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Simply bred: could global exchange of cryopreserved canine semen be preventing genetic isolation of populations?

20 Nov, 14 | by Assistant Editor

 

New research suggests that the global exchange of frozen semen from dogs of registered breeds may be reducing genetic divergence between geographically distant dog populations. The study, published in Veterinary Record, looked at similarities between groups of dogs in South Africa and the UK. 

 

According to rules set out by the Kennel Club in the UK (KCUK) and the Kennel Union of Southern Africa (KUSA), for a dog to be registered as a recognised breed, it must have five generations of ancestors of the same breed. Regulations such as this create a genetic barrier, limiting the number of genes that cross between breeds and reducing genetic diversity within breeds.

In a study published last year, Mellanby and others found that, in the UK, rottweilers, boxers and German shepherd dogs had the highest levels of inbreeding of the breeds studied. Labrador retrievers and border collies had lower levels of inbreeding (although genetic analysis showed that inbreeding was still present in these breeds). They also assessed a population of Jack Russell terriers, which are not recognised as a breed by KCUK, although they are by KUSA. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this non KCUK-registered population had the highest levels of genetic diversity in the study.

 

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Jack Russell terriers are not recognised as a breed by the UK Kennel Club, but they are by the Kennel Union of South Africa

While each individual breed is genetically distinct, it was not known whether dogs of a particular breed in one country differed genetically from those in another. If boxer breeders in the UK tended only to breed from UK stock, it would be expected that this population would begin to genetically diverge from boxers in other countries. In other words, is a collie from Cape Town similar to one from Carlisle? Do the genes of a dobermann in Durban resemble those of one in Durham? These were some of the questions that an international team of researchers from institutions in the UK and South Africa sought to answer in a recent study published in Veterinary Record.

‘We had found that different dog breeds had different levels of genetic variation,’ says Kim Summers, one of the authors of the study. ‘We also knew that there were restrictions about importing animals into some countries, so we wanted to find out whether this meant that dogs of the same breed in two countries had started to diverge genetically’.

DNA material was obtained from German shepherd dogs, labrador retrievers and Jack Russell terriers that were brought to the University of Pretoria veterinary clinic in South Africa. The DNA was analysed and compared with that of DNA from UK dogs that had been analysed in a previous study.

The study yielded several interesting results. First, a coincidental finding was that many dogs thought to be purebred were actually of mixed breed origins. While these misclassified dogs had the physical traits of the breed they were classified as, in-depth genetic analysis showed that almost a third (four out of 14) of the South African labrador retrievers and one of 26 German shepherd dogs actually had mixed breed ancestry. Several of the South African dogs studied were also found to have had one parent from the registered breed and another that was a mixed breed

‘Most studies in the past have used only pedigree dogs registered with a breed association,’ said Prof Summers. ‘We were interested in how well the breed could be identified by looking at the dog, because correct identification of breed is important for knowing which genetic variants might be important in diseases the dog may have.’

Perhaps even more surprisingly, population analysis revealed that within each breed, dogs were remarkably similar regardless of the country.

 

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A boxer dog. Boxers are a registered breed in both the UK and Southern Africa

 

‘We found that our genetic markers could not distinguish dogs of one breed based on their country of origin,’ Prof Summers explains. ‘So there was a genetic signature for labrador retrievers that was the same in South Africa as in the UK.’ 

The fact that dogs in the UK were found to be similar to dogs of the same breed half way across the world is puzzling. This would indicate that there is a reasonable amount of genetic admixture between dogs of the same breed. One way that this could occur, the authors suggest, is through the use of cryopreserved canine semen for artificial insemination. This has been available to dog breeders for some 50 years and it is now possible for semen to be frozen and transported long distances before being used in breeding. This worldwide exchange of genetic material could be preventing genetic isolation from occurring within breeds, despite vast geographical distances.

‘Breed associations and breeders are very concerned with the health of their breed’, said Prof Summers. ‘Encouraging the use of a wide range of sires and reducing matings between relatives will maximise genetic diversity and ensure that breeds are similar and healthy across the world.’

 

Researchers investigate what really goes on in small animal consultations

5 Nov, 14 | by Assistant Editor

 

New open access research published in Veterinary Record indicates that almost half of veterinary consultations last longer than the 10 minutes allocated and that preventive medicine consultations last just as long as consultations for a specific health problem. The results raise issues to do with practice management, as well as the importance of educating veterinary students about comorbidities. 

