Monday, July 1, 2019

Mental wellbeing for veterinarians - two conferences and a fundraising initiative

When I finished reading Nadine Hamilton's fantastic book, Hero used it as a pillow.

Have you noticed all the talk about well-being and veterinary professionals lately? There has been an explosion of publications about exodus from the profession, but equally there have been new resources like psychologist Nadine Hamilton’s book Coping with Stress and Burnout as aVeterinarian

Animal welfare, human well-being and environmental sustainability are inextricably linked. This idea is the foundation of the “OneWelfare” concept but also one that I have come to subscribe to because of my experiences as a veterinarian.

The good news is that finally society, and our profession, are coming to understand that you can’t do good animal husbandry if the humans looking after those animals aren’t looked after. You can’t look after humans and animals if the environment that supports all life is being harmed.

In October this year the Centre for Veterinary Education is hosting a two-day conference on One Welfare at the University of Sydney.

This is the perfect opportunity to meet solutions focused colleagues who want to tackle some of the bigger picture issues that will impact us all – and by us I mean humans, other animals and the environment.

For more info and to register, click here:

On Wednesday October 16 there is a one-day symposium on Mental Wellbeing for Veterinary Teams. This is a not for profit event facilitated by funds-raised by the Vet Cookbook. Registration is very cheap and covers catering.

Speakers include those from within but also many from outside of our profession. This day promises an extraordinary opportunity to collaborate, network and gain a sense of perspective about the current “mental health crisis”.

Please come along and contribute your ideas and energy.

I am of the firm belief that its one thing to participate in dialogue online about these issues, but meaningful action tends to come from face-to-face meetings where people have a chance to learn about each other. This is a rare chance to get a lot of members of our profession - vets, nurses, practice managers, groomers, kennelhands, stablehands, animal carers and students - into one space. That's how the magic happens.

Its great to see companies like Zoetis coming on board. Last week they announced a partnership with Beyond Blue in which they hope to raise up to $100,000 to support mental health in Australia. These kind of initiatives are important and should be encouraged.

Hopefully, with the encouragement of our profession, companies like this will put funds behind initiatives to help improve our sustainability - both in terms of human and animal welfare but also the environment. 

According to a company statement (slightly edited here for length):
“Whilst vets can be seen as the heroes of our community for treating and saving the lives of some of our most treasured family members, it can often be at significant cost to their mental health...
Day in day out, vets undergo a great deal of stress, not only caring for sick animals, but compassionately and knowledgeably working with the owners to provide the best care and treatment. Entering the profession because of their love for animals, they are often not prepared for the emotional pressures of the job. Whether it’s counselling a family through the decision process to euthanize, or having to carry out the procedure on a pet they have been treating regularly, vets suffer with grief every day. “We are very passionate about improving mental health and are proud to partner with Beyond Blue to tackle these very real issues affecting our vets, who suffer as a result of supporting our community,” says Lance Williams, Zoetis Vice President, Australia and New Zealand.
Beyond Blue Lead Clinical Adviser Dr Grant Blashki explains, “From my experience as a GP, people working in high pressure environments like veterinary services tend to experience more stress than people working in some other areas. “Things like long hours, financial worries and the emotional aspects of the job can start to pile up and impact their mental health. People working in such a caring profession often feel like they can’t justify time to look after their own mental and emotional wellbeing, but it’s incredibly important that they do.”
Natasha Wilks, a veterinarian for 20 years and Beyond Blue volunteer says, There are so many things which weigh on our minds; the long hours, financial struggles, and the difficult situations we are placed in.
 “During my final and seventh year of study, I was feeling exhausted and burnt out, I had spent the last seven years working every weekend and weeknight. It all came to a head when I had a rotation where we lived at the veterinary hospital to monitor all the patients overnight. I was very teary and didn’t want to do it. This was my turning point to seeking help.
 “For me to reach out and admit that I wasn’t coping was a massive step. I’d been brought up to soldier on and to deal with things myself. I realised I couldn’t keep doing it anymore. I was exhausted, depressed and I needed help.” Natasha has experienced many ups and downs throughout her veterinary career in different working environments adding, “Nowadays I recognise when I’m becoming exhausted and I’ve learned to slow down.”
 “For me, the signs are when I become more negative, frustrated and judgmental, less willing to spend time with friends and I let things get to me.”
“My identity isn’t tied to my veterinary career anymore, so when I have challenges in practice I try not to take it personally and focus on the things I can control.”
Part of taking control for Natasha has been about finding what she loves and making time to enjoy them.  “Exercise is really important in helping me stay well. I don’t pound the pavement, but I walk with our old retriever who still has a lot of energy. I walk and smell the air, notice all the new flowers and listen to the birds,” she said. 
Zoetis is committed to helping offer greater support to our vets and will be raising $100,000 from sales of their companion animal products, as well as livestock products, from 15 July to 31 October, with funds being used by the Beyond Blue Support Service, to provide advice and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
 “The Support Service, entirely funded by generous donations, is a free, life-changing and sometimes life-saving service, there for people day and night – via phone, web chat or email – whenever they need someone to talk to,” said Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman.
 The Beyond Blue Support Service costs on average $48 per contact with counsellors available by phone, webchat or email, meaning Zoetis’s kind donation will help over 2,000 people get the support they need through the service. For more information on how you can help Zoetis to raise vital funds and support mental health through its partnership with Beyond Blue please visit Mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the Beyond Blue Support Service – 1300 22 4636 – or via for online chat (3pm-12am ADST) or email (within 24 hours).”

