The Yorkshire Vet, Julian Norton deals with a 'chaotic' surgery full of dogs with upset stomachs

It was chaos last Saturday. Morning surgery was full, with plenty of extras to slot in.

The surgery has been full of dogs with upset stomachs
The surgery has been full of dogs with upset stomachs

Most of these seemed to be cases of gastroenteritis, which veterinary surgeons all over the county, and particularly across Yorkshire, have been busy with for the last few weeks. Media articles proclaimed the cause to be “something on the beach.”

Apparently, the finger of suspicion pointed towards mounds of dead crabs. However, this limited journalistic investigation failed to identify the fact that many cases of the mystery illness were popping up in dogs who lived inland and had not visited a beach for months.

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A quick count-up showed that our practice in Wetherby had seen 30 cases of vomiting and diarrhoea in three days. At Thirsk, too, ten per day seemed to be the average. But the dramatic headlines were bereft of accurate detail or facts, which, sadly, is something to which we are all now accustomed.

Maybe it was the “deadly E.coli virus” I read somewhere- well, E.coli, as every GCSE scientist knows, is a bacteria and NOT a virus and the two organisms are very different. In my view, speculative reporting and a lazy approach to science is as dangerous as any diarrhoea-inducing virus (or bacteria).

But back to the diarrhoea dogs. The pattern seemed the same – vomiting two or three times at the outset, followed by nasty diarrhoea with a reduced appetite and loss of joie de vivre.

Most dogs I’ve seen, to be fair, have not been extremely ill. Dehydration seems to have been relatively mild and the dogs have responded well to treatment.

A few have needed more intensive care, such as intravenous fluids and an overnight stay. But one poor lady, exasperated and short of sleep with three spaniels all suffering, looked as strained as the dogs’ bowels. As they wagged their way into my consulting room, one immediately produced a copious and unhealthy sample right in the middle of my consulting room floor.

“My goodness,” I said. “I bet your kitchen is a big mess?”

“Well, the kitchen’s not too bad,” she sighed. “The worst thing is that they all sleep in the bedroom with me.”

As I drew up three syringes of medication, I hoped my treatment would produce rapid results. The cause, of course, is unlikely to be poisonous crabs, washed up on to Britain’s beaches, having succumbed to their own deadly virus or bacteria.

The British Small Animal Veterinary Association is busy compiling data on the outbreak, but the ubiquitous and seasonal build-up of pathogens, both specific and non-specific, that accumulate in the sticky mud across the country every winter, especially when it’s been mild, without hard frosts to contain the bugs is probably the culprit.

Dogs live near the ground. They lick all sorts of tasty stuff on the pavements, they lick themselves in all sorts of grubby places and their natural greeting is to sniff another dog’s bottom.

Some eat cat poo. Others delight in rabbit, horse or sheep faeces.

And they definitely do not wash their paws for twenty seconds while singing happy birthday, nor use hand sanitiser after being outside. With habits like that, is there any wonder they get vomiting and diarrhoea?

But by lunchtime on Saturday, all the dogs with diarrhoea had gone home and all parts of the waiting room had been scrubbed and thoroughly disinfected. More chaos was about to kick off.

We were ready to host our first, post-Covid puppy party!

We all hoped the puppies could hold onto their bowels, because we’d had enough poo for one day!