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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.


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).


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.



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.’


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.’


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.


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.


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.


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.




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.’


  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

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