 

Consultations are a major part of small animal practice, with small animal vets often meeting a large number of clients and patients each day. Generally speaking, 10 minutes is allocated for each consultation, but the amount of time required to address all of the client’s concerns can often exceed 10 minutes. Furthermore, consultations are often complex interactions in which a wide range of potential health problems are discussed.

In human medicine, large amounts of research has been conducted into the nitty gritty of how consultations work and the types of issues that are discussed. This has shown that more lengthy consultations tend to lead to more issues being discussed and better detection and management of certain conditions. However, until now, veterinary consultations have been less well understood.

A group of researchers at the University of Nottingham recently sought to fill these knowledge gaps by conducting some in-depth research into small animal consultations in the UK. They wanted not only to better understand how long consultations last and what happens during a consultation, but also to develop a tool that would make it easy to analyse veterinary consultations in depth. Their results are reported in two articles recently published in Veterinary Record (found here and here), both of which are open access.

Natalie Robinson, one of the authors of the studies, explains the idea behind them.

‘When the Centre for Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine was first set up at the University of Nottingham, one of our first questions was “What should our research priorities be?”’, she said. ‘We needed to make sure our research was relevant to first-opinion practitioners, so examining the veterinary caseload to determine what practitioners see and do every day was the first logical step. By examining consultations in greater depth, we can start to identify the important decision-making points during the consultation. This will allow us to generate new evidence which can support veterinary decision-making and hopefully lead to improved patient care.’

Eight small animal practices in England and Scotland took part in the study. The team observed a large number of consultations in detail, and recorded what they saw using a specially developed tool.

 

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The research showed that small animal consultations often ran over the allocated 10 minutes

 

Timings

One of the studies assessed how long consultations tended to last. The researchers timed 182 consultations involving 203 animals in two of the participating practices in England.

They found that there was a huge range in the length of consultations. The shortest consultation observed lasted for just 51 seconds, while the longest lasted for 36 minutes and 45 seconds. Almost half (48 per cent) of consultations exceeded the 10 minutes allocated. Perhaps unsurprisingly, consultations in which more problems were discussed, or which involved more patients, tended to last longer.

‘One of the things that surprised us is that preventive medicine consultations lasted just as long as consultations for a specific health problem’, said Dr Robinson. ‘Preventive medicine consultations are often seen as “quick and easy” but the results would suggest that this is not necessarily the case. In fact it would appear that preventive medicine consultations may be even more complex than other types of consultations, with even more problems discussed, and so are an important part of the healthcare of our pets.’

 

Looking at consultations in more detail

In another part of the study, a total of 1720 consultations (involving 1901 patients) were recorded and analysed. The results make interesting reading.

The first key finding was that a total of 4486 problems were discussed for the 1901 patients, an average of 2.4 problems per patient. In almost two-thirds of consultations, more than one problem was discussed. The highest number of problems discussed in one session was eight.

‘Interestingly, fewer problems were discussed for rabbits than for cats or dogs,’ said Dr Robinson. ‘While there could be a range of reasons for this finding, it could be that vets and owners are less familiar with identifying health problems in this species. Previous work within our group has suggested that vets feel there is less information available for rabbits than for dogs or cats, so it could be that rabbit medicine is an important area for the generation of new evidence.’ The previous study she refers to was published in Veterinary Record earlier this year.

 

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In almost two-thirds of consultations, more than one problem was discussed. The highest number of problems discussed in one session was eight.

 

More health problems were also discussed in consultations involving older animals, while when younger animals were presented, preventive medicine was more likely to be discussed.

While the results answer some questions, they also raise others. For example, if consultation length varies so widely, should vets begin to offer different types of appointments? The authors suggest that practices could set up geriatric clinics specifically aimed at older animals in which appointments are longer, ensuring enough time for all problems to be discussed.

They also note that the findings could have implications for veterinary education, as they show that comorbidities are common and consultations can be complex.

‘We need to make sure that training in consultation skills adequately prepares veterinary undergraduates for the realities of first-opinion practice,’ said Dr Robinson. ‘The findings suggest that first-opinion consultations often involve dealing with multiple problems and comorbidities within a single consultation, meaning the decision-making process is often complex.’

