Chris’s homemade burger recipe (Day 142)

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Scampers Pet Shop

Following on from yesterdays diary entry on meat production in the UK, I’ve decided to share the recipe to my burgers. When I first started studying and looking at meat I realised that I’d rather not eat any of the supermarket produced burgers, and avoid fast food burgers completely. I started experimenting and actually came up with my own burger recipe that takes just a little more time to prepare, but gives amazing taste.

You can modify this as you like adding chili, peppers, chopped apple, tomatoes, cheese etc into the burger mix as you see fit. When you do this I recommend that you make a tiny burger  (about the size of a 50p piece) to check the taste before you cook them all!

Ingredients: Minced (or ground) Beef, onion, 1 egg, pepper, salt, herbs, spices, boiling water, buns, salad, cheese and oil

  1. Separate the mince meat into a bowl, sprinkle on some pepper, salt, herbs (I like using Mixed herbs and paprika here). Finely chop half the onion and add this into the bowl then mix this up together using your hands to spread the herbs and pepper through the mix.
  2. Break the egg-white into a cup (DO NOT use the yolk) and beat this until you can see air bubbles in this. This is purely used as a binder to hold the meat together, dribble a tiny little bit of this over the mince mix and mix in with your hands. I will usually use a squeezing action here to turn the mince into more of a paste like consistency.
  3. Flatten the mix out around the bowl and sprinkle some more seasoning onto it, add a dribble of boiling water to allow easier mixing (the mix is more gooey now), and fold the edges in crushing down on it against the bottom of the bowl.
  4. Separate the mix into balls, press down on these to shape them into burgers and fry in a pan with a little oil over a low heat to cook throughout (you can turn this up at the end to crisp them up it you like or cook this on a BBQ/Grill instead).
  5. Serve in a bun with salad, and cheese.

Hopefully you will love these burgers as much as I do, its actually amazing being able to eat something knowing exactly what it contains!

From field to plate, meat production in the UK… (Day 141)

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Pet Webinars

With all the recent controversy with food containing stuff it does not advertise I’ve decided that today I should look at the food chain in the UK. You may or may not be aware of the role that veterinary surgeons play within the UK food production chain. Initially working with farmers to ensure that animals are healthy and happy growing right through to inspecting and certifying them as fit to eat at the slaughterhouse. In fact I’ve actually got an exam this Thursday on Milk Hygiene which is all about the milk production process.

Now I am not currently aware of where in the chain the horse meat or pig meat entered it, however I wanted to look at it as a whole system. The UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards (even though some people let the side down) and especially when compared to some other countries. At the start of the production process you have the farmer who is often present at the birth of the animal right through until the time comes to send the animal to slaughter. In this time many farmers make friends with the animal, and when the animal is sick the vet is called in and with cattle animals have yearly tests for TB.

Rosewood grass-fed beef animals in East Yorkshire summer 2011 –

Now when the animal is sent to slaughter it arrives at the abattoir where it is examined by a vet on arrival to ensure there are no clinical signs of disease. After slaughter the carcasses are again inspected by a vet to ensure that there are no diseases within it and the meat then enters the human food chain. Now from the abattoir the meat can either go to a local butcher, back to the farmer for sale themselves, or off to be further processed at a processing plant into various foodstuffs.

If the meat goes to a local butcher or back to the farmer you then have the opportunity to purchase meat knowing exactly where it has come from (Yay!) whist supporting a local business.

Now meat that heads of to a processing plant may join tons of meat that is imported from other countries with lower welfare standards, or less stringent inspection requirements. On arrival depending what the meat is being used for it may be injected with water to add weight and increase the profits (for example: EU wants to re-lable breakfast favourite as ‘bacon with added water’). The UK does however lead the race with the production of mechanically recovered meat (leftover scraps of meat stripped from bones using different pressure systems) having been banned on the 28th April 2012.

Once a product is created or packaged at a processing plant it then heads of to a national distribution centre, where it may be stored before being shipped off to a regional distribution centre. It then may finally make its way onto supermarket shelves to be brought by you. If supermarkets are able to sell meat to you at a fraction of the cost of a local butcher or farmer who do not have the overheads from processing and distribution then its logical that something is up somewhere.

On that note I’ll leave it for today, if you are an independent meat producer that sells your product direct to the public please leave a comment with details below of your product and how to buy so we can get a list started of good meat!

The Chemistry of Life (Day 137)

The chemistry of life

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Find Pet Boarding

So today I’ve been supposed to be revising milk hygiene and anatomy, however I got distracted by the new textbook I recieved at the weekend on medicinal chemistry. Now chemistry is something that I’ve had very little formal education in, and so have had to great pleasure of trying to teach myself. Today I am going to explain why chemistry is crucial to vet students, and to life itself.

