Battling Arthritis in winter! June 7, 2018 13:28

As we are looking after our pets better, they are living longer lives, and so we see more of these aging related challenges than we used to. There is no cure for arthritis that has already developed, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do!

When it is time to say goodbye, Euthanasia gently and compassionate October 9, 2017 16:08

It’s such a hard topic to talk about. Pets that are unwell or elderly, and need a little help to pass away without pain. But today I am going to “go there” because I think it’s important to be informed. Euthanasia is the correct term for “putting a pet to sleep”. No matter which vet you see, it is almost certain that we use the same drug – Lethobarb.
It is a green coloured solution that needs to be injected into a vein, and its results are very rapid. 

Firstly, the pet goes into general anaesthesia then very shortly afterwards the heart stops beating. It is humane because when injected properly into a vein it
doesn’t cause pain, and the pet is anaesthetised at the time of death so there is no consciousness or fight for survival.

What does differ more markedly between vets is how we handle the pet prior to injecting the Lethobarb. I personally choose to sedate pets first.
A small injection under the skin allows them to drift off slowly into a very sleepy relaxed state, which means that I don’t need to restrain them to be able to access a vein for the final injection.
I hate the idea of fear, struggle or trauma in a loved pets final moments, so I take this step to ensure the most peaceful experience possible.

Because I am a mobile vet, I do more than my fair share of euthanasias. People seek me out to allow their frail elderly or terminally ill pets to pass away peacefully
in the familiar and comfortable surroundings of their own home. 

saying goodbye
One of the most difficult parts of an extremely emotional experience is deciding when it is the right time for your pet.
Some people have told me that the decision making process over weeks or months of up-and-down gradually declining health is more emotionally draining than actually saying goodbye.
It can be really helpful to have a vet consult purely to assess your pets quality of life, and discuss whether or not it is time to let them go with someone outside of the family who can be objective about whether your pet is suffering.
The other part of the process is deciding what you would like to happen to your pets remains. Again it’s a really confronting topic, but for every pet that passes away the decision has to be made. 

In general there are three options.

Firstly burial. You may need to check with your local council regulations first. If it is allowed in your area and you would like to bury your pet, you need to
dig a deep grave. There needs to be at least 3 - 4 foot of solid earth above a buried pet, to protect native and nocturnal animal from coming into contact with
the drugs that will remain in their bodies for a long time.

Secondly individual cremation. There are companies that do this really well. They will collect your pet after he or she is euthanased, cremate them with care
and return their ashes to you in an urn or scatterbox, often with a plaque, a photo, a paw print or locks of hair. At time of writing the cost for this service
starts at approximately $300 for dogs and cats.

And the third option is non individual cremation. For my clients that choose this option, I will take the remains with me and organise this for them.
They are cremated in similar facilities to the previous option, and you will not receive any ashes or keepsakes in return. However you can be at peace knowing
that their remains will have been given respect and dignity.
Grieving the loss of a petAnd finally, a few words about the grieving process.

It has been shown that the grieving process has certain well recognised stages, and that people move through
some or all of them at different paces. This is true for loss of a loved person as well as for loved pets. I personally was shocked at the intensity of my grieving for quite a while after we lost little Lara. For remaining pets, keep their daily routine as unchanged as possible and ensure that they have plenty of exercise.
For people, don’t fight the emotions. Allow yourself to feel and acknowledge your loss, so that you can begin the healing process. If you aren’t progressing along that path, then seeking advice from a trained counsellor or psychologist will probably be beneficial. There is no harm in admitting it hurts, you are mourning the loss of a family member. 

If you would like more information about this topic or need to communicate with me about your individual needs then I would be happy to help. Sometimes
emailing is easier because I have found that most people have difficulty maintaining their composure sufficiently on the phone once we are actually talking about
the procedure. People often ask me how I can do it, and comment that it must be a really difficult housecall to make. I actually am really honoured to be able to be present and to think that I can help make such an intense and difficult time a little more peaceful for both pets and their families

How to give a cat a tablet August 7, 2017 14:31

Is this the most frequently asked question from a cat owner? I’m not sure but it’s certainly a common one! The problem is that by the time someone is asking me
this question, it’s already too late for the best option. What is the best option, you ask?
The best option is to train your cat when they are young to allow you to easily give them tablets. It’s not terribly hard! But you have to do it when you’ve got
time - as in BEFORE your cat needs a course of medication. Here’s a video demonstrating how I would go about training a kitty in this essential life skill. The
summary is to use high value rewards (in this case ham) to condition them to accept the restraint and mouth opening first:
Ok, now let’s assume you HAVEN’T done your preparatory homework, and are now, like most cat owners, faced with needing to give your untrained cat a worming tablet,
or a course of antibiotics.

Things to think about:
1.It’s going to be easier if you have a helper
2.It will also be easier and slightly safer if you have a pill popper
3.Restrain them so they can’t back off or wriggle sideways
4.Your first go is your best chance. Have everything ready and try to get it right the
first time!

What you will need:
1.The pill, placed ready into the pill popper
2.A helper and a chair OR a towel and a bench/table with a wall at the back of it
3.A very high value treat

Start with making sure your cat is in a calm chilled out mood. Don’t attempt this after or during a noisy extended family visit, don’t interrupt a rough and tumble
play session between multiple cats and don’t stare at your cat repeatedly telling them in a loud voice how you’re going to give them a tablet and they’d better
behave or else! If you have a helper, have them sit on a kitchen chair of other non slouchy spot, and have the cat on their lap facing out. The cat’s bottom should
be snug against the person’s belly, and their arms will come gently either side of their body and hands sit lightly around their shoulders, curving forwards towards
their chest.
Here is a quick demonstration:

If you don’t have a helper, you will probably be best to wrap your cat in a large towel. I would recommend using the “scarf wrap” technique, as shown in this previous post how to restrain your cat
Once wrapped securely, sit the wrapped cat bundle on a desk, bench or table, with their bottom sitting right up against a wall.

Once you have sorted out the holder or the towel wrap, place one hand over the top of the cats head and tilt it so the cat is looking at the ceiling. This will
loosen the lower jaw slightly. As soon as you have enough of a gap, pop the pet piller in, right down to the back and immediately press the release plunger. Keep
the cat’s head looking up, drop/get rid of the pill popper and use that hand to close the cats lower jaw and rub/massage their neck firmly in a downward motion. If a
cat’s tongue comes out to lick it’s nose it will almost always swallow so if you think your puss hasn’t swallowed the tablet yet, consider blowing on their nose, or
tickling it just slightly.

Finally, give the cat a super groovy treat of some sort. BBQ chicken, sardines, tuna juice –whatever is your cat’s “ultimate”. You should do this absolutely as soon
as possible after the tablet, preferably before you let go with the hand that’s holding the cat’s head.
If you don’t have a pet piller, hold the tablet between the tips of your index and middle fingers and poke them down, the same way you would a pill popper. Or, pull
the lower jaw open and drop the tablet right to the back of the tongue and IMMEDIATELY use you index finger to push it over the hump of the tongue. All other steps
should be the same as outlined above. Some cats wriggle their heads from side to side when you try to give tablets though, and if you are using your fingers it is easy
for a sharp canine or premolar tooth to injure you. The actual time of putting the tablet down the cat’s throat, whether using fingers or a pill popper, needs to be
about 1 second. So... pretty lightening fast!