‘Ultimately, we need more evidence to support decision-making in patients with comorbidities, which will benefit not only undergraduate education, but also the wider veterinary profession and the patients they treat.’

 

Land of open glory: widening access to veterinary research

24 Oct, 14 | by Assistant Editor

 

This week saw the eighth annual Open Access Week, in which academics and researchers from around the world shared expertise on open access publishing while campaigning for it to become the norm.

Since its inception in the 1990s, the online open access movement has made significant headway. There are now hundreds of fully open access journals (including Veterinary Record Open), the contents of which are absolutely free.

Print journals have also seen a significant change; nowadays, many academic journals are ‘hybrid’, offering both subscription and open access options. Veterinary Record falls into this category and has published a range of influential open access articles this year alone, including a review of TB vaccination and a study of antibiotic use in animals across Europe.

Open access publishing has been shown to increase the impact of research. Studies (for example, here, here and here) have shown that open access research is cited more often. Advocates of open access suggest that making the results of studies freely available can have a beneficial impact on patient care as well. If practising vets have the latest information at their fingertips, this could lead to new and better treatment options being adopted more quickly. The fact that studies published in this way are available to anyone in the world with an internet connection means that vets working in developing countries, who may otherwise not have journal subscriptions, have access to cutting edge research and can implement this to improve animal health.

To celebrate Open Access Week and promote open access publishing in the veterinary sector, Veterinary Record and Veterinary Record Open are offering a 15 per cent discount on article processing charges for any articles submitted before November 20, 2014.

If you’re thinking of submitting a manuscript to Veterinary Record or Veterinary Record Open, consider making it open access. Full details of the offer can be found here.

Cat’s eyes shed light on vascular anomalies

20 Oct, 14 | by Assistant Editor

 

An article recently published in Veterinary Record Case Reports describes an unusual case of sudden blindness in a pet cat…

When an eight-year-old female cat presented with an acute onset of blindness, lethargy and poor appetite, the first-opinion vet could be forgiven for not expecting the final diagnosis. The cat was referred to a neurologist, to whom the owners mentioned that she had had several previous episodes of lethargy since she was a kitten, usually lasting less than 24 hours.

On examination, the cat was stunted, had copper-coloured irises and a protruding tongue. The neurological examination revealed several cognitive, cranial nerve and generalised motor abnormalities. Neuroanatomical localisation was consistent with a diffuse forebrain disease.

MRI and routine cerebrospinal fluid analysis revealed no significant findings. However, an abdominal ultrasound scan demonstrated that the splanchnic venous flow was diverted away from the liver (that is hepatofugal flow), via an anomalous tortuous vessel. The liver parenchyma appeared normal and the rest of the abdominal ultrasound was unremarkable. A blood ammonia level measured immediately after sample collection, supported the diagnosis of hepatic encephalopathy secondary to a splenosystemic shunt.

Portosystemic shunts (PSS) are vascular anomalies redirecting the blood from the portal circulation to the systemic circulation. Congenital PSSs, the most common type identified in cats, are the result of an abnormal embryonic vasculature development, and are usually diagnosed in young animals. Acquired PSSs are usually secondary to portal hypertension leading to the opening of pre-existing fetal blood vessels. Signs of hepatic encephalopathy often wax and wane, but neurological signs, including seizures are common.

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Simplified representation of the vascular anomaly observed in the cat

CVC, caudal vena cava; GI, gastrointestinal; SV, splenic vein; PV, portal vein

 

The patient quickly responded to medical treatment and the owners reported in a follow-up consultation five months later that the cat has been completely normal without any episode of abnormal behaviour or visual deficits.

This case raises the importance of considering a PSS as a possible cause of acute onset of neurological signs in adult cats. Additionally, it suggests a potential good response to medical treatment for splenosystemic shunts.

Read about this case in more detail here, including videos (found under supplementary data).

Searching for a needle in a…

19 Aug, 14 | by Assistant Editor

 

Veterinary Record Case Reports publishes high quality cases in all disciplines, so that clinicians and researchers can easily find important information on both common and rare conditions. Here, Alastair MacMillan, Editor of the online-only journal, highlights an interesting case involving an inquisitive labrador.

