Author: Dr Richard Thomas

girl lying on floor on her stomach has puppy either side of her, smiling at camera

What Pets Should We Avoid if We Want an Easy First Pet?

Finding a pet that suits your living situation is essential for a harmonious, happy relationship. In the past we have looked at ideal starting pets, however it is worth discussing the high commitment group of pets. These pets are generally much better suited to pet owners who are prepared to invest a lot of time, effort and money into keeping such an animal. Having said that, you can be rewarded with a unique and engaging relationship with really interesting animals. So what sort of pets fall into our ‘very high maintenance’ category?


Proper reptile care involves meticulous attention to their diet and habitat. Reptiles require special light sources, heating rocks, a specialised diet, strict and carefully administered feeding regimen, humidity control and temperature gradient checks, amongst other things. You need in-depth knowledge and attention to detail in order to keep them happy and healthy. Some reptiles, such as turtles, are literally a lifelong commitment. Captive turtles can live for over 100 years! We would strongly encourage doing a lot of research into reptile requirements before making such a commitment.

High drive dogs

We get it – you look at some cute dog doing tricks online, and the next minute you are in love with the breed. Working dogs such as Kelpies, Border Collies and Belgian Malinois are capable of extremely impressive acts of obedience and agility. However, that high intelligence and high energy comes at the cost of them being highly demanding. If these dogs don’t get huge amounts of daily exercise, training, and stimulation, they will redirect their energy into antisocial behaviour. This could include barking or environmental destruction. Before choosing a high drive breed make sure you are ready to provide hours of attention, every day, for the rest of their lives. They must have it in order to be happy and healthy!.

Most fish

As for reptiles, many fish require their environment be kept within a fairly narrow range of measurements in order for them to survive. These include water temperature, pH levels, hardness, low nitrate and nitrite levels. Salt water fish have even more strict criteria to maintain for them to be healthy. Many people often don’t expect that some fish, such as Oscars, are quite intelligent and need plenty of space and stimulation to keep happy. Some saltwater fish need movable objects so they can rearrange the tank and build little hidey holes.

If you are going to get a multi-species tank, it is also important to ensure you are mixing compatible species so one doesn’t eat or harass another. Usually a dedicated aquarium store can help you with advice in this regard. It is worth mentioning that moving house can be very stressful for fish. Many will live for over 20 years, so if you’re planning to move be sure to consider the decision to keep these fish.

Hermit crabs

This is bought up more for ethical reasons than anything else. Guess how long hermit crabs live for in the wild. 6 months? 1 year? Hermit crabs properly cared for live for up to 30 (yes, 30!) years. We don’t think of them as long living because they tend to die a slow death in captivity. We would suggest that unless you are very experienced at keeping crustaceans, avoid hermit crabs due to their demanding husbandry requirements.

Intelligent birds

In the wild, many parrots spend 6 hours foraging per day, they engage in complex courtship behaviour, build a nest, raise chicks with their bonded mate, engage in complex social behaviour and fly over great distances. We take these intelligent, free, highly social animals and put them in a small cage by themselves. It’s no wonder some of them become highly anxious! In order to reduce their stress, they need environmental enrichment such as setting foods up for foraging, providing stimulating puzzle toys, training, placing them in fresh air and natural light, increasing their flying space, bathing them regularly, and ensuring they get 10 to 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. More simple birds such as finches are generally better if you don’t have the time to keep your bird engaged.

There are so many weird and wonderful pets out there. But, for their sake and your own it’s important to be thoughtful about the decision to get a demanding pet. Having said that, they can be highly rewarding pets to maintain and many will literally be with you for your lifetime. If you have any questions about what pet is right for you, feel free to call or email our clinic.







My Child Wants a Pet. What Is the Ideal First Pet?

