Pigeon Post: winter’s end

We are approaching the end of another European winter living with Covid. The Omicron variant arrived in the UK in early December 2021, by the 4th of January this year daily confirmed cases peaked just short of 275,000. The numbers have since fallen back considerably, but other European nations including: France, Russia and Germany are still reporting between 100 -200,000 new infections daily. Somewhat overshadowed and far from as widely reported or statistically dissected, avian influenza (H5N1 strain) returned to the UK in late October. Significant avian fatalities have occurred in the wild bird population. Most deaths have been recorded in waterfowl, particularly swans and geese. The ongoing control measures developed during previous avian flu outbreaks between 2005-14 have so far succeeded in ameliorating the spread and the impact on the poultry industry. Happily, the H5N1 strain presents negligible risk to humans. The virus is thought to have been introduced by migratory birds travelling from Russia and Eastern Europe.

Another unwelcome import (or more likely the product of deliberate breeding in Scotland) this year was the first UK litter of hairless ‘French Bulldogs.’ French Bulldogs, along with Pugs, have been at the centre of the ‘designer dog’ controversy in recent years. Even the Kennel Club (KC) is now ‘on message’ about the adverse effects of breeding brachycephalics entirely for their looks, and at the cost of their respiratory health (BOAS). The KC’s Bill Lambert said, ‘Breeding that focusses on what people see as novel, glamorous or rare features can mean the most important factors – like health, welfare and temperament – have been forgotten.’ Though hairlessness of itself does not constitute an extra health risk, aside from sunburn or shivering, the concern is that offering up another version of a trendy, baby-faced dog is likely to increase demand from fashionistas for the latest living canine accessory. It transpires that the pups in question are not purebred Frenchies, but probably crossed with Chinese Crested hairless dogs at some point in their genealogy, which is not a brachycephalic breed. There may be some argument that crossing Frenchies with any mesocephalic dog might ultimately be beneficial. However, a quick internet trawl for images of the new dog reveals that breeders have been hard at work perfecting a typically extreme squashed and wrinkled face though made all the more unsettling by the absence of any fur. The justification for producing these pups seems to be that they are ‘hypoallergenic’ and will open up the option of dog owning to people who otherwise would be unable to keep a pet … though of course there might be a bit of cash in it for the breeder too?

While there is little positive to report about English cricket down-under, Team GB at the Winter Olympics or propriety in No.10 Downing Street, the UK does manage some remarkable achievements from time to time. At the end of last year the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) revealed that the UK now has the lowest use of veterinary antibiotics in Europe. Between 2014 to 2020 usage reduced by 52 per cent. The UK Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance and Sales Surveillance report found sales were down to 30.1mg/kg – half the 2014 level. This has contributed to some of the lowest levels and biggest reductions in antimicrobial resistance in livestock across Europe, especially in E.coli carrying resistant genes to critically important antimicrobials such as the fluoroquinolones and third and fourth generation cephalosporins. Reductions have been achieved across the board in: the pig, chicken, game bird and fish industries. The reductions in pet animal prescribing are less spectacular at seven per cent since 2019. The traditionally low usage sectors of the beef, dairy, and sheep industries have reportedly been slow to share their data. The highest European sales of antimicrobials for use in production animals have been recorded in Italy, Spain, and Portugal in recent years (2018).

The multiple difficulties facing the veterinary profession at present and widely discussed, throughout the veterinary press and social media and in this column, have now aroused the attention of popular journalism. On February 13, an article entitled, ‘Relentless calls and constant abuse’: why Britain’s vets are in crisis by Will Coldwell appeared in the respected British national, daily newspaper The Guardian. This accurate and concise examination covered the issues of: overwork, understaffing, burnout, new graduate attrition, escalating early retirement, deskilling in general practice, Covid constraints, reduced well-being, lowered job satisfaction, mental illness, suicide rates, Brexit induced manpower shortages, unmatchable client expectation, increasing pet numbers, problematic designer dog fads, low uptake of pet insurance, abuse of staff, low morale and spending more time negotiating fees with clients, than treating their animals. Plans for an eleventh UK vet school based at the University of Central Lancashire are going ahead with a partial opening anticipated in September … so that should solve all the present issues …  well as effectively as the other four new schools that have opened here since 2006! There are currently around 1,400 vet undergraduate places on offer in the UK annually: with a range of between 5-12 applicants per place across the universities.
Ian Neville

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