An eight-month-old female labrador retriever presented with progressive cervical hyperaesthesia after being seen coughing close to a broken sewing kit two weeks previously. She had cervical hyperaesthesia and mild proprioceptive deficits in the right thoracic and pelvic limbs. CT imaging of the neck showed a thin metallic foreign body going in a ventrodorsal direction through the vertebral canal at the atlanto-occipital junction.

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CT showing a sewing needle going in a ventrodorsal direction through the vertebral canal at the atlanto-occipital junction 

Once the needle was located, it was easily grasped using Mosquito forceps, and removed in its entirety. Marked clinical improvement was observed the day after surgery and the owner reported a complete recovery of the patient, with return to normal activities in due course.

F3.large3D reconstruction showing the needle in the atlanto-occipital junction (arrow)

Reports of foreign bodies in the vertebral canal are rare in human and veterinary medicine. Although ingestion of foreign bodies is common in companion animals, sewing needles without an associated thread rarely cause a problem, as they either fail to reach the stomach, or pass through the intestinal tract uneventfully. Although brain abscessation associated with a penetrating needle has been previously reported, this is the first report of a sewing needle penetrating the vertebral canal and being surgically removed with complete clinical recovery of the patient.

To read the full report, click here.

Foot passengers on a knife edge: is digital dermatitis being transmitted by hoof trimming equipment?

18 Jul, 14 | by Assistant Editor

 

Foot problems are one of the most serious welfare concerns facing the livestock industry today. In the UK cattle industry, digital dermatitis is a major cause of lameness and an increasingly serious problem. The disease can cause painful lesions on the skin around the hoof, as well as in other areas, including between the claws and on the udders of cows. It has also moved into sheep (known as contagious ovine digital dermatitis).

FIG1A

Mild digital dermatitis lesion on the bulb of a hind heel of a beef cow (from Sullivan and other 2013)

As well as negatively affecting animal welfare, digital dermatitis can adversely affect the productivity and profitability of farms. The National Animal Disease Information Service estimates that digital dermatitis costs, on average, £30 per cow per year in the UK. Affected cows produce less milk and have reduced fertility, and this accounts for the majority of economic losses due to the disease.

Clearly, digital dermatitis is a serious problem for the farming industry in the UK; it is therefore quite surprising that its epidemiology is not well understood.

 

FIG1B

A more severe  digital dermatitis lesion (Sullivan and other 2013)

A relatively new disease, the condition was identified for the first time in Italy in 1974 and wasn’t seen in the UK until the late 1980s. It is known to be caused by certain species of bacteria of the Treponema genus.

When it comes to treatment, footbathing and antibiotics have been shown to have limited effects, and as yet there is no definitive cure. Furthermore, relatively little is known about how the causal pathogens are transmitted between animals.

In a paper recently published in Veterinary Record, a group of researchers from the University of Liverpool (in collaboration with Roger Blowey from the Wood Veterinary Group) aimed to investigate a potential route of transmission for the disease – hoof trimming equipment.

Hoof/foot trimming is a standard element of livestock care. It is generally recommended that both cattle and sheep undergo a foot examination and, if necessary, have their feet trimmed at least once a year. The University of Liverpool team hypothesised that digital dermatitis-causing bacteria could be hitching a ride from animal to animal via the equipment used for hoof trimming, and designed and conducted a study to test this theory.

Six farms (two beef, two dairy and two sheep farms) in Denbighshire, Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire were included in the study. While on routine farm visits, vets were asked to randomly select animals undergoing hoof trimming and to take a sample from the hoof trimming equipment after it had been used. After the first sample was taken, the equipment was rinsed in iodine disinfectant and a second sample was taken.

‘We sampled equipment after it had been used to trim a hoof to determine whether treponemes could adhere to the knife following trimming’, said Leigh Sullivan, one of the authors of the paper. ‘Equipment was also sampled after the knife had been disinfected so we could assess whether disinfection removed treponeme DNA from the knife.’

The researchers found that treponeme DNA was present on 36 out of 37 hoof trimming instruments tested (97 per cent). They then sought to establish whether this DNA was from Treponema species that were known to cause digital dermatitis. Using PCR techniques, they found DNA of digital dermatitis-causing bacteria in the majority of cases after trimming a digital dermatitis-positive animal.

Following disinfection, the number of instruments with treponemal DNA detected was reduced to 13 of 37 (35 per cent).

