Monday, February 20, 2017

How long should we fast animals prior to surgery?

Hero: "Clearly you forgot to feed me so I will hang out in your gym gear til you remember."

What’s the hardest thing about taking your pet to the vet? When I talk to clients, they report that - after trying to get the cat into a cat carrier - its fasting.

When dogs or cats undergo a procedure, one of the recommendations is pre-operative fasting. Easier said than done. This is one of the more challenging aspects of treatment of the animals I live with, because they’re not stupid. They know the routine and when breakfast isn’t laid out, they alert me. Repeatedly. Desperately. And unceasingly.

I try all kinds of stunts, for example pretending to sleep in. They know. I adjust my routine to pretend its earlier than it looks. They know.

Humans I know who have undergone procedures under anaesthetic have been almost equally vocal in recounting the inconvenience and challenge of fasting, especially when paired with some sort of laxative preparation (fortunately, animals don’t generally need these).

The reasons we fast animals prior to anaesthetic are to reduce the risk of regurgitation, reduce the risk of aspiration (and aspiration pneumonia), and sometimes because we want an empty gut to work with (for abdominal procedures). It can be hard to tell if they experience post-operative nausea, though some animals clearly do. There are some situations where we don’t have the option to fast – emergency procedures like passing a urinary catheter in a cat with an obstruction, for example.

The American Animal Hospital Association recommends a four hour fast for patients age 6-16 weeks to minimise the risk of post-operative hypoglycaemia. However, for animals over 16 weeks, “overnight” fasting is recommended “for procedures scheduled earlier in the day”. But what counts as overnight? Is dinner the night before allowed? A midnight snack? And what is “earlier in the day”? I’m a morning person so I’d say before 9am, though I have colleagues who’d define morning loosely as something that happens between 10am and 2pm. I suspect the AAHA guidelines are shooting for somewhere in the middle.

One study found no difference in blood glucose, recovery, blood gas or cardiorespiratory parameters in cats anaesthetised with tiletamine-zolazepam fasted for 8, 12 or 18 hours respectively.

In its 2016 Guidelines, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians states that fasting animals over 16 weeks of age for more than 6 hours is unnecessary.

This recommendation appears to be based on a study which found that dogs fed tinned food at half their normal ration three hours before an anaesthetic did not have significantly increased gastric content and might have a reduced incidence of gastro-oesophageal reflux.

It would be helpful to look into the risks of benefits of fasting periods in dogs and cats further so that we can determine optimal fasting times while maximising patient comfort and welfare. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Greyhound welfare, rehoming greyhounds and oesophageal foreign bodies in dogs

The NSW Government is seeking feedback re the recommendations of its Greyhound Industry Reform Panel

Since announcing a backdown on the Greyhound Racing Prohibition Act banning greyhound racing in New South Wales, the State Government has been keen to rapidly progress industry reforms.

The Recommendations of the Greyhound Industry Reform Panel have been published. These include both a best practice governance structure and an animal welfare plan including establishment of an independent Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission.

The reform panel, headed by former Premier Morris Iemma, has made 122 recommendations based on the McHugh report and consultation with stakeholders.

They are seeking feedback as soon as possible.

For those of us who read the McHugh report (900 pages) this is a light read at just over 80 pages. Recommendations highlighted in the Government press release include:
  • Restrictions on keeping small animals on properties with greyhounds;
  • An independent regulator with broad investigative powers;
  • An enforceable code of practice for greyhound welfare;
  • Whole-of-life registration and tracking of greyhounds;
  • An accreditation scheme for industry participants;
  • Increased penalties for animal welfare offences;
  • Strict controls on euthanasia;
  • Improved safety at tracks.

The panel did not recommend a breeding cap at this stage, nor did they recommend zero unnecessary euthanasia. Other recommendations are consistent, consistent in principle, partially consistent or occasionally not consistent with the McHugh report.

To read the document in full and have your say, click here.

