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Small animal issues loom large

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Education is one of the primary activities of the BSAVA as anyone attending the association’s annual congress in Birmingham last week will testify. Once again, the extensive scientific programme at the congress reflected progress across all branches of small animal medicine and surgery – and the enthusiasm with which the many delegates attended the wide range of lectures on offer continues to provide an impressive demonstration of the desire among practitioners to keep up with developments and further their skills.

Despite the continuing emphasis on education, there was, perhaps, more of a political edge to the event this year, at least judging from remarks made by the outgoing BSAVA president, Richard Dixon, at the association’s annual general meeting. This probably reflects the fact that more attention is being paid to small animal issues these days, and wider recognition of the significance of the contribution of small animal vets to society.

Some of the issues considered in Dr Dixon’s speech have been around for some time and are now coming to a head, while others have moved up the agenda more recently. Topics falling into the first of these categories include the current derogation from EU pet travel rules, which allows the UK and some other EU countries to apply stricter controls on the entry of pets than most other member states – in the case of the UK, through the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS). The derogation has recently been extended until the end of 2011 (see VR, March 20, 2010, vol 166, p 344), but the indications are that it is unlikely to be extended again. This leaves little time to collect the evidence to support a future permanent strategy.

Discussing changes to the pet travel rules in relation to the risk of introducing rabies, Dr Dixon said it was generally accepted that this risk was decreasing; whether it had declined to an acceptably low level was still a matter for science-based debate. However, he described the possibility that the changes might facilitate the entry of tickborne diseases and the parasitic tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis into the UK as a ‘huge worry’ for the BSAVA. Right now, the priority was on data collection and developing the sound, science-based arguments that were needed to ensure appropriate future protection of animal and human health.

Problems associated with inappropriate dog breeding had remained high on the BSAVA’s agenda over the previous 12 months and the association had welcomed the reports on this topic from the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare and Professor Sir Patrick Bateson (VR, November 7, 2009, vol 165, pp 546-547; January 23, 2010, vol 166, pp 91-92). However, Dr Dixon said, as is often the case, the reports had raised as many questions as answers. Collecting the scientific evidence to support future strategies was no simple task, and how would the proposed independent Advisory Council on Dog Breeding function in practice? Crucially, how would these activities be funded? Also, he said, this was not just a canine issue: it was important to consider inappropriate feline breeding practices as well.

Other topics mentioned in Dr Dixon’s speech included the welfare problems associated with puppy farming, and dangerous dogs legislation, which is currently the subject of a government consultation (VR, March 13, 2010, vol 166, p 311). He also expressed concern about the proposed new arrangements for veterinary nurse training. However, some of his most pertinent remarks concerned the veterinary profession’s position in society and the way it is portrayed in the media. Both the public and the media now expect complete transparency and accountability from the professions, which are increasingly subject to intense scrutiny, and some recent media coverage had been more critical than previously. He believed that, rather than shying away from this, the profession should take a proactive approach and regard it as an opportunity to emphasise the good work being done by its members on a day-to-day basis. Individual incidents of bad practice could never be condoned, but the vast majority of interactions between clients, pets and vets were overwhelmingly positive, and the profession should play a more active role in highlighting its successes.

There can be little doubt that small animal issues are becoming increasingly high profile, and that this trend is likely to continue. Reflecting this, small animal topics will feature prominently in the ‘contentious issues’ programme at this year’s BVA Congress, to be held in Glasgow from September 23 to 25. Among other things, debates at the congress will consider dangerous dogs legislation, non-accidental injury in animals and where to draw the line in treating animals, under the general theme of ‘Vets and the public good’.

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