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We Brits have a staggering 50 million pets.
And from dental chews and flea collars
to vaccinations and vet bills,
we are now spending £40 billion a year on their health.
But what do they really need to have a long and healthy life?
Your pet can't tell you, but science can.
I'm Steve Leonard, and in this series
I'm joined by a team of vets.
We're going to seek out the latest veterinary research
to find out what's really good and bad for the nation's pets...
-One of those words that you do not want to hear.
..and do some brand-new science of our own
to tackle the biggest issues in animal health today.
So, the experiment's been a great success.
We'll talk to world-leading experts
to give you the knowledge you need...
How important is it to prevent overheating?
..and cut through the myths and misconceptions
to bring you the very best advice.
Each time, we'll be based at one of the UK's top vet schools
to seek out the latest research
from the front line of veterinary medicine.
we're at the Royal Veterinary College near London.
Welcome to Trust Me I'm A Vet.
The Royal Veterinary College, or RVC,
is the oldest vet school here in the UK,
and right at the heart of it
is the Queen Mother Hospital for animals -
the largest pet hospital in Europe.
In this programme, we'll uncover surprising new research
on what food is really best for your pet's health,
and I'll join the RVC's world-leading surgeons
as they perform a pioneering operation
that could save thousands of cats across the country.
Our team of vets will also be out and about across the UK,
seeking out the latest science,
from the perfect home for your reptile,
to the steps you can take to help an injured animal.
We all want to keep our pets healthy
and feeding them a diet that is good for them
is an important part of that.
We Brits are now spending a colossal £3 billion a year on pet food.
But with hundreds of varieties out there, how do we know what's best?
To find out, Trust Me I'm A Vet
is going to lift the lid on the latest research.
We've uncovered a brand-new study
investigating one group of ingredients
that are often overlooked,
but are crucial for your pet's health -
Minerals, like calcium,
magnesium, phosphorus and others
are essential to an animal's health.
A key source of them in pet food
is actually bone material from farm animals, poultry and fish.
Now, that doesn't sound that appetising,
but it's an important part of the diet.
It's a bit like giving your dog a bone.
In the right quantities,
these different minerals keep your pet's coat and skin
in good condition and make their bones strong.
But in the wrong amounts,
research shows they can do the very opposite
and, over the long term, cause health problems.
The European pet food regulatory body
sets 13 guidelines for the levels of different minerals needed
to maintain good health.
But how many pet foods really contain what they're supposed to?
To find out, Dr Mike Davies and his team at Nottingham University
have analysed nearly 200 different pet foods
and tested them against 11 of the guidelines,
and I've come to see their results.
-Nice to see you.
-And you, yeah, yeah.
Surprisingly, they found significant differences
between wet foods - the moist, meaty ones -
and dry foods - the biscuit type.
First, the findings for wet foods.
So, this is the results from your wet food analysis.
What's this telling us?
Basically, only 7%
met all of those 11 guidelines,
and that meant 93% did not.
The worst offenders didn't comply
with six out of 11
of the guidelines, which is a lot.
So what about dry food? When you've tested those, how are they looking?
38% of them actually
met all the guidelines,
all 11 guidelines we looked at.
But there still are some
which didn't comply very well.
It's not just whether a mineral is present or not that's important -
it's also the balance of one mineral to another.
And Mike found that, in the samples his team tested,
many pet foods were getting that balance wrong.
Did this shock you?
We were very surprised when we found so many
were out of the normal reference ranges.
And no idea from the label that they are out of kilter to this degree?
The only way you'll know
what minerals are in the food is if you analyse it.
The results showed that neither price nor brand was a good guide.
All the biggest manufacturers in the UK
had at least one product that didn't meet all the health guidelines.
Generally, the wet foods were less likely to meet the guidelines
than dry foods.
So why does wet vary much more than dry, do you think?
I think it reflects the ingredients that are going in.
Obviously, with the wet foods,
you've usually got animal or fish derivatives in there,
and that will vary from batch to batch,
depending what's available on the open market.
So, in one batch, a manufacturer might buy in a lot of poultry
-cos that's available at the time.
And the next time they come to make that food,
it might be predominantly pork that goes in.
So you've highlighted there is a big problem here.
What do you think should be done about it?
I think what could improve is that the manufacturers
could analyse more batches more frequently
to make sure they're within the guidelines,
and also, it begs the question about who's policing this marketplace.
At the moment, it doesn't appear that anybody is actually checking
that pet foods on the market are complying with the guidelines.
We asked the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association
if these results highlighted a shortcoming
in the manufacturing process.
They told us the methods their members use
to test pet food meet European legislative standards,
and that Nottingham University's do not.
They also told us that manufacturers' own results
show high levels of compliance
and they are confident that pet food they produce is safe.
Nottingham have offered to retract their results
if the PFMA's data proves them wrong,
which the PFMA say casts doubt
on the validity of Nottingham's research.
Nottingham stand by their methodology and results.
These results suggest that some pet foods
have such an imbalance in their mineral content
that, if fed for a prolonged period of time,
could result in some serious health implications for your pet.
So what can you do about it?
First, offer your pet a wide variety of different foods.
