Parvo Dog Virus in Lecale?

Mollie The Collie
Molly the Collie in rude health

You may have seen recent social media posts about at “Killer” dog virus circulating in Lecale.  In fact, many of our clients have approached us with questions about this virus. The name of the virus is parvo which means “small” in Latin.  The truth is that this virus is an ever present risk to the canines of Lecale.  It has been a problem since the late 1970s and continues to pose a threat to our canine companions.  It can cause diarrhoea, depression, dehydration and even death, especially in puppies.

The virus is thought to have jumped from cats in the late 1970s.  It mutated when it entered the dog population. Because dogs had never “seen” the virus before, they had no immunity.  It caused serious disease and death, and continues to do so. The vets responded by developing a vaccine to this virus.  Now it is recommended that all dogs are vaccinated when they are puppies and come back in annually for a checkup to try to protect against this disease.

Most standard puppy vaccines will provide protection against parvo virus.  It is very important to make sure your puppy is vaccinated, and doesn’t contact other dogs until it is vaccinated.  Parvo is spread whenever dogs go to the toilet, and other dogs sniff their leavings. Even a vaccinated dog can infect a dog who is not vaccinated.  If you are unsure if your dog is vaccinated or not contact your vet. They can perform a test to check. Or if may be cheaper to simply restart their vaccination course from scratch to be on the safe side.

If your dog catches parvo virus it can be deadly.  Treatment involves admission to hospital and intravenous fluids.  Sadly, younger dogs are often not strong enough to fight the virus, and can die.  The old adage “Prevention is better than Cure” applies here.  If you have any queries, please contact your vet for information, or drop into Downe Vets for a vaccination.

Why Are There So Many Stray Cats?

Wilbur and Cicero

Wilbur and Cicero

Cats are great pets.  They are friendly, sociable and really value time spent in their owner’s company.   In fact, there are around 8 million cats kept as pets in the UK.  That means that approximately 1 in 3 households owns a cat.  However, these figures are in fact an underestimate.  For every cat with a home, it is estimated that there is one stray cat.  That’s right – there could be as many as 8 million stray cats in the UK.  These cats have no home, no shelter and no reliable source of food.

So why are there so many stray cats?  The main reason is that they are very good at reproducing as a species.  Female cats (called queens) are fertile from a young age – 4 months.  They can remain fertile for their entire lives.  They come into heat approximately 3 times per year or more and an average litter size is 4 kittens.  This means that a standard queen can produce 12 kittens per year.  If she lives for 15 years she can in theory produce 180 kittens in her lifetime.  Now, say that half of her offspring are female.  So 90 kittens.  They could each produce 180 more kittens in their lifetimes and so on.  So over her lifetime, by one measure, one female cat could have 16,200 Kitten “grand-kits” by the second generation.  These amazing numbers give one indication as to why there always seem to be stray cats in the neighbourhood.

There are many readers of this article who perhaps think loads of kittens is no bad thing.  There would be a cuteness overdrive.  However, of course, there are not enough homes for all of these animals.  Many end up diseased and starving, and suffer early and unpleasant deaths.  It is for this reason that we should be grateful to the tireless volunteers of Cats Protection and Cats Protection Downpatrick & Newcastle branches for helping these poor animals.  These animal-heroes rescue strays and ensure they are neutered at an early age at Downe Vets.  Every cat that is neutered means a potential reduction of 16,200 kittens down the line.  This is one of the biggest contributions to animal welfare in Lecale and should be applauded.

Neutered cats are healthy cats.  They are less likely to fight and develop certain diseases.  They are more pleasant house pets too.  We have developed safe and effective techniques to neuter at 4 months – the age cats are fertile, to ensure they have a long and happy life.

Why Worm Cattle?

When we talk about “worming” cattle, we of course mean the opposite.  Our aim is to get rid of all of the worms that they are carrying.  For our farmed animal populations, worm infections are ubiquitous.  In this article we will discuss roundworms, lungworms and fluke.  These are the three big parasitical infections of cattle.  We will use the term “worms” to refer to both worms and fluke.  All are parasites that infect cows and cause disease.  Reports from abbatoirs provide us with good information about the current parasite burden in our herds.  One recent study indicated that two thirds of cows are infected with roundworm and liver fluke and one sixth are infected with lungworm.

Roundworms infect the gut of the cow.  They are picked up from infected pasture and can cause significant weight loss and milk yield drop.  A bulk milk test will give you a general idea of how infected the herd is.  Lungworms cause pneumonia in cattle.  Your local vet can test for them using a faecal flotation test.  Fluke infects the liver.  It is spread by tiny snails in pasture.  It can cause weight loss and production loss.  Fluke infestations can also make cows more suceptible to catching other diseases such as salmonella or black-leg.  There is a bulk milk tank test for fluke antibodies, again giving a general herd picture.

