Cat Facts

Having been a veterinarian for over 25 years, I often come across some interesting trivia related to the animal world. Specifically today, I thought I would share a Fancy Few Frivolous Feline Facts!

Domestic cats spend about 70% of their lives asleep. These are usually in short snatches or “cat naps”. This works out to be about sixteen hours a day – much the same as a newborn baby.

Cats are “obligate carnivores” which mean they need animal protein to survive. They do not crave sweet food as they have only around 500 taste buds as opposed to us with over 10,000.

Cats of course aren’t native to Australia. They came from Europe with the first settlers. Because of this genetic stock, our cats are on average 1.5kg heavier than American cats and are also less susceptible to some infectious diseases like the Leukaemia virus. As well, most Australian cats do not get the euphoric effect of the grass “Catnip” like their American cousins.

Until recently, the cat was believed to have been first domesticated in Egypt. But in 1994, archaeologists discovered a cat buried with a person at a New Stone Age site in Cyprus. In fact, wild cats have been snooping around grain storage areas looking for mice in ancient Persia.

Why Does My Dog… Eat His Poo?

Dog eats poo. Pet owner gags. Dog eats poo again. Pet owner runs screaming from the room.

Yes, it’s disgusting. Yes, it’s potentially unhealthy. And, yes, it’s fairly common in the animal world.

A pup will eat his own poo for a number of reasons:

  • He thinks it smells and tastes good. (Dogs are notoriously poor arbiters of taste.)
  • He’s hungry.
  • He may suffer malabsorption.
  • He likes to keep his territory or bedding clean.
  • He has fun playing with it. (This is especially true for dogs that are mouthy.)
  • He’s bored.
  • He knows that removing the evidence means no punishment for inappropriate elimination.
  • He knows that fewer predators will give him grief if there is no physical evidence of his having been around.

There may be other reasons for routine coprophagy, as the condition is known. It can be hard to figure out why a dog chooses to eat poo, but if the problem persists, ask us about a remedy for this habit. What we do know is that it is normal behaviour for a wide variety of species — even if humans are revolted by the very idea.

This post was originally written in 2012

Should Dogs and Cats Sleep on Your Bed?

In many homes, the “pets on the bed” debate is long over – and the pets have won!

Proof can be found at pet stores where accessories abound to help dogs and cats get onto the bed — and keep the bedding cleaner.

This trend isn’t for everyone, however. Letting cats and dogs sleep in the bed has been suggested as one of many reasons why people have problems getting a good night’s sleep. If you have insomnia, you might consider getting your pet his own comfy bed and keeping yours for yourself. If you have allergies, or your pet has behaviour problems, a no-pet bedroom is also recommended.
Otherwise, why not share? According to the Californian Health Department, 56% of dogs and 62% of cats sleep in the bedroom and 85% feel that their pet is a member of the family. The Tibetian Spaniel was bred as a furry hot water bottle, although sharing a bed with an Irish Woolfhound may be an issue!

The Journal of Clinical and Experimental Allergy showed that if you grow up with one pet you have a 34% reduction in allergies and up to 43% if you have two pets.

Pets are known to lower our blood pressure, reduce the incidence of heart disease (by up to seven times), decrease loneliness and increase socialisation and exercise.

Keep an eye out for sales on relatively inexpensive, washable cotton doonas to throw over the top of the bedding. You can also use rubber-backed fuzzy bath mats on top of the doona if your older pets get leaky.

For high beds and older pets, there’s even an easier way up: A number of manufacturers make pet-sized sets of steps to help aging or small animals get onto the bed or lounge.

The most important thing to remember is that your pet is not allowed on the bed unless you invite it up, and must leave happily (if not reluctantly) when asked.

This post was originally written in 2012

Puppy Farms

Some regular blog readers over the last few weeks have asked me to pen an article highlighting the appalling state of “Puppy Farms” – so here we go.

One of the issues that authorities have in persecuting these operations is determining what actually constitutes a puppy farm in the first place.

A puppy farm is a commercial dog breeding facility that is operated with an emphasis upon profits above animal welfare and is often in substandard conditions regarding the well-being of dogs in their care. This could pertain to one dog, or an establishment with 100!

A legal definition for the term “puppy mill” was established in Avenson v. Zegart in 1984: “a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.”

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has responded to the problem of puppy mills in Australia by proposing the Animals Regulation of Sale Bill. It would ban the sale of dogs through pet shops, the internet or newspapers. This has been seen as a poorly drafted bill and is not supported by either the Australian Veterinary Association nor the Pet Industry Association. They say that the bill makes no difference to shelter admissions or euthanasia rates. Some also claim that the bill will only serve to push unregistered breeders further underground.

Some good news (contrary to any misinformation or media hype), there are no puppy farms in the ACT.

If you are aware or have any concerns about puppy raising enterprises, please call the RSPCA so they can be properly investigated and we can help get rid of these terrible establishments.

This post was originally written in 2012

IQ Tests

Dogs are very smart animals.  In fact, some scientists estimate that the average dog is as smart as a 3-year-old child.  That means that they are smart enough to understand more than 150 words, smart enough to count to five – and smart enough to outsmart the humans! (No doubt you’ve already learned that lesson.) 

Yes, dogs are very smart – and some breeds are smarter than others.
Psychologist Stanley Coren, a leading canine researcher and widely published author from the University of British Columbia, studied data from 208 dog obedience judges in the USA and Canada to determine which breeds are the smartest.
Check out the results below to see if your dog made that list:

  1. Border collies
  2. Poodles
  3. German shepherds
  4. Golden retrievers
  5. Dobermans
  6. Shetland sheepdogs
  7. Labrador retrievers

So how do you improve your dog’s IQ? A good smart toy can actually boost your dog’s IQ.  So giving presents is good after all!