The chemistry of life

In Biology we look at the cell, the smallest building block of the living body, yet this also has other structures inside which have other funtions. However this cell is composed of loads of different chemicals with varying structures that are made up of elements being connected in different ways. An element is where the chemical is in its pure form, and cannot be broken down any further without losing its structure and form. The easiest way to picture this is to think of the cell like a house, made from many different things with many different functions.

There are only 90 naturally occuring elements which doesn’t seem like a lot when thinking about how complex life is, however only a handful are actually vital to living things. Just 11 elements are vital to all living things…

  • Hydrogen – H
  • Nitrogen – N
  • Calcium – Ca
  • Sulfur – S
  • Oxygen – O
  • Sodium – Na
  • Magnesium – Mg
  • Chlorine – Cl
  • Carbon – C
  • Potassium – K
  • Phosphorus – P

Ok so just a handful, in addition to this another 10 are required for some living organisms and a further 8 elements are vital to some organisms and plants. As elements are so small it sometimes is difficult to imagine how they all link together, and in some cases it is extremely complex. Now vets need an understanding here because when it comes to medications, they are basically chemicals that are designed to act upon or modify the chemicals make up the body.

For example within the body the majority of cells have some kind of cell wall, this is so thin that it is rarely visible under the microscope, however it is composed of many different elements. The chemical structures that make up the cell wall are phosphoglycerides which have a hydrophobic (water hating) tail and a polar head group. These are usually arranged in two layers facing out from each other so the hydrophobic tails from each layer point towards each other (which forms a lipid layer).The polar heads of this have specific structures which are unique to certain cells which allow medicines to be developed to attach at these certain points (and so only affect certain things) through different chemical bonds.

Talking bonds there are different ways that chemicals can bind to each other, and each different method has differences in strength and the functionality. I am still only learning the basics here, however in September I do start studying Pharmacology so am hoping that by doing a bit of extra reading now I will be more comfortable studying in the so called “hell year” of Vet School!

For anyone interested in chemistry and how it relates to biology I would recommend two books which I keep handy on my shelf…

[amazon_enhanced asin=”0199570876″ container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /]  [amazon_enhanced asin=”0199697396″ container=”” container_class=”” price=”All” background_color=”FFFFFF” link_color=”000000″ text_color=”0000FF” /]


Mark your field, why I think animals should also have ICE (Day 136)

Mark your field! Should fields containing animals display emergency contact information?

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Pet Hooligans

OK so with all the actual ice around at the moment I think that it may be a good idea to expand on what ICE is:

In Case of Emergency

Just imagine you are driving along in the middle of nowhere and a horse jumps over the wall to their field. You stop and grab the horse to stop it wandering into other traffic, walk to the field gate and find it has a big massive padlock. What do you do? Call the police? Try to break the padlock to get the horse back in? In this case I was lucky in that I know how to handle horses and secondly to have someone that knew the owner drive past and give me their number. What if this hadn’t happened though?

Sometimes you have a good idea, and usually they are the most simple ones. Now imagine if there was a sign next to the gate to the field with an emergency contact number on. You wouldn’t consider wasting police time (if you could handle the horse safely) and it would be much more efficient and so less stressful on the horse.

I initially tweeted this out asking farmers and horse owners to comment and though several people re-tweeted it only 2 farmers replied. One saying that as they inspected their stock twice daily and fields were in view of the house it wasn’t needed, and the other actually saying they used signs for dangerous animals but thought it was a good idea.

The most enthusiastic response however came from normal people – for example someone who lives with a horse in the field opposite that has no idea (though they’ve wondered) what they’d do if something happened – who think its a good idea. I personally think that its something that has previously not been worthwhile. However with the majority of people now carrying mobile phones having emergency contact details on the gate of any field with live animals is worth considering. Even if you check stock twice a day, sometimes in that situation where stock has been disturbed by a dog, or a horse has caught itself on a nail in the fence, or animals have been Houdini’s and escaped their fields it can make a big difference in animal welfare.

Mark your field! Should fields containing animals display emergency contact information?I’d love your comments and opinions on this, especially from the farming community so please leave your thoughts below!

Keeping your pets healthy through the snow! (Day 135)

Keeping your pets healthy in the snow

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Adventures in Altruism

As the UK has now become a winter wonderland I’ve decided that I should write a bit on what you can do to help keep animals healthy in the snow! Obviously some of this will be common sense, however I hope it is helpful as sometimes its the small things overlooked. After species specific stuff I will look at things that affect all animals such as antifreeze poisoning and rock salt.