Common mistakes to avoid:
1.Making the whole procedure a loud tense fight. You get one, maybe two goes, then you stop.
2.Inadequate restraint – you really don’t want to be hanging onto the head of a cat that is wriggling backwards and sideways and twisting up to scratch you with
their hind claws. You need secure but gentle restraint. So don’t squash the cat, have the boundaries in place without pressure, have the towel snug. If you try to
give a tablet with a holder and fail, the next time (at least a few hours, preferably a day or two later), use the scarf wrap technique and have them all wrapped in
that on the holders lap.
3.Taking a long time – you have to be prepared with everything at hand and not muck around.
4.Using your thumb to push the tablet down – it can be done that way, but your thumb is much thicker than other fingers and it’s short too so your whole hand ends up
in the way of the teeth and they have to open their mouth much wider.
Let us know how you go!
Dr Amy Coles

Towel wrapping to gently restrain your cat August 7, 2017 13:28

Cats are agile and flexible little creatures, and “sometimes” they prefer not to sit still when you need to do something for them. Something like giving them a 
tablet for example. Or putting ointment into in an ear or an eye. Or trimming their nails, looking at their teeth, brushing their teeth or brushing out little knots
behind their ears. Anything really! 
The secret to effectively, gently and safely restraining your pet is not more force. Nor is it leather gloves and a full face helmet. It is knowing how to
wrap them in a towel properly, practising doing this often and giving them treats or favourite rewards while wrapped. 
There are many methods of towel wrapping, and some allow more access to different parts of their body than others, but I think the most versatile and useful wrap 
from a pet owner’s point of view is the “Scarf Wrap”. To effectively use the scarf wrap you need a medium to large sized towel and a clear bench. Lay your towel 
out first, then place the cat on the towel. Stand or sit so that you are up against the bench. The cat should be positioned so that their hindquarters are sitting
up against your belly. This stops them from going backwards at all. Use one hand to hold gently over their neck to prevent forward movement, and that forearm should 
rest along their spine to keep them from jumping upwards. This is gently preventing them from moving upwards rather than squashing them down. Grab the far corner and wrap 
around the cats neck just like a scarf. Switch hands, smooth the back of the towel over the cat if needed, and repeat with the other half of the towel. Then pick up 
your little scarf wrapped cat bundle and fold the open back under them to close it. That all takes a while to explain but in practice it is quite a quick wrap. 

Check out the video of me with Crumpet, so you can see how it looks: 
Remember you should do this when your cat is relaxed, and you should have some positive reward or treat ready. If you only ever do this when you do something that
hurts or tastes bad then you are going to find that your cat objects and struggles more and more, but if you mainly pair it with positive experiences, most cats are
quite happy to be wrapped. And that keeps you uninjured and less stressed. If at all possible start this when they are young.
Good luck!
Dr Amy Coles

New breeder law in QLD - how do they affect you? June 12, 2017 17:01

Have you heard about Queensland’s new dog breeding laws?? Don’t consider yourself a breeder? You’re still going to want to know this if you have anything to do with dogs – because you can’t get your new puppy microchipped without a Supply Number. And I think most people know that microchipping has been mandatory for all puppies for some years now.

The idea of the new laws is that every pup can be traced back to who owned it’s mother. So if you own a female dog who has puppies, planned or not, you are now a breeder and are required by law to register as a breeder. Even if it’s a one off event and you book in the spey operation at the earliest possible moment after the birth, you must still get yourself registered as a breeder to get the Supply Number that will be associated with each of those puppies for the rest of their life. As a microchip implanter, we can not microchip any dog born after the 26 May 2017 unless it has a Supply Number provided, or attempts to contact the owner of the mother have been unsuccessful, and we record those attempts. We can also be up for heavy penalty for microchipping a pet under false pretences. 

It’s not too hard to register. If you are a member of a breed society or similar, they will be able to get it sorted for you. If not, you would register as an individual online with the Queensland Dog Breeder Register:  It is free to register but registration only lasts for 12 months, so if your dogs have subsequent litters you will need to renew your registration. You are expected to register within 28 days of the birth of the litter. I rang to check though, and if you miss this date you are still able to register and get a breeder identification number later on.

Pounds and shelters and re-homing organisations will be given their own Breeder Identification Numbers, so that untrace-able dumped puppies that they handle will be identified this way. If you somehow acquire a dog whose source is totally unknown to you (eg. you find a starving stray puppy and decided to keep it) then as long as you keep it yourself, you don’t need a supply number. If you give it to anyone, sell it, foster it out or otherwise hand that dog on, then you would need to apply for a Breeder Exemption Number, to then be attached to that little canine for the rest of it’s life.

Supply Numbers can be searched on the register, and concerned citizens can report breeders they feel are being unethical or inhumane for investigation. From the information provided to us as veterinarians, I get the impression that these new rules are going to be enforced with enthusiasm. Remember you may not even advertise puppies available for sale or even to give away unless you have registered as a breeder. Supply Numbers need to be listed and if they are not, you will be up for penalties.

If you are purchasing a pet, ensure the Supply Number is provided. Pet shops will not be allowed to accept puppies from anyone other than registered breeders.  If it is a private sale, do a search of the number on the register (  ) and make sure it matches with the details of the mother’s owners that you have. All responsible breeders will be onto this very quickly.

As always when there is legislation involved there are some technical bits and bobs that apply to a very few people. For example working dogs bred by primary producers are exempt in certain circumstances. For all the indepth stuff, this  link will help:

This is the link to use if you wish to report a concern about a breeder or supplier of dogs

And if you feel you  need to speak to a government representative about this new legislation, the phone number is 13 25 23

So what does everybody think about these new laws? I’m interested to find out what public opinion is!


Dr Amy Coles

10 year Anniversary! May 22, 2017 18:59

It’s Been 10 years!

The month of May marks a very special anniversary for me here at Dr Amy The House Call Vet. It’s hard to believe but I have been in business now for 10 years!

This mobile vet business that I started so long ago has been a 3 way win-win-win situation.

Pets win – so many pets get proper care that cannot cope with travel, or whose owners cannot travel, or who need to have their last moment in peace at their own home.
Families win – less stress, trusting relationships, more convenience.
And we win – I have been able to continue practicing as a veterinarian through the years of having children.

So many vets leave the profession to have a family and find it too daunting to ever return. My current goal is to continue it on, and allow other Mums to join me and to continue doing the work they love. Experienced vets who will be able to care for and appreciate their patients the way I do.

 old files

I pulled the old document storage box out last week and unearthed my  hand written record cards. The first pet I visited as “Dr Amy The House Call Vet” was “Rowley”, a sweet little Corgi. I still remember that visit – it was the 25th of May 2007, and I had just finished an early shift at the vet surgery I was working at. I went from there to his home in Mt Gravatt, where he lived with his elderly Mum. This lady and I saw a lot of each other over the next few years, and I got to know about her many grandchildren and children and her sister’s 90th birthday that she travelled interstate to attend. In her turn she sympathized with me as I fought morning sickness and then sleepless nights, as my own little family grew.

This was the first of so many similar relationships that I have thoroughly enjoyed. I loyal customers didn’t realise this when I started the practice, but being a mobile vet for dogs and cats is a great way to meet the most wonderful people our city has! Dedicated families who have gone out of their way to find a vet that will come to their homes to give pets the care they need in a less stressful and more personal way.

We have come a long way from the early days. I am no longer answering every single phone call, entering appointment bookings into a personal diary book and hand writing reports onto record cards after each visit. These days we have computerized records with automatic reminders, google maps to give us directions to your homes, reception staff to do all the organizing and admin for me, and facebook to share the cuteness. The soul of the business is still the same, but the processes are gradually becoming more efficient. Technology being as it is, imagine what will change in the next 10 years.

So I would like to say an enormous thankyou! To all my amazing patients and clients, past and present, for inviting me and my team into your homes and trusting us the way you do. Some of you have been with me since the very early days, and we have shared some triumphs and suffered some losses together over the years. You know who you are! Being a vet is not always easy. It can be incredibly challenging and emotionally draining, as well as enormously rewarding and fulfilling. It’s the sense of relationship and of being able to help the innocent and dependent ones that makes it wonderful.



Dr Amy Coles














PARVOVIRUS CPV-2c the "new strain" May 8, 2017 17:26

VaccineThere has been some media coverage recently of a “new “ strain of parvovirus that has been identified in Australia, that is causing pet owners a lot of concern.

Let’s talk about it so you know the facts and can keep your babies safe!

Canine parvovirus (CPV) has been around for a while now. I personally have diagnosed many patients with it, and the majority of them have not survived. Most of those diagnoses were right at the beginning of my career, but unfortunately there has been a resurgence in numbers recently as some people have become complacent about the need to vaccinate.


The symptoms usually start off with lethargy and a drop in appetite, followed by vomiting and diarrhoea, often with blood in it, and severe depression. Our treatment options are limited to supportive care – rehydration and electrolyte management, pain relief, nursing care and cleaning, antibiotics if secondary bacterial infections become involved. It is a really harsh disease and even those that are treated, and manage to survive, go through pure misery until their own bodies start to respond and fight the virus. So yes, vaccinating against this virus is a must.
The strain causing alarm is CPV-2c. I have heard reports stating that your regular vaccines won’t cover against this strain, so pet owners feel helpless and scared. As often happens when the media is involved, there is a degree of dramatization and scare mongering happening here.

