Steve Leonard

Steve Leonard

Steve Leonard shot to fame back in 1996 when he appeared in Vets' School which followed him during his veterinary training.

Since then he has gone on to balance work in his practice with a whole host of TV projects that have taken him around the world.

But his latest campaign has seen him team up with Pedigree for the Wet Nose Week which wants to raise awareness about the health of our dogs.

I caught up with him to chat about the campaign, his recent TV projects and what lies ahead.

- You are kicking off a campaign to help raise awareness for the health and well being of dogs so can you tell me a little bit about that?

In my day to day job as a vet I get to see the amazing bond between dogs and their owners and the concern they have when something is wrong. Many of these owners are horrified when I discover something that they feel they have 'missed' at home.

The Pedigree Wet Nose Week campaign is trying to give those owners a basic way of performing a health check on their pet from nose to tail which they can get into their weekly routine.

In this way people can feel more confident about their best friend's health and also seek help from their vet earlier when problems are found.

- You are a vet yourself what concerns do you have about this that would make you want to get involved with this campaign?

Pedigree's own research this year in its 'Paws for Thought' Report has highlighted that a startling 39% of people have fed potentially toxic products such as grapes, chocolate and raisins to their dogs.

We all know it's very hard to say no to those big brown eyes when they are looking up at us as we tuck into a buttered crumpet but we need to be strong and think of the longer term implications of feeding inappropriate foodstuffs - diabetes, breathing difficulties and arthritis to name but a few. Instead, bin the crumpet, get off the sofa and get outside with a ball.

- So what can dogs owners be doing to make sure that their dog is in the best health?

The key message is 'prevention rather than cure'. Good balanced nutrition, plenty of exercise and proper oral care will help keep your dog healthy and happy. Learning to spot problems before they become serious is essential.

The pedigree health checker at is a good place to start but if you are unsure speak to your vet and make sure they give your pet a thorough examination at their annual booster checkup.

- What are the common things that are impacting on the health of dogs that perhaps owners are not aware of?

Lots of problems creep up on dogs that can be difficult to spot. Dental disease is one of the most common issues we see in the dog population and yet most of it is preventable.

Some dogs are genetically prone to dental disease and need more intensive monitoring and care than others. Toothache is very hard to spot in people (unless they tell you!) and even harder in dogs so we commonly find dogs that need lots of dental work when we check inside their mouths.

Feeding an appropriate diet that is designed to reduce tartar build up and getting into the routine of brushing your dog's teeth will save your dog from developing this painful and expensive condition.

Brushing sounds difficult but in reality if you take a couple of minutes everyday to gently get your pet used to this sensation it becomes very straightforward indeed.

'Slowing Down' in older dogs is another slow change that people can dismiss as just old age when in fact it can be a sign of lots of problems such as arthritis, heart disease or hormonal problems. Any big changes in energy levels need to be discussed with your vet.

Even common issues as fleas can be missed by people through misunderstanding. Too often I hear people say "He doesn't scratch so he can't have fleas" when their poor pooch has quite a few of these nasty little hitch-hikers.

Fleas generally won't cause a dog to itch noticeably until they have big numbers onboard by which time the house is infested! Preventative treatments and/or regular screening make all the difference.

- Away from the campaign we saw you back on the small screen this year with Safari Vet School so how did you find your time in Africa during filming?

This was a great opportunity for me to watch the students experience Africa as I did originally as a recent graduate. Thrown in at the deep end working with large iconic and potentially dangerous species and loving every minute of it.

A veterinary degree opens lots of doors and none more exciting than this. In reality the life of a wildlife vet does have huge portions of the year tied up with paperwork and dull routine but the few weeks of the year when you get hands on with incredible wildlife more than makes up for it.

For some students this was their first time having a patient of their own to be responsible for, with the additional stress of being in the middle of the bush with limited kit and assistance. It was a steep learning curve and an experience they'll never forget.

- Since you shot to fame in Vets' School we have seen you travel all over the world so what has been your best experience to date?

It's so hard to single out one experience over the last 16 years. Highlights are definitely scuba diving with a Great White Shark, racing a cheetah, darting a lion, swimming with piranhas, canoeing with Killer Whales, snorkelling with Sperm Whales, I could go on....

Just being close to so many incredible species has been an absolute privilege that I will never take for granted. I understand that this exposure comes with great responsibility to try and communicate just what an awesome planet we share with such awesome creatures and how we need to preserve and conserve as much as we can for generations to come.

- When you chose to get involved with Vets' School when you were doing your vet training did you ever think that it would lead to the career that you have had?

I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. This was all before the 'reality TV' craze and the clamour for fame that we take for granted today. I was terrified of the initial interest in the first series as I had no idea it would be so popular.

But I can't complain because it has open doors I never knew existed and allowed me to travel the world seeing some of the most spectacular sites on Earth.

- You have also set up a practice with your brother Tom so how much to do enjoy going back there when you have completed any filming?

My regular job of a GP vet is still very much a priority. I wanted to be a vet from the age of 5 and that hasn't gone away. It can be very stressful and heartbreaking at times but it is also very rewarding and satisfying.

I work with a very dedicated team who all are pet owners themselves so understand just how important the work we do is.

You never stop learning as vet and I have, at the age of 40, signed up for a post-grade masters certificate in Small Animal Internal Medicine to allow me to push myself even harder in veterinary work. Terrifying!

- Finally what is next for you - are you working on any new shows that you can tell us about?

In between campaign work, talks and veterinary work, I am currently filming a series for ITV1 due to air in Spring next year and also a series for BBC1 that will keep me busy for the next 18 months!

Steve Leonard is launching Pedigree's Wet Nose Week from 8th - 14th October. Find out more and get involved by trying out the health checker for your dog online at

FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw

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