Vary the brands and the flavours,
and include a range of wet and dry foods in the mix.
This should help even out any major imbalances.
Secondly, look out for foods that list the minerals
under the heading "analytical constituents".
That means it's more likely they'll meet the health guidelines.
Introduce any new food gradually
and don't cut out any one type without consulting your vet first.
And finally, remember that spending more money on expensive diets
does not necessarily mean that they are better balanced.
Judy Puddifoot has worked on the tough front line
of veterinary practice with a pet charity.
She's going to investigate one of the simplest ways
you can make a big difference to your pet's health.
It may sound surprising
but one of the biggest problems in pet health care
across this country is dental disease.
I've lost count of the number of times
that I've diagnosed quite serious illnesses in animals
that could be traced back to really poor oral hygiene.
If plaque builds up on pets' teeth
it becomes a home for the harmful bacteria which cause gum disease.
Left untreated, the bacteria can spread to affect vital organs -
the liver, kidneys, and bone marrow.
The good news is you can make a massive difference
just by keeping your pet's teeth clean.
But there are lots of ways to do this,
so which is the best?
To find out, I'm in Glasgow to run a big experiment
that's never been tried before.
We've recruited 22 dog owners to compare three different methods
of cleaning your pet's teeth.
Helping us is world-leading veterinary dentist Norman Johnston.
We've assigned our volunteers at random
into one of our three groups.
For our first group, it's dental chews.
So, we're going to dish them out,
see what your dogs think of these,
and what you think of them, as well.
-And who's this handsome chap?
-This is Fang.
-Fang from Harry Potter, honestly.
-You changed his name for this, right?
-No, you didn't - OK.
-How do the chews work, then?
How do they get an effect on the teeth?
It's a mixture of a number of things, really.
It's the shape of the chew.
The cross means that they have to put it
in different parts of their mouth while they bite down.
The texture of the chew is the other thing.
As well as scraping away existing plaque,
the chews also contain a chemical to help prevent more forming.
Oh, yes. You can have that. Thank you very much.
Our second group are going to be testing
a type of dry dog food, or kibble,
that's specially designed to be good for teeth
and is marketed as a dental care diet.
You have the massively hard task
of feeding your dogs.
Kibble is just another word for a type of dry dog food, essentially.
Formulated with a special kind of fibre
so that when the dog bites down on it,
rather than just mushing it into its teeth,
it kind of just shards off and scrapes down the side of the teeth
so that it stops the plaque and tartar building up.
The dogs in this group will be switching gradually
from their regular food.
In just a few days, dental kibble is all they'll be allowed to nibble.
Yes, she likes that.
-And who have we got here?
-This is Nessie.
-Nessie, as in...?
Loch Ness Monster. OK.
Here you go, Nessie... Wow. Blimey, all right!
Nearly lost my fingers.
Seems like this group will take to their task no problem.
And finally, for our third group,
it's something entirely different.
You will be brushing your dog's teeth every day
for the next six weeks.
And we want you to brush once a day
using just standard flathead human toothbrushes.
We're going to be using a veterinary toothpaste.
It's very important that you use something the dogs can swallow
and, of course, they're flavoured
with something that's not peppermint.
So, in this case, it's poultry.
All we need now is a willing volunteer for a live demonstration.
Step forward, Archie.
We want them to get used to the fact
that you're doing something with their mouth.
The best way to do that is just to gently lift the lip
with some of the toothpaste on your finger
and run it gently along the surface of their teeth with your finger
and that may be all you want to do for the first day or so.
If we then put the brush and the paste together,
you're using about a pea size,
and you push the paste into the brush before you start
so it doesn't all come off in the first couple of teeth.
And then it's easiest just to slide it along,
using the big canine tooth to start with,
working our way up the jaws this way and round the back.
And just rotate gently.
That makes it work so much better.
And then the other side with another pea size of paste.
Time to see if our volunteers can get their canines' canines
plaque-free and sparkling.
So, we're going to ease him into it gently.
He's backing away from me now.
He's seen the toothbrush in your hand and he's running.
I think he'll be all right.
Some of our dogs already seem to have a taste for the paste.
Cos it's chicken-flavoured
she's more interested in trying to eat it,
but we're getting there.
Does it matter in relation to when they're fed, Norman,
-when you clean their teeth?
Some people do it last thing at night,
some first thing in the morning.
As long as you build it in their routine and don't forget,
-that's the most important thing.
All the dogs in our study are healthy
and don't have gum disease.
We want to see which of our measures
gives the best chance of stopping it ever happening.
To make it a fair test, we need to be sure they all start
with equally clean teeth.
So veterinary surgeon Ross Allen is giving them a scale and polish.
To avoid any anxiety or discomfort for the dogs,
he does this under anaesthetic.
So we just do each tooth in turn
and we try to do this in a logical manner,
to make sure we do each tooth and don't miss any out.
At the end of a long day, our test subjects go home
armed for the challenges ahead.
-Your sheet here...
Our experiment is now up and running
and in six weeks' time, we'll bring all our dogs back
and see which of the three methods has been most effective
at keeping their teeth clean.
Right now across the UK,
one in five of our pet cats and one in ten of our dogs have fleas
and these most minuscule of pet menaces
can make their lives a misery.
