Choice Pet insurance update – the Shonkys award

At the beginning of this month Choice brought out an assessment of the pet insurance market. It was damning.@VetHQ we want to put up all the facts and not just a biased media rant. Don’t get us wrong, we completely agree with everything that was said by Choice. The only problem with the article is that they brought no positives to the table and nor did they address the main issue, as far as I am concerned. That is, why we get insurance in the first place.

Below, I have done what my father taught me to do many years ago when you have an issue, split the page in two and write the positives down one side and the negatives down the other.


insurance is for the big things – accident and illness and insurance companies cover between 75-100% of the claim and may or may not have a fixed excess as well. Insurance is not for preventative care.
There is now a cumulative mass of animals insured in this country so we don’t have to worry about the companies going bust
All animals at 8-10 weeks of age can get insurance. Please check when purchasing or adopting a pet if they are already insured.
@VetHQ we process all insurance claims for you
@VetHQ we will argue with the insurance company on your behalf if they don’t pay out what you expect to get. Sometimes this does not always go our way.


  1. Exclusions are a massive issue. Especially if you have pre-existing disease. The insurance companies are saving plenty of pennies by citing ‘pre existing’. NOTE A new policy Vets Choice now cover pre existing conditions to some degree
  2. Kick backs or Co- Payments. Some insurance companies off the veterinarian or other industry partners kick backs. This creates a potential to have conflicts of interest. NOTE @VetHQ we have never received any financial incentive from an insurance company in return for selling their policies. I personally find that abhorrent.
  3. Consultation exclusion, some policies from one particular provider have excluded all consults. This is fine unless you are unlucky enough to have an afterhours consult or a specialist consult.
  4. One provider of insurance has over 30 brands. These are all in essence the same policy or similar with slightly different bells and whistles. In itself there is nothing wrong with that however, when people ring up to change policy to another of their policies they have been known to actively encourage it and do not warn the client that all previous issues will be characterised as pre existing and not be covered. This is deliberately misleading.
  5. The same group of policies have put a sublimit on cruciate (ACL knee ligament) claims and believe that cruciates are one disease neglecting there is a left and a right. We have evidence to prove 50% of dogs will rupture their other cruciate.
  6. Routine care is not covered as a general rule and if it is, you pay for it. NOTE: To be honest, I don’t see this as a true negative because we insure our pets for peace of mind for accident and illness, not routine care. Like a motor vehicle, we expect to have to put fuel in the car and wash it every now and then. Just like parking in the car park in Double Bay, we expect the odd, perhaps daily nudge from the AWD parked next to us.
  7. Dental disease is not covered under most policies. NOTE: Pet plan, Prosure, and Vets Choice cover a degree of dental procedures.

I hope this helps. Now that you have gotten to this point, please click the link below to go to the Choice report:

View the Choice Report

Happy Chinese New Year from Snap

Happy Chinese New Year and Happy Year of the Dog

Every year at Vet HQ is the year of the dog – and cat, rabbit, ferret, bird … and occasionally guinea pig, rat, pig, mouse, and horse. People ask me what is the best thing about my job. The answer is that no two days are the same and that no two animals are the same. Every day my amazing team back up and wonder “What’s going to happen today?” So what’s going to happen this month? For a start we are going to lose – temporarily – Dr Nicky.  Dr Nicky is expecting her first (of many says her parents) child. We all wish her the best and we look forward to meeting the new addition to the family. As a maternity cover we welcome Dr Jo-Ann Chan. Jo-Ann has come up from Melbourne recently so that she can study part time her MBA. She has 8 years experience in private practice and in a large not for profit vet hospital in Melbourne. She has very big shoes to fill however I have no doubt she will fit into them perfectly. In mid March we will be starting a behavioural service one day a week, where we can come to you to discuss your pets behaviour. We have previously tried to fit this service into our normal consult sessions but this has frequently a stretch. Between Dr Liz and Dr Caryn we will have time dedicated weekly to help with conditions like anxiety, fear and aggression. In April both Dr Tony and myself will be taking some leave for family celebrations overseas. Tony will be heading back home to England and I will be heading to Israel. During that time our amazing regular locum Dr Winny Tsang will cover our break. In case you missed my post on cattle work I do down the coast,you can watch the video here. Stay in touch on Facebook and Insta. See you all soon. Dr Geoff

