6 August 1999



Sheepdog trial enthusiasts

from as far away as

mid-Wales think nothing of

travelling to Keswick in

Cumbria to seek veterinary

attention for their dogs.

Jeremy Hunt finds out why

TUCKED away down a narrow leafy lane beneath the towering Lakeland fells that surround the town of Keswick, an imposing range of stone buildings is not the farmsteading it appears to be at first glance.

It is Greta Bank Veterinary Centre. In keeping with its rural location, this place is becoming something of a mecca for owners of sporting and working dogs.

Vet Ron Gilbert, has been practising in Keswick for 25 years. The fells that surround his home, surgery and kennelling facilities are the workplace of hundreds of farm collies as well as providing the testing courses laid for that other famous Lake District canine – the trail hound.

And it was through the experience gained in treating a large number of trail hounds for muscular and strain problems that Mr Gilberts reputation spread throughout the sheepdog world.

"Im no more qualified to deal with these dogs than any other vet, its just that I was getting more experience of specific problems associated with racing hounds. Theres nothing like practical experience for developing expertise," says Mr Gilbert.

He soon became widely recognised as a vet with a deep professional interest in the problems that can occur among racing and working dogs. Before long sheepdog triallists requiring specialist veterinary advice were seeking help from the Keswick practice.

&#42 Local to start

"To start with it was local triallists but then others started travelling quite long distances," says Mr Gilbert.

He recalls a phone call one morning from a man in Aberystwyth. The caller asked if Mr Gilbert would treat his collie which was suffering from a stifle injury and had an important trial only a week away.

"I told him that he would have to pass a lot of very good vets on the long journey from Wales to the Lake District and that included the famous team at Liverpool Universitys excellent veterinary hospital."

But the farmer was adamant that he wanted an appointment and Mr Gilbert agreed to see him later that week. "Actually I was wondering if I could come now," was the reply. Taken aback by the mans determination Mr Gilbert agreed to treat the dog later that day and saw it on several occasions afterwards despite the distances involved.

"Sheepdog owners are prepared to travel a long way. They want to do what they believe is the best for their dogs."

Mr Gilbert admits that he doesnt treat many collies for "illness" problems. "They are a remarkable breed, very hardy and resilient. But even though they are unbeatable working machines on the farm and the trials field, all machines do break down from time to time and collies are no exception."

Most collies requiring treatment are suffering from some form of lameness or strain as a result of the split-second quick turns performed when working or by having to stop suddenly on command. Its often the best trial dogs with the highest standards that are most susceptible because of their style, speed and immediate response to the handler.

"Knee joint and stifle injuries are quite common as well as muscle strains in the groin caused by over extension particularly where dogs are running over rough ground or clearing ditches or walls.

"Sometimes I see triceps injuries in the biggest muscle mass in the front leg behind the shoulder joint. This is another problem often seen in racing dogs caused by over-extension.

&#42 Back problems

Back injuries and back strain can also occur as well as disc problems."

But diagnosis is only part of the curative procedure. Treatment can vary and may include anti-inflammatory drugs. "Administering pain-relief is often the first treatment but it can give the dog a false sense of recovery. Collies are among the most active breeds and once the dog is relieved of discomfort its very easy for it to assume all is well.

"Although collies have excellent powers of recuperation, medication has to be initially combined with rest followed by a gradual return to normal exercise. The most difficult part is getting collies to switch-off – its something they dont do easily."

Dedicated owners determined to get their collies back to 100% fitness as quickly as possible have a challenge on their hands but the advice is not to deprive the dog of all exercise.

"If you have dog with a strained or torn muscle and leave it in a kennel for total rest it will heal quickly but the muscle can heal very tight. As soon as the muscle is under strain again it can tear and the problem recurs.

"So its a case of striking a balance between anti-inflammatory treatment, possibly massage or heat or even the latest laser therapy, followed by recuperation and then gradually increasing the exercise to enable the muscle to be kept in use while its healing. "

Mr Gilbert has the greatest respect for working sheepdogs and says he never fails to be amazed at their ability to suddenly move into top gear.

"It says a great deal for the breeds constitution and physical conformation. When a collie is working it immediately empowers its muscles and limbs to perform very strenuous exercise over long periods.

"And fortunately most of the time it needs nothing more than a good feed and a nights rest to recover." Ron Gilbert MRCVS Tel: (017687-72590).

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