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Thursday, 30 April 2009

Wish you were here

I love spending time with my three-year-old Border Collie, Maisie, and we often go away on holiday together to Pembrokeshire, where we spend a week taking long walks along the coast. However, this year I would love to have a week where we can spend quality time together doing lots of fun activities. We especially like agility and flyball, so it would be great if we could incorporate these into our holiday too. Can anyone recommend some activity holidays for dogs and their owners we could look into?
Judy Hall

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Walk on the wild side

I walk in Forestry Commission woodland, and, in order to have a pleasant 'circular walk' through the woods and back to my car I have to run the gauntlet of loose dogs who are left in their very large garden (several acres, so they do not need to be on the lane) with the lane gates open. These dogs are a youngish Border Collie (male - appears neutered, but leaps at car tyres every time I go past and chases my car up the lane), a Staffie bitch (about 10 years old) and a very elderly Lurcher (Collie-Deerhound and goodness knows what else). The three of them have already attacked a Greyhound bitch walking along the lane, bitten her tail and broken it.
Should I ask the Dog Warden to have a word with the owner of these dogs?
Angela Boyd

Most certainly you should speak to the Dog Warden in your area and have a word with the owners asking them to keep the dogs within their own property - if they have such a large garden there is no need for them to be out in the lane also. They could also be reported to the police as having dangerous dogs - a dangerous dog is a dog that puts any body in a state of fear or axiety it does not have to BITE or nip you. These dogs should not be left alone and unattended because as a pack they could do a lot of harm or damage to Man, Dog or Child !!
Margaret Young

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Help me light up my life!

I have taken the plunge and am about to start a radical diet plan. I'm signing up to LighterLife so potentially for the next three months I will only be eating their very low cal sachets of soup, shakes and bars. I hope to lose a stone a month but would really like to tone as I go and ideally involve my dog in any exercise regime as time is an issue and I don't want to lock myself away in a gym. Is there a fitness programme we both can follow? Are there any dog charities I can raise money for while I slim? Might give me an incentive to stick to the plan.
My dog is a medium sized one and to be honest neither of us have been getting that much exercise recently so I guess we both need to build up to it!
Name and Address supplied

Anyone else about to start a different type of weight loss regime? Maybe we could follow a few dog owners and get some fitness advisors to help. I know Tailwaggers Club Trust would love you to set up a JustGiving page for your sponsored slim!

Grape gripes

I recently saw a picture of a friends dog picking its own grapes from a vine in a back garden. I mentioned to the owner (who is a doctor) that grapes may be poisonous to dogs. He replied that his dog had been picking its own grapes from the garden for the last 10 years and to no apparent harm.
My friend the doctor said that he had looked into this matter and found that it was a chemical which is sprayed on to the grapes during the growing process or during the washing and getting them to the supermarket which is harmful to the dogs - not the grapes themselves! What do you think?
Sarah Morris
Hillingdon, Middlesex

Alison Logan, vet, advises:
The whole question of just how much of a danger grapes pose to dogs has not, to my knowledge, been answered. It was posed in the Dogs Today Think Tank in January 2009 where I described in detail the effects and what treatment can help.
It does concern me, not only as a practising veterinary surgeon but also as a dog-owner because my Lab Pippin is notorious for eating anything and everything, and especially fruit-wise. We do have three grape vines in the garden, which we planted when we moved here in 1992, when I was unaware of the potential danger to a dog of eating grapes.
In the last two years, there have been bunches of grapes within her reach. I was unaware of Pippin eating them until one day when I found grape skins in her faeces. She was not otherwise unwell. Does this mean that the toxin is not present in our grapes? Regardless, I no longer wait for them to ripen but pick them as soon as I find them but she does still help herself to a surreptitious snack when she can.
Why dogs should develop acute renal (kidney) failure from eating grapes, raisins and sultanas when we can eat them safely is still unclear. I have not managed to find an explanation anywhere: the source of the intoxication has not yet been identified and therefore a mechanism of action cannot be formulated. It does seem that a bigger quantity of grapes can be eaten than of raisins before signs of intoxication develop, suggesting that the toxin is more concentrated, present at a higher level, in raisins. A bunch of grapes has been said to be equivalent to a small snack size box of raisins, for example.
There are also conflicting reports on the amount of grapes or raisins which poses a toxic threat. I suspect this relates to the fact that the owner often has no idea how many have been eaten, unless a bunch of grapes has patently gone missing which no human has owned up to eating. This is especially the case if the patient has been helping himself direct from the vine. It does also make one wonder whether the toxic component occurs at highly variable levels, or needs another contributing factor present. As you rightly say, we are not even sure whether it is a substance occurring naturally within the grape or whether it may be something which is applied to the grape. Certainly, we do not apply any chemicals to the vines in our garden.
Sadly, though, dogs have died as a result of acute kidney failure so best advice is to avoid dogs having access to grapes, raisins and sultanas as much as possible.

Alex Campbell, Veterinary Poisons Information Service, advises:
It is a frustrating thing that the mechanism by which grapes, sultanas, raisins and even currants can cause toxicity in dogs and possibly other animals such as cats and ferrets is not fully clear. However, the fact that severe effects and even fatalities occur in some animals and not others, even when the doses ingested have been similar has led some authors to conclude that there may be a component of the fruits whose concentration varies markedly or that the effects may be due to an external compound that may occasionally be present. People have suggested various possibilities including cleaning agents,
pesticides, and heavy metals. Other hypotheses for the toxicity have included tannin intolerance, contamination of the fruit with mycotoxins, sugar overload, ingestion of excess vitamin D or even enzymatic or genetic variances in some animals. None of these have been proven in the published peer-reviewed literature.
What is certain, however, is that in some dogs ingestion of a small number of grapes can result in life-threatening renal failure. The signs of this may not be apparent until it is too late to respond and treat successfully. In a series of 180 cases reported to Veterinary Poisons Information Service (London); 13 dogs died and 4 were euthanased (death rate 10.5%).
The VPIS would advise that dog owners do not feed their animals ANY of these fruits. It is possible that some toxic effects may occur in dogs fed small amounts regularly that may not result in visible clinical signs. If your animal gets hold of the fruits take them to the vet as a matter of urgency.
NOTE: The VPIS is not a public access service and any queries should be referred to your vet in the first instance.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Care when you're not there