So I'm going to seek out the latest scientific evidence
on how to get rid of them.
Now, if your pet gets fleas,
the first thing you're likely to be recommended at the pet shop
is something called a spot-on treatment.
How they work is you apply a dose to one spot on your pet
and the treatment gradually spreads beneath the fur,
killing any fleas it comes into contact with.
So, you found fleas on your pet.
You treated him and now they're all gone - simple.
Well, unfortunately, it's not.
In fact, it's just the tip of the iceberg,
because 95% of the fleas you're going to have to deal with
are not on your pet -
they're in your home.
And that's why, all too often, they simply come back.
'So I've come to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
'where insect expert Professor James Logan
'is going to help me test the best way
'to banish these tiny troublemakers.'
People think about fleas as being on their pets
and that is where the adults tend to live,
but when they lay their eggs,
they roll off and into the environment,
and that's where they hatch out.
So actually, most of the larvae, the young fleas,
will be crawling around in the carpet
and they'll live there for a week or so, couple of weeks sometimes,
sort of growing, eating debris that they just pick up off the floor
before developing into a pupa.
And those pupae, those cocoons,
they've basically effectively got an adult flea
waiting to pop out of them at any time,
and they can last a long time in the environment, can't they?
Yeah. This is one of the amazing things about fleas.
They can live for up to a year as a cocoon, as this pupa,
just waiting in the carpet.
So, James, if somebody does have a flea infestation,
it's not obviously just the pet that they need to treat.
They do need to get the environment
-where those fleas are coming from.
We want to find the best way to blitz the bugs.
So we've set up a unique test of our own,
a head-to-head contest between three popular products
sold on their flea-busting credentials.
First, we've got a pump spray
which promises to block the breathing holes on the fleas.
Next up, a powder you shake around your home,
containing the chemical permethrin, which is toxic to fleas.
Finally, an aerosol spray.
This also contains permethrin, but at a higher concentration,
and claims to attack not just mature fleas
but also the eggs and larvae.
We've dosed small squares of fabric with the flea treatment
according to the manufacturers' instructions.
Next, we put each inside a plastic cone
to stop the fleas from escaping.
So, I'm going to pop them into the cones.
A few more still in there.
So you can see them jumping around in there already.
We're going to leave them all here for four hours
to find out which product kills the most fleas.
Meantime, James can show us
exactly what makes fleas such maddening pests
by doing another experiment -
OK, so we've got some very hungry fleas inside here
and, if you're brave enough,
I'm going to get you to put your hand in here.
-Oh, they're straight on there.
-Oh, and I can feel them biting now.
So how did they know that there was a meal arriving?
Because that's quite a distance that they've detected me from.
So, your body is hot.
It produces heat, some moisture,
and it also produces chemicals like carbon dioxide
and other chemicals given off by the skin,
and the fleas detect that.
And as soon as they detect it,
they know it's a warm-blooded host and they're off.
-So, shall we just have a little look under this microscope?
See if we can see them on the skin.
-Oh, there he is. I can see it.
The fleas on my arm are cat fleas.
This means they need to feed on cat blood to be able to lay eggs.
But beware - that doesn't stop them from feeding on humans.
'I'm beginning to appreciate
'just how unpleasant it feels for our pets to have fleas.'
How many have you got on that side?
One, two, three,... Seven, eight, nine...
And then up my wrist, as well, yeah.
So it's probably about 13, 14, this side.
And about 16 on this side, as well.
So much of it is hidden away from people's eyes.
They have no idea this is going on
under that fine glossy coat of their pet.
-And it must be absolute murder for them.
Back in the test lab, it's time for the results.
Treatment one was the pump spray.
In our test, this killed 30% of the fleas.
Our second treatment was the powder.
This killed 66% of the fleas.
And finally, the third treatment, the aerosol spray.
This wiped out a whopping 95% of the fleas.
A clear winner.
You can see, it's pretty clear.
-They're pretty much all dead in there,
and that's what we saw right the way across the board.
So, without a doubt, I would say that the aerosol,
with those active ingredients in,
is the best product that we've tested here.
Although the aerosol contains
the same anti-flea chemical - permethrin - as the powder,
in our small-scale study,
we found the aerosol was much more effective at killing fleas.
This may partly be because
the concentration of the chemical was higher
and the aerosol may also have been a more effective way to disperse it.
And although the aerosol comes with a higher price tag -
£16 compared to £4 for the powder and £10 for the pump spray -
it covers more area than either of them.
So, for treating an equivalent area of carpet,
it actually works out cheaper.
So if your pet has got fleas,
you're simply not going to end their suffering
unless you sort out your home.
If you don't tackle an infested environment
with a proper, effective product,
there's going to be a lot more scratching.
Still to come, the ground-breaking research
that has uncovered a startling new cause of diabetes in cats.
The latest techniques to avoid the killer disease
affecting over half the nation's pet reptiles.
And I have an amazing opportunity to help rabbit experts at the RVC
save an animal's life.
Just keep breathing for her.
Queen Mother Hospital, emergency line, can I help you?
Road traffic accidents are by far
the most common cause of severe injuries to animals.
