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‘Keep dogs on a lead around rivers and ponds’- Vets in Wales issue warning about deadly blue-green algae risks

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a dog sitting on the green grass near the lake

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has issued a warning to pet owners to take extra precautions when walking dogs around freshwater bodies, as warm weather conditions spark concerns about an increased risk of toxic blue green algae growth over the coming months.

The warning follows on the heels of confirmed algal bloom sightings in lakes, ponds or rivers in around 50 locations across the UK, as identified by the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology’s (UKCEH) Bloomin’ Algae app.

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In late April, a cocker spaniel died of suspected blue green algae poisoning after a swim in Anton Lakes, Hampshire.

Last week, Natural Resources Wales issued a warning for blue-green algae at Bosherston Lakes in Pembrokeshire.

Blue green algae, or cyanobacteria, are a group of bacteria that can contain dangerous toxins which can be harmful and potentially fatal to pets, livestock and birds if ingested even in small quantities.

The algae may appear as green or greenish-brown scum on the surface of water. Dogs can swallow it by drinking water from an affected lake, river or pond or while licking their fur after going for a swim.

It’s possible for dogs to come into contact with the bacteria even if they don’t go into water for a paddle, as toxic blooms are often blown to the edges of water bodies.

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According to trend data supplied by Professor Alan Radford and his team at SAVSNET, University of Liverpool, suspected or confirmed cases reported by veterinary practices peak in July and August, at the height of the summer season, and aren’t restricted to any one part of the UK.

British Veterinary Association President Justine Shotton said: “Many dogs love nothing more than a paddle in a lake to cool off in this weather, but we’d urge pet owners to keep them on a lead during walks near water bodies confirmed to have algal blooms this summer. The majority of blooms are toxic and it is impossible to tell the difference visually, so it is better to be safe than sorry.

“It is also important to be aware of the symptoms of exposure. These commonly include vomiting, diarrhoea, drooling, disorientation, trouble breathing, seizures, and blood in faeces. They can appear within a few minutes or hours of exposure, depending on the type of toxin ingested, and can cause liver damage and ultimately be rapidly fatal if left untreated.

“There is currently no known antidote for the toxins, so dog owners should seek prompt veterinary treatment to tackle their effects and ensure a good chance of recovery for their pet.”

Dr Linda May, a freshwater ecologist at UKCEH, explained: “All reports of suspected blue-green algae are rapidly available to view via the Bloomin’ Algae app, so by submitting records, people are providing a useful early warning to pet owners and watersports enthusiasts.

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“A photograph must be included with all reports so we can quickly check if the bloom is blue-green algae or something harmless.”

BVA has issued the following advice for pet owners:

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Pets

Dogs Trust appeals for dog foster carers in Wales to support survivors of domestic abuse

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Dogs Trust is launching its specialist dog fostering service in Wales and urgently needs foster carers to temporarily care for the dogs of survivors of domestic abuse, enabling their owners to flee to safety.

Dogs Trust launched its Freedom Project in 2004, offering a lifeline for dog owners who are escaping from domestic abuse.

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The Freedom Project provides foster homes for dogs and enables survivors to access safe accommodation without the fear of what may happen to their dog if they cannot take them with them.

Joanne Jackson, Freedom Project Regional Manager for Wales, said: “It has become clear that a dedicated pet fostering service is needed in Wales to support people and their pets fleeing domestic abuse. By establishing a specialist pet fostering service in this area, we can help dog owners in Wales find refuge away from their abusive perpetrator, without worrying what will happen to their beloved pet.

“Sadly, there is a strong link between domestic abuse and abuse to pets, with research showing that pets will often be used by a perpetrator as a tool to threaten, coerce and control their partners.

“Each week we will receive a call from someone who is escaping domestic abuse, but they feel they are unable to leave their home until they know their pet will be safe too.

“As many refuges are unable to accept pets, our confidential dog fostering service provides survivors with a lifeline, enabling them to flee to safety knowing that their dog will also be safe and loved until they can be reunited with them.

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“We couldn’t run this life-saving service without our incredible network of volunteer foster carers, who open up their homes and hearts to care for these dogs, knowing that they are not only helping a dog in need, but also directly supporting a family to escape abuse and be able to move on with their lives.

“Fostering comes with many benefits, from encouraging you to keep active and meet other people in your community, through to providing you with company and a waggy tail to wake up to in the morning. On top of this, all the dog’s expenses are covered, and you have the added bonus of knowing you are supporting both a dog and their family get to safety.”

The team are looking for volunteers who are at home during the day, potentially people who are retired or work from home. They must have some experience of caring for dogs and be able to commit to fostering a dog for at least six months, although holiday cover can be provided. All pet food and the cost of veterinary treatment are covered by Dogs Trust.

Sharon** is a volunteer foster carer for the Freedom Project. She said: “The most rewarding part of being a foster carer is that you are helping the dog, but also their human. It is really rewarding when your foster dog is on its way home; envisioning the excitement when they meet up again. 

“I get excited for them; I know they are going to be beside themselves with joy! We talk about it when they have gone- you wonder how they are getting on back with their family, all the while knowing you have given them a loving home for a short time”

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Involvement in fostering through the project is always kept completely confidential to protect both the dogs and the foster carers. Dogs are not fostered within the area that the owner is from and the foster carer will not know who the owner is or where they live.