‘The high detection rate of digital dermatitis treponemes on hoof trimming equipment was unexpected,’ said Dr Sullivan. ‘It appears that after trimming a symptomatic foot, treponemes are consistently able to adhere to the metal of the equipment. Additionally, in some cases, treponeme DNA was found on equipment used to trim asymptomatic animals, which could mean that treponemes were present on the foot due to another environmental factor or, although not obviously symptomatic at the time, the animal had an undetected early lesion.’

The authors of the paper conclude that the transmission of digital dermatitis-causing bacteria from animal to animal via hoof trimming equipment could be ‘significant and worrying’.  They also note that the routine disinfection method used was not always sufficient to remove all bacteria.

‘We understand from the data that this could be a contributing factor to the transmission of digital dermatitis,’ said Dr Sullivan. ‘However, other routes of transmission need to be explored to fully understand the spread of this disease.’

The authors note that this study does not prove that digital dermatitis is transmitted by foot trimming tools and that more research is needed. However, their results provide new information about the epidemiology of this important and pervasive condition.

 

On the right track: should UK veterinary schools introduce tracking to degrees?

3 Jul, 14 | by Assistant Editor

 

Currently, veterinary students at schools in the UK are trained to be ‘omnicompetent’ (able to treat any species) upon qualifying as a vet. However, in some vet schools elsewhere in the world, degrees include either full or partial ‘tracking’, meaning that students focus on a particular area or species for either some or all of their degree. Two studies recently published in Veterinary Record assessed attitudes towards tracking in UK veterinary degrees among key stakeholders.

Ever since the UK’s first veterinary college was founded in 1791, the way that vets are trained has been the subject of debate and controversy. This is hardly surprising when considering the wide variety of work that vets undertake; from ensuring the health and welfare of companion animals to maintaining the safety and wellbeing of food-producing livestock, they play a key role in several industries. For the profession to work, therefore, vet schools need to produce graduates with a very wide range of skills and expertise.

Currently, in the UK, veterinary students are expected at the end of their five-year degree to be ‘omnicompetent’ and qualify with the ability to practise in any area or on any species. Most schools do, however, offer opportunities for students to focus on some areas that are of more interest to them, for example, through elective choices. Outside of the UK, some vet schools have taken a different approach, allowing students to specialise or ‘track’ at some point during their studies. In 2001, the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands introduced tracking to its six-year veterinary degree, allowing students to take specialised modules in each year except the fifth, with the final year being spent only studying their specified field. Some schools in the USA also offer tracked courses, with students deciding how they want to specialise at the beginning of the course.

There is currently debate about whether UK vet schools should follow suit. Some proponents of tracked degrees suggest that expecting students to master so many different areas is unrealistic, while supporters of the current system say that UK vet schools produce competent and well-rounded vets capable of treating any species.

To try and find out what current opinions were on this subject among key stakeholders, a team of researchers at Bristol university vet school and the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh conducted a mixed-methods study, which was recently published online as two research papers (here and here)  in Veterinary Record .

‘There is ongoing debate in this area, but little evidence regarding what stakeholders think, which is why we chose to conduct a broad-based survey,’ said Emma Crowther, one of the authors of the papers. ‘The mixed methods approach allowed us to quantify stakeholder opinion, and to understand some of the reasons behind those opinions.’

A survey was distributed to three groups – current UK veterinary students, staff at UK veterinary schools and vets currently practising in the UK. Participants were asked about their opinions on both partial tracking (where students are trained in all species, are able to focus on one area but then graduate with the ability to practice in all areas) and full tracking (students take a species-specific final examination and are qualified only to practice in their chosen species).

A total of 203 university staff, 700 students and 158 practitioners returned completed questionnaires and their responses made interesting reading.

The majority of respondents (69 per cent) either strongly disagreed or disagreed with full tracking, with 19 per cent either agreeing or strongly agreeing (the remainder had no strong opinions either way). There was much more widespread support for partial tracking, however, with 79 per cent of respondents saying that they were for the idea. Only 14 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed with partial tracking.

‘Respondents mentioned a number of advantages and disadvantages to tracking, and often expressed opposing views,’ said Miss Crowther. ‘The comments were grouped into six major themes relating to choice, flexibility, competency and knowledge, stakeholder implications, specialisation, and ‘what is a vet?’.