The trauma centre here at the RVC is the largest unit in Europe
that specialises in animal accidents.
So the vets here see the worst cases.
So, if your pet is hit by a car,
what can you do as an owner to give them the best chance of survival?
With 13 years as a vet in general practice,
Alice Rhodes has seen most kinds of pet emergency...
So this is his spinal cord here, and his brain here.
..and she is here to give you the ultimate vet's guide
to saving an injured animal.
Road accidents cause some of the most severe and complex injuries
we vets encounter, and nobody sees more of them
than Dom Barfield, head of the trauma centre here at the RVC.
I guess that there must be a massive range of injuries
that you see in these trauma cases.
The most concerning to us are injuries that involve either
the head or chest area, obviously,
because of the vital organs that are associated with those.
Although traumatic injuries to the limbs can look horrific,
and obviously cause a lot of distress to people,
and obviously the patient,
normally, they are not as life-threatening.
Just as crucial as the treatment the animal receives
at a specialist centre like this
is what happens at the point of injury.
Their chance of survival is significantly affected
by how quickly we act at the scene.
One of the RVC's recent patients was Albi.
Six months ago, he was hit by two cars in a road accident.
The actions his owners, Mark and April,
took immediately after were crucial.
He was bleeding from his jaw.
There was quite a bit of blood.
I wrapped Albi in a familiar blanket for comfort
and tried to keep him warm.
He couldn't walk on his leg, so we knew his back leg was broken,
but we didn't know the extent of the injuries.
Next, they took Albi to the vet as quickly as possible.
X-rays revealed he had multiple injuries
and needed emergency surgery.
By getting him there quickly and safely,
Albi's owners saved his life.
I'm going to show these dog owners
some of the simple but vital steps we can all take
to help save an injured pet.
First, how to move them safely.
Now, hopefully you'll never be in this situation,
but it's a good thing to be prepared,
just in case you ever are.
It's important to remember to approach with care,
because they may be quite stressed or in a lot of pain
and even a dog who normally would never consider biting somebody,
may, in that situation, be liable to give a little bite.
'A blanket makes it easier to pick up an injured animal.
'Slide underneath them and lift them carefully,
'getting help if you need it.'
Good boy, Louie.
'If you suspect that your pet has a spinal injury,
'then the parcel shelf of a car can be used as a stretcher.'
Good boy. Lie down.
So once you've moved your pet out of danger's way,
there are a couple of checks that you can do
to see how unwell they are, which may just forewarn your vet.
OK, Caesar. So, for example, you can have a feel for their heartbeat.
Their heart is around this area of their body,
underneath their elbows,
and you can have a feel to see if you can still feel it beating.
You could also pop your hand under their back leg
to feel for their pulse.
The other thing you can do, if they are really collapsed,
is to have a little tap, very gently,
at the inner side of their eye and see if they blink,
like Caesar's doing here,
cos that tells you that they're still responding,
which is really important in a badly injured animal.
Next, check for bleeding and cover any injury
with a clean tea towel or pillowcase.
This will help prevent dirt getting into the wound.
And if there was actually blood free-flowing from the wound,
you might want to apply some pressure to stop that bleeding.
One of the most important things you can do for your pet
before they reach specialist care is comfort and reassure them.
If your animal has suffered a major trauma,
there is a possibility that they'll go into shock,
which is where not enough blood is travelling around their body
and they may be quite collapsed,
and soothing them, and giving them lots of reassurance - hey, Doug -
on the journey can really help them.
And if they are awake enough,
don't be tempted to give them any food or water
because it may affect what your vet can do
when you arrive at the surgery.
You should call the vet to warn them you're coming
and tell them as much as you can about the accident
and any injuries you can see.
Finally, remember, your pet could have
internal injuries you can't see.
And so if you know they've been in an accident,
it's always best to get them checked over,
even if they appear to be completely fine.
Getting Albi quickly and safely to the vet after his road accident
meant that he got life-saving treatment
at the RVC's trauma centre just in time.
So we're about six months on now
and he can jump, climb, run, just like a normal cat.
He hasn't got a limp or anything like that. It's unbelievable.
So if your pet is injured, there are some important rules to remember.
Call the vet so they can prepare for your arrival
and give them as much information as possible.
Take your pet to safety.
Check their heartbeat and reactions and for any bleeding.
By following these simple steps, you could save your pet's life.
For more information,
visit the Trust Me I'm A Vet website.
Diabetes in cats has increased, shockingly, fivefold
in the last 20 years.
It now affects around one in 200 cats.
The cause of this dramatic rise, until recently, was a mystery.
But researchers at RVC have unearthed a surprising cause
that nobody predicted.
The breakthrough came thanks to some mysterious cases like Frodo.
He was recently diagnosed with diabetes.
As in humans, this means his body can't respond properly to insulin -
the hormone that helps it use glucose for energy.
It's usually assumed the condition is caused by too much food
and not enough exercise.
So Frodo was prescribed injections of insulin and a special diet.
It changed our daily routine.
He has to have his insulin
and he has to have it at regular intervals.
But Frodo hasn't responded to this treatment,
so his vet has referred him to specialists here at the RVC.