To find out more about the Freedom Project and to apply to become a foster carer please visit www.dogstrustfreedomproject.org.uk, call 0300 373 0677 or e-mail freedomproject@dogstrust.org.uk

**Names have been changed to protect their anonymity

(Lead image: Dogs Trust)

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Blind rescue dog finds his new human ‘guide’

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An elderly blind dog who came into rescue in Wales at the age of 11 has got a bright future ahead of him after his “cheeky personality” won over his foster carer who decided to permanently adopt him.

Golden oldie Tiny Tim, described as “young at heart,” was in a very poor condition when he arrived at the RSPCA’s Llys Nini Animal Centre in March after his elderly owner was no longer able to care for him.

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As well as sight loss, the little Westie was suffering from a range of health issues including an ear infection, sore skin and a severely matted coat, which had to be shaved in places to make him more comfortable. His teeth, however, were in remarkably good shape for a dog of his age.

Now, three months later, Tiny Tim is thriving with his fosterer Sally Humphries, who has become so attached to the cheeky dog – whose antics include stealing food from the fridge when she isn’t looking – that she’s decided to adopt him permanently.

He is even being taught clicker training by Sally – a type of reward based training where a clicker is used to tell a dog that they have done the right thing – and responds to his name and to instructions such as, ‘sit’, ‘lie,’ ‘step up’ and ‘step down’.

“When I first got Tim home I set up a camera to monitor how he was coping and we started by keeping him on a lead and doing laps around different rooms to help familiarise him with the space,” said Sally, who is also the kennel team leader at Llys Nini Animal Centre. “I put different textures in certain places, for example, a rug in front of the sofa and a towel under his water bowl to get him used to his surroundings.

“Despite his advancing years and the fact that we were advised he would probably need palliative care, he’s got a real zest for life. He’s definitely young at heart and I’ve had to be quite fit to keep up with him! When we go out and about I’m his eyes, so that means doing things like making sure other dogs do not approach him too quickly. He loves being taken for a walk and sniffing out new smells and he’ll climb up on things if you’re not looking, so his blindness isn’t holding him back.

Sally added: “Although I didn’t initially plan to adopt Tim, he’s completely won me and my dad over with his cheeky personality. He’s settled in so well and really enjoys the company of my other rescue dog, Lady.

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“As time went on, I felt it would be unfair to expect him to start all over again with someone new and strange surroundings, particularly at his age, and more so because he’s blind.

“He’s wonderful company and a great example of how an older dog with a disability has so much to give and get out of life.”

Blind dogs are no different to sighted dogs in terms of their ability and desire to learn. Training, using positive, reward based methods is an excellent way to strengthen the bond between a dog and their owner and help the pet learn important life skills and behaviours.

As well as supporting him with his sight loss, Tiny Tim’s skin will also need to be closely monitored by Sally for the rest of his life and his ears bathed daily.

Blind Westie, Tiny Tim has settled into his new forever home (Video RSPCA)

(Lead image: RSPCA)

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Pet owners warned not to leave animals in hot vehicles as temperatures set to soar

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short coated dog inside a car

With temperatures set to rise across Wales in the coming days, people are being reminded to protect their pets and not leave them in hot vehicles.

Every year animals are harmed or die by being left alone in cars and vans during warmer weather, even for a very short while.

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Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths is reminding people to protect their pets as temperatures hit higher figures.

The Minister said: “Although many of us enjoy the hotter weather, it cannot always be said for our pets who we cherish.

“Some people believe leaving their pet in a vehicle in the shade or with the windows down will be fine, but it is simply not the case.

“Vehicles can get hot very quickly and leaving animals alone in these higher temperatures is very dangerous.

“We love our pets and I encourage everyone to take the steps needed to ensure they are protected and comfortable during warmer weather. If you are out and about with your pet, plan your day carefully making sure they are never left in a vehicle for any amount of time.”

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If a pet is seen to be in distress in a vehicle during the warmer weather, it is important to dial 999 immediately and ask for assistance.

Further information on what steps can be taken to protect animals can be found on the RSPCA website.

RSPCA companion animal welfare expert, Dr Samantha Gaines said: “With more warm weather expected across Wales, it’s so important people make a plan to keep their pets safe – and we’d urge pet owners to check out the advice on the RSPCA website. 

“Walks are great for our dogs – but when temperatures get very warm, exercise may be too much for them and some dogs, such as those bred for flat faces, are particularly at risk. When it’s really hot, any dog can be affected – so early morning or late evening walks can be much safer at this time of year, as it’s cooler.

“With Covid restrictions at an end, it’s great people are planning trips again and getting out and about – but when it is scorching outside, or if an event isn’t appropriate, owners may wish to consider leaving dogs at home. Busy, loud environments can be very distressing; and dogs need constant access to water and shade.

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“It’s also so important to never leave a dog in a car during warm weather. Even if it doesn’t feel very warm outside, dogs can quickly suffer if shut inside a car – and the consequences, sadly, can be fatal. Put simply, dogs die in hot cars.

“It’s also vital pet owners know the signs of heat-related illnesses in dogs. Excessive panting, difficulty breathing, unusual tiredness and a reluctance to play could all be signs something is wrong – so keeping a close eye on our animals is key.”

Wales Rural & Wildlife Crime Coordinator, Rob Taylor said: “Leaving your dog, for only a short time in your car, will result in them overheating with the consequence of death.

“It’s simple, either leave your dog at your home or please do not leave them in your car as your pet will suffer and you could also be prosecuted for your actions.”

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