This post was originally written in 2012

Is it true that dogs see in black and white?

Dogs do see colours, but not as many as we do. They mainly see in the green/yellow spectrum and the colours aren’t as rich or vivid either.

This may be a relief to some who are tired of hearing that dogs hear better, smell better and are faster and stronger than we are!

The bottom line though, is that dogs don’t have full colour vision because they don’t need it. When you toss a yellow tennis ball in the green grass, your dog can find it much easier with their nose than with their eyes.

Dog’s vision is exactly what you would expect from an animal whose life depends on their ability to spot prey. We humans have the ability to see in rich colour and detail, while a dog’s vision is more closely attuned to catching movements.

I hope this helps to clear up any Christmas lunch debates!

This post was originally written in 2012

Storm Phobia in Dogs

Traveling With Pets

Traveling with your dog can be a very rewarding and exciting experience, however motion sickness can prevent you whole family from taking a trip, causing you to miss out on adventures together. Leaving your dog behind can be costly as well as stressful to both you and your pooch

Motion sickness itself is a stressful condition that affects 1 out of 4 dogs. Motion can affect the inner ear, which sends signals to the vomiting centre in the brain.

These signals show signs of motion sickness;

  • Increased drooling
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Motion sickness can happen when traveling in a car, plane, train or boat.

Here are some handy travel tips to make traveling a make traveling a tailwagging adventure

  1. Plan extra stops, this gives your dog a chance to exercise and take a break
  2. Check the Internet for pet friendly accommodation and cafés
  3. Make the car ride as comfortable as possible for your dog by opening your car windows a couple of centimeters. This reduces the likelihood of nausea by balancing the air pressure inside with the air pressure outside, as well as keeping your car cool and well ventilated.
  4. Give treats for good behaviour to make the car seem like a more fun and rewarding place.
  5. Allow your dog to relieve itself before departing. That’s one less thing for your dog to get all jumpy about.
  6. If flying, check specific airline requirements and regulations
  7. Before leaving, visit us to address any travel concerns, refill necessary prescriptions, and make sure your dog is up to date on all vaccinations.
  8. Nowadays there is a non-drowsy carsickness medication available which can get your dog from A to B carsick free. Being non-drowsy, means that your best friend is able to arrive at the destination ready to enjoy the outing.

Hopefully these tips will help all of us enjoy our holidays together!

This post was originally written in 2012

Dog Health Programmes in Remote Indigenous Communities

Well, what an adventure Dr Alison Taylor and I had a few weeks ago.

We were part of a volunteer team that went “outback” to Utopia, a remote indigenous community 300kms on a dirt road north of Alice Springs to help establish a dog health programme. The region contains 16 outstations of around 1000 people. Population health surveys conducted over 1986-2004 show Utopia people are significantly healthier than other comparable groups.

The camp dogs are all types of breeds (see photos) and rarely have any dingo crosses. Some specific camps have one type of dog, which is usually due to the presence of an “alpha” male and female. The dogs roam free and are usually very good at getting on together baring the disagreements over food and hormones! We found that there were approximately one to two dogs per person in a very small house.

The aboriginal people highly value their dogs, which are great companions. They are central to their culture and feature in dances and dreamtime stories. Some dogs are also used for hunting and protection.

The main issues around the dog populations involve the problem of uncontrolled breeding and subsequent overpopulation. As there are no fences, the dogs can roam around in packs, fighting and creating a lot of noise especially at night. Some people get bitten by the more aggressive or “cheeky” dogs as they are known. There are also some diseases like mange and worms that can be passed on to people in close contact with the dogs.

It is extremely difficult for people to access dog health care. It is a low priority of governments at all levels and there is a general lack of understanding of what services a vet can provide. The current status in the Barkly Shire is that there is one enthusiastic and kind hearted dog control officer (Brian), for a region that is 47% bigger than Victoria!

We are fortunate to be volunteers under the AMRRIC (Animal Management in Remote Rural Indigenous Communities) banner. They are a non-government, not for profit organisation that works nationally to improve the health and wellbeing of companion animals and consequently improve the overall health and wellbeing of remote Indigenous communities.

If you would like to be part of this exciting venture, why not start by joining AMRRIC ( or talk to Dr Alison or Dr Michael about helping with the logistics of marinating this important work.

This post was originally written in 2012


Last year was the first time in my 15 years of working in Canberra and Queanbeyan that I have seen a real problem with fleas. These pesky parasites are normally killed off in our harsh winters and don’t breed well in our dry summers as the eggs need 70% humidity to hatch. With all the welcome rain however, fleas have decided that Canberra is now a great place to live and taken up residence in the millions!

Fleas are blood suckers and the irritation from the flea saliva causes our pets to itch. They can also carry a couple of diseases such as “spotted fever” and “cat scratch fever” and even the plague (not in Australia fortunately!)

Only the adult flea lives on your pet and 95% of the life stages are in the environment. That is why spot-ons such as Revolution and Frontline are great at prevention as they last a whole month and there is now a great tablet for dogs as well (Comfortis).

Vacuuming the carpet and pets bedding is a great start to remove any flea eggs and larvae, but make sure you dispose of the vacuum cleaner bag so they don’t hatch in the machine and escape!

Prevention is better than cure, and this season will be the worst for some years. Best to start prevention now and drop in to chat about the best products to suit your specific household and environmental control.

This post was originally written in late 2011