Research carried out by Stijn Niesson and his team
has shown that, in a quarter of diabetic cats,
the illness isn't down to diet.
Instead, these cats have abnormally high levels
of a hormone that controls growth.
This interferes with the way insulin works in the body.
And its presence suggested a surprising reason
behind these cats' diabetes -
a brain tumour.
So the elevation of growth hormone comes from a tumour in the brain -
a particular part of the brain called the pituitary gland,
which has a really important function.
But when it becomes tumorous,
it can overproduce some of the hormones
that it normally produces.
So I used to think, and I was told,
that this was an incredibly rare disease.
In fact, you know, I was barely told to think about it at all
because I am unlikely to see it.
But you're saying that a quarter of the diabetic cats
that come into the clinic,
they've got a brain tumour, effectively?
Absolutely, and this is the reaction I get from my colleagues
when I speak to them.
They first laugh at me and then I present the data.
And indeed, one in four of the diabetic cats
that you and I see will have this brain tumour causing the diabetes.
So a completely different type of diabetes.
Stijn suspects that Frodo is among the one in four cats
whose diabetes is caused by a tumour.
A CT scan reveals he is right.
There is a tumour on his pituitary gland.
If left in place,
it will continue to grow and could become life-threatening.
The best option for Frodo is surgery to remove his pituitary gland.
It's a delicate operation and the RVC team
is one of only a small handful in the world to perform it.
So this whole procedure is trying to get to the pituitary,
which is at the base of the brain, which is...up there.
The roof of your mouth is a hard palate,
which is the bony part of the roof of your mouth.
But if you go further back, there's a soft bit, soft palate.
That has to be split, which Patrick has been able to do and open,
and then get to this tiny organ
that is producing all these hormones.
It's producing hormones that Frodo needs,
but it's also producing this excessive amount of growth hormone.
It's fiddly, it takes millimetre precision
and it's extraordinary to be able to see this.
Surgeon Patrick Kenny needs to work carefully
to avoid the large blood vessels surrounding the tumour.
You can see that that's the tumour there,
that I'm just touching.
But that's just one of the challenges of this operation.
The pituitary gland produces several key hormones
that are essential to keep an animal alive.
So when Patrick is ready to remove it,
Stijn and his team need to be poised
to start giving Frodo medication to replace these crucial hormones.
So, Patrick is about to remove the tumour and the whole pituitary,
and therefore, we now need to provide those vital functions
that the pituitary normally has, in the shape of drugs.
It will happen that quickly
that you will see an effect if you didn't do this?
Absolutely. We would, within minutes,
see a dropping of the levels of the hormones
that Frodo needs to stay alive.
So if we don't get the timing right, we will be up for trouble.
So, Patrick, do you think you've got it all?
Yeah. I'm confident that I've got all the tumour that I can see.
The operation has gone as well as the team could hope,
but they will only know if it's been a success
when Frodo comes round in the intensive care unit.
With more and more cats being diagnosed with these tumours,
Stijn wants to know what's causing them.
He and his team have tested the blood
of over 200 cats with the condition
and found something remarkable -
high levels of toxic chemicals.
We know that certain toxins
can actually cause a pituitary tumour to form
and what we've found is that, in our cat populations,
those toxin levels are way higher.
And where are these toxins coming from?
Where are they picking them up?
That's the scary bit.
They are picking them up from our households,
so that from your curtains, your carpets, your computer screen,
those are all chemicals that factories use
to make the products more usable.
But if they are ingested by us,
they can have adverse health effects.
These chemicals are widely used
to make our carpets and furnishings safer -
for instance, fire retardants.
And because cats groom themselves by licking their fur,
they're more likely than other pets to ingest them
and end up with tumours.
Is this something that we should be worried about for human health?
I think so. I think this is going to be a big story over the next decade
and that's why it makes me worried, as well.
The number of people with pituitary tumours
has increased around 300-fold since 2004.
Stijn and his team are starting a new study
to see whether the same toxins from furnishings
are present in the blood of human patients.
Hi, there. Annette?
Hi, Stijn speaking from the RVC.
You're speaking to a happy man.
Stijn is able to let Frodo's owners know
that he's come round from his operation and is doing well.
That is unbelievable.
This is a cat that had brain surgery a matter of a couple of hours ago
and he's just tucking into his tea
as if nothing's happened at all.
Keep at it, little man.
It's too early to know if we humans are at risk from these chemicals,
but as a vet, it's really inspiring
to see the veterinary and human medical teams coming together
to research what started out as a cat's disease,
but could have massive implications for human medicine.
Still to come...
The surprising science of why short teeth
are key to a long life for rabbits,
and the latest techniques to save your bearded dragon
from a killer disease.
Even our most familiar pets
sometimes behave in strange and unpredictable ways.
But knowing what it means can help you keep them happy and healthy.
Judy is going to crack the secrets
of one of our most popular exotic pets - the tortoise.
Tortoises are fascinating but, let's face it,
we don't exactly see them as particularly dynamic pets -
but just occasionally, they do something completely baffling.
It can even take owners by surprise.
It gets you thinking, "Is it normal? Is it good? Is it bad?"
Time to learn some tortoise.
