Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Backyard chickens

A big, boofy backyard chicken. This is how they are meant to look. (Image used courtesy Sustenhance, (c) Sustenhance 2015).
Have you noticed there seems to be an increase in backyard chickens? As a veterinarian I’ve observed a subtle increase in the number of clients keeping chickens over the last couple of years. And it’s not just me. At the Australian & New Zealand Veterinary Associations’ Pan Pacific Conference this year, there’s a workshop on treating sick chickens (find out more here).

Chickens are fantastic to live with. I work with a colleague who has three beautiful chickens that wander in and out of the house and produce enough eggs for two households. The problem is that many people aren’t sure how to appropriately look after chickens. Specifically, I have seen a number of cases of egg-bound chickens due to poor nutrition and husbandry. Feeding chooks is not just a matter of throwing them table-scraps and letting them poke around the compost heap. Producing and laying eggs takes a lot of energy.

So I asked veterinarian David Isaac, Animal Health, Innovation & Research Manager at BEC Feed Solutions, about what we can do to ensure the health and happiness of backyard chickens. A declaration at this point: Dr Isaac works for a company that produces food for chickens. However, he knows his chooks and is very welfare focused so we picked his brains.

egg bound chicken
This chicken was egg bound due to poor nutrition.
Dr Isaac DVM MRCVS graduated in 1997. He started his career as a field veterinarian and has been actively involved in improving animal performance and health, through nutrition, in the Australasian region for more than 17 years. A key member of the management team at BEC Feed Solutions, Sustenhance’s parent company, David’s role is focused on researching new and innovative products for the betterment of animal production, health and welfare. David has also presented numerous research papers on animal nutrition at national and international forums, regularly offering veterinary and technical support to the livestock and pet industries, and is a volunteer veterinarian at RSPCA.

What’s your day job?

I am the Animal Health, Innovation and Research Manager at BEC Feed Solutions, the parent company of Sustenhance, and a veterinarian passionate about animal health, nutrition and welfare.

How come backyard chickens have increased in popularity?

The general public want to have control over the safety and quality of food that they eat. This has led to more people producing their own sources of food items such as fresh vegetables and eggs. This passion for healthy, safe food coupled with easy access to young chicken, quality chicken feed, housing and equipment has increased the popularity of keeping backyard chickens.

What are the benefits of living with backyard chickens?

There are so many great reasons to keep backyards chickens. Some of the key benefits include:
  • Fresh eggs daily – no more supermarket products!
  • They help the environment - feeding suitable food scraps to your chickens is a great way to reduce and recycle your kitchen and food waste
  • They are good for the garden - chicken waste makes a great fertiliser
  • They provide entertainment for the whole family – learning to care for chickens provides education and endless hours of fun for the children!

Annabella Williams with chicken. (Image (c) Sustenhance).

What are the key things you need if you are going to keep chickens?
It is essential to give your chickens a good home in the form of a safe, clean, draft-free coop with good ventilation including:
  • Heat lamps (for brooding young chicks)
  • Brooder guard (for brooding)
  • Wood shavings as litter material
  • Feeders and drinkers with fresh food and water replenished daily
  • A nest with soft nesting material (e.g. wood shavings, straw)
  • Sanitising solution
  • Outside of the coop, chickens need a good range area to run around and display their natural behavior.
  • When considering what to feed your chicken it is important to have a high quality, nutritionally balanced feed and high quality health supplements. At Sustenhance we have developed our Perfect Poultry nutritional supplement to add to chickens’ feed to ensure they are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need in their diet for health, vitality and great quality eggs.

Annabelle Williams holds eggs. (Image (c) Sustenhance).
How can we enrich the lives of backyard chickens?

