Ask The Animal Doctors

The Glands of Wrath!
Posted 28/09/2017 by Toowong Family Vet


Behold the invisible effluvium, the fish-scented aroma! Hark, what exudes from thine nethermost orifice?

Okay, so it’s not quite Shakespeare, but it is possible that all references to dogs in the dramatist’s many plays were veiled as insults due to the pungent odour produced by impacted anal glands.

If you have a dog with anal gland problems, no doubt you will be asking “what are these posterior horrors?” and “what can I do about it?”

Anal glands are more accurately referred to as anal sacs. These sacs are small inversions located at the 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock positions in relation to the anus. They are a throwback from the days when dogs were wild and were able to empty their anal sacs for the purpose of scent marking. These days bouffant Bichons have little need for scent marking and most domestic dogs are unable to voluntarily empty their sacs.

With most dogs, simply walking and defecating will produce enough pressure against the glands to force the secretions out of them, but there are many dogs who are not quite as fortunate. With the inability to empty their sacs, these poor pooches experience discomfort and can often be found scooting their little bottoms along the floor (invariably making the sacs even more uncomfortable!), licking their backsides, holding their tails down or shivering in pain. Of course, some just start leaking the odorous secretions; O, My Offence is Rank It Smells to Heaven! (that actually is Shakespeare).

Why do the sacs block up and leak?

This is due to hypersecretion (i.e. produces secretion faster than it is able to be expelled) or obstruction or both. Hypersecretion or obstruction are due to underlying causes.

Skin allergies and food allergies are among the most common causes. General inflammation or irritation of the skin causes the sacs and the opening ducts to swell, and subsequently narrow or block. Hence, they are prevented from opening. Secretions continue into the sacs and they become full and uncomfortable. If they are not emptied, the bacteria in the secretions overgrow and an infection can develop (“anal sacculitis”).

Conditions that result in reduced pressure against the sacs can also be the culprits. These include chronic diarrhoea, anal sphincter laxity (common in older dogs) and constipation.

Endocrine diseases might be at fault. Hypothyroidism (i.e. underactive thyroid) may result in reduced anal sphincter tone and more seborrheic skin.

These conditions can often be treated and your vet can help you work through the different possibilities, especially if allergies, chronic diarrhoea or endocrine diseases are possibly implicated.

Some dogs can be managed with getting their anal sacs expressed by the veterinarian (or, if you are brave, your vet can teach you how to do this at home).

Adding fibre to your dog’s diet may help. I usually recommend boiled pumpkin or sweet potato as most dogs enjoy these foods, but you can also try adding a sprinkling of psyllium husk or Metamucil to your dog’s diet.

If the problem is severe and unable to be controlled with conservative management, the anal sacs are able to be surgically removed. There is a small risk that the anal sphincter can be damaged, but you just need to ensure that an experienced surgeon is performing the procedure (your vet will normally tell you if they feel comfortable doing this or whether they advise a specialist surgeon to perform the surgery).

So if your pooch has become a booty scooter with a scent so pungent it brings a tear to your eye, then consider the possibility of impacted overfull anal sacs. Your vet will be more than happy to check it out (trust me, we become immune!) and advise you on treatment and management.

Your Pet's Dental Health - What's it all about?
Posted 08/08/2016 by Toowong Family Vet

In our pets, dirty teeth and gums can lead to periodontal disease. This is a disease of the supporting structures of the toothgingiva (gum), periodontal ligaments (the ligaments holding the teeth in place) and alveolar bone (in which the teeth sit). Periodontal disease is irreversible and results in the extraction of affected teeth.

So how do our pets’ teeth get to this stage and what can we do to prevent it?

A new layer of plaque accumulates on teeth every 12 to 24 hours. Due to its biofilm mechanics, plaque can only be removed mechanically. If this plaque is not removed, it becomes mineralised to form calculus. The surface of calculus if very rough, which in turn facilitates further plaque build-up.

This layer of plaque is not just present on the visible surfaces of the teeth, but develops in the gingival sulcus (i.e. just under the gum line). The plaque is filled with billions of bacteria. Subsequently our pets get red, swollen gums, which is the inflammation brought about by the presence of the bacterial plaque. This is called gingivitis and it is reversible with a dental scale and polish procedure. Once gingivitis is present, we know that subgingival plaque exists and that the only way to remove this is with subgingival debridement (i.e. manually removing the plaque from under the gum line). This cannot be performed on a cat or a dog without a general anaesthesia as the sharp instruments that are used are a danger to a wriggly animal who would not understand what is being done to him or her.

If a dental scale and polish is not performed at this stage, then the reversible gingivitis progresses to irreversible periodontal disease, where the subginigival inflammation from the plaque and bacteria leads to loss of gingival attachment and ligamentous support for the tooth. Eventually this will lead to bone destruction. Once the teeth have reached this stage, they usually require extraction.