We are going on holiday in a couple of months and usually take our two Cairn Terriers along with us, but this time it is not possible. Does anyone have experience of using kennels or petsitters? How would I go about finding a reputable organisation?
Jean Wilson

We would always recommend most strongly that anyone needing a petsitter should choose one who has been registered, vetted, visited and insured, as is the case of all members of The National Association of Registered Petsitters. NARP is the Trade Association for the petsitting industry and is the largest petcare organisation in the UK. NARP has registered more than 10,000 experienced petsitters throughout the country. The Association is not an agency and does not get involved with bookings or any other arrangements.
Many members of NARP are agencies that have been approved and there are also thousands of individual members (many who work with their spouses/partners) to provide the most kind, caring and reliable petcare services which range from boarding dogs/pets while the owners go on holiday, walking dogs while the owners are at work, similarly caring for all other pets from cats to rats to rabbits to birds.
NARP is non profit making and part of the funding of the Association comes from subscriptions to the National Register of Petsitters. However, for readers of Dogs Today NARP offers a FREE subscription to anybody who needs a petsitter.
To find a registered petsitter in your area simply visit and follow the links to 'need a Petsitter?' Click the button 'Subscribe' then simply fill in the form, making sure to include your postcode (on which the search will be based). To get your free subscription enter 'dogstoday' into the Promotional Code box at the bottom of the form. You will then see a list of current registered petsitters starting with those closest to you by postcode. The Key will show you which services each member offers. You can then make direct contact with any of the members who offer the service you require and negotiate with them regarding any bookings and payments.
Robin Taylor, Chairman, The National Association of Registered Petsitters (NARP)

A quick search through the internet will bring up a host of kennels and pet sitting orgaisations. It is then a matter of contacting them to see what they can offer and which one gives you the most confidence. Bearing in mind the dogs are valued members of your family, you have to be completely happy with the arrangements made for their care. Do not be afraid to ask questions.
Always visit kennels to make sure they're clean and the that the dogs have some attention and exercise. Be aware that most kennels are not set to give the dogs one-to-one compnay in the same way pet sitters can.
You need to be sure that your pet sitter has back up in case they were unable to undertake the booking for whatever reason, so it is best to use an organisation rather than a single person. Check the back up system, insurance and expenses. It is good to know what percentage the sitter is earning from the total fee and what extras there are. My own opinion is that dogs are much happier in their own homes with a petsitter so that their routine will alter as little as possible. If anything they have more attention than the owner normally has time to give.
Gillie McNicol, Director, Animal Aunts

If you would like to leave her dog with a pet sitter, it is vital you ask whether the pet sitter has valid insurance (public liability
insurance) and whether she has a home boarding licence which is granted by the local authority.
It is a legal requirement for anyone offering a pet boarding service to have a valid licence (which should be displayed in the property). Most local authorities also arrange for a vet to officially inspect the property for suitability.
Unfortunately, too many pet sitters are offering a home boarding service without insurance and an appropriate licence which is compromising the entire pet care profession.
Police disclosure/check certificates and references from customers are also valuable things to look out for. As is membership to a professional body such as Pet Sitters International.
Victoria Reinthal, Managing Director, Paw Pals (UK) Ltd

It’s very sensible to be looking at suitable arrangements for your Cairn Terriers well before your holiday.
When you go away, your dogs will miss you – their human pack. If you remove them from their territory and their human pack, they may suffer significant separation stress. So the kindest and best arrangement you can make is to leave them at home in their familiar environment following their normal routines – ie have a petsitter.
The things I would recommend looking for when selecting a suitable organisation are:
- a company that takes a very full brief from you on the dogs, including feeding and exercise routines, health, medication, temperament, behaviour on encountering other dogs, where they like to sleep (important if they will expect to sleep on the sitter’s bed!), etc
- a company that thoroughly vets its sitters, interviews them in person, investigates their pet experience and recruits
candidates with genuine warmth towards animals. And gets feedback from clients after every assignment to check that the pets were well cared for
- a company that arranges for you to meet your petsitter well before you go away to make sure that you and the dogs like them
- a company that provides full backup ie i) a real live person (not a telephone answering machine) available 24 hrs per day should the sitter require advice and ii) a suitably qualified replacement sitter immediately available should your sitter be
taken ill
- a company with longevity. If an organisation has been around for a good number of years, they must be doing something right and they will have a good reservoir of knowledge and experience in looking after dogs.
Adele Barclay, Managing Director, Homesitters Ltd

Our view is that your dog is always happier in their own home or that of another family where they will receive lots of love, attention and exercise that they would normally get at home.
The clients are happier when they have met the carer and seen the environment where their dog will be staying. If used regularly the dog becomes used to the carer and the new environment and looks forward to their holiday when their owners go away.
Tracey Eden, Franchise Support Manager, Petpals (UK) Ltd

Friday, 24 April 2009

Which course to take?

Since I've been fostering, dog walking & working as an Instructor's
Assistant at a training school I've been getting more interested in the
behaviour side of dog training. I've learned what I was told was
'aggression' in my own dog was simply perfectly normal terrier behaviour
that I made worse by trying to 'train it out of him' rather than working
with his breed instincts.
I'm also seeing behaviour from some of the 'teenage' young dogs that I
walk (different breeds, genders, and 'sexual' status as well!), which
makes them difficult to have around other dogs (pinning other dogs to
the floor, standing on shoulders) and make it impossible to stop and
chat to other dog owners as 'mine' appear to be beating theirs up! I
would like to know best how to handle this sort of thing, if it's a
'thing' that even needs 'handling', and mainly I would like to know how
not to make mistakes with the many dogs I'm in regular contact with - I
want them to grow up well rounded and be able to advise their owners, as
often this is their first dog and they want to make sure they are doing
things correctly.
So I've been looking at courses and there are so many! We're all told to
make sure we get a qualified trainer or behaviourist, but no-one tells
you which course makes a good trainer at the end of it. It's so
expensive as well if I make a mistake. So far I have been looking at
John Rogerson who has been recommended by more than one behavioural
trainer and I am doing two of his practical courses this year, Compass,
which is mainly distance learning I think, who were recommended by the
behaviourist who helped with my terrier, and do seem to have what I want
to do, and I went to a Sarah Whitehead workshop on Sunday that I saw in
Dogs Today and all of her courses look fabulous, too! I've also heard
good things about Bishop Burton College, although that's a bit far for
the practicals.
I'd like a mix of distance learning with practical as well, and I don't
mind it taking a long time.

