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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.
This time, we're at Liverpool University Veterinary School.
Welcome to Trust Me I'm A Vet.
Liverpool University Veterinary School is one of the biggest
and most technologically advanced in Europe.
It also has a world-renowned clinic
specialising in the biggest health issue affecting our pets -
So, in this programme,
we've joined forces with the vets here
for a scientific first -
an exciting new experiment to find the best way
to help your pet lose weight.
Our team of vets will also be out and about across the UK,
seeking out the latest in veterinary research.
We uncover a hidden epidemic facing the nation's pet rabbits,
and the surprising solution,
and the pioneering surgery used in human medicine
that's now changing the lives of paralysed animals.
Around half of all pet dogs are now overweight here in the UK,
and our cats and our rabbits are getting fatter, too.
So, as an owner,
how can you turn things around and get their weight under control?
To find out, general practice vet Alice Rhodes has teamed up with
the University of Liverpool's Vet School
to run a unique experiment.
The pleading can be hard to resist,
but obesity is now recognised as the single biggest problem
affecting the health and welfare of all pets in the UK.
It's not just a cosmetic issue.
Dogs who are overweight are more likely to suffer from arthritis,
heart and lung disease and diabetes.
This can affect their quality of life
and it can reduce their life span.
Here at the University of Liverpool Weight Management Clinic,
researchers are developing treatments to tackle
what has become a very serious problem.
So what's the best way to help your dog lose weight?
Is it diet or exercise?
To find out, Trust Me I'm A Vet is going to run a brand-new study.
We've recruited 13 dogs who have all been assessed as overweight
by Professor Alex German, the UK's leading expert in pet obesity.
So what's the plan with the experiment?
Well, most people will tell you that if you want to lose weight,
you've got to eat less and exercise more,
and that's exactly the same for dogs.
The trouble is, really,
we don't yet know, in the veterinary field,
which is most effective.
Is it diet? Is it exercise?
And for the first time ever,
we're going to be pitting one against the other,
and that's exciting because it will really, I think,
help us moving forward in terms of how we gear our advice.
The first key step is to collect some baseline data on our dogs
before they start.
-Does he ever get any crisps?
-Yes, he seems to like crisps.
Ice cream? Yeah. Burgers? Yeah.
Does he ever get any cereal with milk?
Only milk in his tea.
All the dogs are weighed, measured
and given a body condition score out of nine.
A score of seven or above indicates they're obese,
and most of our volunteer dogs
are starting off at eight or nine.
That may seem surprising,
but a big problem is that
we're so used to seeing overweight dogs these days,
we no longer know what normal looks like.
Pepper used to attend the clinic here.
She started out with a body condition score of eight.
She's now an ideal five.
She's got good definition in her lower abdomen.
You can see this little skin fold here.
I can feel her ribs nice and easily, and she's not too flat on top.
And, if you look from above, she's got a little waist.
When some people look at Pepper,
they might think that she's underweight,
but she's not.
She's just right.
We're going to find the best way to get your pet down
to a healthy shape and weight.
Our volunteers' dogs have been randomly allocated
to one of two groups.
Group one is the exercise group.
Your dogs will be burning more calories in order to lose weight,
so you're going to take whatever level of activity
you already have and increase it by a quarter to a third.
So, let's say you're taking them for a 30-minute walk,
you're going to increase that to 40 minutes,
or if you're doing two play sessions a day,
you can increase that to three.
Group two is the diet group.
So your dogs will be following a special diet
that's high in protein, high in fibre,
with restricted calories,
but should satisfy their hunger, so no treats or extras,
so you're going to have to ignore all those pleading looks
and whining, and stick to the plan.
Do you anticipate any struggles with this?
Loads, cos Elvis is a stealer, and he thieves food constantly.
We're fitting all the dogs with monitors,
so the team can measure how active they are throughout the experiment.
What do you anticipate the outcome to be?
Well, I'm really excited.
I would guess that we'll have loss on both sides,
but I'm just so keen to find out.
-It's going to be really interesting to see.
Over the next eight weeks,
the owners will be locked in a battle of wills with their pooches
to see if they can get them to stick to their weight loss plan.
We'll be back later in the programme
to find out which is more effective -
diet or exercise.
After dogs and cats, our most popular pets are rabbits -
nearly two millions of them across the UK.
But there's new evidence of a health issue
that's becoming a hidden epidemic.
It's now believed to affect up to two-thirds of our pet rabbits.
If it's not recognised, it can affect their immune system
and increase their risk of digestive problems and other illnesses.
And we've uncovered some surprising new research
that suggests the key culprit is...
Dr Nicola Rooney is a rabbit expert from Bristol University Vet School.
-Hi! Come on in.
She and her team have conducted a major survey
of over 1,200 households, and have established that nearly
two-thirds of the nations' rabbits are kept in hutches.
Now they're researching how much space
a pet rabbit needs to stay healthy.
The typical hutch is a metre or so across
with a ceiling height of 50cm or less.
Although Pepper's is a bit larger, his current owner Paula,
who took him in a year ago,
is worried he doesn't have enough space.