First, let’s get one thing clear, this is NOT a new strain. It has been overseas for many years. It was identified in Italy in 2000 – that’s 17 years ago. It was in USA in 2008. It is only new to Australia. However, it’s not even all that new – we are talking about 2 years, and experts feel likely longer. We don’t identify the actual strain involved in most cases – it is technically difficult and expensive and has little impact on the treatment options or outcome. So it could have been present here for quite a few years before that.

Secondly, there are vaccines that have been tested and proven to cover against infection with the CPV-2c strain. Yay! You don’t need to panic. The brand that we regularly use, which is the Nobivac DHP, was tested for this in 2008, and showed that it covered against this strain. The exact same vaccine that we are using has been used in Europe and the USA for many years, where this strain has been known to be present, and has been doing its job. It will do its job in Australia too. Not all brands have been tested for this though – you need to have a chat with your regular vet about what brand your pets have received. Remember no vaccine is perfect. There will be occasional pets that don’t respond to a vaccine. This is inevitable and normal, and relates to their immune system. The safeguard for these dogs is for all the other dogs around them to be vaccinated too, to protect them from exposure. It’s called “herd immunity”.

So while it's been a bit more dramatic in some reports than necessary, I'm happy to have some media attention on parvovirus again. It reminds people not to be complacent, and gives me the opportunity to tell all the loving pet families out there to make sure you keep your pet's vaccinations up to date!

Dr Amy Coles

If you want to pat a dog.... July 18, 2016 18:13

I did a talk at Rosie's Kindy recently.  The teachers asked me to talk to the kids about safety around dogs, especially when you want to pat them. When I had a think about it, I realised that many adults, including dog owners, often don't give the dog the choice as to whether they would like a pat. We tend to expect all dogs to be "friendly" and want a pat, but the reality is that many of them are uncomfortable or even downright scared when unfamiliar people and children approach them.

I decided to explain it to the kids by saying that you need to ask the dog "would you like a pat" by extending your hand to them to sniff. This gives them the opportunity to display signs of anxiety or discomfort before they are forced into a threatening situation. If you are a dog owner, can I encourage you to observe your dog's body language and allow them to retreat if they are uncomfortable. Almost every single dog bite occurs because the dog was scared.

Here's the clip of my explanation to the kids:

For more details on body language that indicates your dog may be anxious, have a read of this blog post:


Here's my little cutie helping me with a demonstration of the process:


I went on to tell the kids never to hug or kiss somebody else's dog, and never to pat a dog that is hiding or frightened. We also looked at pictures of dogs (my patients!) displaying various body language and the children surprised me by picking up on how the dogs were feeling really quickly.

If you are a parent of a small child, or if you have a dog that is super friendly, confident and social, can I please ask you to ensure that your children and your pets are not allowed to invade another dog's personal space without permission. Many people let their dogs rush up to another dog and call out "don't worry, he's friendly". This is really unkind - the dog on the receiving end of the "friendliness" has not been given the option to retreat.

So here's the take home message, whether it's a child or a pet that wants to interact with someone else's dog:  ask the owner first, and then gently ask the dog.

I like to think that even nervous or timid dogs should be allowed to enjoy themselves in parks, at dog beaches and around the suburbs without being forced to confront scarey people, or meet other dogs. Let's respect their needs and give them space when they need it. 

Dr Amy Coles

Get to know nurse Sandra! May 12, 2016 14:04


Hi, I'm Sandra! I live in Springwood with my very patient husband, my two pre-teen children, an elderly cat named Kimba, my beautiful rescue Jack Russell Terrier named Lolly, two adopted Guinea Pigs (Angel and Sprinkles) and, last but not least a Central Bearded Dragon named Rango who is really my son's pet but has somehow worked his way into my heart.


I came to Vet nursing late in life after a profound discovery that my previous work in Accounts was not satisfying for me.  I grew up on a grazing property in central Queensland, and have always been surrounded by animals and wildlife.  My aspiration as a child was always to work with animals.  After the decision was made, I quickly began my studies whilst still working in the accounting field and finally made the complete and exciting transition to working as a vet nurse in 2016.


I have been lucky enough to gain employment with Dr Amy and have enjoyed every moment of my work life since then.  Every day is different and I get to spend my time hanging out with animals and helping their owners care for them.

I am passionate about continuing my studies in the animal care field and I am enjoying learning new things every day!


In my spare time I enjoy sewing, anything crafty, redecorating and re-purposing. My sewing room is my oasis of calm , however I have not had a great deal of time to spend there of late!  I also enjoy reading, spending time with my family and going on long walks with my dog.


Looking forward to meeting you all soon!  

Sandra Bradshaw

Low Stress Handling Part 6 - Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning February 22, 2016 20:49



So far we have talked about ways to minimise the development of anxiety and phobias, and how to be as gentle and thoughtful in dealing with pets as possible. Unfortunately many of the pets I see have already developed fears and anxiety from their life experiences before I meet them. Either from factors outside of anyone’s control, by not being given appropriate training and skills in their baby months, or by insensitive or harsh handling by owners, carers or staff.

The process of reversing these problem reactions involves desensitising the pet to the stimulus, and counter conditioning them to actually have pleasant associations with that stimulus. This means starting with the mildest form of a stimulus we can possibly manage, and pairing it with a reward each time.

For example: a dog who will not allow toe nail clipping. Freaks out, bites, wets themself, has a panic attack at the thought.

We need to start somewhere that doesn’t distress the dog.  Possibly just putting a hand on their shoulder.  Pair it with awesome treats. Pause, withdraw your hand and with-hold treats. Then put a hand on the shoulder again and simultaneously give treats. Repeat that process 7 – 10 times, until the dog sees your hand coming to their shoulder and eagerly looks for treats. Once this is well learned, place your hand on their shoulder as usual and just slide it slightly down the leg. Not too far – you should stay below the point where the dog would start to react negatively. Repeat the treat and pause process another 7 – 10 times.


The next steps would be sliding your hand a little further down the leg,  getting closer to the foot, each time treating and repeating 7 – 10 times before going further.  Then hold the foot up a little, imitating how you would need to hold it for nail clipping. Remember each step needs to be very gradual, staying below the level that upsets the dog, and you need to have the dog eagerly looking for treats as you perform the action. This is giving them the positive association with the action. Eventually, after however many steps it needs for your individual pet, you will have managed to hold the toes with the nails exposed and tapped them with a pair of nail clippers, followed by the ultimate goal, actually trimming the toenails.

This would be approached in short cheerful training sessions, maybe 5 – 10 mins depending on the dog’s attention span, usually would need two people involved and would have taken at least a couple of days.

This is what "eagerly looking for treats" looks like:

Of course if your dog is never restrained except for when you trim nails, you would need to back up a step further before all that and train them to enjoy restraint! 

If your dog just has a mild aversion to nail clipping then you could progress faster and reverse their attitude to nail clippers in only 2 or 3 sessions if you are lucky.

The example I have used is for nail trimming – because that is a common problem. However the same principles would be used to address fear or objection to being given tablets, having teeth cleaned or examined, receiving an injection, struggling when restrained, having ears examined or cleaned, having their collar grabbed and held, being on a lead, wearing a muzzle, meeting other dogs or people, being groomed, having blood collected, and many other frequent and important occurrences.

As you can see it does take multiple sessions of gradual desensitising, so I as a vet can’t actually achieve a whole lot in my once a year visit. If your pet has a terrible fear of vets, then me being gentle and reassuring but then giving them a needle isn’t going to help them to change their view radically. By using low stress handling techniques I will hopefully have avoided worsening their fears, but I won’t have had very much opportunity to desensitise and counter condition them. We would need to schedule visits specifically for this purpose, repeatedly over a span of time.

This little guy won't allow people to touch or groom around his back end and tail. Here we are a few steps into the desensitisation process - he is happy with a bit of contact there. We still would need to do a few more sessions to complete this training.

I do think that this is a worthwhile investment for most fearful pets. The health benefits of being able to accept examination, diagnostic investigation and necessary treatments are, as we have said before, hard to overstate.