I commend you for the commitment you have clearly shown to improving your knowledge and handling of dogs, even if a couple of your early points have left me a trifle puzzled.
What other ‘side’ to dog training can there be, for instance, other than the ‘behaviour’ one? Because without an ability to understand how dogs think and learn, you can’t teach them anything worthwhile. I’m also intrigued to know how you ‘work with’ the aggressive instincts of a terrier without making these instincts worse?
Aggression may be a ‘normal’ response in terriers, as it is in most dogs—and humans, come to that—given the right trigger. But it is still a socially unacceptable behaviour that rapidly escalates in any individual not better taught to control it. The more dogs are allowed to be aggressive, the more often they want to be aggressive, and the further they are from learning any different or better way to behave.
Similarly, the bullying behaviour shown by the ‘teenage’ dogs you exercise is totally unacceptable. Clearly their owners have not taken the trouble to teach them any better manners around other dogs, and if you cannot learn soon how to properly take charge of dogs like this, and rule the roost, they will only get worse. This in turn, I fear, will attract many complaints from other owners and do nothing for your reputation as a dog walker.
As far as furthering your dog knowledge goes, I’d start with courses—such as those run by Compass—that give you a sound introduction to the canine species as a whole. Ideally you want subjects like the following covered with sufficient authority and depth:

• Where dogs come from as a species, and how they have evolved psychologically and physically over many millennia
• What their typical social behaviour is
• How dogs essentially think and learn
• How dogs communicate and express their feelings/intentions through specific body language
• How the status dynamics of a typical dog pack work
• The basic anatomy and biology of dogs
• Behavioural quirks or characteristics typical of different breeds or breed types
• How different factors in dogs influence their behaviour: I.e. from basic genetic disposition and early rearing environment to diet, medication, illness and ongoing sources of fear or stress

In tandem with such basic theory, you also want to get as much practical and hands on experience of dogs as possible; constantly observing how they interact with each other. Try, too, to attend as many practical courses as possible to watch how different experienced trainers and behaviourists manage dogs.
All the time you are watching such people, however, it is vital to retain an open and questioning mind and keep asking yourself the following:

• Is this person’s approach kind? I.e. it does not involve punishing dogs—physically or verbally—or intimidating and dominating them?
• Does this person show a great ability to communicate with dogs and understand their feelings?
• Can this person explain dogs’ problems to owners in a way that makes total sense to them, as oppose to just spout a lot of theoretical mumbojumbo that goes over their heads?
• Can this person offer solutions to owners that are totally achievable and realistic?
• Do the methods used by this person actually work? I.e. Lead to consistently good results in a wide variety of different cases

Yes to all these questions means you have found a good role model to follow and study with further. Nos to any, on the other hand, mean you are probably dealing with someone less good, experienced or effective.
You ask what course makes a ‘good trainer’. It certainly helps to begin with the right teacher. Over and above this, however, it is never study alone that makes the best dog trainers or behaviourists, but exhaustive experience twinned with an instinctive and natural talent for understanding, reading and handling dogs that they mostly seem to be born with.
You may well discover you have this gift yourself once you begin pushing your own learning and experience further, and I wish you the best of luck in this quest. No time is ever wasted learning more about dogs.
Meanwhile, for a more in-depth explanation of what it takes to be a good canine behaviourist, visit the UK Registry of Canine Behaviourists’ website:
Carol Price, trainer and behaviourist

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Completely baffled

Are there any prepared diets that are 'complete' but don't contain carbs? I can't see how a wild dog would ever eat carbohydrates. It's not like rice or biscuits grow on trees!
What defines a complete food from a complementary? What am I meant to add to a complementary to make it complete?
Wendy Adam, Bristol

Blood, hounds and other types of dogs

I am a regular human blood donor and I really do encourage others to do it, too. Is it possible for dogs to become blood donors? Do they have blood types, too? What do I need to do? Are big dogs more useful than small dogs? I'm guessing an Irish Wolfhound could give a lot more blood than a Chihuahua!
Do dogs get a biscuit after they give, too?
Juliette Garner, Stockbridge

It has only been since 2005 that blood can be legally collected and stored by vets, in a similar way to human blood donations. Before vets had access to stored blood, they had to rely on local donors to be on hand or use synthetic products. This change means that veterinary surgeons now have access to blood for transfusions as and when they need them.
Tarn Hardy receiving a blood transfusion
Donor blood is often used in trauma cases, such as road traffic accidents, pre- and post-surgery where there has been excessive bleeding, as well as in the management of many other diseases.
The UK’s first Pet Blood Bank (PBBuk) – with funding from out-of-hours emergency care provider Vets Now – was set up as a not-for-profit charity to provide this life-saving canine blood to veterinary practices around the UK.
PBBuk has so far taken blood from over 1,200 volunteer donors. Every time a dog donates blood it can potentially save the lives of four other dogs. This means that for every 1,000 donations, we can potentially help up to 4,000 of the UK’s dogs.
It is only with a continuing supply of donors at our blood collection sessions that enough blood can be collected to continue to supply UK demand.
For dogs to become blood donors, they need to have a good temperament, as they are not sedated during the procedure. We use a local anaesthetic cream to prevent discomfort, but we find that the best donors are dogs that enjoy human interaction, play and rewards.
Donor dogs also need to be fit and healthy, aged between one and eight years old and have a lean bodyweight of more than 25kg. They should not have travelled abroad, to avoid the risk of infectious diseases, and they must not be receiving any medication other than preventive flea and worm treatment. In addition, they need to be up-to-date on all vaccinations, and must not have had a previous blood transfusion.
Blood types
Just like humans, dogs have different blood types. For the purposes of blood transfusions, these are classified into negative and positive blood types.
Blood typing kits are available for veterinary practices to test your dog’s blood type, so in the event of your worst nightmare becoming a reality, sourcing the right blood will not be an issue for your vet.
As a charity, we are working hard to educate vets on the importance of blood typing. Although all dogs can initially be given negative blood during transfusions safely, dogs are split roughly into half negative and half positive blood types. Testing and using the right blood type is best practice and makes best use of all the blood donated by our heroic donors!
The donation
The blood donation process itself takes about five to 10 minutes, but the whole procedure takes around 30 to 40 minutes.
Each dog is initially given a health check by the qualified veterinary team to ensure they are fit and suitable to donate on that day. First-time donors are blood typed and screened to give us all the vital information we need about their blood. We have the most stringent screening for infectious diseases in the industry.
If our donors are not already microchipped, we will also chip them so that all donors are individually identifiable.
After giving their donation of around 450ml of blood, depending on the size of the dog, our donors are given a PBBuk goody bag, a drink and biscuit (the equivalent of tea and a biscuit for us!) and a well deserved tummy rub.
Processing the blood
The PBBuk team takes the donations back to our state-of-the-art laboratory in Loughborough, Leicestershire and are processed within stringent time frames in order to produce specific blood products.
Once back at the laboratory, the blood is separated into red blood cells and plasma. Red blood cells can be stored for up to 42 days in a fridge. Plasma is frozen and can be stored for up to five years at temperatures below minus 18˚C. From here we then supply veterinary practices across the UK with these life-saving products.
At the moment we do not have a donation system in place for cats, but we have received a grant from the Waltham Foundation which is allowing us to run a study into conscious blood collection in cats. This is something we are hoping will pave the way to a feline blood bank in the future.

