that brought to light the shocking health and welfare problems in pedigree dogs.  The article explores the problems that arise when breed standards that were drawn up before coat colour genetics was properly understood are still enforced today.


A very brief version of ‘Colour Prejudice’ by Jemima Harrison, published in Dogs Today, Aug 2012

The Kennel Club has strict rules on coat colours that specific breeds can have. In some cases, this works out for the best, as some colours are linked with health problems, and because some colours arise due to ‘under-the-table’ crosses with another breed.  However, in most cases it is irrational colour prejudice, or in the words of Ms. Harrison, ‘doggie racism.’

The main issue concerning coat colour at the moment is with brindle Salukis. There are speculations that brindle Salukis are mutts, and are most likely a cross with a Greyhound, Lurcher, or other sighthound. There is even talk that the brindle colouring originally came from Bulldogs, and that these Salukis may have completely the wrong-shaped bones as a result. There is no evidence to support these claims.

A scientific report commissioned by the American Saluki Club last year has concluded that there have always been brindle Salukis in the Middle East/Asia, and it is likely that the dogs imported into the UK that formed the founding stock of the breed also contained brindle.  This controversy started when a Saluki bred in the UK was imported to Australia and gave birth to brindle pups. A descendant of this line, also brindle, went on to win a big show in 2010 in the US under American Kennel Club rules. The colour is not disallowed in the US by the AKC, but in the UK, it is categorized as ‘highly undesirable.’ Hence there are no known bridle Salukis registered as KC stock.

Some genes that code for colour are associated with health problems. Too much white, particularly on a dog’s head, is linked to an increased risk of deafness- although this does seem to vary from breed to breed. The reason white dogs suffer is because of the role pigment plays in the development of the auditory system. The Dalmation has a high rate of deafness as it is, essentially, a white dog, and large patches of colour which could help reduce deafness (such as a patch on the ear), are considered a fault.

A condition called Colour Dilution Alopecia (CDA) –or ‘blue dog syndrome’- can lead to hair loss and skin problems. It’s caused by the gene that dilutes the base colours of black or brown, to produce blue and lilac dogs.  If two merle dogs are bred together, there is a risk that the puppies will be born deaf or with severe eye abnormalities- including no eyes at all. And yet merle is a popular colour with breeds such as Shelties, Smooth, Rough and Border Collies, and Australian Shepherd. Some breeders even risk merle to merle matings to ensure merle pups, almost inevitably resulting in some of the litter being deaf or blind.

The colour rulings seem completely inconsistent and illogical, with working-line Bearded Collies carrying the merle gene being prevented from registering as KC stock, and with only solid black, solid brown, or black and white Newfoundlands being acceptable, whereas brown and white Newfoundlands, which have no health risks associated with their colour, are banned.


And now something a little fun….

The cow that blogs? I’ve never heard of herbivore.

Emma Plowright (Vet News Farm Editor)

Missed out on dairy work experience? You could still get an insight into dairy farming and the issues that farmers are faced with. Lady Shamrock, a dairy cow from Leicester, has been cleverly QR coded by her owner in an attempt to increase young people’s interest in and awareness of dairy farming. When the code is scanned on a smart phone, it directs the reader to a website which contains the cow’s blog, explains the daily routines of a dairy cow and provides lots of information about British dairy farming. Since the code was painted on, visits to the site have rocketed by 150%.

Lady shamrock’s blog is available here:

Computer literate cow

Vet News – Your Monthly Digest

Vet NewsSo, what has caught the eyes of our intrepid veterinary reporters this month? They have taken time out from their hectic schedules of revision, exams and preparing applications for vet school to scour the veterinary press and bring you a bite-sized, easily digestible account of some of the interesting stories of interest to vets in June.

We like to think that you’re finding this feature helpful, interesting and also fun, so feel free to let us know here or on our Facebook page.

Right, over to our Vet News Editors, including a couple of new names to add to the growing roster of awesomeness that is the Vet News Editors team.

Your Editors:

Hannah Johnstone (FARM)

ElsdeVrijer_Vet News Farm EditorEls de Vrijer (FARM) – “Hi everyone, my name is Els, I’m 17 years old, and am hoping to apply for Vet School this September. I live in Norfolk and I’ve spent several weeks seeing large animal practice. It is definitely the most exciting but also challenging type of veterinary work, and certainly one which is constantly in the news. My favorite type of farm work is lambing, and the first lamb I ever brought to this world had the Schmallenberg virus, which was very eye-opening. I am a keen horse rider but also love walking my Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, called ‘Mac’ on the beach.”
Emma Plowright (FARM)
Pippa Lyons, Vet News, Horse EditorPippa Lyon (HORSES) – “I’m 17 years of age and live in London. I own a horse, rescue dog and chickens. When I am not writing for Vet News I enjoy horse riding and listening to music.”
Georgie Holiday (ZOO & EXOTICS)

Ilakiya Guruswamy (CATS & DOGS) – “Just someone who after going through phases of wanting to be a crocodile, Eliza Thornberry, a member of the Bomb Disposal Unit, an X-(wo)man, and an alpaca farmer, has decided to try and pursue a career in Veterinary Medicine.”