There are a few simple tips to ensure your chickens live happy lives:
  • Give your chicken an area to have a dust bath – they love to flap and roll and sit in the dust – a natural way to remove external parasites
  • Let your chickens out for at least three hours a day to forage and scratch, ideally during the afternoon before securing them in the coop overnight as chickens naturally go home to roost.
  • Provide summer shade to keep them cool
  • Implement a regular deworming program
backyard chicken chook
Mildred walks between two yards.
Nutrition related disease is common in pet chickens. What are the main diseases you see?

The most common issues in backyard chickens are poor featherings, feather pecking and cannibalism. This is mainly due to a lack of amino acids such as methionine, an imbalance of minerals or lack of fibre in the diet.
Poor egg shell quality as well as wet droppings are other common issues related to poor nutrition. In cases like these, a high quality supplement such as Sustenhance Perfect Poultry can assist in correcting the imbalances.

What constitutes a balanced diet for chickens?

A balanced feed consists of many components of nutrients. These are formulated in the right amount for each species. These formulations need to be further fine-tuned according to each stage of production. The feed needs to provide the correct amino acids, minerals, vitamins, fibre, carbohydrates and fat requirements at the different stages of development. Therefore, it is very crucial that the right feed is given at the right stage of production. It is harmful to feed a laying bird a starter or grower feed, as the requirements at each stage are very different.

Is there anything else owners should know about feeding chickens?
Chickens need to be fed the correct feed to match the type of chicken and the stage of production.  Refrain from giving grain mixes at the growing stage as this may lead to imbalance in nutrient levels which can cause excessive weight gain. Any additional feed sources such as grains, lucerne meal, forages and table scraps should not be more that 5% of the chicken’s daily feed intake. When using any medication to treat or prevent diseases in chickens, always check the label for the withdrawal period - if in doubt, contact a veterinarian.

What could we do to make the world better for backyard chickens?
It is incredibly important to provide your chickens with a balanced feed and a fresh source of clean water. Other ways to improve your chicken’s world include:
  • Letting them exhibit their natural behaviour by providing them with space to run around and a dust bath.
  • Spending time with them as to build the animal-human bond. This will give you the opportunity to detect any changes in their behaviour or physical appearance.
  • Keeping your coop clean – this prevents disease and vermin attraction.

Your company is promoting poultry health with a web campaign. How can readers get involved?

We want to make backyard poultry go viral during March and April with our Chicks Gone Wild campaign. To enter, capture the most crazy or funny home video of your backyard chickens or roosters then head to the Sustenhance Facebook page and upload your entry using the form on the competitions tab. We’re giving away a bag of Sustenhance Perfect Poultry to every entrant and the most ‘wild’ entrant will receive a year’s supply!

Thank you David. You can check out Sustenhance's channels below.


Instagram: @sustenhance 

Monday, March 30, 2015

A cat named Oz

cats unusual markings maps oz
One of a kind. Oz was born with a map of Australia on her nose.
How was your weekend? One of the highlights for me was meeting this fellow during the vetting at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. Nicknamed “Oz” (formally named Siajavi Pai Wen), this longhaired oriental was born with a perfect map of Australia on her face – complete with a (somewhat disproportionately large and, if one must be nit-picky, a bit central) map of Tasmania on her chin. She belongs to breeder and steward Deborah Nugent. I’ve never seen a face like this (of course its not all about appearances - her temperament is wonderful). 

The story of Little Oz has since made national headlines, which is timely since its her birthday this week. You can read about her here, here and here.

Police dog
An enthusiastic police dog plays with handler during a display. 
Did you know that the Sydney Royal Easter Show is home to one of the largest veterinary practice in the Southern Hemisphere? It’s a temporary arrangement, but every year the Show brings together a group of dedicated vets, nurses and team members whose job it is to look after the thousands of animals – dogs, cats, cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, goats, birds, reptiles, rabbits and rodents – that come on site. Its a brilliant place for vet students to work alongside vets and get to know every breed of just about every domestic species seen in Australia.


Vet students Lachie and Tim examine rats and mice before the show.
Wagga based veterinarian Jack with Village Vet star and veterinarian James, and veterinary students Eva, Jacqui and Angela.
Drs Chris Tan and Alan Simpson.