PBBuk relies on owners volunteering their dogs as donors. Could your dog be a hero?
Your dog can be a donor if he or she fits the following criteria:
• has a calm temperament
• is fit and healthy
• aged between one and eight years old
• weighs more than 25kg
• has not travelled abroad (to avoid the risk of passing on exotic and infectious diseases)
• is not receiving any medication other than preventive flea and worm treatment
• is up to date on all vaccinations
• has not had a previous blood transfusion.

Robson’s story

Enid Apsey was one dog owner faced with the awful reality that Robson, her Bichon Frise, was on the verge of life and death. Jenny Walton, veterinary supervisor for PBBuk said: “This little dog was literally taking its last gasps when he was presented to the clinic in October suffering from post-operative complications. Robson was admitted to Vets Now’s emergency clinic, taken into intensive care and given a blood transfusion. When you look at Robson now, it really makes you proud to be working for a charity that makes such a difference to the lives of pets and their owners.”
Ms Apsey, speaking to Ms Walton, said: “We are so pleased at the expert care he received. We know you all saved his life, for without that care and the blood transfusion, our wee Bichon would not have survived.”

To find out when the next blood drive is taking place, or to learn more about how to support the life-saving work of PBBuk, go to

Train and explain!

How do you choose a good dog trainer?
There are several people locally who advertise their services in the vets, post office, pet shop etc and all have different initials after their names and catchy business names that all sound very familiar. Exactly how many Dog Listeners/Whisperers/Tamers/Botherers are there in Britain? Is this a recognised training method - or a chain? Or just a name lots of people have chosen to adopt? Are there any chains of dog trainers who all agree to use the same methods? Be a good idea if there was.
What do all these initials actually equate to?
Can it just mean they've paid to go on a correspondence course?
Does it ever mean they've actually been assessed and have passed some practical tests? Knowing the theory and being able to teach are two very different skills.
Do any qualifications mean you follow a specific doctrine? For example that you follow Cesar Milan or Victoria Stilwell for eg?
Most of all I want someone that will make things better - not worse!
I think it's very hard to choose.
If you go off personal recommendation you're often talking to someone who has nothing to compare their experience with. And they might not mind someone zapping their dog or using a choke chain!
I have two dogs with very poor recall and I want to be able to let them off the leads without worry. One is already a bit spooky, don't want someone frightening the life out of them.
What questions should I ask to make sure I'm getting the best person?
What do you have to do to get those initials? An idiot's guide would be appreciated!
If you're a dog trainer can you explain to me what you did to get your qualifications and which courses you found the most helpful/testing? I know that everyone will probably think they've picked the right courses to go on, but I suspect there's more than one that's good. Would just like to know the differences!
Ray Wheeler

Monday, 20 April 2009

A wee problem

Nine months ago I acquired Shelly, a rescue Beardie bitch, who is now nearly 13. She had been kept in a garage for four years, with a bare plastic bed and apparently no free access to water. I soon realised that the lack of bedding was probably due to the fact that Shelley suffers from urinary incontinence. She had been spayed. My vet initially thought she might have a bladder infection, and prescribed antibiotics, and when these did not help, Propolin, and Valerian in case it was caused by stress. Nothing has helped.
She had very bad teeth and a while ago underwent a dental under general anaesthetic. For a week afterwards, she was dry, but then the problem resumed. She used to be dry at night, but no longer is. There does seem to be some connection with events perceived to be exciting - supper-time, when visitors arrive - it gets worse at these times, but she dribbles at other
times too, and I can see no pattern. She does not seem to be aware of it. She used to lick herself, but no longer does.
The vet has said her urinary system is fine, though has carried out no further tests, and just seems to think that because of her age I should put up with it. I have tried a herbal remedy, which has not helped either, and am wondering whether this could possibly be a mental rather than a physical problem? Perhaps linked to the abuse she suffered?
I do not have insurance for Shelley, and cannot really afford expensive referral treatment, but of course will do anything that might help. Acupuncture has been suggested - does anyone have experience of this for this condition? Any other suggestions? My washing machine is about to go on strike for shorter working hours!
Pat Dyer

My sympathies are with you; an incontinent dog is a frustrating and demoralising problem to have to cope with. Many spayed bitches do develop urinary incontinence, and this is the most likely cause of the condition, but it could well be that emotional factors are also involved. If she has had no urinary investigations there is also the possibility of bladder stones, or an ectopic ureter (where the kidneys pass urine straight into the vagina rather than into the bladder), or bladder polyps, amongst other conditions.
Of course, investigating the possibility of other causes will involve an anaesthetic and then X rays, ultrasounds and maybe other procedures, and you need to consider whether you want to put a 13 year old dog through such investigations.
Assuming it is ‘spay incontinence’, I have found acupuncture to be helpful, but this does involve regular sessions of acupuncture, more or less indefinitely (usually monthly) and depends on finding a vet with experience in acupuncture within reasonable travelling distance.
I have had great success with homoeopathic treatment, especially using a homoeopathic combination known as Dr Reckeweg R74 (in the form of drops) which is made for bedwetting in children but seems to work for bedwetting dogs too!
I have also used the homoeopathic medicines Causticum, Plumbum and Oestrogen amongst others, but every dog is different, and you would need the advice of a qualified homoeopathic vet to get the best regime of treatment for Shelley. Good luck with finding a treatment that works!
Richard Allport, alternative vet

