Sunday 31 August 2008
Elena Tabuada from Granada, Spain looks after group of around a dozen cats. She feeds them but she isn’t their “owner”. . As the schools go back after the summer break, many people are looking back on enjoyable family summer holidays. My own family headed to southern Spain for a two week migration into sunshine. We were staying in a small mountain village near Granada, and as often happens when I am on holiday, the animals that I encountered made a strong impression on me
The local dogs were not dissimilar to their Irish equivalents. There were pedigree dogs such as Boxers and Miniature Poodles, as well as cross bred terriers and collie-types. They lounged around in the shade during the day, coming out to stroll with their owners in the cooler evenings. I noticed that local pet shops had pedigree puppies for sale, displaying them in cages in their shop front windows in a way that would not happen in Ireland. There was no sign of cats or kittens for sale in this way.
I didn’t come across any pet cats living pampered lives like many Irish cats in the twenty first century. But in one part of the village in particular, there seemed to be cats everywhere. When we walked through the area, they seemed to be all around us. They were on wall-tops and at street corners, or just relaxing in shady spots. When we stopped to watch them for a while, more cats emerged, coming up from underground aqueduct tunnels and from surrounding fields. There were cats of all ages, from young kittens to mature, strong tom cats. They seemed healthy, but thin, and in a typically nosey holidaymaker way, I decided to find out more about their background. I don’t speak much Spanish, but when I asked around about who was looking after the cats, I was referred to Elena. She seemed to be the lady who had most interest in the cats, so I was able to find out more about them.
From what I could gather, the village people didn’t view cats as pets. The cats just existed, doing their own thing, and surviving on their wits and with some help from friendly people like Elena. When I asked who owned the cats, Elena shrugged, and asked me a question: “Who owns the birds?” The cats were friendly, up to a point, but they refused to come closer than a yard or so, and they certainly wouldn’t consider allowing themselves to be petted. Elena liked the cats, and did her best for them, but veterinary care such as vaccinations, worming or treatment of illnesses was not on the agenda. I could see that there were a few young kittens, and at least one of the female cats was heavily pregnant. The male cats were very obviously intact male cats. Neutering and spaying was definitely not happening in this cat community.
The group of cats seemed to be like many feral cat colonies in Ireland. There was enough food to keep a small number of cats healthy and well-fed, but because of the rapid reproduction rate, the population was expanding too rapidly. As a result, the cats were thin and hungry. While we were there, with Elena’s permission, my children enjoyed getting to know the cats better, by feeding them fish scraps from the local fishmonger. But I wondered about how the cats would fare when sentimental tourists like ourselves had gone home.
In Ireland, a trap-neuter-release scheme would be the answer for such a situation. The cats could be trapped one at a time, neutered or spayed, then released back to the same place. This would result in a stable population, with the right number of cats for the available food supply. There would be fewer animals, but they would be well fed. When on holiday, I tried to find out about setting up such a scheme for Elena’s cats. I visited the local pet vet in a nearby town, but the outcome was disappointing. The vet seemed to be very busy, and after listening to my story through an interpreter, she tut-tutted and shooed me out of her clinic. I realise that I must have come across as a busy-body, interfering tourist trying to impose inappropriate foreign ideas on a normal local situation, but I found it frustrating.
A new charity has been established which aims to offer help animal lovers who find themselves in similar situations to myself when holidaying abroad. Animals Worldwide (AWW) sets up teams of young vets on trap-neuter-release programmes for unowned cats in holiday destinations. AWW has the backing of major UK animal charities such as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Dogs Trust and the Donkey Sanctuary. Holidaymakers are urged to report details to AWW when they come across animals that may need help. AWW has a network of rescue centres and vets working in tourist areas, providing neutering schemes and practical support. Visit www.animalsworldwide.org to find out more.
Of course, animal welfare issues can be as common in Ireland as they are overseas. When I returned from holiday, I was contacted by a French tourist who wanted to know what he could do about some dogs being kept in conditions that he felt were inadequate in the West of Ireland. It could be argued that we all need to look after our own back yards before getting too fussed about other people’s business!
