Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sculptures by the Sea and more on Lyssavirus

The Sculptures by the Sea complement the landscape.
I don’t know much about art, but I know I like public outdoor art exhibitions where dogs are welcome. And it turns out that Sculptures by the Sea is the world’s largest public outdoor art exhibition. So we travelled to Bondi Beach to view the sculptures there.

Phil wasn't sure about this one (Thomas Quale's "Comenavadrink and waddayalookinat".
Even without sculptures, the Bondi to Tamarama walk is stunning, especially early in the morning. And the thing we’ve discovered about sculptures is that once you start looking at them, every structure you come across on the bath seems like a sculpture. A simple rubbish bin between artworks prompts the question “is this a sculpture? What does it mean?”

Sculpture by Julie Collins and Derek John, "Evidence based research: crossing the line".
Unlike just about every other art exhibition I’ve been to, at Sculptures by the Sea, you don’t have to cloak your bag, photographs are encouraged and touching of works (at least some of them) expected.

Kerrie Argent's work, "Overconsumption" is meticulously constructed from bottle tops.

If you are in Sydney this weekend and looking for something nice to do, it’s well worth a visit – though I strongly recommend public transport or car pooling.
More information here.

Harrie Fisher, "Which way forward?"
In other news we were asked a question by Judy G about what to do if an animal is bitten or scratched by a bat. The NT’s Chief Veterinary Officer released information this week about Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL) being detected in the Northern Territory. I think the best resource (though NSW-centric) is the Department of Primary Industry’s guidelines (click here to view the PDF).

(One thing I found interesting is that the key differential diagnosis for bats showing clinical signs associated with ABL – seizures, tremors, paralysis, paresis, weakness, overt aggression, ground-dwelling or acting unusually – are rat lungworm and head trauma. Another reason for vets to be aware of rat lungworm infection).

Essentially if an animal is bitten or scratched by a bat, the bat – where possible – should be submitted for testing. If the body is NOT available for testing, vaccination of the animal against rabies is recommended. This is done under a permit system. The animal is also monitored for two years.

If an animal is bitten or scratched and the bat tests NEGATIVE, vaccination is not required. More details in the guidelines here. Excellent question!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Australian Bat Lyssavirus in the Northern Territory and Cat Protection releases information in Chinese

Take care when handling bats (and use gloves to minimise scratches)
The Chief Veterinary Officer of the Northern Territory, Dr Malcolm Anderson, announced that Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL) was detected in a fruit bat in Katherine in September last month.

It is only the second time ABL has been detected in the Territory (the first time was in 1997), although it is considered endemic throughout the Australian bat population. In Australia there have been three reported cases of ABL in humans, all fatal. Two cases have been reported in horses.

He reminded everyone that anyone handling or caring for bats should be vaccinated prior to exposure, and if you are scratched or bitten wash the wound thoroughly for at least FIVE MINUTES with soap and running water. Medical attention should then be sought immediately.

In the event that bat saliva contacts your mucous membranes (ie eyes, mouth, nose) flush the area with water and seek attention.

Anyone with this sort of contact should seek attention, whether vaccinated or not.

Finally, if the bat or bat’s body can be contained without putting yourself in further danger, put this in a box and contact the Centre for Disease Control or Department of Health in your area as the bat can be tested.

Further information is available here.

Meanwhile the Cat Protection Society of New South Wales has released an information sheet, in Chinese, about cat welfare and the benefits of desexing.
The project is the result of collaboration with University of Sydney Medica and Communications students Jiaying Zhou, Yunfei Qian and Xiaoqing Feng, and veterinarian Dr Eva Tang.

You can view and download the sheet here.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dolphins visit Sydney

Bronte beach yesterday evening. Not exactly everyone's favourite beach weather but as it happened, the best time ever to go.

It has been a very busy week here at SAT HQ, research on two big projects is ramping up and the office, frankly, looks like a disaster zone. Yesterday, in an attempt to achieve work-life balance (bwahahaha) Phil and I went to meet up with a friend at Bronte Beach for a spot of fish and chips.

This dude wasn't camera shy. He's not posing either - he was checking out our chips.
We fought our way through peak hour traffic wondering if it were such a good idea to venture east.

It was a tad windy, a smidge overcast and a touch dark…on the up side it’s never been easier to score a park. Only the really hard-core, wet-suited surfers were braving the water.

And when we were sitting down enjoying potato scallops, we noted some action in the waves…a pod of dolphins rode in on the waves and played around in front of us.

This might be a good pic to zoom in on. I promise they are there.
Naturally I was under-lensed but just to prove it happened, here they are. Not being a beach-dweller and only visiting sporadically I’ve never seen dolphins visit a Sydney beach before. Spectacular.

Truly awesome.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Are you an elite performer?

Most Cavaliers aren't elite performers, but they can surprise you.

