Thunderstorms and Fireworks – Help manage your pet’s phobia


Thunderstorm & Fireworks Phobias are common problems for pets, especially dogs. These can be present from puppyhood or develop later on. Commonly this problem gets worse with repeated occurrences resulting in increasingly severe panic attacks. Many dogs will frantically try to escape the noise to find a place to hide or simply run to try to get away. This can result in severe damage to themselves with broken teeth, cut lips and gums, torn claws and skin cuts in their efforts to get out of the yard/house or into the house in some cases. Some dogs simply run frantically barking leading to exhaustion, over heating and stress. If they manage to escape the yard they can be hit by a car and be injured or worse, killed. Often they are so confused in their panic that they cannot find their way home once they calm down and end up at the pound.

While thunderstorms are unpredictable and more difficult to manage, fireworks can often be predicted and therefore you can use management strategies to help your pets to cope. This starts by providing a hiding place for them that they can access at any time. Try to avoid the dog becoming trapped away from this place of safety as this can increase their panic. In the case of fireworks bring your pets inside, play music quietly to help mask the noise, shut the windows and draw the curtains to block out the sound and light. Offer piles of blankets to hide under, these can be draped over the back of a chair and a dog bed or other blanket placed between the chair legs and the other end of the blanket to offer a mini cave. You may also find it useful to place an old jumper or shirt into this cave to offer a familiar scent. Avoid sympathising and telling them its all OK, this can reinforce their fearful behaviour. Instead sit quietly and relaxed near them, or chat in a cheerful voice about what is going on. Don’t get angry if their frantic behaviour is driving you mad. Remember they are in a panic and not capable of responding to you.

Besides giving them a bolthole you can also aid them by use of the Adaptil spray, collar or diffuser. Black-white kitten hiding and peekingThis is a pheromone for dogs that relieves anxiety and helps them to calm down. The spray can be applied to a bandana the dog is wearing or on the blankets of the dog’s bolthole. For cats the Feliway spray or diffuser will offer similar relief. Another strategy is to try a Thunder Shirt. This is a tight fitting dog coat that applies pressure around the dog’s body. Many dogs respond well to the shirt and will remain calmer through the fireworks and storms. Medication may also be needed to help them cope in the short term. These medications are usually designed to relieve anxiety and panic without heavy sedation, but are not a good long-term solution especially for unpredictable events such as thunderstorms.

Ultimately the best hope of long-term resolution of the problem is to gradually desensitise and counter condition the dogs to the noise. This involves exposing them to very low levels of the frightening sound while doing something positive like feeding treats or playing a game and very gradually through many repeated sessions increasing the level of noise until they can cope with the actual events without fear. When done incorrectly this sort of treatment can make their phobia worse so it is important to consult your veterinarian or animal behaviourist to discuss how to desensitise your dog properly.

Toilet Training Puppies

The secret to successful toilet training is three fold: Supervision, Persistence and Patience. The reality however is never quite so easy.

It is not possible to supervise a puppy all the time. Therefore, compromise by allowing the puppy access to only a small area when he or she cannot be supervised.

You could use an old playpen, or the laundry or block a tiled area with a child gate. This at least restricts the area of damage so to speak and by keeping puppies of carpets the clean up is a lot easier.

Puppies, especially those less than 16 weeks old, cannot hold on for long. Their bladders are simply too small. So after waking up, immediately after play (especially if your puppy loses interest in play himself), 15-30minutes after eating and at least every 12 hours take your puppy outside to the toilet.

If you take him on a leash to the area you have chosen you can also teach him where to go (If a puppy is left to his own devices to choose you can guarantee you wont like it!). But here is where the patience comes in. Basically stand like a tree and don’t interact with the puppy. Let him sniff and pick a spot. Keep to one area by taking small steps. Once he starts to go give your cue word for toileting such as “Go Potty”, be careful not to disturb the puppy and as soon as he is done (ie he is in the process of standing up) give him a treat. Then have a play as another reward.

Sometimes you can be standing out there for 15 minutes and the puppy is having great fun chasing leaves or chewing sticks. Bring him back in and closely supervise then try again 30 minutes later. Persist, once your puppy gets that good things come his way when he goes in the right place the whole thing will speed up and when he knows his toileting cue it will be a breeze.