The main treatment for these three ailments is “worming” or “fluking” – combined with pasture management (pasture management can control the environmental stage of the parasite; rotating pasture where possible and draining bogs to deprive the fluke snail of it’s habitat).  There are several good products on the market to de-worm or de-fluke your herd.  Worming has been shown to increase weight gain, milk yield and fertility across a herd.    There are different strategies with worming – depending on product used.  However manpower is a big consideration – for this reason worming is often carried when the herd is mustered – like the second day of a TB test.  Some worming protocols recommend leaving a small proportion of the herd “unwormed” so that the parasites will not all develop resistance to worming.  The idea being that the non-resistant parasites will dilute the population of parasites who could potentially develop resistance.

All withdrawal period information for milk and meat should of course be complied with.  Always read the datasheet and consult your vet for guidance.  The treatment protocols for worming or fluking vary for each product, so it would be helpful to build a herd health plan with your vet to decide what is best for you.

Does Giving Birth Hurt?

As a man, I feel that in this week’s article I am going to a place where angels fear to tread: giving birth.  I can already see the letters and social media comments winging their way to Downe Veterinary clinic from the ladies of Lecale, but hear me out.  This weekend the lovely Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle hosted one of Ireland’s top veterinary conferences.  At this conference vets from across the country gathered to hear about the latest research in Veterinary Medicine.  One lecture which the author attended was on the subject of cows giving birth.  This is an event which occurs frequently for the farmers and vets of Lecale.  You would think that we have nothing more to learn on the subject, but we do.

As many mothers will tell you, giving birth involves a modicum of discomfort.  In human medicine the process is often accompanied by good pain relief in the form of epidurals, anaesthetics and opioids.  However we have been slow to catch up in veterinary medicine.  Perhaps because our patients can’t talk, we have been slow to introduce good pain relief for “routine” calvings.  After all, cows have been giving birth in fields for time immemorial.  To be sure, for years it has been common practice to administer pain relief during C-sections but it has been less common to administer drugs when calvings go to plan.

At the AVSPNI veterinary conference this weekend, local vets were presented with the latest research out of the USA on the topic of pain relief in calving.  A study has indicated that giving cows good pain relief during even “normal” calvings can have dramatic beneficial effects for the cow, the farmer and the vet.  The cow gets great pain relief and enjoys life; the farmer gets increased milk production, a reduction in postnatal sickness and it has even been shown that the cows treated go on to have a longer lifespan.  The vet gets that warm glow of knowing animal welfare in Lecale has gone up a notch.  The research is compelling and logical.  It goes to show that the simplest ideas are often the best.  If you would like more information on the latest thinking, please just call into the clinic where one of our staff will be happy to advise.

Should We Farm More Insects for Food?

We need protein in our diets to live.  Proteins are an essential part of life.   In a typical Lecale diet, protein comes from plants and animals.  But there is another untapped source: insects.  Are you put off by the thought of sitting down to a grasshopper-burger, or perhaps a mealworm quiche?  Read on as I will try to convince you to introduce your family to a bug life.

The practice of eating insects is called “entomophagy”.  This term incorporates eating both eating insects and other arthropods like spiders.  The practice of eating insects is not new.  Humans have been doing it for thousands of years.  It has even been documented on cave paintings.  Today, 80% of the worlds consumes insects regularly in some form.  It is only in the Western Diet that it has fallen out of fashion.  So you may ask, “why should we eat insects, what’s the advantage?”  A good question.

Food security is important to any country, perhaps increasingly so today in the era of Brexit.  Currently we are not self-sufficient in food.  We import much of what we eat.  This is fine providing there are no trade barriers to obtaining foodstuff.  But small market movements could render a lot of what we eat much more expensive and unaffordable to many folks.  Insects are small, and can be grown in vast numbers in vats.  They don’t require acres of fields or sheds to produce protein for us.  And they are “home-grown”.  Every town could have its own “bug farm”, so the food supply would be very secure.

Mini-livestock!  Bugs could be our very own mini-cows.  We can directly eat them, thus satisfying our hunger.  They are cheap and quick to grow.  A cricket can produce 1500 eggs in 4 weeks!  No mammal that we currently eat can match that rate.  Alternatively we can grow insects as a source of protein for animal feed.  This can be fed to chicken, pigs and cattle and contribute to their rearing.

