VMD relaxes enforcement of medicines regulations

Vets can temporarily delegate the supply of veterinary medicines to internet retailers or wholesalers

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) has relaxed the enforcement of specific provisions of the Veterinary Medicines Regulations (VMF) to allow vets to delegate the supply of veterinary medicines to internet retailers or wholesale dealers for home delivery.

The move comes in response to the enhanced precautions on social distancing, introduced by the government to curb the spread of COVID-19. It is effective immediately and will last until at least 30 April when it will be reviewed.

The VMD states that it will not issue an improvement notice if there are breaches of the relevant provisions of Schedule 3 of the VMR during this period. For further information, read the statement from the VMD.

'This is a temporary VMD enforcement policy in relation to specific obligations under the VMR only,' the VMD writes. 'The VMR continue to apply. The VMD may continue to take action to enforce those obligations in cases where the procedures described in the statement are not followed.'

Lucy's Law bans third-party puppy sales

Lucy's Law bans third-party puppy sales

Legislation comes into force following 10-year campaign

New government legislation that bans third-party puppy and kitten sales comes into force today (6 April), meaning that anyone in England wanting to get a new puppy or kitten must now do so directly from a breeder or consider adopting from a rescue centre.

Under 'Lucy's Law', licensed dog breeders are required to show puppies interacting with their mothers in their place of birth. If a business sells puppies or kittens without a licence, they could receive an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to six months.

The legislation is named after Lucy, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who died in 2016 after being mistreated on a puppy farm. It is the result of a 10-year grassroots campaign spearheaded by TV vet Marc Abraham and supported by a host of prominent figures, including Ricky Gervais, Brian May, Rachel Riley, and Peter Egan.

Marc Abraham said: “I’m incredibly proud to have led the 10-year campaign to ban cruel puppy and kitten dealers and to get this essential Lucy’s Law legislation over the line. I’d like to give a huge thanks to UK Government for passing this law, as well as every animal-loving parliamentarian, celebrity, welfare organisation, and member of the public that supported us."

Puppy farms are located across the UK with most depending on third-party sellers or ‘dealers’ to distribute often sick, traumatised, unsocialised puppies which have been taken away from their mother at just a few weeks old. This can involve long-distance transportation, with the puppy or kitten suffering life-threatening medical, surgical, or behavioural problems which are passed on to unsuspecting new owners.

Animal welfare minister Zac Goldsmith commented: “Today is a significant milestone for animal welfare, and a major step towards ending cruel puppy farming and smuggling. After all the hard work of Marc Abraham and the Lucy’s Law campaign, I’m so pleased that we finally have this crucial legislation which will help tackle the heart-breaking third-party trade of dogs and cats." 

New measures to help vets spread renewal fee cost

New measures to help vets spread renewal fee cost

UK-practising members can split fee into three instalments

In light of the continuing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the RCVS is introducing new measures to help veterinary surgeons spread the cost of their annual renewal fees. It also announced that it will be waiving late payment fees.

The new policy, which applies to UK-practising members only, will allow those who would prefer not to – or are currently unable to pay their annual renewal fee in full - to spread the cost over three instalments: paying 50 per cent of the fee by 30 April, 25 per cent by September and the remaining 25 per cent by 31 December.

“We recognise that most veterinary businesses will be seeing a downtown during the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, especially as veterinary practices reduce their workloads to emergency-only procedures or those that can be classed as urgent,” explained RCVS treasurer Dr Kit Sturgess. “Furthermore, we understand that many individual veterinary surgeons will no longer be working, and that this will cause financial difficulties for many vets and their families.

“We appreciate that this is a very difficult time for the profession, and as part of our compassionate approach to regulation we wanted to do our bit to help people manage the difficult financial consequences of the coronavirus crisis, and to help them to return to work as soon as Government advice allows.”

Fees for veterinary nurses are not due until the end of the year, but the RCVS said that it will be reviewing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic “on an ongoing basis”. The policy only applies to UK-practising members as this is the group for which the ability to work as a veterinary surgeon in the UK is contingent on being a member of the RCVS.

Any UK-practising member wishing to switch to the payment-by-instalments system should cancel their existing Direct Debits immediately. The College has already temporarily deferred these direct debits for around 10-14 days to allow time for them to be cancelled.

Further details about the policy are available on the RCVS website.

Essential care guidance for veterinary practices

Essential care guidance for veterinary practices

What constitutes an essential veterinary service?

The UK government has updated its list of premises that can remain open during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak to include veterinary surgeries. In light of this move, this article aims to provide guidance on what constitutes emergency and essential care.

It is important to stress that veterinary practices provide a number of essential services, and can only run emergency services for a few days before the essential services start to build up.

Emergency services
These are services that must be done urgently. Examples of veterinary emergencies requiring immediate attention include difficulty breathing, severe bleeding, collapse, some seizures, road traffic accidents and difficult calvings.