As some of you are aware I have recently hired a vet nurse and I am excited about the possibility of begin able to offer nurse visits for desensitising and counterconditioning purposes in the next few months. This would make it a little bit more affordable than a vet housecall, and will be of great benefit to many dogs and cats.

You cannot desensitise and counter condition your pet to just enjoy everything. You have to work on each specific challenge, and you have to practise the skill in a variety of scenarios and environments. I know it’s one of the most over-used cliches in the world, but prevention really is better than cure! If you haven’t recently read my blog post on teaching them skills for life, go re-read it now - especially if you have a young dog or cat in your home!


By Dr Amy Coles

Low Stress Handling Part 5 - Teaching them skills for Life November 5, 2015 15:41


Any seasoned pet owner knows there are some things that just need to be done. Nail trimming. Ear cleaning. Giving  a tablet . Have you seen the humorous “how to give a cat a tablet” list, which ends with taking yourself to the hospital? Many of these things are health or vet related, so stress from them often sabotages the happy healthy low stress vet-patient-client relationship that we are trying to achieve.

It seems that people often just expect their pets to accept these things, without any help or training. What you need to do is condition them to accept and even enjoy them, BEFORE they form a negative association. If they haven’t been given this training, and become uncooperative, they will usually end up missing out on important health care. Some pets are easy going and you can get away with it. But many are not.

This is my list of things that I feel pets should be trained to enjoy – or at least accept in a calm manner. Teeth checking and brushing.  Being given tablets. Ear checking and cleaning. Foot touching and nail trimming. Being patted on top of their head. Being physically restrained in a variety of positions. Wearing a muzzle. Having tummy touched/gently pushed. Having tail touched and lifted. Brushing coat. Being given injections and having their temperature taken.  Your vet will need to help you with these last two. If all dogs and cats had this list of “skills”, life would be so easy!

So here is how you do it, assuming you are starting from scratch – either with a puppy or kitten, or with an adult pet that has not had a particular procedure ever done to them before. You make it POSITIVE. That means you find a reward that works for your individual pet – food, toy, pats, praise – and give them that reward simultaneously with the skill you’re practising. Not after – that’s too much to expect in the initial training stages. You have to do it at the same time. Once a strong positive association has formed in your pet’s mind (ear checking = peanut butter) – then you can delay the treat and give it as you finish ear checking. Not before the association is strong and clear in their minds though.

Because the timing is important – that the reward has to be done at the same time as the procedure you are conditioning them to enjoy – you will usually need two people for this stage. Here’s a clip of a super cute pup being conditioned to accept two restraint positions, and some feet and nail handling:

You need to do short “sessions” of concentrated training like this regularly. Daily if possible. This little pup was very focussed and happy. Some pups will need to progress slower than this. Repeat these same lessons lots of times, and don’t forget to do all the various skills, in different combinations, in different surroundings and with different people present.

I think this sort of conditioning is just as important as teaching your dog to sit, toilet training, walking on a lead and coming when called. They are skills for life, and if you’re not teaching your baby pet these skills, you are leaving them unprepared and setting them up for fear, anxiety and less than ideal health and medical care later on in life. You are also setting them up to have a difficult relationship with the people who have to do these things for them in future – ie vets, vet nurses, groomers and/or yourself.

Once a problem has developed, then it’s much harder – my next blog article will address how to approach pets that have already developed aversions to necessary things. In many cases these can be reversed and they can be “counter conditioned” to enjoy something they have previously disliked. But you will need to be dedicated and persistent, and I do notice that most people need professional help with this process. So that can be costly.

I don’t want to sound critical or harsh here. If your pet hasn’t got these skills and has developed phobias or makes things difficult, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad pet owner! None of us get everything right 100% of the time. You were probably not given the right advice initially, or shown how to do it properly, when you first had the opportunity. I would say perhaps 50% of my patients have difficulties with some of these things, so it’s not an unusual occurrence. If you have a pet that needs to be sedated to have a toenail trim, trust me you are not alone! But I do want as many people as possible to know that these struggles are mostly preventable. I hope this article has helped to give you the skills to get it right next time around.  And if you currently have a pup or kitty, or your dog hasn’t developed any associations with these procedures, then you have the perfect opportunity. And it’s fun to do, increases your bonding and is a positive experience for everyone now as well as in the future.

 Dr Amy Coles

Low Stress Handling Part 4 - veterinarian behaviour September 9, 2015 14:27

I've been looking forward to writing this blog post - I get to explain the deliberation behind my sometimes strange behaviour! I'm not just a wierdo after all :-D

You know how cats can always tell if a visitor is "not a cat person" and they always go and rub against them, or sit on them? It turns out that they aren't just deviously exacting revenge for lack of enthusiasm for the feline species. They are actually misinterpreting human body language. 

Why do I tell you this? Because I personally do a lot of things aimed specifically at your pet reading my body language and feeling comfortable around me. But this body language is different to human body language, so what I'm doing might not send owners the same message. I'll give you a few examples, and you'll see what I mean.

When I first arrive, I will often ignore my patients. This might make you think I don't like them, or am not interested in them. Nothing could be more wrong! However I am communicating to them in their own language. What I am saying is: "I'm not confrontational, I won't challenge you for your territory or food, and I won't attack you. I am not a threat." If a new arrival looked directly into a dog or cats eyes, this would be very upsetting for most of them. And if I walked straight up to them, they could become worried, expecting a confrontation.

Instead I focus on the owners and chat for a while. I often put my housecalling box down and step away from it, which invites pets to approach and investigate. If possible, I will sit down and make myself comfortable. Sorry! I'm not meaning to be overfamiliar in your home. I am working at putting your pet at ease. Please feel relaxed and sit down with me and let your pets do their thing for a while.


When dogs are timid, I will often approach them sideways. It looks funny I know, but it really helps. I will offer them treats - thrown to them if they aren't ready to approach me. Held out behind my back if they are comfortable with that, or sideways if they are good with that position. And I may conduct my examination surreptitiously from these sideward positions. You may not even realise I've done some of it, because I will probably keep chatting away for a lot of the time, and do little bits of examination intermittently in between discussing your worming regime, my pets, your job, holiday plans and the weather.

I may offer treats throughout the process. If I have to give an injection, I will often ask you to give treats while I am doing so. This is more than just distraction. It is a training technique called classical conditioning where we pair something positive with the vet visit and injection. In the pet's memory, the positive emotional state induced by the reward becomes connected with the other experience (eg. the needle) because they happen simultaneously. So I often tell people that their pet needs to lose weight, then feed them a ton of treats. But they remember me as the liver treat lady, and hope for my return. It's worth it just this once! Then back on the diet.

I don't always pat pets a great deal. Many pets (especially cats, but also some timid dogs) actually prefer not to be patted - and I am purely concentrating on keeping them as relaxed and confident as possible. If you think about your friends and acquaintances, I'm sure you can think of people who prefer not to be hugged and kissed. There are natural differences in how we receive affection and I try to adjust my behaviour to suit each patient. I can't tell till I try though. So you might see me do a little quick pat and then stop. This would happen if your pet exhibited subtle signs of anxiety when I patted them. If they responded happily, then I would have continued. Food, play, pats, and verbal praise are all rewards that I will try out on most pets to assess their response. What they respond to when you're home alone with them may not be the same as what they respond to from me. Imagine if, at the beginning of your consultation, your doctor gave you a big squishy hug and kiss like your grandma does. It might freak you out! 

A paragraph specifically about cats. They are different to dogs. I'm sure you've noticed too! One thing that they sometimes need is a hiding place. However I can't let them just actually go and hide from me. So what works in some cases is to wrap them up in a towel. This has been shown to decrease the stress levels for many cats in fearful situations. Depending on what I am needing to do to a cat, there are different ways to wrap them. Some people are taken aback by the wrapping, but it's only ever done to make the cat feel more secure and comfortable. And yes, they can still breathe! Cats only take tiny breathes. I'm sure many of my cat patients sleep at the bottom of the bed, entirely under the thick blankets and quilt for the whole night. You or I would run out of air down there. They don't. 

Another thing about cats - they have a limited tolerance time. So I like to get everything out and ready, and be sure I've got it all prepared before I approach the cat at all. Then it's time for prioritising and efficiency without hustle or rush. Once a cat starts getting annoyed and resenting the intrusion, my time is up! 