Toileting times can be made more consistent by sticking to a regular feeding schedule. So if your puppy has not eating his food in 30 minutes pick it up and offer food again at the next meal time.

You can also use soiled paper towels in the desired area to provide a scent marker for toileting.

Should you find your puppy mid stream, so to speak, clap your hands or startle the puppy without frightening him to stop him going then take him out to finish the job and reward him. Now clean up the mess inside.

If you find a mess inside, there is no point in giving your pup a lecture or dragging him back to the spot. All he will know is that puddles on the floor will make you angry and he will be appropriately submissive. We often interpret this as guilt for having done the wrong thing. So give yourself the lecture for not supervising or confining the puppy sufficiently and do better next time.

Once your puppy has gone several days without any accidents then you can gradually allow more access to the house and when he starts asking to go out then your are home and hosed. The signals he will give can however vary greatly, so watch and learn your puppies so you can respond when he needs to go.


Cleaning Up Puddles 101

Whether you are toilet training a puppy or kitten or your older dog or cat suffers from medical or anxiety related inappropriate urination, every pet owner will need to clean up puddles at some time in their pets life. Here is how to do it as effectively as possible so that the risk of repeated accidents is reduced. (In pets with medical and anxiety issues it is also necessary to deal with these issues of course.)

  • STEP 1: Get rid of the urine. On hard floors this is easy using paper towel, newspaper or old towels and rags or even an old mop. Its not so easy with carpet however. As soon as the accident is spotted, use paper towel or an old towel to soak up as much liquid as possible. This can be aided by standing on the towelling. Use a plastic bag in the top layer to prevent it getting on your shoes or anything heavy that will add the needed pressure to soak up more fluid. Once no more urine can be absorbed proceed to step 2.
  • STEP 2: On tiles, vinyl etc use a biological detergent such as Bio Zet Attack (found in the laundry detergent section of your supermarket) to mop the area thoroughly paying special attention to any grout lines. Rinse with water. On carpet you may use a well-wrung sponge with the detergent to wipe over the surface of the carpet (after first testing it in attest area to ensure it does not discolour your carpet), then blot dry with more paper towel. Do not rinse with water.
  • STEP 3: Apply a spray on biological deodoriser such as Urine Off. This will further break down any urine smell and contains pheromone blockers to prevent attracting the pet back to the area. Again in carpet test on a small area of carpet first to ensure it does not stain carpet.
  • STEP 4: If desired use an odourless spray on disinfectant on the area. Do Not use bleach or any strongly scented disinfectants or cleaners (especially cleaners containing ammonia) as these simply identify the area more strongly as a toilet area to your pets.

Some cleaning products

Make A Cat Scratching Post

by Dr Doris Beck

Building a cat scratch post for your cat can be a fun weekend activity that the whole family can get involved in. 

Materials needed are:

  • a base plate to attach the upright posts to,
  • some upright posts,
  • board to cut resting shelves from,
  • screws, brackets, glue, carpet and sisal rope.

Any sturdy board of sufficient size can be used (I used left over melamine board) for the base. For the uprights, timber is the easiest to work with, however PVC pipe can also be used (I had some timber left over and purchased some PVC pipe to cover the central uprights).  Resting shelves need to be of sufficient size to allow the cat to comfortably sit or sleep on (I used left over craft wood and melamine board).  L shaped brackets are an easy and sturdy way to attach your uprights to the base plate, any timber screws of sufficient length can be used to attach brackets and shelves, glue should be able to work on multiple surfaces, so that carpet, sisal rope etc can be attached to timber or PVC pipe.

