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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.’

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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.

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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.

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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.”

New study investigates farmer attitudes towards the vaccination and culling of badgers

1 Aug, 13 | by Assistant Editor

 

Controversy persists in England over the best way to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB). According to Defra, approximately 28,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2012 for purposes of TB control, and it may cost up to £1 billion to control the disease over the next decade.

Mycobacterium bovis may be transmitted from wildlife, including badgers, to cattle, and several schemes have been proposed that aim to curb the rate of these transmissions.

In 2012, the government announced a pilot badger cull in two areas in England. This gained large amounts of media attention and became a highly controversial topic, with outspoken arguments voiced both for and against culling.

A proposed alternative to culling is vaccination of a critical mass of badgers using a strain of the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, and this approach was adopted in 2011 by the National Trust (NT) on the Killerton Estate in Devon.

A paper recently published in Veterinary Record aimed to find out about attitudes towards badger vaccination among farmers on the Killerton Estate and, incidentally, to assess their views of other bovine TB control measures.

Of the 18 farm tenants on the 2000 ha estate, 14 agreed to take part in the study. All of the farmers included in the study owned cattle and all had been affected at some point by bovine TB. All participants were interviewed, and they were asked questions about their attitude towards TB control measures, the impact of TB, where they sourced information about TB and the ways that the NT had handled TB control. The interview transcripts were then analysed for recurring themes. The results are summarised below:

  • All respondents reported both significant financial and personal costs due to bovine TB, including additional workload, loss of milk sales, stress and worry.
  • Asked whether vaccination of badgers would be effective in controlling TB in cattle, two of the 14 participants said no, two were unsure and the remaining 10 were positive. However, many of the positive responses were conditional, for example, on how many badgers it would be possible to vaccinate. The authors note that the overall attitude towards vaccination was ‘one of tolerance, rather than optimism’.
  • Half of the farmers interviewed felt that there was a positive advantage to being involved in the NT’s vaccination scheme and only one thought that it may be a disadvantage. The majority of farmers were supportive of the NT’s decision to pursue the vaccination trial.
  • There was general agreement that the vaccination of cattle would be a good solution to the problem, but there was an awareness that a viable vaccine would take time to develop and that this would not be a feasible option for some time.
  • Half of the interviewees thought that culling badgers would be more effective than vaccination, two were against Defra’s culling proposals, and the other five gave no clear opinion.
  • Seven of the respondents cited gassing and destruction of badger sets as a more effective method of controlling TB than vaccination.

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The authors conclude that the study was conducted at a time when there was vigorous debate surrounding control of bovine TB and that the potential impact of this study upon policy will depend heavily upon how successful the Killerton vaccination trial is. There are two more vaccination phases in the trial in 2013 and 2014 and the farmers will be interviewed again after the final phase to assess whether their attitudes have changed.

The authors also note that the study highlights some important issues that may be relevant for the formulation of policy. First, the views of famers in the study tended to be more nuanced than the widespread media coverage has suggested, and while they were for bovine TB control in general, they were also willing to take into account the potential social and environmental impacts of control measures. Furthermore, the authors state that the attitude of the farmers toward vaccination is one of ‘resigned acceptance’ – they don’t believe that vaccination will be effective on its own, but they are glad that something is being done.  Finally, some respondents stated that they would prefer a combination of effective vaccination and culling programmes in order to reduce the population sufficiently that vaccination would be effective. 

Matt Lobley, one of the study authors, states:

“When the National Trust announced plans to undertake a badger vaccination experiment on its Killerton estate we were pleased to have the opportunity to undertake in-depth face-to-face interviews with the majority of the tenants. Bovine TB can have a debilitating impact on a farm and it has become such a highly politicised issue that opinions and options are often presented in a highly polarised manner. Talking to farmers under conditions of strict anonymity revealed a greater diversity of attitudes towards the control of bovine TB. Like farmers elsewhere, the Killerton tenants have been living with TB or the threat of TB for years and there was general appreciation that at least something was being done. On the other hand, expectations were low and there was a feeling that the badger population had been allowed to ‘get out of hand’, which meant some questioned the efficacy of vaccination alone. Even though our research was based on a small sample it is important that policymakers recognise that farmers attitudes are more nuanced than the public debate over TB often suggests.”

 

A new surgical approach to perform equine ovariectomy with the horse standing

5 Jul, 13 | by Assistant Editor

 

Ovariectomy (the surgical removal of ovaries) in horses can be performed using a variety of approaches, including laparoscopic techniques, which allow the mare to be operated on while standing. However, laparoscopy can be expensive and expertise is required to operate the equipment necessary for a successful and safe operation. In a short communication recently published in Veterinary Record, Gal Kelmer and coworkers report an open flank approach to remove enlarged pathological ovaries that doesn’t require general anaesthesia and avoids the drawbacks of laparoscopy.

