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Fireworks in the equine world! – How to keep your horse safe this Bonfire Night

This year, 5th November is on a Tuesday - and that means we're not expecting a Fireworks Night so much as a Fireworks Week! As prey animals, horses are by their very nature predisposed to panic at loud noises, especially in the dark. Bright flashes of light don't help either! And panicked horses are rather inclined to run into things and hurt themselves (I've spent many hours stitching up horses who have lost arguments with fences, hedges, gates and stable walls). There are three important elements to keeping horses safe when there are fireworks in the air: 1) Help them to avoid injury 2) Distract them 3) Keep them calm To avoid injury, I generally recommend that horses be stabled when fireworks are expected. That probably means dusk to dawn for the next fortnight or so, but if possible, find out when displays are expected in your area. You can then focus on those dates and times (but don't forget that many people will set off a few rockets for themselves and their families). Inside their stables, horses can still become frightened, but they're not surrounded by the scary noises, and they can't bolt and get up so much speed, so they're less likely to cause themselves serious injuries. It can also be helpful to leave the stable light on overnight - more light inside the stable means flashes outside are less visible, but make sure your horse copes OK with the lights on overnight first! If you don't have stables, first of all, see if you can borrow one for a few nights, especially if you have a really spooky or nervous horse. If not, the next best thing is to "accident-proof" the field you're planning to turn them out in as far as possible - make sure the fencing is safe, remove any wire, fill in potholes, etc. Also, consider tying white or pale feed sacks to fencing, to make it more visible in poor light - tie them tightly, though, so they don't flap and cause a stampede themselves. Distraction just means keep them busy so they're less interested in what's going on outside. This generally means a well filled hay rack, and any toys your horse likes. Turnips on a rope are good, and horse balls filled with food or treats are a favourite with my two, who'll spend hours chasing the balls round the stable for a mouthful of pasture nuts! Finally, calming. For a herd animal like a horse, the most reassuring thing is having stable mates within sight/sound/smell - this is vital, and if they can touch noses or groom each other, its even better. However, it may not be enough on its own, especially for very nervous individuals. If your horse is particularly panicky, you should contact your vet (as soon as possible now), as they may need prescription medicines to help them cope. If possible, its best to avoid sedation, as it may lead to the horse becoming more nervous next year (as with dogs and cats), but unfortunately, horses are so big and powerful it may be necessary for their safety and yours. Your vet will be able to advise you on the best strategy for your horses. There is increasingly, however, a middle road, as there are a wide variety of calmers on the market. Most are based on magnesium or amino acid combinations; these can be good to take the edge off, but usually need long term use. Others (e.g. Calmex powder) are designed to work immediately, although there is often little scientific proof of their effectiveness. Another fairly new product on the market is Zylkene Equine. This is based on the milk protein casein, which studies suggest is broken down in the body into a benzodiazepine-like molecule. This has a similar effect to Valium to reduce anxiety and stress. As usual, I'd advise you to discuss with your vet the exact product you're thinking of using, as they'll be able to give you impartial advice as to how effective a product is likely to be. This is especially important if your horse is on any other medication: just because a product is natural or herbal doesn't mean it won't interact or interfere with another medicine. That said, not every horse needs anything extra - I'll never forget going to one yard on bonfire night evening and seeing a row of horses lined up at the fence watching the fireworks display two fields off with every sign of enjoyment... The bottom line is that you need to find out what works best for your horse: every horse is an individual, and they need to be managed as such. We may enjoy the fireworks - but not all of our horses do!
