Thursday, December 31, 2009

The hottest name in canine couture...Puppy Kit!

What are the best-dressed dogs wearing this season? Something from Puppy Kit The super-smart online canine boutique (which also boasts a shop in Buckhurst Hill, Essex) had the stand next to us at Discover Dogs last November and it took four people a whole day to stock their shelves. I don't think there was a moment during the two-day show when people weren't queuing to look at their range and as we were packing up I noticed that Vicky and Marianne both sported overflowing Puppy Kit carrier bags.

What makes Puppy Kit so special? As with any fashion shop it comes down to their eye. The buyers have a brilliant knack for seeking out the hottest pet fashion and accessories. International labels include Juicy Couture, Dogs of Glamour, Chien Vivant, Waifs & Strays, and Trendy4Paws plus they carry all sorts of witty accessories such as collars, coats and bowls featuring your favourite soccer team.

Puppy Kit brings style to the practical things that every dog needs from baskets to blankets and from toys to tags. They also offer all sorts of dog-related items including a range of jewellery. Anyway, as you will have gathered, we have all gone slightly Puppy Kit mad at Darling's!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pet Food Politics. The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine.

After being up for half the night dealing with sick Chihuahuas I decided I would spend the afternoon snoozing on the couch. However, I made the terrible mistake of starting to read a book sent to me by my friend Matt (who runs a brilliant organic chocolate company called Organic Meltdown that plants a tree for every bar of chocolate sold) and it was so gripping I ended up not sleeping after all.

Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine describes the 2007 USA recall of pet food involving 200 different brands containing (or suspected of containing) ingredients responsible for killing an estimated 4,000+ dogs and cats. It reveals how, in an effort to cut costs and boost profits, manufacturers started to buy ingredients of dubious provenance and quality from - amongst other places - China. The Chinese, it transpired, had been lacing these ingredients with (of all things) melamine.

The author, Professor Nestle, isn't really interested in dog welfare per se. To her the key point is that: 'Pet foods are just one part of an inextricably linked system of food production, distribution and consumption.' She views the recall (the largest consumer recall of all time) as a warning about the globalisation of the food industry viz. we can no longer be certain where ingredients really come from or whether they meet appropriate safety standards.

She is doubtful about whether manufacturers, government or consumers have learned from the experience and predicts that it is all likely to happen again hinting darkly that next time it may be humans who die. A chilling book, then, but fascinating for all that.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Warning about SentryPro XFC - our Alice and Edward both had dreadful reactions

Hudson Valley, NY. Up all night with Alice (above with Mrs. S) and Edward thanks to a product called SentryPro XFC which controls fleas and - more importantly - ticks. Ticks in this part of the world often transmit Lyme disease and after much debate Marianne and I have decided that prevention is necessary. Usually we use something called FrontLine but as the vet wasn't on duty when I went to collect it at our local PetSmart store the assistant recommended SentryPro instead.

Well. We followed the instructions and applied it to the back of both dogs just before bed. But at 2.30 we were awoken by a terribly noise and crying and rushed down to find Alice shaking and falling over and trying to lick her paws. There were little piles of vomit all over the floor. A quick look online and what do we find. Hundreds of references to similar cases. We follow the advice being given out by various sites and wash the dogs several times and then - as they still seem ill - made a visit to the vet (a 45 minute drive each way) who called the manufacturer's hotline. The company's representative said it wasn't an allergic reaction but an overdose and that there was nothing we could do.

Thankfully, by 6ish both dogs had stopped being sick and the worst symptoms had subsided so we all went to bed.

Now. Here are my complaints:

- Nowhere on the packaging does it say the treatment shouldn't be given to dogs weighing under 9lbs (Alice is about 5 or 6 lbs). We assumed that because she weighed less she needed a smaller dose. It was the dose given to me by the pet shop and the assistant had said it would be OK.

- Nowhere on the packaging does it say (that I could find) that you shouldn't leave dogs that have been treated with other dogs as they may lick it off. (We might have thought of this ourselves, of course, but we didn't).

- Nowhere on the packaging is there any warning that the product may cause an allergic reaction or that it could poison the dog.

Happily, it doesn't look as if our dogs have suffered any permanent effects. Still, we are pretty fed up with the manufacturers - Seargent's Pet Care Products - and would strongly advise other US based dog owners to give their products a wide berth. A very wide berth, indeed.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A really stupid rule...