My house call visits are almost always longer than the typical 15 minutes allotted time in a vet surgery. What I am trying to achieve often simply cannot be done in that time frame. Sometimes, I may suggest that the checkup and treatment be spread out over two visits. This can be helpful if pets don't know me yet and are exhibiting a lot of anxiety. By taking it slowly the first visit, they cope, and remember that it was ok last time, so the next time I come we start a little further ahead in our trust relationship. Not every owner is open to that suggestion, as it does mean paying another visit fee, however I have found it very useful in some cases.

Finally, a quick word about the excitable dogs. A dog in a state of high excitement is just as difficult to examine and treat as a dog who is fearful. So if your dog is super bouncy and gets "hyper" really easily, I will talk and move slowly, keep play to a minimum and try to be generally boring. A thorough examination is more likely to be possible this way. Usually these ones enjoy any attention and touch, so they still enjoy what I do without the need for me to be the most exciting thing that happened all month!

I hope you've enjoyed this peak at the reasons behind some of my actions. Now you're all going to be watching me when I'm at your place next, seeing if you can pick out which of these things I'm doing with your pet! 

Dr Amy Coles



Low Stress Handling Part 3 - owner behaviour July 23, 2015 17:43

I would like to start this blog post by stating that my clients are the best pet owners around! They all care so much about their pets that they have searched and found me, so that we can provide the care their pets need in the way that works for them. That's a major factor in my extremely high level of job satisfaction - dealing with such lovely people! So please don't feel criticised or embarrassed or anything negative at all when you read the rest of this article. I don't tend to take pictures of people's behaviour, so the photos in this post are just going to be a handful of lovely owner and pet shots that I have collected over the years, for your enjoyment :-)

If you come across something in this article that you know you have done wrong in the past, it's ok! Trust me, you were not the only one!! And if you just can't manage some of this stuff, that's ok too. It's just here for your learning and information, and as some helpful suggestions that will contribute to your pet having a positive vet-visit experience.

Let's break it down into a few general areas: before the visit, how you personally act during the visit, and how you handle your pet during the visit.


It can be very helpful if you don't feed your pet right before their veterinary visit. Food is one of the main tools we have for rewarding good behaviour, as well as making friends and encouraging bravery and acceptance. Being a little bit hungry can increase it's effectiveness hugely. If they have a strong meal routine and it does fall shortly before I am coming, maybe just give them 1/3 of their usual volume. Or if it's not too long to wait, let me give them their food. That way, when I arrive and give them lots of treats, I'm a pretty enjoyable visitor! 

If your pet has a favourite food, you could buy some and keep it hidden until I come. My dog Lara will do absolutely ANYTHING for BBQ chicken. Does your dog have a food they love like that? You can give it to me when I arrive, then any food orientated dog will instantly be more likely to consider me their friend. If your pet is obsessed with a certain toy, hide it a few hours before I come, then slip it to me so I can produce it.

Your pets are close to you, of course, and most of them are very tuned in to your emotional state. Try to be calm and relaxed before the visit. Trust us - it will be ok. Don't tell your pet "Dr Amy's coming" again and again - they will pick up on tension or excitement, and be more likely to be reactive rather than calm and confident when I do come.

It's very helpful if dogs are wearing a collar, and some will be better if on a lead, so make sure you have one handy.

And finally, consider their environment. Timid little dogs will often hide under tables and chairs or behind TV units. Cats will often race in under beds or into wardrobes. If possible, set things up to prevent them getting into these hard to access areas. It is traumatic for them to be dragged out from under or behind things. It's much less stressful if you can prevent them from getting into these spots. You may need to limit them to a certain room, or close all the bedroom doors, or have them on a leash. And cats need to be indoors. I can't treat a patient who is up a tree!



Lots of things we do are subconscious, but that doesn't mean they don't affect those around us. Pets are much better at picking up behavioural cues than humans, because it plays a bigger role in their own communication methods. 

So try your best to be calm and confident during the visit. Keep your body movements slow and fluid. Avoid jerky jumpy actions, and try not to tense your neck and jaw muscles. Speak slowly and calmly in a normal tone of voice. Many people who are tense talk much faster than normal, at a higher pitch, and with many short sharp sentences. Relax and have a chat with me - I always do this for a bit to give pets time to adjust and investigate. I also really like to catch up with clients and hear what's going on in their world! Side note: while I really appreciate the thought behind an offer of tea or coffee, I almost always decline. This is mainly to do with limiting the number of loo stop-offs I have to make!

Try to avoid hustle and bustle during the visit. Allow plenty of time so that I don't have to rush so you can get to school pickups on time. If at all possible, don't schedule my visit at the same time as the plumber's or the mechanic's visit, or the cleaner arriving to vacuum, or the departure of beloved family who are moving overseas for a year. If you have little kids who can be boisterous and/or demanding, consider putting on a favourite DVD or setting them up with a good supply of special food in the high chair.




The first big thing: when I arrive, give them time and space. Rushing them to me is a very common mistake I see people make. It will be less stressful if they are allowed to approach me at their own pace. You do not need to pick up and restrain your cat as soon as I'm in the door - leave them where they are relaxing, while we have a chat, and I get my gear prepared. This gives them time to adjust to my presence, become familiar with the different smells I might have brought in with me, and it limits the amount of time they are being interfered with. I will always want to gather information about their history BEFORE I examine them - I usually need to ask what's been going on, if you have any particular concerns, when the symptoms first started, whether they have worsened with time or not and probably a few other details. Of course you need to have done the right preparation before the visit to ensure they can't race off and hide in your cupboard while we are talking ;-)

Secondly, be patient with them. No matter what they are doing, never yell at them! It's actually common for owners to get their pets in big trouble for behaviours which are purely caused by fear and anxiety.This will not help at all. Calm and quiet behaviour from you will be much more effective. If you haven't already read my previous article click on the link for some examples of behaviours that are caused by anxiety:

Low Stress Handling Part 2 - animal behaviour

Think about how you are touching them. Frenetic patting will transfer tension. Compulsive stroking of a cat will annoy them if they're not in the mood.


If your pet is small, they will often need to be picked up to have their examination - either in your arms or on a bench or table. It will be less scarey if you pick them up rather than me. However many are then perfectly happy to come to me once they are up at the right height. Be willing to hand them over if needed :-)

 And be adaptable. There is no single technique that causes calmness in all pets. We may have to pause and alter our approach a few times before we find what works for your pet. I can't foretell how a dog or cat will respond to something until we try it. I know that sometimes when owners are a bit tense, they wish we could just hurry up and get it done. We could do this, but it wouldn't be constructive. It would mean that the next visit will probably be harder. So be ready to adapt, and remember, I'm trying to build a long term relationship of trust with your pet. Not just get the vaccine into them any-old-how.

Here's a short video of me pretending to be a pet owner who is doing some of the unhelpful actions that we have covered. My poor Lara - don't worry, she got some BBQ chicken straight after this!!

 I hope that's been constructive and informative. If there are things here that you are concerned you aren't able to do, feel free to mention them when we are booking your appointment. Low stress handling is a team effort! Remember that what we are trying to achieve - anxiety free veterinary care, is extremely worthwhile but also very challenging. The benefits for me are less physical danger, more enjoyment (being a welcomed and happily anticipated visitor is much more rewarding than being feared), and being able to offer more effective medical care options. The benefits for you are less stress and more enjoyment of the health care aspect of pet ownership, and often less expense when treatments are needed. The benefits for your pet are hard to overstate. A trusting and happy relationship with their vet and the ability to cope with medical intervention can mean the difference between life and death in some cases. But at the least, they are happier, and can receive the very best care that they deserve.



Low Stress Handling Part 2 - animal behaviour June 21, 2015 22:01 1 Comment

The first step in being able to handle animals in a non stressful and even enjoyable manner, is to be able to recognise the early signs of anxiety that they display. If/when they occur, we can stop the action that was causing the pet concern, and consider an alternative approach.

In future blog posts I will delve into what you and I can do to minimise the occurence of these signs (and how to deal with them if they do show up), but today, let's concentrate on the signs themselves.


This is Lara. Here she is nice and relaxed on her outside couch, in the morning sun:

Her ears are forward, her head and eyes are facing me, her neck and jaw are relaxed - happy dog!

