6. A Doggy Stay in London Town (04/2008)

by brettthevet

The striking thing about working in the heart of London for the past six weeks is the incidence of particularly urban diseases in pets. Gone are the life threatening infections such as parvovirus, distemper, and even feline leukaemia, due to judicious vaccination programs. Internal parasites are effectively controlled by regular deworming. Road traffic accidents are rare because dogs are kept on leads and cats indoors. So vets are left to deal in earnest, with a growing number of minor aches and pains, and chronic maladies.

Obesity is rife, and not due to lack of exercise, as most dogs get taken to the park three times a day. The condition is caused only by overfeeding. Unfortunately many pet owners fail to recognise obesity, or think fat pets look cute, or cannot refuse to feed a begging animal. But obesity can lead to serious diseases like diabetes, pancreatitis, liver failure, arthritis, and skin complaints, which inevitably occur, and the cures are never as simple as dieting.

Stress affects inner city pets who are generally quite well adapted to the unnatural environment. The density of cats has escalated considerably and when allowed outdoors invariably engage in territorial squabbles and cat flap wars. Those of a more timid disposition end up literally pulling their fur out, or getting cystitis. Cats are territorial creatures so their security is dependent on feeling safe and not threatened in their comfort zone. Intruders, like builders, babies, dogs, unfamiliar house guests, and even an obnoxious parrot can create a very stressful situation for a cat. Dealing with an unwanted imposition in a confined space, beyond control, results in a kind of depression. Consequently many cats are on prozac! Unless they can get their way of course, but those are the ones who haven’t heard of antidepressants.

Dogs suffer from stress in a different way, usually related to a lack of control. The presenting signs range from destruction of furniture, hyperactivity or anxiety, to severe play biting and blatant aggression. The cause in most cases is a lack of leadership demonstrated by owners who often have very little understanding of dog behaviour. The dog is adulated, and quite quickly takes control of the relationship. Many of these dogs end up on tranquilizers because their owners are so difficult to train, and ironically, are often on the same medication.

Even the pet rabbits are stressed. There was an instance where a buck, not entirely successfully, pinned down and castrated his hutch mate. This is something described in nature where rivals try to emasculate one another. But why would two fluffy lop-eared bunnies kept in a two foot box in the garden shed behave in that way?

Some clinical procedures have reached a degree of sophistication that would leave your average country vet gasping in admiration. Like the Russian hamster that required an ovariohysterectomy in order to save its life, at exorbitant cost. The old cats in their twenties that come in to have their blood pressure monitored where the journey and the process alone are enough to induce heart failure. Root canal treatment. Most impressively, great attention is given to pain management, even for minor operations. Recent advances in the understanding and treatment of pain in animals have stimulated awareness. Mammals feel pain in a very similar way to the way humans do and it is equally variable between individuals. Animals have a capacity to endure severe pain without complaint. Pain does not cause death: it has a protective function. But it is our responsibility to ensure that animals in our care should not suffer needlessly through our actions or lack of adequate preventive measures.

The rather alarming profusion of genetically modified pets should be cause for concern among animal lovers. But more about that next time.

Yappy mew purr!