We inherited the hutch, but he's such a big rabbit.
To be honest, sometimes I look at him and he looks quite sad.
To find out whether life in the hutch is causing Pepper stress,
we're installing cameras to record his behaviour for 24 hours.
Nicola's research suggests that the healthiest pet rabbits
have patterns of activity that match their counterparts in the wild.
So I've come with her to observe some natural rabbit behaviour,
and the most striking thing is how much ground they cover.
Wild rabbits utilise an awful lot of space, so given a field,
you'll see them evenly distributed around it.
They run, they jump.
Certain key behaviours they display in the wild,
like standing up on their hind legs,
are thought to be signs of wellbeing in pet rabbits.
And the time of day they're most active is also important.
We know animals in the wild are most active at dawn and dusk,
something we call crepuscular,
and we've recently at Bristol done some studies on domestic rabbits
and we found out that they naturally will follow
exactly the same pattern.
The next day, we can see how Pepper's movements compare.
At dusk and at dawn, we'd expect rabbits to be doing
a lot of activity, so we'd expect them to be moving around,
we'd expect them to be feeding.
If you look at Pepper here at those times of day,
he's not really doing anything.
-And he spends quite a lot of time in this bottom part
of the enclosure,
potentially partly because the upstairs,
although it's more sheltered, is quite small.
But he's not really moving very much at all, is he?
Pepper may seem calm and comfortable,
but our footage reveals some signs that he's quite the opposite.
His body position is key.
A contented rabbit would stretch its body out in a relaxed way.
But Pepper is hunched up,
a position that's associated with stress.
Other signs of stress observed in pet rabbits
are gnawing and repetitive behaviour.
He really doesn't give indications of being happy in that environment.
What does he need to make his life better?
He needs to be able to run, he needs to be able to jump,
so something that's large enough for him to do all those behaviours.
We know that rabbits are really social,
it would be great if he also had a companion,
one that he gets on with.
Well, this is really exciting, then.
This is an opportunity for us
to make a big difference to Pepper's life, then.
So, the first thing we're going to do is ditch the hutch.
We've called in a team to build Pepper a brand-new living space
that's designed to mimic a rabbit's natural environment.
Meanwhile, since rabbits in the wild live in groups,
we're on a mission to find Pepper a soul mate.
Anybody who's dipped their toe in the human dating world
knows that it can be far from straightforward,
and that's true for rabbits, too.
You've got to pick your partner carefully and, even more crucially,
you've got to take it slow.
We've brought Pepper to a match-making service for rabbits.
A selection of potential companions is placed in the enclosure
next to Pepper to assess if they're compatible.
A good indicator is if they display immediate interest in each other.
The first two are showing little sign of that towards Pepper.
But things are looking more promising with the third, Tamarind.
It looks like Pepper may have found his match.
Tamarind's now going home with Pepper.
And for the next two weeks, they'll be living together
and moving into their new enclosure.
So we've ditched the hutch and found Pepper a companion.
But will all this actually reduce his stress?
We'll be back later in the programme to find out.
Back in Liverpool, Judy Puddifoot's been investigating
a controversial food fad for pets.
Raw food is the latest pet food craze,
the idea being that you feed uncooked meat products
to your pet cat or dog over standard pet food,
which is cooked and processed.
It's the fastest-growing trend in pet nutrition.
The market in pre-packaged raw foods has doubled in the last five years.
But is it really any healthier than ordinary pet food?
The marketing hype is based on the idea
that because raw food is what wolves eat in the wild,
it's more natural, and therefore better for your dog.
So, is that true?
In fact, I found no conclusive evidence
that pre-packaged raw foods are nutritionally any better
than ordinary complete pet foods.
And if you make up your own diet with raw meat from the supermarket,
it's easy to get the balance of nutrients wrong.
But nutrition isn't the only issue.
There's another obvious question.
Is raw food safe?
Raw meat is known to harbour many different kinds of bacteria
and here at the University of Liverpool Vet School,
researchers are investigating whether your pet
can spread these around your home.
So who is this that we've got here?
This is Ziggy, our volunteer dog,
who's going to eat some raw meat today.
Professor Nicola Williams is going to show me
the sheer quantity of bacteria present on raw food
and how they spread around your pet, your home and you.
So this is a plate that I took of my hands
after handling the raw meat that we fed to the dog.
-So this would be, essentially, if the owner uses their hands
to, sort of, prepare the meat, put it into the dog's bowl.
And these are the bacteria that we saw from handling that meat.
There's quite a lot on there, isn't it?
Yeah, there is a lot of bacteria on there.
The next one is actually from a swab that we took from the bowl.
-Wow - this was after the dog had eaten.
-You swabbed the bowl and this was what was left.
So this was a very clean bowl.
And again there's a lot of different types of bacteria there.
-Did we find anything else?
So we took a swab from the dog's mouth
after it had eaten raw meat and, essentially, you can see
there's an awful lot of bacteria there.
There is a lot of bacteria on there.
But what exactly are these bacteria?
And how worried should we be about having them in our home?