Our promise to you

No one will work harder to look after your pets

VetHQ at Mardi Gras Fair Day

Dr Jess Green Sunday February 18th 2018 was Mardi Gras Fair Day. Fair day is Mardi Gras’ free family-friendly carnival of rainbow festivities, featuring a huge variety of activities and stalls. Every year, a melting pot of 70,000 smiling faces gather together in the park to celebrate not only the beginning of Mardi Gras, but also the power and beauty of diversity. With over 250 stalls, Fair Day spread out through the whole of Victoria Park. There is always something for everyone at Fair Day, even our fur babies were a part of the action. Dogs were strutting their stuff at the world-famous Doggywood competition.  With more shows, more activities, more prizes and more fun than ever before, Doggywood at Fair Day 2018 was the must-do event of the Mardi Gras season for the four-legged folks of the LGBTI community. Pets provide an important source of love and support for many LGBTI people so ACON – NSW’s leading LGBTI health organisation – was once again proud to be taking the lead, in partnership with Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, in celebrating the difference that dogs make in the community. Highlights included a photobooth, Dai Aoki’s K9 Spectacular which was an amazing dog show featuring trainer Dai Aoki and his dogs Holly and Ace, expert presentations on dog health care, grooming and exercise as well as a Game of Bones Dog Pageant that awarded prizes to the best dressed, most talented and best in show. VetHQ were there supporting the AusVetLGBTIQ group along with a number of other practices (Bondi Vet, Sydney Animal Hospitals) and the Australian Veterinary Association. We provided doggy first aid (see above), handed out cooling (and cool-looking) rainbow bandanas, and engaged with the pet-lovers out celebrating Mardi Gras. It was such a fun day, and we were so honoured to be involved. Hope to see even more of our clients there next year!

Save a dog’s life

The latest Geoffisode

Dr Geoff shows he’s still got it! #onholidays #largeanimals#analglandsNOT #stillgotit

Let’s Talk About Poo

Dr Caryn Wun Pets bring us joy and companionship. The down side of pet ownership is having to clean up after them- whether it’s the black poo bag on a dog walk or the little shovel in the cat litter – it’s a necessity. When our pets get diarrhoea, the task is even more unpleasant but more worrying, in some cases it can point to ill health and possible discomfort or pain for our loved ones. In the picture below is a feacal scoring chart. In case you are wondering, number 2 is the ideal poo. The digestive process begins in the mouth. Food is chewed and broken down mechanically and chemically with our teeth and saliva. The food is swallowed and propelled into our stomach where gastric acids continue the breakdown process. The pancreas and gall bladder supply the chemicals for the next stage of digestion, breaking the proteins and carbohydrates into smaller fragments ready for absorption as goodness through the walls of our small intestine. It is in this area that large volumes of fluids and nutrients are absorbed. After leaving the small intestine, what is left of digested food goes into the large bowel as waste products. The large intestine (bowel) is lines by mucous glands that provide the passage for faecal (poo) formation. When diarrhoea is detected, the first step in the diagnostic process is to determine if the diarrhoea is the result of a problem in the small intestine or large intestines or both.

The Causes of Diarrhoea  The most common cause of diarrhoea in both dogs and cats is dietary indiscretion. A change in diet, new treats (or larger than normal amount) or scavenging something on a walk can lead to an abrupt but short lived change in the stool appearance and texture. Quite often the pets are otherwise bright and happy. Returning to the regular diet is usually curative. If the diarrhoea persists, or if it is accompanied by any of the following: lethargy, depression, vomiting, weight loss or change of appetite then a Vet check is warranted. If you are able – please bring a poo sample with you when you come into Vet HQ. Accompanying this with any photos of the poo or vomit can also be helpful. A faecal float is run, where a sample of stool is mixed with a special solution that encourages parasite eggs to float. Examined under a microscope, we will look for the second most common cause of diarrhoea – worms and coccidia. A sample of stool can also be sent to an external laboratory where the sample is examined for DNA evidence of viruses and bacteria that will cause ongoing or intermittent diarrhoea and ill health (including eg Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Clostridium, Coronavirus and Parvovirus). Blood tests are also used to test for the presence or absence of the pancreatic derived digestive chemicals; liver function; gall bladder and hormone imbalances all of which can cause forms of diarrhoea. Endoscopy is also available to look at and sample the inside of the bowel walls. While ultrasound and radiographs enable visualisation of the outside of the bowel wall and surrounds. These techniques are often used if inflammatory bowel disease, cancer or swallowed foreign bodies are suspected. Treatment is based on the cause and may involve dewormers, specialised anti parasite medications, antibiotics, probiotics, diet changes, steroids or surgery depending on the findings. Good quality probiotics (eg Paw Digesticare Powder) can also be adjunct to assist in the recovery from all causes of diarrhoea by providing the good gut bacteria that are essential for vitamin synthesis, carbohydrate fermentation and bile acid activation. The bacteria in the probiotic are specially coated to protect them from the gastric acid – only becoming activated when entering the small intestine. The improved balance of good bacteria has a positive effect on the immune system of the bowel. At Vet HQ our aim is to identify the cause using the latest diagnostic equipment and tests rather than assume the cause. This avoids over use of antibiotics and improved outcomes for your pets.