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Do you want a young version of your elderly dog? Dog clones are now available in the UK

Clones- precise genetic copies of living creatures - used to be the stuff of science fiction. They are now a reality: a South Korean company has just launched its dog cloning service in the UK. For £63000, they will create a carbon-copy of your pet, either from a biopsy of a living dog, or from tissue harvested from a recently deceased animal. If you cannot afford this, one lucky owner is being offered a genetic replica of their dog for free. An online competition is currently underway, and the entire process, from start to finish, will be filmed for a Channel 4 documentary which will be shown next year. Animal clones have been a reality since Dolly the sheep was cloned back in 1996. The first cloned puppy was produced in 2005, and over 200 cloned dogs have now been created. The science behind the process is fascinating. A small piece of living tissue is obtained from a pet by collecting a small skin biopsy from the back of the neck or the inside of the leg. If the decision to carry out cloning is taken after the end of a dog's life, it's not too late: a viable sample can be collected up to five days after a dog's death. The samples are shipped in refrigerated containers to the cloning company. The cloning company has residential female dogs who act as egg donors: when they come into season, eggs are collected from their ovaries by a flushing process. The genetic material (the nuclei) of each donor egg is removed, and one of the living cells from your pet is injected into each egg. The egg and your pet's cell are then fused together, and the result is a cloned embryo, which is an identical genetic copy of your dog. The embryo is transferred into a different female dog, who will carry the embryo in her womb until it develops into a newborn puppy. Samples are then collected from the puppy to compare with your original dog, to confirm that the puppy is definitely an identical genetic copy. There are many questions about the science, including welfare concerns for the donor and surrogate female dogs, and the wider issue of the possibility of the same methods being used to create cloned humans. If you reached old age without children, wouldn't it be intriguing to create a child that's a mini version of yourself? You could then die in peace, knowing that "you" were still alive and seventy years younger. The science and the ethical debates are interesting, but what about the practical reality of acquiring a precise copy of a beloved pet? Would a cloned version of your dog live up to your expectations? There's no doubt that the clone will have an identical genotype to the original animal, but the worldly manifestation of the animal - the "phenotype" - is what really matters. The phenotype includes your pet's appearance, behaviour, mannerisms and other ideosyncracies. This is partly dictated by the genotype, but it's also strongly affected by other factors, such as the physical environment, diet, and social interactions. If you took a dozen puppies with identical genotypes and subjected them to different rearing environments, you would end up with a dozen dogs that were distinctly different from one another. They would not be "the same animals", any more than two human identical twins are "the same people". There's no doubt that the technology is impressive, but is it ethically sound? Is there a risk that vulnerable people, grieving deeply for recently deceased pets, will waste their life savings chasing the illusion that they are buying a young version of their much-missed pet? If you are exceptionally wealthy (or the lucky winner of the competition), then cloning could be a way of obtaining a similar type of animal to a much-loved pet. But before signing on the dotted line, you need to remember a simple fact: your pet is being copied, not resurrected.
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Ticks…little suckers! – how to identify and rid pets of these parasites

Ticks are small parasites from the spider family.  They attach themselves to our pets and feed off their blood.  They can spend several days in this position, gradually becoming larger as they engorge.  They can also transmit diseases, some of which can be severe, but these are thankfully not very common in the UK. What are ticks? Ticks are from the spider family and feed by sucking blood from our pets.  They spend the majority of their lives in the environment and only attach to pets once or twice a year, so they can continue their lifecycle, which can take two to three years to complete.   They tend to be found in moorland type areas and are most prevalent in the Spring and Autumn.  The most common kinds of ticks found on pets in the UK are either Hedgehog or Sheep ticks. How to tell if your pet has ticks Ticks often get mistaken for warty growths or nipples (and vice versa!).  They look like small, grey beans attached to your pet's skin and will grow gradually larger over a period of a few days.  They are most commonly found on the head, ears and legs as they prefer sparsely haired areas. Generally ticks don't cause the animal any discomfort or irritation and are often found by accident when you are grooming your pet.  However, sometimes after they have dropped off they can leave a small sore patch where they have bitten. How to treat your pet for ticks If you find a tick on your pet, the most important thing to do is to never just pull them out.  Simply pulling on the tick is likely to leave the head still buried in the skin, which can cause a nasty reaction. If you do decide to remove it directly, the best thing to use is a tick puller, a small L-shaped tool designed to slip between the tick and the skin and 'twist' them out.  The twisting action keeps the head attached.  The tick pullers will be available from your vet and it is always a good idea to get a demonstration on how to use them first. Frontline spot-on, which is available from both your vet and over-the-counter, has an action against ticks and as long as your pet has been treated in the past month it will still be active.  However, although the tick will die within a few hours of attaching, it can still take a few days for it to fall off your pet.  It is comes as a spray but this is only available from vets.  There are other spot-ons active against ticks, ask your vet for advice on the best one to use.  There is also collars available which are impregnated with chemicals which stop ticks biting and are active for 6 months.  Again, these are only available from your vet. Tick borne diseases These are rare in the UK but with more and more pets traveling abroad with their owners, vets are seeing more  of the exotic tick borne diseases.
  • Lymes Disease – this is the only tick borne disease that is seen in the UK.  It is a bacterial infection and is usually passed by the sheep tick.  The symptoms are variable but can include; lameness, high temperatures, lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes and a distinctive 'bulls eye' pattern around the site of the tick bite.  It is treated with antibiotics and infected dogs generally do very well.
  • Ehrlichiosis – this is usually only seen in dogs who have traveled to Europe or the USA.  The symptoms include a high temperature, lack of appetite, weight loss and bleeding.  It is diagnosed by blood tests and although most dogs respond well to treatment, some will need hospitalisation.
  • Babesiosis – again this does not occur in the UK but is occasionally diagnosed in dogs who have traveled outside the country. Symptoms include lethargy, weakness, high temperatures and even collapse.  It can be challenging to treat.