Here she is a little worried - my three year old daughter has taken this photo, and Lara's unsure if she's trustworthy, poking a camera in her face:

Her eyes are turned a little sideways, her ears are back a little, and she's a bit tense in the neck. These are classic early signs of anxiety. While they won't show in a photo, she was displaying a few anxiety related behaviours at this stage too - licking her lips, moving in slow motion, keeping her tail still, and then once it was over and Rosie and the camera went away, she had a good general body shake.

 It is amazing how often owners incorrectly interpret their pet's behaviour! Many people assume that their pet holds still for the vet because they are "being good", when they are actually exhibiting the classic signs of anxiety: slow motion movement and general body stiffness. Don't get me wrong, they are being good, but they are also scared. It's actually better (as far as indicating your pet's mental state) if they are a bit wriggly and curious. And yet so often pets are reprimanded for investigating my box, finding my treats and being "nosey".

Here's an easy one:

Monty was happy relaxed and friendly during his checkup and vaccination. However when I wanted to take a photo of him, and his owner told him to sit, he became anxious. I'm not sure whether he is afraid of cameras, or just got worried about why he had to sit. Whatever the exact cause, you can clearly see from his lowered head, ears down and back a little, and eyes and head turned slightly away from me, that he is worried. Note: lots of people would think he looks guilty. Usually when people think their dog looks guilty, they are simply anxious. Maybe because you're telling them off?

Some early signs of anxiety or fear are actually normal behaviours, done in an abnormal setting. Some really good examples are panting when you're not hot and shivering when you're not cold.

A lot of barking is anxiety fuelled. Often people think their dogs are being territorial or protective, when actually they are expressing anxiety. When I arrive at a house for a vet visit and a dog barks at me for a while, owners often say "haha, he's just letting you know this is his house." I don't argue, however this is usually not the case. Usually they are anxious about this person (me) coming into their space, who smells like other pets and carries an unusual box and bag. Once I have spent a few minutes talking calmly to their owners, while leaving my box on the floor a few steps away, they have often decided for themselves that my box is actually really interesting, and even better, contains treats, and that I'm just a new family friend who has come over for a catch up. Then they come to decide I am not a threat. They lose the anxiety, stop the barking and enjoy investigating and eating all my liver treat supplies. Depending on how brave or fearful they are, they may become anxious again when it's time for me to examine them. This could result in barking again, or other more subtle signs of anxiety.

Cats usually show some early signs of anxiety we can look out for as well. Here's Crumpet:

She has hunched herself up into a tiny little ball, with her tail wrapped close around her body and her head drawn in. If she was cold, this could be normal, warming behaviour. If she's not cold, then she is probably anxious. In this case she was being approached by someone she is not sure is trustworthy. Here she is an instant later when that person continued to advance on her:

Her ears are sideways. That's a big tell tale sign. If a cat turns their ears sideways and begins to flatten them back, they are not comfortable. In this situation, because she was not boxed in, Crumpet walked off very shortly after this photo was taken. If she couldn't get away she would have turned and hissed at the threatening person. If even that didn't get the message across, and she was really cornered, she would be prepared to bite them when they got too scarey.

One thing I found when I first started doing housecalls back in 2007 was that many cats are more difficult to manage in their own homes. They wriggle and squirm, walk off, and generally feel they are in charge. Whereas in the vet clinic, many just sit without moving, then scuttle back into their cat box as soon as they can. I now know why this is: the cats who are "freezing" in the clinic are really scared. It makes it easy for the vet, but it's not great for the pet's mental or physical health. Each time you are scared and something negative happens to you, the result is that next time you are in that same situation, you will be more scared. And at some point, many of those cats switch from anxiety making them freeze, to a state of terror which triggers their survival instinct of fight or flight. If they choose "fight", then vet care becomes extremely challenging, sometimes impossible, and certainly traumatic. So I would rather shut myself in your laundry with your confident cat (I can't quite let them roam the entire house or I would lose them) and follow him/her around amongst your washing baskets while I examine and vaccinate them, than have them "frozen" on an examination table in front of me!

Laundries/ensuites/walk-in-robes/bedrooms/toilet rooms - I've seen it all!



So lets make a list of the common early signs of anxiety, firstly in dogs:

Body postures - ears down or back, eyes sideways, head lowered or turning away from you, tense jaw, tense neck muscles, tense body generally, tail down, weight leaning back on hind legs,

Actions - licking lips, yawning, panting when not hot, moving in slow motion or not at all, fussing or doing unusual fidgety movements, shivering/shaking when not cold, shaking off (like as if they are wet), refusing to eat when they are actually hungry, barking, hiding or refusing to approach.

And for cats:

Body postures - hunched, feet tucked under, tail wrapped around. Ears sideways or backwards. Fur fluffed up. Leaning away form you. 

Actions - hiding, freezing, moving to the furthest possible place from the threat, scrunching up against a wall, tail flicking, walking with bent legs so they are low to the ground, hiding

You may have noticed that some of these signs are contradictory. Moving in slow motion and fidgeting are impossible to do at the same time! Some dogs may do one, and other dogs may do another. There are many more signs that our pets may be displaying - individuals may have their own unique body language. The ones I have listed are just the common ones that we see frequently, however when handling pets, we always try to learn their own personal expressions and adapt to them.

And once again, why do we care about these signs of anxiety? Because if we ignore them, the pet will often escalate their response, which can lead to aggression and injury. And because we are aiming to have your pet as relaxed and happy during veterinary visits as possible - obviously that's more effective in the long run, as well as being much more fun for everyone.


Dr Amy Coles

Low Stress Handling Part 1 - introduction May 31, 2015 15:47

We see so many dogs and cats that are scared of vets. Some are even too scared to go in to the surgery anymore. Some are timid generally. Others have had traumatic experiences that have resulted in severe anxiety and even terror. So housecalls are a great option for these pets. And we don’t mind taking a little more time and being gentle and careful with these little ones that have had a rough time somewhere.

It’s not necessarily the vet’s fault of course! Just think – every time we see a pet, we have to “do things” to them – thermometer, otoscope, injections. Someone has to do these things. And these pets aren’t dumb – they remember! And the association builds in their minds over the years – this place/person is connected with discomfort, anxiety, occasional pain.

However there are some pets who just love the vet. They run to me, tail wagging, expecting a treat and waiting for some pats. They take the (small) vaccination sting in their stride (we are very gentle!). They trust me. What makes the difference?

Undoubtedly, the exposure they have during their baby months is paramount. Click on this link:

Puppies and Kittens: Keep them safe at home or take them out and show them off

to read my article about this crucial learning period, to understand how this can impact your pet for the rest of their life. (Especially if you have, or are soon to acquire, a puppy or kitten).

But each and every interaction continues to teach them what to expect. If they are anxious or afraid, and something negative does occur, then they are proved right – and will be even more afraid next time. Conversely, if we make the visit pleasant and enjoyable, and end on a trusting and positive note, they will be more likely to overlook any minor discomfort that occurred midway through the visit. They will then be able to maintain a positive impression of the whole experience.

So the difficult question is: how do I make a veterinary visit pleasant and enjoyable, while still achieving the health care required? This is NOT a simple or easy thing to do.

It starts with being able to recognise the very subtle earliest signs of fear or anxiety that are usually missed or ignored, and adjusting our handling and treatment at that time. It continues on with top notch animal handling and control skills that inspire confidence and promote relaxation in our patients. It also relies on identifying positive reinforcement options that are effective and available in each individual scenario, for each pet.

Dr Emma and I worked together earlier this year to complete a fantastically interesting course on low stress handling of dogs and cats. Dr Sophia Yin, a veterinary behavioural specialist, had put this course together as part of her work promoting force-free and positive reinforcement training and handling of pets.

We were both very excited to learn her techniques and methods (sometimes in excruciating detail)! And we are enjoying being able to use our new skills to help us keep our patients as happy, trusting and relaxed as possible. We also learned a great deal about helping pets who are already fearful or traumatised to overcome their fears and build a new trusting relationship.

It’s a big topic – we are still adjusting our habits, educating pet owners, reassessing priorities that have been taken for granted in the veterinary world for decades.  This will be the first of a series of blog posts that will cover different aspects of the patient-vet-owner relationship. I hope you will enjoy learning about it as much as we did!


