Gundog Matters


In our endeavour to provide beneficial information for our Membership concerning canine health issues (which will affect us all at some time or another) we contacted Mr Neil McIntosh who is a well known figure in the Scottish Veterinary/patient community, to ask for his assistance.  Neil did not hesitate to come forward with the offer of help and it is to this end I hope that we can be of benefit to you all through future publications.   

Published:  29 April 2021 
Author:  LHM


Neil resides in the South West of Scotland and participates in our sport to different degrees.  As you will note from the information below Neil has a very busy life and we class ourselves fortunate to have his assistance at this time.  I hope you find this article to be both useful and interesting..............

Neil McIntosh BVM&S MRCVS graduated from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Edinburgh, with a full head of hair, in 1984.  He Spent two years in farm practice in Tarland, Aberdeenshire before the cold and, in his words, 'terrible football' brought him back to the Abbey Vet Group in Paisley and Greenock, where he intended staying for a year or so.  He joined the partnership in 1990 and was involved in building the practice from 6 vets to the current 19, whilst trying to provide the best veterinary treatment at reasonable cost.   

Neil was Veterinary Surgeon to Strathclyde Police and Police Scotland for 25 years and was the official Veterinary Surgeon at Glasgow Airport for 15 years, certifying all products of animal origin. 
Neil has carried out more than 150 canine behaviour assessments on behalf of councils, where owners wish to adopt or foster children.  He was also STV's 'Call the Vet' for many years and has contributed to television productions for the BBC and SKY and regularly comments on BBC Radio Scotland.  He has penned a weekly Pet Page for the Daily Record for over 20 years and also writes weekly for the Greenock Telegraph and Largs and Millport News.  For the last decade, he has featured monthly in the Sporting Gun and he is regularly published in other shooting magazines, Clyde Life and Paisley Daily Express.  Concentrating now on small animal work, he was involved in pushing for the removal of the ban on tail shortening in working dogs.  He realises he is getting older, as so many of his clients refer to him as 'Uncle Neil'.  His only regret, he tells us, is that he did not take up shooting until he was in his much time wasted. 


DNA Testing (added 16.3.22)

2  Nutrition  (added 27.10.21)

Tick Season (added 8.6.21)

Allergic Dogs (added 29.4.21)

1.  DNA Testing

(added 16.3.22)

The Kennel Club (KC) encourages DNA testing and reports the results, so that potential breeders can be better informed. This is especially important for autosomal recessive disease mutations, as individual dogs can look normal but actually be carriers. Breeding carrier with carrier will produce some affected offspring and increase the number of carriers in any given breed. Recent research, carried out by Lewis and Mellersh, analysed the results for eight diseases in eight breeds and concluded there was a sizeable decline in the prevalence of these diseases after testing became available. There was between a 12 and 86% decline in dogs born two to four years after testing began and this rose to a 90% reduction in dogs born eight to ten after the start of testing. So! Yes! DNA testing works!

Q: I am considering breeding my young Labrador bitch but have to confess to being overwhelmed by all the advice I am getting!

A: I am not surprised! Firstly I would state that breeding from your only dog can be fraught and is not entirely without risk. If you are under the impression that she somehow must have a litter to improve her health, please think again. You should have a good reason for wanting to breed from her, for example, to keep a pup, carry on desirable characteristics, improve the breed generally, involve children for the experience or produce a pup for a friend.

Where Do I Start?

Before considering the multitude of testing that should be carried out on a prospective mum, please candidly consider her suitability for breeding. Is her conformation of acceptable standard? Is she too fat or are her legs too short? Do you look at her through rose tinted spectacles? Is she affected by any of the health issues that are inherited but for which there is no test available? (The list is long and exhausting but includes Addison’s and Cushing’s Disease, heart problems, skin allergies, epilepsy etc.) Is breeding from her likely to be detrimental to her welfare, especially her temperament? Also to be taken into account are your personal circumstances! Do you have the time, the place, the financial ability and (most importantly) the stomach!?


I would initiate the health screening process with an eye test, carried out under the auspices of the Kennel Club/British Veterinary Association (KC/BVA) Eye Scheme, because it is the cheapest and ‘least invasive’ of the required tests. A fail here stops you in your tracks without further expense or risk. Testing should be carried out annually, so one should be done in the twelve months preceding the mating.

