Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dr Cathy Warburton on how to survive and thrive and manage stress

rabbit vet, vet sculpture
Stress can make us feel fragile, unless we make a deliberate effort to refuel and build resources.

Do you deal with emergencies at work? Whether you’re an emergency vet, a general practitioner, a vet or nursing student, or someone in a different field of work who deals with emergencies, we know they can be stressful. We also know that “the best way to face an emergency situation is healthy, happy, rested and resource-laden”. The challenge is how to get to that point.

The above quotation is from Dr Cathy Warburton, former emergency veterinarian and founder of Make Headway. She addressed the AVA’s NSW division conference in Newcastle with a presentation called “Riding the emergency roller coaster – how to survive and thrive in high stress.”
Cathy is also a contributor to The Vet Cook Book, and also a brilliant speaker who has seen and been through the roller coaster of emergency veterinary practice.

There were some key points that Cathy made.

When we look after ourselves effectively, we have the energy and endurance to effectively look after our clients and their animals”. 

She used the metaphor of a car. We cannot run it on empty without refueling it. Yet good nutrition, hydration, rest and recovery take second fiddle to the demands of work. In the long term this is bad news. We need to keep refueling the tank. Simple. True. Not negotiable. Eat, drink, sleep, move.

“All recovery is not equal”. 

Taking a break but stressing about work does not a rested vet make. According to Cathy, we need to turn our minds away from work, reduce sympathetic activation and do things that generate positive emotions. She uses the acronym “CLING”:
  • Connect – with family, friends and non-human companions
  • Learn new things – not work related!
  • Into action – exercise (at least 30 minutes, 3 times per week)
  • Notice – notice the world around you, audit your own body
  • Give – take the focus off yourself and give to others (it could just be thanks)

She added that in order "to maximize our motivation, it is important that we choose CLING activities that are consistent with our values, strengths and interests and to vary our activities a little over time.”

“Nobody is happy all the time and no amount of self-care is going to prevent you from having challenges, setbacks and pain”. 

Building resources helps build resilience. Resources include but are not limited to:
  • Self-care e.g making that appointment with a health professional, eating well
  • Self-awareness and emotional intelligence
  • Feeling personally competent and in control (eg find out and play to your strengths)
  • Mindfulness
  • Find out what we value and work in alignment with these
  • Develop a support network

You can find out more about Cathy’s work and read her fantastic blog here. You can also enrol in her online High Achiever’s Training Program here. (It runs from May to June).
This blog has a strong focus on mental health of health professionals and some people ask why, aren’t I focused on animal welfare?

Here are a few thoughts. First, Google "veterinarian" and "mental health". Increased awareness has lead to open discussion about this issue, and the more aware we are, the more we realise we have a problem. And it does claim lives.

I should qualify that I don’t believe that health professionals - veterinary health professionals in particular - have a monopoly on stress. Any person can experience stress, distress and mental health issues, and in fact anyone who doesn’t is a bit of an exception. There are plenty of reasons that members of veterinary teams feel stressed at and outside of work. It’s not unusual, I’ve been stressed and distressed at and outside work myself. Every week I speak to colleagues and students who are impacted by stress, not all work in vet practice. We live in a stupidly busy, overstimulating world. We aren’t chased by woolly mammoths anymore but there are plenty of other threats to our well-being that keep us up at night. 

I do think as health professionals we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about our own health. After all, we look pretty hypocritical if we’re recommending great diets, lifestyles and wellness programs for animals and can’t get it together to eat a meal and have a pee at work! (Obvs in the appropriate place). We’re animals too.

Plus, I believe that we’re in a better position to treat animals the best we can if we’re feeling as well as we can. So for me, mental health of veterinary professionals and animal welfare are inextricably linked.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Can you help science help itchy dogs?

Labrador, itchy dogs
What are the genetic risk factors for itching in labs and golden retrievers?

Have you ever lived with an itchy dog? Not just a scratch here and there, but every time you turn around they’re chewing their feet or biting around their tale or vigorously scratching an ear with a hind leg.

Its uncomfortable. And if you happen to share a bed with a dog who scratches, no one gets any sleep. The main causes of itching or pruritis in dogs in Australia are fleas (I think we routinely underestimate the impact these guys have on dog’s quality of life), atopic dermatitis (allergies to pollens, dust mites, things we can’t see that are often airborne), and food allergy. Some dogs have a combination which can make management frustrating and tricky.

Researchers in the UK are trying to get to the bottom of a genetic basis for atopic dermatitis in Labradors and retrievers. Owners of Labradors and golden retrievers (must be purebred) over three years old are invited to take part.

