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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're 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 and 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 week, we are at Bristol University's Langford Vet Hospital.
Welcome to Trust Me, I'm A Vet.
The Langford Vet Hospital at Bristol University
is one of the busiest in the country.
They see a huge variety of animals here,
from dogs and cats to horses and exotic pets.
In this programme, we'll run a unique experiment
to tackle one of the biggest health problems racing the nation's cats -
And I'll join the world-leading equine team here at Bristol
to witness a pioneering treatment used in human medicine
that's now saving horses' lives.
Our team of vets will also be out and about across the UK
seeking out the latest veterinary research.
We'll lift the lid on the hidden danger for dogs
that's lurking in our homes.
And the radical new thinking on how to look after
the nation's most intelligent pet.
PHONE RINGS Good morning. Helen speaking.
How can I help?
Stress is increasingly being recognised
as a major health issue for the nation's pets.
And in particular for our cats.
It's thought as many as one in five pet cats
are living in a state of stress. CAT MEOWS
I know, Boris.
And it can cause some pretty severe symptoms.
Just as in humans, stress is now known to cause
serious illness in cats.
And it can lead to a whole host of behavioural problems.
So Alice Rhodes is going to run
a unique Trust Me, I'm A Vet experiment
to find the best way to de-stress your cat.
Of all our pets, cats often appear to be the most chilled out.
But in fact stress has reached epidemic levels,
and research has revealed that there is one overriding cause.
The majority of cats in the UK live in multi-cat households,
over 4.5 million of them.
But cats are in fact quite solitary animals,
and being surrounded by other cats can stress them out.
So, while you might think having more than one cat
means they'll be good company for each other...
It might actually be a source of serious stress.
And the signs aren't always obvious.
So how can you recognise it and what can you do about it?
To find out, we're about to run a brand-new study.
We want to find the best way to avoid your cat becoming stressed.
So we've recruited three multi-cat households
whose cats are all displaying different signs of stress.
And we're going to test three different stress-busting methods
in all their homes.
First, the Humphreys.
One of their cats, Salt,
is constantly showing signs of aggression
towards his housemate Pepper.
It's not only stressful for Pepper, being on the receiving end,
the aggressive behaviour suggests that Salt too
is stressed by Pepper's presence.
From the start, really, they didn't get on.
He'll chase her at least once a day. He'll swipe her.
If she's asleep and he decides he wants to sleep there,
he'll chase her away.
It's not ideal. I suppose you'd really like it to be resolved,
-if you could.
-Yes, it would be far nicer if they could get on.
Next, the Jacksons.
Two of their cats, Ralph and Gulliver,
are showing another classic sign of stress.
They seem constantly engaged in psychological warfare.
The atmosphere's extremely tense
when they do start going at each other,
so it's kind of hard to kind of get them out of it, as well.
I've tried distractions, I've tried shaking the treats,
and they both just seem locked in this kind of zone
where they just don't want to get out of it.
Finally, the Hopkins.
Susan has four cats, one of which, my namesake Alice,
spends most of her time cowering under the bed.
This isn't shyness.
It's another sign of stress.
Now she is scared of her own shadow.
It's like being in a battle all the time
and not knowing how long this very unpleasant truce
is going to last for.
So, what's the best way to de-stress our feline families?
We've brought in world-renowned veterinary behavioural specialist
Dr Sarah Heath.
Over the next six weeks,
she's going to help us test three different methods
that the latest research suggests can reduce cats' stress.
Hello. Hi, Jill?
First up, a major source of conflict between cats
is being made to share their space for eating, sleeping
and going to the toilet.
So our first stress buster will be to put their bowls,
beds and litter trays as far away from each other as possible.
Cats are a solitary feeders.
That means they need to be able to eat on their own.
From a cat perspective,
this is really quite a threatening area in which to be eating.
And we've got a cat flap -
potentially a point of intrusion by another cat.
So we really need to move these out of this room
and put them in distinctly separate places.
So they'll be given separate feeding bowls
and the locations selected to reduce their anxiety while they eat.
It's a nice location because when the cat's eating,
they're going to have their back to the activity.
So they're going to be eating in a protected area.
That will allow Salt or Pepper to eat in a more relaxed way.
Yes. That's the aim.
They'll also be putting distance
between the cats' beds and litter trays.
All our families will start by making these changes for two weeks.
Next, they'll add in method number two - new toys.
The idea here is that our cats will have a new outlet
to express their wild side.
If we can tip the balance into a situation
where there's more positive emotion,
that is going to help reduce the tension.
A few of the toys are designed so that you can put some food inside,
so they'll also encourage the cats to forage for food around the house.
It's giving them a more natural feeding experience
and satisfying their predatory behaviour.
Finally, after another two weeks,
our families will add method number three - introducing smells.
These diffusers look like air fresheners...
..but actually release a natural scent called a pheromone,
one that the cats should find soothing.
Smell's really important to cats,
so were going to use this in your household
to produce a scent environment
that encourages all of your cats to feel safe and secure.
One diffuser on each floor of our houses
should be enough to help create a calming environment
for all our cats.