Essential services
These are services that must be done but not necessarily urgently. These services include the provision of non-routine operations and essential medicines, the nursing care of wounds, some immunisations and ongoing medical treatments.

Every veterinary practice needs to form its own opinion of what it considers essential and to make a decision based on this.

Social distancing and face-to-face contact
It is vital that all veterinary practices take steps to introduce social distancing measures to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 between people. These measures should be carried out in addition to increased handwashing and good respiratory hygiene. More information about social distancing can be found here.

It is also advised that the number of clients seen face-to-face should be kept to an absolute minimum. Please click here for advice in how to reduce face-to-face contact in veterinary practices.

MRCVSOnline will endeavour to keep the profession updated on COVID-19 coronavirus as the situation unfolds. Please don't hesitate to contact us with any ideas or suggestions as to how we can help with measures to control the spread of the virus.

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Wild goats take over Llandudno's empty streets

Wild goats take over Llandudno's empty streets

Animals have been providing welcome distraction to self-isolating residents 

Residents in Llandudno, Wales, got quite the surprise last week when a herd of wild goats ventured into the town, feasting on garden plants and hedges.

According to BBC News, some 122 Kashmiri goats wandered into the streets from Great Orme, a headland situated to the North West of Llandudno.

The goats are regular visitors to the town, but usually only in bad weather. Town councillor Carol Marubbi believes this latest visit could be due to the coronavirus outbreak, with more people staying inside.

"They are curious, goats are, and I think they are wondering what's going on like everybody else," she said. “There are very few visitors on the top [of the Orme], so they have come down in their droves. There isn't anyone else around so they probably decided they may as well take over."

Ms Marubbi added that the goats have been providing “free entertainment” to people from their windows and that residents were “very proud” of their four-legged visitors.

Llandudno resident Andrew Stuart has been posting regular updates about the goats on Twitter. In a series of tweets on Friday (27 March), he joked that he had 'got a group of goats arrested' after he spotted them nibbling on hedges.

The self-proclaimed 'goat correspondent' wrote: 'I gave @NWPolice a call to tell them a load of kids (geddit?) were running riot (I didn’t actually say that... sadly). They said they’d pass it on to officers'.

BEVA gives vets access to free membership for three months

BEVA gives vets access to free membership for three months

Offers resources to help those within the profession

The British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) has announced that it is cutting membership renewal charges for the next three months in order to support all veterinary professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Memberships for all existing BEVA members will be extended until 30 June 2020. Veterinary professionals who are not members of BEVA will also be able to sign up for a free membership until 30 June 2020.

BEVA president Tim Mair said: “In this extraordinary time of global crisis our profession, as with many industries, is under immense pressure. By offering free membership we are giving equine vets easy access to a wealth of supportive resources and online CPD.”

To sign up please visit the BEVA website.

Image (c) BEVA.

BSAVA rolls out CPD resources and benefits in absence of Congress

BSAVA rolls out CPD resources and benefits in absence of Congress

Package includes £10 discount voucher on all printed manuals

A package of CPD resources and benefits are set to be rolled out on BSAVA's social media channels over the coming days in a bid to fill the gap left by the cancellation of BSAVA Congress.

The package includes a £10 discount voucher on all printed manuals and access to the BSAVA Library.  BSAVA said that it will also be recording more than 100 hours of planned Congress lectures over the following weeks so that vets don't completely miss out on the Congress experience. The resource, titled Congress on Demand will be ready in early May.

BSAVA Chief Executive Amanda Stranack explained: “It’s been a strange few weeks for all of us, as COVID-19 has disrupted and altered almost every facet of daily life. We wanted to let you know that we’re thinking of you this week, and to remind you that, whilst Congress isn’t happening, we’ve got a lot of fantastic resources available – and there is lots more coming soon - to help get you through this period.”

Scientists map genome of healthy German shepherd

Scientists map genome of healthy German shepherd

Tool will allow researchers to determine whether dogs are likely to develop hip dysplasia

Researchers have mapped the entire genome of a healthy German shepherd, giving vets a powerful tool with which to better screen for hip dysplasia and other canine diseases.

Scientists from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and other institutes used advanced genome sequencing technology to unravel 38 pairs of dog chromosomes, to decode the 19,000 genes and 2.8 billion pairs of DNA.

The study was carried out on a sample of blood provided by 'Nala', a healthy five-year-old German shepherd living in Sydney, and published in the journal GigaScience.

“One of the most common health problems affecting German shepherds is canine hip dysplasia, which is a painful condition that can restrict their mobility,” explained study author Professor Bill Ballard, an evolutionary biologist at the UNSW.

“Because German shepherds make such good working dogs, there has been a lot of money spent looking into the causes and predictors of this problem. When working dogs – such as those trained to work with police or to help people with disabilities – end up getting hip dysplasia, then that’s a lot of lost time and money that has gone into the training of that dog."

He continued: “Now that we have the genome, we can determine much earlier in life whether the dog is likely to develop the condition. And over time, it will enable us to develop a breeding program to reduce hip dysplasia in future generations.”

