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(Updated 20/4/01)

Dogs and Foot & Mouth Disease - a vet's view

by Trevor Turner - Crufts Chief Vet

WHEN FOOT and mouth first hit these shores Crufts was looming and the question for me, as Chief Vet, and Crufts Committee was - Do we pull it or not?

Realising the implications both for and against, consultations at MAFF, Page Street, resulted in a press release that Crufts would go ahead, only to be rescinded a few hours later when a further ten outbreaks had been reported.

Rescheduling for the end of May bank holiday weekend has resulted in more headaches, particularly for me in trying to assemble the Veterinary Team on a traditional Bank Holiday weekend, plans for which, particularly for those with young children, will have been made weeks or months in advance.

What then of the dogs themselves? What can foot and mouth do to them?

Surprisingly although hedgehogs can be infected and rats, hamsters, chickens and rabbits have been infected, under natural conditions it is only cloven hoofed animals that show signs of infection. Surprisingly it is not a particularly fatal disease. Most animals recover but on the treadmill of high volume, low cost food production a recovered animal just does not stand a chance. Recovery is never followed by reasonable production either of milk or meat hence we go for destruction as our chief method of control.

Since there are several virus strains vaccination is also something of a non-starter since a bit like flu vaccine with us, vaccination confers only immunity against one particular strain and does not prevent foot and mouth disease in its entirety.

What are the risks?

From a disease viewpoint, none.

As a means of spread, considerable, hence their exclusion from walks on farms, bridle ways etc.

Why did we cancel?

In retrospect probably as a form of patriotism and an endeavour to maintain good public relations. Let’s face it, a fair proportion of the 20,000 exhibits would come from rural areas and probably individual exhibitors’ consciences would preclude their participation even if they were free to travel.

What’s changed now?

Well, 57 cases at the time the show was postponed to probably over 1,000 by the time the end of May arrives. Will we hold it then? Who knows?

A national crisis though it undoubtedly is, life still had to go on. Those who feel their attendance could pose a threat to their local area really should not attend. If an outbreak occurs within, say 10km of the NEC the decision may be made for all of us, otherwise I guess it will be a very much smaller and sombre Crufts than I for one will ever have seen before.