We 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)
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.
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)
Come 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)
Johne’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
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.
All 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.
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: http://www.thisisdairyfarming.com/news-and-press/news/lady-shamrock.aspx