Getting Serious

Next on the ‘must do’ list has to be Hip and Elbow Assessments. Hip and elbow dysplasia are multifactorial abnormalities of development of the hip and elbow respectively. Both have a strong inherited element, especially elbows, although diet, exercise and luck also play a part. The KC/BVA Hip Scheme involves general anaesthesia and X-rays of the hips, taken in a particular, precise manner. Dogs must be one year old or over. Each hip is scored from 0 to 53, so that the best hips have a score of 0 0 and the very worst 53 53. Beware of just being quoted a total score! Dogs should only be bred from if their score is significantly better than the ‘breed mean score’ and care should be taken in ‘matching’ dam and sire, so that the breed can be improved.


The Elbow Dysplasia Scheme requires lateral X-rays of both elbows, taken at 45 and 110 degree angles. This would normally be done by your vet at the same time as the hip X-rays. Each elbow is scored from 0 to 3. It is imperative that only 0 0 elbows are bred from. (And no! That doesn’t means 1 is okay!) Getting all the X-rays done, including the KC/BVA fee, will set you back a few hundred pounds and you can expect to wait a month or so for results (Covid-19 allowing!).

The Nitty Gritty

Okay, so your eye test is clear. Your hips and elbows are looking good. Time for some DNA testing. Some conditions are caused by mutation of one gene only, so their inheritability is predictable. Previously, multiple tests were required but the good news is that The Kennel Club recently launched ‘Combitest’, which, for one price (£135 inc VAT with a 10% discount for Assured Breeders), allows a single DNA sample to be used for all the appropriate tests for an individual breed. For Labradors, these are:

Centronuclear Myopathy (CNM): a defect of the formation of muscle fibres that results in weakness, fatigue, difficulty eating and collapse.

Exercise Induced Collapse (IEC): generally affects otherwise fit dogs, who deal with normal exercise without a problem. Strenuous activity, however, especially when associated with excitement, produces hind and sometimes foreleg collapse of about fifteen minutes duration. The problem lies with a protein that is involved in neurotransmission.

Hereditary Nasal Parakeratosis (HNPK): an abnormality that causes the nose to dry out, leading to crusting, irritation, secondary infection and, over time, loss of pigment.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (prcd-PRA): the retina is the light sensitive part of the posterior eye. Progressive rod cell degeneration leading to progressive retinal atrophy is one of a group of retinal disorders that start with loss of night vision and eventually result in blindness. Affected dogs show symptoms from three to nine years old, so potentially after they have been bred from. Retinal Dysplasia is similar but causes abnormal development of the rod cells, so that blindness occurs early in life, at around two to three months old. 

Skeletal Dysplasia 2 (SD2): a form of dwarfism, known as mild disproportionate dwarfism, where the body is normal but the legs (especially the front legs) are too short. It seems its origin can be traced back to a single male Labrador, born in 1966. Affected ‘big’ individuals can be difficult to distinguish from unaffected ‘small’ dogs.

So. There you have it. For further advice, I would suggest a few hours perusing The Kennel Club website is better value than a week of social media. Remember also that, when agreeing to these tests being carried out, you also sign to allow the results to be published on the KC website. You can, therefore, check out the health status of any prospective sire, discover the world of Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) and generally further muddy the waters by pouring over pedigrees.   Oh and yes, speak to your Vet.  


(added to this page on 27th October 2021 - Author: Neil McIntosh BVMS MRCVS)

‘We need something on nutrition!’ barked Linda, who must be obeyed. (And you categorically know I made that up.) My heart sank and my tummy rumbled ominously. Canine nutrition, quite simply, is a can of worms. Numerous theories are vociferously expounded, with generally the less knowledge, the more vocifer. Millions are spent on marketing and camps are divided between raw and complete.  Owners obsess with protein content when energy really is the key. And so it goes on and on. But at the end of the day, the proof of the pudding is in the eating…