Caution Horses Crossing
A sign I don't see often in my day job.
This rat, from Queensland, has won oodles of ribbons.
Every day of the show the team has grand rounds, and we discuss cases that have been seen over the previous 24 hours, from calvings to colics and anything in between. The standard of care is exceptional. If someone is concerned about an animal, a veterinarian is never more than minutes away, any time of the day or night. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Voting, evidence based medicine, Sarbi the decorated veteran, music for cats and more

Phil begging eyes
Phil wears his sausage eyes to polling booths.

Did you survive another week? I know many of you, particularly vets and nurses, will be working over the weekend, but even so the concept of a weekend is so culturally ingrained that one can’t help but feel a frisson, a spark of excitement.

This weekend, aside from working, Phil and I are going to do our civic duty as New South Welshbeings and head to the polling booths to vote. It’s always an interesting scene as politicians and volunteers from all parties request the opportunity to pose for a photo with Phil.

Sausage sizzles are common at Aussie polling booths, so if you are taking your dog along to vote remember not to let him or her overindulge in the sausage. We do treat post-election vomiting, diarrhoea and even pancreatitis thanks to overzealous ingestion of election-associated sausages.

For vets and students out there, the UK’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons is building resources for evidence-based veterinary medicine. To get involved register here.

In some very sad news, decorated war veteran and bomb detector Sarbi has been reported dead. She had retired and was living in Australia. Recently she had experienced seizures and wasdiagnosed with a brain tumour.

Does your cat like music? If not, you may be playing the wrong stuff. According to a study in Applied Animal Behavioural Science, some music appeals more to some animals than others. Bobby Owsinski has put somesamples on his blog for you to try.

If you’re looking for something a bit more upbeat, this scene from Red Dog is fabulous. Red dog is slowly convincing John that he is the best dog ever – a mission which proves successful, although you won’t see the outcome in the clip. Get your disco shoes on.

Today is your last chance to enter our David Attenborough competition. For the effort of one minute you can win 200 minutes of educational entertainment. Check it out here.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Three (and a bit) things I learned about ECGs in small animal patients

kitten stethoscope
I've lost count of the number of times my stethoscope is nommed by small animals.

How confident are you in interpreting ECGs? Cardiology specialist Dr Niek Beijerink gave a great talk this week on ECGs for general practitioners and I picked up a few user-friendly tips. ECGs been around forever, in fact since the 19th Century, but they still have the power to freak vets and vet students out.

So here is what I learned:

  1. There are only really three big indications for performing an ECG: bradycardia (in a dog with a heart rate less than 60, or 65 if the dog is very nervous); tachycardia (depending on the anxiety) and irregularly irregular rhythm (except for sinus arrhythmia). In cats an irregular rhythm is always abnormal. Other indications include syncope, although normally dogs with syncope will present with one of the formerly mentioned major indications, e.g. bradycardia.
  2. Ideally dogs should lay in right lateral recumbency because this is how reference ranges for ECGs are made. That said, the colour system of ECGs can be specific to a machine so you need to check the manual of each machine you use before placing electrodes. Cats can be measured in sternal position, but don’t over-interpret small changes. They have smaller complexes in the first place which makes them a bit harder ECG. Now there are apps to obtain an ECG using a smartphone.
  3. Neik analyses ECGS according to a comprehensive checklist. That means that for every ECG he assesses: the quality of the registration (including whether the ECG is for that specific patient), regularity and frequency (assessed in light of the indication, eg tachycardia), the consistency of association between p and qrs (there should always be a p wave before every qrs complex, and there should be a qrs after every p wave). He looks at the height and duration of P waves (for example of the P wave is too high it might indicate right atrial enlargement). He assesses AV conduction (looking at the pq interval), examines the qrs complex (duration, height, configuration, heart axis), the st segment, t wave and qt interval. There is no part of the ECG he ignores.
  4. Assume arrhythmias are either always either problem of impulse formation, or impulse conduction. For example, if animal has bradycardia, it is almost always a disorder of impulse conduction. If it has a tachyarrhythmia, this would be due to a disorder of impulse formation.
  5. Always treat the animal, not the rhythm. In particular, with VPCS, treat the underlying cause. Potential cardiac causes of VPCs include dilated cardiomyopathy, arrythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, endocarditis, myocarditis, myocardial contusion. Extra-cardiac causes include hypoxemia, anaemia, intoxication (e.g. digoxin), gastric-dilatation volvulus or splenic masses.