The study also assessed how the career aspirations of current students matched up to the reality of the profession’s employment as it currently is in the UK. There were significant differences in aspirations for students at different stages of their degree. Significantly more final-year students wanted to go on to work in small animal practice compared with first-year students. First-year students were more likely to aspire to working in mixed practice, but by the fourth year, this proportion had decreased. The results also showed that the career aspirations of final-year students were similar to graduate employment figures.

‘Although final-year students’ career aspirations aligned well with likely employment opportunities, the data indicates that students’ aspirations in the early years were not so well matched, which would have implications if tracking were introduced early in the curriculum’, explained Susan Rhind, who also co-authored the papers.

Taking both the quantitative and qualitative data into account, the authors conclude that there is widespread support for partial tracking among key stakeholder groups in the UK.

With the debate still ongoing, it is unclear whether UK vet schools will act on these results potentially overhauling the way that vets are taught in the country and aligning veterinary education more closely with some of the other educational models around the world.

Nine lives required: the hazards encountered by free-roaming cats

27 Sep, 13 | by Assistant Editor

 

Should cats be kept indoors or allowed to roam freely? In the UK, the large majority of the estimated 8 million cats are ‘indoor-outdoor’ cats that spend some proportion of their time exploring outside the house. Often, these cats are free to come and go as they please, undertaking behaviours such as prowling, marking territory and hunting away from home.

However, over recent years, some UK cat owners have considered the decision to keep their cats indoors. The RSPCA notes that there is still uncertainty about whether indoor-only cats are healthier than outdoor cats, but suggests that if cats are kept indoors from an early age and provided with plenty of stimulation and entertainment, they can adapt well to being confined to the home.

One of the main arguments for keeping cats indoors is that outdoor cats encounter a large range of hazards and tend to have reduced lifespans compared to indoor cats. This may affect the health and welfare of the cat and also means that outdoor cats are likely to present to a vet with very different problems (including infectious disease and injury) compared to indoor cats.

Up until now, there has been little scientific research into the lives of outdoor cats, but modern digital technology has created new opportunities, and a recent study by a team from the University of Georgia and National Geographic published in Veterinary Record set out to see first-hand what free-roaming cats in a US town experience.

The researchers sought cat owners to volunteer in the city of Athens, Georgia, USA, and asked them to fit their cats with a video camera designed to give a cats-eye-view without disturbing the cat’s behaviour.

‘While it is commonly stated that roaming cats live shorter lives due to injury, disease, and vehicular accidents, there was very little information available on how often our pets may encounter dangerous situations in the suburban outdoors,’ explains author Kerrie Anne Loyd. ‘The use of animal-borne cameras allowed us to objectively examine and quantify all of the activities pet cats experienced while roaming.’

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A cat wearing a KittyCam

Fifty-five cats were included in the study and more than 2000 hours of footage was collected and analysed. The results were compelling.

The video footage revealed that the Athens cats encountered a large number of hazards in their daily lives, including exploring storm drains, having contact with unknown cats and crawling into small spaces in buildings where they could become trapped.

The most common risk encountered was, perhaps unsurprisingly, moving vehicles, with a total of 178 incidents of cats crossing roads recorded.

But some of the hazardous activities were ones that owners may be unlikely to be aware of. For example, one-fifth of the cats consumed liquids and solids away from the home, which the authors state may pose a risk of poisoning. Cats were witnessed drinking from old children’s paddling pools filled with rainwater, puddles in parking lots and the storm drain system. They were also witnessed eating a wide range of things including roadkill, rubbish and compost.

‘Parking lot puddles and runoff from roads and parking lots may be contaminated with anti-freeze or other dangerous chemicals. Food left out for stray cats may become mouldy or infested with ants.’ Notes Loyd, ‘Pet owners can reduce this risk by making sure that roaming cats have access to fresh food and water outside their home. Contact with other roaming cats poses a health risk to pets – feline immunodeficiency virus is just one of the many infectious diseases that may be acquired from contact with other outdoor or stray cats.’

dog2

A cat meets a canine neighbour

The authors were also found that four of the 55 cats visited other homes during the period and were petted and fed by other people. In several cases, cats repeatedly returned to other houses and interacted with the people living there.

Although no encounters with larger predators were recorded, one cat did meet and ward off an opossum and the video footage of the event can be viewed here.

zoeopossum2

Encounter with a possum

Another major risk behaviour was cats visiting places where they could become lost or trapped, with 20 per cent of the cats either spending time in storm drains (posing a risk of drowning in a flood event) or entering the crawl spaces underneath buildings or houses.