No one would argue with the fact that feeding the correct food is vital to maintaining optimum health and fitness. It is how to choose that food that is difficult. Previous experience of a diet is helpful. Food manufacturers spend much on research and clinical trials (well, some of them do), but what suits one dog may not suit yours. Many food producers make claims that cannot be substantiated. The lifetime effects of feeding raw have not yet been investigated, despite two decades of opportunity to do so, making it impossible for your vet to recommend it, as there is currently no scientific evidence to back it up. And he or she must be able to substantiate any professional advice they give. Heh, even understanding what is written on a pet food label is difficult. But it is a good place to begin…


Water is quite simply the most important nutrient. Animals can survive losing all their fat reserves and half their protein but a 10% loss of water leaves them seriously debilitated and a 15% loss results in death. Dogs can receive water in two ways. Firstly, of course, by ingestion, whether from a water bowl or in food. Remember ‘wet’ or canned diets contain 65-80% water, while dry diets are around 6-10%. Clearly then, dogs fed dry require more water. Metabolic processes within the body also produce water, as oxygen combines with hydrogen ions cleaved from carbohydrates, proteins or fats when they are used for energy.

Water consumption will increase with:-

  • Habit

  • Competition from other dogs (as it is a resource to be guarded)

  • Increased salt or electrolyte intake

  • Anything that increases body water loss (raised temperature, exercise, pyrexia, diarrhoea, vomiting, lactation, haemorrhage etc.)


The bottom line is good quality water should always be available and it is worth offering clean water to dogs throughout a working day, so as to prevent thirsty dogs drinking from contaminated or inappropriate sources.



Dietary carbohydrates provide energy and affect gastrointestinal function. Although there is some debate about the actual necessity of carbohydrates in canine diets, most commercial diets contain them because they are cheap, readily available and nutritionally acceptable. Carbohydrates can be separated in two quite different groups, based on their solubility or digestibility:-

  • Soluble or digestible carbohydrates, such as starch, which is abundant in cereals, lactose from milk, and glucose and fructose, which are found in fruit and vegetables, can be digested by enzymes produced in the pancreas and in saliva but the final stage of digestion, which allows absorption into the body, occurs on the ‘brush border’ lining the small intestine. If this is damaged (eg enteritis), then the dog is unable to utilise the carbohydrates. Bacteria take advantage of this, resulting in bacterial overgrowth and diarrhoea. So don’t give milk (lactose) with a tummy upset! Soluble carbohydrates are a cheap way of supplying calories, which can be protein sparing. Feeding an excess will result in obesity. They are not, however, essential if protein and fat levels are adequate.

  • Insoluble or indigestible carbohydrates, such as cellulose, which is found in the cell wall of all plants, are better known as dietary fibre. They provide no energy but are important regulators of bowel function. Diets high in insoluble carbohydrates are not appropriate for gestation, lactation and working dog diets.


Incidentally, the word ‘carbohydrate’ derives from the fact that it is a biomolecule composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Sad, but true. I need to get out more!



One of the energy producing components of a food, protein content is confusing and often misleading. There are 23 amino acids that make up proteins and animals require all of them, although only 10 are essential, as the others can be synthesised in the body. Proteins are required as components of enzymes, hormones, various body secretions and structural tissues. The body is in a constant state of flux; recycling but also losing some protein all the time. What is important in diets is not necessarily the quantity of protein but the quality, which depends on the number and type of amino acids it contains. This is best expressed as the ‘biological value’, which is the percentage of a particular protein that can be absorbed and retained:-


  • Egg - 100

  • Fish meal - 92

  • Milk - 92

  • Chicken - 80

  • Beef - 78

  • Soybean meal - 67

  • Whole wheat - 48

  • Whole corn - 45

  • Gelatin - 0 (Yes! That’s right! All that lovely stuff! It’s useless!)


Thus a cheaper dog food, containing high levels of cereals, may represent poorer value in comparison to, say, a diet based on fish and chicken, even though the label shows it to have a higher percentage of protein. (20% of 92 trumps 30% of 45!) You simply cannot calculate the absolute protein content/quality by reading the % Protein on the label.