+ Many holiday makers come across animals that they feel need veterinary help when they are overseas
+ Animals Worldwide (www.animalsworldwide.org) has been set up to help provide assistance for these cases
Click here for full post
Monday 25 August 2008
Andrew Byrne is one of my partners at Brayvet, and is pictured here with Elsa, his five year old Golden Retriever. Andrew is the president of the European group of veterinary organisations, and this weekend he has been fully occupied at a worldwide gathering of vets in Dublin.
Andrew is just reaching the end of one of the busiest weeks in his life. He is used to long working days at his vet clinic in Bray, but this week’s events have not been directly to do with treating dogs and cats. Instead, Andrew has been busy under a different guise: he is the President of the Europe-wide federation of pet vets, and he has been acting as host to representatives of forty European countries. In fact, the Dublin meeting has been even bigger than just Europe – the event has “doubled up” as the annual meeting of the world-wide pet vet community. Eighty six countries have sent vets to Dublin, with over two and a half thousand vets visiting the RDS. It is no wonder that Andrew has been under pressure.
Andrew became involved in his local veterinary organisation over a decade ago, here in Ireland. There were two reasons for his interest in getting involved. Firstly, veterinary organisations need to set up educational courses for vets, making sure that lecturers visit Ireland to keep vets up to date with the latest scientific developments for treating pets. Volunteers are always needed to organise visiting speakers, and Andrew was keen to assist with this. The second reason for his interest in working with the veterinary organisation was a broader ambition, which was to play a part in improving the way that society deals with pets, and with the vets who treat pets.
Human society is complex, but it basically works by elected politicians forming a government, and the government making laws which are implemented by civil servants. As part of that process, it is important that every sector of society is represented, and that includes both vets and pets. Vets are trained to be experts on animals, and as such, they are in a good position to give feedback to government on different aspects of the way that animals are catered for under legislation and in other ways. The opinions of vets are usually sought via the organisations that represent vets, and so the best way for an individual vet to “make a difference” is often to become active within such an organisation.
After a few years of working on local veterinary committees in Ireland, Andrew became aware of the growing importance of Europe in the day to day life of Irish people (and animals). He volunteered to represent Irish vets within the Europe-wide gathering of veterinary organisations. He enjoyed this work, which included learning about other countries, and being involved with Europe-wide initiatives in areas such as training of veterinary nurses, and the publication of an international educational veterinary journal. Before long, Andrew found himself on the European organising committee, and this eventually led to his current position: as President of the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations (FECAVA)
This week’s meeting at the RDS is the high point of his presidency. It is the largest veterinary conference ever to be held in Ireland, and Ireland is the smallest country to have hosted such a large global congress. Previous locations have included Sydney, Bangkok, Vancouver, Amsterdam and London. The choice of Ireland as a host country is a positive reflection on Ireland’s ongoing appeal as an international destination.
There have been two types of meetings going on: political and educational.
The political meetings have been held between vets representing many different countries, discussing issues that affect pets around the world. Subjects include how to improve animal welfare in less advantaged countries, how to use the latest advances in genetics to improve the breeding of pets, and how to work together with the latest and best vaccines to control diseases that are world-wide problems.
The educational aspects of the gathering have been a central part of the week. Visiting lecturers have been amongst the top authorities in the world, and they have been giving "state-of-the-art" updates on a wide range of pet illnesses and issues. There have been over sixty lectures every day, on subjects ranging from “Why do dogs bite, and what can be done to stop them” to “The latest advances in cancer diagnosis”. Other issues being covered include the treatment of wildlife, dealing with MRSA in vet practices and how to diagnose and treat elderly cats with the feline equivalent of Alzheimer’s Disease. The lectures have been chosen to be relevant to vets in practice, so that the vets who come to the meeting go home with their minds full of useful new information that they can directly apply to their daily jobs.