Rabbits, Guinea Pigs etc
Make sure that all hutches have extra straw and hay to help keep your pet warm, with water you should check it more regularly to ensure that it has not frozen (especially if you use water bottles). Using a tarp over the hutch can help at night, as can moving the hutch to a shed.

Most cats are sensible enough to want to avoid the snow, however for those that dont you should wash their paws, keep a towel handy for drying them when they come in,and make sure they have no grit or compacted snow stuck between their paws.

So it really is impossible to avoid walking dogs, if you have to walk your dog in the colder weather and its a younger or older dog consider a dog coat (likewise for short haired breeds not made for the colder weather). Make sure you keep an eye on their paws to ensure that no compacted snow or grit gets stuck between their toes and when you get back home wash and dry their paws with some warm water as snow can harbour poisonous chemicals (rock salt/antifreeze etc).

Garden Bird
With so much frozen ground garden birds will find it harder to feed, and more important struggle to find unfrozen water to drink from. If you have a bird mix it can be helpful to leave some of these nuts and seeds on a bird table or in a feeder. Also if you have a pond breaking the ice can give birds as well as other wildlife such as hedgehogs water to drink from.

Antifreeze Poisoning

The most common problem with snow is that it leads to ice which then has everyone diving for the antifreeze like crazy. Just 1 – 2 teaspoons of antifreeze is poisonous to cats and a couple of tablespoons poisonous to dogs – at the moment most veterinary practices are seeing at least 1 case a week. Now the poisonous chemical in antifreeze is ethylene glycol and there is an alternative type of antifreeze using propylene glycol instead which is less toxic. In addition to this you should also be checking for leaks in your car, cleaning up and disposing of any spills immediately and keeping it in an airtight container away from animals. Whilst veterinary treatment may save the animal, long term kidney failure is a common result of exposure to antifreeze.

The signs to look for requiring immediate emergency veterinary attention are: Intoxication behaviour, vomiting, increased thirst, diarrhea, seizures, rapid breathing/heart rate, weakness, and coma.

Frozen Ponds and Lakes

Dogs cannot judge how strong the ice is, and should be kept of frozen ponds and lakes, if a dog falls through the ice DO NOT ATTEMPT TO SAVE THEM call the emergency services. Dogs are often better at saving themselves than at being saved and each year I read of cases where the dog has survived after rescuing themselves and the owner who attempted to rescue them did not.

Keeping your pets healthy in the snow

Emergency First Aid for Animals (Day 134)

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Scampers

When you have a human medical emergency you can call 999 or 911 or 112 to keep you alive and get you to professional help. Yet who do you call when your pet needs help? Or you have wild animal in trouble? How do you keep yourself safe when dealing with a frightened injured animal? Can you do CPR on an animal? How do you transport them to the vets without causing further harm? Emergency First Aid for Animals is for you if you could not answer these questions, its not a fancy money saver on vet bills but a straight talking to the point guide for when things go wrong to get your pet to the vet, alive!

Now with animals sadly there are no paramedics and it is up to you to take the important first steps to Preserve life, Prevent the condition deteriorating, and Promote recovery until you can get to a vet. I have taken the decision to write a new Emergency First Aid for Animals book as I believe that there is a gap in the knowledge of pet owners. In addition to giving you the knowledge to save a life, the proceeds from this book will go directly to funding my vet student tuition costs.

This idea has been in the works for the past few weeks and I now have a pen and paper draft of the contents of the book (yay!). Something I am trying to do is to keep it general so the emergency principles apply to all animals, however I do have special sections for wildlife, reptiles and birds as these may require different handling.

Some of the topics of Emergency First Aid for Animals are:

  • Basic Life Support including CPR
  • Management of Bleeding
  • Management of Bone Injuries (Fractures etc)
  • Spinal Injuries
  • Personal Safety dealing with injured animals
  • Choking
  • Seizures
  • Burns
  • Bites and Stings
  • Heat and Cold Emergencies
  • Assessment of the Patient
  • Transport of the Patient
  • Hedgehogs
  • Birds
  • Reptiles

All of these are situations where immediate action is likely to required to preserve the animals life so the quick triage protocol with its traffic light system will guide you through from the accident happening through to arrival at the vets. At the moment the book stands at 34 pages of high quality full color advice to deal with an animal emergency, and at A5 size is perfect to keep in the first aid kit, or in the car.