Fats (or oil or lipid) are required for:-

  • Absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A,D,E and K

  • Improving food palatability

  • A source of essential fatty acids


Although they are an excellent source of energy, providing 2.5 times as much as protein or carbohydrate, fats are not actually required for this, as long as there is adequate carbohydrates and protein. Generally, diets contain 5-20% fat but, as it is the most expensive component of commercial dog foods, there will be lower levels in cheaper products. Two of the polyunsaturated fatty acids, Omega 3 and Omega 6, are essential, as they cannot be synthesised. Deficiency results in poor growth, reduced reproduction and performance, impaired healing, lacklustre coat and skin infections. Symptoms can also be seen in dogs receiving low fat dry food, especially if it has been stored for too long in warm, humid conditions.




Ah! Too many to mention! From magnesium to manganese and sodium to selenium, suffice to say that indiscriminate supplementation with one or even several minerals is more likely to be harmful than beneficial. No matter what the advert says! Minerals are collectively listed on pet food labels as ‘ash’. Not really a great deal of help if you need to know the calcium/phosphorus ration when feeding pups! Suffice to say that calcium deficiency is commonly seen when high phosphorus meats and offal are fed.




Again, there are lots and they are vital for many body functions. Supplementation of a quality prepared food is more likely to lead to toxicity than anything else. The same may not be true for home-made diets, which tend to have multiple deficiencies of many dietary components. Ah but! The research proves it…


The bottom line is this:     You usually get what you pay for.......... You can’t judge a book by its cover.......... The proof of the pudding…


(added to this page on 8th June 2021 (adapted from an article written by Neil for Sporting Gun - copyright owned by Neil McIntosh BVM&S MRCVS))  


A number of studies have shown that ticks are thriving and moving into new areas. Since they need heat and humidity to be successful, climate change is involved but there are many other factors, including changes to habitat (town planners bringing ‘green’ corridors into cities), increasing abundance of hosts (particularly deer) and the increased movement of people and animals (as we take to the hills with our dogs). Add to that recent cases of exotic diseases hitherto not seen in the UK and we should all be concerned.

The Cycle

Ticks are globally important arthropod transmitters of disease. All have similar lifecycles. Adult females feed on large mammals, such as sheep, deer, humans and dogs, then drop off, lay a few thousand eggs and die. Larvae hatch and feed on insects, birds and small rodents before moulting into nymphs. These ‘quest’ by climbing up twigs or grass, waiting for small mammals to pass. If the air dries, they have to return to the moist soil to avoid dehydration. Once they feed, the nymphs become adults. The whole process takes one to six years.

The Culprits

John Josselyn, the English traveller, visited New England in 1638 and wrote, ‘There be infinite numbers of tikes hanging upon the bushes in summer time that will cleave to a man’s garments and creep into his breeches.’ Lovely!

Closer to home, the Reverend Dr John Walker, fresh from exploring the ‘Deer’ Island of Jura, off the west coast of Scotland in 1764, mentions ‘exquisite pain in the interior of the limbs’ and describes ticks as ‘a worm with a body which is reddish in colour, with a row of feet on each side.’

A recent survey carried out by Bristol University, with the participation of 1094 veterinary practices involving 12096 dogs, produced 6555 ticks, of which 5915 could be identified. The top ticks were:

Ixodes ricinus (the castor bean, sheep or deer tick) 89%. This guy is increasing and probably accounts for the three fold increase in Lyme Disease in humans over the last decade. Dogs look out!

Ixodes hexagonus (hedgehog tick) 9.8%

Ixodes canisuga (dog tick) 0.8%

Dermancentor reticulatis (ornate cow tick) found on 10 dogs. Originally confined to Wales, this tick is spreading and is capable of carrying Babesiosis.

Rhipicephalus sanguineus (brown dog tick) found on 13 dogs, all of whom had recently travelled to Europe. This is of grave concern as this tick carries ‘exotic’ diseases such as Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis. Adults can survive without taking a blood meal for up to 500 days. It is not welcome here!


The Consequences

Across the world, ticks carry an extensive range of viral, bacterial and protozoan pathogens. In the UK, the ones to worry about are:

Tick abscess/septicaemia: Non-specific infections caused by a variety of bacteria can occur at tick bites. In my experience, the misguided attempts of animal or owner to inadequately or clumsily remove ticks is more likely to result in infections.