So, your child has asked you for a pet. Pets can be a great way to teach responsibility and empathy, but they do come with a lifelong commitment. It’s very important that the decision to get a pet is taken seriously, no matter how small the animal. Your pet will require time, cleaning, feeding, watering, shelter, and stimulation, long after your child may have grown bored of them. As they are sentient beings, we need to ensure that we’re offering them a safe and comfortable home for the rest of their life. The ideal first pet is clean, simple to care for, has some personality, and let’s be honest- reasonably short lived. For this reason pets such as turtles, and some fish or birds, which can live for thirty to one hundred years, are probably out. So, what is the ideal first pet(s)?

Guinea pigs

Guinea pigs are friendly, cute little critters and are full of personality. They are great for kids and make an ideal first pet, especially because they provide that tactile reward of petting something soft! Guinea pigs live for around five to eight years, and they require a large enclosure, and regular fresh timothy hay and green vegetables. They can run free on the lawn under supervision, but watch for birds and snakes as they make a pretty tasty snack for predators. You will generally need to clean out their cage once weekly. The main problems we see with guinea pigs are that they can be territorial. This can result in them occasionally harming one another. But, this can be discouraged by having plenty of space and purchasing pigs from the same litter.


Rats are intelligent, active, engaging, quite bonded pets, and can be a very underrated pet. They can be toilet trained using much the same techniques as for a dog.You can feed them a wide variety of foods but there are definitely some to avoid, such as blue cheese, green bananas, green potato skin, and anything with citrus in it. They need a very large cage with plenty of things to climb on and hide in. This cage will need to be cleaned once weekly. Rats should ideally should get plenty of contact and socialisation with people. As for guinea pigs, sometimes they can suffer inter-rat aggression. They can be a little prone to respiratory diseases. Rats generally live for one to two years.


Budgerigars are from the parrot family and are beautiful, quite intelligent, fairly clean pets. In the wild, they form enormous social flocks that fly hundreds of kilometers. Keeping them alone in a small cage probably feels like solitary confinement to some – they need plenty of space, toys, puzzles, mirrors, space, and socialisation. They can live up to 10 years, and their cage needs to be cleaned regularly. They can be trained to step up onto fingers, sing, and perform other small tricks. Generally they are healthy pets but can pick up some diseases from wild birds on occasion.


Most of us have had a goldfish at some point in time. They are quite a hardy fish and fairly simple to care for. Surprisingly, they can be trained to perform tricks such as swimming through underwater hoops! Their water needs to be partially changed every week, and the main problem beginners have with them is overfeeding. Excessive feeding can lead to swim bladder issues. With appropriate feeding, regular water changes, and the occasional tank clean, they can live for ten to fifteen years.


Dogs are probably the best overall family pet and ideal first pet, however they also come with the greatest commitment. They tend to be much more of a family member than just a pet. Dogs are also a great way to get your kids outdoors and socialising. There are many wonderful dog breeds out there, but probably the most family friendly breeds would be Staffordshire Bull Terriers (their energy tends to be able to exhaust even young children!), Labradors or Golden Retrievers. Or, if your children are quiet, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Some breeds, such as Maremmas, aren’t quite suited for family life, so be sure to do your research and meet the puppy and their parents prior to getting one. Dogs need walking, cleaning, training, socialisation, grooming, preventative care and vet care.


Cats can be good family pets, but some cats prefer their own space over spending time with children. If you’re getting a cat for your children, be sure to spend plenty of time getting your kids to meet different cats, and look for one that loves being petted and picked up by your children. Cats are generally very clean pets. If they are indoors they require regular litter changes and feeding, otherwise they are usually fairly independent. One major benefit of cats is that they tend to not be as demanding pets compared to dogs.

There are many great first pets out there, though if you feel that your child may not be quite ready for a pet, it’s okay to wait longer until you get one. There are many different ways of getting an ‘animal fix’ instead of getting a pet for yourself. You can go to the zoo, have a friend’s dogs come over, or visit your crazy cat friend’s home, for example!

Visit the Cairns Veterinary Clinic’s website HERE. 












Why Does My Bird Keep Plucking Its Feathers Out?

