Monday, November 30, 2015

Dr Katrina Warren on holidaying with companion animals

Holidaying with animals? Dr Katrina Warren shares her tips.

Here’s something you don’t see every day. While a lot of people are trying to organise pet boarding for the Christmas break, at least one holiday destination is encouraging companion animal owners to bring them along. Shoalhaven, on the South Coast of New South Wales, has not only released a 36 page e-book called “Pets on Holiday”, but engaged celebrity veterinarian Dr Katrina Warren to promote its benefits as a holiday destination for non-human family members.

And it isn’t just about dogs. The booklet provides holiday tips for those travelling with cats and horses as well.

It is refreshing to see the human-animal bond acknowledged in holiday promotional material like this. Companion animals are often treated as family members yet there are frequent barriers (such as a lack of pet-friendly accommodation) that prevent them from participating in family activities.

Dr Warren answered a few of our questions about Shoalhaven and holidaying with pets here.

Dr Katrina Warren and companion Riley.
What are the benefits of taking your companion animal on holidays with you?

Our pets are an important part of the family and for many families, leaving them behind just doesn’t feel right! Companion animals like dogs are a great reason to explore new walking tracks, throw a Frisbee or ball on a pet-friendly park or beach, or just sit with them and watch the world go by. Somehow, animals have a way of making us do more of what we enjoy, including taking time out from the frantic pace of day-to-day life.

Why is the Shoalhaven a popular holiday destination?

Just two hours from Sydney and Canberra, the unspoilt Shoalhaven is recognised as one of Australia’s leading pet-friendly destinations. There’s some of the most picturesque off-leash areas in NSW, including beaches, parks, rivers, trails and dog parks, all of which are perfect for running or relaxing.

Dr Katrina and Riley.
What sort of accommodation is available in the Shoalhaven for people bringing their animals along?

The Shoalhaven boasts an unrivalled selection of pet-friendly accommodation that are happy to host the furry members of the family too; the new Shoalhaven Pets on Holiday brochure lists all the options available and can be downloaded for free at

Any tips for people travelling with animals?

  • A visit to your vet prior to departure is recommended to make sure your pet is up to date with treatment, including paralysis tick prevention
  • Always have an ID tag on your pet’s collar with a contact number of where you are staying
  • When travelling in a car be sure to have cats and small dogs confined in a crate and large dogs harnessed
  • Pack your pets regular food and some home comforts to help them settle in
  • Make sure you have regular toilet and water breaks
  • With dogs, be sure to keep them on a leash whenever you are outdoors and keep cats confined indoors

Thank you, Dr Katrina. SAT would love to hear your pet-friendly holiday plans - where do you go? What provisions do you make for your non-human companions? Drop us a line. Meantime you can check out the Shoalhaven area at, facebook here and twitter here

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Bear hugging for a cause, scientifically validated cat music and that dog wedding video

This week I had the opportunity to interview Dave Morgan, Executive Director of Wild Welfare. Dave’s job is to work with substandard zoos to improve captive animal welfare. It’s a very tough job, a very important cause and an organisation engaged in projects that make a real difference to animals. They’re involved in the Hugs4Bears social media campaign. To get involved, make a donation here then post your photo (hugging anyone really) with the hashtag #ihugbears 

David Teie, the inventor of “species specific music” (or at very least the human discoverer of) is undertaking in interesting crowdsurfing campaign so he can develop a CD for cats. The feline specific music features some heavy purring, as well as other sounds which are scientifically validated as pleasing to cats. He is a composer, obviously a cat lover, and was once the lead cellist for Metallica. Today is the last day you can pledge to support the kickstarter campaign, and pre-order a CD.

Finally, a refreshing take on wedding videos.

This couple engaged their dog as their wedding videographer, and took footage from their dog’s point of view.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Limited opportunity to snag a signed copy of Outback Vets - and support a good cause!

Annabelle Brayley is a storyteller based in southwest Queensland. Earlier this year, Penguin Group released her latest book, OUTBACK VETS, stories about vets who live and/or work in inland Australia. It is a fantastic read - you can check our review here.