Badger culls in the West of England: will they go ahead?

Els de Vrijer (Vet News Editor, Farm)

badgerLast month, environment secretary Caroline Spelman stated she was still “reasonably confident” that the two proposed pilot badger culls, planned for this autumn, would still go ahead, despite legal action taken against the government’s plans by The Badger Trust. The government has introduced the scheme in an attempt to kick start the eradication of bovine tuberculosis in England. The pilot scheme will allow farmers in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset to cull any badgers crossing their land.

These plans have come under speculation following the failure of a similar scheme in Wales, where a planned cull in Pembrokeshire was withdrawn following widespread opposition from members of the public. Sadly there is still a constant battle between farmers and wildlife lovers all over the U.K; 2010 saw the forced slaughter of over 25,000 cattle – some carriers, but many “at risk” – clearly a devastating loss for many cattle farmers. Recently, there have been several anti-cull protests in West Gloucestershire, even with celebrities getting involved, such as Brian May, from the band “Queen”. He believes, like the Welsh government, that vaccination against bTB is a definite option, but others, like DEFRA, state that useable vaccines for the disease are “years away”. The Welsh government science advisor recently resigned after the Welsh government reversed their plans for the badger cull, as he felt he “wasn’t confident” that a vaccination programme would be successful.

There is no research yet which is extensive enough to provide a clear answer to the divided opinion about the management and treatment of bovine tuberculosis, but the government hopes that the pilot culls will give clear answers about the extent to which badgers are responsible for transmission of it. What is currently unknown is whether the judicial review of the environment secretary’s decision will lead to a halt to the plans, or whether thousands of farmers and the veterinary profession will finally get some answers to this very serious animal health issue.


Liver Fluke in Cattle

Emma Plowright (Vet News Editor, Farm)

CowLiver fluke is common in the UK but recent figures from the food standards agency have revealed a trend : the number of cases continues to rise year after year. Although this increase was just half a per cent between 2010 and 2011, the number is three times what it was in 2001.

Fasciola hepatica is the parasite responsible for the disease. In the liver of the host, it produces eggs which are passed out in the host’s faeces. These then hatch into larvae which infect a certain type snail and develop into cercaria. These leave the snail and move out on to the grass, where they remain. They are then easily ingested by grazing cattle and the cycle begins again. Infestation with fluke has many negative effects including loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss, poor milk yield and greater susceptibility to other infection. As a result, the disease leads to decreased profits for farmers. If the number of cases continues to follow the same pattern, the effect on the farming industry will be even greater.

The wetter than average weather during April may have contributed to a recent increase in the number of snails, and therefore cases of the disease, but the figures clearly show a more general increase over the past 10 years.

Money over Welfare

Hannah Johnstone (Vet News Editor, Farm)

Everyone loves to win, but when farmers carry out udder gluing in a bid to win, people are beginning to question whether this is just taking things too far, after all farmers are supposed to have a duty of care with regard to their animals.

Udder gluing is when farmers pump gas into a cows udder before sealing with superglue, this supposedly creates a ‘full’ udder illusion as milk and gas is unable to escape. When showing cows at auction the full udder is now a well-known attribute and criteria that the cows must meet. A champion can fetch up to £100,000 meaning competition is growing at a ferocious rate however the welfare of animals is decreasing as a result. It is thought that the cows are being left in this state for up to 24 hours and it has been proven to cause severe pain and discomfort to these ‘prize’ cows. Government deputy chief vet, Alick Simmons stated: “This practice is totally unacceptable and has serious welfare implications for the animals. Farmers clearly have a duty of care for their animals but vets, too, need to make sure that they take action where they see this practice taking place.”

Due to numerous complaints the RSPCA are now involved with this growing issue and animals entered into auctions will now be checked over for any signs of artificial inflation. As well as the RSPCA the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are also involved and will be acting against any breaches of the new welfare laws, anyone proved guilty will be imprisoned for up to six months or fined up to £5,000 and banned from keeping animals. Although no one has yet been prosecuted The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmer (RABDF) implemented a rule banning the sealing of teats at a show in Birmingham last September.

