August Review: Counting Down to Puppy Farm Awareness Day & Twisted Stomachs!

“I bought the people [breeder] before I bought the puppy” has got to be my favourite quote from last month.

I was back vetting on the South Coast at Beechwood Vets in Seaford when in walked a mother, her two kids – one of whom was carefully carrying the family’s brand-new 12 week-old black French bulldog called Nelson (below); nothing really weird about all that.


Nelson the French Bulldog

But over the last few months any client in any of the surgeries I’ve worked at, who’s seen to be clutching a puppy of any sort, healthy or poorly, is going to receive my (friendly) third degree as to where, how, why, etc., this new addition to the family came about.

Quite simply I’ve become obsessed with the whole psychology of puppy-buying. So after a mild grilling, I asked Nelson’s proud new owners if they wouldn’t mind returning with, when it was convenient to them, all the paperwork they were supplied with at the time of purchase; which they did.

The breeder’s name is Boldavier, they’re based in Essex, and quite frankly, reading through all their paperwork in this frantic time of puppy farming campaigning completely made my month in the best way!

I was (and still am) so impressed by their literature, their website, their obvious passionate responsible and health-conscious breeding attitude which of course led me to preaching at Nelson’s owners about how she’d totally gone through the correct channels; and all about the negative aspects of dog-breeding in the UK and how I wished that everyone who breeds dogs in the UK could follow a format like Boldavier’s.

Now I’m not having a go at the rest of the responsible breeders out there as I’m sure they can equal or possibly even surpass Boldavier’s extremely high standards, but when I’ve spent the last few months watching hidden footage taken inside puppy farms, examining abused ex-breed bitches, and seeing for myself sick pups cooped up at the back of a dirty London pet shop, a beautifully bred healthy puppy like Nelson really does get me excited.

Which leads me nicely onto – yes you’ve guessed it – Puppy Farm Awareness Day – and now just over a fortnight away. Since we last chatted my event at Brighton Racecourse on Saturday 19th September has really gained momentum with yet more celebrities coming forward to judge, and exhibitors keen to get involved and show their support for such a worthy cause.

Below is the current Ring Timetable which includes soapstars David Spinx aka Keith Miller (pictured below, and Genghis the Irish Wolfhound) from EastEnders, Coronation Street’s Michelle Keegan aka Tina McIntyre (pictured) and The Bill’s Chris Ellison aka DCI Frank Burnside (pictured); sporting legend Michael Watson MBE (pictured) and dog-owning models Liz Fuller and Jo-Emma Larvin (pictured).



Brighton Racecourse, Saturday 19th September 2009

11.00 Prettiest Bitch – Scruffts
Liz Fuller (former Miss Wales, model, TV presenter)
Jo-Emma Larvin (model, TV presenter)
Lindsay Fergusson (model)
Jodie Rogers (girlfriend Brighton & Hove Albion’s captain Adam Virgo)
Emma Saxby (interior designer)

11.20 Handsomest Dog – Scruffts
Carol Cleveland (actor)
Gary Forde (celebrity hairdresser)

11.40 Child’s Best Friend – Scruffts
Robert Alleyne (celebrity dog trainer)

12.00 Demonstration by Canine Partners

12.20 Golden Oldie – Scruffts
Roger Mugford (celebrity dog trainer)

12.40 Best Pedigree
Michelle Keegan (actor)

13.00 Sussex Police Dog Demonstration

13.20 Laziest Dog
David Spinx & Genghis (actor)

13.40 Most Glamourous Pooch & Owner
Anneka Svenska (TV presenter)
Louis Mariette (Celeb Hat designer)
Peter Jarrette (TV & Radio Personality & Socialite!)
Julian Bennett (TV Presenter)

14.00 World’s Biggest Puppy Party – Photocall

14.40 Best Rescue Dog
Chris Ellison (actor, painter)
JoAnne Good (radio presenter)
Cllr Ann Norman (Mayor of Brighton & Hove)

15.20 Best Boxer Dog
Michael Watson MBE (ex-world champion boxer)

15.40 Dog Judges Would Most Write Home About
Sara Lawrence (novelist, journalist)
Marcella Vincent (journalist, TV presenter)
Nikki Bayley (freelance writer, journalist)
Caraline Brown (PR guru)
Briggy Smale (writer, presenter)
Gareth Davies (journalist)

16.00 Close with Best in Show

Dog registration will open at 10.00am

The Mayor of Brighton & Hove, Councillor Ann Norman will be officially opening the dog-show at 11am (registrations from 10am) as well as judging Best Rescue Dog.

We’ve also displays from the remarkable Sussex-based charity Canine Partners that aims to transform the lives of people with disabilities, enabling them to live more independently by partnering them with highly trained assistance dogs; and there’s a display by Sussex Police Dog Unit too.