As many of you know, at this time 80% of Queensland is in drought.

Wanting to do something to help raise funds for drought relief in SWQ, Annabelle ordered a special consignment of 200 copies of Outback Vets thinking that there would be people who’d like to give it as a Christmas gift (if I did not have a copy already, it would be on my wishlist).

The books are $30 each plus postage ($7.50 for 1 book and $13.50 for 2-5 copies parcel post. OS mail negotiable). They will be signed and Annabelle is happy to write personal messages in them if requested.

‘The Queensland Country Women's Association in Charleville (SWQ) is quietly doing one of the many things CWA does best; helping people struggling with the drought in south west Queensland.

I'll give $10 from each book sold to CWA Charleville Branch.’

If you're interested please email Annabelle at to order and for bank transfer details. Definitely a great gift for veterinarians, aspiring veterinarians, or anyone who wants to read about interesting veterinary careers, and a great way to help humans and animals affected by the crippling drought. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Are you living with an ambassador? Why do we care about animal welfare and animal rights?

Growing up with companion animals can influence your diet,your career choice, and the species you care about as an adult. And the effect seems dose dependent - the more animals you interact with, the stronger the influence.

Why have animals become a social issue? We seem to be seeing more literature, more discussion in the media, more advertisements from advocacy groups, about the treatment of animals, but why? They've been around longer than we have.

Professor James Serpell provided his own interesting answer to this question during a visit to Sydney last month, supported by the Human Animal Research Network (HARN).

He makes a number of points:
  • Ethical concerns about the treatment of non-human animals are not new. They have been a recurrent preoccupation throughout history, from Hunter-gatherer societies and the ancient Greeks to those living in the age of enlightenment and industrialisation;
  • Different cultures have taken different approaches to resolve ethical dilemmas, often by adopting novel “exonerative” belief systems (for example, Aristotle argued that it was okay to use animals because they were lower on the scale of nature than humans);
  • The current resurgence in interest in animal welfare and animal rights seems to be triggered by urbanisation, with a corresponding decline in rural values, and pet keeping, particularly our reliance on animals for social support.

Professor Serpell, a zoologist with expertise in avian behaviour by training, has been studying human-animal relations for decades. One of the things I found most interesting was his discussion about the influence of non-human animals on our lives.

He argues that companion animals and humans engage in a form of mutualism – an interspecies relationship where both species benefit from the association with one another. We provide animals with food, shelter, healthcare, protection from predators and companionship, and they provide us with social support.
But do they change our behaviour? 

Studies that Professor Serpell has conducted have found that social exposure to animals in childhood seems to expand our circle of compassion. Childhood pet-keeping is associated with support of animal causes later in life. Strong attachment to animals predicts avoidance of animal-food products later in life. In another study, animals were found to be a key influence in the choice to study veterinary science.

This is known as the “animal ambassador effect” – pets act as ambassadors for the rest of the animal kingdom.

This certainly rings true for me. It was early experiences with companion animals that probably had the most influence on my choice to become a vet. 
Can you think of ways that non-human animals have influenced you? 

There are other contexts in which we rely on this effect. For example, zoos and aquariums argue that by enabling visitors to engage with individual members of a species, those visitors will then support conservation efforts, or be more motivated to take positive action to assist.

Its an interesting concept to explore. Should we be paying more attention to our relations with non-human animals? Should we be thinking about the broader context of these relationships and the deeper implications? Do we treat these relationships with the respect they deserve?

Professor Serpell’s discussion about the way humans think about animals through history is a fascinating one. You can watch the full presentation here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

How do you get your cat to eat a prescription diet for kidney disease?

When cats have kidney disease, they prefer larger vessels (like baths) to drink from. This is what greets me every time I walk into the bathroom/

Just in case vets ever get too lofty a view of ourselves, the companion animals we live with are here to ground us. I thought I was pretty good at advising clients how to care for cats with chronic renal insufficiency and renal failure, but my cat Michael reckons I need a bit of a challenge.