Vale sweet Monty

Dear Geoff and staff at VethqMonty had a very good innings and passed away at 17years 3 months at Christmas. If it hadn’t been for the doctors and staff I am sure his life would have been much shorter. Thank you everyone for your help and kindness towards me and Monty and a special thank you to Marika for making him look so good. Cheers, Susie Manning

Ear Infections in Dogs

Dr Liz Rowland Have you noticed your dog scratching his ears, rubbing or shaking his head, or a strange odour coming from one or both ears? He could have an infection.What causes ear infections in dogs?  There are a number of factors that contribute to the development of ear infections in dogs. In veterinary literature, they are classified as:

  • Predisposing factors such as genetic conformation of the ear (hairy ears, pendulous ears), moisture in the ears from swimming or a humid environment, or an underlying systemic illness;
  • Primary factors, the most important of which is allergies (atopy), parasites (such as ear mites), foreign bodies (such as grass seeds);
  • Secondary factors, which are the things that actually create disease in the ear, such as bacteria and fungus/yeast; and
  • Perpetuating factors, which develop as a result of the ear infection and interfere with its treatment, such as thickened or narrowed ear canals or ear drum rupture.

An ear infection occurs when predisposing and primary factors cause damage to the delicate lining of the ear canal. The ears usual cleaning mechanism breaks down and wax and exudate accumulate. Bacteria and yeast organisms thrive in this environment, allowing them to proliferate. The result is inflammation (redness, swelling, pain, heat) and significant discomfort for your pet. When your pet scratches, they further damage the lining of the ear canal and introduce opportunistic bugs, resulting in a vicious cycle of inflammation and infection. In my experience, ear infections are more common in certain breeds of dog (especially poodle or poodle mixes, though they can affect any breed), those with hairy ear canals, those with atopy (environmental allergies) and those that go swimming.  They are also more likely in summer due to the heat, humidity and high pollen counts.

What happens if we don’t treat?  Infected ears do not get better by themselves. The dog’s external ear is made up of an ear flap (pinnae), horizontal and vertical ear canal (see diagram below). Left untreated, external ear infections (otitis externa) can perforate the tympanic membrane (ear drum) and extend into the middle and/or inner ear, resulting in significant pain and sometimes neurological signs such as a head tilt.

What can be done? If you notice your dog scratching, rubbing or shaking his ears, or you notice an odour or unusual redness the pinnae (external skin of the ear), book him/her in for a check up. Your vet will perform an otoscopic examination to evaluate the ear canal. They will then take a swab of the waxy discharge to evaluate under the microscope for evidence of fungal or bacterial overgrowth. If infections are recurrent or are not responding to typical therapies, a sample may be sent for a culture (to grow the bug) and sensitivity (to work out what treatments will be effective), as it may be a resistant organism requiring a more specific treatment protocol. Depending on the severity of the infection, treatment may include:

  • Topical antibiotic/antifungal ear drops. Most of these products are applied either twice a day or once a day for a period of 7-10 days;
  • Oral antibiotics / antifungals, in more severe cases, especially if there is a suspicion of middle ear involvement;
  • Flushing of the ear canal under general anaesthetic if the ears have significant exudate that will affect treatment efficacy; and
  • Surgery to remove non-healing parts of the ear canal in severe, chronic cases, especially those with middle or inner ear involvement.

We will generally recommend a recheck at the end of the treatment protocol to ensure that the infection has resolved.