We’ve been doing some research on perfectionism and failure in veterinary students, and came across a fantastic paper entitled “Veterinary Students as Elite Performers” which provides insight into why the vet degree is so challenging.

But first this concept of veterinarians as elite performers. I tend to associate the word “elite” with the concept of an elite athlete. While there are many sporty vets around some of us (ahem) aren’t so gifted. Do you need to be a marathon runner or pole vaulter to be a good vet? [It would give you impressive stamina].
No. (Phew). What the authors mean is this:

“Elite performers are judged by proficiency standards, face performance consequences that may include loss of life for client or self, must have excellent coping skills for unanticipated situations, and are expected to engage their talents and competencies at specific moments regardless of external distractions or competing demands.”
You know. Emergency room doctors, surgeons, the bomb squad etc.

There is significant competition for places in veterinary schools, allowing these schools to select the best performers. You would think, then, that veterinary degree programs would be a hotbed of excellence and produce only elite performers. But it doesn’t follow.

As the authors state, “by their very nature…these same programs may be ill-suited to promote high levels of performance among these elite achievers, particularly in areas where performance is dependent on non-technical competency and personal growth.”

Human nature gets in the way. High-achieving students are, according to the literature, strongly motivated to a) maintain an appearance of POSITIVE social comparison (ie doing well compared to their peers) and b) avoid any chance of NEGATIVE social comparison (ie doing worse than their peers).

But what happens when you immerse high achievers with their academic equals? Some will have to do better or worse. Much energy is spent comparing oneself – look, she knows so much more/puts in more hours/got a high distinction. Evening questioning oneself “I am not as smart as them – should I even be here? I feel like an imposter!”

Having been through vet school, I can tell you that these thoughts can be overwhelming at times. The result is that one can adopt an “external locus of control”, ie worrying about how others are performing and how one self is performing in comparison, rather than worrying about what one can control (one’s own performance in its own right). Of course all this additional worry is detrimental to one’s own performance – so the “OMG they are so much smarter than me” effect is a somewhat self-fulfilling prophecy. Again, speaking from experience, it can be a powerful force.

The authors looked at characteristics of vet students and found that in general there is a high level of anxiety in vet students, that they were inadequately equipped to deal with adversity, they placed a high value on positive social comparison (which is one reason for getting quite emotive about grades), their fear of failure resulted in passive behaviour in professional settings, they were prone to depression and procrastination, and – despite all this – self confidence levels were quite high.

As a teacher I am painfully familiar with the reluctance of veterinary students in particular to participate in class discussions, concerns about group work and helping peers succeed and resentment of peer success (documented in the study). But until I read this I never really understood why.

There’s no easy fix. The authors recommend providing very well defined learning goals and expectations to “allay the sharp fear of failure”, creating learning environments that create group achievement and creating opportunities for personal growth and development. Surely also recognising this tendency to compare ourselves is an important step.

If you’re interesting in reading more about elite performance, check out our review of Mathew Syed’s book here: 


Zenner D, Burns GA, Ruby KL, DeBowes RM & Stoll SK (2005) Veterinary students as elite performers: preliminary insights. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education 32(2):242-248.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Oncology distance education

Bella the chihuahua sent her photo this week. What a gorgeous girl!
I’ve spent the last couple of days at the Centre for Veterinary Education doing the face-to-face component of their distance education program in oncology. If you’re a veterinarian thinking of doing some extra training, I can’t recommend it enough.

There are ten modules, each with assignments, all of which relate to cases you see in practice. The workload is quite reasonable and the material has been designed to be useful. The DE courses are great if you have an interest in practice you want to pursue (medicine, surgery, imaging etc.) and you want to learn from the best in the field. For example, the tutor for our oncology course, Peter Bennett, is boarded in both medicine and oncology (if you want to sign up for distance ed in 2015 you can score early bird rates til October 31 - see here).

Now that we are getting to the end of the course I feel that I have a much better knowledge base around cancer and can offer clients better information and (depending on the patient and diagnosis) more options. I also feel better equipped to manage complications of cancer and therapeutic monitoring.

Dr Bennett with our oncology class. Now THAT is a decent staff to student ratio.
Should you treat cancer in pets at all? Some people ask the question. But cancer is the most curable of the chronic diseases. If you think about diabetes, heart disease and renal disease, clients and vets are often more ready to treat those but when “the c word” is raised both may be less keen. The truth is the outcome of treatment or management can be as good or better than for these conditions.

I’ll be sharing more about veterinary oncology (from the perspective of a general practitioner) in the coming weeks. 

Meantime I just caught this interesting link on a working dog that herds emu chicks. Stunning images here.

Which products and foods are cruelty free? If you’re in Sydney next weekend you can find out at the 9th Annual Cruelty Free Festival. Check it out here

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fly your pet in a private jet

The future of travel? Pet friendly flights.