In another lab here at the vet school,
Dr Vanessa Schmidt has been analysing hundreds of samples
to find out if they contain types known to be dangerous -
not just to our pets, but to us.
-This is campylobacter.
One of those words that you do not want to hear
-your doctor saying you've got.
And this one here is salmonella.
Another word that a lot of people get frightened about when they see it.
That's correct. Absolutely.
Campylobacter and salmonella can cause severe illness in humans.
And Vanessa has also found harmful strains of E. coli
that, in some cases, carry genes that make them resistant
to antibiotics used in human medicine.
So you found this E. coli in the poo of a dog
that was fed a raw food diet.
-That's correct, yes.
-OK. So the types of E. Coli
-that you're finding...
..are potentially ones that can cause
illness in dogs and humans?
-And those diseases and illnesses that they might cause,
you're saying, could be quite difficult to treat?
-That's pretty scary stuff. OK.
-I'm staying well away from that.
In her study, Vanessa analysed the faeces
of 114 dogs fed on raw diets
and 76 on standard processed pet foods.
Her results were conclusive.
The raw diet dogs were carrying significantly more
of these harmful bacteria than the dogs fed on cooked diets.
These bugs certainly won't do your pet any good,
but for you and your family, they're especially dangerous.
So if you do feed your pet a raw food diet,
you need to do what you can to stop the bugs spreading.
If you're playing with your dog,
letting your dog lick your hands, even your face,
which some people like to do,
that's an opportunity for those bacteria to transmit to people.
Really important to have good hygiene when you're handling the food,
washing the dog's bowl -
even when you're touching your dog, you're potentially at risk.
Routinely, I'd say good hygiene when handling our pets
is always the best policy,
but especially if you're feeding your dog a raw meat diet.
-It's really crucial.
So, by the two measures I've looked into,
I've found no health benefits in giving your pet raw food.
First off, there's no clear evidence that it provides better nutrition
than standard complete pet foods
and, secondly, they risk bringing dangerous bacteria into your home.
So, as a vet and a pet owner,
my feeling is that, hopefully, raw food is just a fad.
I certainly don't feed it to my own dog.
Still to come, the latest research
on how to decode your guinea pig's secret language...
..how to stop a greedy pet from binge-eating,
and the pioneering surgery that's changing the lives
of paralysed animals.
But first, there's growing evidence that
a surprising number of common foods most of us have in our kitchens
can cause serious harm to your pet.
Alice is going to take you through
some of the most dangerous and unexpected culprits.
In my practice, I see a lot of cases of pets eating things
that they shouldn't,
so I'm going to show you some of the top foods to keep out of reach,
because some of them really aren't that obvious.
I've been joined by some local dogs and their owners
to play a toxic foods guessing game.
Now, I've got some ordinary everyday foods here,
but there are some of these that you definitely want to be keeping
out of reach of your dogs.
So which are harmless and which are toxic?
So what do we think? Stick the onion in the red.
-Everyone happy for the chewing gum to go in?
What about the white, though?
Technically, there's no cocoa in that.
It's not going to poison them.
That's onion. Yeah, leeks should go, yeah.
Some treats do have a little bit of garlic.
-Not the whole clove.
-Take one out.
Yeah, put one in one, one in the other!
A little bit of garlic won't hurt.
Let's see how we got on, then.
You've got a lot of things right there,
so let's take a few things out and have a look.
Onions, garlic, leeks and chives,
whether cooked or raw,
contain sulphur compounds that can damage red blood cells
and cause anaemia in dogs and cats.
So, not ideal.
-Won't do it again.
So the group were right to put them in the toxic bin.
Any of these things, you wouldn't want your dogs eating
and so things like leftover casseroles,
that kind of thing, not ideal.
Chocolate, tea and coffee are bad news for pets.
Both tea and chocolate contain theobromine,
which is toxic to dogs, so you've done really well there.
Theobromine is a natural chemical that can increase heart rate
and potentially cause seizures in both dogs and cats.
You've popped in here the chewing gum and the mints
and that's great, because they contain xylitol.
Xylitol is found in some sugar-free foods
and can cause liver failure in cats and dogs.
And grapes and raisins are a common cause of kidney failure.
I mean, we quite often see dogs coming into our clinic
having eaten a lot of them and in a really serious shape,
so that's a great thing to have pointed out.
Some of the foods the group put in the toxic bin
are not really harmful, but if you're not sure,
it's always best to be cautious.
The cashew nuts aren't toxic.
If they were salted,
that wouldn't be very good for them,
but the macadamia nuts are toxic.
And we're not really sure why, but they can't process them in
the same way that we can.
We vets see spikes in these cases around Christmas and Easter,
so it's worth being particularly careful
when lots of these problem foods - chocolate, nuts and raisins -
might be lying around.
And it's not just food that you need to be aware of.
So there is one major culprit that we have not yet talked about
and that is everyday medicines.
By far the most common cause of poisoning in dogs is ibuprofen
and it can really seriously affect their kidneys.
The other one is paracetamol, which is not good for their liver,
although it can sometimes be prescribed by vets.
So I think both of these need to go well and truly in the toxic bin.