Manhattan. A white Christmas. A black thought. Why are dogs only allowed off their leads in Central Park before 9am on a Saturday and Sunday morning? It is a really stupid - I'd go so far as to say cruel - rule. Obviously, it is sensible to make people with aggressive dogs restrain them in public places. Otherwise, dogs should be free to enjoy the park. Grrrrr.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Stop speed eating with this great bowl from Rich and Robin

It is natural for dogs to gulp (rather than to chew) their food as all the digestion takes place in their stomachs. Some dogs, however, get into the habit of eating so quickly that it makes them ill. Which is where this great bowl from online luxury pet shop Rick and Robin comes in. Fiendishly clever, eh? The little bits that stick up slow the dog down and force him or her to eat at a normal pace. There are other similar bowls on the market - and it is a case of different bowls suit different dogs - but this is the one we recommend you try first. Incidentally, Rich and Robin has a great a selection of other 'luxury pet essentials'.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Pet Health Council is a bad, bad joke...

The Pet Health Council is, according to its website: 'Here to promote, inform and advise on the health and welfare of pet animals in the interests of both pets and people.' It is supported - financially - by the following organisations:

British Veterinary Association
Pet Care Trust
Pet Food Manufacturers' Association
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain

All these organisations are committed to the idea that there is nothing wrong with manufactured dog and cat food. This isn't suprising when you see where their vested interests lie.

The British Veterinary Association receives substantial funding from the pet food and pharmaceutical sectors.

The Pet Care Trust is registered as an educational charity. They have some very odd aims including: 'Stop the Health and Safety Executive gold-plating the European Biocidal Products Directive through its insistence that manufacturers conduct prohibitively expensive tests on the active ingredients of biocidal products that have been on the market for many years.' Biocide is a chemical substance capable of killing living organisms. Basically, they are a representative body for pet shop owners and groomers.

The Pet Food Manufacturers' Association is exactly what you would expect. Their members are the processed food manufacturers that produce the food that some vets now believe is causing so many medical problems in dogs and cats. No shortage of funding there, let me tell you!

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain is not, of course, involved in dog and cat food. Their vested interest (you see their name cropping up elsewhere in the pet care sector) is in promoting the idea that drugs are the best cure for what ails all of us - human, canine or feline.

Anyway, back to the Pet Health Council. Nowhere on its website could I find any information about raw food or the possible dangers of vaccinating pets or the problems associated with over medication or the successes that have been achieved by so-called 'alternative' methods such as homeopathy. In short, they are a simply there to whitewash the vested interests that support them. The best advice they seem to be able to offer pet owners is to make sure that their dogs have plenty of water. Pah.

Why didn't anyone tell me...?

In a shop today a woman said (morosely, I felt): 'Just two days until Christmas'. I only wish someone had mentioned it to me sooner. It has come as a terrible shock and finds me deeply unprepared. I have done no Christmas shopping whatsoever unless you count three bars of Green & Black chocolate which I bought for Mrs. S and secretly ate. I must smuggle out the wrappers when no one is looking.

I have been reading Real Food for Dogs & Cats by Dr. Clare Middle. Excellent, short book about why dogs should be eating a raw diet. In the first chapter she places great emphasis on how dogs are pack animals and the importance of making their status within the pack clear to them. The following types of behaviour will give your dog the impression that they are higher in the pecking order than the humans in your family:

- Feeding them before you eat.
- Letting them onto the furniture.
- Letting them sleep in your bed.

- Giving them treats for no reason.

Does it matter? That depends. In general, if a dog believes it is high on the pecking order it is less likely to behave well or do as it is told. It can also lead to anxiety. As Dr. Middle points out:

" Dutiful dogs can become over burdened with a sense of responsibility greater than they are capable of managing, making them confused and stressed and sometimes leading to behaviour problems and even aggression."

I have a friend with a staggeringly beautiful lurcher who is charming but - um - headstrong. Indeed, it is almost impossible to get him to do anything he is told. I am sure this is because he sleeps on her bed. On the other hand, she doesn't mind and he seems perfectly happy. So obviously, it is a matter of personal taste.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is your dog's guaranteed safety worth 1p a day?

Have you got a seatbelt or better still a crash-tested safety crate for your dog? Think I am being neurotic? You wouldn't travel in a car without buckling up and you certainly wouldn't let a child roam free. So why put your dog's life at risk? Especially as there are some great safety products on the market.

The Rolls Royce of canine safety equipment comes from a Kent-based company offering a tubular steel crate that has been crash tested and fits most estate cars, people carriers and four wheel drives. OK, it will cost you upwards of £335, but to me this seems a small price to pay for peace of mind. Let me put it this way, one of these crates will last forever but even if you only use it for - say - ten years it will cost you as little as 1p a day or less. If we took our dogs in the car more than a few times a year this is what I would get them.