Before they start,
all our owners are completing a questionnaire
recording their cats' behaviour,
which will allow us to assess their levels of stress.
Then they'll all introduce the same three stress-busting methods,
one every two weeks.
They'll repeat the stress questionnaire every week,
and we're setting up cameras all around their homes
to see if we can spot any changes in the cats' behaviour.
I think all the methods the families are using a really interesting.
It'll be fascinating to find out if they work
and if one is more effective than the others.
Now, Judy Puddifoot's been uncovering the latest science
that could help us avoid the one thing
that makes many people fear dogs.
It is estimated that one in four people in the UK
have been bitten by a dog,
and over 10,000 people a year are admitted to hospital
because of a dog bite.
But I've come across some fascinating research
that could help us avoid it happening.
In fact, dogs will give us plenty of subtle warning signs
that they're becoming uncomfortable and may be about to bite,
but they go unrecognised by the people around them.
So what are these signals and how can we recognise them?
Time to learn some dog.
There are some very obvious signs that a dog is gearing up to bite,
but studies have shown there are others that are far harder to spot.
I've come to meet researcher Dr Carri Westgarth
at the University of Liverpool Vet School.
She's researched hundreds of cases of dog attacks
and is going to decode the hidden signs that a bite may be coming.
There's a general pattern of signals that dogs will use
and we call this the Ladder of Aggression.
This starts with lower-level and more subtle behavioural signals,
and then they will progress to more intense behaviours.
Stiffening up, growling, snapping and biting.
So potentially when we see a dog that's becoming growly,
showing its teeth to us, we may actually have missed
many other times a dog's tried to communicate to us
-that it's not happy.
So, what exactly are these early warning signs?
To find out, we're going to one place most dogs seem to hate.
The vet waiting room.
We are recording their behaviour so that Carri can view it
and show us what to look out for.
The greyhounds are doing a bit of panting.
Bit of lip licking.
And they're giving the occasional yawn, as well.
Most of us may not think twice about the dog yawning or licking its lips.
But, in fact, research has shown that these can be clear signals
of growing anxiety,
and they're the first rungs on the Ladder of Aggression.
The black and white spaniel is sort of climbing up its mum's legs.
Yes, it looks like she's looking for reassurance.
She's doing quite a lot of lip licking, as well.
She's cowering her body down a little bit.
Her tail's quite low and tucked under,
showing that she's a bit overwhelmed by this situation.
So, after barely any time in the waiting room,
we can see that the dogs here
are already showing some early warning signs.
Any significance in the other spaniel being up on the chair?
She might feel more secure up high -
she can see what's happening, who's coming.
If we can recognise these lower-level signals
to say that he's not quite happy with that situation,
then we can prevent the dog from escalating
and we can prevent dog bites from occurring.
If you spot these very early signals,
the best solution in an unfamiliar environment
is to reassure your dog and make it feel comfortable.
But if the early warnings are ignored,
dogs will generally carry on up the ladder.
And the higher they go,
the more serious the dog's potential reaction can be.
Carri's got some clips to show us what to look out for.
It's quite still.
Its ears are down.
It's showing the whites of its eyes.
So, immediately, from me looking at that as a vet,
that dog is giving me what we affectionately call "the eye."
I certainly would not be trying to approach that dog.
A dog with its years back in a stiffened position and staring
has moved up to the middle of the Ladder of Aggression.
It's preparing to take action.
In this situation, don't attempt to touch the dog,
and avoid sudden movements if you're near.
This could cause the dog to progress even further up the Ladder.
It's raising its lips and growling.
So we're much better on the Ladder of Aggression with this, aren't we?
If anybody puts their hand in there, you'd definitely get bitten.
Growling is one of a dog's last warnings.
Carri's final clip shows what could happen next.
So, this is a clip of a model on some sort of photo shoot
and she's trying to get the dog to sit still for her.
It's licking its lips, its ears are back,
it's doing lots of panting.
She is handling the dog quite roughly, isn't she?
Yeah, trying to get it to sit the way she wants it to sit.
And again and again, the dog tries to get away.
So, essentially, the handler here
is ignoring all of these lower-level signs
a dog is quite distressed in that situation.
Yes, and she's got it by the collar.
Eventually, there's a very gentle mouth at her arm,
and then it does that a bit more firmly.
But it is trying to get away, but it's being forced to stay there.
Although not every dog will follow
the exact pattern of behaviours on the Ladder,
this research gives a really good idea of what to look out for,
especially the earliest signs that may be easy to miss.
And the best thing you can do
is try to avoid your dog getting on the ladder in the first place.
So, if you recognise that your dog is frightened of something, think,
"How can I teach him to like it instead?"
Training with tasty food rewards can help change a dog's emotion
from negative to positive.
When we think about some things that cat might like,
a few spring to mind like catnip, milk and...fish.
But some surprising new research
suggests that we should be thinking twice about how much fish
we feed our feline friends.
With over 7 million cats in the UK,
cat food is staggeringly big business.
£1 billion every year.
And among the bestsellers are the varieties containing fish.
There's no doubt cats love it.
