As a veterinarian, going to the Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) dog show is an eye opening experience as to the variety of canine issues rolled up into one grand event. After publishing Veterinarian Favorites From Westminster 2011, we now look at the converse of the favorites, the flaws.
Hand to Hand Transmission of Disease
Since Westminster is a public, benched show, canine aficionados have the opportunity to meet the breeds on the day they are being shown. This is great for the public, but the people who love to put their hands on these competing canines may inadvertently act as vectors for disease transmission. Human hands may not get washed often or adequately enough and can transmit bacteria, viruses, or other organisms through direction contact with eye or nasal discharge, saliva, feces, or urine.
From a veterinary public health standpoint, bacteria and viruses are the more common organisms that can transmit via ocular, nasal, or oral secretions. I never would have thought people would give 2009 H1N1 (Swine Flu) to their pets, but it certainly happens and companion animals (cats and ferrets) died post-infection in 2010 (see Is It Safe To Let Sleeping Dogs Lie In Your Bed and Swine Flu Pandemic Over But H1N1 Hybrid Virus Emerges)
WKC has a veterinary facility on site to triage and address illnesses in competing dogs. I interviewed one of the staff veterinarians, Mari Morimoto, who reported that upper respiratory disease infections, along with vomiting, diarrhea, and heat related illnesses, are examples of the conditions seen by Westminster staff vets. On a side note, I love how the Veterinarian’s Office sign sits right above the photo of Jimmy Hendrix! Classic!
Human hand circulation of contagions is not directly a fault of the WKC, but more a failing of human habits relating to public health. I would love to see WKC take a more proactive stance in educating the public about proper sanitary practices by posting signs recommending frequent hand washing, especially after handling one of the canine contestants.
Additionally, there were no hand sanitizing dispensers in the dog benching or grooming areas, but the food vending areas displayed the dispensers in consistent proximity to edible offerings. Although I would rather wash my hands with soap and warm water than sanitize with antiseptic gel, I will take whatever option is available to do my part to minimize disease transmission.
Hair Spray Irritation to Canine Eyes and Noses
This was a bone of contention (ha ha, vet humor) I had last year (see Dr. Mahaney’s top 3 Westminster Dog Show Faults). A fellow member of the professional pet community and blogger, Pat Steer (Syracuse Dog Training Examiner) left me this insightful comment:
Also, as a point of order, the use of hair spray or presence of any foreign substance in the coat is forbidden and cause for excusal from the AKC show ring. Just sayin’. PAS
After reading Steer’s comments, I decided to do some further research. I spoke with WKC’s Director of Communications and recognizable voice, David Frei, who informed me that judges must not be able to detect hairspray and other appearance altering substances on a competitor’s coat. Frie referred me to the American Kennel Club’s Rules Applied to Dog Shows, by which WKC abides. The closest terminology I could discover pertained to coloring and cleaning substances, yet this rule also must apply to hair spray or other agents.
SECTION 8-C. No dog shall be eligible to compete at any show and no dog shall receive any award at any show in the event the natural color or shade of natural color or the natural markings of the dog have been altered or changed by the use of any substance whether such substance may have been used for cleaning purposes or for any other reason. Such cleaning substances are to be removed before the dog enters the ring.
Although using hairspray it is technically against the rules, so many canine coat caretakers use such products. I decided to get proof this year, as my eyes and nose felt the effects of being in close proximity to the dogs exposed to frequent spritzes of “Hold It! Superhold Freeze Spray”. Actually, I have three photos (faces are blurred to protect privacy) of the incriminating evidence showing three different kinds of aerosol hairspray.
All in all, these groomers are very conscientious of their dog’s eyes and noses and do their best to prevent overexposure. Unfortunately, the placement of a hand to cover a dog’s orifices does not equal adequate protection against offending irritation. As exposure to sprays and other airborne particles can cause nasal and ocular inflammation, infectious organisms would be more likely to take up residence should an exposure occur.
Madison Square Garden’s Lack of Healthy Food Options
Can we dog show attendees please have some healthier food options for next year? Fried chicken sandwiches, french fries, pretzels, alcohol, and candy abound, but one has to search long and hard for any high fiber, healthy options like a fresh green salad with roasted chicken. My salad quest went unfounded, so I ate the seemingly healthiest option, pizza.
As I doubt Madison Square Garden will go the route of more healthful foods for its events, I will likely pack my own food for Westminster 2012.
Scottish Deerhound Wins Best in Show at Westminster 2011
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Copyright of this article (2011) is owned by Dr. Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr. Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr. Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.