Category Archives: Dogs

Ear infections

Ear infections are very common in dogs, especially breeds with long or hair ear canals like Poodles, Cocker Spaniels and Golden Retrievers. Often they are the first or only sign of doggy hayfever (also known as atopy).  Sometimes the infection is secondary to a grass seed.

Dogs with ear infections flap and scratch their ears. The ears are red, have a yellow or black discharge and often smell offensive.

Your vet will inspect the ears with a special scope and take a sample of the discharge to determine the cause of the infection.

Your vet can then prescribe the appropriate ear drops.  The cause is commonly yeast or less often bacteria – either cocci or rods.

Occasionally we find ear mites in young pups or their household friends.

Sunloving pooches beware!

We have seen an upsurge in dogs with sun induced skin cancers in the last month or so.  Most of these are on the bellies of  Staffies or Jack Russells that love to lie on their backs in the sun.These cancers can be difficult to remove completely if they are not caught early and will recur if the sunbaking continues.

The types of skin cancers include squamous cells carcinomas which look like scaley skin in the early stages and cancers of the tiny skin blood vessels which look like bright bruises or red areas in the skin.

If you find a suspicious area on your dog’s belly ask us to check it out earlier rather than later.

Doggy Doos and Don’ts

Some frequently asked questions about dog ownership in the ACT and NSW.

Does my dog need to be registered? Yes– at 8 weeks.It must wear the tag provided. Yes – by 6 months, microchipped by 12 weeks. Must wear its registration tag and phone/name tag
Do I have to microchip my dog? Yes, by 12 weeks old. Yes, it is Step 1 of the registration process.
Do I have to get my dog de-sexed? Yes. If your dog is born on or after June 21, 2001, and you wish to keep it sexually entire, you will be required to apply for a permit to keep your animal sexually entire after 6 months of age.Vets must tattoo the animal’s ear unless the owner asks for it NOT to be done. No, but large discounts in registration for desexed animals
I have 3 pets and I want to get another. Are there any special considerations? Yes. You require a licence to own 4 or more dogs or cats over 12 wks of age. No. Any number of animals so long as they are all properly cared for and do not pose any nuisance, health or safety risk.
Do I receive a discount as I am a pensioner? Yes, for registration and permission to keep an un-desexed animal. Yes 
Do I receive a discount as I have an obedience trained dog? No. Only trained assistance dogs. No
Do I have to pick up my dog’s droppings? Yes. And , you also need to carry appropriate equipment to pick up and carry the droppings. Yes.
Where can I exercise my dog? In both the ACT and NSW, dogs are forbidden from being within 10 metres of children’s designated play areas, in school grounds without permission, public swimming areas,  childcare centres, National Parks and other reserves which forbid dogs. The ACT also excludes dogs from sporting fields whilst sport or training is in progress. Otherwise, your dog may accompany you on a leash.
Where can I exercise my dog off-leash? Maps are available from
Domestic Animal Services and ACT Shopfronts outlining areas where dogs can be exercised off-leash. Or check out our own summary maps.
Yass Council, Ph. (02) 6226 9235
What about tail-docking? Tail docking of your dog is now illegal throughout Australia unless performed for medical purposes by a veterinarian.There is no breed standard recognised by the Australian Canine Association that requires a docked tail to be entered into any competition.
Can my dog ride on the back of my ute? Yes, if secured. Make sure that the lead is short enough to prevent the dog going over the side of the vehicle.
For more information: Domestic Animal Servicesor phone 13 22 81 NSW Dept of Local Govt Companion Animal pagesor phone 4428 4100

Chester’s week


Chester has had a big week!  On Saturday he suddenly gagged and choked.  By Monday he developed a nasty cough and his carers rushed him into us.  We thought we could feel or hear a fluttering in his chest but the Xrays were difficult to interpret.  Some oxygen and antibiotics made him comfortable and he ate well but on Tuesday he was coughing as much as ever.  Over to the specialist he went.  She passed a scope through his throat and found this huge grass seed lodged in his windpipe.  She retrieved it with a long forceps and he woke up happy and back to normal.