Declaration: the webinar was hosted by PAW (Blackmores).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Glenn meets salad

Centralian bearded dragon food diet nutrition vegetables
Glenn ponders his vegetable salad.
How do you sell the idea of eating vegetables to a Centralian bearded dragon?

Bearded dragons are omnivores, although it appears no one has told Glenn that. He will run across his enclosure for a cricket or mealworm, but remains less excited about carrots and leafy greens. Apparently, around 20 per cent of a juvenile beardie’s diet should be made up of vegies.


I decided to make little G a salad using some chopped leafy greens and carrots, along with some commercial bearded dragon pellets. 

Centralian bearded dragon surgery tail amputation nutrition
Glenn watches me watching him watch his salad. You may also note that his tail is healing well following surgery.

And yes, I did need to add some mealworms so some of the following images do contain those, although there are no images of worms being eaten as such.

Centralian bearded dragon mealworm vegetables nutrition diet
Glenn shows interest in the salad. You can see a mealworm in this view.
Centralian bearded dragon vegetables mealworm mealie worm
Glenn spots something moving in the salad.
Glenn takes a bite.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Why does animal welfare matter in veterinary education?

koala climbing eucalyptus
Welfare is relevent weather you work with companion animals, farm animals, wildlife or laboratory animals.

Why does animal welfare matter in veterinary education? It was the topic of yesterday’s annual RobertDixon Animal Welfare Memorial Symposium and it raised some interesting points.

For me, the short answer is, because in this day and age it makes sense to ask that question in the first place. Is there not an expectation that veterinarians will automatically be guardians of animal welfare, or is there too much perceived tension between the responsibility of maintaining and promoting animal welfare and our commercial and social interests in animal use?

So what is animal welfare? I tend to use the definition put forward by James Yeates (Yeates, J (2013) Animal Welfare in Veterinary Practice. UFAW Animal Welfare Series. London: Wiley-Blackwell).

“Animal welfare, loosely defined, is about what is good and bad for animals – what is important for them to achieve and what is important for them to avoid. Veterinary work is about achieving states that are good for animals, such as health and enjoyment of life, and avoiding states that are bad, such as pain and illness” (Yeates, 2013, p1).

As veterinarians it is our professional responsibility to look after the interests of animals first and foremost. Consider the following veterinary oaths:
“Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge. I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics. I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.” 
Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons:
“I promise and solemnly declare that I will pursue the work of my profession with integrity and accept my responsibilities to the public, my clients, the profession and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and that, ABOVE ALL, my constant endeavour will be to ensure the health and welfare of animals committed to my care.
I solemnly swear to practice veterinary science ethically and conscientiously for the benefit of animal welfare, animal and human health, users of veterinary services and the community. I will endeavour to maintain my practise of veterinary science to current professional standards and will strive to improve my skills and knowledge through continuing professional development. I acknowledge that along with the privilege of acceptance into the veterinary profession comes community and professional responsibility. I will maintain these principles throughout my professional life.” 
[Emphasis added. You can read about "veterinarians who swear" (oaths, that is) here].

In other words, animal welfare is prioritised, it is central to our work, and according to our professional organisations, right now at least, animal welfare is our reason for being.

It does make you wonder why, then, animal welfare groups are merely special interest groups within the profession. That one can join the AVA's welfare and ethics group as one might join the Equine Veterinary Association or the Unusual Pets and Avian Vets group.