The environmental benefits for switching some farming to insect production are potentially large.  It takes 10 times the amount of plant material to produce a kilogram of meat as it does to produce a kilogram of insect protein.  That’s a 10 fold efficiency improvement.  It takes 22 times the amount of water to produce a kg of beef as it does to produce a kg of grasshopper protein.  In a world with scarce resources, these are big gains for humanity.  The ratio of energy input: protein output for insects is 4:1; for beef it is 54:1!  Insects are exothermic, they don’t need to generate their own heat to keep warm, unlike us or cows.  Therefore they expend less energy in growing and producing the protein that we need.  Livestock farming contributes 18% of greenhouse gas emissions that are generated by humanity.  That’s more than is produced by cars, planes, trains and aeroplanes combined!  Farming insects would contribute only 1% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cattle produce.

So with so many benefits to eating insects, why don’t we just do more of it?  We need to get over the fact that it’s “gross”.  After all, we eat lobsters and crabs, and they’re not too different to insects.  There are some signs that society is changing.  There are bug farms and restaurants operating in the UK already.  So perhaps someday soon you will be having a mealworm casserole for your Christmas dinner and deep fried crickets for your breakfast.

Should All Dogs in the Pound be Neutered Before Rehoming

Should All Dogs in the Pound be Neutered Before Rehoming?

It is a sad fact of life in our society that there are unwanted dogs.  Sometimes this is because their owner’s can’t cope with them anymore due to a change in circumstances.  But often it is because of an unexpected litter of unwanted pups has been bred “accidentally”.  The excess dog population ends up in the dog pound.  The good news is that there are many people aware and willing to rehome dogs from the pound.  The question that I think needs asking is, therefore, if dogs end up in the pound due to uncontrolled breeding, shouldn’t those same dogs be neutered before finding a new “forever” home?

Due to the fact that one bitch can produce litters with as many as 14 puppies, 3 times per year, it is theoretically possible that she can be responsible for hundreds of offspring in her lifetime.  Mathematics like this would strain the resources of any local authority running any dog pound.  It is because of this amazing fecundity of our domestic dog that we have dog pounds in the first place!  Fortunately in the 21st century, veterinary medicine has rendered neutering a routine and efficient procedure.  Neutering not only prevents unwanted litters, it can have other health benefits to the dog like a reduced risk of some cancers.

Given that neutering is commonplace, why do we have a problem of dog overpopulation in the first place?  The answer is complex, but one part of it has to be that we are not neutering dogs early enough to prevent them having litters in the first place.  Intervening early could prevent hundreds of unwanted puppies and save ratepayers the cost of kennelling for prolonged periods.  One answer is to recommend to rehoming owners that they get their new family pet neutered.  However this is already done, and with our busy lives it is easy to forget to perform this vital task before it is too late.  A better answer is to automatically neuter all dogs in the pound PRIOR to rehoming.  This would mean that every dog rehomed from the pound is guaranteed to be neutered.  They would be ready to form part of new families minimizing any hassle for their new owners.

Compulsory neutering of pound dogs prior to rehoming is already law in several parts of the world.  It has had a dramatic effect on reducing unwanted puppy litters in those countries.  Perhaps it is time that this positive change for animal welfare happens here.  Down District could lead the way in improving the lives of the dogs under our care.

Time to Vaccinate your Calves

Summertime is nearly over, and autumn is fast approaching.  Livestock have enjoyed a particularly good summer weatherwise but soon forage will run short and they will have to be housed for the the wetter months.  As every farmer knows, housing is essential in our climate.  It protects animals from the worst of the winter weather, and makes feeding them easier as grass recedes during the dark months of the year.  But, housing brings challenges too.  A group of animals kept in close proximity  is ideal for the spread of disease, particularly pneumonia.

“Pneumonia” simply means inflammation of the lungs.  It can be caused by various bugs – viruses, fungi and bacteria.  These bugs are spread more easily when animals are in close contact in poorly ventilated sheds.  They can also take hold of an animal when it becomes stressed, e.g. by housing it after months in a field.  In America this disease is known as “shipping fever” – because pneumonia takes hold when an animal is “shipped” from one field or feed-lot to another.  Pneumonia is a real risk to young animals, it can make them sick and often kill them.  So what is to be done?

Prevention is better than cure.  Research has shown time and again that it is cost-effective to vaccinate your herd prior to housing them.  We have good, effective vaccines for pneumonia in calves now.  A couple of shots before housing can reduce both sickness and death in your herd.  It is time and money well spent.  Studies from our own labs in Belfast have indicated that by the time you see symptoms of pneumonia in your animals, ¾ of their lung tissue could already be dead.  Interestingly, their lungs have no bugs in them, because farmers have treated with antibiotics – but it makes no difference, the animal still can’t breathe because the damage has been done.