She has developed azotaemia. I knew it was coming. The polydipsia (excessive drinking) is a bit hard to ignore: we’ve reached a stage where I get in the bath and she jumps in with me so she can drink. Not exactly typical feline behaviour. I estimate she is putting away 500-750ml per day. That and the fact that she has had a number of blood and urine tests in the past few months, in addition to repeat abdominal ultrasounds.

One of the other obvious changes in her behaviour is a marked reduction in appetite. In her salad days (though she ate anything but), Mike was a rather large cat, a subscriber to the “seefood” (see food and eat it) diet. Now, no matter what I offer her, she wants to lick the gravy off everything and walk away, causing me no end of despair and frustration- especially when dietary management is the key to managing chronic renal disease in cats.

The big challenge is trying to introduce a prescription diet, which is designed to reduce the secondary metabolic effects of renal insufficiency. To modify a phrase, you can lead a cat to a bowl of a prescription diet, but (sometimes) you can’t make her eat.

So what are the options? Apart from keeping cats properly hydrated, which may require intravenous fluids or subcutaneous fluids (yes, EVEN when they are drinking that much), there are a few things the experts recommend.
  • Make sure there is nothing else going on. Living with a vet, Mike has been checked out for concurrent gastrointestinal disease, pancreatitis, thyroid disease, diabetes and just about anything else under the sun that might cause her to be off food.
  • Make sure you treat for nausea. Azotaemia makes cats feel nauseous and they may not eat. Anti-emetics can be helpful. Feeding cats something when they are nauseous risks creating a food aversion. Plus it also risks your cat vomiting and Mike always seems to be pointing at a rug when she vomits. (My theory is that cats do this to avoid splashback).
  • Try multiple brands of prescription diet. If one doesn’t work, offer another as they clearly taste different. Now some brands offer more than one flavour (e.g. chicken, seafood) and different forms (wet vs dry, casserole style vs pate style).
  • Use food fresh from the packet, i.e. at room temperature, or warm slightly for a few seconds in the microwave (let it stand to avoid burns). Like some other cats, Mike will never eat anything that comes from a fridge.
  • Add some flavour. One paper suggests low sodium chicken broth, tuna juice (not an option for Mike who loves seefood, but hates sea food), oregano, brewer’s yeast or a small amount of regular food.
  • Use appetite stimulants like cyproheptadine or mirtazapine, but when nausea is treated. According to feline specialist Andrea Harvey, they can also develop a food aversion if given appetite stimulants when nausea has not been addressed.
  • Pretend you aren’t actually feeding your cat. I did have some (limited) success placing the prescription diet on the coffee table when visitors were over, and pretending it was some sort of fancy dish. We then chatted amongst ourselves and, predictably, Mike snuck up on the table for a taste of the forbidden food. You just need to ensure your visitors know that the dish being served is not for human consumption!


Roudebush P, Polzin DJ, Ross SJ, Towell TL, Adams LG, Forrester SD (2009) Therapies for feline chronic kidney disease: what is the evidence? Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 11(3): DOI 10.1016/j.jfms.2009.01.004

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Your Dog Ate Weed: Interview with singer-songwriter and vet tech Kelsey Carpenter

Kelsey and Birdie.

Kelsey Carpenter is a veterinary technician and also talented singer-songwriter. She exploded into my life early this week when someone forwarded a You Tube video of a girl singing her own song, “Your Dog Ate Weed” - a clinical scenario many of us are familiar with. Since then I've found myself humming “All we wanna know, is how much, how long ago...”. The internet superstar had some time to spare to share her story with SAT. But first, here's the tune.


What is your day job?

I work as an RVT and lead technician at a 24 hour emergency hospital in Los Altos, California.

How long have you been singing?

I grew up singing, but it wasn’t until college that I worked up the courage to sing in front of anyone!

What was the inspiration for your song?

I started out by writing the “Happy Tech Week” song because I wanted to say thank you to all of my amazing coworkers, and thought a musical number would be a fun (and unexpected) way to go about it. I was blown away when that song received so much attention! All types of people were asking when I would be posting another song, and so I just had to do it to say thank you for all of the support I received!

What do you hope people will take away from it?