Andrew has not been able to attend as many lectures as he would like. On this occasion, he is the busy host, making sure that overseas guests are comfortable and at ease. Ireland has a reputation for hospitality that some people feel could be slipping as we move into the 21st century. Andrew – and the busy organising committee made up of a team of vets, nurses and others – are doing their best to ensure that in the veterinary world at least, Ireland does more than live up to this reputation.
+ Irish pet vets have literally been “hosting the world” this week in Dublin
+ Pet vets from over eighty countries have been meeting each other and working together on global issues
+ Visiting world experts have been giving lectures to vets on the latest and best in veterinary science
Click here for full post
Wednesday 20 August 2008
This week, from Wednesday 20th to Sunday 24th August, the largest veterinary conference ever to be held in Ireland is taking place at the Royal Dublin Society showgrounds in Dublin.
This gathering of vets is the annual meeting of members of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) and the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations. (FECAVA). The event is the 33rd WSAVA and 14th FECAVA Congress, and will host 2568 people coming from 86 countries around the world ranging from Albania to Vietnam.
Ireland is the smallest country to have hosted this combined annual congress, with previous locations including Sydney, Bangkok, Vancouver, Amsterdam and London. The choice of Ireland as a host country is a positive reflection on the internationally recognised high standards of the Irish veterinary profession.
The event will be a combination of two types of meetings:
1) Political meetings where issues affecting pets around the world are discussed by representatives of 86 countries
2) Educational meetings with lectures offering attending vets "state-of-the-art" updates on a wide range of pet illnesses and issues
1) Political meetings.
• Meeting of representatives from 71 veterinary associations around the world ( WSAVA Assembly) on Wednesday Aug 19th
• Meeting of representatives from 40 veterinary associations in Europe ( FECAVA Council ) on Saturday Aug 23rd
The current President of FECAVA is Andrew Byrne, an Irish vet, based in Bray Co. Wicklow
Topics of global significance to pets and their owners will be discussed by these worldwide gatherings of vets, including:
• Animal Welfare - How can animal suffering be alleviated across the world?
• Hereditary Disease - The science of genetics now allows much deeper analysis of the background to many of the inherited illnesses that are common in pets (examples include arthritis, skin disease and blindness). How can vets best work together internationally to gain the most benefit from the latest scientific discoveries?
• Vaccine Guidelines - Vaccines available for pets have improved significantly, allowing effective control of a wide range of illnesses, from Parvovirus to Rabies. What is the most effective way to use these vaccines?
• Continuing Education in less advantaged regions - Pets have a high status in wealthy areas such as the USA and Europe, but in many countries, vets struggle to treat pets with limited facilities and educational resources. What can be done to help improve this situation?
2) Educational meetings.
Over seventy acknowledged experts in their fields will be giving lectures on a wide range of topics, from Wednesday through to Sunday. There will be over sixty lectures every day, covering a wide range of topics aimed at bringing the latest findings of science and research to the attention of vets working with pets. This is an opportunity for vets around the world to come together and hear the up-to-date word on the best possible way to diagnose and treat ailments of pets. The full lecture programme is available at www.wsava2008.com, but some of the highlights are listed below, and news desks will be given a 3pm update of the following day's planned events from Tuesday onwards.
Wednesday Aug 19th
Pre Congress lectures on Emergency Medicine and on Feline Medicine for specialists in their fields
Thursday Aug 20th
70 lectures including
• Animal Welfare: Biting Dogs a 21st Century dilemma. Why do some dogs bite people and others don't? What can be done to prevent dogs from biting, and what controls should society place on dogs?
• Cancer : Advances in Cancer Diagnosis. From MRI scans to molecular genetics, cancer diagnosis in pets has many parallels with human medicine. What is the latest and best way of identifying cancer in the earliest stages?