British Veterinary Association (BVA) president Carl Padgett quoted: “in order to prevent the pumping it will require a change of mind set”, he also questioned “why cows have to show huge udders to be champions.” Carl Padgett is currently arranging meetings with breeders and show organisers in order to discuss the possibility of ultrasound scanning the cows entered into each show. Many different people and organisations are now recognising this as a “serious problem” as described by farm vet David Martin after a BVA conference.

Udder gluing is an issue that originated from America and previous attempts have been made to prevent it, this disturbing practice is on a growing increase and something needs to be done sooner rather than later to save animals suffering. It is a topic that has caused masses of controversy throughout the farming community.



Pippa Lyon (Vet News Editor, Horses)

HorsesSummer has finally arrived, and the sunny weather combined with A LOT of rain has led to lush green grass growing in pasture all around Britain. This has triggered a sharp rise in the laminitis cases.

Laminitis is a painful disease which affects horses’ feet causing severe lameness and if left untreated can be fatal. Unfortunately, no one is sure on the cause of laminitis, but high intake of sugar and starch in grass, stress and obesity are all thought to be linked. There are two main types of laminitis in horses:

Acute laminitis
A horse may suddenly develop symptoms such as not being able to walk or stand up; they will be visibly lame and will commonly stand with the weight on the back feet to remove pressure from the front.

Chronic laminitis
This generally occurs when the horse has previously had the disease and is showing on-going symptoms. If left, it can cause the pedal bone to rotate in the hoof leading to permanent damage.

Both types of laminitis are considered serious and vets may bandage frog supports onto the hooves to reduce pressure as well as administering pain relief. In bad cases, X-rays may be taken and vets must work with farriers to provide shoes to try and realign the pedal bone.

As with many diseases prevention is better than cure and horse owners should be encouraged to monitor their horse’s diets and restrict grazing if necessary.


Illegal Pet Trade Could Lead to Extinction

Georgie Holiday (Vet News Editor, Zoo & Exotics)

The illegal pet trade has been a problem in animal conservation for hundreds of years, having been a reason for the loss of countless animal species in the wild.

LorisRecently, the International Animal Rescue (or IAR) has been focussing efforts to bring an end to the trading of a particular animal- the loris.

What is a loris? Relatives of lemurs and bush-babies, lorises are mammals found in the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia. There are countless laws protecting the lorises- with fines of $10,000 and even prison sentences- but, despite this, the poaching of the animals for illegal trade has boomed over the past decade.

Lorises are venomous, so you wouldn’t initially think they would make great pets. However, the hunters use clippers or pliers to cut out the poisonous teeth, leading to trauma and even death. This also means that the lorises cannot feed themselves if they are ever reintroduced into the wild.

Two years ago, two hunted lorises which still had their teeth were rescued by the IAR and had radio collars fitted before they were released. Today the lorises can still be traced and have found to be sleeping with wild lorises and grooming each other, proving the success of rehabilitation if the teeth are still intact. However, it is estimated that 76% of the lorises in captivity are not this lucky.

The IAR have launched a social awareness campaign which outlines the dangers and problems locals are causing by buying the animals at the market- namely, the likely extinction of lorises in the wild. Since 2011, this campaign has entered local media and is definitely raising awareness, although the market still exists and thrives.

Managing Pain in Cats

(Summary of the article ‘Clinical use of methadone in cats, Part One’, published in the May 14th issue of the Veterinary Times)

Ilakiya Guruswamy (Vet News Editor, Cats & Dogs)

CatSeveral surveys indicate that pain in cats has been largely under-treated in clinical practice throughout Europe, compared to dogs. There are several reasons for this;
· Difficulty in actually recognising pain
· A lack of licensed analgesic drugs
· A concern about the side effects of commonly used analgesic drugs
· A lack of information specific to cats
· Difficulty in medicating cats

The reasons for treating pain involve not only ethical issues, but also the fact that left untreated, pain can cause several pathophysiological disorders. In humans, it is understood that the consequences of these disorders can delay recovery from surgery, and increase the risk of postoperative complications. The pain can cause changes in the sensory processing in the central and peripheral nervous systems, which can be identified by the occurrence of primary and secondary hyperalgesia [an increased response to a painful stimulus], allodynia [a painful response to a normally harmless stimulus], and spontaneous pain. Once these changes in sensory processing take place, it is much more difficult to manage the pain effectively.

Drugs known as opioids, are known as the most effective pain killers in humans, and for cats. In the past, practitioners have been reluctant to use opoids in cats, for fear of opoid-induced excitement, or ‘opoid-mania’. This is a misconception based on very old data, which relate to the administration of very high doses of morphine, a magnitude higher than clinically recommended doses in cats.

Opoids form the backbone of preoperative analgesia regimens in cats. With the appropriate use of the drugs, euphoria in cats is produced, with a lot of purring, rolling, rubbing, and kneading with forepaws. Opoids also increase the effects of sedatives (acepromazine, alpha2-agonists, and benzodiazephines), allowing the use of lower doses of sedatives prior to surgery.