There are around 300,000 tortoises in the UK
and we asked you owners out there
to capture your pet's weird and wonderful behaviour on camera
and send us your footage -
and you've given us some fascinating stuff.
Our first curious behaviour comes from Sally in Anglesey.
Her tortoise, Will, is happiest scaling a sheer rock face.
But why would a tortoise do this?
Contrary to their placid reputation,
tortoises are incredibly inquisitive
and they need to find the boundaries of their territory.
This comes out as a strong urge to climb.
They may not look like natural climbers, but the claws
and the backward-facing scales on their front legs
give them incredible traction over rough terrain.
It's a good idea to give your tortoise objects to clamber over
so they can satisfy their urge to climb.
Our next strange behaviour has been sent in
by Joe from Blaydon - digging.
There are certain animals we'd expect to see digging
in our garden - our dog, rabbits.
But why would a tortoise dig?
If you have got a female tortoise
and you see her digging with her back legs,
she may be preparing to lay eggs.
Even with no male around,
a female tortoise will lay unfertilised eggs
and she'll want to bury them in a depression she digs in the ground.
And that's not to be confused
with a tortoise digging with its front legs
in an attempt to bury itself.
Like other reptiles, tortoises can't maintain their own body heat,
so they use digging to control the temperature.
In the wild, tortoises dig down to escape the sun if they are too hot,
or preserve body heat if they're too cold.
It's good to give your tortoise
a suitable digging pit of sand and soil,
but if you notice it's often burying itself,
check the temperature in your enclosure is right.
And finally, for me,
the most intriguing tortoise behaviour of all,
sent in by Donna in Stoke Ferry -
wallowing in water.
As a desert species, tortoises are well adapted to a harsh environment
and they'll make best use of water sources where they can
by storing it in their bodies.
But it doesn't take in the water only through its mouth.
Tortoise tongues are too short to be efficient at lapping up water.
Tortoises take water in through their cloaca,
a small opening located near the tail,
and they store it in their bladder.
Unlike us, tortoises use their bladder to store water
to keep them going during dry periods
and a soak lets them take in as much as they need.
You should aim to give your tortoise a supervised bath 2-3 times a week.
Tap water is fine, but tortoises get cold quickly,
so let the water warm up to room temperature
and don't leave your pet in it for more than a few minutes.
If you have the type of tortoise that hibernates,
you should aim to bathe it daily before it goes to sleep
because a full bladder allows it to reabsorb water during hibernation
and therefore survive.
Clever little things, those tortoises!
Earlier in the programme,
we began an ambitious study that's never been tried before
to find out the best way to keep your dog's teeth clean
and avoid them getting gum disease,
which can lead to serious health problems.
We'll be back for the results later.
But first, I'm going to look at
an amazingly widespread dental condition
that can be life-threatening in another of our most common pets.
Dental problems are the number one reason
that I see rabbits in clinical practice
and they see a huge number here at the RVC.
It's estimated that up to 40% of rabbits may be affected,
and that's just the rabbits that we vets get to see.
We're all familiar with the classic storybook image
of a rabbit with protruding front teeth.
But in fact, this is the last thing you want to see.
If you can see a rabbit's teeth,
it's actually quite an advanced stage
of a devastating condition we call overgrowth,
where the teeth have grown too long.
It's a problem that can put a rabbit's life at risk.
To show you why, I've come to see
one of the patients here at the RVC - Bella.
She's a rescue rabbit
whose new owners have brought her in to see rabbit expert Jo Hedley.
We're going to be doing some X-rays of her head
to see what the teeth look like, which teeth are remaining
and which ones might be causing problems.
The X-rays will reveal the state of Bella's teeth
all the way down to the roots.
Unfortunately those teeth are not looking good for poor Bella.
Healthy teeth should look like this, with individual back teeth,
a nice, smooth jawbone
under the roots,
and pointed teeth at the front.
But Bella's X-rays show
a very different picture.
Her back teeth have overgrown so much
that it's impossible to make out
any individual teeth.
This has even caused her tooth roots
to grow back into the jawbone
and her front teeth
are very misshapen.
Left untreated, what do you think would happen to Bella at this point?
Her teeth will continue to overgrow, the remaining ones that are there.
Any infection will worsen
and she'll get reluctant to eat hard foods, and then soft foods,
and then, eventually, anything at all.
So why might your rabbit end up with overgrown teeth like Bella?
And what can you do about it?
The thing is about rabbits is that their teeth,
unlike humans or cats and dogs, grow constantly throughout life,
up to three millimetres a week.
Now, the reason they do this is they've evolved to eat
a very abrasive food, like grass, that wears their teeth down,
so they have to constantly grow to replace them.
In pet rabbits, though,
the problems arise when their teeth aren't being worn down
as fast as they grow.
And it all comes down to what you feed them.
Take this stuff, for example.
A quarter of owners buy it and rabbits love it,
but it causes them to eat in a completely unnatural way
that is harmful to their teeth.
When rabbits eat soft food, like muesli,
their jaws move vertically,
crushing the food quickly and easily.
But this doesn't wear their teeth down.
Hay is actually tougher and higher in fibre,
which means their jaw has to work much harder,
moving from side to side to grind it down,
which does wear down their teeth.