Meanwhile the Australian Veterinary Behaviour Interest Group (AVBIG) of the AVA is hosting a webinar on the rehoming of racing greyounds. “Through their eyes: helping a retired greyhound adjust as a pet” is presented by Dr Karen Dawson from 8-9pm on March 1. There is a fee to register which varies depending on your membership status. Click here for more info.

Finally, Dr Trudi McAlees is conducting a survey on oesophageal foreign bodies in dogs. She is calling on any and hopefully all veterinarians to do some citizen science. This is a survey that does involve looking up the practice records so you will need access to those to do it.

As Dr McAlees says. “The most arduous part of participating in the survey will be looking up your practice records to find the last foreign body dog case, and then listing the breed of dog of the 10 cases that presented for any reason directly prior to the oesophageal foreign body dog patient. Completing the rest of the survey will take only a few minutes.”

She will be sharing the results in the Centre for Veterinary Education’s Control and Therapy newsletter. Click here to start. Please do it soon - the deadline is February 26.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Help people age positively with pets

When we know the companionship that animals provide, and the loving homes aged owners can provide, shouldn't we work hard to preserve those relationships?

Can you imagine a life without animals? Most of us don’t have to, until we get older and the prospect of having to give up companion animals to move into aged care accommodation looms large. Some people may be able to continue living at home, but have to give up their companions due to an inability to care for them (e.g. provide regular walks).

A Canberra-based advocacy group, Pets And Positive Aging (PAPA), is campaigning to ensure that pet support becomes of the standard services offered to persons in home and community care. This might involve helping companion animal owners meet their animal’s needs, for example regular exercise.

It’s likely that most people reading this blog are fairly convinced of the benefits – to humans and animals – of responsible pet ownership. But for many organisations, assisting people with companion animals sits in the “too hard” basket.

You can assist PAPA by reading and sharing this article.

You can also visit their website here.

Other ways to assist include talking to your local home and community aged care organisations about assisting companion animal owners. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Getting to zero in shelters, keeping pets cool, and an introduction to medical ethics

Better shelter management has improved the outlook for healthy kittens like these (happily rehomed). We can still do more.

The welfare of animals in shelters in Australia has improved by leaps and bounds since I graduated. The influx of animals, once overwhelming, is now being stemmed thanks to better shelter management, increased education of staff in animal welfare, behaviour and enrichment, an understanding and determination to be proactive about combating compassion fatigue and a groundswell of motivation to do something to prevent the destruction of healthy animals. There is still a way to go.

Getting to Zero is a model aimed at achieving ZERO killing of healthy or treatable cats and dogs – that more than 90 per cent of the intake of shelters. Every two years, G2Z hosts a conference, drawing on expertise from around the world.

This year I will be attending the Getting 2 Zero 2017conference. Save the date!

Meantime this has been an incredibly busy week. The current heatwave is playing havoc with companion animals. One of the most common things I’m seeing is late presentation of unwell animals, with owners reporting that they noticed their pet was a bit off colour, or perhaps less interested in food, but thought it was just the heat. It’s understandable – this heat is knocking everyone around, and causing behaviours like lethargy, panting, increased thirst and inappetence that are also seen with illness. But this is also problematic as it means that signs of illness are easily dismissed.

Undoubtedly its preaching to the converted, but please ensure pets have access to a cool environment and if you think they’re a bit off colour, best to get them checked out. More tips on keeping animals cool here. It looks like this hot weather is set to continue.

Finally, Dr Gwen Adshead, who treats people, gave a great lecture about medical ethics which raises some issues faced not only by doctors, but veterinarians. This article provides a beautiful summary of the key schools of thought in medical moral decision making. Read it here.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Help set the One Welfare agenda, and feline-friendly home modifications

Cat modifications, cats, arthritis
These carpeted stairs enable a 17-year-old cat to continue to sleep in his favourite spot - on the bed.

Would you like to help set the agenda to move the One Welfare concept foreword? The One Welfare concept acknowledges the inextricable links between the welfare and wellbeing of humans, animals and the environment.
One Welfare World is consulting with people around the world to determine appropriate terminology and parameters for One Welfare. You can have your say until April 30.