With Scruffts Heats, a training zone with Roger Mugford, and representatives of the Kennel Club in attendance too, tickets and entry to the dog show will be by donation and split between our three nominated charities: Sussex Pet Rescue, Hope Rescue and Pro Dogs Direct.

The ‘World’s Biggest Puppy Party’ will take place at 2pm which will hopefully make the ultimate photographic addition to the following national daily papers’ content, accompanied by the messages: Don’t buy from pet shops, internet, etc., and to always insist on seeing the pup’s mother.

I would also like to thank Eukanuba for helping to sponsor this event and the Kennel Club for their organizational input and support too.

I can’t urge you all enough to come along and be a part of this unique doggy get-together that will at last start the ball rolling a massive scale in raising public awareness on about how to buy a puppy.

This affects you all, and your dogs, and every dog in the land, so if you are near Brighton then please come along, bring your puppies and dogs (please fully vaccinated dogs only due to the high numbers of puppies), camp for free the night before if you like and help me re-educate the British public.

We can do this if we all work together.

If you own a doggy business and you want to show that your brand is actively anti-puppy farming by exhibiting on the day then why not click here as there are still a handful of pitches left in the indoor shopping area that are still up for grabs.

There are already hundreds of dog-owners registered so a huge two- and four-footed footfall is guaranteed.

For more information please visit and if you’ve still not added your favourite breeder’s details to the site (for free) then get a move on, as recommendations from your happy clients will prove to be the difference between potential owners contacting you or visiting their local pet shop.

As well as little Nelson, my other pedigree highlight in August was being invited by the charming Mrs Julia Iles-Hibbert to the Judge’s Table for lunch on the Sunday of this year’s Bournemouth Show at Brockenhurst in the New Forest; a beautiful sunny day, with toys and hounds (almost) rubbing shoulders together in this most picturesque of rural settings.

At lunch I was very lucky to be sat next to Welsh Kennel Club Secretary Mrs Ann Hill who looked after me at last years’ Championship Show in Builth Wells. Thank you Julia for the invite, I had a fabulous day with you guys and I really hope this invitation proves to be an annual fixture!

The following Sunday, and on the way to one of my favourite dog-friendly pubs in Brighton for a roast I randomly bumped into the Great Dane Adoption Society’s Joy Leddingham, collecting money on the beach for her charity, accompanied by two of her rescue Danes.

Now Joy and I go back a long way because when she was based near Brighton, and I was a night-time emergency trauma vet, I was her chief ‘torsion-fixer’, and back then as soon as the phone rang at 2am and I heard the words “I’m just coming over the hill Marc!!” I knew that approximately 15 minutes later, my nurse and I would be busy getting theatre ready for one of her Danes: so I thought I’d share with you some of what goes on behind the scenes regarding possibly the most exciting surgical veterinary emergency of the lot.

The gastric torsion or gastric dilation volvulus (GDV) syndrome to give it its official name simply means the twisting of the stomach, usually due to it first being gas-filled. It can occur in any breed of dog but is most common in the deep-chested breeds such as the Boxer, Weimaraner, Irish Setter, GSD, Dalmatian and of course the Great Dane. There is still so much mystery around why this condition occurs so I’ll give you my take on it, having fixed over a hundred of them during my ten years of emergency work.

GDV occurs because it can. If there is enough room in the abdomen for movement of gas-filled organs then occasionally it will – just like some types of colic in horses. But why are the organs gas-filled in the first place? Well in my experience it’s usually down to two reasons.

Firstly, anxious animals (including ourselves) will usually swallow more times than relaxed ones. This constant intake of air or aerophagia (literally ‘eating air’) results in the stomach ballooning in size and changing the normal organ layout in the abdomen. I often saw this happen when stressed dogs were kenneled. Secondly, the dog’s got sudden access to, and eaten, a highly fermentable foodstuff that produces gas at an abnormal rate that the dog’s stomach can’t deal with efficiently, either by burping or exiting the stomach into the intestines.

Either way the dog is now bloated which is an emergency in itself but may not necessarily require surgery to fix. However if the stomach in this state does twist then, as most of you will know, the results are catastrophic.

The secret to saving a GDV is early detection. A conscientious owner will always know when something’s up but clinical signs can vary from the obvious and extremely painful and uncomfortable tympanic abdominal enlargement, pacing around and “trying to throw-up but can’t” to absolute shock and extreme lethargy.

Almost always they’ll have a small river of saliva flowing from their mouth, denied its normal one-way flow down the oesophagus into the obstructed stomach.

Both an expanding severe bloat and/or GDV will push-up on the diaphragm which in itself will restrict breathing and cause increasing discomfort and anxiety (sometimes even panic), but dealing with this shocked state can be a cause of great controversy amongst us vets.

The decision for stabilization before surgery is always a tough one as in theory the body will always react better to anaesthetic when it’s properly prepared but as time is of the essence I always go for aggressive fluid therapy and heavy intravenous sedation first (patients will usually respond well to safer halved drug-doses too).