It also contains lots of healthy ingredients,
such as calcium and vitamins D,
that help form really strong bones and healthy teeth.
If you don't feed them enough high-fibre foods like hay and grass,
they could end up with tooth problems like Bella's.
Jo is now going to have to grind down Bella's teeth,
a procedure that has to be performed under anaesthetic.
But anaesthetising a rabbit is challenging.
Rabbits are more difficult patients to anaesthetise than a dog or a cat.
They're highly charged with adrenaline
because they are a prey species, and you've got to be ready to react.
She's not there yet. She's still a little bit...
Suddenly, Bella stops breathing.
The team act quickly...
..inserting tubes to supply oxygen and ventilate her lungs.
Jo coordinates all of us to save Bella's life.
-Would I be able to have someone help hold this side?
If that's all right - thank you.
Are you happy to just keep breathing for her?
Are you happy to keep listening to the heart?
And this way, we'll have a look at her teeth
as she is recovering.
Thanks to the swift action of the RVC team,
she starts breathing again and the danger is over.
Now she's stable, Jo can finally get to work on her teeth.
So Bella does not have many teeth left.
That one is very loose, isn't it?
-It's just way...
-It is a bit...
If overgrowth goes unchecked,
it can cause so much damage to the roots of the teeth
that they fall out.
Bella has already lost many of her teeth
and today, Jo has to remove another.
She then uses a pneumatic burr
to grind down the remaining overgrown teeth.
That's actually all we need to do in Bella's mouth.
Which I am sure she will be happy with.
Now with her teeth ground down to the size they should be,
Bella will be able to eat without pain and return to good health.
The following morning, she is up and about and eating.
The best way to avoid problems like Bella's
is to feed them plenty of hay,
which will grind their teeth down naturally,
and you might want to try checking your rabbit's teeth at home.
What you do is you just gently stroke the face
and get them used to the fact that you are just going to have
a look at their teeth.
The front teeth should be nice and short and sharp
and they should meet just at the side there.
If you want to feel the molars, it's much more difficult,
but you can get a sense of the lower molars
by rubbing underneath the rabbit's jaw.
If you feel anything irregular or anything asymmetric,
then that's definitely something
that we need to look at at the surgery.
There are other ways to spot trouble,
such as difficulty eating,
weight loss, or a swollen face.
Vim Kumaratunga is a vet with over ten years of experience
treating some of our less familiar pets.
He is going to look into the latest techniques
to avoid the most common disease in pet reptiles in the UK.
This is a bearded dragon.
A reptile from the Australian outback.
I've had a bearded dragon myself and I think they make great pets
and they've got great characters, and because of this,
they have become incredibly popular pets in the UK
and there may be up to half a million of them around.
Over the years, I've treated hundreds,
and the vast majority of cases have been due to one medical condition.
It's called metabolic bone disease.
It means the animal isn't building normal, healthy bone
and it's by far the biggest health problem
in pet reptiles like dragons,
accounting for more than half of all vet visits.
But by the time you notice any outward signs,
your pet might be extremely ill.
If we show you an X-ray of a healthy reptile,
you can actually see how these bones are bright white
and we can see the bones all the way to the tip of the toes there.
But for the dragon with metabolic bone disease,
it's a different picture.
Take a look at this X-ray of a typical case.
The bones are quite thin
and we're not seeing the bones going towards the tips of the toes.
And you can actually see, just above the elbow here,
there's a fracture where the bones have separated.
This life-threatening disease doesn't occur in the wild -
only in captive animals.
And it's all down to how they are kept,
so it is crucial for owners to know what to do.
Thankfully, metabolic bone disease can be prevented
and a few simple steps can make all the difference.
So I have come to Sparsholt College near Southampton
to meet the reptile experts here
and see how they apply the latest research
to keep their reptiles healthy.
One key factor is their diet.
It's widely known that calcium is vital for healthy bones
and reptiles are particularly vulnerable if they don't get enough.
'Kat Shue works in the reptile care team here at the college.'
What do you do here at the college
to make sure that your bearded dragons get enough calcium?
So we buy in high-calcium foods.
This is spring greens and this is lamb's lettuce,
both really high in calcium and vitamins C.
We've got some Timothy hay, which you can buy from pet shops,
which is very high in calcium.
As well as fresh greens,
there's another key food type your dragon needs.
In here, we have black crickets and we have some brown silent crickets.
Not all reptiles eat insects but, for some,
they are an important source of protein,
and bearded dragons go mad for them.
So you can sneak in some extra calcium
to guard against metabolic bone disease
simply by dusting them with mineral powder.
This can be bought at any good pet shop.
-Shall we go and feed them now?
But diet is only half the story.
To avoid metabolic bone disease,
there are two crucial factors in the dragon's environment
you need to know about.
'Gary Miller is a reptile expert here at Sparsholt College.'
First and foremost, get your temperatures right.
Heat is crucial.
If dragons aren't warm enough, their metabolism slows down.
So even if they've eaten enough calcium,
their bodies can't absorb it.
So we've got a couple of infrared heat lamps
that are shining down heat on the enclosure.
But dragons also need access to cooler areas.