I often get contacted about incontinent dogs, to ask whether the problem has a behavioural cause. The answer is that if the urine leakage happens when the dog is asleep then it is a physical problem and not psychological. Dogs with incontinence may also dribble when they are excited, such as when greeting visitors, but dogs with purely excitement induced peeing don’t leak when they are asleep.
Shelly’s problem does need to be resolved because it has welfare implications for her. Dogs with incontinence tend to get recurrent bladder infections, which are painful and distressing. Leaked urine can cause skin sores and irritation.
It is impossible to treat an incontinence problem successfully unless its cause has been investigated. There are several different physical causes for incontinence and they respond to different treatments and medications. Choosing the wrong one will be costly and ineffective.
Urine is held in the bladder by a tight muscular band at its neck. This is called the urethral sphincter, and it should be strong enough to create a good seal. As bitches get older, the sphincter becomes weaker. This is worse in neutered bitches because neutering takes away the hormone oestrogen that helps to maintain bladder sphincter tone.
If this were the only cause, life would be simple; we could just give drugs or hormone replacement therapy to tone up the sphincter and all would be well. Unfortunately, sphincter function depends on several other things, Firstly, the bladder must be in the correct position; in some bitches the neck of the bladder is wrongly positioned and the sphincter is unable to function properly. Secondly, the bladder muscles must be strong enough to expel all the urine when the dog goes to the toilet, otherwise some will remain inside. Thirdly, the dog must be producing normal amounts of urine; if she is drinking a lot then she will produce more urine and need to go to the toilet more often. This will make any incontinence much worse. Many ageing dogs are incontinent due to a combination of these factors and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to have some further investigations done. The good news is that there are numerous drugs that can help, and in some case the situation can be helped with surgery.
Your vet should be able to carry out these investigations, but you may want to get opinion from another vet, or seek referral, if you have lost confidence in your current vet. If money is a problem you could try contacting the rescue shelter you got Shelly from. It is impossible to take out an insurance policy for an old dog like Shelly and you cannot possibly have known what the cost of looking after her would be. By taking on an older dog you showed kindness, but you have also taken a risk, and, in my opinion, the rescue shelter you got her from has a moral responsibility to assist you.
Jon Bowen, behaviourist

This question is driving David up the wall

Why do some dogs after a walk rub the side of the faces on a wall etc? I've asked loads of people already but no one can give me a good answer!
Kindest regards
David Klein, Spain aka David the Dogman

Amy Hatcher, Canine Behaviourist and Dog Obedience Trainer, says...
This is a tricky one to answer as there could be many different reasons. My Border Collie bitch, Star, does this a lot after she has had a swim in the sea as she doesn't like the salty water in her eyes and mouth. She will also do this in order to mark her territory. Dogs don't have any scent glands there but it's a natural behaviour, similar to when male dogs mark the nearest bush or fence as soon as another dog passes by. There are so many reasons though. It could well be related to a happy roll - something lots of dogs do just because they are having a good time.

A senior moment

Why is Senior Dog (and cat!) food so much more expensive than the regular, adult varieties? It generally has less protein - so shouldn't it be less expensive than ordinary adult food, as it must contain less meat?
Claire Horton-Bussey

I'm not conscious that Senior foods are significantly more expensive than adult foods. Some manufacturers may include supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, anti-oxidants which would increase the cost a bit.
In our case at least, a lower protein food i.e. less meat would not mean a cheaper food; brown rice is much more expensive than the meat components in the food. For other manufacturers, the ultimate cost of the food would be determined in part by what is used to replace the meat portion.
John Burns BVMS MRCVS, Burns Pet Nutrition

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Crystal diet question

Dear Dogs Today,
I recently noticed to my horror that one of my dogs had blood in his urine. Armed with a sample of his urine, I took him to see my vet. I was hoping that it was just going to be an infection, curable with antibiotics. However, my vet tested a couple of urine samples and confirmed that crystals were to blame. He is going to have to be on a prescription diet for 6 weeks, and then re-assessed. This will be difficult as I have two other dogs, but I'm not complaining, I'm very grateful that this is available to me.
Graham is a 4 year old Jack Russell. We rescued him two years ago (he was featured in your 'Good Boy Awards' in July last year!) He is in excellent health apart from this recent problem, and I'd like to know what has caused it. The main part of all my dogs' diet is raw chicken, they sometimes have a tin of good quality dog food if I have been unable to get fresh chicken, and they do also have Bonios and Frolics as treats. They always have plenty of fresh water available to them. As I said, they are all in fantastic condition, they're super fit, happy, shiny and beautiful! Are some dogs just 'prone' to this problem, as I believe some people are? I was wondering also, if Graham's 'bad' diet in his first home might have anything to do with it? Assuming that this problem will be a reoccurring one, can I continue to feed the raw chicken, or does feeding a prescription diet mean at the exclusion of everything else?
Thank you very much for your time and valued opinion,
Yours Sincerely
Sara Marlow