Chronic periodontal disease is not just a problem for the oral cavity. With so much bacteria present under the gum, the cat or dog will experience intermittent bacteraemia (i.e. bacteria in the blood stream) which can affect the heart and the kidneys, which are the body’s two main blood-receiving organs.

If a cat or dog already has good teeth or the teeth have just been cleaned in a dental procedure, then a prevention protocol can be put in place. It involves the following:


Daily brushing is ideal. Plaque forms within 12 to 24 hours, so if you brush your cat or dog’s teeth once a day, then you will be giving them a good chance of avoiding the development of plaque. Finger brushes or a coarse face washer or gauze over the finger are best. A special pet toothpaste is required as human toothpaste contains fluoride, which should not be swallowed. Please never use human toothpaste on animals.

Royal Canin Dental or 
Hill’s Prescription Diet T/D

Presciption dental foods are dry biscuits where the kibble is prepared in large pieces with a fibre matrix that resists crumbling. This way the kibble works its way over the tooth before it breaks up and therefore cleans the surface of the tooth. For most cats and dogs, Hill’s Prescription Diet T/D or Royal Canin Dental can be fed as a sole maintenance food (there are exceptions for patients that are on other prescription diets for specific conditions).


For cats and dogs that definitely will not allow brushing, their teeth can be rinsed twice a week with Hexarinse, which is a 0.2% chlorhexidine solution. This helps reduce the bacterial load on the teeth.


We do not recommend bones as a component in homecare oral health. They do not work as well as brushing and dental food, and in many cases make teeth worse. We see many fractures and worn teeth from bone chewers and therefore we end up performing dental procedure because of bones. As well as this, we also see flatulence, constipation or diarrhoea, and occasional obstruction when animals are given bones. They are not worth it. We recommend the use of chew treats such a Prozym Dental Chews for dogs and Greenies for cats.

Should I Give My Dog or Cat Joint Supplements?
Posted 21/06/2015 by Toowong Family Vet

This has always been an interesting question, particularly as osteoarthritis is such a big problem in older dogs and cats. There are still questions in the world of science about which joint supplements actually work and from what age they should be taken. The same questions exist in the human world. This has become a big area of research in veterinary medicine, particularly over the past 5 years as companies are producing better and more palatable options. My recommendations have certainly changed over the years as the research has shed new light on what is effective and as the products have improved. I will give you my recommendations in just a moment, but let us first have a look at some of these questions surrounding the joint supplement argument.

Most people have heard of glucosamine and chondroitin. Traditionally these have been supplied for use in dogs and horses in the form of powders or incorporated into flavoured treats. These products are believed to help provide the building-blocks for cartilage repair, basically like a matrix substrate upon which cartilage can re-build itself. This, however, is still not conclusive. There are a lot of researchers who still cast doubt on whether orally consumed glucosamine and chondroitin can actually get transported to the articular cartilage after being absorbed through the intestinal tract.

My current opinion, based on my understanding of the research, is that we do not know whether or not glucosamine and chondroitin are actually effective, but we do know that, taken in prescribed doses, they probably do not cause any harm.

We do have more evidence surrounding the use of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have an effect on the body’s inflammatory prostaglandins and produce a reduction in inflammation. This helps to reduce joint inflammation in dogs and cats with arthritis. I am a big supporter of ensuring that older pets get a source of Omega-3s. Clients often ask me if they can give their dog fish oil capsules. Technically the answer is yes, but the administration of Omega-3s is not so straight forward and we need to keep in mind that too much can cause problems (it can result in blood clotting disorders) and dosage calculation is based on metabolic weight rather than actual weight. It is also important to ensure that the Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio is optimal. Hence it’s not so simple. While adding sardines or other healthy fish to a diet is safe, I find the best way to get the correct dosage of Omega-3s into a pet’s diet is to use a pre-formulated veterinary product.

So what am I advising these days? My favourite joint supplement of the past year has been 4Cyte. This only came out in Australia just over 1 year ago and we are seeing really great results. It is made up of a plant extract called Epiitalis, marine cartilage and abalone for Omega-3 fatty acids. Epiitalis is not only thought to produce proliferation of cartilage cells (chondrocytes), but also reduces the rate at which they become degraded. Research studies have also shown that, in terms of reduced joint pain and increased mobility, 4Cyte has similar effects to the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, carprofen (which is a prescription drug with known side effects). So 4Cyte is a very safe option.

As we have been getting more patients on 4Cyte, we have seen some remarkable changes in the activity levels and mobility of a lot of our older patients. The main benefits of 4Cyte are as follows:

  • It is safe to use from a young age and for a long period of time
  • We have the research to back up its effect in improving mobility and reducing joint pain
  • It's really affordable (Give us a call to get prices …. You will be surprised at how much cheaper it is than other products)
  • It’s presented as tasty little pebbles that get sprinkled in your pet’s dinner
  • Cats can take it too

I have seen the results for myself in patients that were sore and stiff, who are now active and mobile after the first 21-28 days of administration.