These diseases are amongst the reasons why it is so important to protect your pet against parasites if they travel abroad.  The official regulations only require you to treat your pet just before you return to the UK but it is sensible to talk to your vet about protection for your pet during the whole length of your stay.  Tick borne diseases are very rare in cats.
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Lost in translation – do you know what your cat is really trying to tell you?

‘Miaow!’  One simple word, so many possible meanings.  Is she happy?  Is she hungry?  Is she scared?  It’s all in the tone in which it’s delivered.  And that’s just the miaow – researchers have documented 19 different vocal patterns in domestic cats ranging from purrs to chirps to growls, along with countless body language cues.  Do you really know how to interpret them?  Test your feline language skills below… A deep, rhythmic purr We'll start with an easy one – a purr means she’s happy, right?  Possibly, but that may not always be the case.  In fact, cats purr for many reasons.  Young kittens and mother cats purr during nursing, possibly as a way of maintaining contact and communicating contentment.  Adult cats purr when they're in the company of other cats or humans that they are friendly with, especially during grooming or petting or resting together.  And as most cat owners probably already know, they also purr when they want something.  This ‘solicitation’ purr contains some of the high frequency peaks also found in a human baby’s cry, and it is commonly thought that cats use this to their advantage when asking for food at 5am.  But what many people don't know is that cats will sometimes also purr when they are nervous or even painful.  We don't know exactly why they do it, but the important thing to remember is that purring doesn't necessarily mean that a cat is happy, you need to look at the rest of their body language for clues.  Think of it like a human smile – we do it when we're happy, but also when we want something or when we're nervous. Blinking, half-closed eyes If you said this is a sign of contentment, you would be absolutely right.  A cat who stares without blinking is alert and confrontational, while a cat with half closed eyes is relaxed and feels safe in their environment.  Interestingly, this is one of the few ways that we can truly speak their language.  I use it all the time whilst consulting – before starting my exam, I catch their eye briefly and then blink slowly as if to say ‘It’s ok, you're safe here’.  They almost always respond by blinking back, and are then much more likely to relax while I do what I need to do.  But even this isn't always the case, as a cat in pain can also have squinty eyes, but the rest of their body language will be very different. The tail flick This is a really useful one to know as it can save you a scratch or two!  If you are petting your cat and notice that they start to flick their tail quickly from side to side, I'd suggest you take a break because it probably either means that they're getting fed up with what you're doing or they're getting playful and are ready to pounce!  Often accompanied with a widening of the eyes which may help you recognise their increasing level of alertness. Wee on the carpet This may not seem like a method of communication, or at least you probably won't be thinking rationally enough to see it as such at the time, but cats frequently use urine and even faeces as a way of getting their point across.  One of the first words that comes to mind when you discover such an incident is probably ‘spite’, but try not to take it personally and instead try to figure out why it may have occurred.  It may be that they are painful and need to see the vet, or that they are unhappy with your neighbour’s cat who keeps peering in on them from the window.  If the culprit is an intact male cat, talk to your vet about castration because there is a good chance that the underlying reason is territorial. Grooming Although this is usually associated with relaxed, friendly cats or members of the same family, grooming may serve another purpose.  Like the nervous purr, cats sometimes groom each other’s heads and necks when they're feeling intimidated or antagonistic, possibly as an attempt to avoid overt aggression.  Chances are they're feeling pretty comfortable when they start grooming you, although I have on occasion had a ‘nervous licker’ during an exam and even known a few cats to lick forcefully before they bite. Chirping It’s a funny sound, almost like a very excited miaow but broken and muted at times.  Often associated with a tail twitch and very wide eyes, it is a sign of extreme interest.  My cat regularly ‘chirps’ when looking out the window at the birds on the feeder.  An amusing, hopeful sound indeed! Scratching on your new leather sofa Again, try not to push human emotions onto your cat and assume that they're doing it to get back at you for going out to dinner instead of spending time with them the night before.  In actual fact, cats have scent glands on the bottoms of their feet and between their toes so scratching (including the visual signs that are left behind) is another method of letting other cats know that this is their territory.  Make an effort to find out the underlying cause, or at least be sure to provide them plenty of other more suitable places to ‘sharpen their claws’. Hissssssssss! No surprises here, if you hear this sound, back off.  Cats are instinctively tuned into this sound and are therefore easily frightened by any noise that resembles a hiss such as aerosol spray cans or our own frantic ‘psssssssst!’ when we catch them up on the kitchen counter.  If their hiss escalates to a spit, don’t just back off, turn and walk away.  Quickly. If you were surprised by some of the answers above, spend some time observing your cat over the next few weeks.  You’ll be amazed by what you find when you know what to look for!  Even those fluent in ‘felinese’ can learn something new from their cats every day.  The more you understand what your cat is trying to tell you, the better your relationship will be so it’s definitely worth the effort.
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