Our new range of products were developed by Dr Harley Farmer, PhD BVSc(Hons) BVBiol(Path) MRCVS.
This Veterinary page was requested so visitors to the Perfect Pet Skin website could understand better the person behind the new versions of DermOpt products. Given how good the original versions were, you would be forgiven for asking how something so good could be improved? A short biography for those in a hurry will help and for those who seek leisurely comfort, we will let Dr Harley tell you in his own words.
I was raised in outback Australia with my family moving to various regions like the tropical north and Alice Springs in the arid centre. There were no veterinary practices within hundreds of miles of the places I lived as a child so you learned to look after your pets and keep them in a state of healthy balance. If your pet became unbalanced and diseased it was put down, which in those days usually meant it was shot. Outback Australia was a tough and unforgiving place for pets in the ‘50s and ‘60s but a wonderful place to learn how to keep an animal in balance. The lessons I learned then are being shared with you as you read this page.
The first family dog I can remember was Pixie, a delightful little Australian Terrier who accompanied me wherever I ran. Given the number of deadly spiders and snakes around Alice Springs, and the fact that I was allowed to wander wherever I liked and as far as I could manage, it is amazing both Pixie and I survived the harsh Alice Springs environment. But we did and Pixie kept running with me throughout my childhood until her little legs finally could not keep up with her amazing heart. Several years later I had the privilege of knowing Pebbles, an Afghan Hound my girlfriend had rescued. Pebbles had gained the reputation of a “brainless dog with a disturbed past”. In fact she was highly intelligent and responded very well to support and attention. Pebbles lived a long and happy life with Anne-Marie’s parents when we both went to the University of Queensland to study Veterinary Medicine.
I entered veterinary school with years of experience on how to keep animals in balance. I also entered without ever having met a veterinary surgeon who specialised in small animals. It soon became obvious to me that the training was aimed at teaching me to treat animals which were in a state of imbalance. I wanted to avoid the animals ever getting out of balance in the first place yet that was not the emphasis of the training. It dawned on me that I actually wanted to improve my skills in ensuring animals never needed to go near a vet! Since I was determined to put the animals before practice profits it was obvious my career was not to be in practice. To satisfy my purpose in life I needed to find an unusual way of making use of the veterinary skill set.
As it happens, there were some real gems of wisdom provided during my university training. One piece was that in medicine there is both art and science with the art being when to use the science. I came to learn that my desire to keep animals in balance was the art —when an animal went out of balance the science was needed. Both art and science have relevance; I preferred to ‘live’ the art so I only had to use the science on rare occasions. Other veterinary surgeons just prefer the reverse approach to life with daily science and occasional art.
During my training I did a specialist year in pathology which included a study on demodectic mange in dogs. It involved mange cases from the local pound being treated with a new drug which was the first effective treatment we had at the time. This type of mange is a classical case of imbalance. The demodex mites can be found in the skin of virtually every dog but only when some other factors cause the animal to be out of balance can the number of mites increase and demodectic mange appear in the skin. One special dog was Butch, a crossbred Bull Terrier, who provided a sequence of skin biopsies from which I leaned a great deal leading to a published article about mange in dogs. Despite my best efforts, the prevailing laws meant Butch could not be found a good home and it hurt me a great deal when he was put down after teaching me so much about balance that I can now share to the benefit of other dogs with mange.
In the second year of our veterinary studies we somehow inherited Dubious, a tiny puppy which was smaller than the palm of my hand. We never did establish her parentage but based on her diminutive size, long legs, and amazing jumping ability we used to joke that one of her parents must have been a flea! In reality we simply reaffirmed how much a dog can brighten your life.
In Brisbane animals are susceptible to the Ixodes holocyclus tick which normally lives on bandicoots. That tick produces a toxin which kills dogs and cats making it important to wash pets every week in powerful medicated products. That had the additional benefit of killing fleas on the animals, which is just as well because the warm weather made fleas a particular challenge.
When we graduated and moved to Cambridge in England to advance our studies, Dubious stayed with Pebbles on the farm. They had already formed an amazing “little and large” partnership. We remember the way Pebbles would reach into the tall bag of dog biscuits placing some on the floor for little Dubious. That was several decades back and even though the dogs are no longer with us we still cherish memories of them.
