James Herriot’s Legacy Lives On at Skeldale Veterinary Centre

The stars of Channel 5’s The Yorkshire Vet, Peter Wright and Julian Norton, give us the inside scoop on pet health

Q. What are the key things that would-be pet owners should consider before deciding on buying/adopting an animal? 

PW: The first issue that a potential pet owner needs to consider is the time needed to spend with their prospective pet. For instance, some dogs require greater amounts of exercise than others dependent on breed and age.

JN: It is important to do plenty of research, too. Some animals start small but end up very big. I had a client recently who bought a ‘micro’ pig. It lived in her sitting room, but soon it became clear that the pig wasn’t so ‘micro’ after all.

Q. How would you advise a first-time pet owner on navigating the over-saturated pet food market?

PW: Dogs and cats are predominantly carnivores so it is important that the food—whether wet or dry—has a reasonable proportion of added animal protein combined with a balanced energy level in the form of fats and carbohydrates.  

JN: An enormous amount of research goes into producing dog and cat food that is perfectly balanced, and for this reason, proprietary foods from reputable companies are the best option. For rabbits and guinea pigs, pelleted—rather than muesli-type—foods are the best.

Q. The topic surrounding feeding a dog a diet of raw meat has proved to be a controversial one—from your perspective, is this diet safe?

JN: The feeding of raw meat to dogs is very controversial. Many dog owners advocate the feeding of this type of food, as they consider it to be a more natural diet. However, there is much evidence to suggest that raw diets are not properly balanced.

PW: I personally cannot recommend feeding a raw diet to a dog for several reasons. It is not a balanced diet. Even more of a concern is the fact that raw meats can contain Salmonella, E. coli or campylobacter which may cause food poisoning in your dog.

Q. Do you think that owners can ‘over-love’ their pets (in the sense of over-feeding and being too over-protective) and contribute to preventable conditions such as obesity?

PW: We all lead busy lives and sometimes over-compensate with food and treats to ease our guilt in the fact that we have insufficient time to devote to our pets. A combination of excessive food intake and lack of exercise in some cases can result in obesity and development of vices such as destructive behaviour. All this can be prevented by adequate pet/human interaction and food/exercise balance. 

JN: The vast majority of pet owners love their animals in a way that is hugely positive for both owner and pet. It is a wonderful, symbiotic relationship. Occasionally—and usually unwittingly—this can become too much. I have seen situations where the husband has been banished to the sofa because the dog will not allow him into the bedroom. 

Q. What are the biggest myths surrounding pet health?

PW: Common myths surrounding pet health include if a dog has a wet nose it must be healthy and if a cat is purring, it must be happy. Cats will purr in other emotional states e.g. anxiety.

JN: I suppose the biggest myth surrounding pet health concerns vaccination. We still regularly see outbreaks of parvovirus. An outbreak earlier this year killed three dogs who had not been vaccinated.

Q. What common but preventable conditions and complaints do you often deal with in the surgery?

PW: Top of the list is obesity. This is much easier to prevent by regularly weighing your pet and adjusting feed accordingly.

JN: We frequently see the nasty condition of pyometra which is a serious infection within the uterus, usually of a bitch, but sometimes in a female cat too. This is a life-threatening condition and is completely preventable by having a female dog or cat spayed.

Q. What behaviours should we look out for that indicate a problem with our pet’s emotional or physical health? 

PW: If pets are emotionally upset, this may manifest in different ways. Some pets will become withdrawn, others require human comfort and closeness and may exhibit repetitive behaviour such as circling and destructive behaviour such as chewing furniture. Physical health issues are much easier to spot such as inappetence, changes in drinking habits, shivering, lethargy, depression and reluctance to go for a walk.

JN: Cats, in particular, can be very sensitive to emotional stress, for example if a member of the family leaves or a new baby arrives.

Q. What have been the strangest encounters that you have experienced in your TV show, The Yorkshire Vet?

PW: One unusual encounter was the lady who rang me to ask if I castrated ferrets. I asked when she would like to book the ferret in for his operation and she said, ‘no you don’t understand, we need 13 ferrets castrating!’. That morning we set up a ferret castrating production line.

JN: One thing that made me laugh out loud, in the early days of the programme, was when I was coming out of the local butcher’s one Saturday morning. A hooded youth, who looked about 16 years old, was lurking outside. He came over to talk to me, in the typically monosyllabic way of a teenage boy. ‘Can I have a selfie?’ he blurted out. ‘Of course,’ I replied, and the photo was duly snapped. ‘Love your show,’ he muttered before skulking off, hood swiftly pulled back into place.

Q. How does the legacy of James Herriot still live on in the Skeldale Surgery and, indeed, your personal practice?

PW: I feel very privileged to have worked for the world famous vet and author, James Herriot. [He] was a very humble and gentle man who always made time for every patient and their owners and afforded as much care and compassion to a baby bird falling out of a nest as he would to a prize race horse. I have spent my working life trying to ensure that his legacy lives on at Skeldale Veterinary Centre.

JN: His books and their portrayal on the television inspired me, and my generation of vets, to enter the profession. Those days of a traditional, mixed practice—where cows, sheep, dogs, pigs, tortoises, cats, hamsters, ferrets and chickens were all treated with equal enthusiasm—still live on at our clinic.

Q. Finally, what can our readers expect from the new series of The Yorkshire Vet? 

PW: The next series of The Yorkshire Vet will, of course, visit old clients and their veterinary problems. We will also introduce new clients and their animals, some of which will take us out of our comfort zone! 

JN: Series five of The Yorkshire Vet is out in the autumn and it promises to be another good one! We have some more great stories covering, quite literally, all creatures great and small. Episode one includes two amazing cases, the likes of which I have never seen before! •


The new series of The Yorkshire Vet starts this autumn on Channel 5, Tuesdays at 8pm.

A Yorkshire Vet Through the Seasons by Julian Norton is out now, £14.99 hardback, Michael O’Mara Books. 

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