Friday, March 1, 2019

Goodbye Phil.

Phil, captured by My Dog's Territory. 

It is in a state of not-quite-acceptance that I post that my dog Phil died yesterday. It feels surreal. He was a very senior dog (how senior I will never know – although I would estimate a solid 16 and possibly beyond). He had multiple co-morbidities, and he was well compensated until yesterday when he crashed.

Somewhat poetically, the very day before, Phil became part of a First Dog on the Moon cartoon which I feel is important to share here. Its hard to write anything beyond that right now. Except to say that the void he has left is disproportionately larger than his 1.8kg form. And he was loved beyond measure.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Companion animals need more than cool water to cope with climate change

dog, heat stress, heat stroke, climate change, one welfare
Record-breaking temperatures are the new norm. Just like us, animals suffer with the heat.

Each time a heatwave approaches, I am asked for advice about how to prevent heat stress in animals.

The practical tips that pet owners can take to protect their animal companions range from ensuring animals are have appropriate shelter that protects them from the heat to providing fresh, clean, cool water for drinking and (for some species) bathing.

But beyond the steps needed to protect animals in a heatwave, it is vital to understand that extreme weather is becoming the norm. It is no longer the exception.

Protecting animals from heat stress is no longer a matter of planning for companion animals for a handful of odd hot days over summer.

We need to recognise that climate change is making heatwaves more severe and frequent, and that we need to stop climate change to stop things from getting unbearably hot for animals, humans and the environment that sustains us. Aside from the risk of heat stress, extreme weather is associated with a higher bush fire risk. Bush fires are associated with high morbidity and mortality rates of animals (particularly wildlife but also livestock and sometimes companion animals).

The evidence is clear that our climate is changing. 2018 was Australia’s third warmest year on record, and also had the earliest ever total fire ban ever declared in NSW. Nine of Australia’s hottest ten years have occurred since 2005.

In the short term we need to cope with the heat, but we also need to take immediate action to tackle the root cause of the problem: burning fossil fuels for energy, which produce the greenhouse gas pollution that contributes to climate change. We need to urgently phase out polluting coal, oil, and gas in favour of clean and safe renewable energy if we are to protect Australia’s animals (companion animals, farm animals and wildlife), humans and the environment we occupy in the longer term.

This truly is a One Welfare issue and we need to prevail on politicians to tackle this problem.

If you’re not convinced, here are some trends reported in the Bureau of Meterology’s Annual Climate Statement (you can view it here). 

  • 2018 was Australia’s third-warmest year on record (recording started in 1910), with an area-averaged mean temperature that was 1.14 degrees Celsius above the 1961 – 1900 average.
  • Longer term, the 11-year mean average temperature for 2008-2018 was the highest on record (0.77 degrees Celsius above average).
For tips on preventing and treating heat stress in companion animals, check out my previous post here.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

What does plastic in the ocean have to do with companion animals?

marine plastics, microplastics, One Welfare, ocean health, dogs
Bosca models the AniPal collar, made from recycled plastics (NB harness is not related).

What does plastic in the ocean have to do with companion animals? Quite a bit, actually. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish (although there are a coupleof key steps we can take to slow this down) That will destroy the ocean we enjoy, impacting aquatic and terrestrial environments. It will also remove one of the world’s major food sources. 

Microplastics ingested by fish have already made their way into the food chain, the consequences of which we don’t fully understand.
Veterinarian Stephanie Stubbe was horrified by these figures, and spent over twelve months setting up her own company to repurpose plastic ocean waste, converting this into dog collars and leads which are now available in Australia.

I learned about Dr Stubbe when colleagues began sharing an ABC news article about a young vet who had decided to tackle something many of us think is too hard. We later spoke when I was writing an article about the animal welfare impacts of plastic in the ocean.

microplastic, marine plastic, One Welfare, dogs
Bosca models his recycled plastic collar (harness not related).

We tend to think about companion animals as living in homes, protected from the wider environment. But as we deplete and damage our environments, we need to appreciate that they, like us, are part of a bigger picture and animal welfare, human wellbeing and environmental sustainability are interdependent. 

And thinking about reducing the “plastic footprint” of pets might challenge some of us to think about our own plastic footprint. We can also reduce that of others by participating in initiatives like Take 3 (a campaign that encourages people to take home at least three bits of litter every time they hit the beach).

Initiatives like this are based on the premise that small choices we make in our everyday lives have the power, collectively, to make a difference. It will be interesting to see what other initiatives animal health professionals develop to tackle these wicked problems.

You can follow Dr Stubbe on Instagram or facebook

Declaration: The collar modeled was purchased from AniPal and this is not a paid post, not has it been reviewed or endorsed by AniPal.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

One Welfare: animal welfare, human well-being and environmental sustainability

What does One Welfare have to do with donkeys? Quite a bit actually. (You can read more here)

Happy New Year! If 2018 taught us one thing, its that there is much to do to address some of the world’s greatest challenges: improving animal welfare, human well-being and environmental sustainability. It can all seem a bit too hard, but the good news is there are plenty of capable people swimming against the tide and working to facilitate environmental, human and animal flourishing.

“One Welfare” is the term used to describe the interdependent relationships between all of the above. It is based on the premise that we need to address all stakeholders – human, animal and environment – rather than focusing on one or two at the cost of another.

In 2019 the University of Sydney is hosting the Second International One Welfare conference. Keynote speakers include Professor David Fraser, from the University of British Colombia (hear him talk about One Welfare here), Rebeca Garcia Pinillos, founder of One Welfare World (read her book about One Welfare here), and Dr Mark Schipp, Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer and President of the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) (read the OIE's Global Animal Welfare Strategy here).

