Friday, March 21, 2014

Dr Liz;s Gratitude Project 2014 - Giving Credit where Credit is due

The Gratitude Project 2014 looks at all of the positive things in life, to counteract all of the negative daily (even hourly) negative things that seem to crave the spot light.

Grateful that Nurse Dirk gives Murphy
the credit for finally getting the computer
system up to date!
(an old old  photo!  we have
renovated since then)
I am grateful for those who are able to give credit where credit is due.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Behaviour Bytes - Part Two - More Behaviour Questions answered

Polite Pets Month is an Australian Veterinary Association initiative 

(and a bloody good one), in that the focus is on all things "behavioural".  As a member of the AVA since my student years in 1987, I have seen some really awesome ideas from the AVA, and this one is up there in the top five!

It's a shame though, that when you look at animal behaviour from a pet owning perspective, the vet is not the first person you would think to ask.  Today, I had a conversation with a new client about the severe thunderstorm anxiety her 10 year old Goldie had suffered... she came in for a resupply for a medication that her previous vet had given her.  Her statement had me in tears!

Susie asks
"I work all the time. My dog gets so anxious with the storms,  that she damages gates, fences, buildings, with blood running down her face and feet.  I now tie her up. I need sedatives to help her. I need a quick solution, because I am close to euthenasing her. "

Do I hear a thunderstorm acoming?  Oh no! 
Dr Liz: There are no quick and easy solutions for what you are describing. Sedatives only mask the problem, but do nothing to help the dog with coping strategies in the future. To come in and ask for quick solution, as if you are coming into buy a flea product or worming tablets, on a problem that is so serious that you are considering euthanasia, makes me want to help you as much as I can.

To deal with a problem of the severity which you describe requires an owner with the time commitment to support her dog, and work through with the vet to tweak a plan. Every dog is different, and it takes time to determine what is the best plan to help you and your pet. 

Specialist Veterinary Behaviourists often spend hours with you to do this, yet you expect me, the humble general practitioner vet to fix the problem over the counter in five minutes, especially when any suggestion I have come up with you say "I have tried that".  We need to go through what you have tried, and how you have tried it. And sorry, this can't be done "over the counter" in a few minutes.

(Yes, I did say this to her today - she thanked me for my honesty and passion - not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. I did give her some medication which will help with the immediate thunderstorm situation we are in - the storm is over now as I write, but a few hours ago was a different story - but I hope that she will now make the time to come in so we can work with her to get a solution. Fingers crossed, as Goldie is an otherwise really sweet girl).

As an aside....Our new puppy, Piper showed classic anxiety signs the second night she was with us, when we had  a severe thunderstorm.  

We made it our mission to work on this, which we did, so that she now sleeps through a storm, or plays with her Kong Wobbler.  

The moral of this story is, the sooner you identify an anxious puppy,  the sooner the right advice is given,  the sooner your pet can be helped, and, best of all,  future problems prevented. 

Jacki asks
My cat scratches lounges when they have scratch posts EVERYWHERE!

Pandora (the boss) loves this post - a nice
long scratch!
Dr Liz: Scratching is a normal behaviour of cats, but the motivation can be either grooming to keep their claw bed healthy, to depositing an "odour" (which we can't smell called pheromones)  which can then pass information to other individuals (like a cat's version of tagging the area of "I was here").

Pandora (the boss), proud of herself!
They will often do this in areas as they walk through and around the house - often lounge rooms form part of this pathway, so of course, it is going to be "marked" or "tagged"..

Not forgetting that sometimes its a textural thing  too - if the scratching post is right next to the lounge, for example, it might feel nicer on the nail bed to claw into the lounge material, than the rough scratching post stuff.

The solution (sounds easy in writing, not easy in practice), is to have scratching posts at the entry and exit points of the house, and in the areas where you cat may travel through.  What I mean is, if you drew a map of your house, what paths does your cat take around it?  You then put scratching posts at various areas throughout this cat "footpath", making sure you always get the key entry/exit points.

The other part of the solution, is you will need to make the previous preferred areas less attractive. This is through making it unpleasant - in other words, changing the surface itself (usually through temporary placement of thick plastic sheets or surfaces your cat may not like to walk on).

Do you have any suggestions to add to what I have written? Or do you have any questions that you would like some help with?

Never be afraid to ask your own vet, as they are pretty cluey people.

 Do take your behavioural questions  seriously though. It's not fair to ask the vet  "by the way..... "  because even with the behavioural knowledge I do have, I have never been able to answer a question in five minutes (unless it is about dogs eating their own or others poo). 

I hate answering "by the way"  types of questions over the counter, as I know your pet needs, and the problem deserves its own dedicated time to sort out.