Dr Amy Coles

Get to know Dr Emma April 22, 2015 19:52


Well it turns out that Dr Emma is quite shy of talking about herself, and particularly dislikes being photographed! Any photo you see of her required a large bribe, or was taken sneakily. Don't get me wrong, she's very social and friendly and gets around to a lot of events etc, but she just isn't comfortable talking about herself. She would much rather talk about her dogs - we'll get to that shortly!

Here's what I can tell you, behind the scenes, about Dr Emma. She loves coffee. And she has a special weakness for Iced Coffee Breakers. Whenever we catch up, we have to go for coffee, or stop off somewhere to grab one on the way. I've noticed she never says "no" to left over birthday cake at my house either! And she always ends up chatting way longer than she meant to. She loves a good natter about this that and everything else. Her range of interests is pretty broad. Her brain never stops, and she's always doing new courses, further training, webinars, seminars etc. Her most recent one was on the use of herbal treatments within conventional veterinary medicine.



You can't get to know Dr Emma without becoming acquainted with the "Tollers". Officially the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers. And yes, Dr Emma is more than happy to talk about her beloved tollers, so here's the roughly translated interview I have conducted piecemeal over several years:



Amy: When did you get your first Toller?

Emma: In 1994. That original dog has passed away now of course, but was the start of it all.

Amy: Where did you first see them, and what attracted you to the breed?

Emma: I saw a picture in a dog magazine, and then I saw a real one at a dog show, and I was really taken by their beautiful faces with soft brown eyes. Then I saw a video of a litter of puppies and that was the last straw - I had to have one!

Amy: Aren't they just golden/orange coloured Border Collies?

Emma: NO!! They are TOTALLY different! They were bred for an entirely different purpose even.

Amy: Oh, what purpose were they bred for?

Emma: Tolling of course.

Amy: Which is .....?

Emma: Ok, Tolling is the art of luring water birds over towards hunters by mucking around on the river bank. Then once they have been lured into range, gunmen shoot the bird they are hunting, then the Tollers do their Retrieving bit, where they collect the birds carefully and bring them in. So they don't need the enormous amounts of exercise that Border Collies require - they have fairly laid back personalities. But still very intelligent and trainable.

Amy: Have you ever taking them hunting? Do you shoot birds?

Emma: No, of course not! I take them playing in rivers and at beaches though. And we do agility and obedience training, and we regularly show and exhibit to increase public awareness of the breed. They make excellent family pets.


Amy: Sounds great. Where do I get one?

Emma: Get in line - demand currently far exceeds supply. If you are seriously interested, contact me and we can have a chat.


Dr Emma is relatively new to the housecalling way of veterinary work. I asked her recently what she thought of it and her reply was interesting! She said it seemed so friendly and relaxed that she almost felt like it didn't really qualify as work, which made her wonder if she's being lazy. SO next time Dr Emma is at your place, make sure you get her working hard, so she doesn't feel guilty about having too good a time!!


Dr Amy Coles


Puppies and Kittens - keep them safe at home, or take them out and show them off? April 15, 2015 22:05

Puppies and kittens! My goodness how cute and exciting and entertaining. You just want to cuddle and play and show everyone your adorable new family member, with their soft baby fur and big cute eyes and clumsy movements. But is this in their best interests? Many people think they know the answer to this. I used to think I knew the answer. But it turns out there are very few black and whites. Let's have a chat about the factors to consider.

Firstly, contagious diseases. It's the main thing people talk about. Vets talk about it. The standard advice is: new pets should be kept at home until 2 weeks after their third baby vaccination. So what diseases are we talking about here? Where would they pick them up?

For dogs, the big one is parvovirus. Puppies get it from the faeces of a dog that has the disease. It is terribly contagious, and only a tiny amount of that poo can infect many many healthy dogs. And there is no effective treatment. We give supportive fluids, antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections and painkillers as needed, but it is a hard slog, and many don't make it. There's no two ways about it, it is a horrible disease. It only came into existence relatively recently (less than 50 years ago) as a result of a random mutation of an everyday gastrointestinal virus.

For cats, the big one is cat flu. Cats get it from saliva or respiratory secretions from another cat who has the disease. While not as life threatening as parvovirus, the concern with cat flu is that it can become latent (like a cold sore) and reappear at times of stress or immunosuppression for the rest of the cat's life.
Both dogs and cats are vaccinated for a variety of other conditions as well, but these are the two that are common at the moment in this area, and have serious consequences.

Vaccinations work by stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies against these diseases, without exposing the pet to the disease itself. However, baby puppies and kittens do already get antibodies from their Mother when they are born, to protect them for the first little while until their own bodies start to get more capable. Somewhere between 6 and 16 weeks of age though, these antibodies from their Mum die off, and the little one has to produce their own to be safe. So that's why we start off with their first vaccine at approximately 6 weeks of age.
So those diseases are a concern. But there is another factor I'd like to mention. Brain development. It happens in sequential stages, and can't be reversed. What does this mean? Well, for the first 3 weeks of life, puppies and kittens care only about food and warmth pretty much. Then, once their eyes and ears open, they will start to investigate. This is the start of a new phase of brain development. They are kept safe by their Mum with their siblings while they explore and learn about their surroundings. Now, their main response to everything they come across is curiosity. They want to investigate and become familiar with their world. This stage lasts from 3 weeks to approximately 12 weeks. Of course there are variations around that for individuals, but that's the rough timing. Things they encounter during this period will become their comfort zone. After approximately 12 weeks, their brain moves on and becomes fearful of things that are unfamiliar. This is necessary for survival - animals need to be wary or they will be eaten by predators, injured by nature etc.

So you have a window of opportunity, from 3 weeks to 12 weeks, that only happens once in a lifetime, to shape what a puppy or kitten is comfortable and relaxed with. Older pets can certainly learn, and become gradually acclimatised to new things, but it is slower and harder and less lasting.

What does your pet need to be comfortable with, in order to have a happy rewarding and healthy life? Lots of things! People for a start. Old people, young people, babies, children, men, women, people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, people with tattoos, people in wheelchairs, men with beards, women wearing hats, people pushing strollers, vets, trainers, groomers etc etc. Then there's experiences. Crowds, cars, maybe the beach, other dogs at a distance, other dogs up close, the park, motorbikes, vacuum cleaners, televisions, storms, rain. Objects: brooms, rakes, ironing boards, chairs that scrape on the ground, leaves that blow in the wind, balloons, stairs, doggy flaps. And then there's treatment: toe nail trims, hydrobaths, hair cuts, giving flea spot on, giving tablets, cleaning ears, feeling belly, etc etc.
Am I going overboard here? I don't think so. I could name a patient who is afraid of each thing on this list. Some of them are afraid of multiple things on the list. Some are important (can't give tablets = misses out on medical treatment), others less important (your dog may not need to meet an elderly person) however the more you are comfortable with, the happier your life will be. I can't tell you how many times people have commented to me that they didn't have their dog as a puppy but they must have been abused by men, because they are always afraid of unknown men. Or that they must have been hit, because they are always afraid of their broom. Not necessarily. It's more likely they were just not exposed to these things at the right time of their brain development. But just think, you could save your pet so many frights by having them accustomed to these every days things from when they are little. And the more times a pet is afraid, the jumpier they get, until they end of scared of shadows, because they're all on edge.

The absolutely most important thing here is to be comfortable with people. Many pets are euthanised each year for behavioural reasons, and most relate to fear of people. Fear is almost always the underlying cause when bites occur. In fact, the number of pets that are euthanized for behavioural reasons is much higher than the number that die from contagious diseases contracted as a pup or kittie. Behavioural problems have risen noticeably since we started recommending that puppies and kittens be isolated until fully vaccinated. Because you only get that one window of opportunity in their brain development for easy assimilation of new experiences, and it overlaps with the time of developing immunity from vaccines.