Nala is described in the paper as “an easy-going and approachable 5.5-year-old,” selected because she was free of all known genetic diseases, including no sign of hip dysplasia. She was chosen for the study by TV and radio vet Dr Robert Zammit, who Professor Ballard says has amassed X-rays and blood samples of more than 600 German shepherds.

“Now we’ll be able to look at those hip x-rays and all the DNA of those dogs and compare them back to this healthy reference female,” Professor Ballard says. 

Further decisions to EMS placements announced

Further decisions to EMS placements announced

RCVS and Veterinary Schools Council announce further supportive measures for veterinary students

Further measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus and its associated restrictions impact on veterinary students have been announced by the RCVS.

Before the government 'lockdown', the RCVS reduced the number of weeks extra-mural studies (EMS) that final-year students must undertake to 30 weeks. This was owing to the difficulties that may be involved in finding and completing placements before graduation.

Now, in response to the restrictions that have been introduced since then, the RCVS has further reviewed EMS requirements concerning students currently in their fourth year and below.

The decision is that current fourth-year students should not be prevented from graduating providing they have completed their 12 weeks pre-clinical EMS and at least 50 per cent (13 weeks) of clinical EMS. This is in addition to demonstrating that they have achieved all RCVS Day One Competences.

The decision was reached by the RCVS' COVID-19 Taskforce in collaboration with the Veterinary Schools Council (VSC).

“Although the longer-term impact of the restrictions on veterinary business is currently unknown, it is reasonable to assume that there may be longer-term challenges around EMS placements that may continue beyond the time at which restrictions are revoked,” commented Sue Paterson, chair of the RCVS Education Committee and a member of the COVID-19 Taskforce.

“The impact of the constraints imposed will differ across different vet school curricula. However, the impact on all students currently in their fourth year of study is likely to be significant.”

She continued: “We understand that the vet schools will do all they can to continue to provide a world-class veterinary education to their students during the pandemic and do their best to support their students in completing their EMS. These efforts are very much appreciated. We would also like to thank members of the Veterinary Schools Council for discussing and agreeing to implement these temporary changes.”

The COVID-19 Taskforce also considered the impact of the pandemic and its restrictions on third-year veterinary students. The decision was made to keep this under review because, while there may be an impact on these students in terms of the EMS they can complete, this is likely to be less than for those in their final year.

Third-year veterinary students

It was also discussed and agreed that, as veterinary schools may need to introduce alternative assessment methods for their students, then they would need to notify the RCVS regarding the nature of the changes. This is in addition to the quality assurance measures being put in place to ensure standards are not compromised.

The RCVS said that these changes would then be monitored by the RCVS Primary Qualifications Subcommittee, to ensure they meet with the College’s accreditation standards.

“We recognise that the constraints resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic mean that vet schools will need to implement alternative methods of assessment and strategies for implementation,” Sue Paterson continued.

“While we do not prescribe the specific approach that should be used for assessment, as different approaches may be appropriate depending on the curriculum model, our accreditation standards do require that the approach to assessment is robust, valid and reliable in providing assurance that Day One Competencies have been achieved by students upon graduation.”

Veterinary nursing students

The RCVS Veterinary Nurses (VN) Council is set to meet next week to consider if further changes regarding veterinary nursing students are possible in response to the ongoing pandemic.

Further information about the COIVD-19 pandemic and its restrictions on the veterinary professions can be found at www.rcvs.org.uk/coronavirus

Housing rabbits in pairs reduces stress and keeps them warm

Housing rabbits in pairs reduces stress and keeps them warm

Researchers compare the welfare of single versus paired rabbits

Housing rabbits in pairs reduces stress-related behaviour and helps them keep warm in winter, according to new research.

Findings published in the journal Animal Welfare suggest that social housing prevents rabbits from biting at the bars of their hutch, helps them to keep warm, and may even relieve stress.

The study by researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) also found that body temperature was significantly lower in single rabbits than pairs.

“It was really sad to discover that lone rabbits were so much colder than the paired ones, and that more than half of them were seen biting at the bars of their enclosures," commented
Dr Charlotte Burn, associate professor in animal welfare and behavioural science at the RVC.

“It’s crucial that we take rabbits’ needs for a companion seriously. There is a culture of getting ‘a rabbit’ and this needs to change, meaning that pet shops, vets and animal welfare charities should advise owners on housing rabbits with a compatible partner. Part of the enjoyment of having rabbits is surely to see them playing and resting together, especially when we give them suitably large housing.”

In the study, researchers compared the welfare of 45 rabbits, comprising 15 housed alone and 15 housed in pairs. The research was conducted during wintertime at the Rabbit Residence Rescue, located on the Hertfordshire/Cambridge borders. The single rabbits were mostly in smaller enclosures than the pairs, and were awaiting a suitable partner for pairing.

Rabbits are naturally social creatures, but they are also territorial. It is for this reason that researchers predicted singletons would exhibit more stress-related behaviour, and reduced body temperature, but that pairs may be aggressive towards each other.