The first step is to decide where to place your uprights and attach the L brackets to the base plate. It’s easiest to attach the carpet to the base plate before attaching the uprights. So glue the carpet to the base and wrap it around the edges and glue and staple to bottom of the plate.
5 Attach the uprights (the higher the better as cats love it up high, I opted for 150cm height for top platform). Make sure that the platforms to get to the top are not further than 60-70cm apart so your cat can easily jump it.
Attach the platforms for resting on. If you have opted for PVC pipe the easiest way to attach a platform is to use pieces of timber with the corners planed down to slide inside the pipe and then screw through the PVC pipe into the timber (I used left over 75mm x 75mm timber post and 90mm diameter pipe)
Be creative with your platforms (I opted to have a small platform with holes cut out to hold a planter for cat grass and a water bowl).
Once the platforms are attached glue the carpet to the platforms and uprights. Platforms can be padded and covered in other materials as well (My top platform is padded with foam and pillow stuffing and covered in fake fur).
To offer variety to your cat cover some of the upright with sisal rope, rubber door mats can also be used but these do not glue well. (I used cable ties and tacks to hold them to the post) The more variety of material you offer your cat the more chance they will leave the furniture alone. You can also use bark covered straight thick branches for uprights or smaller ones attached to the uprights to allow some natural materials.
Finally when the glue has dried attach toys or maybe a hammock for your kitty to sleep in. (I use velour fabric and some cotton rope to make a hammock to hang from 4 of the upright posts and accessed by the lowest platform).

Be creative, the internet can provide inspiration as can the left over materials around the house, garage or tool shed. With a little ingenuity your kitty could have hours of fun, and your furniture would be safe from feline enhancement!


Useful Links

Here are some links you may find useful to find information about your pets and their care.

International Cat Care ( For advice, and all sorts of excellent info about cat care go have a look at the International Cat Care site. You can also see their YouTube channel ( for all sorts of videos on medicating cats, getting urine samples etc.

Pet Care:

Searching for ticks

– Ear care for dogs

Finding a lost pet:

– A service for helping to find your pet 

– A local Canberra Facebook group for lost pets


Practice Manager

Bec Platten

Why did you want to work in a veterinary hospital?

When I was a kid all I wanted to do was work in the veterinary field, I have always had a love for
animals and their wellbeing and thought it would be amazing to be able to assist in their care and
would be very rewarding career. However after starting a family young I realised I did not have the
time to commit myself to the years of study and took a career in  administration. After 20 years of
working various administration management roles I’ve found my way back to my passion.

Is Arnie a very demanding employee?

Arnie is a charming little character, he hasn’t quite come round to my management style as yet
and he does like to put my HR skills to the test especially  each time I walk through the atrium.
There is still plenty of progress to be made but with time I think he will gladly be my assistant.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Being the practice manager is a very varied role to begin with and I deal with many operational
aspects of the hospital. What I enjoy most is that no day is ever the same and you are always

Do you have any pets? Can you tell me a bit more about them?

Yes, I have two Cats; Morgan and Lilian, Morgan thinks he is a dog and is very well trained he is
also a Kleptomaniac. Lilian is a  cranky old girl who is very stuck in her ways. I also have two
dogs; Ruby and Mia, Ruby is a red heeler x and is very energetic and loves attention sometimes
she is to smart for her own good. Mia is a bull arab x she is not as energetic but is the trouble
maker out of the two and does not realise her size sometimes. Lastly is Leonardo an Eastern Long
Neck Turtle, he is the easiest of all of them.


Dr Richard Phillips

How did you become a vet?

I studied a Bachelor of Veterinary Science at The University of Queensland and graduated in
1989. I spent the next three years in Tamworth in a mixed practice treating farm animals as

well as local pets. I spent five years living in the UK working in mixed practice, before returning to
Canberra. Every now and then I miss working outside on farms and drives in the countryside, but
I don’t miss the middle of the night call outs.

What does being a vet mean to you?

I believe that being a vet is about supporting families who love animals, even if that family is just
the two of you. By keeping our pets happy and healthy, I think everybody is happier and healthier.

How long have you been a vet?

I recently got together with some friends from Queensland University to celebrate 30 years since
graduating, but it doesn’t seem that long ago. I have been working at Weston Creek Veterinary
Hospital for over 20 years now. Meredith and I raised our family in Weston Creek and we feel a
close attachment with this community.

Do you have any special interest?

In 2000 I completed a course of study in Small Animal Surgery, an area that had become of
increasing interest to me. I became a Member of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists
in 2001 by examination in this field. Specific areas of interest are surgical oncology and
reconstructive surgery.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I find it very rewarding to be able to help animals. No day is ever the same in the hospital and I
find it fascinating treating such a variety of cases.  It is also so nice being a part of our friendly
Canberra community. I have been working at Weston Creek Veterinary hospital for 20 years and I really enjoy it.