THC toxicity is always a tricky case. It can be uncomfortable to ask clients about possible marijuana exposure, and it can be just as uncomfortable for clients to come clean (no pun intended). I hope that my song can lighten things up a little for everyone and make it a more broachable subject. Our pets cannot talk (still waiting on that technology), so accurate and efficient communication between pet owners and veterinary professionals is key! THC toxicity itself is no laughing matter, but if people can laugh at my silly song, then maybe they will remember the message behind it - that we all just want what is best for the animal, and that honesty is always the best policy when it comes to medicine!

Any other veterinary themed songs you are working on?

The experience of posting these songs has taught me just what a close knit and supportive community we have in the veterinary industry! The positive feedback I have received from both close friends and complete strangers has definitely motivated me to put out some more songs. I have been getting some great requests, too, so definitely stay tuned! 

Do you live with any non human animals?

My roommate is a 6 pound Chihuahua mix named Birdie. She never pays rent on time and has no concept of personal space. She’s lucky she’s cute.

Can you tell us how you met?

I was working with a rescue group in Los Angeles several years ago and stopped by the East LA shelter to pick up some paperwork for them. You know how people say their pets chose them? Well I really have no other way to explain it! She was in a cage with at least 10 other small dogs, but as I walked by, she pushed her way to the front like “Stand back, guys. This one’s mine.” And I must say, I feel pretty darn lucky to be “The Chosen One”. :)

Is there anything you’d like to share with veterinarians and future veterinarians?

I have so much respect for the people who work in this field. This job is incredibly tolling physically, mentally, emotionally, even socially. In my experience, humor has been one of the few ways I’ve been able to process the many difficult situations I encounter as a veterinary technician. It is actually unbelievable to me the capacity each of us has for sadness, fear, pain, and heartache, and does not always surprise me that so many of us combat things like compassion fatigue, depression, and burnout at some point in our careers. It is crucial we all find a way to “decompress” after particularly difficult shifts, or else we run the risk of suffering from the “emotional bends”. Creating this music has been a wonderful way for me to process things for myself, and I hope that these songs can help others find something to laugh about as they “decompress” as well.

Thanks Kelsey for taking the time out of your schedule. I cannot wait for your first album - veterinary practice just has so much raw material.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Keeping companion animals comfortable in the heat

If you're heading to the beach, skip the middle of the day - early or late is better.

Sydney is in the grip of a heatwave which looks set to continue today. We can easily forget that humans can mostly cope with weather extremes because we have the ability to control our environment. At very least we can move into the shade. Not all animals have this ability and they rely on us remembering to control their environment for them.

SAT fans Charlie and Jessie relaxed in a cool bath yesterday.
They weren't getting out, even when the water disappoeared.

You can read more about the symptoms of heat stress (and some pathophysiology) here.

How do we prevent heat stress in animals?

  • Where possible, keep animals indoors in a well ventilated or air conditioned space;
  • Avoid exercising pets during the hottest parts of the day (9-5pm) and don’t over-exert animals on hot days;
  • Remember that shade moves – so if you do have an enclosure in the shade, be able to move this.  Be mindful that temperatures can also soar in the shade.
  • Provide a coolness gradient for pocket pets by placing a leak-proof ice-brick (wrapped) or icebucket (which cannot be tipped over) at one end of the enclosure so they can move away from or towards it;
  • Provide fresh, cool and iced water;
  • Monitor the environmental temperature at the level the animal is kept;
  • If you can, check on animals through the day (work from home, slip home at your lunchbreak) to ensure they have adequate water and are comfortable (if you work indoors AND your employer with okay with it AND your animal is comfortable in your workplace, its one of those days that taking them to work might be a good idea);
  • Many dogs (though not all) will enjoy a cool shower or bath. For animals that hate the bath, giving them a sponge bath by patting them with a wrung out flannel or similar can help keep them cool;
  • You can always take your dog for a swim if they enjoy swimming (not all dogs feel comfortable in the water);
  • Brachycephalic or flatter faced breeds such as pugs and French bulldogs are much more vulnerable to heat stress due to the reduced surface area in their air ways;
  • Don’t leave animals in vehicles.