The questions asked by students and members of the public and organisations that attended were really telling and insightful. One theme that came through for me was a concern on the part of some students that being seen to support animal welfare may antagonise certain individuals, groups, industries etc and be bad for one’s career.

There is a fear that investigating, researching and committing to improving animal welfare is mutually exclusive with animal use. I don’t believe this is the case – but I do believe we need to be thoughtful about our use of animals and as scientists we are obliged to constantly ask and investigate, is this appropriate use and care of animals?

Animals are sentient beings with thoughts, emotions and a capacity to suffer. Our ability to appreciate this means we are obligated, even in the context of animal use, to treat them – as much as possible – as ends in themselves rather than simply means to our own ends.

We need to decide if veterinarians belong to a profession or an industry. If we belong to a profession then we must act independently of industry, and provide information based on our expertise and evidence rather than simply provide data that supports industry and understate or mask data that goes against the goals of the industry which employs us. Good scientists should not be defensive. We should be open to new ideas, able to critically evulate data and committed to change based on the best possible evidence.

We need to acknowledge that sometimes welfare is compromised due to the interests of humans. These may be commercial interests, ideology, emotional attachments, denial – either way, there are many forces that may cause us to disregard animal welfare. All the more reason to educate veterinary students about this.

What can students and veterinarians do about an animal welfare problem? Two things. Deal with the situation in front of you, for example, if it is a patient you need to do your best to assist that patient. The second is to consider the bigger picture. Talk to and join your professional association, if it’s a welfare problem affecting a particular species, talk to experts who work with that species. If you are a student, talk to someone on the Faculty. Find out more.

Join the professional organisation in your country/region/state and make sure you vote, have your say when policies are circulated for comment.

Read and learn as much as you can about the particular issue. What is the evidence base supporting current practice? What are potential areas for improvement?

Role model excellent animal handling, husbandry and stewardship.

What about your ideas?


I am grateful to the late Dr Dixon’s family for the opportunity to be part of such an event.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Can vets do behaviour better?

fearful cat hiding
"Oh NO, its you!" - have you ever had a patient try to hide from you?

There are some lectures you remember more than others. One particularly memorable comment, and I may misquote due to the haze of memory, was made by the now Professor Paul McGreevy in a lecture about animal husbandry. It went something like this: “You studied veterinary science because you love animals, yet you will realise that you may be the thing they fear the most.” Disturbing. Profound. True. Just being a vet can cause a dog to give you the once over then turn towards the door. But something we can work on changing.

Veterinary practice is built around diagnosis and treatment of disease, and promotion of animal health, but one aspect frequently overlooked is the behaviour of patients. Whether it’s the reason someone presents an animal – for example, “inappropriate” urination, or an incidental issue (a fearful dog hiding under a chair in the waiting room), observing, interpreting and managing the behaviour of patients is central to what we do.

But we can always do better. Veterinarian Tracey Henderson (Tracey H) and Tracy Bache (Tracy B) are directors of Adelaide Veterinary Behaviour Services (AVBS) in South Australia. Part of their job involves teaching others who work with animals how to interact with them in a way that minimises stress.

They offer animal behaviour services including private consultations (ranging from bad manners to severe anxiety issues), one-on-one training sessions, dog behaviour assessments, consultations for dogs that have been given an Dangerous Dog Order by councils and animal behaviour workshops. I heard about them because they’re running a VetPrac workshop at the end of this month.

So I asked them a bit about what they do. But first, a bit on their backgrounds. Addressing animal behaviour is something that requires experience, serious training, dedication and a range of practical skills. This pair have credentials coming out of their ears.


Tracey Henderson.
Tracey H graduated from Murdoch University in 2000, and worked at Willunga Veterinary Services until 2013. She went to the UK to work in both small and mixed practice for 9 months in 2005, and still locums as a companion animal vet.