Worth considering, isn't it? As I said, not so black and white anymore. But here are a few compromises I'd like to suggest. Take your pets to low risk places. I wouldn't take my pup to the super busy off leash dog park, because there could be unwell dogs there. But I would certainly take them to visit family dogs. Any healthy happy vaccinated dog who has nice manners would be a good choice. Preferably on private land, so you know that there aren't any infectious deposits hiding in the grass, left behind by a parvo-carrying stray. The more variety the better.
Similarly for kittens, I wouldn't take them in to the local shelter to meet and greet all the kitties in there. But I would buy a carrier and cart my little kitty over to my sister's house, to visit with her well adjust vaccinated adult cat, and friendly dog. I would also invite everyone I know to come and visit my new family member, play with them with fun toys and give them treats. And if your pet is small enough to carry, you can take them just about anywhere. You will get plenty of attention!
They're not going to catch anything serious from people, so hand them around. Have a puppy party. Definitely attend puppy preschool, and kittie kindergarten if you have one available. Do all of this within their comfort level. Make it happy and fun. Give them a break for naps and rest. But work hard at this. It's your one chance to make the biggest difference possible for their future. A study done at a University in England concluded that puppies should be handled by 100 different people by the age of 8 weeks, and then by another 100 more different people by the age of 12 weeks.
Here are my kids hard at work handling a friend's puppies :-)

And finally, there is one other thing that I am doing to try and help. Ask your vet about this too if you need to. I am using a brand of vaccine that stimulates them to be producing antibodies earlier than previously. So they can become immune to the serious contagious diseases before they are too old and move in to the next stage of brain development - wariness and fear. But that won't help anyone unless you, my lovely pet owners, get out there and share the cuteness around! It's a win-win - everyone LOVES a puppy or kitten cuddle!
Dr Amy Coles

Get to know Dr Amy March 24, 2015 16:20

Hi again! Thanks for taking the time to get to know me a little better :-) Obviously you know that I'm a small animal veterinarian, but I am a lot of other things as well! As many of you are probably aware, I am most certainly a family person. I may have bored you by telling stories about my husband and his work, the fish, our kiddies, our special dog, and little cat. I am so proud and fond of each of them I just can't help it - sorry! Here is a very recent photo of Tim and I and our three kids at O'Reilly's:

 Olivia is 7, James is 5 and Rosemary is 3 now (apparently this makes her a giant). We enjoyed the birds, the pademelons, the suspension bridge and hiking at O'Reilly's so much. I was proud that the kids did an 8km walk one day - Rosie was carried only 1.5km of that distance. Not a bad effort for little legs! Here they are at Picnic Rock:

 My cute little adventurers!

 Less adventurous, but still super cute, is our little dog Lara. I'm told she is a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel crossed with a Beagle. I haven't ever run the genetic test to prove it, but she acts like both of those breeds. She only came to us at the age of 4 - she was a patient of mine before that, and then needed a new home. Knowing how gentle and sweet she is, we were happy to welcome her to our family.

And we can't forget Crumpie. Her proper name is Crumpet - this stems from the first time we met her. Very soon after Tim and I were married we noticed a little cat around the neighbourhood that seemed to be thin and have no home. One day we cooked up a Sunday morning BBQ brekky, and she couldn't stay away. Tim held out a bit of crumpet for her from his plate, and she took it then darted off. She probably would have preferred the left-over bacon, but she wasn't in a position to be picky! So after a general process of checking that she had no home or owners, I microchipped, vaccinated, wormed and flea'ed her, and she became officially ours. I think she is about 10 years old at the moment, and I am also fairly sure she's Burmese. Again, no genetic testing, but she certainly has all the attributes of that beautiful breed. And of course, since she ate crumpet, she has been known as Crumpet ever since.  Here she is in the park out the back of our yard. It's not the best shot, but she refuses to pose.

So that's the immediate family. Both Tim and I come from awesome, enormous extended families, and we like to keep in touch with everyone. I'm one of 4 siblings, and we all gather at Mum and Dad's farm in Maleny at Easter. Some in the house, some camping. And Tim is one of 5 siblings, and we all like to catch up at Hervey Bay from Christmas to the New Year. That's a raucous, crowded and thoroughly fun holiday!

As far as personal interests and hobbies, the list is verrrrry long! I'm the kind of person who likes to give everything a go. However there are a few consistent topics: I will always want to be doing something active. Usually mountain bike riding, sometimes body boarding, hiking or trail running. And I will always need to be creative. This could be playing music (I was in a bluegrass band for a fair while until the kids slowed me down), writing songs, drawing (I like to draw my patients), photography, sewing (currently into "refashioning"), renovating, cooking, fermenting, children's books, poems, etc etc. I tend to cycle around between the main ones. Here's a few pics:





Drawing of cute patient "Bobbie"                                                                                                      


"Tomcat and the bluegrass kittens" approx. 2005     


               Crotchet Bootie              


Painting murals on bedroom wall with Olivia

Tim and I also run an online business called Packlight ( where we sell top quality, light weight and compact travel, hiking and camping gear. This is Tim's "thing" really - I just enjoy learning about all the cool gadgets and recent innovations. And then I really enjoy helping to test the products out. My latest discovery is wearing Merino wool in hot weather - it's amazing! You don't smell when you wear it. So you can wear the same clothes for longer, which means you can pack less.

How does all this relate to housecalls? Well, now you know the faces behind my family stories. And now you also know my energetic and creative side, which I am always applying to my veterinary work as well as to my leisure. That's what led me to start the whole mobile veterinary work in the first place, back in 2007. In future I will tell you about my Canine Microbiome Repair Trial, about the low stress handling techniques I'm beginning to implement, and about my ideas for expanding the business.

Well I have rambled on for a long time - if you're still with me I thank you for your dedication! And I didn't even get around to mentioning the fish. You'll have to ask me next time I'm at your place :-)

Dr Amy Coles





Our less-than-beautiful photos! March 4, 2015 12:38 2 Comments

Well, as you can see for yourself, the beautiful photos are up on the beautiful new website! I am so happy with the outcome. A big thankyou has to go out to Peta Sanchez of Total Capture Photography - she took such great pictures. It takes skill to get good photos when animals are involved. Even extraordinarily beautiful animals like these ones! Of course there are some less-than-beautiful photos that didn't make it onto the website, so I thought I'd share a few bloopers here for your enjoyment:

 Here's Poppy. She was terrifically pleased to meet us, and so excited to be asked to pose that she just couldn't sit still!Dr Emma had to use all of her considerable dog handling skills to keep her from falling off the bench! She had us all in stitches .


But Peta managed to snap a shot during a millisecond pause, and she's made it onto the Home page. She is ridiculously cute isn't she?

Alpha is a cutie pie, and he's a bit of a smoocher as well. Here he snuck in a quick unexpected kiss, and then became bashful when we all laughed.



Dimmy enjoyed a bit of a greeting pat, and then wanted to take off...

And Apollo spent a fair while staring at the strange lady talking baby talk to him, instead of looking at the camera: 

Emma's going to kill me for putting that photo up!

I kind of fell in love with Axel. What a handsome, well mannered and utterly adorable fella!


I'd better stop there - I hope you've had a chuckle. We certainly laughed a whole lot throughout the process, and the furry models enjoyed themselves too. There are heaps more of course, and plenty more good ones that I am saving to use in future blog posts, so stay tuned!

Dr Amy Coles




The New Website December 1, 2014 22:19

Welcome to my new website! It's taken a while, and obviously it is currently lacking any pictures, but at least it's up! I am hoping to have it prettied up in the next week or two. Those of you who remember my old website (done by yours truly, in 2007) will have to admit it's an improvement.

I have started a facebook page to go along with the new website - click the facebook icon at the bottom of the site to get there. I will post lots of pictures there of my beautiful patients. I have so many cute, adorable, funny and pretty patients that I feel it's a waste not to share their pictures with you all!

I would also like to take this opportunity to say "thankyou" to my wonderful clients of the past 7 years. I have awesome clients! They are all pet owners of course, which is a good start, and they all care enough about their pets to search out a mobile vet (who has done little to no advertising). So that tends to bring me the nicest of the nice people. You can tell a lot about people from the way they treat their pets. SO thankyou to you all, for being so caring, so interesting and enjoyable, and for welcoming me into your homes, and allowing me to share in the care of your precious little family members.

As you will see, if you have a look through the website, there are a few changes occurring in the Dr Amy House Calling world. A new vet! Wider territory! And other, yet to be disclosed improvements. It is an exciting time. I will update the blog with news and announcements regularly, so stay in touch!

Dr Amy Coles