As it is we use a harness. I don't think these are anywhere near as good but they are still better than nothing and will stop the dog from going flying if you have to stop suddenly or become involved in an accident. We got ours in the USA, but SafeDog have what looks like an excellent option starting at £49.

Please, please think about how you transport your dog. I've been involved in two serious accidents (neither my fault) and I know how easy it is to think: 'Oh, it will never happen to me.'

Friday, December 18, 2009

Support Pets As Therapy

One of the most interesting people I met at Discover Dogs this year was Maureen Hennis, the Chief Executive Officer for Pets As Therapy. Since 1983 this fantastic charity has been taking dogs and cats to visit people in hospitals, hospices and residential and nursing homes as well as schools and other establishments. They also work with children who have special needs, stroke victims and many others. Wherever they go they bring comfort, companionship and therapy to those in need. Some 4,500 volunteers benefit 130,000 or more people every single week. What an achievement! Anyway, if you are looking for a canine charity to support this Christmas I don't feel you could do better. You'll find more information on their website

Of John Carter, CV 247 and curing cancer in dogs (and humans)

Years ago I remember reading something about a vet in Harrow who was having great success in treating cancer in pets (and humans!) but I never gave it much thought until one of our customers recently wrote and pointed out that part of the treatment was a raw, organic diet. So I did a little research and found that the vet concerned was called John Carter - sadly now deceased - and that his work had had quite a bit of publicity and is now (after many years of struggling) available in Hungary. As Hungary is in the EU I think this may mean the treatment is available here. Anyway, the website of the company which was set up to develop and research the treatment Ivy Medical Chemicals ( is fascinating. Here is what they say about CV 247:

"CV 247 is a combination product comprising of Sodium Salicylate, Copper Gluconate, Manganese Gluconate and Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) taken as a solution. The product was conceived and initially developed by Mr John Carter, veterinary surgeon, who also advocated that in combination with the therapy a patient also followed an “organic Diet”.

Mr Carter established the treatment regime after many years of study and empirical research starting in around 1976. The work began after a number of friends and associates as well as many companion animals had succumbed to the effects of cancer. Mr Carter’s hypothesis was that the increasing rate of cancer affecting the human and animal world could have an association with modern food manufacturing methods and the environment. His theory and treatment was aimed at stimulating the individual’s immune system so as to resist the development or progression of cancer. The effect of this theory was repeatedly tested in his Veterinary practice on a compassionate treatment basis. Mr Carter’s interest and the success with the animals he treated led to word of mouth recommendations to tend to other animals suffering from cancer.

CV 247 was seen by pet owners to have a notable rate of success on their respective companion animals, and an anecdotal portfolio of satisfied dog owners was compiled. Credibility in the drug and treatment regime increased further when in 1993 Mr Carter was introduced to UCL Ventures, a division of University College London (UCLV). The anecdotal evidence collected persuaded UCLV that the claim should be investigated independently. UCLV agreed to carry out controlled trials and introduced Professor Peter Beverly who at that time was Head of the Tumour Immunology Unit of the Imperial Cancer Fund at University College London. Professor Beverly agreed to undertake a series of controlled experiments on the effect of the treatment on malignant cancers in mice. After gaining the necessary licence to undertake the experiment, the trials were carried out under a formal contract between John Carter and UCL.

Three controlled experiments were carried out. Professor Beverly concluded in his report that the treatment caused a statistically significantly reduction in the rate of tumour growth in the treated compared to the untreated groups and that there were no observable side effects attributed to the treatment."

You'll find tons more on the web about all of this. I don't feel qualified to say anything about the efficacy of the treatment but if I hear of any dog or person suffering from cancer I shall certainly pass the details on. Incidentally, I have a feeling that I read somewhere that you have to start treatment before chemotherapy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Can dogs fly...?

We are looking into taking our American dogs (my wife is American and so three of our family dogs reside in the US) to our home in Ireland. The last time we considered doing this I did quite a bit of research and became so worried about their welfare that I gave it up. Now I have been introduced to Dana at Pet Movers ( and she has been so reassuring about the whole thing that we are on for it again. She says that the secret is a) use only airports and airlines that treat the dogs as live cargo and not as luggage and b) get prior approval for everything so that there is minimal delay. She warned me against giving the dogs sedatives (which one vet had been suggesting) as it can endanger their health at altitude and told me that not once - ever - has she come across a dog that didn't recover quickly from the experience. It looks as if our dogs will fly after all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why your dog doesn't need crunchy food...