She designed and started the Puppy Preschool classes (based on Kersti Seksel’s format) in 2001 at Willunga Veterinary Services, and completed a post graduate course in animal behaviour at Sydney University in 2004. Since then she has been offering behaviour consultations at Willunga Veterinary Services. In 2008 she became a member of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists in Veterinary Behaviour by examination.(She is one of two vets based in South Australian to gain these qualifications). 

Being a vet and managing behaviour cases give her the advantage of being able to diagnose any underlying medical disorders that may be influencing a pet’s behaviour, and to prescribe anti-anxiety medication if necessary in conjunction with a behaviour modification program.


Tracey B with friend.

Tracey B worked at the RSPCA Lonsdale shelter in 2002 for 6 years. During this time she was involved in behavioural assessments of adopted dogs, and had many hours of hands on training with the dogs. During her time at the RSPCA she developed a strong passion to also help the dogs on the ‘other side’ and to try and prevent them from ending up at the shelter.

Tracy B started at Willunga Veterinary Services in 2008 to work alongside Tracey H behavioural consultations. She is a veterinary nurse at Willunga Veterinary Services. Tracy has been actively involved in updating and teaching Puppy Preschool® at Willunga Veterinary Services.

In 2010 Tracy received her Certificate 4 in Companion animal training and became a nationally accredited Delta Dog Behaviour Trainer. She is a member of the Delta Professional Dog Trainers Association and a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Australia.

SAT: As a veterinarian I treat companion animals. Why is animal handling so important?

Tracey H: We need to start thinking about the animal’s welfare when we are dealing and handling them. Our clients expect that we are going to ‘best practice’ for their pets, and trust us immensely. If we are educated on being able to read body language and practice low stress handling techniques, this is going to improve the stress and welfare in our patients, and also prevent being bitten.

Tracey B: Handling is a very big part of veterinary work but what we would like to do is educate vets & vet nurses about reducing the stress of the animals we have in our care. Making it a positive experience rather than frightening one.

SAT: What is so different about the behaviour of animals in veterinary clinics?

Tracey H: The majority of our patients are fearful. There are many things in a vet clinic that cause this – smell, unfamiliar animals, unfamiliar people, not feeling well, painful procedures, previous bad experiences, etc.

Tracey B: For some animals being in a veterinary clinic can be an overwhelming experience. This could be due to the lack of socialisation or limited handling and interaction from unfamiliar people. Some animals cannot cope in unfamiliar environments so we need to ensure that the vets and nurses that are interacting with these animals can read and understand their body language. By understanding the animal they will be able to avoid the animal becoming that stressed that they choose to become aggressive towards the handlers or even the owners.

SAT: Veterinary clinics are innately stressful to animals. To what extent can we really address this?

We can address this by being aware of the how the animal is feeling/coping and changing our techniques when dealing with them. This can be as simple as approaching them in a different manner.

SAT: How can animal handling techniques contribute to animal welfare?

Tracey B: By reducing an animal struggling you can reduce the stress. By reducing the stress you can reduce the animal to become reactive and aggressive.

SAT: Do you have any non-human companions and can you tell us about them?

Tracey H: I have a St Bernard ‘pup’ that is 70kg! A border collie and a Labrador, a cat, two horses and some cows! Oh and my hubbie has a crocodile!

Tracy B: I have two very adorable French Bulldogs. Very cheeky and full of personality.

SAT: Do you have any simple tips you can share with veterinarians and vet students that might improve their animal handling right away?

Tracey H: Learn to read body language!!!!
Walk in the ‘paws of your patients’ just for a change rather than focusing on the ‘job to do’.

Tracy B: Become comfortable and handling animals. Practice on nice calm animals. Become familiar how they move, how they like to be held. Learn as much as you can about body language of animals. Even the most subtle signs can have great meaning.

Thank you Tracey and Tracy. If you want to learn more from Tracey H and Tracy B, there’s still time to enrol in VetPrac’s AnimalBehaviour and Handling Workshop, in Canberra this weekend.