• Milk Shakes and Green Lipid Mussels ....Alternatives to Opiiods. Pain control in veterinary medicine has come a long way in the past twenty years, with much better systems now available for recognising and controlling pain, both after surgery and during illness. The obvious pain control methods such as opioid drugs are well known, but what about some of the newer, less recognised alternatives?
• Management : Business Training Is it Important The main aim of vets is to offer medical and surgical treatment to animals in an efficient way, but this involves much more than just the one-to-one interactions in a consulting room and an operating theatre. A team of employees is involved in providing the service, and it is increasingly recognised that lessons in management can be learned from other businesses. Patricia Callanan from the Small Firms Association (SFA) will be giving vets tips on improving customer service and optimising workplace efficiency.
Opening Ceremony :
There will be a formal Congress Opening Ceremony at the RDS on Thursday evening. The "stars of the show" will be a selection of the globally popular Irish Native Breeds of Dog, including
• Irish Setter
• Irish Red and White Setter
• Irish Wolfhound
• Irish Water Spaniel
• Irish Terrier
• Irish Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
• Kerry Beagle
• Kerry Blue Terrier
• Glen of Imaal Terrier
Individuals of each of these breeds will be on the stage, creating an eye-catching and uniquely Irish spectacle.
Friday Aug 21st
Lectures all day including
• Symposium on Suicide in the Veterinary Profession with open discussion afterwards. There is a global problem with suicide in the veterinary profession, with international studies showing that the rate is over four times that of the general public, higher than any other occupation including doctors, farmers and dentists. Much research has been carried out into the reasons for this, and there are many new ideas about ways that this can be addressed.
• Cataract Surgery for Dogs. Cataracts are one of the main causes of blindness in pets, and in the past this was untreatable. A range of treatment options are now available, and this session will outline the latest possibilities available to vets in practice.
Sat Aug 22
Lectures all day including
• Significance of Cat predation on wildlife. Many people are concerned about the dwindling populations of wild birds. There are many factors, including climate change and damage to local habitats, but pet cats are known to be significant predators. How much of an effect does this have on population levels, and what should be done? Should cats be confined to indoors (as they often are in the USA and Australia) or is it right to allow them to be free ranging creatures?
• Wild life and the GP Vet. Vets are trained to treat dogs, cats and other commonly kept pets, but they are seen by the public as general "animal experts". What should vets do when presented with unfamiliar wild animals? From badgers with broken legs, to hedgehogs with headaches, what is the best approach?
• Whole day for Vet Nurses. Every vet in practice is supported by up to four veterinary nurses. What is the role of a vet nurse? How much should they be allowed to do? What is the best way of utilising the animal-caring skills of veterinary nurses?
Sun Aug 23
Lectures all day including
• Old Cats ....Cognitive Dysfunction. With the higher standard of veterinary care that is now available, cats are living for longer than ever, with many carrying on to their late teens or early twenties. New problems are being recognised in this aging population, including so-called Cognitive Dysfunction, the feline version of Alzeimers Disease in humans. How can this be recognised, and can it be treated?
• Home Care - End of Life Issues. Most pet owners will experience the trauma of the death of a pet, but how should this best be handled? Is a "home-hospice" possible and practical? When does sentimentality risk imposing accidental cruelty? When is the best time to let a pet go?
• MRSA Current status and the future. The threat of MRSA has increased in the veterinary world, paralleling the situation in human hospitals. Can the problem be passed on to humans from pets? Should vets and pets be screened for MSRA? What is the most effective way of protecting human and pet health from this significant problem?
• Snakes and other reptiles. The popularity of exotic pets is increasing, but lack of familiarity with some of these rare creatures can make treatment a challenge. A hands-on session with a range of reptiles should lead to some interesting discussions. ("Which end is his head?") Click here for full post
Monday 18 August 2008
Alex Flynn-Fitzgerald doted on his pet cat Sparkles, and when she died, poor Alex was devastated.