But, in fact, fish is a fairly recent addition
that we humans have made to their diet.
In nature, cats are land hunters that mainly eat meat.
We tend to think of fish as a healthy alternative,
but Trust Me, I'm A Vet has uncovered important new research
that suggests too much of it might actually harm your cat's health.
The discovery came when Mike Davies and David Garner
at Nottingham University investigated some mysterious cases
of cats that died of unknown causes.
They found that many of them had severe kidney damage.
So, what are we looking at here, David?
-So here we got a slide of a normal cat kidney.
This cat was perfectly healthy,
and I'll just show you the clear contrast.
Oh, yes, that's very different, isn't it?
What's going on here, then?
So, what you can see are lots of deeper red scarring tissue
and much less functional kidney tissue.
The team wanted to know what could be causing this kidney damage
in so many cats,
so they tested some tissue samples in the laboratory
and discovered something entirely unexpected.
Cats are carnivores, they tend to have a high meat diet.
We expected to see more iron.
What we actually saw was that we see much higher levels of arsenic
-in their kidneys.
So, arsenic, obviously I know arsenic as a poison.
So, how has that got into a cat's kidney?
The only real route of exposure for that would be through diet
or what they drink. And drinking water, tap water, is very, very low.
It would seem that the only real source of arsenic
would be through diet.
A recent study of wild cats that hunt for their food
has shown that there is no arsenic in their kidneys.
This suggests it must be coming from something
that only domestic cats consume,
and the Nottingham team are investigating what that could be.
There are two natural ingredients that we know can contain arsenic.
One is rice, in some situations,
and the other is fish, some fish.
So, a possible source of the arsenic could be the fish in pet food.
To investigate further,
the Nottingham team have tested 177 different pet foods.
Some with - and some without - fish.
We've analysed a variety of pet foods available which contain fish.
We have found some of them are quite high in arsenic.
Of the pet foods they tested,
the 10 with the highest levels of arsenic were all fish-based.
The kind of arsenic you find in fish
is not the most toxic form of the chemical,
and in moderate amounts is unlikely to harm your pet.
The Nottingham team believe that health problems,
like the kidney damage they've seen,
might arise if it's part of a cat's diet every day.
Though not enough research has been done in cats yet,
there is evidence from human medicine
that consuming arsenic in the long term can be harmful.
Arsenic does accumulate in the body over time,
and in people, recently they've shown there is a correlation
between high arsenic and kidney disease,
so that's why we're interested in what's going on in the cat,
because cats get lots of kidney disease
and a lot of cats are fed fish-based foods.
Guidelines exist for how often humans should eat fish each week,
but there are no equivalent guidelines
on how often our pets should eat fish.
So you might decide you want to vary your cat's diet
to make sure it's not eating fish every day.
Maybe feed it fish once, twice, few times a week.
Unfortunately, that might not be as straightforward as you think.
We at Trust Me, I'm A Vet
wanted to find out how easy it would be to avoid daily fish for your cat
if you chose to.
So, we've looked into exactly how pet foods are labelled.
We found that, remarkably,
cat food labelled as being "with beef"
is legally required to contain
only 4% beef.
Same goes for chicken, lamb, pork.
And the rest of the meat?
Well, you've guessed it -
much of it could in fact be fish.
And it's not just cat food.
The same is true of dog food.
This does not mean that those foods will necessarily contain
harmful levels of arsenic.
In fact, the vast majority will not.
But if you'd prefer not to feed fish to your pet every day
to reduce the risk of long-term exposure to arsenic,
then, when looking for alternatives, check the labels really carefully.
You might be feeding more fish than you realise.
Still to come...
the ground-breaking treatment that could save horses' lives.
We lift the lid on a serious health hazard for dogs.
And should you have your cat neutered?
We'll bring you the latest research.
It seems that there is no end to the variety of animals
that we pet mad Brits are choosing as our companions.
Over the 20 years I've been qualified as a vet,
the number of more unusual pets like Mabel here have soared.
But whether their natural habitat is a jungle or a rainforest
or a desert, trying to recreate a part of that in your living room
is a challenge.
Vim Kumaratunga's been delving into some new science
that's making us vets rethink how we should care
for probably the most intelligent animal kept as a pet.
There are over 40,000 African grey parrots kept as pets in the UK,
and recent research has revealed
that they're more intelligent than we ever imagined.
In one study, they were shown to have the reasoning powers
of a three-year-old child, and they crave social contact.
Perhaps no great surprise pet parrots kept alone in small cages
routinely suffer from stress and related health problems.
So, how do you keep such an intelligent pet
mentally and physically healthy?
Before you get your parrot, there's one key thing to find out.
If you're buying a young parrot,
make sure it's been raised by its parents for as long as possible,
rather than hand-reared, because this allows normal behaviours
to be expressed and could prevent future behaviour problems.
Once you've got your parrot, how you house them is crucial.
-Hi, Elaine. Nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
'Animal behaviourist and self-confessed parrot devotee
'Elaine Henley has identified three key things
'that African greys need most,
'and, unusually, has dedicated her entire home to providing them.'
Number one, space.