Now, whether it's food or pills,
if you suspect your pet has eaten something they shouldn't have,
don't delay, because the effects can be fatal.
And don't attempt to make your pet vomit
as this is difficult to do safely at home
and can often do more harm than good.
The most important thing is to get them to the vets
as soon as possible.
You could phone ahead to let them know that you're coming
and ideally tell them what you think they've eaten, how much,
and when - and, even better,
you could take the packet or the jar with you.
By being careful which foods you leave lying around,
you can avoid serving up any dangerous dinners
and might just save your pet's life.
Even our most familiar pets sometimes behave
in unpredictable ways,
but the latest scientific research
is helping us understand them as never before.
Judy's going to crack the secrets of one of our most popular small pets,
the guinea pig.
Nearly three-quarters of a million guinea pigs
are kept as pets in the UK.
But they can often behave in really funny and erratic ways
which can come as a surprise to many owners.
It makes you wonder - "Is it normal? Is it good or is it bad?"
Time to learn some guinea pig.
We asked you guinea pig owners across the country
to capture your pets' bizarre and unexpected behaviour on camera
and send us your footage,
and you've given us loads of intriguing stuff.
Lots of you sent us footage of your guinea pigs
-making extraordinary sounds.
In fact, research has revealed that guinea pigs have
a repertoire of around 14 different noises,
all of which have different meanings.
To help me interpret them, I've come to meet behavioural expert
Dr Sagi Denenberg at the University of Bristol Vet School.
Most of the behaviours are based
on their need to communicate with each other,
so they signal something with their body language
and a sound together.
One surprising sound you might hear your guinea pig make...
Like cats, guinea pigs can purr when they're content,
as this one is doing.
But they also purr for another reason.
They sometimes use it to placate another guinea pig
in the hope of avoiding a fight.
If you hear your guinea pig purring
while backing away from another guinea pig,
it could mean they feel threatened.
You might need to separate them temporarily.
Our next behaviour could also signal trouble.
Talk us through what we're seeing with this then.
The teeth chattering that you hear are actually sounds of aggression.
They might be fighting over resources
or something like that, or space.
It doesn't have to be a full fight with bites and fur flying.
Sometimes, it's just the noise,
sometimes it is just...using the human term, verbal aggression
rather than physical aggression.
If you have more than one guinea pig and hear teeth chattering,
there could be trouble brewing,
so try to make sure they have enough food and space
to share between them.
If your guinea pig's teeth chatter whilst on their own,
it could be a sign of dental problems,
so it's a good idea to have them checked by a vet.
Our final guinea pig behaviour is one of the most bizarre...
..and as peculiar as the behaviour is its name.
So, this guinea pig is running and bouncing in the air.
That's why they call it called "popcorning" behaviour.
Like the popcorn, bouncing.
That's typically a very joyous activity
that pups will show a lot when they run and they play and they jump.
Another reason for this activity
is showing off to girls.
Sometimes a male would show similar behaviour
and some owners will term it, actually, as the rumba.
-Yeah, like the dance.
And they'll bounce a bit, and they'll shake their rear end.
But in young and old, male and female alike,
this energetic behaviour is usually a sign that guinea pigs are happy.
Even as a vet,
I've learned today just how complex guinea pig behaviour can be.
They do have weird and wacky behaviours.
But they all totally make sense in the world of guinea pigs.
And the more you understand them,
the more it can help you keep your guinea pig healthy and happy.
Still to come...
We dive into the science of how to give your pet fish
a longer, healthier life.
And what's the best way to help your dog lose weight?
Diet or exercise?
We'll have the results of our big experiment.
One of the biggest challenges that owners have
when trying to control their pet's diet
is when they're faced with an animal that seems to be constantly hungry
and always pestering them for food,
no matter how much they've already eaten.
So, how can we stop your pet's constant urge to overeat?
That's something they're investigating here
at Liverpool's pet weight loss clinic.
And one of the key problems they've identified
is the speed at which animals eat.
Bailey here, like many Labradors,
is a notoriously fast eater.
We've given him half his normal breakfast
and he's taken just 38 seconds to polish it off.
He's eaten so quickly, his brain hasn't actually had time
to register that he's full,
and that means dogs can still feel hungry,
even when they've eaten more calories than they need.
Research shows this makes animals more likely to overeat.
And the same is true of humans.
But the vets here have a solution.
A range of low-tech toys called "puzzle feeders"
to make dogs work harder for each morsel.
So, now we're going to give Bailey
the other half of his breakfast
on one of these.
Imagine how difficult it's going to be
to get all of these bits of food out from these grooves?
We know he's hungry, he's always hungry,
so let's see how long.
Ready, steady, go.
He's going for the shallow grooves first.
We're getting close to how long it took him last time
and he's barely touched it, really.
'Leading researcher in pet weight loss Professor Alex German
'has been studying how these puzzle feeders work.'
By slowing down how long it takes him to eat,
it'll give time for his stomach to send signals to his brain
to say, "I'm full."
So, yes, it will satisfy him,
even though it's the same amount of food.
Surprising though it sounds,
recent research has shown that dogs prefer to work for their food,
rather than have it served up without effort.