Today he visited us and rushed around the consult room looking for liver treats.  His fans at Hall Vet Surgery are so happy to see him bright and back to his usual puppy self!

Geriatric Vestibular disease

Dogs with Geriatric Vestibular Disease have a head tilt, walk in circles, fall to one side, appear disoriented and are reluctant to stand up. Some also have flicking eye movements, known as nystagmus. Many dogs feel nauseous and vomit.

Geriatric Vestibular Disease often develops suddenly and without warning in old, medium to large breeds of dogs. The precise cause is a mystery and there are no known predisposing risks.

The latest thinking is that it is a type of stroke and that the blood supply to the vestibular system is interrupted.

The vestibular system is a complicated structure in the inner ear that perceives the body’s orientation relative to the earth and informs the eyes and limbs how to move accordingly.  It allows animals to move on uneven ground without falling, helps them know when they need to right themselves, and allows their eyes to follow moving objects without becoming dizzy. When it fails a dog’s balance is upset and he feels as if he has motion sickness.

Most patients return to normal within a few days but others take weeks. We don’t medicate them unless they are unable to drink on their own or persistently vomit.  Intravenous fluids in hospital and medication to settle persistent vomiting support these patients until they can drink on their own.

Most dogs with geriatric vestibular disease are nursed at home. They need a warm, dry, well-padded bed and will temporarily require assistance with toileting.

Despite the initial acute and dramatic presentation, most dogs with geriatric vestibular disease recover completely or accommodate minor balance problems.

Recurrence is possible but uncommon.

Heart murmurs

Heart murmurs are quite common in older dogs, especially in small breeds.  They are due to problems with the valves between the chambers of the heart.

When we first hear a heart murmur at the annual checkup there may be no obvious signs of heart disease. Many dogs with a heart murmur will continue to lead a normal life for years and need no treatment.

As the heart deteriorates they develop congestive heart failure (CHF). When this occurs, medication and lifestyle changes help us manage the disease. Treatment must begin at the very first sign of CHF.

What is a Heart Murmur?

Valves within the heart open to allow the heart chamber to fill, then close to form a seal against back flow as the heart contracts. This ensures that all blood moves forward to supply the body with oxygen and nutrients.

We hear a heart murmur when these valves don’t close properly. Blood leaks “backwards” when the heart contracts. The murmur is heard with a stethoscope and is the noise made by the blood rushing back through the damaged valves, as the heart contracts.

The valve defect is usually due to a slight change in the shape of the valves. The cause of this in most cases is unknown, although there may be a hereditary component.

Eventually, as the backflow of blood increases, the heart has to work harder to ensure enough blood reaches the body. As the disease worsens inadequate blood reaches the vital organs and the dog cannot maintain a normal, active life.

How do I know when it’s time to begin treatment?

All cases of valvular disease eventually progress and require treatment.  Treatment begins when we notice any of these signs:


Early Signs; Advanced Signs; 
Coughing (usually a hacking cough) Pale gums
Shortness of breath, panting a lot Pot belly
Less willing to walk or play; stop midway Extreme reluctance to exercise
Loss of alertness Difficulty breathing
Reduced appetite Fainting
Weight loss

Contact us immediately if your dog is showing any of these signs. Some of the signs may be related to other issues, but in most dogs with a heart murmur these signs indicate that heart medications are necessary.

A chest X-ray or an ultrasound help us assess the extent of the heart failure and lung congestion.

Treatment Options

The first tier of treatment is a diuretic, or fluid pill, to reduce the fluid build-up in the lungs. Frusemide is often the first choice.  Other medications such as an ACE inhibitor to reduce blood pressure or Vetmedin to improve heart efficiency are added in depending on the individual.  A special reduced salt diet and a tailored exercise regime also benefit most dogs.

