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High graduate debt, falling demand for pet health care & corporatisation. The veterinary profession is changing: is it for better or worse?

There's a lot of debate going on right now about the future of the veterinary profession. Many vets are worried about the current trend which basically follows this path:

1) Huge demand to study veterinary, especially among young females (80% vet students are female)

2) Not enough places at vet schools: traditionally, the number of student places has been capped in order to avoid flooding the market with far more vets than jobs

3) The realisation by universities that there's money to be made in teaching vet students, and that there's a strong demand from students who don't make it into the established vet schools. The first new vet school in over 50 years opened recently in the UK, and at least one more is planned. Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, veterinary courses are taught in English, offering entry to the vet profession with a lower academic barrier if students are prepared to pay the fees

4) This is linked to the rising cost of veterinary education, with students in England paying £9000 per year x 5 years plus living costs

5) The result is that new vet graduates are qualifying with large debts, in higher numbers than ever before

6) Meanwhile the veterinary market is contracting, with people spending less money on pets, and so there are fewer jobs for vets available

7) Result: increasing numbers of underemployed young female vets with large debts

8.) Next part of jigsaw: there are fewer young vets to buy into established vet partnerships, and an increasing trend for chains of vet clinics to go "corporate", owned by shareholders whose main aim may be profit rather than the traditional broader professional view of a vet fulfilling a calling to earn a living

9) Result: vets become pawns in the animal care field, with young female vets desperate to pay back loans by working for corporations. As employees rather than part owners, they become subject to pressures common in other walks of life ("For your bonus, you need to sell so much food, book in so many dentals, see so many people every hour")

10) The long term potential result: erosion of trust in vets as pet owners question whether something is recommended because it is really needed, or because the vet needs to reach a target. This erosion of trust has already begun in recent years, with consumers questioning everything that professionals do: the sequence that I've outlined above will exacerbate this trend.

This trend in the veterinary professions seems to be a global one, and as ever, the USA seems to be further down the path than the rest of us. An excellent article has just been published on this in the New York Times - read it here:

Vets are worried about these changes: our profession is heading down a new path with unpredictable consequences. It's hard to know what can be done to change the path: it feels like we're being nudged this way by unstoppable market forces.

What do you think? Should anything be done? Or do we just need to accept that this is the way it's going?


VetHelpDirect Best UK Vets 2013 – Based on Online Vet Reviews

Last night over 60 clients and the local press turned up to see Barton Lodge Vets being awarded their trophy & prize for winning Best UK Vets 2013!

Barton Lodge Vets pose for photographs with some of their clients (and a few of the pets they treat!) From left to right: Roger Wickenden, Cory and owner, Cathy Wickenden, Susie Samuel (MD of
The evening kicked off with a formal presentation where one of Barton Lodge's patients, Cory, helped present the award to the practice. After practice tours for clients the celebrations continued at a local hall, where clients shared their happy Barton Lodge experiences.
The hosts of the award,, said "The sincerity of the comments made by clients tonight reflects exactly Barton Lodge's online reputation through their reviews. A good online reputation is so valuable to both local people looking for a service and to business owners. That's why online vet reviews are at the heart of our vet directory."

Best UK Vet 2013 - VetHelpDirect
Roger Wickenden, joint director of Barton Lodge, stated that he and all of the team had been very touched by the reviews left and were honoured to be awarded a prize that their clients were responsible for giving through the heartfelt reviews they'd left.
Roger Wickenden, joint director of Barton Lodge, says a few words of thanks.
The Background
Barton Lodge competed with veterinary practices across the UK to win the award which was judged based on the quantity and quality of reviews left on Seventy-two of Barton Lodge's clients went out of their way to leave a review for the popular practice.
"First Class, Patient and Understanding", "5 Star service" and "The best in town by far" were just some of the comments received from their clients. Congratulations Barton Lodge Vets!

The Award &

The Best UK Vet awards 2013 are based on reviews left by owners over the course of the year 29/1/12 – 28/1/13. The number of reviews and average star rating was used to determine the winner.

At VetHelpDirect we are determined to provide a fair reflection of the vet practices in their directory, all reviews are subject to rigorous tests of authenticity, all are checked for duplicate IP addresses, email addresses and some reviewers are asked to provide evidence that they are recent clients of the practice.

They are soon launching the new and much improved Find Any UK Vet website which will also include reviewing functionality for every British veterinary practice, to aid animal owners in finding a trusted, local vet more easily.

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Urban foxes – could your pet cat be the next victim?

Following reports of another attack on a baby by an urban fox in London, many people have been worried about the risk not just of foxes attacking children, but also pets. Cats in particular often spend much of their time outside, in the same areas as foxes. Is there a real risk of cats being attacked by foxes and what can owners do about it?

Is my pet at risk from foxes?

When someone asked me this question, my instinctive answer was that fox attacks on cats are exceptionally rare. Foxes are generally shy creatures that do their best to avoid contact with humans or other animals. I have heard more stories about cats chasing foxes out of gardens than cats being victims.