On the first night of my French Exchange (what a harrowing three weeks that was) the father of the family where I had been imprisoned became somewhat intoxicated and long after the rest of us were abed could be heard singing in the kitchen. At 2am he began to shout: 'Voltaire, au panier! Victor Hugo, au panier! De Saint Exupéry, au panier!' He must be seeing dead writers and philosophers the way other people see pink elephants, I thought to myself, as I attempted to sleep. Odd, though, that he should be trying to get them into a basket. I made a joke of it, in my broken (oh, OK, pathetic) French, at breakfast next morning to the considerable amusement of all present. Voltaire, Victor Hugo and De Saint Exupéry being the family's three Spaniels.

Why am I waffling on about this? Because the experience prepared me for dogs with unusual names. And so when a prospective customer called today to talk about her Dachshunds - Darwin and Hooker (no, no, not what you think, named for the famous 19th Century biologist) - I was not taken by surprise.

I convinced my caller that a raw diet would be better for her dogs but she was harder to persuade when it came to not adding mixer. 'They need it,' she kept saying, 'because they want something to chew on.' Well, we discussed it a good bit and in the end I dropped the subject because I could tell I was causing irritation (or maybe I should say more irritation than usual). The truth is, however, that dogs don't need mixer, kibble or biscuits in with their food because unlike we humans dogs don't chew much. Their teeth are designed to tear meat of the bone not to - um - masticate. That's why you see dogs gulping down their food. Their primary objective is to get it into their stomach as quickly as possible in order to start digesting it. There are lots of other reasons not to feed dogs mixer, kibble or biscuit, not least the fact that they shouldn't be eating more than a tiny amount of grain. Also, what they really want for their teeth and to exercise their jaws and upper body is bones. Foam rubber, incidentally, is not considered good for dogs. Just thought I would mention it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dogs versus cats. The great debate.

Quick. Nip into your local newsagent and pick up a copy of the latest New Scientist because the cover story by Kate Douglas is all about the relative merits of dogs versus cats. She looks at 11 different factors - size of brain, shared history, ability to bond, popularity, understanding, problem solving, vocalisation, tractability, supersenses, eco-friendliness and utility. The piece is packed full of fascinating canine and feline facts but as this is a dog blog I'll focus on the former. Here's a selection of things I never knew before:

  • The oldest archaeological remains of dogs are 31,000 years old. The entire dog genome has now been sequenced, incidentally, and the results suggest domestication around 50,000 years ago. However, Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden thinks it is only 16,000 years ago and that the first dogs to be domesticated were to be found around the the Yangtze river in China and were probably destined for the dinner table.
  • Give a 4 month old puppy the choice between canine and human companionship and they choose us!
  • Rico the border collie can understand 200 different words.
  • Dogs, unlike say chimps, can understand gestures and looks, too. They are predisposed to inspect our faces for information, reassurance and guidance.
  • Dogs learn in the same way as babies using a technique called pedagogy which entails implicit teaching. Other animals, such as dolphins, for instance, learn by emulation.
  • Dogs see in the dark five times better than humans.
  • A dog's sense of smell is up to 100 million times better than a human's.
  • A medium sized dog's ecological footprint - the area of land required to keep it fed - is 0.84 hectares. Even a chihuahua requires 0.28 hectares.
Really, a fascinating piece if you can get hold of a copy. While I am on the subject of canine versus feline difference it is interesting to see their different begging techniques - as demonstrated by the photo above.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thank you Canine Health Concern

I've just sent a long email to Catherine O'Driscoll, founder of Canine Health Concern (CHC), to thank her for her campaigning and to let her know how useful I have found her website. Catherine (I hope she won't think it impertinent of me to call her by her first name) is best known for her books explaining why canine vaccines are so detrimental to canine health. However, she has also been a fervent advocate of raw feeding and through CHC commissioned some interesting research which is summarised on their website ( as follows:

We asked people who had changed their dogs away from pet food and onto raw meaty bones to take part in some research. Our results showed that Natural Food - including raw meaty bones - is Better for Dogs than Processed Pet Food

Eighty-nine dog owners took part in the survey. Seventy-four per cent had changed to the raw meaty bone diet, and 13% were already feeding a similar diet. We were astonished by the results: there was a massive drop of 85% in veterinary visits shown by people whose dogs had �gone natural�. The 85% reduction was achieved by those who had been feeding the natural diet for a period of six months or more. Our own records show that, initially, feeding costs of a natural diet increase whilst vet costs decline. After about a year, quantity and feeding costs decline, too, as the dogs� nutrition rises to optimum levels.