Congestive heart failure is not curable, but we maintain most dogs’ quality of life on a combination of these medications.

Hip screening with PennHIP

Animation of compress, distraction and extension xraysDr Helen is now certified to PennHIP screen dogs for hip dysplasia. Penn HIP screening identifies pups that are likely to develop hip dysplasia from as early as 16 weeks of age.  It is much more accurate than the old Hip Dysplasia Scheme.

Breeders of large breeds, like Labradors and German shepherds, and working dogs, like guide dogs, use PennHIP scoring for predicting which dogs will develop hip dysplasia . They can then choose their breeding stock based on accurate and precise information.

Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD) is an inherited disease which causes stiffness and pain and cripples dogs later in life. Breeding dogs with low PennHIP scores reduces the incidence of it in the breed population.

PennHIP screening includes three separate X-rays of the hips taken under a general anaesthetic by a certified PennHIP veterinarian. The X-rays are sent to the University of Pennsylvania who assess the amount of laxity in the hip joint and detect any arthritic changes.

The University of Pennsylvania issues a ranking based on the amount of hip laxity and the dog’s breed. A lower Distraction Index (DI) indicates that the hips are tight and selecting breeding dogs with a low DI will improve hips in that breed within a few generations.

If we identify a higher DI or signs of hip dysplasia we can advise owners on strategies to minimise the pain and progression of the disease. Affected dogs should be desexed to reduce the chance of passing the risk on.

Arthritis in Dogs

What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a painful inflammation of the joints. Older and overweight dogs risk developing arthritis, but larger breeds of dogs often develop arthritis at younger ages.

Long-term wear and tear of the joints, trauma, or joint abnormalities such as hip or elbow dysplasia and cruciate ligament disease cause arthritis. Infectious and immune mediated arthritis are much less common.

Arthritis erodes the cartilage of the joint, reduces and thins joint fluid, and causes bony tissue to grow around the joint.

How do I know if my pet has arthritis?

Watch out for:

  • reluctance to walk, lagging behind or giving up half-way home
  • reluctance to climb stairs, jump or play
  • lameness or hobbling
  • stiffness
  • difficulty rising from a resting position
  • licking joints

What can I do to help my pet?

Ramps make stairs or the climb into the car less challenging.

Warmth eases stiff joints. Keep arthritic pets inside in colder weather, and provide your dog with a warm coat, a well-insulated kennel and well-padded bed with a heat pad.

Keep and eye on your dog’s weight. Extra kilograms put unnecessary strain on joints. Talk to us about the best weight reduction plan if your dog is overweight.

Moderate exercise is important to the physical and mental health of all pets.  Too much exercise strains the joints but too little results in muscle wastage and more pressure on the joints. Gentle walks or swimming are ideal.


Arthritis has no cure, but we can improve your pet’s comfort and slow further joint deterioration. Treatment must be tailored to the individual and we often combine a number of treatment options.

Pentosan or cartrophen injections protect and repair joint cartilage, and stimulate the production of joint fluid.

Glucosamine and chondroitin formulated and tested for animals provide the raw materials for cartilage production as well as providing an anti-inflammatory action.

Pain medication known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) provide strong pain relief and give many arthritic pets a new lease of life. Your vet will prescribe the best one for your dog and discuss administration and possible side-effects. Never try your own arthritis drugs on your pet as some cause irreversible damage to pets’ kidneys and livers.

Some pets respond very well to acupuncture treatments.

Most owners report that their pets have a new lease of life on their individually-tailored arthritis treatment. They enjoy their walks and activity, want to play more and are happier members of the family. Talk to your vet about the best treatment plan to suit your pet.

Mast Cell Tumours

Mast Cell Tumours are aggressive skin cancers and common in dogs. They can look like anything: a patch of dry skin, a raised red itchy area, a wart or a lump.