The presence of crystals in the urine is something that causes a great deal of confusion, even (dare I say it) amongst vets. Let’s get this straight once and for all. Just because crystals are found in urine does NOT mean they are necessarily causing any problems. Let me quote from the Merck Veterinary Manual, one of the veterinary ‘bibles’:
‘Many urine sediments contain crystals. The type of crystal present depends on urine pH, concentration of crystallogenic materials, urine temperature and length of time between urine collection and examination.'
‘Struvite crystalluria in dogs is not a problem unless there is a concurrent bacterial urinary tract infection with a urease-producing microbe.'
What this is saying, in brief, is that crystals form for various reasons, and the numbers present depend on many factors (the older the sample before testing, the more crystals are likely to be seen, for example). The most common crystal type, struvite, is NOT a problem unless infection is present.
Without knowing exactly which type of crystals your Jack Russell was found to have, and how many, and how long after the sample was taken it was tested, and so on, I can’t be sure how significant the presence of crystals really is, but the crystals may well not be as worrying as has been suggested.
Raw food diets do not normally encourage crystal formation in my experience, however some water supplies are quite high in minerals that could predispose to crystals, and it might be worthwhile changing to distilled water (not mineral water which as the name suggests is high in minerals). Supplements such as cranberry juice or powder can encourage the production of urine with a higher acidity that will reduce the likelihood of infections and other urinary problems.
I would suggest you follow this up with your vet and ask for more details about the type and numbers of crystals and discuss whether the use of a prescription diet is really warranted. I would be very surprised if there were any need to feed this long-term and I hope and expect Graham can be back enjoying his raw chicken wings very shortly!
Richard Allport, alternative vet

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Should I shop around for drugs?

I have an eight year old Jack Russell cross dog called Billy. He has arthritis and my vet has put him on a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine. How can I make sure that I’m not spending too much on his medicines and still make sure that what I buy is right for him? I don’t have insurance.
Name and address supplied

We sympathise - responsible dog owners have a lot to consider when deciding what’s best for their dog and their budget. If you think that you are being overcharged, talk to your vet and ask them to go through what the charges are, and what the options and costs might be to get the medicines elsewhere.
It’s worth remembering that by law, only veterinary surgeons can carry out a diagnosis on an animal - unlike humans, animals can’t choose who treats them, so the law makes sure that they are treated by someone who is professionally qualified and accountable for what they do. How you can obtain any medicine needed following a diagnosis depends on how the medicine is categorised - this is based on the type of medicine and the animal it is for.
All veterinary medicines can be prescribed and sold by veterinary surgeons, and veterinary surgeons can also write prescriptions to be fulfilled by another veterinary practice or a pharmacist. If a prescription is required, the vet will need to see your pet as they are only allowed to prescribe for animals under their care. A repeat consultation may be required for long-term medication.
Vets can charge for both consultations and prescriptions. However, they should not charge someone wishing to take a prescription to be filled elsewhere more than someone who buys their medicines direct from the practice (except for the cost of the prescription). You could also get a diagnosis and a prescription from one practice and buy your medicines from another to make sure you get the best price.
A limited number of medicines, e.g. some flea treatments for dogs, can also be supplied without prescription by pharmacists, some veterinary nurses and suitably qualified pet shop staff – either on the high street or online. There are also a few basic veterinary medicines that anyone can sell – you will see some of these in the supermarket.
If your dog needs different medicines ask to have them all put on the same prescription – although you will need separate prescriptions for each pet if you have more than one. Veterinary practices have to display a price list for the top ten most commonly used medicines in their waiting room. You can also ask your vet if there is a cheaper alternative that they could prescribe - there may not be, or it may not be as effective, but at least you will know what your options are.
In some cases the ‘human’ equivalent may be available more cheaply, however if there is a veterinary medicine licensed to treat a specific illness in an animal species, legislation prevents veterinary surgeons from prescribing the ‘human’ equivalent. It is in your dog’s best interests to use the medicines which have been specifically authorised for dogs and it may even be dangerous to give an animal a preparation which has been formulated for a human.
Buying the medicines from a veterinary surgery may not be cheap, but you do have highly qualified and trained professionals who can check your pet’s health and give advice. Veterinary practice premises - where medicines are stored - follow regulations about storing medicines correctly to ensure that they are effective. If the practice is Practice Standard Scheme accredited, the RCVS will have checked how medicines are stored ( .
Pharmacists can also supply medicines prescribed by a veterinary surgeon and are regulated by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB).
Buying online can work out cheaper and there are online pharmacies and businesses, sometimes associated with veterinary surgeries, which can supply prescription medicines. A reputable business will ask to see the prescription and need to know some details about you and your pet.
If a website claims to be associated with a veterinary practice, you can check with the RCVS that the practice exists by calling: 020 7222 2001 or at The RPSGB has an internet pharmacy logo which it allows genuine pharmacies to use (see
If you are not sure whether a medicine needs a prescription, you can ask any veterinary practice. Be very wary of anyone, online or not, who will sell you a medicine that needs a prescription, without one - this is illegal and the offence is with the person who has bought the medicine.
Finally, don’t buy from overseas. There are controls on importing veterinary medicines into the UK, even from within the EU and even if possessing the medicine is legal in the UK. You can find out about the controls on importing and possessing veterinary medicines from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate at
Buying from overseas, or illegally within the UK, means you can’t do anything if the medicine you receive is counterfeit, doesn’t work or adversely affects your pet. The supply of veterinary medicines in the UK is controlled for public and animal health reasons that include the safety, quality, and effectiveness of these medicines.

Friday, 3 April 2009

We all need little treats!

I love spending time with my dog and having fun so I thought agility was perfect for both of us. I searched for agility classes in our local area but there were none. That's when I decided to do it all myself and teach him at home.
I now practise half an hour a day (depending on the weather) and my Jack Russell is starting to get good. I taught him to jump, weave, the tunnel and he still learning more.
However, there is one problem. As my dog is a terrier, he is small and therefore I can't seem to find a good treat reward that I can give him in a reasonable quantity. He can usually only have about three so I can't do to much training wit him. I've also tried using toys as a reward but he doesn't seem interested in them.
I take much care in making sure my dog is healthy and his weight is correct. Can anyone suggest a good dog treat that is tasty but not too high in fats and sugars and can be given to a small dog when training?
Jessica Ellis, age 13

Good question! Have you tried chopping up little tiny pieces of carrot - but then putting them in a bag with something more exciting like cheese or bacon so that they smell delicious but don't have the calories? A dog's sense of smell is so strong and I know my dogs swallow treats so fast that they rarely taste them, this might work out okay. I used to do a similar trick when giving tablets. I used to get a crinkly bag that you'd have sweets in, and have some very tasty smelly small treats in it plus the tablets. Then I'd ask the dog to do something simple like a sit or a down and then give a reward. Only on the third or fourth go I'd give the tablet out of the bag instead of a treat. Worked with nearly all my dogs - except Oscar the Beardie that always chews everything!
Beverley Cuddy, Editor,
Dogs Today