Monday, June 10, 2019

Are you the guardian of a rescue or foster companion animal?

My own rescued companion, Hero. 

Do you give a companion animal a second chance? Do you live with a rescue pet?
The Jet Pets Companion Animal Rescue Awards are offering you the opportunity to share your story and how Australia how pet adoption changes lives for the better.

The Advocate® People’s Rescue Story Award is about celebrating adoption and foster care.
To be eligible, you need to be over 18 years old and have adopted or fostered a companion animal. There are fabulous prizes for the winner AND the rehoming organisation involved. 

Entries close on June 30.

Meantime if you have a favourite companion animal rescue organisation, encourage them to enter the Jet Pets Companion Animal Rescue Awards. These awards were designed by Cathy Beer, of Pets 4 Life, to recognise the incredible work done by many organisations who look after companion animals.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Do you rescue, rehabilitate and rehome companion animals in Australia?

One of the kittens at the launch of the 2019 Jetpets Companion Animal Rescue Awards at the Cat Protection Society.

Do you rescue, rehabilitate and rehome companion animals in Australia? If the answer is yes, you can enter the 2019 Jetpets Companion Animal Rescue Awards.

I was a judge on the panel in 2018, and have joined the 2019 judging panel again as this was an amazing experience. Last year there were 517 entries, and reviewing a selection of these gave me great hope for the companion animal population served by these dedicated groups.

Rescue Awards founder, and rescue advocate from Pets4Life Cathy Beer, established the awards to celebrate and recognise achievements in companion animal rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming, and to encourage innovation in this space.

“Every year, 186,000 pets remain unclaimed in Australia’s pounds and shelters, and thousands of volunteers support over 900 rescue and animal shelters across Australia¹,” she said.

“In 2019, we’re building on the success of last year. The Rescue Awards has not only unveiled the extraordinary work of an amazing rescue community, but also inspired the industry to improve processes, collaboration and innovation to help companion animals get a second chance in a loving home.”

1. Outstanding Rescue Group
2. Outstanding New Rescue Group
3. Outstanding Animal Shelter
4. Outstanding Council Animal Shelter
5. Innovation in Rescue
6. Community Education and Outreach Program
7. Volunteer of the Year
8. Advocate® People’s Rescue Story

The judges are:
1. Nell Thompson, Coordinator for Getting 2 Zero (G2Z) and Secretary of the Australian Institute of Animal Management (AIAM).
2. Tim Vasudeva, Director of Corporate Affairs at Animals Australia.
3. Vickie Davy, Co-Founder & joint CEO of PetRescue, not for profit organisation that brings thousands of rescue pets face-to-face with thousands of potential adopters every day.
4. Dr Anthony Bennett, Veterinarian & Co-star of Lifestyle Channel’s TV series Village Vets.
5. Sandy Matheson, Founder & Managing Director of Jetpets, a pet travel company focused on the safety, comfort and welfare of pets.
6. Dr Anne Fawcett, animal welfare veterinarian.
7. Dr Michael O’Donoghue, Small animal veterinarian and Co-Founder of ‘People and Pets’, a nationwide grief and pet loss counselling service.
8. Dr Alex Hynes, Emergency Veterinarian and co-star in the new series of Bondi Vet TV show.
9. Anne Boxhall, Companion animal welfare advocate with 28 years’ experience in sheltering and rescue
10. Dr Liisa Ahlström, Veterinarian, Companion Animal Products, Bayer Animal Health (category 8 Judge)
11. Dan White, Senior Brand Manager, Bayer Animal Health (category 8 Judge)
12. Cathy Beer, Founder of Pets4Life (category 8 Judge)

Photoshoots with kittens...definitely a task for the brave (spot the second kitten...)

Enter online from 1 May to close midnight on 30 June. To enter, visit and follow the links.

The winners will be celebrated at the Jetpets Companion Animal Rescue Awards ceremony on 12 September 2019 during the G2Z Summit on the Gold Coast, Queensland. More information to come on the Rescue Awards website.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Has your dog or cat worn an Elizabethan collar (e-collar) in the last 12 months?

Has your dog or cat worn an Elizabethan collar (often referred to as an e-collar) in the last twelve months? We'd love anyone living with a dog or cat (including vets or vet nurses) to help us by answering a very short survey.

E-collars, are applied to prevent animals from accessing particular areas of their body.

For example, they may be applied after surgery to prevent an animal from licking, biting or chewing a surgical site on the body until it has healed, or to prevent the animal from scratching, rubbing or otherwise injuring the eyes or face.

Different types of e-collars are available, including hard plastic, soft plastic, inflatable collars.  They come in a range of sizes, depending on the size of the patient and the area of the body that requires protection.

Researchers at the University of Sydney, including myself, are seeking to find out how Elizabethan collars impact the behaviour and welfare of animals wearing them. 

Owners of dogs or cats whose pet wore an Elizabethan collar in the last 12 months are invited to complete an online survey which will help us understand the effect these collars have on the animals that wear them.

In order to complete the anonymous survey, you will need to type the following link into your internet browser:

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.