 

Fourteen mares had a unilateral ovariectomy using a standing open flank approach for removal of an enlarged ovary. After sedation, the abdominal cavity of the horses was accessed through a long vertical incision. The external abdominal oblique, internal abdominal oblique and transversus muscles were incised. The surgeon’s hand was then inserted into the abdomal cavity, the enlarged ovary was located and gently pulled toward the incision. Once the ovary was in view and could be reached, heavy traction sutures were placed in the ovarian tissue. The ovary was gradually brought outside of the abdomen and the ovarian pedicle tied off using simple overlapping sutures and a stapling device. During the closing of the abdomen, a suction drain was placed between the external and internal abdominal oblique muscles and the incision closed in layers.

 

Figure_1B

 

All ovaries were successfully removed without major complications. Three mares developed an incision infection but these healed unremarkably after treatment. Histological evaluation was carried out in 10 cases, revealing granulosa theca cell tumours in nine ovaries and a cystic ovary in one. All mares (with the exception of one that had both ovaries removed) returned to their normal oestrus cycle within three to 12 months after surgery and 12 mares foaled within 30 months of surgery.

 

The authors conclude that ovariectomy performed with the mare standing using an open flank approach is a safe and efficient technique for removing enlarged pathological ovaries, which avoids the complications associated with general anaesthesia. They add that, overall, there was a low incidence of complications using this method of ovariectomy, cosmetic results and owner satisfaction were good and the mare’s reproductive performance following surgery was excellent.

 

Gal Kelmer, the lead author states:

 

Ovariectomy always fascinated me as a surgical procedure. In my residency in Missouri we started using standing laparoscopy for removing ovaries and the procedure was exciting to learn and perform since we used all kinds of new surgical toys. Once I returned to Israel we faced a surge of ovarian tumors in Arabian mares and laparoscopic equipment was not available. I was reluctant to retreat to the old-fashioned way of removing them under general anaesthesia through the ventral abdomen. That old-fashioned way was fraught with complications. Complications were related both to the anaesthesia and recovery and directly to the approach since the ovaries are difficult to access through the ventral body wall due to their attachment to the opposite body wall. Thus, we decided to avoid general anaesthesia and use a flank approach with the mare standing and sedated. Up until recently, it was considered as an axiom that large ovaries, over 10 cm, cannot be safely removed through the flank and a ventral approach under general anaesthesia is mandatory in these cases. We, however, safely remove enlarged, diseased, ovaries up to 30 cm in diameter, via an open flank approach in 14 standing mares. Mares returned to reproduction activity and foaled and owners were satisfied with the results. The use of staples in the procedure is not essential; one can secure the mesovarium with another line of sutures for safe ligation. One should remember that a standing surgery does not necessarily directly translates as ‘easy’ and ‘minor’. One should take ovariectomy seriously since complications can be fatal. Overall, we believe the procedure is uncomplicated and effective and offers a good alternative for experienced surgeons who do not have laparoscopic equipment available.”

Team effort eradicates BVDV in Norway

31 May, 13 | by sarahbrown

Infection of cattle with pestiviruses can cause bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) and, in some cases, mucosal disease. In pregnant animals, infection can also result in reproductive failure or persistently infected (PI) offspring. These PI animals produce and excrete the virus, usually at high concentrations, throughout their lives and are instrumental in the spread of infection, being the main reservoir of the virus. During the late 1980s, it became increasingly evident that BVD-related losses were economically significant to the livestock industry in Norway and that direct losses were estimated to be around 50 million Norwegian crowns (NOK) (£4.5 million).

A paper recently published in Veterinary Record by Torleiv Loken and Ola Nyberg describes a collaborative project that ran from December 1992 until 2004 with the intention of eradicating pestiviruses from the Norwegian cattle population.1 The collaborative project involved four key partners: the Norwegian Animal Health Authorities (NAH), the National Veterinary Institute, the cattle owners, and the cattle industry comprised of three farmers’ associations.

Loken and Krogsrud developed a strategy in 1992 based on the identification and culling of all PI animals2, and testing was performed in four tiers:

•                Tier 1 Annual screening for antibodies in bulk milk from all herds.

•                Tier 2 Herds found positive in tier 1 were examined for antibodies in pooled milk samples from primiparous cows.

•                Tier 3 Herds found positive in tier 2 were examined for antibodies in pooled blood samples from young stock. These herds were subject to restrictions.