Alex had always wanted a cat. When a neighbour’s cat had a litter of kittens, he visited the household every day, watching the tiny newborn sausage-like creatures grow into playful handfuls of kittenhood. He kept asking his mother if he could, please, please, please, keep one of the kittens as his own pet. When the kittens were old enough to be sent to their new homes, his mother finally agreed. Alex picked out the kitten of his choice, and he named her Sparkles.
Sparkles grew up to be a fine looking black and white cat. She had everything done for her, including vaccinations, spaying, and regular worm and flea doses. She was well-named – she did seem to sparkle with good health. She also turned out to have a very sparky temperament. She was always out and about, and was not a cat who liked to sit in a human’s lap to be petted. Sparkles was more likely to chase Alex’s feet than to lie beside him purring, but Alex loved her anyway. She became a part of his life, and he enjoyed her company.
Alex had classmates who had dogs, but he preferred the companionship of a cat. She did not depend on him: she was her own creature, doing her own thing. Alex liked to think that she was a bit like himself: he is a football-playing, sport-loving person, not somebody who hangs onto his mother’s coat-tails. If Alex had been a cat, he felt that he would have been just like Sparkles.
Sparkles was a creature of habit. Twice a day, without fail, she would turn up for food, miaowing until it was put into the bowl, then purring as she tucked into it. A couple of months ago, Alex noticed that she was not as keen on her food as normal. She seemed well otherwise, but it seemed odd that she didn’t show the same enthusiasm at meal times. Alex’s family was just beginning to think that perhaps they should take her to the vet, when something worse happened: Sparkles disappeared.
The family has a big garden, and they searched it carefully, but there was no sign of the cat. She seemed to have vanished completely. Alex’s mum feared that maybe she had “gone off to die”, and Alex began to think that he might not see his cat again. Then, as suddenly as she had disappeared, she came back again, and her appetite seemed to have returned. She ate hungrily, and behaved normally in other ways too. Cats are independent animals, and Alex thought that perhaps she had just decided to visit some neighbours for a few days, for no particular reason.
A few weeks later, Sparkles began to be finicky about her food again. At this stage it was clear that she had lost weight, and she was beginning to look a little unkempt and scrawny. Alex’s mum phoned the vet to make an appointment, but when she went to put Sparkles into the cat carrier, she had vanished again. This time, she was missing for two days, and when she came back, she was clearly very unwell. She was taken to the vet at once, and an immediate investigation into the cause of her problem was started. Sparkles was hospitalised and fed special high-energy food by hand, to try to give her some strength back until a full diagnosis had been made and specific treatment could be started.
Blood tests and urine samples were taken, and these suggested that there was something odd going on with her liver. A series of x-rays confirmed that poor Sparkles had a solid mass, as big as a cricket ball, growing out of her liver. The vet was not sure what the mass was made up of – it could be an abscess, or infection, but worst of all, there was a significant possibility that it could be a rare form of liver cancer. The vet tried to break it gently to Alex: Sparkles was seriously ill, but it was too early to say whether she would pull through or not. An extra test was needed to find out more about what was happening. The plan was to use ultrasound to collect a biopsy from the mass in her abdomen. This was scheduled to take place the following week. Meanwhile Sparkles was kept at the veterinary hospital, receiving intensive treatment and nursing.
Unfortunately, poor Sparkles did not live long enough to have the biopsy taken. Her condition deteriorated to the stage where she was so weak that she couldn’t walk around the room. The vet explained that her problem was almost certainly caused by incurable liver cancer, and the difficult decision was made to carry out euthanasia. Alex didn’t stay while this was done, but the whole family gathered around the grave when Sparkles was buried in the back garden afterwards. Alex’s mum read out a prayer, and a neighbour’s child placed flowers and a cat toy on Sparkle’s body before the earth was filled back in.