The team observed bar-biting in eight of the fifteen single rabbits compared with none of the 30 paired rabbits – a behaviour that has been previously linked to frustration and attempts to escape.
For around one-third of the time, pairs interacted socially; huddling together, grooming or nuzzling each other. Interestingly, the researchers did not observe any aggression between the pairs.

The team also observed that, on colder days, there was on average at least 0.5 degrees Celcius difference between single rabbits and the paired rabbits. They also noted that rabbits adopted compact postures more often, and relaxed postures less frequently, indicating that they were actively attempting to keep warm.

Commenting on the findings,
Lea Facey, manager of The Rabbit Residence Rescue Charity, said: “It’s so important for the advancement of rabbit welfare that these issues are highlighted."

The compatibility of individual rabbits is an important factor to consider, and it can be difficult to pair rabbits without them becoming stressed or aggressive, or having unwanted litters, she said.

Kennel Club welcomes new Lucy's Law

Kennel Club welcomes new Lucy's Law

Figures released by the organisation  show a spike in people searching for a puppy

The introduction of Lucy's Law, which bans the third-party sale of puppies and kittens, has been hailed by The Kennel Club as a 'long awaited and welcome step'.

The new law, which came into force on Monday (6 April) means that third-party sellers, such as pet shops or commercial dealers in England can no longer sell puppies or kittens, unless they have bred the animal themselves. Anyone wanting to adopt a puppy or kitten under the age of six months must now go direct to a licenced breeder, or consider adopting one from a rescue centre.

“Sadly, too often irresponsible breeders in the UK and abroad have depended on commercial third party sellers – like ‘dealers’ or pet shops – to disguise the horrific conditions puppies are bred and brought up in to the public, readily making a huge profit while causing untold suffering,” said Holly Conway, head of public affairs at the Kennel Club.

“We hope Lucy’s Law will help bring an end to this and that, as well as improving welfare conditions for puppies, it will also encourage anyone thinking of getting a puppy to really do their research, find a responsible breeder and bring home a happy, healthy new addition to the family.”

Her comments come as new figures reveal a surge in public interest in getting a puppy in the last month.

The figures show that searches for new puppies via the Kennel Club's '‘Find a Puppy’ tool increased by 53 per cent from February to March, with the biggest spike seen in the week leading up to lockdown – the 16th - 23rd of March. Searches were up 37 per cent compared to the previous week, and 84 per cent compared to the same week in 2019.

Commenting on this rise in interest, Holly said: “With people staying at home, meaning they have more time on their hands and to spend with family, it’s perhaps unsurprising that some are thinking about getting a puppy. While we would underline that now may not be the right time to bring home a puppy, or make an impulsive decision to get a pet, these figures could be a sign of more people looking to find a breeder directly in the future, which is extremely positive and what Lucy’s Law aims to impose.”

Sniffer dogs could join battle against COVID-19

Sniffer dogs could join battle against COVID-19

Scientists looking into whether dogs can be trained to detect the disease

Scientists are exploring whether dogs could be used to sniff-out COVID-19 and help curb the spread of the disease.

The charity Medical Detection Dogs has already trained canines to detect diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections. Now it has joined forces with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Durham University - a team which recently proved that dogs could be trained to detect malaria.

Together they have begun preparations to intensively train dogs to detect COVID-19. Scientists say that the dogs could be ready in as little as six weeks to help provide a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis towards the tail end of the epidemic.

“In principle, we’re sure that dogs could detect COVID-19. We are now looking into how we can safely catch the odour of the virus from patients and present it to the dogs, explained Dr Claire Guest, CEO and Co-Founder of Medical Detection Dogs.

“The aim is that dogs will be able to screen anyone, including those who are asymptomatic and tell us whether they need to be tested. This would be fast, effective and non-invasive and make sure the limited NHS testing resources are only used where they are really needed.”

Medical Detection Dogs has spent many years successfully researching the science behind a dog's olfactory powers. It has already produced more than a dozen peer-reviewed research papers which support its belief that each disease has a unique odour.

The dogs will be trained to detect COVID-19 by sniffing samples in the charity's training room and indicating when they have found it. Because they can also identify subtle changes in the temperature of the skin, the dogs could also be used to tell if someone has a fever.

The charity says that once trained, the dogs could be used to identify travellers entering the country infected with the virus or be deployed in other public spaces.

“Our previous work demonstrated that dogs can detect odours from humans with a malaria infection with extremely high accuracy – above the World Health Organisation standards for a diagnostic,” said Professor James Logan from The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“We know that other respiratory diseases like COVID-19, change our body odour so there is a very high chance that dogs will be able to detect it. This new diagnostic tool could revolutionise our response to COVID-19 in the short term, but particularly in the months to come, and could be profoundly impactful.”

Professor Steve Lindsay from Durham University added: “If the research is successful, we could use COVID-19 detection dogs at airports at the end of the epidemic to rapidly identify people carrying the virus. This would help prevent the re-emergence of the disease after we have brought the present epidemic under control.”