Rather than a small cage,
parrots will be healthier and happier
kept in large enclosures like this.
But Elaine goes a lot further.
So the cage door's open.
Your parrots have free run of the house the majority of the day.
Yes. The parrots are probably out of their cages
more than they're inside their cages.
If you do give your parrot time out of the enclosure,
there are some unexpected dangers to be aware of.
If your bird is going to be in the kitchen, use aluminium,
copper or stainless steel pans,
because nonstick cookware can release fumes deadly to parrots.
And no matter how much space they have,
indoor living in the UK won't give your tropical parrot
enough ultraviolet light to stay healthy,
so you'll need a good quality UV lamp.
The second crucial thing parrots need is mental stimulation.
You should give them access to objects
that can allow them to satisfy their natural urge
to chew and explore.
Hanging toys will keep them interested.
Puzzle toys will allow them to exercise their mental abilities.
But don't crowd the cage with so many
that they can't fully stretch their wings.
Parrots have a tendency to pull to bits pretty much anything
they can get their beaks on,
and in Elaine's home, nothing is off-limits.
But while it's an unusual degree of freedom,
Elaine is often working to rehabilitate animals
whose health has suffered through being kept in conditions
that are too confined and lack the mental stimulation
that such an intelligent animal needs.
One of her African grey parrots is Roy.
Elaine rescued him after he'd been kept for years in a garage.
Looks like he's going to be a more knowledgeable Roy
with all the Encyclopaedia Britannicas
-that he's been chewing up.
A lot of people get a parrot,
they don't realise how difficult they can be to live with.
They perhaps get annoyed that the parrot's chewing,
so then they start to leave them in the cages for longer and longer
and longer on their own.
Then by the time they let them back out again,
the parrot's going stir crazy,
so what they do is to re-home them to another.
And before you know it,
you've got an animal who's extremely distressed,
being passed around from pillar to post,
and it's a huge vicious circle.
Roy's story is all too common.
If you're going to keep a parrot at home,
it's vital to give them enough space and mental stimulation.
But of all the things an African grey needs,
one of the most important is company.
In the wild, they spend their days in constant contact with other birds
foraging together, and they will nest in flocks of several hundred.
So if you're keeping them at home,
it's actually better if you have more than one,
rather than a solitary pet.
Elaine keeps three African greys.
And she also makes sure she has plenty of interaction with them,
as pet parrots are known to fare better
if they spend time in their owner's company.
It's estimated that there's over 1 million parrots living in homes.
I think we owe it to the parrots to give them the best possible life.
While Elaine's commitments to her parrots might seem more
than most owners can handle,
the principles are crucial if we want to keep such intelligent pets
physically and mentally healthy.
Parrots need plenty of space,
and the company of other parrots,
or if they can't get that, yours.
A recent watershed case has brought to light a deadly condition
that can strike quickly and put your dog's life at risk.
It's called mycotoxicosis.
It happens when an animal comes into contact with powerful toxins
produced by fungi.
And surprisingly, there's something that can cause it
sitting in most of our kitchens.
Until a few years ago, very few of us had one of these.
Now they're in almost every home,
and the latest evidence shows that food that's been sat in one of these
for a few days could be deadly for your pet dog.
Everyday foods like bread, cheese and pasta
aren't toxic to your dog when they're fresh.
But when this happens and they begin to go mouldy,
they can go from harmless to poisonous in just a few days.
The mould that grows as some of these everyday foods decompose
can produce highly potent poisons called mycotoxins.
Research has identified several hundred of them
that could lurk in the food
and remain on surfaces the mould has touched.
Most are not lethal to dogs, but in a small handful of cases,
they can lead to severe mycotoxicosis.
A high-temperature, salivating, vomiting, uncoordinated movements
and trembling are all signs that your pet might be affected.
In what's come to be seen as a highly significant veterinary case,
three months ago, Sarah Dent spotted some of these symptoms
suddenly appear in her white cockapoo Dexter.
I went down to check on him and stroke him, and he was shaking.
I panicked, realised he'd been outside in the rain, he was wet.
Went to the back garden,
and I found the recycling caddie open on the lawn,
and it had mould in it from the bread that I'd put out that day.
It had been emptied.
I noticed it had been licked clean,
and we grabbed Dexter and just went to the vets as fast as we could.
And how soon after you saw Dexter was sick
did you manage to get him down to the vets?
I would say it was about 15 minutes.
I was able to tell them en route what had been in the bin,
and it just so happens that week I just had bread in there.
-I didn't realise just how bad bread mould was.
'Dexter was treated immediately at his local veterinary practice.'
Why are these specific kind of toxins that were in the bread,
why are they so dangerous?
These toxins, once they're eaten,
they get into the blood quite quickly
and cross into the brain reasonably quickly, as well,
so you normally see signs such as the tremors
or the muscle contractions within 15 to 30 minutes
after them being eaten.
Once the tremors were under control and he was conscious again,
he was monitored throughout the night
and given certain medication
to try and remove as much of the toxins from his blood as possible.
'But Dexter's condition worsened.'