Lyme Disease

Caused by a spirochaete bacterium, Borrelia burgdoferi (discovered by William Burgdorfer in 1981; surely a man destined to name something after himself). Lyme Disease was claimed by America due to an outbreak of juvenile arthritis in the town of Lyme, Connecticut in 1975. (Remarkably, however, the post mortem examination in 2010 of Otzi the Iceman revealed Borrelia DNA, proving the infection has been around for at least 5,300 years.) The first case in the UK was diagnosed in 1990. It is a nasty condition. After an incubation period of around 2 to 5 months, variable (and confusing) clinical signs are seen. Shifting lameness, fever, lethargy, poor appetite and joint swellings can all occur but some patients show heart, kidney and nervous signs. The most serious cases develop Lyme Nephritis, a potentially fatal kidney condition, which is very difficult to treat. Meningitis, occasionally reported in humans, is exceedingly rare in dogs. Left untreated, continuing vague malaise and progressive, erosive arthritis causes patients to be increasingly debilitated. 2% of the ticks collected in the Bristol University study carried Borrelia.


An awful disease, caused by protozoa and recently seen for the first time in the UK in four dogs in Essex. One died, despite treatment. The protozoa parasitise red blood cells, causing them to rupture, resulting in anorexia, lethargy, pallor, vomiting, discoloured urine and jaundice, and death. Changes to the rules for the Pet Travel Scheme in 2012 that removed the requirement to treat returning dogs for ticks means, inevitably, that the disease will become established here.


Another horror. The rickettsia, Ehrlichia canis, attacks different types of blood cells causing acute disease characterised by depression, lethargy, vomiting and bleeding. Eventually, bone marrow depression results in the chronic form where weight loss, fluid retention and increased susceptibility to other infections occur.

The Control

Over the counter preparations, in my experience, do not provide adequate tick control. Speak to your vet about effective spot-ons, chews and collars that do. Before it is too late…The clock is ticking…

Published 29 April 2021     Author: Neil McIntosh BVM&S MRCVS 

I have been thinking a lot about things recently.  Like how many packets of ready salted crisps is it safe to eat per day?  What is the most apt name for a male Chihuahua?  Why are veterinary nurses so temperamental?  Where does all the salt and grit that is spread on the roads go? Why do Spaniels need 25 hours of exercise a day?  And what do you know about monoclonal antibodies? Never heard of them?  Soon you will........

Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) are man-made proteins that behave like antibodies in the immune system.  While we normally think of antibodies fighting bacteria and cancer cells.  Since they are proteins (and not drugs), side effects are rare and mild.  Recently mAbs have also been used to fight Covid-19 to great effect. 

But there's more, Cytopoint (chemical name, lokivetab) was the first mAb to be used in veterinary medicine.  It is an injectable preparation that works by targeting the mediators of itching, thus improved the quality of life of allergic dogs.  It works within 24 hours and lasts around a month.  clinical trials showed a 65% improvement in symptoms after the first injection and, by the third, 93% of patients had were significantly better; that's with none of the unwanted, significant side-effects of steroids. 
There are other veterinary drugs treatments that are effective but potentially damaging.  Non-steroid anti-inflammatories, such as Metacalm, Loxicom, Rimadyl and Previcox, are widely used for the treatment of osteoarthritis.  This complicated degenerative condition is common, affecting a large percentage of the pet population, with an estimated 20 to 30% of all dogs and 90% of all cats over 12 years of age clinically affected.  While the drugs are good, a proportion of patients suffer gastrointestinal upsets, such as vomiting and diarrhoea, and care must be taken in very elderly patients, who may have underlying kidney or liver issues. 
But there is good news!  Librela (chemical name, Bedinvetmab)  is the first, injectable, licensed monocional antibody for the alleviation of osteoarthritic pain in dogs.   It works by binding to a substance called Nerve Growth factor (NGF), which, although vital for the development of the nervous system in the pre and immediately post  natal periods, becomes troublesome in adults where it is released by damaged joint cells causing pain. 
If you have one of the arthritic dogs that doesn't take to medicines very well, Librela is well worth asking your Vet about.