England gave us both PhD opportunities. Anne-Marie was studying Pannus, an eye disease in German Shepherds. To gain a better understanding of what it was like to live with a dog suffering from Pannus we inherited Delta, a guard dog being retired from the British Army. It was extremely unusual for an army guard dog to be released into civilian care. We learned a lot and were very privileged to enjoy the company of Delta for his last few years.
After gaining PhDs our lifestyle no longer suited having a dog. We had always had cats and for the last 25 years we have been a cat family. As all the cat lovers among you will appreciate, each cat has its own character. Carley, who is with us at the moment, absolutely loves cooked asparagus. Nuss Nuss used to devour mushrooms and Meshka would walk along an extended arm to reach an olive in my hand!
At various times I’ve had other pets including rabbits, snakes, birds and now whatever wants to live in the new wildlife pond I have just completed. Horses for me have always been either working horses in the outback or racing horses when I was an equine pathologist. Pleasure horses have always been outside my price range! I have worked with enough but never had one of my own.
My life continues to revolve around keeping animals in balance and harmony; in a happy state of health. I am very pleased that veterinary practices are there for animals with acute injuries and unavoidable diseases, but I do all I can to avoid animals moving out of balance with nature and needing to go to the vet for an unnecessary lack of harmony.
The real message I want to share here is how to keep your animals in happy balance. It is where most animals are and I’m pleased to help keep it that way. Should your animal become imbalanced and develop disease, I will always stress it should be taken to the Vets who will do what they can to return your pet to balance. At the moment it is a sad reality that much of what is done in many veterinary practices will relate to the level of pet insurance. I am very glad that pet insurance is there to save animals with serious injuries and long-term illnesses but as an individual Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons I am very concerned about the number of needless tests which are so often performed in the interests of supposed veterinary medicine. Good, old fashioned, common sense and minimalism still work but they seem to be used very rarely with the new pursuit of profit. There are still practices where the animal is put before practice profits but the proportion is dwindling.
Should anyone in veterinary practice want to challenge my views please do so by contacting me. All you need to do is Google Harley Farmer to find my contact details. If you do you will join those from the human medical field who are keen to know why I say similar things about doctors who are advocating treatments for childhood eczema which I feel are maintaining the skin damage and misery.
Eczema is a condition of imbalance and you only have to use 3 clues to recover healthy balance. Further details can be found if you Google EXeczema. Eczema also occurs in animals, mainly because the diagnosis of eczema has become a lazy way of avoiding the need to do a concerted investigation into what might be causing the skin inflammation. From the perspective of humans with eczema, once the doctor has made that diagnosis all they are expected to do is manage it. A similar situation has developed with animals showing patches of reddened skin. I won’t go into details here as the Perfect Pet Skin website is all about perfect pet skin and therefore has no association with inflamed skin. If your pet has reddened skin take it to a veterinary practice so they can treat it with officially registered medicines and hopefully bring your pet back into healthy balance. You just might find it useful to arm yourself with the logic behind the EXeczema Campaign before you visit the vets so you can comment on why certain products may not serve your pet’s red skin well.
I do not seek to be involved in what happens at a veterinary practice. That is the domain of the professionals at the practice and the regulators who register the drugs used. What I do seek to do is influence what knowledge is available to mutually share between veterinary practitioners and pet owners. There is a wealth of knowledge amongst those two groups and I like to help them see what they have in common. I have mentioned already the short-sighted concept of placing profit before patient health. I prefer to help those in veterinary businesses appreciate the commercial benefit in maintaining a high level of trust between them as the supplier and the consumer. In certain types of veterinary practices the level of trust has been allowed to dwindle. Customers treated in that way often leave in search of other suppliers of the service they need, and many of them venture onto websites like this one in search of a “good honest approach”. What is offered here can easily be utilised at any veterinary practice yet I ask if that is your experience?
Imbalance in your pet is fairly easy to spot. When you see it visit your vet. What can be harder to appreciate is the many factors which could begin the decline from balance into imbalance. Sometimes it’s an accumulation of many small points, none of which would make any difference on their own.