He started to have problems with his pancreas,
and they tried very hard to save him for ten days.
Unfortunately for Dexter and for us, he never made it.
So, before this happened, presumably,
you hadn't even thought about the bin being dangerous to your dogs.
I had no idea that there was a type of mould that would kill them,
could kill them so quickly.
The warm, moist conditions in a food bin are an ideal environment
for the mould that produces mycotoxins.
Odourless and tasteless,
there's nothing to trigger your dog's senses
and warn them of the danger.
And whilst not all mouldy foods will contain them,
the most harmful can be deadly.
So, what can we do to avoid the risks?
The best advice is to make our food recycling bins
as dog-proof as possible.
Many food waste bins are lockable
and are, in fact, designed to be fox-proof.
But in Dexter's case, when the bin blew onto the ground,
the handle was knocked loose and the lid opened.
So I'd suggest the safest thing is
to keep your food waste bins out of reach or locked away.
And remember, even an emptied bin can still contain residues of mycotoxins,
so do give it a good clean regularly
with an antibacterial spray or wipes.
There are around a million horses kept as pets
or for competitive riding here in the UK,
and as many as 40,000 of them may be suffering from a condition
It's a serious neurological condition
whose key symptom is extreme movements of the head
that the horse can't control.
This is thought to be a response to severe pain
caused by a malfunction of the nerves
that give the horse sensation in its face.
It usually affects horses aged between five and 12,
often without warning.
Until now, there's been no cure,
and in the most extreme cases the only option has been
to put the horse down.
But now a pioneering new therapy adapted from human medicine
is being developed here in Bristol,
and for the first time offers real hope for horses with headshaking.
One of them is Ted.
When she'd had Ted for just a few months,
his owner Tarri began to notice some strange behaviour.
When I was riding him,
I began to notice that he was shaking his head up and down.
It was so severe that I had to get off
because his head was coming up so far,
I was worried I was going to get hit in the face.
When a horse behaves like this,
it's easy to assume it's just being uncooperative or stubborn.
Particularly as headshaking is often at its worst
when the horse is being ridden.
But Tarri felt that something was wrong.
She called in the vet,
who suspected that the cause of Ted's headshaking was neurological.
The vet referred him to the specialists at Bristol
as a candidate for a cutting-edge therapy
that could potentially cure the problem.
It's a pioneering technique based on a treatment of nerve pain in humans,
but up until quite recently had not been tried in animals.
It's now giving hope to owners of horses with this condition
up and down the country.
In humans and animals alike,
pain can occur if the nerves involved in sensation become overactive.
In the case of headshaking, this occurs in the trigeminal nerve,
a key nerve in the face.
Veronica Roberts has adapted a technology
used to treat nerve pain in humans, called PENS therapy,
to stop the trigeminal nerve from misfiring.
What we're going to try and do with Ted is a new procedure
which we developed here.
It's based on a procedure used in people suffering neuropathic pain,
so pain from malfunctioning nerves.
The idea behind that is you put a probe under the skin over the nerve,
so lying directly on top of the nerve,
and stimulate the nerve electrically for a period of time.
And the idea behind that is to reset the nerve
back to functioning normally.
So, fingers crossed for Ted that this might be the solution.
Yeah, we hope so. We hope so.
Before she can treat Ted,
Veronica needs to confirm beyond any doubt
that his behaviour is caused by nerve pain.
Throwing his head up vertically is pretty dramatic.
A scan rules out other possible causes for Ted's condition,
such as a tooth infection.
So far so good. There's quite a bit to do.
Veronica diagnoses a clear case of nerve-induced headshaking,
so Ted's treatment is going ahead.
This will be the first session of three over the coming year.
First, Ted is sedated,
then he is led into position and his skin is prepared.
This is a sensitive area.
This is right over the nerve as it's exiting the bone
and obviously we know that he's got a really oversensitive nerve.
And it's strange to him, he's not used to being in this situation.
But the sedation's working well.
An electrical probe is inserted
and guided into the correct position on the nerve.
So you always check that the probe is sitting right on that nerve?
Yeah, we want it not in the nerve,
but as close as possible as we can to it.
The probe passes a precisely controlled electrical current into the nerve.
So, the machine's been activated,
and there is a current now going through his body.
It seems to be very well tolerated.
It'll just be very strange for him.
But he's coping very well.
So you're happy with him?
Yeah, he doesn't mind this at all.
And people say it's quite pleasant,
and I think the horses don't mind it.
After 20 minutes,
the probe is removed and reinserted on the opposite side of Ted's face,
where it is guided into position
over the other branch of the faulty nerve.
This ground-breaking treatment is still experimental
and it doesn't work in every horse.
It'll take several more sessions over the coming months
before anyone knows whether it has cured Ted's headshaking.
But one horse whose life has been transformed already
by the procedure is Dude.
Four years ago, he developed severe headshaking.
When other treatments failed,
his owner Amy was offered a programme of PENS therapy at Bristol.
At the time of the last treatment,
Veronica had said it could last a month, it could last three months.
She really didn't know.
And a month turned into two months, and turned into a year,
and then, lo and behold, three and a half years and here we are.