When the results were analysed statistically, the authors found that some cats were more likely than others to show risky behaviours. Males were significantly more likely than females to undertake risks (including crossing roads), and cats seemed to become more cautious as they got older, with the number of hazardous incidents decreasing in line with age.

While the results cannot be extrapolated to every outdoor cat, with cats that roam in the inner-city or very rural country probably experiencing different risks, the paper shows that free-roaming pet cats experience a wide variety of hazards.

Kerrie Anne Loyd states, ‘In addition to documented risks, we are aware that many pet cats become lost while roaming, and three of our initial volunteers had to withdraw because their pets became lost or critically injured before we could get the video cameras on their cats.’ She suggests that owners could reduce these risks by considering an indoor life for their cat.

Video footage from the study can be viewed on the KittyCam Project page here.

Pick of the litter: how interviews help vet schools choose the right undergrads

2 Sep, 13 | by Assistant Editor

 

Each year, staff at the seven UK veterinary schools face a huge challenge – how to whittle down hundreds of young, hopeful A-level students to just a few future vets. What’s more, the task is becoming more difficult each year. Data from the Royal Veterinary College show that total applications to undergraduate veterinary science courses rose by a quarter in the space of five years – from 6781 in 2007 to 9029 in 2012. This is compounded by the fact that the percentage of A-level students achieving top grades (A or A*) has increased from 21.6 to 26.3 in the past decade (according to stats from the Joint Council of Qualifications), making it more difficult to differentiate based on academic ability. On average, there are nine applicants for every place on veterinary degree courses in the UK.

To make sure they pick only the candidates most suited to the course and the profession, interviewers look for a wide range of qualities. Desirable traits may include critical thinking, mental ability, motivation, communication and empathy. However, gauging these characteristics using a personal statement and exam grades can be difficult, and in order to more accurately assess applicants, all seven of the UK schools use some form of interview in their admissions process, evaluating both academic and non-academic attributes.

In order to investigate the interview process for veterinary undergraduates, a team at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and the Roslin Health Institute in Scotland, designed a study, recently published in Veterinary Record, which focused on one cycle of interviews of school-leaving applicants to the veterinary medicine course at Edinburgh university. The study had two main goals; first, to evaluate the influence of the interview on selection decisions and, secondly, to investigate the impact of discussion after the interview between interviewers on their decision-making.

All of the applicants in the 2008/2009 admissions cycle were first shortlisted based on their applications. Shortlisting criteria related to their references, academic history, personal statement and work experience. Following this, 181 students were invited for a 20-minute interview.

Untitled

Before each set of interviews (usually comprising eight candidates), the interviewers were first asked to independently rank each candidate in descending order of merit based on their application and supporting material and also to make a provisional decision of ‘accept’, ‘reject’ or ‘hold’ for each candidate. Immediately following the interview, members of the selection panel were asked to repeat this process without discussing with their colleagues. Finally, after the selectors had discussed the candidates and reached a consensus, they were again asked to rank and make a decision on the candidates.

The authors used statistical analysis to investigate the levels of agreement among members of the selection panel during different stages of the interview process.

Before interview, members of the selection panel agreed only slightly about selection decisions (58 per cent agreement), but after interview they agreed significantly more (78 per cent agreement). The results also showed that interviewers’ perceptions of applicants often changed before and after interviews, as the level of agreement between each interviewer’s pre-interview and post-interview decisions was on average 67 per cent. In contrast to this, there were very high levels of agreement between the interviewers’ individual post-interview decisions and the consensus decisions achieved through discussion with their colleagues (84 to 90 per cent). The pattern described here also applied to the rankings the interviewers made before and after the interviews.

For most candidates (around 60 per cent), the selection decision did not change before and after the interview. However, many of the candidates had their provisional decisions changed for the better, for example, from hold to accept, after their interview. Of the candidates who were given a hold decision before interview, around half were moved to an accept decision afterwards. Inversely, some candidates’ provisional decisions were changed from accept or hold to reject after the interview.

The authors then further explored which attributes had the biggest impact upon interviewers’ decision-making and these were found to be: communication skills, overall knowledge gained from work experience and the ability to think on their feet. Candidates who performed well in these fields were more likely to have their selection decision changed to accept after interview, and vice versa for those who performed poorly.