Image (C) Medical Detection Dogs.

Bronx Zoo tiger tests positive for COVID-19

Bronx Zoo tiger tests positive for COVID-19

Big cats tested after developing a dry cough

A four-year-old female Malayan tiger from Bronx Zoo - a member of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) - has tested positive for COVID-19 coronavirus.

The tiger, named Nadia, is thought to be the first known case of human-to-animal transmission in the United States.

Nadia is one of seven cats believed to have become infected by a zookeeper, who was asymptomatically infected with the virus. She, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers, and three African lions had developed a dry cough and all are expected to recover.

The positive COVID-19 test for the tiger was confirmed by USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa.

A spokesperson for the Zoo said: "We tested the cat out of an abundance of caution and will ensure any knowledge we gain about COVID-19 will contribute to the world’s continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus.

“Though they have experienced some decrease in appetite, the cats at the Bronx Zoo are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers".

The Zoo said it is not known how the disease will develop in big cats since different species can react differently to novel infections. It said that it will continue to monitor the cats closely and anticipates full recoveries.

"Appropriate preventive measures are now in place for all staff who are caring for them, and the other cats in our four WCS zoos, to prevent further exposure of any other of our zoo cats," the spokesperson added.

The source of COVID-19 is believed to be a “wet market” in Wuhan, China, which sold both dead and wild animals. The World Health Organization has stressed there is no evidence to suggest that companion animals can get the disease or spread it to other people.

Veterinary Nurse Awareness Month goes virtual

Veterinary Nurse Awareness Month goes virtual

Practices urged to go online to promote the importance of RVNs

It's almost time for Veterinary Nurse Awareness Month (VNAM) (May), and with many people on lockdown, organisers have had to remove the face-to-face interactions and will be running the campaign 'online and virtual' instead.

VNAM aims to spread the word about the importance of the role of the veterinary nurse in practice and the provision of responsible pet care to the general public. It was first started by the BVNA in 2005 as National VN Day campaign and now takes place throughout May every year.

Each year, more and more veterinary practices and training colleges get involved in promoting the role of the veterinary nurse, running events such as sponsored skydives, practice open days and pet health checks

Owing to the outbreak if COVID-19, this year's campaign will be a little different, with participants being asked to take part in virtual activities that they can complete on their mobile phone, laptop or home PC.

RVNs are being urged to join in the campaign as much as possible by recording videos about why they decided to become a vet nurse and what they love about being a vet nurse. The videos should last no longer than a minute, and then shared to the VNAM Facebook page using the hashtag #whatVNsdo, #VNAM2020 and #vetnurses.

This year's competition details can be found here and consist of three categories:

  • design a digital poster or infographic 'Showing the role of the Veterinary Nurse’
  • record a short educational video of no longer than five minutes that helps pet owners care for their pets
  • take a picture of your pet and complete the sentence “I love my Vet Nurse because…..”

There is also a digital pack that practices can download containing posters, partner logos and leaflets about a career in veterinary nursing.

To find out more about this year's campaign, and to get involved, visit www.bvna.org.uk

Veterinary practices urged to complete COVID-19 survey

Veterinary practices urged to complete COVID-19 survey

Survey will shape the RCVS' ongoing response to the crisis

Veterinary practices are being urged to complete an RCVS survey 'as soon as they can' to help the College gauge the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak on clinical practice.
The survey, which has been emailed to veterinary practice representatives across the UK, will also help the RCVS shape the College’s ongoing response to the crisis, including its discussions with the government.
It includes questions on how and whether the pandemic has affected the practice's approach to providing 24/7 emergency care, how the pandemic has affected turnover; and whether staff have been furloughed.
The RCVS is asking that just one person in each practice who is best placed to answer the questions completes the survey. The data collected will be anonymous, although the results of the survey will be shared with the government and other veterinary organisations and will also be published.
“We have received a great deal of anecdotal evidence via emails, contacts and social media on how the COVID-19 pandemic, and the restrictions put in place by the UK Government in response to it, is affecting veterinary businesses and professionals” explains RCVS CEO, Lizzie Lockett.
“However, in order to have the evidence-base to take a well-informed view of how it is impacting the profession, we would urge representatives from practices across the UK to complete this survey as soon as they can. It is crucial that we have this information to help further RCVS policy decisions and ongoing conversations with government, where appropriate.”
She continued: “We recognise that this is an extremely difficult time for everyone and completing a survey may not be at the top of your list of priorities. However, those who do complete the survey will be making a vital contribution to helping us shape the most effective response to the unprecedented challenges we face. Reflecting this, we anticipate re-running the survey to track the situation on the ground over the coming weeks and months.”
As the data must reflect a specific point in time, the deadline for completing the survey is 6 pm on Tuesday 7 April. If any UK veterinary practice believes they have not received the survey via email, please contact Anthony Roberts on a.roberts@rcvs.org.uk for checks to be made.