What if my dog won’t let me treat his ears?  There is a new product on the market called Osurnia® which can help treat ear infections in difficult patients. It is essentially a topical antibiotic / antifungal gel that is applied once into the affected ear and then once a week later. We offer this new product at VetHQ and have had a lot of success.

How can you prevent ear infections?   Keeping the ears clean and dry is important. This means using a ear cleaner for dogs (available over the counter), especially if there is a build up of waxy material and after swimming. These products help the wax to migrate out of the ears and help to dry them out. If you’re not sure how to do this, book in with one of our lovely nurses to show you how. Ear cleaning is a bit of a balancing act as over-vigorous cleaning can damage the delicate lining of the ear canal and actually predispose to infection. Once a week is generally enough for most dogs. Removing hair from your dogs ears is contentious. Some seem to benefit from this, however there is risk of causing trauma to the ear canal. Do only where really necessary. Treating underlying allergies can also help to reduce ear infection recurrence. Looking at your dog’s ears occasionally, and being aware of the signs of ear infections (scratching, rubbing, abnormal odour, dark waxy discharge, redness or swelling of the pinnae) will also mean you can treat before it becomes a major problem.

Diagram 1: A typical canine ear. Note the vertical and horizontal canals, ear drum and its association with the middle ear.

Diagram 2: A healthy ear on the right and an infected ear on the left.

When dogs get your knickers in a knot

Dr Nicky Goldberg

Daisy Pearl decided to swallow mum’s undies causing her to become very unwell. A piece got stuck in her stomach while the rest tried to pass through unsuccessfully. As vets, we often treat both dogs and cats for foreign body obstructions. This means that they swallow something they shouldn’t (often a tennis ball, tea towel, nectarine pip, toy or sock) and the object is unable to pass through the intestinal tract and out in their poo. When it gets stuck, it may cause pain, vomiting, lack of appetite, lethargy, hypersalivation and damage to their intestinal tract. Without treatment, the pressure can cause so much damage that the intestines rupture and cause a life-threatening infection. In Daisy Pearl’s case, the undies caused a type of blockage that we call a “linear foreign body” obstruction. This is especially common in cats but occurs in dogs too and is when they swallow something long and thin like a string, carpet threads, fishing wire or tinsel. Although it seems like these should pass through easily, sometimes they get stuck at one point. In Daisy Pearl’s case, a little metal decoration on the undies got stuck in her stomach while all the fabric it was connected to tried to keep moving through her intestinal tract.

The best way to understand what happens is to imagine we are talking about the drawstring of your tracksuit pants. If one end of the drawstring is anchored/stuck and you pull the other end, the fabric will start to bunch up and yet it still won’t budge.

The difficult part about linear foreign bodies is that they are much harder to diagnose early. They often cause intermittent clinical signs because they are quite thin and still allow some food to pass through. In Daisy Pearl’s case, because the undies weren’t as thin as a piece of string, she suddenly became very unwell and x-rays confirmed that there was an obstruction and she had immediate surgery. Daisy Pearl is now back to her usual happy self! We won’t share a picture of the intimates we recovered. Please always remove loose bits of string from toys, keep sewing threads away and just a friendly reminder to keep your undies to yourself! Regards, Dr Nicky

Our grooming supermodels


Dr Tony Knapp

We have a problem, each year an estimated 200,000 dogs and cats are abandoned and placed into rescue centres and pounds around Australia.

Unfortunately many of these animals will not make it to a new home, with limited funds available rescue centres have to budget to save and rehome the most they can leaving little to spend on those needing significant medical attention. In cats this problem is compounded further by their seasonal breeding. The majority of kittens are born in the hotter months, especially December and January, leading to a “kitten tsunami”. With so many kittens arriving in so short a period of time, rescue centres are quickly filled to capacity and infections can spread rapidly through the unvaccinated population. The cause behind this problem is multifaceted, but can be boiled down to 2 main causes, intact animals (accidental breeding) and over breeding. There is a common myth that each cat and dog should have a litter, there is no medical benefit (only medical risk) nor behavioural benefit to allowing a cat or dog to have a litter, and as litters can easily reach 6 babies or more rehoming can be challenging. Puppy and kitten farming where large numbers of “designer” breeds can be bred for market can also be a factor, while they are popular they sell, but if popularity wanes sudden excess populations can appear in rescue centres.