Agility is a active sport so your dog shouldn't be a risk of putting on weight as long as you are giving suitably sized treats and if necessary reducing the size of evening meal if your dog has had lots of treats that day.
Most commercially produced treats will be too large for use in training, ensure rewards are no bigger than half the size of your little fingernail. Pedigree produce a product of small treats called 'Training Treats', which for a small dog could be broken into quarters, or smaller. Cooked chicken makes a good high value training treat, but again remember that the treats
should be very small. Sliced chicken for sandwich fillings can be cut up into very small pieces without crumbling. If you have time you could consider making homemade training treats, such as 'Liver Cake'; include vegetables to make a lower calorie version, and try fish instead of liver for dogs with sensitive tummies.
It's a shame your dog doesn't want to play with toys, as toys make great rewards for agility training as you can throw the toy to reward the dog whilst it is working at a distance away from you. But you are not alone in this - lots of dogs prefer food to toys but with a little time invested in training even these dogs can learn to enjoy playing with toys. A great way to increase the desirability of toys for a food orientated dog is with a 'food-toy' that holds treat inside it.
You mention that you are training for 30minutes everyday; be careful not to over train your dog. Variety is important - even top competition agility dogs don't train on agility equipment everyday of the week; a little bit of a break is good. Cross-training can include activities such as free running (i.e. walking in the woods or playing fetch), lead walking and swimming etc, so remember to give your dog a couple of days off agility training each week.
Good luck with your agility training.
Tig Stephenson, Agility Instructor

Well done on your training, it's so much fun and very rewarding for both you and your dog.
Regarding treats, I can recommend our Feelwell's Probiotic Puppy Treats. They do not contain any artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, wheat or wheat gluten, sugar or salt. They are made with lamb & rice and also contain probiotics to help digestion.
They are a very small ring and are ideal as a training treat for any age of dog as they are just the right size to give your dog a reward.
Lots of agility, flyball, ringcraft and training clubs use these treats as they are natural and healthy so they can use plenty of them in a training session.
They are readily available in all good pet shops and in Pets at Home and if you would like a free palatability sample, please send your name & address to or visit to request a sample online and see the full ingredients and analysis for all our products.
Feelwell's Probiotic Treats are also available in Adult, Mature & Lite versions.
Best of luck with your training!
Helen Booth, Managing Director, Feelwell's

I have always found liver to be a good reward in training - lamb’s liver is best! You need to use very little but as it's so smelly it keeps dogs very motivated. It does make your kitchen smell but I am sure your dog won’t mind. Simply place some lamb’s liver in the oven and dry it out in a low oven for 5-6 hours, then you can break up into small pieces for the training, Liver cake is also a good treat as it can be cut into small pieces.
Lisa Gosling, Daisy's Dog Deli

Well done on your agility training with your dog. I'm sure he enjoys the training as much as you do! With regard to treats, our Coachies Treats are very small, heart-shaped treats that are GM and gluten free and are low calorie, with only one calorie per treat. They are dry treats that dogs love, but they won't break up in your pocket or treat bag. As they are already very small, they won't need to be cut up for a small breed like a Jack Russell Terrier.
You say that your dog is not motivated by toys, but have you tried using a squeaky toy to reward him? Most terriers love squeaky toys and toys are great to use in agility training as you can reward your dog by throwing his toy to him when he is away from you. You can also encourage him to run ahead of you by throwing a toy over the final jump or obstacle so that he speeds up as he finishes. A small Kong Wubba or extra small squeaker tennis ball would be ideal for a small breed. The
Wubba is particularly good as it has "tails" that you can hold while you play an exciting game of tug with your dog to reward him. They're also small enough to hold in your hand or put in your pocket while you are running with him.
Clare Butters, The Company of Animals

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Write career?

I have a keen interest in pursuing a career in animal journalism. I have extensive experience in the field including dog training and behaviour as well as being a qualified guide dog for the blind trainer. I am also currently completing a BSc in Animal Behaviour Science. I would appreciate any help you could give me regarding job applications and progressing in animal journalism.
Kind Regards
Louise Gradwell

When I was a little girl my career teacher shook her head, in those days she didn't think there was a way to make doggie journalism a full time job. It was obvious even then that I was dog mad. Animal journalism was not much known of as a career choice and there's a good reason for that! There are very few jobs!
Every day I encounter journalists who would love to stop writing about the economy, world poverty, politics and concentrate on all things doggy as that is their passion.
But there are very few specialist animal magazines and lots and lots of people wanting to write.
I would suggest training first as a journalist and then attempting to specialise if you aren't independently wealthy! It doesn't have to be a full time course, there are some great part time courses. I went on a wonderful evening class with the excellent Faye Ainscough entitled 'how to write for publication'. And that is definitely the trick if you are to be a freelance, writing for a specific market rather than just writing for your own amusement.
We very rarely have an opening in our office - many of our staff have been with us many, many years! When we do take someone on they have to live locally.
I would hate to discourage anyone from this career, but there are easier paths!
Books to check out - the Writer's and Artists Yearbook - a good place to start.
Beverley Cuddy, Editor, Dogs Today

I got into journalism in a roundabout way, but some of my experience may be helpful to you. I qualified as a teacher, but stopped work to be a stay-at-home Mom. During that time my husband was developing his IT business, so I gradually took on more and more of a role in that - learning a lot about computers whether I wanted to or not! Being a techie, my husband knew that podcasting was about to take off about four years ago. He also knew that I had an endless capacity to fall into conversation with other dog owners. He connected the two and suggested we make a podcast about dogs. This suited me well, as I had always written, but in a very casual relaxed way, lacking self discipline.
DogCast Radio is a magazine style podcast (or Internet radio show) featuring interviews with expert trainers, carefully selected breeders, and owners, as well as news from around the world and original fiction. Writing and hosting the show made me develop the discipline I had lacked for years. Suddenly I had deadlines to meet, and from the beginning we strove to have high production values and to be professional.
I met Beverley Cuddy and began to write for her. I joined the NUJ and now write for a variety of publications. I love dogs and I love writing so it's the perfect job for me. Oh yes - and I love talking too!
The best advice I can give you is to play to your strengths - you have a great qualification and a lot of practical experience, so keep that prominent when you pitch an idea or fill in a job application or talk in an interview. Also - and this sounds obvious - be professional. By this I mean look the part, and act the part - if you say you'll be somewhere or have something written by a certain date then do it. If you are at all IT minded use the Internet -it's an excellent resource. At the very least join lots of forums, and get yourself known. Many people get noticed through their blog. Try and get known in person too; I've been
knocked back by editors who welcomed me once I met them and chatted to them for a while.
Don't be afraid to ask people - I was amazed at who said yes to an interview in the early days. Start locally, approaching newspapers magazines and even radio stations that are near you. Keep at it, don't be discouraged, it may take time.
I wish you lots of luck,
Julie Hill, Host of DogCast Radio

Which car?