Ventilation is also very important.  You might think that your shed is well ventilated – but I issue you a challenge.  Get right down to the level a small calf is at in your shed and try to breath.  Particularly if you also store fodder in the shed.  Cows and humans have similar physiology – if you can’t breath easily, neither can your stock.  Ensure that your sheds are warmed and have a good airflow through them.  Good airflow can dry the air and remove harmful bugs.  This need not cost a lot of cash, sometimes it’s as simple as removing a board from the wall in the direction of the prevailing wind.

Please come and talk to us at Downe Vets about vaccination and housing.  We are happy to help; and together, we can save lives.

Does Age of Castration Affect Daily Weight Gain in Beef Cattle?

This week, by popular demand, we have an article for our farmers.  Castration is a relatively common procedure involving beef cattle in many parts of the world, including our own.  Castration is performed mainly to control breeding and reduce fighting in the herd.  Another useful outcome is that the reduction in aggression of the animal will likely reduce farmer deaths.  This point is particularly important as at present we lose 12 farmers per year to on-farm accidents in N. Ireland.

        There are three main methods of castration – rubber banding, burdizzo (squeezing) and surgical.  All are carried out with anaesthesia and pain relief.  We can examine the pros and cons of each technique another time, but in this article I want to examine the effect of age of castration on weight-gain of the animal.

Traditionally farmers have waited until a bull is older than six months before performing this procedure.  This can produce challenges for both farmer and vet, as the animal is more difficult to handle.  Research has been undertaken examining the effect on weight gain of animals both older and younger than six months*.  The first interesting finding from this research is that weight loss increased by a factor of 4 as the age of castration increased.  This means that the younger the animal is at age of castration the less the effect on weight loss.  E.g. rubber banding under six months will be more beneficial to the animal than surgical castration over six months.  To put this another way, it costs a lot more in food to feed animals that are castrated older because they lose a lot more weight as a result of the procedure, no matter which technique is used.

The second interesting finding was that the stress response in animals castrated < 6 months of age was lower than those castrated  > 6 months of age.  This should be of interest to anyone involved in animal husbandry as we are all aiming to improve the welfare of animals under our care.  Finally rubber banding seemed to be gentler than the other methods.

So, both anecdotally and with research to back it up, it would seem that carrying out castration early on is both nicer for the animal and safer for the farmer.

*References available on request 

Going on Holidays With Your Dog? They Need a Passport Too!

Summer is in full swing now and it has been a busy season at Downe Vets.  This is the time of year that many of our clients are preparing to depart on holiday.  Being an animal-loving bunch, many decide to take their dogs with them to the continent and we often get asked the question “What does my dog need in order to travel?”  Well, believe it or not, your dog needs a passport just like you do!

Now, where do you get a pet passport?  This is a straightforward procedure.  Simply browse our local Department of Agriculture (DAERA) website and download an application form.  Fill in the form and email it back to the Department.  You have to nominate your local veterinary practice (e.g. Downe Vets!) and your passport will be posted there when ready. This usually takes about 5 working days. Your vet will contact you to arrange an appointment where your pooch will be presented with his or her passport. The form can be found at:

If you are taking your dog to the continent, the most important vaccination needed is one that protects against Rabies.   We don’t have rabies in the UK, so we don’t routinely vaccinate our pets against it.  However, rabies is endemic on the continent and you must vaccinate your dog against it before leaving the UK.  This vaccination has to be given at least 6 weeks before travel.  A blood test is no longer required for most countries, but your dog must be microchipped, and your vet has to certify and stamp your pet passport when the vaccination is performed.

We recommend that at least two weeks before your dog travels they are also up to date with their annual vaccinations and kennel cough.  They are likely to meet lots of new friends on their travels and so should be kept safe from disease.  It is also useful to worm and flea them before departure.  Your vet can take care of this and record it in your passport.  When returning to the UK it is a requirement that your pet is wormed and flea’d shortly before re-entering the country by a local vet.

Double and triple-check your travel itinerary and requirements before going on holiday.  It pays to put the time in with the paperwork so you are not held up at the border, or – worst case scenario – end up seeing your dog quarantined.  Liaise with your transport companies as to their recommendations.  As ever, feel free to contact Downe Vets and we will help where we can.

*Details on travel requirements can vary by destination country.  This article is a guide only.  We recommend you check with both the Department of Agriculture and the Authorities in the Destination Country well before date of departure as to their requirements.