The authors conclude that face-to-face interviews allow selection panels to achieve greater levels of agreement about who are the best candidates for the limited number of places. The results also showed that once the interviewers had formed their opinions during the interview, post-interview discussions with their fellow panel members tended to have little influence on those decisions.

In the medical and, more recently, veterinary professions, there has been a shift towards the use of multiple mini interviews rather than panel interviews. However, the authors state that their results show that there is still a place for the traditional panel interview in veterinary admissions procedures.

Neil Hudson, one of the authors of the paper, states:

‘Getting into Vet School is tough, with much competition for places. We wanted to make sure that the way we were selecting students was a good way of giving the students the best chance of showing that they are suited to our course, on top of what they have told us through their UCAS applications. It is a tough decision for selectors and what we wanted to do in this study was to try and ‘look at some science’ behind our decision making. What we found was that it was easier for selectors to agree on decisions made based on  interview than on paper applications alone. Furthermore, it was good to be able to drill down and see what potential attributes had the most influence on decisions. No selection system is perfect and what we have done here is say that the interview can, and should, play some part in the process, but it is very much for each school to adopt the blend of approaches that suits the candidates for their respective courses.’

Pet ponies don’t end up on plates, new research shows

15 Aug, 13 | by Assistant Editor

 

While there was widespread public concern over the food adulteration scandal earlier this year, in which foods labelled as containing beef were actually found to contain horse DNA, horsemeat continues to be eaten in the UK and throughout Europe.  As data collected by Eurostat and presented here show, large amounts of meat from equids were traded throughout Europe in 2012.

In the UK, equids can be bought for slaughter at auctions, and there has been some public concern that pet or companion animals, as well as retired racehorses, are being acquired by abattoirs through this route.

In order to investigate whether or not this was the case, researchers from the Royal Veterinary College, visited auction markets across England and Wales to study the types of equids being put up for auction, as well as the kinds of animals preferred by dealers buying on behalf of abattoirs.

Seven auctions, located in Yorkshire, Wales, Berkshire and Cheshire, were visited by the research team. In total, they examined 384 equids at the auctions, checking for, among other things, the height, age and body condition of the animals. Several of the animals were found to have physical abnormalities, including bruises, burns, swellings or abnormal discharge.

The horses and ponies in the study were aged between less than one and 21 years old, although the majority (66 per cent) were younger than five years. The average height was 14 hands and a large proportion were geldings (42 per cent) followed by mares (30 per cent).

Of the 384 animals examined, 294 were successfully sold at auction and 68 of these were purchased on behalf of abattoirs.

Animals bought for the meat trade were more likely to be over 15.3 hands high, indicating a preference among abattoir buyers for larger animals. Inkeeping with this trend, abattoir buyers were less likely to buy ponies and more likely to select thoroughbreds and riding horses. Animals with physical abnormalities were more likely to be bought by the meat trade than by other buyers. Eleven of the animals bought by abattoir buyers were lame.

The authors conclude that people procuring equids for the meat trade prefer larger animals, probably reflecting a preference for animals that provide a high meat yield to cover the costs of transport and slaughter. As such, only a small proportion of small horses and ponies were destined for the meat trade and so this study did not support the view that the abattoir industry focuses on pet ponies when choosing animals for slaughter in the UK.

Troy Gibson, one of the authors of the paper, states:

“Horsemeat is widely consumed in continental Europe, especially Italy and France. The vast majority of horsemeat slaughtered in the UK is exported within Europe. This exporting of meat instead of live animals has been suggested to have reduced transportation times and animal suffering. The slaughter of horses, fraudulent labelling and horsemeat entering the human food chain all continue to be very contentious issues in the UK and Europe. This, combined with the ongoing debate in the USA on the slaughter of equids and meat inspection, has resulted in heightened public concern over the slaughter of horses. It has been previously suggested that the abattoir industry was profiting from the slaughter of pet ponies and surplus animals from the racing industry. To investigate this, Yvette Bell, as part of her research project for her Bachelor’s degree in veterinary medicine at the Royal Veterinary College, visited equid markets and investigated factors associated with buying preferences for animals destined for abattoirs. The study gives an interesting insight into the selection of equids for the meat trade, suggesting that the industry focuses on larger animals.”

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