The main visible health benefits reported by owners of the 126 dogs who were changed to the natural diet include . . more energy and activity, improved teeth and gums, glossier coats, and skin, and weight and behavioural improvements. Other benefits included lower susceptibility to fleas, improved appetite, an absence of stomach and digestive upsets, sweeter breath, cleaner ears, no more scratching, and veterinary medication no longer required.

Although dogs who had been on the diet for only a few weeks showed improvements, those on the natural diet for six months or longer were dramatically healthier than those whose diet had only recently changed. And - importantly - guardians were reporting multiple benefits for their dogs.

Canine Health Concern has been incredibly effective in its campaigning and in 1998 was the subject of a World in Action documentary. It only costs £16 to join (I've just joined myself) and it is money well spent.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Meat. You get what you pay for.

I have often felt that Radio Four should introduce a ‘Rant for the Day’ in which people with strong feelings on a topic – such as my good self – get an opportunity to let off steam about something that really, really upsets them. Like the cheap meat offered for sale by pet shops and other online suppliers.
Let me tell you why (he said his voice beginning to rise).

The amount that we spend on food has been falling as a percentage of income since the beginning of the Second World War. In 1939 the average person spent about a third of their money on food, whereas now the figure is likely to be one tenth. At the same time the cost of food has been falling in real terms thanks to intensive farming, imported food from developing countries and much lower standards.

Paying less for food is not necessarily a good thing.

Intensive farming causes serious environmental damage because it reduces biodiversity, requires harmful chemicals and creates pollution. It is cruel on the animals and birds as anyone with an open mind will see if they care to visit any of these so-called ‘farms’. It leads to huge health risks – think BSE, foot and mouth and all the extra drugs that humans now consume because they are already in the food we eat. Plus the food itself has barely any taste to it. When it comes to imported food there is one additional disadvantage: the wasted energy and resources used on transport. It is insanity to fly beans from Kenya to Britain. Sheer insanity.

Anyway, anyway, if the food we eat ourselves – especially the meat – is of poor quality (and by and large it is) and has been obtained at the expense of the environment and animal suffering, what about the food we give to our dogs? I am not talking here just about the meat that goes into processed dog food which is often what they call ‘Four D’ – the ‘D’ being meat that comes from dead, dying, diseased or down (disabled at slaughter) animals. No, I am also talking about the meat that you can buy for your dog that may cost as little as 30p a kilo or less.


The fact is, meat that costs this little can only be unfit for human consumption. It can only come from animals that have suffered.

Speaking as a former farmer I know that to raise a free range animal or bird, to feed it properly, to get it veterinary care if needed (although the worst problem I ever had with my herd of pigs was sunburn… a good farmer rarely needs to call out the vet) and to slaughter it in such a way as to minimise the stress and trauma (which takes time, thought and money) is expensive.

The only way to ensure that you are buying meat of superior quality is to know where it comes from and how the farmer approaches his business. Personally, I never buy meat from supermarkets because even if it is organic and free range you don’t really know where it comes from. Instead, I buy from a butcher I trust or direct from the farmer. It costs more, but it is worth it.

OK. Rant over.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Major R.F. Wall and Sir Frederick Hobday endorse Darling's raw food diet

On 1st December 2005 at 4.23pm (or was it 4.24, I forget now) Mrs Self and I met by the Information Booth in Grand Central and last year on the same day, and at the same time, and in the same place we got married there. (If you are very bored and really have nothing better to do you will find the story and photos in the NY Times). This year, wanting to celebrate the happy day, but feeling that a change of venue was called for, we decided to nip up to Hay on Wye for a couple of days walking.

It seems like 30 years or more since Richard Booth, a second hand bookseller, put the place on the map by declaring himself King of Hay. That's because it was 30 years or more. The media flocked to the sleepy little market town and so did other booksellers and now it is pretty much the most popular second hand book destination in the country.

HRH's main bookshop (there is a second one in the castle) hasn't changed much over the years (although it is now owned by an American who is smartening it up) and there is still a large section on DOGS. That's right DOGS. You probably thought I was never going to mention DOGS but I was leading up to it that's all.

So, when it rained and rained and rained on Sunday we pottered over to the Booth emporium and spent a happy couple of hours browsing. Mrs. S in the horse section, me in the dog section. Of all the books I ended up buying my favourite is:
Keeping a Dog by Major R.F. Wall with a foreword by Sir Frederick Hobday (you couldn't make this up) published in 1933 and dedicated 'To Jumbo from Uncle John'.

There are many gems to be gleaned from this excellent and entertaining tome but I will confine myself to just one quote from the chapter on feeding: 'The majority of dogs readily digest and thrive on raw meat.' A useful reminder that before the pet food industry started brainwashing everyone it was generally accepted that dogs should be fed a raw food diet.