Take water for example. We all know pets need water but what if the amount of water they take from their water bowl suddenly decreases? Do you immediately rush off to the vets seeking an explanation? Perhaps you do, or you could consider other factors. One of our cats is Cc who was renowned for the amount of water he drank and we had to regularly top up his water bowl. Then suddenly we realised the water level was not going down. Why were we not concerned? Because I recently put a wildlife pond in our garden and we’ve seen him drinking from that. He preferred the ‘dirty’ water from the pond to clean water from the tap. This is an obvious example of veterinary medicine being divided between art and science. The science told us Cc had stopped using his water bowl. The art informed us he was gaining all the water he wanted from the pond.
That is an easy example. But what if the clues are more subtle? How do you tell if your pet has a water shortage, either because it is drinking too little or it is excreting too much? You use the skin-twist test. Try it on your forearm now. Gently grip a fold of skin, gently twist it and then let it go. If the twist remains raised and obvious you need to consider dehydration; a water shortage. Now try it with your pet —gently! If the twisted fold of skin stays as a raised twisted fold you need to consider the pet’s level of hydration and a visit to the vet would be well worth considering. If the skin returns to its flat normal self in a few seconds the pet has good hydration.
Cats in particular have an extra dimension to their lives. You may have noticed your cat is drinking far less water from its water bowl and you have not added a pond to your garden. Should you be concerned about the cat’s level of fluid intake? Do the skin-twist test. If the skin is fine then begin to wonder if some kind neighbour may be giving the cat milk, or perhaps someone else within the cat’s range has installed a pond. Exactly how your cat is gaining its fluids is something you may never know so just enjoy knowing the cat is in healthy balance. Just be aware that should that other person ever assume your cat has adopted them, they may put the cat into a cattery when they go on holidays. One of the reasons we vets like to give missing cats 14 days to come home is that we know many ‘missing’ cats have actually been put into a cattery when their surrogate owners go on holidays, which is often for 14 days! Cat owners often comment on how good their cat looks on returning from 14 days away. They assume it was locked in someone’s garden shed without food and water yet in reality some kind person had paid good money for it to be pampered in a cattery.
Also remember that whereas dogs have owners, cats have servants. And cats are not very particular about how many servants they have!
Food is another huge topic. Cats and dogs are naturally carnivores designed by nature to eat meat. Should we be feeding them plant-based commercial foods? The answer is as varied as there are varieties of cats and dogs and varieties of commercial diets. Which is a lot! I know raw diet advocates and I know people who would never dream of feeding their pet something as 'unnatural' as raw meat and bones. Before we jump to any judgemental conclusions keep in mind that they may have had to have a chicken bone removed from their cat’s throat or their dog may have had severe diarrhoea after it ate a dead and decaying squirrel. Both experiences may have been enough to convince them that their pet’s life is a lot safer if the food comes out of a sealed container.
What’s the common sense approach to this topic of such diversity? Ask the pet. If the cat is purring and winding itself around your ankle, it’s likely to be a happy cat. If the dog’s nose is wet and the tail is wagging, there’s an excellent chance everything between the nose and tail is in balance. Veterinary textbooks and the internet can provide you with as many scares as you have time to consume. Keep in mind that pets don’t partake of either textbooks or the internet and somehow they manage to remain in healthy balance. Let them get on with it. It’s much cheaper that way.
How often should you wash your pet? Perhaps the first question is whether you should wash your pet at all? You will soon begin to realise my answer to that is the same as my answer to most questions of that sort. Ask the pet. If your dog has just rolled in fox poo, wash the dog. If your dog has an excess of that doggy smell and people who pat your dog show revulsion at how their hand now smells, you might find it as useful to wash the dog’s bedding as it is to wash the dog. You will probably want to do both. How often should you wash the dog’s bedding? How often do you wash your own bed linen? Most people wash their bed linen far more frequently than they wash their dog’s bedding, even though the dog spends a lot more time in its bed than humans usually do in theirs. Is it any wonder the dog’s bedding plays a part in how the dog smells?
So back to the question of how often you should wash your dog. If it’s an active healthy and happy dog with a glossy coat that has no particular odour, you are best to leave the dog alone and avoid washing it. If it’s a regularly groomed poodle with a skin and coat that has become accustomed to regular washing, then wash it at that regular interval. If that poodle rolls in fox poo then an extra wash is advised, more for your benefit than the dog’s. The key will be to wash it in a product that does not contain parabens preservatives or sodium lauryl sulphate as those ingredients can lead to problems with skin. There are ample dog shampoos and coat sprays that do not contain those ingredients so you have plenty to choose between.