•                Tier 4 Antibody-negative animals in herds that were found positive in tier 3 were tested for pestivirus antigen in blood and, if positive, were designated as a PI animal.

Following the culling of PI animals, a herd was considered to be free from pestivirus when pooled blood from youngstock was antibody negative on two sampling occasions, three months apart.

The number of herds with PI animals peaked at about 3000 in the second year of the project, and then decreased steadily. The last four PI cattle from the same herd were detected in 2005 and were immediately culled. Since then the surveillance programme has not detected any dairy cattle or beef animal positive for pestivirus. A cost benefit analysis estimated that the project has saved the Norwegian dairy industry losses of between 50 million to 200 million NOK annually (approximately £4.5 million to 18 million GBP). The total running cost of the project over 10 years was 52.4 million NOK. This, the authors say, clearly demonstrates that the project was economically highly beneficial. Subsequently, the value of close surveillance of the national cattle population has been emphasised to ensure that the cattle remain free from infection.

 

Persistently infected calf (1-year-old) with bovine viral diarrhoea virus

Persistently infected calf (1-year-old) with bovine viral diarrhoea virus

The authors conclude that the pestivirus eradication project was successful, resulting in the elimination of BVD and mucosal disease in the Norwegian cattle population and was economically highly beneficial.  Torleiv Loken praised the determination of the collaborators for the success of the project:

‘The story starts with the first demonstration of border disease in a lamb in Norway, which I published in 1981. The next year I diagnosed border disease in a liveborn kid, which was the first known diagnosis of border disease in a kid. That really tickled my interest and curiosity, and I went on to research pestivirus in cattle as well, which at the time was diagnosed very rarely in Norway. Along the line, the veterinarians and the cattle owners became very interested in pestivirus-related diseases and understood it could be very costly in a herd. The cattle owners pushed for more studies, and soon wanted – actually demanded – the eradication of this microbe. This willingness from the farmers to contribute to an eradication programme, both practically and economically, with strong support from the authorities, I think was one of the most important and basic keys to success.’

References

  1. Loken, T. & Nyberg, O. (2013) Eradication of BVDV in cattle: the Norwegian project. Veterinary Record doi: 10.1136/vr.101525
  2. Loken, T & Krogsrud J. (1992) Programme for making the Norwegian cattle free from pestivirus. Proceedings of the 2nd Symposium on Ruminant Pestiviruses. Annecy, European Society for Veterinary Virology. 1992. P66

Bark more likely than bite? Sterilisation programmes in India

9 May, 13 | by sarahbrown

 

Human dog bite injuries are a major public health problem, particularly where there are large populations of free-roaming or street dogs. In countries with endemic rabies, the bites of animals are the main means of transmission of this disease and dogs are accountable for 91.5 per cent of all bite wounds in India. Bites by dogs were also responsible for 96.2 per cent of human rabies cases in India. But despite the public health importance of dog bites, there has been little research into the causes or means of prevention.

In India, control of free-roaming dog populations has been attempted using animal birth control (ABC) programmes. Jack Reece and co-authors have previously reported that the ABC approach has been successful in controlling both the street dog population and rabies. The objective of their current study, recently published in Veterinary Record, was to determine if a relationship exists between the reproductive behaviour of dogs and human dog bites.1 Reece and his co-workers at Help in Suffering, Jaipur, had noted that the dispersal of pups of street dog litters from the dam occurred between 90 and 120 days after whelping. Anecdotal evidence from animal control personnel in the city indicated that bitches would often try to protect their two-to-three-month-old pups by biting personnel.

Canine reproduction has been found to be seasonal in Jaipur, with peak whelping activity in November. Humans being bitten by animals, as reported by the main government hospital in Jaipur, showed a seasonal trend with peaks in January and June; approximately 10 weeks after the seasonal peak of street dog breeding.

The authors found that, following the start of an ABC programme in 1996, the percentage total of the female dog population that had been spayed, rose quickly and has remained at between 70 and 80 per cent since 2003. They also observed that the number of human animal bite cases has declined since then, despite a rapidly expanding human population.

Children represent the biggest proportion of bite patients in India

They conclude that, whereas sterilisation could not have led to an immediate halt in the growth of the dog population, the rapid increase in the percentage of spayed females may have prevented the further increase in bite frequency, if dog bites are indeed primarily due to bitches trying to protect their puppies.

They add that the results of their study suggests that, in addition to the benefits of rabies control, ABC programmes may have an effect on the numbers of human animal bite cases that far exceed the effects of reducing the dog population to the same level by indiscriminate culling.