This may be because it allows them
to satisfy their natural foraging instincts.
He's still going. This is two-and-a-half minutes.
A few trickier pieces left here.
Right, last one, last one, last one.
Good lad. Well done, you.
Three minutes ten. That's a massive difference.
Well, that worked for Bailey -
it took him five times longer to eat the second half of his breakfast,
giving his stomach more time to tell his brain that he's full.
And it's not just dogs -
eating too quickly is a problem that also affects cats.
But research has shown that cats tend to fall into
two very different types of eating behaviour.
We recognise two different sorts,
so we have so-called bingers and grazers.
Grazers take many small meals
but importantly, can regulate how much they eat.
On the other hand, the binger tends to consume a much larger amount
at each setting, so they're the ones we think are prone
to weight gain and obesity.
If your cat is overeating,
you could try giving them their food inside
a specially designed toy like this.
Just like the puzzle feeders for dogs, these toys slow down
the rate at which a cat eats,
and cats tend to enjoy expressing their predatory instincts.
But what if you have not only a binger
but also a grazer living under the same roof?
How do you stop your binger bingeing
and still allow your grazer to graze?
I'm with Georgia from the university's pet weight-loss clinic,
visiting a family who face this problem.
Here we have Purdy, a grazer,
and Casper, who's definitely a binger.
But Georgia has found a solution.
This is Casper.
This is part of his daily allowance of food that he's got here
and we're having to moderate how much he has in a day to get
the weight loss that we wanted from him, and he's doing ever so well.
The Liverpool team have introduced hi-tech feeding bowls
that only open for a specific cat with the right microchip.
At around £60, bowls like these aren't cheap,
but they do seem to make a difference.
So by activating his own sort of feeder...
It means that everyone has their own bowl and can only consume
their own food, meaning there's no bowl-swapping and overeating.
Now Casper can no longer just help himself.
This is Purdy being able to come and go at her bowl as she chooses.
She probably won't eat all the food that's available to her straight away.
She'll come and go throughout the day, and the bowl allows her
to do that. It means Casper can't come and steal all her food.
So as soon as she exits here,
lid's shut and she can leave a little bit for later.
-That's such a simple solution to really a major problem
for anybody who's got a multi-cat household.
So if you've got a binge-eating cat or dog at home that always
seems to be hungry, there are lots of solutions out there,
from a simple puzzle feeder like this
to the latest technology like this.
We at Trust Me I'm A Vet are keen to answer your burning questions
about pets, and there's one type of dog
whose popularity has rocketed in recent years
that's causing a lot of concern for vets and owners alike.
I've got a flat-faced dog and I know they can have health problems.
What should I be looking out for and what can I do about it?
Pugs like little Betty here are what's called brachycephalic,
which means they've been bred to have flat faces.
This is done because it's thought it makes them look cute,
a bit like babies, and it makes them very popular choices for dog owners.
Pugs, bulldogs and shih-tzus are all in the flat-faced category
and becoming increasingly popular,
with four times more pugs
and a staggering 30 times more French bulldogs
registered in the last 10 years.
Unfortunately, their adorable features make them prone to
specific health problems, so if you've got one or you're thinking
of buying one, what health issues should you be looking out for?
We vets are seeing more of these dogs than ever before.
The Royal Veterinary College near London now treats so many
that they have a dedicated brachycephalic clinic.
One of the vets here is Professor Dan Brockman.
Today he's seeing a pug called Ken.
So, Dan, what's the problem for dogs that have got flatter faces like Ken
compared to normal dogs that have got longer faces?
If you look at these two skulls,
this is a medium-length face
and this is what we call a brachycephalic,
a short-nosed dog's skull,
and then we turn these over and you can see immediately
that the room that they have,
especially for the teeth,
is all crammed together,
but all of the soft tissues,
the lining of the back of the throat, is exactly the same.
The tongue is the same,
so all of that tissue has been pushed into a much smaller space
and so there are folds on the inside
just as there are folds on the outside that are interfering with the ability to move air.
Ken had surgery to remove some of the excess tissue from inside
his skull and widen his nostrils,
which has helped him to breathe more easily,
but, like many flat-faced dogs,
the skin folds on his face also cause problems.
If I just lift the forehead up a little bit,
do a little mini face-lift,
we've got discolouration inside these folds of hair.
That's where bacteria, yeasts can cause skin infection
that really can be painful for the animal.
Another standout feature of a flat-faced dog is their prominent eyes.
Sometimes the eyes can be so bulgy
that they can't close the eyelids properly.
Closure of the eyelids is crucial for spreading the tear film
that nourishes that superficial layer of the eye, so that is
defective and that can lead them to develop things like ulcers.
Not all flat-faced dogs will suffer from these health issues,
but there are things you can do to help prevent them
and treat them if they happen.
Number one, their breathing.
Try not to overexert your flat-faced dog.
If you do notice your dog is struggling to breathe,
take it to a cool, quiet place to calm down,
where it can have access to a drink, and then take it to a vet.
Number two, their skin folds.
Ideally, you should inspect and clean your dog's face folds
at least once a day, depending how dirty they get.