It has been my experience that a vet consult is alot cheaper than a dog trainer anyway, if it is cost that is what is stopping you.  Of course, like any therapist, don't be frightened to ask for a referral to a veterinary behaviourist if your problem is complex, or you are not achieving the results you expected. You and I should both agree on one thing though... your pet deserves the best of care.

I am Dr Liz, the mad vet from Russell Vale Animal Clinic.  We are here for happy, healthy pets....always!

Dr Liz's Gratitude Project 2014 - Pay it Forward

Have you started your Gratitude Project?  Even if it is in your head every day?  I try to recite something to be grateful for every single day, although some days, it isn't easy.

Maya and Shadow - at Russell Vale Animal Clinic,

I am grateful for those who "Pay it Forward"!  

For those who haven't heard of this concept, it means that instead of returning the favour to the original person, you help another person instead.

Now, isn't that something to be grateful for?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Behaviour Bytes - Guilty Dogs are probably anxious dogs!

Videos and photos of guilty dogs seem to be all the rage these days on many social media outlets. You all know the ones I am talking about. They are shared through whatever social media of our choice, and we watch the brekky shows make a spectacle of these animals too.

They then go "viral" and often generate a lot of money for the people who have created them.

But who is there to stand up as the voice for these animals? 

Warning: Opinion Ahead!

Giro exhibiting typical anxiety behaviours. - ears back,
looks away, head down.
He isn't guilty of anything other than being a gentle soul.
Many veterinarians and animal lovers who know animal body language, watch these videos and are... to be put bluntly....  horrified.

I have sat through countless vet seminars on animal behaviour, and watch these videos, as they are used as examples of anxiety... most times, most of the vets can't watch all of them - we can just watch snippets of video.  I remember one evening, where it was like I was watching a horror movie - my fingers were in front of my face - I didn't want to watch, but I had to watch, as this is what the seminar was all about! - it was about Anxiety in our Pets!

 Little snippets of anxious dogs and cats would filter through the fingers, and tears would run down my face as my empathetic self went into overdrive.  

A happy dog - eyes and ears forward,
relaxed body stance.
As a vet, I just don't get what is so enjoyable about these videos.  What is so enjoyable and funny watching another living creature suffer? 

Now, some aren't so bad. The filming of the behaviour is not causing short term or long term harm, but these are the minority.

But how do you know what is OK or not?  Educate yourself first on what anxiety looks like, and then ask yourself the question - is that pet on the video or photo that we are busily laughing at, actually exhibiting those signs?   Vets are trained for these cues, as we do see them when pets come in to see us.  Most vets work hard to reduce anxiety, but vets are human to, and can miss the signs.

You, as a loving pet owner  NEED to know what are the signs of anxiety, as it is YOUR baby that we all need to protect. (sorry for the capitals, but I am passionate about protecting our pets from anxiety).  

Now, back to the "guilty dog"  and "guilty cat" videos and memes. 

I know we can't change what's out there, but perhaps we can educate on what they actually mean, so you don't feel like you need to watch these horror videos, or worse, feel the need to make your own.

Next time you watch these videos, take this doggy list with you, and see how many you tick off
  • yawning, scratching or sniffing
  • avoiding eye contact
  • looking away
  • pulling the corners of the mouth back
  • salivating
  • pulling ears back
  • creeping around in slow motion
  • standing with tail tucked under

This Pandora (our boss) - she is avoiding
eye contact ( or being demure for the
For cats, their signs are a lot more subtle - they are the signs that you may not see on the videos, but
the owners will experience.
  • avoiding eye contact
  • staying low when moving
  • moving away/avoiding
  • urinating outside the litter tray
  • excessive meowing
Irony is that many people do not take their pet to the vet because they do not want to scare it or increase its anxiety, yet do not hesitate to put their pet into situations at home where they exhibit the same (or worse signs), post it on social media and enjoy the virality of it.

I just don't get it!

I am Dr Liz, the mad vet from Russell Vale Animal Clinic.

Any animal related question at all (I answer them from all over the world), feel free to email me directly.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Behaviour Bytes - Some questions answered - Part One

All of us who have human children know that when they do things that we aren't happy with, we can at least sit down with them, and enter into a discussion to try to sort it out.   When you have a four legged family member, communicating your dislike of their behaviour, and discussing with them an alternate one is a lot harder.

As March is Polite Pets Month, I asked some of my fellow Facebookers on the Lost and Found page I am part off, if they have any behavioural questions. The response was a surprise, and the questions are  not easy ones to answer.  Thank you to those who have asked questions.