According to Nottingham Veterinary School Research Fellow Dr Naomi Harvey, “We know that at least 10 per cent of dogs suffer from long-term skin allergies and it can have a serious impact on their lives, and on the owners’ lives in dealing with it. We need to collect data on both atopic (itchy) and non-atopic (non-itchy) dogs from these breeds so we can look for differences between them at a genetic, environmental and behavioural level to help us better understand the causes and impact of the disease.”
You can read more here, and register your dog for the survey here.  This site also contains information about atopic dermatitis, and info for vets and nurses.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Help Border Collies beat cancer

Boarder collie lymphoma; canine cancer research
The late and gorgeous Mac and Jetty, who have a research project named in their honour, thanks to very devoted owners.

When Mac and Jetty (two beautiful border collies) passed away from lymphoma and anal sac cancer, their owner Anne Evans wanted to leave a gift to honour both of them - The Mac and JettyLymphoma Research Project was born.

And they need your help! Do you know a Border Collie? Have you lived with one? You may be able to help out in some important studies.

Sydney University PhD candidate Pamela Soh and oncology resident Dr Katrina Cheng are working on two important studies as part of the research project.

The first looks at the general health status and prevalence of diseases in the Border Collie population. You can complete the survey here

The second part of the study is looking at lymphoma in Border Collies. If you own or know any Border collies with lymphoma, or their relatives, Pamela Soh and Dr Katrina Cheng are seeking blood samples to investigate predisposing risk factors in the breed and potential new treatment targets.

The ultimate aim is to reduce the incidence of lymphoma in Border collies, and other dogs.

And if you don’t know any Border collies? You can help spread the word by visiting and sharing the facebookpage

For more information you can email Katrina or Pamela at

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Rehoming retired greyhounds - the challenges

We need to consider the world "through their eyes", says veterinarian Karen Dawson.

Greyhound racing has been in the media lately, thanks to a greyhound racing ban which was implemented then later withdrawn by the Government. The ban was spurred by a Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry of New South Wales (you can read a fact sheet here) . Following the Government’s ban reversal, with Industry guaranteeing a radical overhaul, the NSW Greyhound Industry Reform Panel has made 122 recommendations (you can read these here). 

Welfare problems highlighted by the special commission and addressed by the Greyhound Industry Reform Panel include, among others, wastage of dogs that were unable to race, or retired from racing. There is an argument that rehoming all or as many of these dogs as possible will minimise wastage and improve the welfare of rehomed dogs.

That’s if we assess the success of rehoming only according to the number of dogs rehomed, at present still a mere fraction of those produced by the industry. But there are other issues to consider.

These were raised in a presentation by Dr Karen Dawson, a veterinarian with memberships in behaviour who works extensively with greyhounds, and founded the Pet Behaviour Clinic. Her presentation, “Through their eyes – helping pet greyhounds adjust to life as a pet”, raised some tricky questions that no doubt will generate emotive responses. But they are worth considering.

There has been a huge effort on the part of greyhound rehoming organisations to promote greyhound adoption. These organisations do incredible work in rehabilitating, training and selecting dogs. But they can’t rehome every racing greyhound. Their numbers currently outweigh capacity of rehoming organisations. Another factor is that some greyhounds don’t cope with rehoming. Successful rehoming of animals is not just about numbers rehomed, but the quality of life of rehomed dogs. Rehoming has the potential to compromise the welfare of adopted dogs and their families.

The key point is that, in order to be safe pets who are able to enjoy good welfare, there need to be substantial changes to the way greyhounds are cared for at all of their life stages - not just once they enter a rehoming program. As Dr Dawson said, the process of creating an animal that has good mental health starts in utero, not at retirement. Chronic kennel stress can expose foetal puppies to stress hormones – we need to consider the stress of the dam as well. She acknowledged that industry and Government are taking steps to address these concerns but it will require substantial commitment.

Dr Dawson pointed out that rehoming is stressful for any dog and the aim of preventative behavioural medicine is to reduce this occurring, to maintain the animal-family bond. She added that sometimes our expectations of any rehomed animal can be unreasonable, i.e. we expect these dogs to assimilate uneventfully into our environments and routines, much of which may be novel to them.

Research has shown that the more similar the rearing environment is to the domestic environment that a dog will live in, the more emotionally stable that dog will be as an adult.  Greyhounds are routinely reared in paddocks, yet often marketed as perfect unit dwelling pets.

Greyhounds have a traditionally passive coping style, that is they will freeze or be inhibited when frightened. This can be misinterpreted as good welfare by some; it certainly can make them apparently easier to live and work with. But if the strategy fails, they may ultimately choose another coping strategy. The important point is that we might assume their welfare is neutral or okay when they are not.