Dr Meredith Phillips

How did you become a vet?

I studied a Bachelor of Veterinary Science at Sydney University then later completed a Master of
Veterinary Clinical Studies through Murdoch University. This involved more intense study in areas
including Radiology, Clinical Pathology, Dermatology, and Endocrinology.

What made you want to be a vet?

I knew I wanted to be a vet from a very young age. I have had a wonderful array of animals in my
life over the years. At the moment I have two Border Terriers named Alice and Carlisle.

Do you have any special interest?

My special interest is Ultrasonograpy. To develop this I spent a year training through the Centre
for Veterinary Education. I love that it is a non invasive way to investigate, diagnose, and
solve health problems in our pets.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I find it very rewarding to be able to help animals. No day is ever the same in the hospital and I
find it fascinating treating such a variety of cases.  It is also so nice being a part of our friendly
Canberra community. I have been working at Weston Creek Veterinary hospital for 20 years and I really enjoy it.


Dr Doris Beck

Do you have any special interest?

I have a special interest is in Animal behaviour, because a pet’s behaviour can affect the bond
between the owner and pet so much. Sadly, the number one killer of young pets is poor behaviour
resulting in euthanasia and I would like to try and do something about that.

Do you have any pets? Can you tell me a bit more about them?

I have a little dog called Pip and my cat Penelope. Pip is a Shi Tzu Poodle Cross and loves his
walks. He definitely believes his number one job is keeping the boss happy and does not like it
if I am having to tell him off for being naughty. Penelope is quite a nervous cat, she is a bit
bigger than Pip and tries to boss him around occasionally. He is a gentleman until it comes to
his toys. He won’t share those.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is helping animals return to full health and enjoying life
again, or in the case of behaviour problems helping the owner and pet finding a way forward
to a happy life together.

Have you achieved any further qualifications? What was involved?

I graduated with first class honours and a Bachelor of Veterinary Science Degree in 1990 and then I did 2
one year long distance education courses in 1997 and 1999 and I sat for my membership
exams in internal medicine with The Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists
in 2000. This was a written and a practical exam. As part of my ongoing registration requirement I do a
number of continuing education courses each year as well.


Dr Robert Sampson

What do you enjoy most about your work?

The variety and never quite knowing what a new day will bring

How long have you been a vet?

I have been a vet for 16 years, I graduated in 2003 from University of Queensland. After working in
Canberra for a couple of years I then did a working holiday around the UK, before coming back
and joining the team here in 2007.

Do you have any pets? Can you tell me a bit more about them?

We have 1 tabby cat called Abbey who enjoys her cat run for some peace and quiet away from
kids and dogs. An 11yo Kelpie Jack Russell x Pan, who is obsessed with a ball and can run all day and a
new kelpie corgi x pup Artie who is very cuddly and quite happy to chase Pan and the ball.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Seeing animals still  visiting happily for years after recovering from a life threatening illness.


Dr Isabella van Veen

How did you become a vet?

I grew up on a farm south of Albury, and have loved having animals around me my whole life;
cattle, chickens, dogs, cats, mice, a rabbit. It was only logical that I’d train for a job where
I can keep doing this & helping people’s pets.

Do you have any special interest?

I’m fascinated by feline medicine – I love working with cats, and it’s such a fulfilling challenge
getting to the bottom of an illness and finding a solution that works.

Do you have any pets? Can you tell me a bit more about them?

I have two rescue cats – Tigerlily is an older girl who is a shorthair grey tabby-tortie, is very sweet, and has three legs.
She adores new people! Oliver is a big fluffy tabby boy who may only have two brain cells active at any time – I still love him though.

Do you have to do any further ongoing education? / Am I planning on doing any?

I’m currently learning how to perform & interpret ultrasounds with the help of Meredith – she’s a
great teacher and it’s so fascinating


When infection is present in your pet, often a judicious choice of antibiotics by our vets is sufficient to resolve the problem. However, it may be necessary to establish exactly what bacteria or fungi are present in some cases.