As a veterinarian, the products I advise for various conditions do change over the years as the research changes and the products change, but for now this is definitely my recommendation for joint supplementation for pets.

Please also ask us about Hills J/D for cats. Arthritis is as common in cats as it is in dogs. Many cats can be a bit fussy about taking 4Cyte, so I always recommend Hills J/D (i.e. Joint Diet) as a way of giving cats adequate joint supplementation and effective Omega-3s. 

Please give us a call at Toowong Family Vet if you would like to discuss any of the information in this blog. The advice given in this blog is based on my informed opinion as a qualified and experienced veterinarian.

Dr Kirsty

Why Does My Dog or Cat Have Bad Breath?
Posted 10/11/2014 by Toowong Family Vet

“Doggy breath” is a very common complaint with peoples’ dogs. We also encounter the same complaint with cats, but not to the same degree. This is probably because our feline companions do not pant in our faces, but we have to expect that bad breath, also known has halitosis, is as common in cats as it is in dogs.

Some people are led to expect that dogs and cats just have bad breath and that it’s normal. This is certainly not the case. Offensive breath is not normal. In the veterinary world, we consider halitosis to be a clinical sign of disease.

The most common cause of bad breath in your pet is periodontal disease. This is where the bacteria that attaches itself to the teeth and gums start to destroy the fibres and supporting bone that hold the teeth in the mouth. Just like us, when teeth are not regularly cleaned, a film of bacteria forms on the surface of the teeth, producing plaque. As the plaque mineralises, the types of bacteria transform into those that destroy bone. This produces hydrogen sulphide, which causes the terrible smell that emanates from the mouth.

When teeth have reached this stage, the only treatment is a professional dental clean and scale. This will involve subgingival scaling (i.e. cleaning up under the gum line) and possible extraction of teeth that no longer have sufficient support in the mouth. After a professional clean by the veterinarian, homecare will be implemented, which usually involves daily brushing and an oral chlorhexidine rinse to keep the numbers of bacteria low.

Yet what if your dog or cat has a perfect mouth and they still have bad breath? This is definitely possible.

Other causes of bad breath include diseases that affect metabolism like diabetes and kidney disease, gastrointestinal diseases (gastritis, reflux, tumours in the gastrointestinal tract, Helicobacter), skin conditions like lip fold pyoderma (mainly in dogs with lots of skin around their mouth), foreign material stuck in the mouth or nose, or dietary considerations (e.g. dogs that eat poo). Blood tests and thorough physical examinations are required to determine whether most of these possible causes are at fault in producing bad breath.

So just remember – bad breath in your dog or cat is not normal. If you cringe every time your fur-baby wants to give you a big lovable lick on the cheek, then start investigating!

Dr Kirsty

Ask The Animal Doctors !
Posted 26/10/2014 by Toowong Family Vet

Welcome to the first instalment of our brand new blog! Dr Tegan, Nurses Tahlia, Marie and Cliodhna and I get asked many of the same questions from multiple different people, and hence we thought it was time to start getting some answers out to those common pet questions.

If you have felt embarrassed in the past by asking if your dog’s nipple was a paralysis tick or panicked when your puppy had the hiccups, or have even tried to pretend that your puppy did not eat poo when secretly wanting to know why, then this blog is for you. If you have wanted to ask what you thought were silly questions (and remember that there are no silly questions) or wondered if your pet was the only eccentric in Brisbane’s inner west, then let me tell you that you are not alone.

To break the ice, I will fill you in on some of my fur-babies’ idiosyncrasies. My beloved black feline, Squigi, is the size and shape of a rugby ball. Whenever I get home from work, he jumps on the toilet lid and sits there crying until I scoop him up for our crazy smoochie love-cuddle session. He sits on my lap during dinner, and then sleeps on my head in bed. If you all have ever had quiet chit-chat at the Deli-Café about the dark rings under Dr Kirsty’s eyes, now you know why. I am just as crazy about my pets as the rest of you, so if you have any questions for the Toowong Family Vet Animal Doctors, then fire away!!

We are going to aim to post on the blog regularly with answers to those common questions that we hear all the time. The information will be easy to read and highly informative. For those of you with cast-iron stomachs, we may even go into the gorier details of veterinary work. I know some you will be keen to hear the good stuff (although probably not the poor gentlemen I went on a date with a couple of years ago with a blood-splat on one side of my shirt and anal gland juice on the other ….NEVER date a vet!!).

So settle in to follow the shenanigans at Toowong Family Vet (although probably not over dinner).

Any questions you would like to see answered in Ask the Animal Doctors can be sent to Remember, if you have been pondering some bizarre thought about your pet’s health or behaviour, then others have too. Please also feel free to send in any questions you have about veterinary work and life as an animal doctor. It’s a great world to be in and we are keen to share our stories.

Until the next instalment …..

Dr Kirsty