Boxers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers have a higher than average risk of Mast Cell Tumours.  Other breeds affected include the Bull Terrier, English Bulldog and Sharpei but we see Mast Cell Tumours in all breeds.

Mast Cell Tumours release chemicals randomly, causing local redness, itch and swelling that comes and goes.

To diagnose a Mast Cell Tumour we take a sample of cells, stain them and examine them under the microscope.  Most Mast Cell Tumours contain characteristic granules that are easily recognised.  If we have any doubts we recommend removal anyway.

The lesion is removed with a wide excision because Mast Cell Tumours send out long microscopic fingers into the surrounding tissue.  It is sent to the pathologist who confirms the diagnosis, makes sure we have removed it all and grades it.

The grade of the tumour reflects how malignant the tumour is.  A low grade tumour is unlikely to have spread and, as long as the entire tumour has been removed, is unlikely to recur.

About 25% of all Mast Cell Tumours are higher grade.  They invade locally and can spread.  Without supplementary chemotherapy, the mean survival time is 18 weeks.

Chemotherapy is effective and median survival times are good.

Itchy Dogs

Many itchy dogs have the doggy equivalent of hayfever, which is called atopy.  A lot of dogs are allergic to flea saliva but only a few are allergic to food.

Common causes, or allergens, include pollen, grasses and dust mites.

Atopic dogs also have a poor skin barrier that allows the allergens to penetrate the skin and provoke the allergic reaction.

How does atopy affect my dog?

Dogs with atopy constantly scratch, bite, rub or chew themselves.  Itchy dogs don’t always scratch. They may rub their faces, flap their ears, or lick and chew their feet.

Some dogs scratch continuously but don’t damage their skin, whilst others quickly rub themselves raw. Recurrent ear infections are common.

Some dogs show signs of atopy as young as 3 months old, but usually it first occurs between 1 and 3 years of age. Initially most dogs will only be itchy during certain seasons, usually spring and early summer. As your dog ages, these itchy periods become longer.

As atopic dogs age, they become allergic to more things. Each dog has an allergenic load he can tolerate before he starts to itch. Exposure to one extra pollen or flea bite pushes him over the threshold into scratching or rubbing.

Diagnosis depends on the information you supply and examination of the skin. Tests such as skin scrapings and cytology rule out mites and secondary infections.

We may also rule out flea and food allergy by eliminating fleas and starting a dietary trial.

Skin testing by a specialist dermatologist will identify the allergens.

How to we treat atopy?

It is rare to cure atopy. We control it with a combination of strategies:

Improving the skin barrier:

  • Use shampoos without sulphates
  • Add essential fatty acids like Nutricoat, Megaderm, and fish oil to the diet
  • Apply sphingosines found in Nutriderm shampoo and conditioner,
  • Minimise bathing as much as possible

Avoiding allergens:

  • Vacuum carpeted areas frequently and minimise bedding to reduce dust mites
  • Keep your pet inside on windy days or when mowing


  • Cortisone offers immediate relief but can have serious side-effects if used long term
  • Atopica has fewer side-effects than cortisone and is often very effective but can be expensive in large dogs in the initial stages
  • Hyposensitization with repeated small injections of low doses of a combination of allergens chosen by a dermatologist on the basis of skin tests. These suppress the allergic reaction successfully in approximately 70% of atopic pets. Relief is not immediate and they usually require injections at least monthly for the rest of their lives. However in responsive pets hyposensitisation minimises the use of other medication.
  • Antihistamines such as Claratyne, Fexotabs, Claramax or Zyrtec are helpful in some cases but are rarely as effective as in humans.
  • Shampoos containing aloe vera and oatmeal may ease itchy skin

Skin allergies can be challenging to control and require a systematic approach to diagnose and treatment.  With commitment and care, most pets can enjoy a comfortable life despite ongoing exposure to environmental allergens.