Keeping dogs happy and healthy in Ireland

By Pete Wedderburn - Animal Doctor

Published 12/03/2016 | 00:00

Pete Wedderburn
Pete Wedderburn
Dogs thrive when looked after properly

This is a dog-focused week.

First, the biggest dog show in the world, Crufts, is coming up in Birmingham, and second, here in Ireland, a dog festival will be happening in Merrion Square, Dublin. Coincidentally, interesting surveys about pets have been released in advance of each event.

First, the UK Kennel Club has released its Pedigree Breed Health Survey which is the biggest ever of its type: a questionnaire was sent to 385,000 owners, including 215 breeds. Responses were received from owners of 191 breeds, representing nearly 50000 dogs, with information about health, sickness and longevity about pedigree dogs, allowing individual breeds to be analysed.

For vets in practice, like myself, who treat dogs every day, the report doesn't contain any great surprises, but there are still four interesting findings that are worth sharing with the public.

First, almost two thirds of the dog population were unaffected by any disease condition. In other words, most dogs tend to be healthy, just like most humans. Illnesses only affect a minority of the population, until the end of life when all pets (just like all people) tend to suffer ill health to some extent.

Second, the most common disease conditions were exactly what I tend to see most often in my daily work: lipoma (benign fatty tumours), skin cysts, hypersensitivity (allergic) skin disorders, arthritis and ear infections.

Third, the most common causes of death were again, just what I see in practice: old age, unspecified cancer, unknown conditions, heart failure & kidney failure.

Fourth, and this may be the most controversial finding, the average lifespan of a pedigree dog was just ten years, with bigger dogs having shorter lives and smaller dogs living longer. There is a concern that pure bred dogs may be living shorter lives than in the past, and the important message could be that if you want to have a long-lived dog, choose a small cross-bred animal.

The UK Kennel Club has a range of policies and plans to try to improve the health of pedigree pets, and I'll be at Crufts with TV3 this week, finding out more about this. If you'd like to learn more about the survey results for particular breeds, visit the Kennel Club website to learn more.

Meanwhile, back in this country, Pedigree Ireland and Whiskas Ireland have put their paws together to launch the largest study of pet ownership in Ireland, in advance of the Pawsitivity pet festival in Dublin this coming weekend.

The survey found that 61% of all Irish households own either a dog or cat, with 91% seeing their dog or cat as a family member, friend or companion, providing comfort and preventing loneliness. It's interesting to compare these statistics with the recent General Election results: if pets were a political party, they'd have an outright majority in the Dail!

Dogs remain the predominant household pet in this country, with 49% of households owning only a dog and 30% of households with just a cat as a pet. Interestingly, in the UK, the ratio of dogs to cats is 50:50. For some reason, cats are not as popular in Ireland.

Mirroring the Kennel Club survey findings, 67% of owners stated that they had never faced any health problems with their pets. Of those that reported health concerns, the most frequent was ear problems, affecting 10% of pets. Dogs suffer from joint or bone problems (8%) while cat owners reported teeth and ear problems with their pets (10%). Almost two thirds of pets had visited their vet in the previous 12 month period, primarily for their annual medical visit or to receive vaccinations.

It's worth bearing in mind that these results are owner-reported opinions, which are not always 100% accurate. For example, 80% of pets over the age of three suffer from significant dental disease, while 90% of owners believe that their pets have perfectly healthy mouths. This is one of the reasons why an annual health check from your vet is important: hidden illnesses that may be quietly bothering your pet can be identified. Dental disease is a good example: with daily brushing or regular dental chews, teeth can be kept healthy. If owners are not informed about this (e.g. by their vet), they just don't realise, and the pet suffers poor dental health as a consequence.

The Pawsitivity festival promises to be an enjoyable day out: events include a doggy disco (does your dog like dancing?) and a pop-up Doggy Café, with complimentary wet and dry food provided by Pedigree/Whiskas, as well as snacks and beverages for the humans in the family. The ISPCA will be there, talking about their Rehoming Programme for rescue pets. And there will be professional pet grooming services as well as veterinary and behavioural advice from the experts and exciting pet prizes. Balloon modellers and face painters will be around all weekend to keep children entertained, and I'll even be there myself to talk to people about pet issues.

If you have any questions for Pete, he's hosting a live question and answer session on Wednesday 9th March on the Pedigree Ireland Facebook Page. For more information about the Pawsitivity in the City Festival, visit

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