Clinician selected for leading female researcher development programme

Clinician selected for leading female researcher development programme

RVC's Dr Abbe Crawford selected for fourth round of SUSTAIN

An RVC clinician has been selected for a leading female researcher development programme.

Neurology and neurosurgery clinician Dr Abbe Crawford has been selected for the fourth round of SUSTAIN, a training and development initiative, which supports female researchers in their first independent position within the scientific community.

Dr Crawfords research centres on brain abnormalities associated with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), the most common lethal genetic disorder diagnosed in childhood. Using various techniques to study brain function in the diseased state, her research aims to understand why DMD patients show abnormal brain function and to ultimately develop therapeutic strategies to overcome these brain deficits.

Being a member of SUSTAIN will allow Dr Crawford to join a network of early-career female researchers. The programme runs for one year and will include mentoring from Academy Fellows, peer-coaching and a series of bespoke training workshops.

“I feel very lucky to be joining the SUSTAIN programme. It is a wonderful opportunity to become part of a supportive cohort of like-minded female researchers and to receive training from leading experts in a range of key, yet often undertaught, areas including mentorship, negotiation, and digital resilience,” said Dr Crawford.

“This course comes at an ideal time as I try to develop an independent research programme through my work with colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College. I am confident that the skills, knowledge and support network I will gain from this course will build upon the RVC’s ongoing support and allow me to develop and thrive as I begin this exciting chapter of my career.”

Professor Jonathan Elliott, vice-principal for research and innovation at the RVC, added: “We are incredibly excited about Abbe’s selection in this programme and take great pride in watching her research and career go from strength-to-strength.

“The RVC is renowned for its research excellence and we are committed to supporting all of our colleagues as they pursue their own personal development. In particular, there is an urgent need to develop the research careers of veterinary clinical scientists who work at the interface between veterinary and human health in the way that Abbe is doing”.


African Swine Fever identified in Papua New Guinea

African Swine Fever identified in Papua New Guinea

Various control methods have been introduced

African swine fever has been confirmed on the Pacific island of Papua New Guinea.

According to the National Pig Association, the disease was confirmed on March 25 following the deaths of almost 400 'free-ranging pigs'.

An official OIE report states there were a total of 500 cases from a group of about 700 pigs. Of these, the clinical symptoms included several 'sudden deaths' with a number of pigs surviving the disease.

Samples of some of the dead pigs were tested for ASF, with two testing positive. The samples were then sent to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) for confirmatory PCR testing.

It is not yet known how the virus reached the island. Various control measures have been introduced, including enhanced surveillance and restrictions on movement.

ASF is one of the biggest threats to the global pig market. Historically, outbreaks have been reported across Africa and parts of Europe, South America and the Caribbean. In recent years, however, the disease has devastated pig populations across much of Asia, Africa and parts of Europe.

The World Health Organization estimates that around a quarter of the world’s pigs will die as a result of ASF.

Shenzhen bans consumption of cat and dog meat

Shenzhen bans consumption of cat and dog meat

Move comes in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

Shenzhen has become the first city in mainland China to permanently ban the consumption and trade of cat and dog meat in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

The food safety legislation - Shenzhen Special Economic Region Regulation on a Comprehensive Ban on the Consumption of Wild Animals – will come into effect on 1 May 2020.

Announcing the ban, a Shenzhen government spokesperson said: “… dogs and cats as pets have established a much closer relationship with humans than all other animals, and banning the consumption of dogs and cats and other pets is a common practice in developed countries and in Hong Kong and Taiwan. This ban also responds to the demand and spirit of human civilization.”

In addition to the ban on dog and cat meat, the new legislation will see fines of up to 150,000 yuan for the consumption, breeding and sale of lizards, snakes and other wild animals. Animals that can still be sold and eaten under the new legislation include pig, cattle, sheep, rabbit and chicken.

According to Humane Society International (HSI), some 30 million dogs a year are killed across Asia for meat. However, most people in China don't eat dogs, dog meat is only eaten infrequently by less than 20 per cent of the Chinese population.

Welcoming the move, Dr Peter Li, China policy specialist for animal protection charity Humane Society International, said: “With Shenzhen taking the historic decision to become mainland China’s first city to ban dog and cat meat consumption, this really could be a watershed moment in efforts to end this brutal trade that kills an estimated 10 million dogs and 4 million cats in China every year.

“The majority of these companion animals are stolen from people’s back yards or snatched from the streets, and are spirited away on the backs of trucks to be beaten to death in slaughterhouses and restaurants across China. Shenzhen is China’s fifth-largest city so although the dog meat trade is fairly small there compared with the rest of the province, its true significance is that it could inspire a domino effect with other cities following suit.”

He continued: “Most people in China don’t eat dog or cat meat, and there is considerable opposition to the trade particularly among younger Chinese. Although World Health Organization advice is clear that dogs and cats pose no known coronavirus threat whatsoever, it’s no surprise that attention is turning to this trade at this time because it undoubtedly poses a huge human health risk for other diseases such as rabies, as well as causing immense animal suffering.”