If you want to learn more about the development of this concept, download the papers here.

A recent project I’ve been involved with is a discussion about the welfare needs of cats. As part of this I’ve been visiting households where people have made modifications to better accommodate the needs of their cats, including outdoor enclosures for otherwise indoor cats, variations on the standard litter tray to accommodate cats who like privacy or those who like to party in the litter, nooks to hide and places to climb.

Cats, litter, litter tray
Sam and Atticus enjoy use of litter trays with high sides.
cats, cat proofing, cat enclosure
This cat-proofed balcony ensures that cats can enjoy the view without succumbing to "high rise syndrome".
It’s been a fantastic experience. If you have any photos of feline-friendly modifications you’re happy to share, drop us a line.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Treating mental health problems in companion animals: interview with Dr Kersti Seksel

Dr Kersti Seksel is a registered specialist in veterinary behaviour, and treats animals with all manner of mental health and behaviour problems.

Mental health and behaviour problems are common in veterinary general practice. One of the challenges for veterinarians is working out what advice to give – does the animal require training, or is there a genuine mental health problem. The consequences of unmanaged behaviour and mental health problems are no joke: in some situations, this leads to euthanasia of the animal. There are clients I have met who no longer have visitors because it’s just too hard to manage their dog when others come over. Others have to give up their pets when they have children because it isn’t safe to have a child in the house with a particular animal. Some animals have such profound separation anxiety that the owners feel they can never be left alone.

Mental health and behaviour problems impact the welfare of animals, and the humans they live with. So this month I wanted to spend some time introducing the mental health experts that help companion animals.

Dr Kersti Seksel is a specialist in animal behaviour and had the qualifications to prove it (BVSc(Hons) MRCVS MA(Hons) FANZCVS DACVB DECAWBM FAVA). She graduated in Veterinary Science from the University of Sydney, then from Macquarie University with a BA in Behavioural Sciences majoring in psychology. She is an adjunct senior lecturer at Charles Sturt University and an honorary associate at the University of Sydney. Kersti is the principal of a specialist practice for animal behaviour in Sydney and see cases around Australia. She is chair of the NSW Animal Welfare Advisory Council, a Board member of Delta Society and a member of the Special Council of the Pet Professional Guild Australia. She has presented at multiple conferences and meetings nationally and internationally and has published widely. She is a regular presenter on ABC radio in Australia on pet care and behaviour, writes for Dog’s Life and is also a consultant to the Veterinary Information Network. Kersti is the author and tutor for the Centre for Veterinary Education’s distance education course in Behavioural Medicine. When it comes to mental health problems in animals, she’s seen it all.

What’s your day job?

Seeing patients with mental health issues and helping their owners better understand their special needs pet.

You’ve devoted your career to animal behaviour. Surely in this day and age, we know all there is to know about canine and feline behaviour?

There is still so much we do not know, even though many of us have been around animals all our lives. There are also so many myths and legends about animals some of which have been disproven scientifically decades ago but unfortunately are still being perpetuated through many sources. But with more research and more veterinarians undertaking studies in behavioural medicine the more we will know in unravelling the mysteries of why animals do what they do. It’s a continually evolving field which makes it so challenging yet exciting.

Do you think there is a stigma around mental illness in animals, as there has been in people?

I think people do not necessarily want to accept that animals can have a mental illness that may be contributing to what appears to be their animal’s anti-social behaviour. It seems much easier to blame the owner or blame the pet. However, over the years this stigma is becoming less so and just like the stigma with mental illness in people is decreasing the same goes for animals.

Medication is often an important component of treating behavioural problems. What are the common fears that owners have about medicating their pets and are these well founded?

People may fear that the medications may change the personality of their pet or their pet may be sedated or become a “zombie”. However, medications cannot change personality but they can decrease anxiety. If the pet is sedated or has other side effects then the medications may need to be changed or the dose rate altered and they should see their veterinarian or veterinary specialist in behavioural medicine as soon as possible. In reality side effects are very uncommon. Medications are always used in combination with behaviour modification and environmental management in order to have the best welfare outcome for the pet.