The sedated patient is now out of pain and lying still, allowing us to take the invaluable X-Ray that is usually diagnostic proof that a GDV is occurring – the traditional ‘Popeye’s Arm ‘(pictured) – and when this pops out of your X-Ray developer you know you’ve got to get in there and sort it out!


Classic ‘Popeye’s Arm’ appearance of a GDV X-Ray

A well-lubricated stomach-tube passed into the patient’s mouth and down the oesophagus in order to decompress the bloated stomach will usually get stuck at the twist (but then tied in position to the roof of the dog’s mouth becomes extremely useful mid-op), so in order to restore normal breathing patterns and correct decent blood-flow back to the heart from the back-half of the body, I’ll usually clip and disinfect a small patch of skin on the left flank and puncture the dog’s abdominal wall with a fairly wide-bore catheter.

This releases a putrid hissing stream of excess gas, immediately decompressing the bloated stomach and taking pressure off the diaphragm resulting in easier breathing, improved cardio-vascular system and is the first real step to effective stabilization before surgery.

Time is so important in the GDV because the twist can close-off the blood supply to the stomach wall resulting in tissue death (or necrosis) which in turn can lead to gut perforation and fatal peritonitis. Once the stomach is partially decompressed, intravenous fluids are going in ok and the breathing and other vital signs appear more normalized it’s time to go inside…

A mid-line incision almost always reveals a sheet of omentum (a lace-like sheet that protects the abdominal organs) covering the twisted stomach with a grossly enlarged spleen in the wrong place.

Sometimes the position of the stomach can be corrected by very careful maneuvering but it may require a further decompression before the stomach tube (that you’d prepared earlier) can find its way through the twist and even suck out any stomach contents followed by flushing the stomach wall – like a hospital stomach pump would.

After the stomach is repositioned it can then be fastened to the inner abdominal wall to help prevent the GDV happening again. There are a few ways of achieving this from simple sutures to an attachment resembling a belt of tissue passing through a loophole in the ribcage.

Patients are usually then kept in the hospital on fluids and under strict observation for at least 48 hours as post-operative effects such as toxins released by traumatized tissues may cause major complications including heart attacks, peritonitis and sudden death.

So the golden rule is with any emergency with your dog, and it’s the same with the approach to unfamiliar packages left on train station platform, “If you suspect it – report it”; as time is often the decider.

September is another busy one as after the annual walk from Hove Lagoon to Brighton Pier this Sunday 6th for Sussex Pet Rescue and Cat Welfare Sussex, there’s part 2 of Paws in the Park 2009, this time at the Hop Farm near Maidstone in Kent (12th & 13th Sept). This is one of my favourite companion dog shows of the year so I’m looking forward to judging Scruffts heats on the Saturday. Please click here for more details and come along and say ‘Hi’.

The next day (Sunday 13th Sept) I’m looking forward to attending my first ever Battersea Dogs & Cats Home Reunion where I’m told that this year there’s a dogs’ tea party, funfair, and heelwork to music, dog games, refreshments, microchipping, pet tag engraving, stalls, trade stands and loads more.

So why not come along and join them for their 15th annual get-together in the boules area of Battersea Park to celebrate the happiness of thousands of dogs and cats who have found new homes. This year they’ll be kicking off the day at 11am and their very own Britain’s got Talent semi finalist Jackie and Tippy Toes will be back to wow the crowd with their display of dancing to music.

There will also be a display from the Battersea agility team and a chance for you and your dog to have a go yourself in the ‘Have a go Agility Ring’, as well as Scruffts heats which yours truly will be judging. Entrance is free and open to all, including non-Battersea dogs, for more information click here.

So see you next month and don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter.

Coronation Street star Michelle Keegan aka Tina McIntyre will be judging ‘Best Pedigree’ on Puppy Farm Awareness Day

Chris Ellison aka DCI Frank Burnside judging ‘Best Rescue Dog’ at Puppy Farm Awareness Day

David Spinx aka Keith Miller will be judging ‘Laziest Dog’ with Genghis at Puppy Farm Awareness Day

Models Liz Fuller with Amber (left), and Jo-Emma Larvin with Sonny who are judging ‘Prettiest Bitch’ at Puppy Farm Awareness Day in Brighton Sept 19th (Picture: Gary Trotter)

Michael Watson MBE judging ‘Best Boxer Dog’ at Puppy Farm Awareness Day

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2 replies

  1. The SOFA Club is looking forward to being a part of this very special and important event! Thank you, Marc, for organising it..

  2. Hi Marc,

    Hi Marc

    Thank you so much for the great comments, we try hard to make sure we provide the best help, advice and start in life for our puppies and their new owners. Its lovely to hear good feedback and so pleased you were able to meet Nelson and his wonderful new family.

    Keep up the good work on your fight against puppy farms, hopefully we may be able to help in raising more awareness about this issue as this needs to be stamped out once and for all

    best wishes
    Sarah & Steve

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