Dr Teresa M. Telecky, vice president of the wildlife department for Humane Society International, added: “Shenzhen is the first city in the world to take the lessons learned from this pandemic seriously and make the changes needed to avoid another pandemic. People around the world are suffering the impact of this pandemic because of one thing: the wildlife trade.

"Shenzhen’s bold steps to stop this trade and wildlife consumption is a model for governments around the world to emulate. We urge all governments to follow suit by banning wildlife trade, transport and consumption for any purpose.”

AMTRA welcomes VMD prescribing and supply changes

AMTRA welcomes VMD prescribing and supply changes

New approach will maintain essential distribution channel for animal medicines)

The Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority (AMTRA) has welcomed changes made by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) to the way certain animal medicines can be prescribed and supplied during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Announced this week, the policy allows registered animal medicine advisors (RAMAs) – otherwise known as SQPs - to prescribe and authorise the supply of animal medicines remotely, providing strict procedures are observed. This includes wormers, flukicides, flea treatments and vaccinations.

Under the new approach, the RAMA/SQP is still responsible for the prescription and supply and therefore must:

  • be the person that has the conversation/consultation with the animal owner
  • be the person that makes the prescribing decision
  • be satisfied that the person handing over or dispatching the prescribed product is competent to do so.

“In the current circumstances, if the only available RAMA/SQP at a registered premises is self-isolating, those requirements would prevent in-person supervision,” Stephen Dawson, AMTRA secretary general, explains.

”Enforcing those rules would also limit the possibility for the RAMA to be working from home in an effort to limit the number of people on the business premises.

He added: “AMTRA welcomes this new approach during the new unique challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This will maintain the essential distribution channel for animal medicines while safeguarding the health and safety of staff and customers.”

The approach has been adopted across the companion animal, farm, and equine sectors and will remain in place until at least 30 April 2020.


Strip grazing helps keep horses in shape, study finds

Strip grazing helps keep horses in shape, study finds

‘Significantly lower bodyweight gains’ for ponies with gradual access to pasture

New research into different equine grazing practices has shown that strip grazing could be a useful tool in restricting weight gain in horses.

The study was conducted by Annette Longland of Equine and Livestock Nutrition Services (ELNS) in Wales, in collaboration with equine feed manufacturer Spillers via the Waltham Equine Studies Group. It aimed to compare the effectiveness of three restricted grazing practices on equine bodyweight management during the UK grass growing season.

For the study, three groups of four ponies that had been equally matched for weight, height, and body condition score, were placed in paddocks with a herbage yield equivalent to 1.5 per cent (dry weight) of the ponies’ body weight per day for 28 days.

The groups were allocated one of three grazing practices:

  • no other restriction
  • a lead fence placed across the width of the paddock, allowing access to fresh grass by moving it 1/28th of the paddock length each day
  • strip grazed with both a lead and a back fence, with the back fence being moved the same distance as the lead fence daily.

Every week the ponies were weighed and had their body condition scored. For ponies without any grazing restriction bodyweight gains were substantially higher, but there was minimal difference in weight gain for those with the lead fence and those with both a lead and back fence.

“The ponies with gradual access to pasture via strip grazing had significantly lower bodyweight gains than their counterparts who were allowed free access to the entire 28-day herbage allocation,” said Clare Barfoot, marketing and research and development director at Spillers.

“If you are planning on turning your horse out to grass during this current (COVID-19) situation or at any other time it’s certainly worth considering installing a strip grazing fence and moving it once a day.”

Waitrose and SRUC team up to understand animals' emotions

Waitrose and SRUC team up to understand animals' emotions

Study will analyse the expressive body language of animals in the supply chain

Leading supermarket Waitrose has teamed up with Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) in a bid to further understand the emotions of animals used in the supply chain.

The pioneering study aims to identify and promote positive expressions of animals' welfare and achieve the best quality of life for farm animals supplying Waitrose produce.

It will be carried out by the Waitrose and Partners Animal Welfare Development Group – an expert panel of vets, scientists and farmers - in conjunction with Professor Françoise Wemelsfelder, animal welfare and behaviour specialist at SRUC.

Key to the study will be the Qualitative Behavioural Assessment (QBA) toolkit, developed by Prof Wemelsfelder to analyse the expressive body language of animals when interacting with each other and their surroundings. The system consolidates the actions, such as 'curious' or 'scared', into a framework that can provide an insight into an animal's emotional state.

Prof Wemelsfelder explains: “For any given species, you need a list of about 20 terms to describe both the positive and negative aspects of the animals’ emotional range. Is the animal relaxed, playful, confident or curious? Is it tense, frustrated, agitated or bored? Then you scale the intensity of this expressivity. It’s bored? Well, how bored? It’s content? How content? The scale starts at zero for ‘not at all content’ and goes up to ten for ‘couldn’t be more content’.”