To help support my fundraising for tuition in addition to getting the book in electronic or printed format I’ve also got a range of perks available including having your name in the book or your pet on the front cover all exclusively available on Indiegogo available here:

Get Emergency First Aid for Animals here

The electronic version will be delivered at the end of February and the printed versions will start being delivered the second week of March (to allow time for professional printing).

Boiled alive, crabs, lobsters and the ability to feel pain (Day 131)

Crabs Feel Pain Too

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Spikes World

One of the areas I am passionate about is animal welfare, with previous research into animal pain and suffering as I believe alleviating this is key to a better world. I tend to try and keep track of what is happening with the latest research coming out etc. Back in March 2012 I was aware of research into the ability of hermit crabs to learn, today however I came across new research into the ability of crabs to feel pain.

Crabs Feel Pain TooNow its always been accepted that as shellfish have a primitive central nervous system (CNS) they could not feel pain and so they are just cooked alive in boiling water. The response seen when they are dunked into boiling has always been labelled as a reflex response and not one of pain-induced self preservation. It has been argued for many years that the way crustaceans (crabs, lobsters etc) are banded and stored before being cooked in boiling water causes tremendous pain, yet the problem has been how to prove this.

The problem here is that it is philosophically impossible to demonstrate an animals ability to feel pain. The best we can do is develop a set of criteria of what we would expect to see if an animal was in pain (vets use this principle all the time!) and so the research proposal came together. Researchers at the Queens University Belfast School of Biological Sciences devised an experiment to test whether crabs felt pain. I’ve decided that the researcher Bob Elwood at the university described the experimental process best so have him explaining it to you:

Elwood described how it went: “Ninety crabs were each introduced individually to a tank with two dark shelters. On selecting their shelter of choice, some of the crabs were exposed to an electric shock. After some rest time, each crab was returned to the tank. Most stuck with what they knew best, returning to the shelter they had chosen first time around, where those that had been shocked on first choice again experienced a shock. When introduced to the tank for the third time, however, the vast majority of shocked crabs now went to the alternative safe shelter. Those not shocked continued to use their preferred shelter.”

He continued, “Having experienced two rounds of shocks, the crabs learned to avoid the shelter where they received the shock. They were willing to give up their hideaway in order to avoid the source of their probable pain.”

Now one of the criteria used in determining pain is that animals will learn to avoid pain, or try to reduce the pain they are in (hence the praying position in dogs, or effectiveness of electric fences with horses). Under this principle it appears that the crabs that experienced the electric shock (which were relatively mild so as not to cause permanent harm) gave up their safe shelter to hide somewhere else in order to avoid the painful stimuli. In fact as anyone that has ever cooked a lobster or crab will know, it does not just sit still in the pan but will go into a frenzy.

Research is increasing starting to show that though we look different, pain is a feeling that is shared between all species. As an advocate for animals it is important that we consider the pain of all animals, and not just those that are cute and cuddly!

What do you think makes a great vet? (Day 130)

Chris's bioveterinary science degree certificate!

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Vet School Success

Well today has been interesting, I guess the highlight was that my degree certificate finally turned up! It’s just 3 months late but I guess its better late than never and will take some pressure of me as a copy is required by the Slovak Ministry of Education. Its not as impressive as I thought it would be considering how much it cost, I hope my DVM looks a lot more pretty!

Chris's bioveterinary science degree certificate!
2:1 Degree BSc (Hons) in Bioveterinary science!

Anyways, someone tweeted how good their vet was this evening which got me thinking about what is important to you as pet owners when engaging with a vet. Here are some of the answers I got, if you have others please do add a comment below!

The top reason a vet was great was continuity of care, knowing that you will see the same vet each time. This is something I totally agree with as I find it annoying myself having to explain the same thing again only to be given the same advice. The worst example of this failing was with a friend a few years back whose practice decided to bring in a locum (visiting vet) on the day she had booked for her cat to be euthanized.

This leads into reason two which is that the vet knows your animals name and age, and has some clue who you are. And then there is reason three which this leads on to that your vet is actually friends with your pet and so is more emotionally invested so will make more effort with their care. All very good things and something that I’d expect at the minimum from any vet.

Reason four was the all creatures great and small line, no matter what species your pet is your vet should be enthusiastic to see them whether horse, guinea pig or gold fish! Sometimes in practice this is not always possible, however it is not because the vet doesn’t care, but because they do not have the specialist knowledge of your pet. Learning everything a vet needs to know in 6-7 years at Vet School there just isn’t enough time to learn everything about every species! However if this is the case then do talk to your vet about finding a local specialist!