I have come across only two instances where foxes were seen to prey upon cats. In one case, a young kitten was snatched by a fox, around twenty yards away from her owner, and in another instance, a thin, elderly cat was grabbed. To me, the risk to adult pet cats seemed minimal but I decided to look further, to see if I could find some hard facts about the risk to pets from fox attacks.

Up until now in the veterinary world, it's been difficult to find out the true incidence of problems like this. The good news is that a new database, VetCompass, has started to accumulate real, up to date information about health issues affecting pets in the UK. VetCompass is a collaborative not-for-profit research project run by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in London, in collaboration with the University of Sydney. The project aims to investigate the range and frequency of small animal health problems seen by veterinary surgeons working in general practice in the United Kingdom and to highlight major risk factors for these conditions. This is being done via the routine capture of first opinion clinical data via electronic patient records held with practices’ computerised Practice Management Systems. VetCompass now shares health data on over 400,000 companion animals from over 200 practices across the UK.

A search of VetCompass clinical data identified 79 (5 in 10,000 cats) confirmed and 130 (9 in 10,000 cats) suspected fox fights with cats from 145,808 VetCompass cats since Jan 1st 2010 until last week (14 in 10,000 overall). This compares with 541 per 10,000 for cats presented with cat bite injuries and 196 in 10,000 cats being presented following a road traffic accident. So to put fox attacks into context, other cats (x40 times) and cars (x14 times) appear to present much greater dangers to cats than foxes.

Of course there may be many fox attacks that are not reported to vets and there is no way to account for these. But the same underestimation could be applied to cat fight injuries and road traffic accidents.

It is not easy to completely remove the risk of foxes to pets. Populist, radical measures such as destroying foxes in an area, or trapping them to move them elsewhere, would not work because other foxes would rapidly move in from adjacent areas and take their place.

It makes more sense to take some practical measures to reduce any risk. Avoid leaving out any food source for foxes, and discourage foxes from coming into your garden using barriers such as fences or dense, prickly hedging. Keep your cats indoors at times when foxes are most likely to be around, such as dusk, night time and dawn.

The risk of a fox attack on a pet - or a human - is very low, but if you're worried about it, a few simple steps will reduce that small risk to "minimal".


Dog Castration: a step by step guide to the operation

by Jenny Sheriff BVM&S MRCVS

Deciding whether to castrate your dog: Pros & Cons

Castrating or neutering a male dog is an operation requiring a general anaesthetic. Both testicles are removed. As with all operations, the advantages and disadvantages should be considered carefully before deciding. Your own vet is the best person to advise you about your particular dog, but the following general advice may also help. The main advantages of castrating a male dog are the prevention of breeding, prevention of testicular cancer, reduction in the risk of prostate problems (including prostate cancer) and modification of certain behaviours. Only behaviours which are related to male hormone levels will be improved, so castration is never an alternative to proper socialisation and training. For example, a tendency to escape and run away will improve if your dog is chasing the scent of a bitch in season, but not if your dog is just untrained and wilful. An aggressive dog can be improved by castration if the cause is related to his male hormone levels, but not if your dog has not been well socialised and is afraid of people and other dogs. The main disadvantages of having your dog castrated are the risks associated with any general anaesthetic and any operation, but these are very small risks when compared to the potential benefits. Dog owners often ask whether their dog's character will be changed by castration. In my opinion, it is unchanged unless it is a change for the better (as in certain behaviours mentioned above). Another common worry is that a dog will become overweight and lethargic after castration, but this is 100% preventable with the correct diet and exercise.

Deciding when to castrate

The best age to castrate depends on the reason for doing so. If it is a planned procedure, it might well be carried out at 9-12 months of age, if your vet is happy that your dog is physically mature enough. If dog castration is advised for behavioural reasons, it might not be obvious until 1-2 years of age that there is a need for it. When castration is carried out later in life, the positive changes might not be quite so great, but your dog is never too old to castrate if there is a medical reason for it, like a testicular tumour.

Dogs with one or both testicles not descended

During development, the testicles move down from inside the abdomen into the scrotum. Usually both will have descended into the scrotum by the time a puppy is seen for vaccinations at around 2 months of age. If one or both testicles have not descended into the scrotum, this will need to be checked later. If either or both of the testicles stays inside the abdomen, they will be at greater risk of developing cancer in later life, so castration is usually advised. The operation to remove an undescended testicle is a more complicated operation than removal from the scrotum. (see The Operation). A dog which has one undescended testicle is called monorchid. If he has two undescended testicles, he is called a cryptorchid.

Before the operation

Your vet will want to check that your dog is in good general health, is the correct weight and has two fully descended testicles in the scrotum. Another important way of minimising risks is by taking a blood test before the anaesthetic. This could be done on the day of the operation or a few days earlier. This is used to check the liver and kidney function (both vital when dealing with anaesthetic drugs) and to rule out any unsuspected illnesses.