Behaviour problems seen in greyhounds are generally based around fear and anxiety.
These include
  • -          Freezing on walks
  • -          Separation related problems
  • -          Sleep startle
  • -          Resource guarding
  • -          Excessive fear
  • -          Difficulty in toilet training
  • -          Growling and lunging at people within the home
  • -          Inter-dog aggression (familiar and unfamiliar dogs)

Another problem behaviour is predatory behaviour, which is exacerbated by the illegal practice of live-baiting.

It’s not an issue of simply throwing more money at rehoming efforts. Some fearful dogs may never fully overcome this anxiety. Dr Dawson recommends referral to a veterinary behaviour specialist or veterinary behavioural consultant sooner rather than later.

Exposing dogs to what they’re fearful of does compromise their welfare and can worsen fear. The advice behaviour vets are giving dogs with fear and anxiety is now make the dogs world smaller, not bigger. Reduce exposure to those triggers. For some dogs, being kept in a protected and predictable environment is the best thing for their welfare.

To benefit from socialisation, animals must be in a positive emotional state. There is a fine line between socialisation and sensitisation. If early socialisation is not carried out, or process is inappropriate, by 14-20 weeks dogs are likely to be neophobic, fearful, anxious, show a lack of plasticity in responses and have difficulty learning. Socialisation is not, as many understand it, a treatment for anxiety, fear or aggression. Dr Dawson added that greyhounds are not the only breed to suffer inappropriate socialisation. (I have personally seen a number of poorly socialised dogs that have come from a puppy-farm background with severe behaviour problems).

Greyhounds when they go from a racing to domestic environment, they are exposed to a huge range of novel stimuli. Even for those dogs that are emotionally resilient, it can be challenging. Simply exposing greyhounds to “everything” can be potentially harmful.

Many greyhounds are reared in outdoor paddocks in rural areas, with little human contact, no structured socialisation and minimal exposure to novel stimuli. This can lead to fear and neophobia. Many of these dogs are not lead trained before 6-12 months. They may be less socialised that regular puppies, and may have not seen a domestic environment.

Reducing kennel stress has been a major aim of animal shelters for years as we know that the mental wellbeing of dog declines with increasing length of kennelling. Dr Dawson said that we need to remember that greyhounds are often kennelled for prolonged period and this also needs to be addressed.
Dr Dawson is concerned that compulsory attempts to rehome every greyhound could have negative welfare impacts for the above reasons.
She asked three provocative but important questions:
  1. Can anxious, fearful or predatory dogs (and their owners) experience good welfare and a good quality of life?
  2. Does the zeal to find dogs homes inadvertently compromise their welfare?
  3. Do we expect too much from them, with their earlier experiences and inappropriate marketing setting them up for failure?
She concludes that while it is important to find good homes for greyhounds, it is more important at this point in time to ensure that the right dogs find the right homes, and that welfare policy should have a focus on building emotional resilience in greyhounds so they can have a life worth living at every stage.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Why Dr Belinda Parsons should be the next Bondi Vet

Dr Belinda Parsons has thrown her hat into the ring.

Do you ever watch vet shows on TV? You may be aware that Dr Chris Brown, the star of Bondi Vet, is moving on. The production company have decided to let the public vote for the next Bondi Vet. Of course, not every vet wants to be in front of the cameras. While a few armchair critics might think this is an easy job, it can be as tough and pressurised as any job.

Colleague and fellow blogger Belinda Parsons has thrown her hat in the ring to be the new Bondi Vet.

Belinda is compassionate, clever, very funny and very conscious of the need to promote the welfare of animals. For me the last bit is especially important. She’s not afraid to laugh at herself, her experience in practice is extensive and she can manage a veterinary team like no one’s business. Belinda doesn't know I know this, but she is an excellent boss. I've worked with people who've worked with her and everyone speaks highly of her.So I’m supporting her attempt to become a TV vet. I asked Belinda in her own words why she’s putting herself out there and she said this:

  • I have real passion to dispel the myths about pet care and veterinarians that are common place on the internet [Ed: thank you!!!]. I started a veterinary blog in 2014 with the hope of producing content that help to push back against the misinformation. Blogging introduced me to microblogging and vlogging – I have had the most fun on Snapchat and Instagram sharing my day to day life with the world. I have veterinarians, vet students and vet nurses from all over the world following me and interacting with me.
  • I want to be a role model for young women, as the mother of two daughters, the aunt to two nieces I want to show them that women will be heard, we can overcome the status quo (that male vets make better spokespeople for the profession), we can be good leaders and we can have fun along the way. [Ed: go girl!]
  • I don’t take myself too seriously and I love showcasing my colleagues. I have no desire to know everything and be able to deal with every problem on my own [Ed: hurrah! None of us could do the work we do without our colleagues, our nurses, kennelhands, receptionists, support staff - yet the vets get all the glory.]. I want to show real world vets dealing with the day to day life of working in a small animal vet hospital leaning on their colleagues and demonstrating the camaraderie and support that my hospital prides itself on. 
  • I’ve been working in veterinary hospitals for nearly 20 years. I have been a kennel hand, veterinary nurse, veterinarian, hospital director and now the General Manager of a veterinary hospital. I’m a certified veterinary acupuncturist, on the Board of Directors for the Australia College of Veterinary Acupuncture and the NSW Representative for Australian Veterinary Acupuncture Group.
  • I’m used to being in front of the camera (ok so it’s the camera on my phone and mostly snapchat but it is always about educating the nurses, vet students and interested public in what life is like as a regular vet in small animal practice).
  • I want to shed light on animal welfare concerns, the behavioural needs of our pets and talk openly about using medications, how debilitating anxiety in our pets can be and how meeting the needs of our pets is about more than just providing them with food and water [Ed: YES].

To support Belinda, nominate her at this link.

Some info you might need to complete the form - She works at Great Western Animal Hospital, phone 02 9631 9322, email greatvet[at]

Voting will occur later on. You can follow Dr Belinda's Blog here, or get social with her on facebook.

Its a glamorous job, Dr Belinda. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Three questions you should ask yourself before you purchase or adopt a pet

bearded dragon, Pogona vitticeps
This bearded dragon may be small and inexpensive, but can you meet its five welfare needs?

What advice to you give owners who are about to purchase a companion animal? In the UK, The British Veterinary Association, British Small Animal Veterinary Association, British Veterinary Zoological Society and the Fish Veterinary Society worked together to produce a Policy Statement on Non-Traditional Companion Animals. You can read this excellent document here.

It’s a brief but very helpful guide for owners and veterinarians, and contains some key information. UK legislation is very clear about the obligations of companion animal owners. They must meet the five animal welfare needs of animals. These are:
  1. The need for a suitable environment
  2. The need for a suitable diet
  3. The need to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  4. Any need it has to be housed with or apart from other animals
  5. The need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease

All of the above should be considered in terms of species-specific needs. In addition to ensuring one can meet these welfare needs, potential owners of any companion animals should be asking themselves three key questions:
  • What aspects of your lifestyle and circumstances are likely to affect whether you will be able to meet the welfare needs of your would-be pet?
  • How will you ensure that you obtain your pet from a reputable source which safeguards animal health and welfare?
  • Can you ensure that the number and species of animals you keep in your home are compatible with your ability to meet each animal’s five welfare needs?

These are simple questions, but important to ask whether you’re considering adopting a kitten, puppy, budgie or python. Failing to address these before introducing a companion animal can lead to poor care, illness and suffering. 

Doing your homework can ensure that any companion animal you share your life with has its needs met, and can ensure that these animals enjoy a life worth living.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

What do cats like scratching the most?

cat scratching, corrugated cardboard, feline behaviour,enrichment
Hero rubs his face all over his catnip-infused corrugated-cardboard furniture-sparing scratching station. Adjacent to his scratchy mat. Life is good.
Horizontal, vertical, multi-levelled, tall or short: what kind of scratching post do cats prefer?

Our friends at Companion Animal Psychology have shared the news here.

The key conclusion?
“The ideal scratching post to recommend to a cat owner to help prevent inappropriate scratching is one that includes rope as a substrate, is upright vertical, 3 ft or higher, has two or more levels and a base width of between 1 and 3 ft.” 
BUT…remember among felines there is individual variation. For example, in our house, such scratching posts are ignored. Especially if they were expensive (there seems to be a rule with cats whereby their enthusiasm for something you buy for them is inversely proportional to what you paid for it). Corrugated cardboard is all the rage here, and there needs to be a lot of it (it’s also cheap which confirms the aforementioned feline-onomics rule).

Mike and Hero are also big time horizontal scratchers, so they dig shag pile rugs, scratchy doormats and carpet. Because Michael is older and has a touch of arthritis, her claws are particularly long and she gets them caught in things. I trim them regularly.

I would also add that I am fairly realistic when it comes to the furniture. I don’t take the risk – I use throw rugs and doonas to protect furniture from claws, paws and little tiny hairs that I seem to find everywhere anyway (which is why I need this book).