Reason five was that they hold free clinics and health checks so are not just there for money! (Chris’s note: Trust me, I wouldn’t put myself through the stress of vet school if it was just about the money!!!) More and more practices are holding free clinics from weight loss through to dental checks, this is not just great for your wallet but also gives a great boost to your pets health!

Have you anymore reasons why your vet is great? Add them in the comments below!

Knowing when the time is right, pets and euthansia (Day 128)

Masik R.I.P.

One of the greatest responsibilities of a vet is to be an advocate  for a voiceless animal, to be able to speak for the animal and push for what it is best for that animal. With all the technology and medicine available it is not a case of keeping the animal alive, but one of trying to balance the quality of life. Every vet student wonders how they are going to have that conversation, if they are going to get it right, and if they are going be able to do it. There is no exact science here, experience – which vet students lack – does help however it is still a guessing game, one where the doubts of if it is the right time find their way into the mind.

Euthanasia… The word actually is from the Greek language and means good death. Being able to relieve suffering is one of the vets greatest tools, yet is the one I feel that has most responsibility. Here you are not just a voice for the animal, you are a counsellor for the client who is saying goodbye to their best friend. This isn’t always easy, especially if it is an animal that you liked or a friend or family.

Over the weekend I gave a voice to a friends cat who had deteriorated again, its wasn’t a easy decision to make to raise this option. Not only because I knew how much the cat meant to her, but because I was not sure it was the right time. Clinically it was possible to keep him alive, it wouldn’t have been a good life though as I suspected he had entered end stage renal failure with the toxins in the blood attacking the digestive tract. I took a chance and spoke through this with her, not an easy conversation but one that was essential for my other friend, her cat Masik.

Taking Masik to the vets it was confirmed as renal disease, the kidneys not working, now clinical signs of renal disease do not appear until 75% of the kidney is diseased. Talking with her family my friend decided that it was time and today took Masik to the vets for the last time. Before the final euthanasia drug is administered it is common to administer a sedative and painkiller to ensure a comfortable passing. One of the side effects of this drug is vomiting, and this Masik did showing my friend how it contained blood, his last gift to her saying that it really was the right time.

Masik R.I.P.Rest In Peace Masik my friend.

Strategies for dealing with obesity in small pets (Day 127)

Guinea Pig obesity and weight loss in small mammals

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Supreme Pet Foods

Following on from last week where we looked at the problems of sugar and obesity in small animals today I want to look at strategies for dealing with obesity. To give a quick recap obesity is when an animal is more than 20% over their ideal body weight which is determined by using body condition scoring which takes into account the animals state of being (more on this later!).

Guinea Pig obesity and weight loss in small mammals

Anyways the first step is determining that your pet is overweight, generally with rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets you should be able to feel the spine and ribs however these should not be visibly prominent. If you cannot feel these then your pet is probably overweight, depending on the amount it may be a good idea here to seek help from your vet. Lots of practices now run free “weight clinics” where you have a qualified nurse to talk you through nutrition and how best to manage your pets weight. Even if its not advertised for small animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, or ferrets if you talk to your practice most will actually accommodate your pet!

Now the golden rule to weight loss is that it should be slow and steady, if you decrease the amount of food too rapidly or skip a feeding then its possible for the animal to develop a life threatening condition known as hepatic lipidosis. This occurs when the body is forced to convert extreme amounts of body fat into energy causing a build up of fat cells in the liver preventing it from doing its normal functions (aka liver failure). If you suspect this you need to seek immediate emergency veterinary attention for your pet!

There are two factors in play here when it comes to nutrition; quantity and quality. As stated in the previous article you should be looking for foods which avoid high levels of sugar. Also consider what you are feeding, if it is a mix does your pet eat all of the food or are they just eating parts of it (known as selective feeding). It may be worth using different foods in combination to try and give a balanced diet. You should consider fruit to be a treat that is given once a week in tiny amounts as it contains loads of sugar. In addition you can also supplement this with daily fresh vegetables or herbs for example:

Rabbits: Look to feed leafy green veg and things like coriander or fresh mint

Guinea Pigs: As these are susceptible to bloat be cautious so dry hay or herbs and fibrous plants like dandelion leaves

As for quantity the first thing to do is look at how much you are feeding (weigh this!) and how much the instructions on the feed packaging says you should be feeding which can be an interesting comparison. If you are feeding more than you should start to reduce the amount gradually over 2 – 3 weeks.

Also consider how you give the food to your pet, things like using a feeding ball or scatter feeding can help increase activity and so burn more calories! I’ve got animal nutrition this coming semester so should be covering a lot more nutrition topics in more detail.