When should we recommend that a client sees a veterinary behaviour specialist, versus say joining an obedience class or consulting with a trainer?

If the pet has a behaviour problem (a mental health issue) then it has a medical problem. Medical problems of all descriptions need to be seen by a veterinarian. If the pet needs to learn manners or learn to sit or stay or learn how to behave at the door then a rewards based trainer should be able to help. These trainers will refer to a veterinary behaviourist if needed. It is really important to avoid all punishment, especially with a pet with a mental health issue, as it can increase anxiety as well as the likelihood of aggression.

What non-human(s) do you share your life with and how did you meet?

Kersti's companions, both of whom suffer from forms of anxiety, are successfully managed with environmental management, behaviour modification, medication, and pheromone therapy.
I have two very special dogs, both of whom came via shelters as rescues in different ways. One belonged to one of my best friends that died unexpectedly. She passed all her temperament tests when first at the shelter but as it took the legal profession many months to finalise the will she went kennel crazy. So I became the proud owner of a very anxious dog with separation anxiety and severe noise phobias. My other dog came courtesy of my husband who brought her home from another shelter where he was working. She was a very, very, very anxious dog who ran away from her own shadow. Both are now doing well after several years of environmental management, behaviour modification, medication and pheromone therapy.

Thank you Dr Seksel for sharing. You can visit her practice website here. If you’re interested in behaviour and mental health in animals, last week we interviewed Dr Sarah Heath from the UK, you can read the interview here.
Drs Seksel and Heath will be speaking in Sydney at the Centre for Veterinary Education’s Small Animal Behavioural Medicine Conference from February 20 to 23. For more information, click here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Take ten minutes to help make parvovirus history

dog, puppy
No one wants to be infected with a disease. But a preventable disease? We can do something about that.

Canine and feline parvovirus are infectious diseases that cause severe illness, pain and suffering in dogs and cats. The good news is they are preventable with vaccination. The bad news is that not everyone vaccinates their pets.
Colleagues Dr Mark Kelman and Professor Michael Ward are working on a project to help kick parvo, but they need the support of the Australian veterinary profession.

According to Mark:

The goal of the project is see if we can drastically reduce Parvo cases, by first understanding where exactly they are occurring, then gather data on what works to bring them under control, then focusing on intervention or prevention of outbreaks, one area at a time, and ultimately nationwide.
My thought is that Parvo is as much a social disease as it is a biological one and if we can vaccinate all the right puppies in the right places at the right time then we can prevent a lot of suffering and maybe bring this disease under control. Yes it's a big project. To change this disease we need to change how we treat it.
The first step which we have just undertaken is a survey of the WHOLE Australian vet profession - all vets working in companion animal practice (whether you see Parvo or not). Please can YOU fill in the survey (should take most vets less than 10 mins to complete) and help us understand more about Parvo and where it does and doesn't occur in Australia.
The AVA has emailed their entire list of members and non-member vets. Half of the vet boards have also emailed members.If you haven't seen this email with the survey link, from the AVA yet, then please email me at kelmanscientific [at] and I will send you a survey link. The survey is only for registered vets so we aren't publishing the link. They survey is also only open for a limited time so please fill it in now when you have 10 minutes to help.
The other thing you can do to help is to please SHARE this message on your facebook or with other vet friends, particularly those in Parvo areas but also those who aren't. And talk to your colleagues about it too, especially those in Parvo areas. It's a big mission and everyone bit of support helps.
If everyone works together then I truly believe we can change the world for this disease.
Anyone who has seen disease causes by these viruses knows just how miserable they make animals. Knowing where parvo occurs is important in effectively targeting these viruses and reducing the spread.
If you’re not a vet, you can help by asking your vet to complete the survey, and ensuring your pets are vaccinated, especially puppies and kittens as they are particularly vulnerable.

Let’s kick parvovirus into the void where it belongs.