You can use warm, soapy water.
Just make sure that you rinse it well and dry it properly.
Finally, number three - those eyes.
If your dog's eyes show any signs of drying out,
it's really important that you get them properly checked by a vet.
They might need a saline eye gel
that acts as a lubricant to keep the eyes moist
and they might need treatment if there's any infection too.
So if you've got a flat-faced dog,
it's important to look out for the health problems that they're prone to,
and if you're thinking of getting one, then make sure
you can give them the care they need to stay happy and healthy.
Earlier in the programme, we began a unique experiment
to tackle a hidden epidemic in the nation's rabbits - stress.
The latest veterinary research suggests that the biggest cause
is keeping them in hutches,
so we installed some cameras in the hutch of one pet rabbit, Pepper,
and the footage revealed some classic signs of stress.
Pepper's sitting hunched and motionless at times of day
when he should be active and playful.
So we've taken two key steps to try and reduce his stress.
First, we've ditched the hutch and replaced it with an enclosure that's
larger and contains features that mimic a rabbit's natural habitat.
Secondly, as rabbits in the wild are social and live in groups,
we've found Pepper a companion, Tamarin.
For the last two weeks,
Pepper and Tamarin have been living together and have moved into
the new enclosure, and we've been capturing their behaviour on camera
to find out if the changes we've made have reduced Pepper's stress.
Now we're back for the results.
-How are you doing?
Oh, look at that. Very good.
Time to see if ditching the hutch has changed Pepper's life.
This is so, so much better.
He's sort of in and out of the tree trunks.
He's up and down the tubing.
They use it as, like, a little adventure playground.
It's about three metres long, which we know is long enough for
the average rabbit to be able to run and jump.
We've got things in this that they can climb on
and we've got things they can hide under,
and the route into the home is through small tubes.
Now they can just shoot down a bolthole and they're back
in their safe shed.
So, the signs are encouraging,
but have we really been able to reduce Pepper's stress levels?
This footage shows Pepper being much more active and playful,
especially at those key times, dawn and dusk.
He and Tamarin groom each other, which shows they've bonded,
and both of them stretch out in the middle of the night,
a sign they're content and relaxed.
It's a big difference from the hours Pepper used to spend hunched up,
a telltale sign of stress.
Such, such an improvement,
and it's really, really nice to see them both interacting
-with all the stuff in there.
So, for your pet rabbit to be stress-free and healthy,
don't keep them in a small hutch.
The research has shown that rabbits need at least three metres' length
and sufficient headroom to run, jump and stand up.
And even if you haven't got all of that space,
there's always something you can do.
Give them platforms to climb on, places to hide, places to dig,
and most importantly, rabbits are social creatures like us.
They need the company of other rabbits.
Now, just as in humans, if an animal has spinal damage and is paralysed,
there is no cure, but I'm about to witness a ground-breaking operation
performed by only two surgeons in the world.
For the first time, surgical technology developed to treat paralysis in humans
is being adapted to radically improve the quality of life
of paralysed animals.
Ozzy is a seven-year-old dachshund.
Just six weeks ago, his owners Andrew and Aggie noticed
he had started walking much more slowly and seemed in pain.
After that he just collapsed on his back legs and there was clearly
something very seriously wrong with him.
Ozzy's vet performed a CT scan
and found that one of the discs in his spine had ruptured.
This can happen to any dog,
but dachshunds are especially vulnerable
to weaknesses in their discs.
Ozzy was rushed in for emergency surgery
but the damage couldn't be repaired.
He's now paralysed from the middle of his back down.
Veterinary neurologist Dr Nicolas Granger can show me why.
So this is Ozzy's back.
Just explain to me what we're looking at here.
The fibres within the spinal cord have been completely damaged
and therefore that blocks the information to go from the brain
to the back end of the dog
and equally the back end won't be able to communicate with the brain.
It's pretty much like somebody's actually cut through his spine
and it's completely severed.
It's very clear when you look at him that there is a point
along his back where he can feel
and a point after the lesion where he can't,
so he can't feel pain but that comes with loss of function as well.
This loss of function causes many health problems
that can shorten an animal's life.
And the most serious are not always the most obvious.
Surprisingly, one of the biggest threats to the health of
every paralysed animal is that they lose control of their bladder.
This puts them at risk of dangerous infections.
It's such a serious problem
that Ozzy has to be taken to the vet twice a day for treatment.
But in human medicine, innovative surgical techniques have been
developed to restore some vital functions like bladder control.
And now one such technology is being applied to animals.
Dr Nicolas Granger is one of only two veterinary surgeons in the world
to perform this pioneering operation.
In humans, neurosurgeons have designed very clever implants
that you can place near the nerves in the lower back region
going to the bladder.
It involves placing a tiny electrode on a key nerve
in the spinal cord called the sacral nerve.
This electrode can be activated by a remote-controlled device
to send an electrical impulse down the nerve.
The idea is that this will act exactly like a signal from the brain
telling the bladder to empty.
The system, this external system
will exploit the nerves and replace the brain.
That's absolutely amazing.