By scoring a significant number of terms in this way, researchers will be able to identify  patterns that can reveal how an animal is generally feeling.

The researchers aim to develop lists of descriptors for pigs, laying hens, dairy cows, chickens, ducks and veal calves. These lists will then be converted into an 'on-the-go' app that Waitrose inspectors can use when visiting farms to ensure a high standard of welfare.

“There is so much knowledge among the farmers already about the way animals express themselves, but a lot of it is implicit and goes unspoken,” continued Prof Wemelsfelder. “The toolkit will formalise this and give people confidence to say, ‘Let’s do something with the knowledge that we have.”

Andrew Booth, chair of the development group, added: “We know that Waitrose & Partners has always led the way when it comes to animal welfare, but what we wanted was to create a framework to assess this welfare, to show what we’re doing well and to identify areas for improvement.”

Wildlife charities urge government to end badger cull in light of new figures

Wildlife charities urge government to end badger cull in light of new figures

More than 35,000 badgers killed in 2019 as part of bTB strategy

Multiple wildlife charities are calling for the UK Government to scrap badger culling in the fight against bovine tuberculosis (bTB), after recent government figures revealed that more than 35,000 badgers were killed in 2019.

Earlier this month the Government announced a plan to gradually phase out badger culling in favour of vaccination, surveillance and improved cattle testing. This decision was part of the Government’s response to an independent review of its 25-year bTB strategy, led by Professor Sir Charles Godfray.

Charities including the RSPCA welcomed the commitment, but in light of new figures, published on 27 March 2020, which showed that 35,034 badgers were killed as part of the Government’s badger control b policy in 2019, the organisations are urging the Government to end the culls sooner rather than later.

RSPCA head of wildlife Adam Grogan said: “These appalling figures highlight the urgent need to speed up plans to tackle bTB through improved cattle herd management instead of culling.

“Many of the cull areas had their target kill figures revised due to the inaccuracy of methods used to estimate badger numbers. The RSPCA believes that this shows the initial population estimates used for the cull are ineffective and meaningless. Furthermore, many of the cull areas extended the culling period beyond the 42 days recommended by the scientific panel advising how such a cull could work.”

Mr Grogan continued: “We feel that proposed improvements to cattle-based measures, along with badger vaccination, are the best solution for badgers, cattle and farmers. The badger cull has been cruel and ineffective and we have been calling for some time for an alternative strategy to control bovine TB that focuses on cattle which includes vaccination and improved testing.

“However, these latest figures just back up the calls by the RSPCA and other animal welfare organisations for Government to scrap the cull and focus on the cattle-based methods they propose in their response to the Godfray report.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “Bovine TB leads to the slaughter of over 30,000 cattle every year and considerable trauma for farmers as they suffer the loss of highly prized animals and valued herds. As independent research has shown, the badger cull has led to a significant reduction in the disease, but no one wants to continue the cull of this protected species forever.

“We recently set out the next phase of our strategy to combat bTB, which includes field trials of a cattle vaccine, plans to vaccinate more badgers against the disease and improved testing to intercept bTB earlier.”


New insights into ionised hypercalcaemia

New insights into ionised hypercalcaemia

Relying on calcium concentrations alone could lead to misclassification

Relying on calcium concentrations alone to diagnose dogs with ionised hypercalcaemia could lead to misclassification in approximately one-third of dogs, according to new research.

In the study, scientists at the University of Edinburgh first established a normal reference interval for ionised calcium, total calcium and albumin, serum and plasma biochemistry from samples of 351 healthy adult dogs.

Next, they searched the laboratory’s database for adult dogs with ionised hypercalcaemia that had attended the University's Hospital for Small Animals between 2012 and 2017 - a time when researchers were using the same sample handling protocols and instrumentation.

Lastly, the team searched the hospital records for patient information and analysed the biochemical parameters. They found that, of 63 dogs identified with ionised l hypercalcaemia, 23 did not have a total hypercalcaemia (37 per cent), and from these 16 dogs, 23 (70 per cent) had albumin within the reference interval.

Summarising their findings in the Journal of Small Animal Practice, researchers conclude that, using total calcium, one-third of patients with ionised hypercalcaemia were not identified. There was also no significant relationship between albumin and total calcium in these cases.

“Hypercalcaemia is a very important clinical abnormality, often revealing severe underlying disease in dogs who do not get idiopathic hypercalcaemia,” commented lead author Camilla Tørnqvist-Johnsen. “This study reveals the true importance of doing an ionised calcium measurement when evaluating calcaemic status.”

Nick Jeffery, editor of JSAP added: “This study demonstrates that, if relying on total calcium alone, more than one-third of dogs with ionised hypercalcaemia will be classified as normocalcaemic. Furthermore, the study demonstrates that the discordance between ionised and total calcium cannot be routinely explained by a low protein-bound component.

“Whilst reference intervals are key in clinical practice to determine whether a result is an outlier from 95 per cent of a healthy population, it is not inevitable that a patient with an outlying biochemical test result has a clinically relevant disease.”