Now he's healthy, he's happy, he enjoys life,
he's exactly how he was before.
Veronica gave me back my horse.
I had a shell of a miserable horse when we first went,
and now I have a horse that's, well, full of life, full of beans.
She gave me the best present I could have ever had.
As vets, we're constantly looking for new techniques and interventions
to treat chronic pain in animals.
Sometimes that means even looking at therapies
that are still in their infancy, like this one.
But when you see an animal return to being ridden
with its headshaking gone,
it really hammers home that a novel therapy like this
in a condition as serious as headshaking
can literally be life saving.
Still to come,
if you're thinking of getting a dog,
the vets' guide to which breed you should choose...
..and what's the best way to de-stress your cat?
We'll have the results of our big experiment.
We all know our pets need exercise and play to be healthy.
But as a vet, I'm all too aware of some hazards you might not expect.
In my practice, I frequently see cases
of dogs who are harmed during play.
What starts out as fun can end up with joint damage,
overexertion or even serious injury
caused by the hidden danger of some toys.
So what are the most common accidents
that happen during exercise and play?
And what can you do to avoid them?
Probably the most common play-related cause
of a trip to the vet is a dog swallowing part of a toy.
So I've been joined by some local dogs and their owners
to play a guessing game.
I've got here a selection of toys
that you might choose to play with with your dog,
but there are a couple that you actually would be better off avoiding.
So come on over and have a look,
and choose which ones you think are safe
and which ones could be hazardous to your dog.
'The group are sorting the toys into two piles.'
'The dangerous bundle includes some toys
'that most of the time are lots of fun.'
OK, so I can see that some of the tennis balls are on both sides.
'Your dog might love a tennis ball,
'but they don't always love your dog.'
If they break up, they can be swallowed.
You're right, they can break up and it's all to do with quality.
The other thing is, when you're throwing them,
if the dog opens their mouth wide, they can lodge in their mouth.
'Toys with small detachable parts can cause similar problems.'
It is a nice resilient material.
The only thing that I would say you have to watch out for
with toys like this is that it does have little metal bells inside it
which we do sometimes have to fish out of dogs' insides.
'A toy that's good for one dog isn't always good for another.'
So this would be good for a small dog or a puppy,
but this little part of his tail would worry me a bit
for a larger dog such as Teagan
because he might be able to take that off and swallow it.
'Toys that won't break apart into small bits are safest.
'These could include a rubber bone,
'or invest in a bite-proof Frisbee made specially for dogs.
'Some types can be torn to bits far more easily than others.
'So always keep an eye on how your dog's toys are standing up
'to determined chewing.
'Buying your dog toys that are designed for its size and age
'will also help reduce the chances of an accident.
'Like this puzzle feeder for a puppy or a small dog.'
It's the right size for her.
Any bigger and she can't get anything out of it
and it's no good for her.
You're talking about her size, which is perfect,
cos she's a small dog and that is a small interactive feeding toy.
It's about what is appropriate for each dog,
their size and their stage in life.
'If a toy does get stuck in your pet's mouth,
'gently hold their mouth open
'and take the object out with your fingers.
'Don't use any kind of tool,
'as you could cause a serious cut if your pet moves suddenly.'
'And if your dog does swallow something that could harm them,
'take them to the vet.'
'A different kind of toy that's exploded in popularity
'in recent years is the ball thrower.
'These can give your dog hours of fun and keep them fit,
'but bear in mind the age of your pet.'
If you have an older dog with arthritis,
having them stop and start repeatedly to get the ball
can potentially damage their joints further.
And equally for young dogs where their joints are developing,
it may not be such a good thing to do repeatedly.
Absolutely fine for a fit, adult dog
who'll probably get a lot of pleasure out of it.
'For puppies and older dogs, gentler ball games are better.
'Finally, there's one type of injury that I see surprisingly often
'and can be very serious.
'And it comes from the age-old game of fetching a stick.
'Katie Bewley's dog Ernie ended up here
'at Bristol Langford Veterinary Hospital
'after some fun with a stick went wrong.'
It was the beginning of the summer holidays.
We'd gone to a friend's for a barbecue,
and one of the children threw a stick.
Ernie was six months old, playful, ran after the stick,
and it went straight through the roof of his mouth
into his spinal cord and left him partially paralysed.
So how did you feel when this all happened and you saw him like this?
Scared. It was horrific.
We thought he was going to die.
Surgeon Tom Shaw was one of the first to treat him.
We had a chat with the owners
about whether we were even going to attempt surgery or not
because of the risks,
but we decided that the risk of leaving the stick in place was
probably greater than the risk of removing it.
Eventually, we found the stick, pulled it out.
How big was that piece of stick you removed?
We've got it here.
-but big enough to do a lot of damage.
-Can you see?
It's a couple of millimetres wide, about 1.5 centimetres long.
The spinal cord in a dog is only about one centimetre wide,
so you can imagine this being rammed through the spinal cord
is going to cause quite a lot of damage.
It was a five-hour operation.
There was no guarantees the next day whether he would make it.