I'm thinking of getting a new van for my dog walking business, but I'm up for the idea of choosing a car, perhaps one of those that all the seats lay down in? I need to be able to get a crate, or some sort of partitions so that I can have at least four dogs in the car, in safety - my dream is to get a well designed space so that I can get two Great Danes in there, possibly with another couple of dogs. I also need to be able to use the vehicle for camping, so don't really want one of those really heavy crates. I'll still need two crates (or partitions) for my dogs, but the rest of the space will be needed for a tent and all the
equipment so needs to be nice and roomy. I do like my home comforts, so it's got to be comfy, and I'm fed up with the bare minimum manufacturers put into vans! Plenty of gadgets please! Any suggestions for vans or cars I can use?
Mina Ward

Estate cars probably don’t offer you the right amount of height for your crates (although if they do, take a look at the Kia Cee’d – nice to drive, well kitted out, great value and a seven year warranty). MPVs are a better option, but more biased towards families than lugging large crates around. However, I’m big fans of cars like the Citroen Berlingo Multispace, Renault’s Kangoo and the Fiat Qubo. If you can get over the fact that they look like Noddy and Big Ears have just jumped out, they’re well-priced, massively practical and spacious cars (with huge useful boots) that are based on vans, but are actually seriously good to drive and come with all the gadgets and gizmos you could want.
Steve Fowler, editor of What Car? and owner of Leia the Labrador

It sounds like manufacturers are beginning to realise that dog owners still need to buy big cars Honda has unveiled its Dog Friendly Element at the New York International Auto show.

"In an interesting turn of events, cars are now chasing dogs," said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda. "Factory integration of a cushioned pet bed, restraint systems and other components are intended to transform the Element into the ultimate dog car."

The car, which will hit the American market in the autumn, includes second-row and cargo area pet restraint systems; a cushioned, elevated pet bed; back-seat covers with doggy designs; and a spill-resistant water bowl.

The Element also bears paw symbols on its exterior and rubber floor mats with toy bone patterns. The most innovative part of the design is a ramp to make it easier for dogs to get into the back, which folds into its cargo area.

Toyota is also about to release a doggified car in the States. That car will also offer doggy seat mats, protective restraints and other elements designed to appeal to pet owners.

Sadly neither company seem to have plans to launch their dog versions in this country.

Beverley Cuddy, Editor

It may be worth considering contacting one of the specialist companies that adapt vehicles specifically for transporting dogs; in addition to providing secure, rattle free caging with removal partitioning these companies can also fit vans with thermal lining, fold away ramps or jump boards and many more features, all with dogs in mind. So if you choose a high spec van
you can have all your mod cons in the front, and the back kitted out to meet the needs of the dogs.
Tig Stephenson

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

How can I be flea free?

I have just taken on a three-year-old Cocker Spaniel whose previous owners couldn't look after her any longer. However, over the past few days she has been scratching constantly and I am worried she may have fleas. How do I know if she has been infested and can anyone recommend a product to get rid of them? Her previous owners had two cats. Could she have picked them up from them and how do I prevent them from returning?
Claire Tolliver

You will need to use a spot-on treatment from your vet to clear the initial infestation from your dog, but once she is clear you should prevent the fleas from returning. We give each of our dogs a 2mg garlic capsule every day and haven't seen a flea for 14 years. Garlic also keeps ticks at bay and is good for the heart.
Bill Knight, Dogs Today Advisor

Hopefully, you will have treated your dog by the time you read this and all will be well. The only advice I would like to add is to ensure that the flea product you have used will also break the life-cycle of the flea in the environment. Otherwise, you will find that your dog may well become re-infested from your own home, even after the short time she has spent in it. A flea only spends 5% of its life on a dog! If there is not a claim on the product you have used for being effective in the environment (by which I mean the house, car, caravan, garage, shed, tree-house, and so on, if there is a real problem!), then you will need to treat the environment separately, and do ensure that what you use will kill all stages of the flea’s life cycle and not just the adults. If you are not sure, then do ask at your veterinary practice for advice.
It is also worth remembering that your dog is not the only way for fleas to be introduced into a house, and I am not just thinking of cats! I have to confess that I have often inadvertently brought fleas home with me after seeing a dog or cat with fleas at the practice. We can carry the eggs under our shoes as well. Estate agents are the commonly cited example: on walking into a house which has been empty for a long time, apparently the fleas can be heard hatching out! Some form of routine flea control is therefore often needed, although the risks are greatly reduced if you do not have a cat.
Owners with house cats, ie the cats never leave the house, will often not treat for fleas in the mistaken belief that there is no way their cat can pick up fleas. It takes some explaining when a routine run through the fur with a flea comb yields live fleas, or flea dirts. Unless the household is a truly closed community, with none of the inhabitants (two- and four-legged) having any contact at all with the outside world, then flea control will still be needed, albeit less stringently than if the cats were roaming at will outside. After all, the human occupants will still be going about their daily business, visiting friends, going to work, and so on.
If your dog is still scratching after thorough flea treatment, it would be worth running a flea comb through her coat. Flea dirts look like black commas, and dissolve in water leaving a tell-tale red trace. If there are none, then she may simply be going through a heavy moult, or the temperature of your house may be warmer than in her previous home.
If she is still scratching for no reason you can fathom, then a visit to your veterinary surgeon is warranted. It will be useful for your dog to have a health check anyway, having just taken her in, to ensure that she is fit and well.
Alison Logan, vet