Today Ozzy is being admitted for surgery.
It's an extremely delicate procedure
and Nicolas is the only surgeon in the UK to perform it.
One of the difficult things about this procedure is really
just finding the right nerve.
It's such a tiny part of the anatomy buried deep in the body.
Nicolas needs to work carefully.
Any damage could make Ozzy's condition worse.
Now it's going to be a matter of getting the implant onto those nerves and permanently in position.
Once Nicolas is confident he has positioned the chip correctly,
he has to attach tiny cables and a receiver under Ozzy's skin.
The surgery has gone as well as could be hoped
and Ozzy is taken back to the dog ward to recover.
It was a real honour for me to see Nicolas at work.
He's very quick, he's very meticulous,
but we'll only know if it's been truly worth it
when Ozzy wakes up, and see if the implant works.
Two hours later, the moment has arrived for Nicolas to test whether
the implant has worked and can stimulate Ozzy's bladder to empty.
Gosh, it really is just literary straightaway.
Yeah, yeah. And it's very good that it's working as well,
for this little dog.
That is amazing.
He's obviously completely oblivious
but what a complete difference that will be.
Three weeks later, and Ozzy's life has been turned around.
Instead of daily trips to the vet,
he's back to his normal walks in the park.
The surgery can't give him back his hind legs but by replacing
one key part of the connection between his brain and his body,
it's made him a lot more comfortable and healthy.
He's just so happy to be out and about.
He's just back to himself and he's got many more years to come,
hopefully, of happy and healthy life with us.
And what's really exciting is that
Nicolas's technique is only the beginning.
By taking the latest technology from human medicine and applying it
to the veterinary world, this promises to transform
the quality of life for animals like Ozzy.
And in showing that it's possible to overcome spinal damage in this way,
Nicolas and his team have taken a crucial step towards
the Holy Grail of reversing the effects of paralysis.
In a few moments, we'll be getting the results of our big experiment,
pitting diet against exercise
to find the best way to help your pet lose weight.
But first, over to Vim Kumaratunga.
You might not think it, but by sheer numbers,
fish are far and away our most common pet.
There are around 36 million pet fish in the UK.
That's more than twice as many as all the dogs and cats put together.
Yet it's a shocking fact that many fish kept at home
will only live for a quarter of their natural lifespan.
And when they fall ill, they're hardly ever taken to the vets.
Given how many there are, it's remarkable how few we see.
So what's going wrong and how can we put it right?
To find out, I've come to Bristol Zoo Aquarium,
home to more than 100 different species.
Remarkably, every week here, head curator Johnny Rudd takes on fish
from owners who are struggling to look after them at home.
He finds that most of the problems
are caused by three popular myths about keeping fish.
Myth number one -
fish will only grow to the size of your tank.
70% of the animals in this tank have come from pet shops originally,
unfortunately come to us after people can't look after them
once they get to their full size.
They would have been sold as very small animals.
In around a third of cases when owners can't keep their fish,
it's because they've grown too big.
This pangasius catfish, for instance,
started out just a few inches long,
but has grown to be a giant three-foot tankbuster.
And when fish are kept in a home tank that's too small,
they suffer serious health problems.
That applies to even our most common pet fish,
the seemingly humble goldfish.
Goldfish can get to a great big size and live for a long, long time.
In a pond environment they will live to 30, 35 years.
Given an unsuitable environment like a goldfish bowl or something,
where they're not going to thrive,
they can only live for three or four years.
People think this is normal and it's just not.
It's almost like it's a disposable pet.
In my opinion, they shouldn't really be in indoor tanks.
So before you buy a fish,
make sure it's a species that will remain a manageable size.
Myth number two - you can put whatever fish you like in your tank.
In fact, the combination of fish is crucial.
Not all types will be happy living together.
When the mix of species is wrong,
the very first problem you're likely to see is aggression,
and fish on the receiving end will tend to become stressed
and prone to disease.
To help you achieve harmony, believe it or not,
there are such things as compatibility charts.
Which is a great starting point,
but it won't give you all the information that you need,
so it's best to seek expert advice from a specialist
before you choose your fish.
And getting the right number of fish in your tank is also vital.
The piranhas here at Bristol are a good example.
Like many species, they're only happy living in large shoals.
They're a little bit like the Rottweiler of the fishkeeping world.
People get them because of their fearsome reputation,
but in fact they're very, very timid.
They will often just get one,
which will be very stressed and it will die very young.
It won't have the security of the shoal around it,
which it really needs, they're very social animals,
so they'll see it deteriorate and then they'll buy two,
which is a terrible thing to do
because then there's no way of distributing their aggression.
They will fight literally to the death.
You need six to eight animals, minimum, really,
but you will need a really big tank to do that.
But even if you've got your fish right,
there's still myth number three -
that the water is the easy bit.
In fact, water quality is the number one reason why
the lifespan of fish kept in tanks is so much shorter than in the wild.
So your water conditions need to be controlled precisely
or your fish will quickly fall ill.
That's particularly true of salt water,
which has very complex chemistry that's difficult to get right,
especially for first-time owners.