Why is it that companion animals are treated as companions on land, and cargo in the air? Within Australia it’s just about impossible to fly with a companion animal in the cabin, which means they are stowed in the hold.

Imagine if your pet could sit beside you for the duration of the flight? Imagine sharing your in-flight meal with your cat or taking your dog for a walk around the cabin?

We spoke to “Petsin the Air”, a UK based company that provides private jet transport for pets – and their people.

Imagine where you could go.
Why is there a need for "Pets in the air"? 

Pet owners like to travel WITH their dogs in the comfort of a private jet with their dogs uncaged and free to walk around. This affords both types of passenger a stress free trip.

You allow pets in the cabin. Exactly where can they sit?

Generally they prefer to sit on the settees or seats. There is no restriction where the dogs can go as long as they do not make a nuisance of themselves, which they never do. We have in the past removed seats where there are a few dogs travelling.

Can they walk around during the flight if it’s a long flight? 

Absolutely, the pets are free to roam. We always insist at least one adult passenger remains awake at all times.

Do you serve snacks for non-human passengers? 

Snacks or full service meals for both dogs and humans are available, with or without additional cabin crew.

What species do you fly? 

Any, as long as they are domesticated and are happy to walk up the aircraft steps.

Are there some pets you don't allow in the cabin? 

Yes, those pets which are too wild … (untamed). We have to adhere to CAA rules etc. Dangerous animals aren't allowed on aircraft.

Do you have in-flight entertainment?  

Yes, whatever is required, the animals mostly look out of the windows or sleep!

What's the longest distance you've flown? 

Far East to West Coast of USA.

Have you had to cater to any interesting special requirements? 

All food requirements are catered for, including fillet steak for those pet owners who request it. Some celebrities are happy with a sandwich!

Is there anything else that pet owners should know before flying with their pet? 

We brief the owners thoroughly about feeding pets before they travel [Ed - good call - and a good travel tip in general. If your pet gets queasy in the car it might be worth skipping breakfast til you arrive at the destination]. We ensure no flight leg is too long as to make a pet uncomfortable. All flights must be tailored individually as all pets travel differently. 

We provide a bespoke travel service at not such an unreasonable cost as
people may think. In recent years, we have looked after a small amount of high end clients on an individual basis and we're now launching this business to provide the same service to a wider clientele.  


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Five ways to use your smart phone to improve your pet’s health

As we have stated before, cats alone justify the existence of the smartphone. 

A picture is worth 1000 words and when it comes to some topics, such as the texture, volume and colour of diarrhoea, words don’t come easy…

The emergence of the smartphone has, mostly, been a plus for pets (with the exception of their owner’s attention being diverted by it of course). I think it improves the human animal bond and certainly have been shown countless photos of patients looking cute by owners – which is always nice.

But astute owners also use their phone to aid their pet’s health. They may not all be pretty, but here are five ways you can use your device to the betterment of your best friend.

  1. Record episodic health problems – Seizures can be difficult to distinguish from syncope, or fainting, but a video of an episode (together with a physical examination and other diagnostics) can be helpful in distinguishing the two. Similarly there are phenomenon like reverse sneezing which can be challenging to describe, but a video will show your vet exactly what you are talking about and can help localise the problem.
  2. Collect a “visual” sample – People used to bring me all sorts of take away food containers with horrendous stool samples within. Most of the time – especially if these have been sitting around for a while – we can’t do much with them, but a photograph of stool, diarrhoea or vomit can be really helpful. If we need a sample we can always collect one or send you home with a sterile specimen jar (and a pair of gloves). But sometimes there is enough information in the photo for us to understand a bit more about the type of diarrhoea, for example, and what might be causing it. (Speaking from bitter experience if you take these kinds of photos you might want to be cautious about who scrolls through your phone – there’s nothing like a shot of frank blood in vile stool between selfies to really turn someone off).
  3. Monitor clinical progress – sequential photographs can be used to document wound healing, the reduction or progression of a lesion or lump and so on. It gives you a more objective measure but also some sense of the rate of progress which can be helpful. Of course you need to communicate this info to the vet – simply photographing a lump won’t make it go away.
  4. Documenting behaviour – problem behaviour is common in the home setting but pets aren’t always their usual selves in the consulting room. They might be excited, scared, subdued or hyper – but some animals simply won’t do at the vet what they were doing at home. This is where a video can help enormously.  
  5. Keeping records – a phone is a handy way to record medications, vaccinations, flea treatment, heartworm and reminders (there are lots of apps for doing this, I'm not going to plug any particular one).

Images and video are no substitute for a physical examination by a qualified veterinarian, and diagnoses should not be made over the phone. Photographs and pictures can be misleading, but used well they can be very helpful. Images are more useful if they contain something that gives an indication of scale (eg a ruler, tape measure or even a standard sized object like a coin) and location (take an establishing shot that shows the whole animal as well as the close up).