Vet News – introducing some of our editors

NewspaperIt is difficult keeping up to date with everything that is topical and of relevance within the animal and veterinary sector, especially in this information-dense age in which we live. Its even harder when you’re trying to keep on top of it all and juggle exams, work experience placements and apply to vet school. That’s where the idea for Vet News came about and the role of Vet News Editors. These young writers-extraordinaire are committed to reviewing the news and to bringing you the very best, most interesting and relevant content each month so that you can remain informed without having to wade through the jungle of info out there. So, without further ado, our very first ‘My Foot In The Door’ Vet News Editors, complete with a short example of their fine work, are:

Pippa Lyon (Horses/ Equine News)

Another year, Another Grand National and after the deaths of two horses on the 4.5 mile steeplechase last year, Aintree introduced a series of new measures to improve the safety of this controversial race. The world famous Grand National has always been known for the challenge it provides for both horse and rider and is no doubt a thrilling spectacle to watch, however over the years its gained a dangerous reputation with rarely over half of the 40 that start the race, crossing the finish line.

This year Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Synchronised fell jumping the formidable Becher’s Brook on the first circuit and then negotiated several more fences before suffering a broken leg. According To Pete was brought down at Becher’s second time round and also had to be euthanized. The drop from iconic Becher’s brooke had been lowered this year but was still a huge 6ft 9ins. Pressure to remove some of these “killer fences” has led to further evaluation of the course and Aintree will be working this year to achieve the right balance of maintaining the highest standards of safety for the horses and participants yet keeping the excitement that the race provides for fans.

We await next year’s National too see if they’ve finally got it right.

Georgie Holliday (Zoo & Exotics News)

Vets at the Royal Veterinary College have become the first team in the UK to successfully remove the pituitary gland of a cat in order to treat feline acromegaly.

Acromegaly is a condition in which the pituitary gland secretes excess growth hormones, leading to slow growing tumours, which can grow for long periods of time before showing
clinical signs. The increased levels of growth hormones can also affect sugar and lipid metabolism and lead to diabetes mellitus. Although the surgical removal of the pituitary gland (or hypophysectomy, to give it its technical name) is a commonplace procedure in humans, the main option available to cats before now has been radiation therapy, which aims to kill the cells producing the excess hormones. The leader of the team, Stijn Niessen, said “The alternative treatment method of radiation therapy might well take too long to take effect and devastating neurological signs might occur due to the pressure
of the pituitary tumour on the surrounding brain. In such cases, hypophysectomy can make an instant difference in relieving that pressure.”

The technique could also be used for many other illnesses, such as Cushing’s disease (a
disease in which the pituitary gland releases too much adrenocorticotropic hormone) and non-functional pituitary tumours.

Ilakiya Guruswamy (Cat & Dog News)

An article was published recently on the MRCVS website highlighting the surge in the popularity of the Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgi. The Kennel Club’s Find a Puppy website has reported that since the start of the year, 8514 people have searched Corgi puppies, a rise of 37% for the Pembroke, and 59% for the Cardigan. This rise in popularity is thought to have been caused by the increased publicity of the royal family, in preparation for the Diamond Jubilee, as it has become well known that Corgis are HM the Queen’s favourite breed. All in all, this sounds great, as Corgis have been on the list of Native Vulnerable Breeds, and the Diamond Jubilee has raised awareness of them. However, reading this article brought to mind another article written years ago about the soaring rat sales after the release of the Pixar animation ‘Ratatouille’. The outcome was predictable. Rats were bought and after realising they are not all as cuddly as they seemed on the big screen, or as easy to look after, many were abandoned.

“This wouldn’t be the first time that Disney’s knack for cuddly anthropomorphism has created a glut of unwanted pets in the real world. When a live-action version of “101 Dalmations” was released in 1996, sales of the film’s namesake dog breed increased dramatically. But, the dogs’ sometimes testy temperament landed many of them back in animal shelters. And in 2003, Pixar’s animated film “Finding Nemo” caused a similar run on clown fish.”
-‘Rat Fad’ SpeigelOnline 11/13/2007

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is of course, in no way near the same league as Disney films, but anything in the media that causes hype, and an animal to become ‘fashionable’, should be treated with some caution. All of this makes publicity for animals sound like a bad thing, but it doesn’t have to be, if the husbandry required for said animal also gets the same publicity. And this is where vets come in.

Congratulations to our new Vet News Editors and I personally look forward to working with them to bring you interesting vetty news. If you are interested in becoming a Vet News Editor yourself then you can contact us via the My Foot In The Door website.