Jack Reece explained, ‘The ABC programme at Help in Suffering (HIS) was set up to gather data about the effects of such programmes. HIS is an animal welfare charity, not a veterinary research institute, which is why my colleagues and I not only sterilise and vaccinate large numbers of street dogs (3199 sterilisations last year; 81 in the last week), but also monitor the effects and record data on many aspects of the work, including the street dog population and biology. Animal welfare is clearly a driving force for veterinary surgeons and animal welfare charities such as HIS, but it is unlikely to influence political leaders or bureaucrats. It’s for this reason that the HIS team have tried, where possible, to show human health benefits to ABC work; by publishing such benefits in peer-reviewed international veterinary journals, we hope that these decision makers may change their policies from ineffective culling and removal to more effective humane dog population control. As ordinary practicing veterinary surgeons, rather than academic researchers, it is pleasing to be able to suggest that our veterinary work has a direct and measurable affect on the health and the safety of the public – an example perhaps of the currently fashionable ‘One Health’ concept.

Reece, J. F., Chawla, S. K. & Hilby, A. R. (2013) Decline in human dog bite cases during a street dog sterilisation programme in Jaipur, India. Veterinary Record doi: 10.1136/vr.101079

Feeling hen pecked? You need a management plan

9 Apr, 13 | by sarahbrown

 

Injurious pecking (IP) is a ubiquitous problem on loose-housed laying hen farms and is a welfare and economic concern, associated with increased mortality and decreased productivity. The term ‘injurious pecking’ encompasses a range of behaviours including gentle and severe feather pecking cannibalistic pecking and vent pecking. Beak trimming is commonly used in commercial systems to limit the damage caused by IP and, although this is considered a mutilation in the EU, member states are allowed to authorise beak trimming where feather pecking and cannibalism may pose a problem; however, IP is still evident in beak-trimmed flocks. Consequently, there is a pressing need to identify other practical means of controlling IP on farms. The large number of risk factors associated with IP, and a lack of understanding of the relationship between the different forms of IP has made it difficult to provide concise evidence-based advice on how best to reduce IP in practice. Furthermore, advice is often generic and difficult to relate to practical issues on farm. A study recently published in Veterinary Record aimed to overcome these limitations.1

Sarah Lambton and colleagues, from the University of Bristol, carried out a systematic review of existing scientific and commercial literature to ensure known risk factors associated with IP were comprehensively addressed. The risk factors identified were then discussed with stakeholders (including industry representatives, Defra, RSPCA, retailers, poultry veterinarians and external academics) and, from their knowledge and expertise, 46 practical management strategies were developed to aid the prevention, reduction or delay in onset of IP.

IP was measured in 100 flocks of loose-housed laying hens from 63 farms; 53 treatment flocks employed a bespoke management package comprised of these management strategies and their subsequent IP compared with control flocks which were managed as usual. It was notable that both treatment flocks and control flocks may have been employing a variety of the listed management strategies before the intervention of the team at the University of Bristol. Scoring of plumage damage and observations of gentle and severe feather pecking, vent pecking and cannibalistic pecking were completed and management strategy use was recorded at 20, 30 and 40 weeks of age.

In general, gentle feather pecking was the most frequently observed behaviour, followed by severe feather pecking, vent and cannibalistic pecking and most forms of IP increased in both prevalence and rate with age. Plumage damage score, rates of gentle and severe feather pecking, likelihood of vent pecking and per cent mortality at 40 weeks all decreased the more management strategies were employed, regardless of whether it was a treatment flock or control flock. However, when compared with control flocks, treatment flocks employed more management strategies, had lower plumage damage and severe feather pecking. The successful knowledge transfer and uptake in treatment flocks, the authors say, are the result of various approaches adopted by the researchers, such as one-to-one discussions.

The authors conclude that the reduced levels of plumage damage and severe feather pecking in flocks through employing an IP management package show that such a package can be successfully used to reduce the level of IP in commercial laying hen flocks, with potential beneficial effects on both welfare and productivity.  Sarah Lambton added, ‘It is clear that the more management strategies combating IP that are employed, the lower the levels of IP, regardless of whether they were employed as part of a formal management package.’

Based on this work, a FeatherWel Guide to improving feather cover, incorporating the 46 management strategies, is being rolled out to hen producers, where it appears to have been well received. 2

References

1. Lambton, S. L., Nicol, C. J., Friel, M., Main, D. C. J., McKinstry, J. L., Sherwin, C. M., Walton, J & Weeks, C. A. (2013) A bespoke management package can reduce levels of injurious pecking in loose-housed laying hen flocks. Veterinary Record doi:10.1136/vr.101067

2. Reducing feather pecking: an objective assessment. The Ranger

What made the biggest impact?