The procedure we follow in this instance is to take a sample of the infected area – for example, hairs and/or a skin scraping from skin, a swab from ears, a urine sample – then either plate the sample onto fungal growth media in our own laboratory, or send the sample to a nearby laboratory for culture.

Once the organism has been grown, it is identified by microscopic examination and a variety of biochemical tests.  Antibiotic sensitivity testing may also be used to determine the most appropriate antibiotic for treatment of disease. Sometimes in resistant infections, six to eight weeks worth of antibiotics may be required. In these cases, it is desirable to treat with a drug that is most effective at killing the organism in question.





While our in-house cytology can provide some of the answers about the origin of a particular tissue mass, histopathology is often necessary to determine the exact nature of the tissue, whether it is malignant (in the case of tumours), and whether all of the tissue has been removed if surgery has been performed.

Once the sample tissue has been removed it is placed into formalin, packaged and then sent by express post interstate. There, the sample is processed and examined by a histopathologist and the findings are returned to the Hospital by fax. It usually takes four to seven days from submission of the sample to final reporting.


Urinalysis is composed of several different stages. A portion is placed onto a urinary biochemistry stick. Information about the pH of the urine, presence and amount of protein, blood, glucose, ketones and other compounds is gathered from this test.


After the biochemical tests have been completed, a refractometer is used to determine the specific gravity of the urine. This allows us to tell if the kidneys are working to keep the urine concentrated or not, or whether any other disease might be causing the urine to be inappropriately dilute.

Finally, the urine is centrifuged and the sediment is examined under a microscope.  We determine if any crystals are present in the urine (There are a number of different types of crystals that animals can develop). We also check to see whether cells, casts or bacteria are present. This information helps us build up a picture of exactly what is going on in your pet’s urinary tract.


Obtaining a Urine Sample from your Pet

Many clients find this task quite difficult, so we hope the following information will be of assistance next time your Vet asks you to collect a sample.

Our canine buddies are generally not as privacy-seeking as our feline friends but none-the-less you need to be readily armed and quick!

dog-urine-collectionFor dogs use a washed and dried takeaway container and, putting a lead on him or her, walk them to their favourite toileting area.
As soon as your female dog squats move the corner of the container between the back legs and collect the urine. In the case of a male dog move the container in front of the back legs under the stomach as he lifts his leg.

Pour the collected urine into a washed and dried jar and bring it to the hospital. If the sample is collected outside working hours wrap it in a plastic bag and refrigerate it until you can drop it off.
Catrine Litter

In the case of cats it is usually best to attempt collection using a washed and dried litter tray and special non absorbent cat litter.

Lock you cat in a room with the litter tray, food and water overnight and see if they co-operate by using the litter tray.

As cats can be very fussy about the toilet they use, sometimes they will not use the litter and in this case it is better to bring your cat to the hospital for us to collect the sample.


white cat dog

Pre-Anaesthetic Blood Tests

old_dogEvery pet that requires and anaesthetic receives a full physical exam at Weston Creek Veterinary Hospital.

However, this can sometimes not be sufficient to detect problems with organ function, which can increase the risk of anaesthesia.

So we can minimise this risk by doing a blood test known as a PAP (Pre-Anaesthetic Blood Profile) that allows us to check the liver and kidney function, red blood cell levels and electrolyte and protein levels. This is especially important in animals that are older (over 8 years of age) or ill as these patients are more likely to have abnormalities.

blood-test-300x168The test requires only a small blood sample (approximately 0.7ml) and the results are obtained within 10 minutes. This allows us to run tests on the morning of admission and get results before any sedatives or other medications are administered.

What if abnormalities are detected?
One of our veterinarians will contact you about any problems and decide with you if it is safe to continue with the procedure or not. Often with adjustments to the drugs used, use of intravenous fluid therapy and post operative medications we can continue with the procedure as planned. Once a problem is detected we can also monitor these and if necessary do further diagnostic tests to treat these more specifically.

Need more information?
We have brochures describing each of the tests in the pre-anaesthetic test panel, as well as for some of the other blood testing we routinely conduct at the Hospital. Please ask one of our receptionists for a copy of this information if you are interested.


preanaesthetic results