It took roughly about four months for him to be independent on his own
after lots of hydrotherapy and physiotherapy.
Ernie is now back to normal
thanks to Katie getting him treated quickly.
So, do take care if you're playing with a stick,
and if an accident happens, take your dog straight to the vet.
All dogs need regular exercise and play.
They really can't do without it in order to stay healthy.
By being vigilant for unexpected hazards,
you and your pet can enjoy exercise safely.
Come on, then.
Come on, then.
While we've been in Bristol,
we've been hearing your pet-related questions.
And there's one question that we vets get asked again and again
by cat owners.
Should I get my cat Lulu neutered?
For us as cat owners, the most obvious benefit
to getting them neutered is avoiding the surprise
of an unexpected litter of kittens.
And that's a wider problem than you might think.
As many as 80% of litters across the country
are believed to be unplanned.
A cat can quite easily have three litters a year,
with five to six kittens in each litter.
They all have to find homes.
Sadly, many of them don't.
The latest research suggests that the stray cat population in the UK
is growing out of control.
Just to keep it stable,
30,000 more cats would need to be neutered every year
than is currently the case.
But some people may worry that it's not in the best interest of their cat,
that somehow we're messing with nature
or that it may be harmful to them.
So, what's the truth?
Here at Langford Vets in Bristol,
they carry out up to 100 neutering ops a year,
often in the nick of time.
Cats can get pregnant from as young as four months of age,
so if you're going to stop your kitten having an unwanted litter,
you'd better get cracking.
Young Lulu here is five months old and she is about to be neutered.
It seems like a young age, but it's actually the right time to do it.
There's also a common misconception that cats need to have a litter
before they're neutered,
but actually they can be neutered from eight weeks of age.
For dogs, the best time to neuter depends on breed,
so check with your vet.
But there is little evidence that neutering early has any ill effects your cat.
And, in fact, neutering brings some important benefits
for your cat's health.
It may sound surprising,
but neutered cats are actually less likely
to contract infectious diseases
and are not at risk of getting cancer of their reproductive organs.
And in male cats, they're less likely to fight and roam,
which obviously reduces their chances of getting injured.
Neutering can lower your cat's metabolism
and increase their appetite,
which puts them at risk of becoming overweight.
So don't be tempted to feed them more.
Post-neutering diets are available.
But overall, the effects on your cat's health are generally positive.
The surgery is over in minutes,
and a young cat like Lulu will recover quickly.
Lulu here is just waking up after her surgery.
So as far as you and your cat are concerned,
it's a good idea to get them neutered.
And of course, there's the wider benefit too.
Fewer unplanned litters means fewer cats who don't find a good home
and end up as strays.
So for the greater good of cats up and down the country,
getting your cat neutered is a no-brainer.
-There she is.
You've been a brave girl.
In a moment, we'll be finding out the results of our big experiment
on the best way to de-stress your cat.
Shockingly, around 50,000 dogs are abandoned in the UK every year.
It's the extreme end of a problem that can start
when a dog and an owner don't quite suit each other.
So if you're thinking about getting a dog,
how do you avoid ending up with one that you struggle to take care of?
Dogs come in all different shapes, sizes, and personalities,
and they have different needs to keep them in good health.
So to be sure that you have a happy, healthy dog and a happy owner,
it's a good idea to make sure that you and your dog are a good match.
That may sound obvious,
but surprisingly one in five people who get a dog don't do any research
on what type might suit them.
In my experience, there are four key questions
that every prospective owner should consider.
Vets rarely get asked these questions until it's too late
and we're dealing with the problems that can arise.
So I want to give you my own vet's guide to choosing a dog.
One of the first things you should do is ask yourself
how much time you can dedicate to exercising a dog.
All dogs need daily exercise, some more than others.
Some of the more energetic breeds like collies and Springer Spaniels
could exercise for more than two hours a day.
If they don't get this,
they can become bored and frustrated
and their behaviour can be difficult to manage.
This can manifest itself as constant barking or destructive activity.
If you don't think you'll have enough time to exercise a dog,
then think carefully before you get one.
If you are less mobile, consider getting an older dog
which may not require as much exercise.
An important consideration is how easy or difficult it is
to train your dog, and this differs between breeds,
and some can be more stubborn than others.
Dogs that require more committed training are working dog breeds,
such as Huskies.
They can be difficult to train
because they are naturally strong willed.
Types of dogs that may be more amenable to training
include poodles, retrievers, and German shepherds.
The third key question is how well they'll integrate socially
with the whole family.
If you're looking for a family dog,
a crucial question is how happy they're going to be around people,
This isn't just down to breed,
but also how well socialised they were as a puppy.
You can do things to help this by visiting breeders,
meeting the puppy's parents and speaking to your vet for advice.
Some breeds are better suited to a busy home.
Staffordshire bull terriers and Labradors consistently top the polls.
They tend to be loyal, attentive, relatively easy to train.
Finally, you need to take into consideration your own health.
If you suffer from allergies,
it's a good idea to get a breed like a cockapoo
that's less likely to trigger a reaction.