What can we do? DESEX: desex your pet early, we generally recommend 5-6 months for cats and small to medium dogs, larger dogs can be done a later, between 6-9 months. However until they are undesexed, cats should not be let out, in some cases cats can get pregnant as early as 4 months! ADOPT: getting a recue animal is not just rewarding for you it is life saving for the animal you rescue, at VetHQ we help the Sydney dogs and cats home to find home for kittens, so far this year we have already homed 4 kittens! And Pheobe is still waiting on her forever home! Unfortunately we do not have the space or facilities to hold rescue dogs but you can always go directly to rescue groups.

SUPPORT: rescue centres often have outlets, shops you can buy pet supplies, as well as centres for rehoming, by supporting these locations you support their work, there are also pet shops that engage in rehoming rescue animals consider favouring these. UPDATE: make sure your pets microchip is up to date and consider a collar with a name tag and contact details. While rescue centres famously rehome animals many also play a role in reuniting pets with their owners, if your details are up to date should you cat or dog go missing they can be quickly reunited with you saving a space and the centres for in need animal. Good Health Dr Tony VetHQ

New links between raw meat and paralysis in dogs

Dr Ofir Schwartzamn Raw meat is becoming increasingly popular as a food of choice for our furry friends. While the benefits are numerous, recently a study conducted at the University of Melbourne has found a possible connection between dogs that eat raw chicken meat and their risks of developing a paralysing condition called acute polyradiculoneuritis (APN). APN is a condition that can affect both dogs and cats and results in paralysis, after the immune system becomes unregulated and begins attacking its own nervous system. The condition results in an ascending paralysis beginning with the hind limbs and then may progress to affect the forelimbs, neck, head and face. Mortality is low, and most animals recover without treatment. However, the road to recovery is long and arduous and can take months of nursing your pet back to normal. Some cases can be fatal if paralysis of the chest occurs. The danger is not that animals are ingesting uncooked chicken meat, but rather due to the bacteria Campylobacter, that is present in raw or undercooked chicken, unpasteurised milk products and contaminated water. Scientists believe this is due to similarities in the Campylobacter molecules to molecules within neurons. This similarity results in the immune system accidentally attacking its own nerves, rather than the foreign bacteria introduced from the raw meat. These attacks result in the paralysis seen with APN. The study compared two groups of dogs, those that showed signs of APN and those that didn’t. It revealed that dogs that developed APN were 9.4 time more likely to have had a campylobacter infection than the control group without the disease. Chicken neck specifically were shown to be at a higher risk than other parts of a chicken carcass. More research is needed to determine whether a cause and effect relationship exists. Currently, it is speculated that all poultry meats, such as turkey do posses this risk. As such, at VetHQ, we are not advising owners to cut out raw meat altogether, but we rather want our clients to be aware of the risks that can be associated with feeding raw poultry (ie. chicken) as treats or feeding a raw chicken based diet. Other ways to minimise the risk of bacterial contamination is to choose meat that is of human grade quality. Feeding human grade meats will also minimise risks associated with sulphur dioxide. This preservative is added to extend shelf life and to kill bacteria. Sulphur dioxide inactivates thiamine and animals fed a diet containing large levels of this preservative can result in neurological problems that stem from thiamine deficiencies. Legislation bans the use of preservatives in meat for human consumption that could lead to a thiamine deficiency. Raw bones have long been used as a solution to maintain dental health. Studies still confirm their effectiveness, so consider perhaps switching from feeding chicken bones to beef or lamb bones instead. Other ‘non-bone’ options that can be used as preventatives include:

  • Diet: Science diet Hills T/D is a special formulated diet that is clinically proven to reduce plaque, stain and tartar build-up
  • Healthy Mouth: A drinking water additive that prevents plaque adhering to teeth
  • Brushing teeth: using a finger brush or small soft baby brush and veterinary tooth paste can help to reduce plaque build up

Chicken bones are just one form of raw meat that can be fed to your cats and dogs. Consider feeding other raw meats such as beef, lamb and fish, which are safer options. The take home message from this all is:

  • There are some risks that are being investigated with feeding raw chicken and other raw poultry meats
  • Safer options include raw beef, lamb and fish
  • Other dental options include Science Diet T/d, healthy mouth and brushing teeth
  • Feed human grade meat