But first, some ground rules
1. I can't give every single solution to the problem, as I don't know every single detail of the problem to start with i.e there are many variables and many different solutions.
2. Do not hesitate to ask further questions and "what if's"
3. What may be a solution for some may not be the solution for others - behaviour and interactions are fluid, not fixed.  (see rule 1).

The advice given is general in nature, and there may be more options available to you with more specific information.

And as every March is Polite Pets Month, why not have a conversation with your own vet in your own neck of the woods, or ask them for advice on who does have an interest in behaviour in your area.

Julie asks

" My pup will not stop chewing the carpet. I offer other toys and things to play with, but eventually goes back to the carpet. Very frustrating."

Think of the problem as a behaviour that needs to be re-trained or re-focused onto something else. Your puppy is not trying to annoy you - this is an important point!   It is just being a normal puppy that hasn't learnt the house rules yet.

Lure your puppy away from the carpet, ensuring that there is not too much fuss about the chewing on the carpet in the first place.  As a lure,  smear some tinned dog food onto a dog chew (it adds to the flavour), put it under your pet's nose, and lead them off the carpet. You can use a word such as "off" if you like (to mean "off the carpet" or "off the lounge" etc).

Take them to an area which is your preferred  "chew area",  and constantly reward for using that area, using nice long calm pats along the side of their body, and/or saying "Good boy/girl".

Change the chew toys each 20 to 30 min or whatever your "eventually " time frame is, as their concentration spans are short - they will get bored easily with the chew you have given them, and go back to doing something else, and it sounds like it is back to the carpet. 

When your pup is on the carpet and not chewing, reward with nice long pats, and saying "Good girl/boy).  (What we do in our house, is that our puppy is trained to sit on her own mat in the lounge room, and when she is on that, she is encouraged to chew her own toys (we started with carrot sticks as she really wanted to chew).

Now what happens when you are not there, but your pup and carpet are?  The easiest solution is to block off access totally. You can do this either through a play pen, crating or a child gate/block off. The only other solution is to make it unpleasant for them to chew it whilst you are away - either cover the carpet with thick plastic,

One scenario that was pointed out to me by my family  is what if the puppy is chewing the carpet because some yummy juice was spilt there?  You will need to cover the area with a thick plastic mat, even putting something over it like a lounge chair, aswell as rewarding for chewing elsewhere. Then do the steps above.

Marie Louise asks
"I have a dog that eats so fast I'm worried she will choke. What can I do to slow her down."

You are right to be worried as pets have died from chewing and eating so quickly. We get our dog Piper to work for her food, as that slows down her eating habits, and also forms part of her environmental enrichment too.

Here is our dog, Piper, who loves her Kong Wobbler.  We have also scattered her food around parts of the yard, and used it for training.

In a "gobbler"  situation, we need to stop using the food bowl in the traditional way - with food all piled up.  As a short term solution, turn it upside (if possible), and put the food in the rim in a thin layer. (if you have a bowl that can do that).

You can try putting the food as a thin layer on a baking tray, only putting a small amount of food down, and only waiting till your dog sits before they get more.

Feeding using treat balls instead - the dog has to work for the food.  We use a Kong Wobbler, but you can also use Buster Cube or other similar treat balls.

There are special bowls you can buy that have blunt spikes on them, with the food sitting around them.  It stops them being able to gulp and take big mouthfuls of food.  If you google "slow feeding bowls" you will see many variations on this theme.

What we do with our neighbour's dog (he is  Labrador) whenever we babysit it, is to feed him a quarter of his food (in a thin layer), then make him work for the rest - we throw some in his treat ball, scatter some around small sections of the yard, hide some behind some toys, and generally stretch the meals out a little bit.

Take it slow, be patient, ask for good manners, and treat him for sitting and waiting.


More questions will be discussed in Part Two.

I am Dr Liz, the mad vet from Russell Vale Animal Clinic.  Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Dr Liz's Gratitude Project 2014 - Amazing Pet Owners

The Gratitude Project 2014 is still going strong - every day it is there to remind me in the good in what is around all of us.


I am grateful for the amazing people who have the

graciousness to say "Thank You". 

It is basic good manners, but it seems like in our busy customer service oriented world, we often forget this basic gift of kindness. We often assume just because it is their "job" that they do not need a thanks for doing it, and equally, because they have done a job well, the satisfaction of that alone is enough for them too.  It may well be the case on some days, but on others, it isn't.

I am sure we have all been in situations, where a simple Thank You, has humbled you.  I know it has for me.

These two simple words can transform a day in a persons life when they are thinking "why do or did I bother", to one of "I did do some good today.. somebody else noticed"

Oh... BTW -  Thank You! for reading my bellambivets blog!

For happy healthy pets .... always.... Dr Liz