27 Mar, 13 | by sarahbrown

Veterinary Record is 125 years old this year!

125 year banner

To mark the occasion, we have compiled a list of 10 developments that have had a significant impact on or been significantly impacted by the veterinary profession. To find out more and cast your vote, go to our anniversary website and you will also be in with the chance of winning an iPad mini!

Here are our 10 developments – click through to see some of our relevant publications for free.

Eradication of rinderpest

Rinderpest, also known as cattle plague, was the first animal disease to have been eradicated through human effort and, after smallpox, the second disease to be eradicated worldwide.

Developments in anaesthesia and analgesia

From on a wing and a prayer to maximum control, developments in drugs and their administration have improved the welfare of all animals after trauma or undergoing surgery or medical treatment.

UK foot-and-mouth disease outbreak (2001)

Important economic, social and political lessons in disease control were learned during and in the immediate aftermath of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak of 2001.

Diagnostic imaging

The ability to see inside patients without having to perform surgery has had significant implications for the diagnosis and treatment of animals, in practice and the field.

Emergence and control of BSE

Restrictions on animal feed from 1988 onwards did much to control this disease, but the consequences of BSE continue to impact on cattle practice and food safety regulations.

Recognition of One Health

The ‘One Health’ concept is starting to come of age by offering insights into the prevention and control of neglected zoonoses, such as rabies, and opening up new avenues for clinical research.

Specialisation in practice

With the growth of specialist, referral and corporate practices, the level of service provided is being affected and, possibly, the nature of the profession itself.

Introduction of the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS)

The launch of PETS in 2000, marked a significant change in the  UK’s approach to preventing rabies.

Growth of the Internet and e-learning

The internet has meant that anyone, not only vets, can have ready access to animal health information. Social media and the web have also enhanced communication between vets, their colleagues and their clients.

Effective antibiotics and anthelmintics

Antibiotics and anthelmintics have had a huge impact on both human and animal health. More recently, concerns over resistance to these treatments have and will continue to affect the way that products are being used.

 

What do you think of our 10 influential moments? Do you agree or do you have some suggestions of your own? Post your comments below!

Here’s one I made earlier: an equine nerve block simulator for vet students

22 Mar, 13 | by sarahbrown

Equine lameness constitutes a large proportion of an equine clinician’s caseload and performing diagnostic nerve blocks is an essential skill for equine practitioners. However the opportunities for veterinary students to practice this skill are limited. Traditionally, equine diagnostic analgesia is taught with the use of equine cadaver limbs. However, due to economical, logistical implications, in conjunction with the increase in the number of veterinary students, and ethical reasons, the use of cadavers is becoming increasingly more difficult.

In a paper recently published in Veterinary Record, a team of researchers from the Royal Veterinary College in London, UK, designed an equine nerve block simulator using an equine forelimb skeleton and expanding foam, which was carved to mimic the shape of the soft tissues.1 Wire wool targets were placed under the foam in the positions corresponding to the anatomical location of the palmar digital, abaxial and low four point nerve blocks and attached to an electric circuit and a buzzer, which provided auditory feedback when the needle had been placed correctly and the closed the electric circuit.

In order to validate the simulator, third-year undergraduate veterinary students were randomly assigned to one of three groups: the cadaver group, which received training in a 45 minute cadaver session, the simulator group, which received training using the nerve block simulator and the hand-out group, which was given a handout and a textbook to study. Students from all groups were asked to return one week later to demonstrate what they had learned on an equine cadaver forelimb.

Taking all the nerve blocks together, the cadaver group demonstrated the highest accuracy (73 per cent), followed by the simulator group (71 per cent) and the handout group (58 per cent). Feedback from the students showed that those in the simulator group enjoyed their training more and felt more confident in performing the technique than the other two groups.

The authors conclude that the nerve block simulator enabled students to learn how to perform diagnostic analgesia in the equine distal limb with a similar proficiency to traditional cadaver limb training. They add that this safe, cost-effective method also allows students to repeatedly practice skills with ease and could be a useful supplement the teaching of diagnostic nerve blocks to undergraduate veterinary students.

Follow this link to watch the simulator in use!

 

Equine nerve block simulator

 

References:

1. Gunning, P., Smith, A., Fox, V., Bolt, D. M., Lowe, J., Sinclair, C., Witte, T. H. & Weller, R. (2013) Development and validation of an equine nerve block simulator to supplement practical skills training in undergraduate veterinary students. Veterinary Record doi: 10.1136/vr.101335

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