If you are working in this space, you can submit an abstract for consideration by January 31. For details, check under the “submit an abstract heading” here

Or if you’re just keen to come along and meet others, including veterinarians, in this space, you can register here

Declaration: I am one of the volunteer co-organisers of the One Welfare Conference. I also volunteer with the CVE and present veterinary CPD for them from time to time.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Recognition for Companion Animal Rescue organisations

Jet Pets Rescue Awards Companion Animal Rescue rehome adopt
Sahara the rescue dog with Sandy Matheson from Jet Pets and Rescue Awards founder Cathy Beer.

This year I’ve taken some time out to work on some animal welfare related projects about which I will reveal more in due course. One of these was to be a judge for the Jet Pets 2019 Companion Animal Rescue Awards.

Awards like this are important in recognising the incredible work that so many people put into caring for, rehabilitating and rehoming companion animals all over Australia. They were founded by Cathy Beer, from Pets4Life, to provide recognition.

The application process is almost a mini-audit, and required entrants (of which there were ultimately 517) to review their processes. Just entering a competition like this is a fantastic way of reviewing an organisation’s strengths and weaknesses, and a means of benchmarking.

It is important to document and recognise the good work being done to promote animal welfare in a sustainable way. Lessons can be learned from the organisations performing well, helping bring the others up to speed.

Australia has over 900 rescue groups and animal shelters supported by thousands of volunteers.

Following the announcement of the finalists on 9 October 2018, one winner from each of the seven categories was selected by a panel of nine judges, of which I was one. All judges volunteered their time.

All up, 200 organisations registered for the awards, with 89 rehoming organisations ultimately completing a submission in categories 1-6.

Category 7, the Advocate® People’s Rescue Story, was open to people who had adopted or fostered a pet and there were 428 entries.

In reading the applications, it struck me that there is a need for companion animal rescue and rehoming organisations to discuss best practice and innovations to ensure all companion animals find appropriate homes. Awards like this are one way of doing it. If your organisation didn’t apply in 2018, consider applying in 2019 but do allow time as application requires detailed responses.

Category 1: Outstanding Rescue Group Saving Animals from Euthanasia (SAFE)
Category 2: Outstanding Animal Shelter RSPCA QLD
Category 3: Outstanding Council Animal Shelter Shire of Campaspe Animal Shelter
Category 4: Innovation in Rescue Safe Pets Safe Families
Category 5: Community Education and Outreach Program The Good Neighbour Project (Cat Protection Society NSW)
Category 6: Volunteer of the Year Frances O’Connell (AWL South Australia)
Category 7: Advocate® People’s Rescue Story Jason Vallas and his faithful dog, Diesel

For more information/updates on the 2019 Awards, visit, follow the Rescue Awards on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or sign up to the newsletter here. #jetpetsrescueawards2018

Monday, September 24, 2018

Hero the artist's muse.

cat, art, Sammi Taylor, Cat Protection Society NSW
Hero, as imagined by artist Sammi Taylor for the Cat Protection Society's Diamond Anniversary.

Being a veterinarian does not preclude one from worshipping one’s feline like every other cat owner on the planet. Thus I entered Hero in the Cat Protection Society’s fabulous feline brooch competition to mark their diamond (60th) anniversary.

In order to enter I had to take a photo featuring Hero and a diamond in the same frame. This was easier said than done as Hero assumes anything placed in his vicinity is fair game for flicking across the room with his poor. Finally, my friend Elaine leant me her (fake) diamond paperweights which elicited a bit of a sniff and that was all, and the photo was entered.

cat, Hero, Cat Protection Society NSW
Hero poses with fake diamonds.
It was a tight competition, but Hero placed, which means that he is the subject of a limited edition artwork and brooch, designed and crafted by the very talented artist and Feline Services Attendant Sammi Taylor. Sammi has captured Hero’s beautiful features (complete with a bit of cray in his eyes) perfectly. 

And this is very special, because it was the Cat Protection Society who rescued Hero as a kitten in the first place. I'm forever grateful for their care. (If you're thinking about cohabiting with a cat, please consider a pre-loved cat. There are far too many cats needing homes in Australia - and around the world - and they bring so much joy).

The brooches are available for purchase through the Cat Protection Society web store here OR you can purchase them over the counter at their Adoption Centre. I am told that the Hero brooch can be paired with casual, semi-casual, formal, semi-formal, uniforms, working gear, pyjamas or any other attire you care to wear.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The 2018 Recent Graduate Survival Seminar

Australian shepherd, Aussie shepherd, dog

Being a new or recent veterinary graduate is exciting, but its also a steep learning curve. It can be incredibly stressful and there is a high attrition rate.

This month the Centre for Veterinary Education is holding its annual Recent Graduate Survival Seminar for new, recent and returning-to-practice veterinary graduates, as well as veterinary students. The speakers have been asked to distil their best advice to share with delegates, in order to help delegates and ultimately their patients and clients.

I have been involved in the program for the last couple of years for a number of reasons. I wish something like this had been available when I was a new graduate – all the professional development at the time seemed to be geared towards advanced procedures, which was not so immediately relevant. And I would have liked the opportunity to find out how others were learning, developing their skills, juggling their personal and work lives, dealing with ethically challenging situations and thinking about their future careers.

This is a conference where you can bring your list of questions along and chat to colleagues and the speakers.

You can view the program here.

This year I will be talking about euthanasia of companion animals. It’s a challenging topic, and especially topical for me because of the loss of my own cat, Michael, earlier this year. We need to talk about end of life decision making and care for the well-being of our patients, our clients and ourselves.

For more information, visit the website here.