Alex still misses Sparkles, but he knows that everything was done that could have been done to help. Sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way that we want it to. Alex has had his first lesson in losing a friend, and it has not been easy.Tips
+ Pets are good for children in many ways
+ They teach children about the pleasures of friendship
+ They also teach children about the sadness and inevitability of death Click here for full post
Friday 15 August 2008
This is an audio file, recorded with Declan Meehan on East Coast FM, which starts with a story of a dog eating a slug, and going on to outline the importance of regular worming of dogs and cats
importance of worming pets.mp3
Click here for full post
Monday 11 August 2008
Publish Postfit, healthy dog, apart from one problem: there was a golf-ball sized swelling on the underside of his jaw in the midline, above and in front of his voice box. Rio’s body temperature was a little higher than normal, so it seemed likely that this swelling related to infection of some kind. I treated him with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs, and arranged to see him again on the following morning.
When he came back after the weekend, Rio was back to his usual self, eating and playing, but the swelling was still present. We decided that it would be safer to investigate this in more detail. Under general anaesthesia, I took x-ray pictures of his skull and neck, but everything was normal. I opened his jaws wide, and visually inspected the back of his throat. This is when I found the first significant clue to the cause of his problem. The area around the base of his tongue and his tonsils was bright red, and I found small sharp pieces of grass and grass seeds impaled into the area around his right tonsil. I carefully picked them all out with tweezers. Could they have caused his body to react with a large swelling as part of his body defences? Rio came around from his anaesthetic and went home that evening, on continuing antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication. Blood samples were sent off to the laboratory to look for other clues about his mystery problem, but they all came back as normal.
When I questioned Cliona, she told me that she had never seen him eating grass, like some dogs. But he did love running through long grass. He had done this throughout his whole life, and it had never caused a problem before.
During the following couple of weeks, Rio went on to make a full recovery. The swelling disappeared completely, and it seemed that his illness had been a minor one-off problem.
Six weeks later, the swelling recurred, but it was different now. This time, one of the lymph nodes under his jaw was the focus. Lymph nodes are bean-shaped nodules that are located throughout the body. They contain millions of white blood cells, and they are designed to filter out microscopic particles from the blood stream, protecting the body. Lymph nodes become enlarged when they are “in action”, due to the accumulation of extra cells in the body’s effort to deal with a problem. They most commonly become enlarged because of infection, but more sinister causes, such as strange immune diseases or even cancer can also cause them to get bigger. In Rio’s case, the lymph node was over two inches in diameter, which was around five times its normal size.
I collected a small biopsy sample from the lymph node by pushing a fine needle into it, and the sample was sent off to the laboratory. The result showed that the reaction was caused by infection, and a resistant bacteria was cultured from the sample. Rio was put onto a potent modern antibiotic, and again, the swelling went down in size.
At this stage, I knew there were two possibilities. Either Rio had been unlucky enough to pick up a particularly nasty bacterial infection when he had the initial problem, and it had not been cleared by the original course of antibiotics. It this was the case, the problem should now resolve, since I had put him on an antibiotic that I knew from the laboratory tests to be highly effective.
The second possibility was more complicated. If some of the sharp grass seeds had penetrated the back of his throat, they could travel inside his body, like tiny needles moving underneath the surface. If this was the case, they would continue to bother him, causing repeated infections until they were physically removed. It is very difficult to find these grass seeds, since they do not show up on x-rays. Ultrasound examination or MRI scans are needed to pinpoint their location, and even then, it is not always easy.
Rio’s problem fluctuated over the following two weeks, getting better then worse, then better and worse again. In the end, we decided to refer him to the surgery department in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at UCD. An ultrasound scan of his throat was carried out, and as we suspected, several small sharp grass seeds were found. These were removed with delicate surgery. At last, the cause of Rio’s problem had been identified and removed. He went on to make a full and permanent recovery.
Rio still runs through long grass from time to time, but Cliona prefers him to exercise in other areas where possible. Rio has been through enough trauma, and she doesn’t want a simple grass seed to get the better of him again.
+ It is common for dogs to graze on grass and this does not usually cause any harm
+ Occasionally, grass seeds can puncture the back of the throat, causing problems
+ Grass seeds that have penetrated the body surface are very difficult to find Click here for full post