Johnny's collection includes
saltwater fish that became popular as pets after Hollywood stardom,
only for their owners to run into trouble.
The whole industry has seen a big influx of people trying to
donate these sort of animals shortly after those sort of films,
which is sad, really, because I think people just underestimate
the amount of care and dedication you need to keep these animals.
They're very sought after, they're very colourful and vibrant,
but they're not for the beginner,
so really should think it through and not get them on impulse.
So, when you keep fish at home, there's a lot to think about.
Not all vets are experts on fish
and not all retailers know what they're talking about.
So ask your vet to recommend to you someone who does.
At the start of the programme, we began an experiment to find out
which is more important for your pet to lose weight - diet or exercise?
So we recruited 13 overweight dogs.
We split them into two groups and for the past eight weeks,
they have each been on a different weight loss plan.
Our first group have been on a controlled diet,
with precisely measured portions of food, and no treats.
So how have you got on with Elvis?
It's been a challenge because Elvis is Houdini-dog
and can find food where you don't think there is any.
He had two sausages out of my bag a few days ago.
I forgot I'd put them in a Tupperware dish in my work bag.
The second group have increased the amount of activity the dogs do
by at least a quarter to a third.
We're really hoping she's lost something because
I've lost a couple of pound over the eight weeks, even if Lucy hasn't!
Throughout, all our dogs have been fitted with a device
to monitor their physical activity.
It's the end of the eight weeks and they're returning
to the University of Liverpool's Pet Weight Management Clinic
to be weighed and measured.
So she was 15.6, just under, last time.
-She's now 14.6, 14.55.
-So she's actually lost a kilogram.
Professor Alex German and his team have analysed the data
to find out which group has lost most weight -
the dieters or the exercisers.
Time for the results.
Welcome back. It's really nice to see everybody.
To our knowledge, this is a world first.
This is the first properly controlled trial comparing the two,
so thank you so much for taking part.
So we're going to start with the exercise group.
If we look at the group as a whole,
and we think in percentage terms,
the average loss that your group achieved was 2%.
So a modest but significant weight loss for the exercise group.
But how did the diet group compare?
Once again, if we think in percentage terms,
the diet group achieved
a spectacular 10% on average,
so well done. Fabulous.
So the diet group were the clear winners.
And this was the case in every measure we used.
At the start of our experiment,
every dog was given a body condition score.
All our dogs scored between six and nine of a maximum nine,
meaning they were all classed as overweight or obese.
By the end of the experiment, just one dog in the exercise group
managed to drop her score by one point.
But in the diet group, all dogs went down by either one or two points,
making them closer to their ideal size and weight.
And our experiment has revealed an unexpected reason
why the diet group did so well.
Alex and his team measured the physical activity
of all the dogs in the study.
And in the diet group, when the dogs began to lose weight,
they also naturally became more active.
Over the eight-week period,
Honey the shih-tzu increased her activity by 33 minutes a day.
And Poppy the collie, also in the diet group,
increased her daily activity by more than an hour.
We didn't ask the owners to change her activity
but Poppy seems to naturally have done that.
These dogs' owners didn't do anything to change their routine,
which suggests that losing weight helped the dogs feel motivated
to move more of their own accord.
-Well, that's a win-win situation.
Our experiment is the first of its kind to compare diet versus exercise
and it's been a big success.
I didn't really expect her to have lost as much as she has.
She has done very well.
Bob's a lot healthier and happier, so it means a lot that he's well.
We've learnt she probably does need more exercise
but I think we need to also look at her diet.
All our volunteers will be continuing
a long-term weight loss programme here at the Liverpool clinic,
but making a lasting change to your pet's diet or exercise habits
is never easy.
Alex has some tricks that can help.
With diet, one of the big challenges is sticking to a new regime.
When we want to reward our dog, it needn't be food.
It could be playing with your dog or some other positive interaction.
Exercise, and it's little differences, it's like using
the toys to stimulate the activity,
and really just trying to stick to a regular plan.
Dogs that do lose weight and keep it off are healthier,
live longer and have a better quality of life,
and the best way to do this
is to combine a weight loss diet with exercise,
but what our study has shown for the first time
is that diet is the single biggest influence on weight loss,
so it's well worth trying hard to break those bad habits -
cut out the treats,
feed the right amount for the size and breed of your dog and no more,
and what's really encouraging is that when they do start to lose weight,
they naturally start to exercise more,
leading to a happier and healthier life for them.
That's it from Liverpool University's Veterinary School.
Next time we'll be in Bristol University's Langford Vet Hospital,
where I'll be following a cutting-edge therapy
to save a horse with nerve pain.
We'll be finding out how to take care of one of our most intelligent pets.
Does Milo eat with you every night?
Of course he does. He's part of the family.
And we'll be running a unique experiment to find the best way
to reduce stress in cats.
-It looks like it hasn't been totally plain sailing all the way.
Steve Leonard and his team of vets investigate the best way to help your pet lose weight, witness a pioneering operation to improve the life of a paralysed dachshund, decode the secret language of guinea pigs and discover why, when it comes to keeping rabbits, it is time to ditch the hutch.