So we've built up the rocky area and the decor
so they've got a choice, so they have got a gradient,
they can get up to the heat
and they can go down, away from the heat,
to the cooler parts of the tank.
Gary and his team regularly check
the temperature within the enclosure.
This is a thermal imaging camera
and it's giving us the scope of temperature gradings
within the tank.
So you've got the bright colour up here,
the yellow indicating the high temperatures.
So in here, we're getting a reading of about 40 degrees,
and then dropping down to the darker colours,
representing the lower temperatures, around 22, 23 degrees C.
And what's really nice to see, one of the beardies there,
a nice, bright yellow colour,
absorbing the heat from its surroundings,
making sure it can get up to its correct temperature.
You can check the temperature of your home set-up
with thermometers placed in different parts of your enclosure.
And there is one final essential your dragon needs.
Like heat, it helps the body absorb calcium from the diet.
But recent research has shown that it's one specific type, UVB,
that these reptiles need plenty of.
It is a big breakthrough
in the fight against metabolic bone disease,
and lamps that generate UVB are now increasingly available
for domestic use.
So what do you recommend in a home set-up for ultraviolet light?
Ideally, at least two-thirds of the tank should be covered with UV.
Here, because it's such a large enclosure,
we actually have four tubes.
At home, you might only have one or two.
To test UV levels, you can use a metering device like this.
So there's plenty of good research out there
telling us how much calcium, heat and UV
bearded dragons and other reptiles need.
Getting it right for your species
will help your pet avoid metabolic bone disease
throughout their life
and there's more information
on the Trust Me I'm A Vet website.
Earlier in the programme
we kicked off a unique experiment to find the best way
of keeping your pet's teeth clean
to avoid the serious health problems
that can come with bad teeth and gum disease.
Three groups of volunteers each tested a different method.
The first group were using dental chews,
specially shaped to clean teeth
and containing a plaque-slowing chemical.
We've got another dog, as well,
she was actually getting a bit jealous,
we had to start buying dental chews for her, too.
The second group were using dental kibble,
a rough biscuit food formulated to scrape away plaque.
She absolutely loved it and she's still loving eating it.
We're still using it.
And the third group, a good old-fashioned toothbrush.
They actually like eating the toothbrush.
Did chew through a few of them.
So, after a six-week study,
which method has been the most effective at preventing plaque?
The dogs are back to see veterinary surgeon Ross
for their final assessment.
He applies a bright pink fluid to each dog's mouth
to reveal where plaque has built up.
Ross then gives every tooth a score.
Just at the very back, a one and a zero.
I'm totally blinded to which dogs are from which group in the study.
So what's exciting for me is that I truly don't know that answers.
I don't know what to expect.
The teeth scores have been analysed and the results are in.
Hello! Hi, how are you doing?
It's the moment of tooth...
When all your dog's teeth were cleaned originally,
if we had scored them, they would have got a plaque scoring of zero
because that means your dog's teeth were perfectly clean, OK?
So, when I give you these numbers,
the closest to zero is the most effective method, OK?
So, let's go.
Starting with dental chews.
You had an average plaque score of...
A little bit of plaque build-up, but pretty good, nonetheless.
You had an average plaque score of...
Close. It was really close, actually.
OK, moving on to tooth-brushing group.
You had the hardest job, probably.
And your dogs had an average plaque score of...
-Absolutely, well done.
Tooth-brushing itself has probably been the most difficult
to carry on with, but it has certainly been
the most beneficial by a long way.
Who now, after they've had their results,
is going to brush their dog's teeth every day?
I think that's a winner, definitely. Toothbrushes.
A round of applause for the tooth-brushing people.
For our small-scale study,
we chose brands of dental chews and dental kibble
that had been clinically proven to improve dental hygiene.
Our results show
there wasn't a great deal of difference between them.
But our test found that tooth-brushing,
was significantly better at keeping your pet's teeth clean.
But the reason it's so much better is less obvious.
So, Norman, why is tooth-brushing the most effective?
Well, it's the only method that effectively brushes the plaque
from above and below the gum line and between the teeth.
So things like kibble, things like chews, for example,
will perhaps effectively scrub the crown of the tooth,
but they won't go under the gum line.
And we had dogs in our experiment.
Could this be the same for cats, maybe?
They could be a little bit more of a challenge to brush,
but it's not impossible.
There are cat toothbrushes made.
Many cats will tolerate it. Some cats won't.
But the interesting thing about it is that the kibble diet for cats
has a much higher level of evidence-based medicine
that it works better.
Here you go. Don't forget that.
Good luck. See you later. There you go.
So, to avoid the serious health problems
that come with bad teeth and gums,
brushing your dog's teeth is clearly the way to go.
It may take more commitment than the other methods,
but seeing the experiment results, I'm convinced that it's worth it.
That's it from the Royal Veterinary College.
Next time, we're at Liverpool University Veterinary School
where we're running a unique experiment
to find the best way for your pet to lose weight.
What is really good for our pets' health? They can't tell us, but science can. In this series, Steve Leonard leads a team of vets to seek out the latest research.
In this episode, they investigate which foods are best for your pet, show you what you can do to save an injured animal and witness a pioneering operation that could save thousands of cats across the country.