Most allergies to dogs are because of shed fur or dead skin cells
that end up in carpets, furniture or dispersed in the air.
Cockapoos, poodles and labradoodles shed far less,
so can be a good choice
if you want to minimise the chances of triggering allergies.
But there is no such thing as a completely hypoallergenic dog,
so try to spend time with the dog of your choice to check for reactions
before deciding for good and taking them home.
So, when choosing a dog, remember the four key questions.
The answers will really help point you towards a dog
whose physical and behavioural traits will work for you
and your dog.
It's always a good idea to talk to your vet first
before you make your choice,
and we won't even charge for the phone call.
Earlier in the programme, we began an experiment
to tackle one of the biggest health problems affecting cats in the UK -
Cat stress levels are highest in homes with more than one cat.
So we recruited three multi-cat households,
and over the last six weeks, we've been testing
three different stress-busting methods.
First, all our households separated their cats' feeding bowls,
beds and litter trays,
putting them in different rooms.
The idea was to remove conflict over space
to meet the cats' basic needs like eating and sleeping.
At first, the three cats were really, really confused
as to where their bowls were going
because we had to separate them around the house.
Two weeks later, we added our second measure.
We gave all the cats new toys
to help them express their wild side
through play and foraging for food around the house.
Alice likes it, and I think it's given her a lot more confidence.
And for the final two weeks, we added our third measure.
We introduced smells, based on natural odours called pheromones,
that research suggests should have a calming effect on cats.
The pheromone plug-in seems to have chilled out Salty
a heck of a lot more.
So, the owners think there are signs of improvement in all three houses.
But what does the data say?
Throughout the six weeks,
all our families have been recording their cats' behaviour
with a questionnaire that measures cat stress.
And we've had cameras installed in all the houses
to look for any changes.
Now I'm back with vet and cat behaviour expert Sarah Heath
who has analysed the data to give us the results.
This is a graph that shows the changes in the stress scores
for the cats over that six-week period.
It seems to suggest that the overall trend is
a significant reduction in cat stress,
which is great, isn't it?
Absolutely, and as measured by these behaviours
that you've been monitoring, like staring and chasing,
we can see that there's a significant decrease
in those sorts of behaviours within each of the households.
I mean, that's amazing, actually seeing it on the screen.
The results show the measure that was most effective,
and generally caused the biggest reduction in stress,
was the first -
moving the bowls, beds, and litter trays
to avoid conflict over living space.
The toys and pheromones also helped,
but had a lesser effect.
The overall pattern was the same in all three of our households.
-Hi, come in.
At the Jacksons',
their cats saw a good overall reduction in stress levels.
This is where we are now.
With the biggest improvement coming right at the start.
It's gone really, really well.
There's hardly any tension now at all between any of the cats.
At the Hopkins', Susan's cats also had a great response
to our first stress-busting method.
And here, our second method, the toys,
also made a significant difference,
with only a slight improvement with the smells.
The overall improvement in stress levels is massive,
and that is particularly good news for Alice,
who used to hide under the bed all the time.
She seems much more content, much more confident in herself.
Overall, it's very peaceful.
I mean, you can even feel it now.
Can't hear a thing.
But in one of our households, the Humphreys',
there was a temporary glitch.
Stress levels actually went up for part of the experiment
as an unforeseen problem emerged.
It looks like it hasn't been totally plain sailing all the way.
To start off with, we weren't sure that anything was going to improve.
Sarah suspected this might have been because of a neighbour's cat
sneaking in through the cat flap.
I guess this is a problem that could arise
if you didn't have two cats in a household, you only had one.
Yeah, absolutely. That's a very important security issue
for the cats living in your house.
They need to know that their house is safe from intrusion,
so we've replaced that with a microchip-operated cat flap,
so that means it's very specifically programmed to your cats alone.
And it seems to have had the desired effect,
because the stress levels for Salt and Pepper
fell consistently afterwards.
The combination of measures has made a big difference
to the Humphreys' cats.
They will now tolerate each other
and not have the chasing and the hissing and the growling,
all those things that we were seeing six weeks ago.
Living more separate lives, they're actually both much happier.
So this seems to be a great overall result for the whole family.
Yeah, happier cats, so happier household.
With the limited number of households in our study,
our results are not scientifically definitive,
but they do support the wider work done by specialists like Sarah.
Each method Sarah introduced is based on the latest research
and each is proven to improve wellbeing,
whether cats are showing signs of stress or not.
But for our families,
what matters is that the strategies worked for their cats.
It's worth remembering that one of the biggest causes of stress in cats
is living with other cats.
So if you've got a cat that's happy on its own,
then think carefully before you get another.
If you already have more than one cat,
then the results of our experiment are really encouraging.
I've been really pleasantly surprised
by how quickly and easily methods can be put into place
to help reduce your cats' stress.
That's it from Bristol
and from this series of Trust Me, I'm A Vet.
For more information about some of the stories we've covered,
why not visit our website?
Steve Leonard and his team of vets investigate the best way to de-stress your cat, reveal why your recycling bin is a danger to your dog, and witness a groundbreaking operation to save the life of a horse suffering extreme nerve pain.