Before going to the surgery

Before any anaesthetic the dog should be starved for a number of hours, according to the instructions of the surgery. Having an empty stomach prevents any problems with vomiting which could be dangerous. It is also a good idea to allow your dog enough exercise to empty the bladder and bowels. Apart from that, it is best to stick as closely as possible to the normal routines of the day so that the dog does not feel anxious.

Being admitted for surgery

On arrival at the surgery, you can expect to be seen by a vet or a veterinary nurse who will check that you understand the nature of the operation and will answer any questions you may have. They will ask you to read and to sign a consent form for the procedure and ask you to supply contact phone numbers. This is very important in case anything needs to be discussed with the owner before or during the operation.

Before the anaesthetic

Your dog will be weighed to help calculate the dosages of drugs and given a physical examination including checking his heart. If a pre-anaesthetic blood test has not already been done, it can be done now and the results checked before proceeding. If any abnormalities are found, these will be discussed with the owner before deciding whether the operation goes ahead or not. One possible outcome is that extra precautions such as intravenous fluids may be given. A pre-med, which is usually a combination of several drugs, will be given by injection. This begins to make the dog feel a bit sleepy and ensures that pain relief will be as effective as possible.

The anaesthetic

There are several ways in which this can be given, but the most common is by an injection into the vein of the front leg. The effects of the most commonly used drugs are very fast, but don’t last for very long, so a tube is placed into the windpipe to allow anaesthetic gas and oxygen to be given. The anaesthetic gas allows the right level of anaesthesia to be maintained safely for as long as necessary. Various pieces of equipment will then be connected up to monitor the anaesthetic. This is a skilled job which would usually be carried out by a qualified veterinary nurse. Apart from the operating table, the instruments and the anaesthetic machine, a lot of specialised equipment will be on “stand by” in case it is needed. The area where the surgical incision is to be made will be prepared by clipping and thorough cleaning to make it as close to sterile as possible. The usual site of the incision for castration is not through the scrotum but just in front of it.

The operation

While the dog is being prepared for surgery as mentioned above, the surgeon will be “scrubbing up” and putting on sterile clothing (gown, gloves, hat & mask). The surgical instruments will have been sterilised in advance and are opened and laid out at the start of the operation. The operation involves removal of both testicles. They are removed by cutting carefully through the skin just in front of the scrotum, and through the various layers which cover the testicle. The very large blood vessels and the spermatic cord have to be tied carefully before cutting, allowing removal of the testicle. The layers are then closed up with sutures, which may be visible on the surface or may be buried. Further drugs can now be given as needed. [caption id="attachment_3274" align="aligncenter" width="723"]The usual site of the incision for castration is shown by the arrow. The skin will be shaved and thoroughly cleaned before the operation. The usual site of the incision for dog castration is shown by the arrow. The skin will be shaved and thoroughly cleaned before the operation.[/caption] If one or both testicles are not in the usual place, the operation to remove them is more fiddly. Occasionally a testicle can be partly descended so that it lies in the groin area, and can be removed in a similar way to a normal testicle but through a separate skin incision. If the testicle is still lying right inside the abdomen, it can only be removed by opening up the abdomen, which is a much bigger operation for your dog and needs a longer recovery time. These testicles are often abnormally small, so can be hard to locate as well. When the operation is finished, the gas anaesthetic is reduced and the dog begins to wake up. He will be constantly monitored and the tube removed from his windpipe when he reaches the right level of wakefulness.


Your dog will be placed in a warm kennel with soft bedding and watched closely during recovery. Most dogs will feel very drowsy at first and will take most of the day to sleep off the effects of the anaesthetic. Your dog will only be allowed to come home when he is awake enough to stand and walk unaided.


Full instructions should be given by the surgery concerning after-care, including when your dog can be offered food and water. The most important things would be to check the appearance of the wound, to prevent your dog from licking it (with a plastic bucket-collar if necessary) and to limit his exercise by keeping him on the lead. Any concerns of any kind should be raised with the surgery. The scrotum is not removed during surgery, so it can appear at first as if nothing has been removed, especially if there is a little swelling after the operation. However, the scrotum will gradually shrink as time goes by. If you are not sure whether the amount of swelling after the operation is normal or not, always telephone your surgery for advice. Any medication supplied should be given according to the instructions. Pain relief can be given by tablets or liquid on the food. Antibiotics are not always needed but may be supplied if there is a need for them. Usually, there will be stitches in the skin which need to be removed after about 10 days, but sometimes these are concealed under the surface and will dissolve by themselves. Your surgery will arrange an appointment for any follow-up checks that are needed. The effects of castration can take a few weeks to be seen. If your dog is being castrated to prevent breeding, it is important to realise that he may still be fertile for a while after castration. If all goes to plan, your dog should feel quite normal within about 1-2 weeks of the operation, or a little longer if the testicles were internal. Click here for information on the bitch spay operation - female dog neutering