Feather plucking in birds is a reasonably common medical complaint that is fielded by veterinarians. Besides making them look pretty rough, many birds appear to be in significant discomfort when they self-traumatise. There may be as many as thirty different causes of feather plucking in birds. Broadly speaking, we divide our causes into two main categories, these being medical and behavioural.

Medical Causes

Medical causes of feather plucking can include skin parasites, poor diet, and skin infections. Your veterinarian will likely recommend testing or treatment trials to differentiate between these problems. We recommend a good quality pelleted diet such as the Vetafarm range. Additionally, we recommend treating your birds for parasites with an effective registered product.

Behavioural Causes

Behavioural causes of feather plucking are very common in birds. It’s called ‘psychogenic’ feather plucking. In this instance, the feather plucking is a self-trauma due to anxiety and frustration. It is the ‘bird version’ of the neurotic pacing you see in some captive zoo animals. Some species of birds, such as Cockatoos or African Grey Parrots, can have very high IQs that easily surpass those of dogs or cats.

In the wild, these birds fly over long ranges in the fresh air and sunshine, engage in complex social behaviours, develop a lifetime pair-bond with their partner, sleep for ten to twelve hours a day, build nests, and continually forage for food. We take these animals that are genetically wired for the above behaviours and put them in a small, occasionally dirty cage, often completely alone. It’s no wonder that they can find this a very distressing situation to be in.  So our best treatments are to provide an environment that gives them enough stimulation, social interaction and rest, that it satisfies their natural instincts.

These treatments may include:

Fresh air and plenty of natural light

Try getting as large a cage or aviary as you possibly can. This even goes for Canaries and Cockatiels. If they are in a cage, make sure it’s put in an area where they can feel the breeze and watch the outdoors, but be sure that larger predator birds and cats cannot get them. 

Increased socialization

Most birds pair-bond for life, build a nest, and raise chicks. If there are no other birds around, they may instead bond strongly to their human. This can result in them getting anxious if their human leaves the house, or getting defensive and aggressive if someone, such as the human’s partner, approaches their human.  Once formed these bonds can be challenging to break.

If you have a lone bird, you can consider testing to determine their gender and then getting a mate for them. The gender testing may require a feather DNA test, as appearance often isn’t enough to differentiate gender alone. Some patients have good success with this, however sometimes they refuse to re-bond to another bird. Sometimes they’ll stay bonded with their human instead.

If your bird doesn’t pair-bond with another bird, then separation can be extremely stressful. If your lifestyle allows, try to maintain as much contact as you can with your bird.

Reduced boredom

Many wild parrots will forage for around six hours per day to find food. This helps to keep them stimulated and engaged. A good way to mimic this behavior is to hide their food in bird puzzle toys. Alternatively, you can hide food in crumpled paper cups, tied up coffee filters, and PCV pipes in gradually increasing complexity. If there is enough space, a large tree with food hidden in multiple spaces/PVC pipes also can provide good foraging stimulus.

Another great way to stave off boredom is to spend time training your bird. There are many YouTube videos of people demonstrating how to train your bird to talk, do tricks, or even solve very complex puzzles. Try teaching these tricks, and you’ll have a happy, stimulated bird. You might even have the next internet star!

Get plenty of sleep

Most birds in the wild will sleep for ten to twelve hours per day. This is in stark contrast to us, who are well adapted to strong artificial light in the evening. Make sure they are in a dark, quiet place for 12 hours per day in order for them to experience a prolonged, restful sleep.


Some tropical birds are used to experiencing daily light rain showers, and can start to feel dirty with prolonged dry periods. Try gently spraying them with a spray bottle to help them bathe and feel clean.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Diets high in flax seed, which provide omega 3 fatty acids, may help to reduce feather plucking in some birds.

See the vet

Sometimes, it can be very difficult to provide what nature does for your bird. Some birds need to be placed on medication to reduce anxiety-related self-harm. As always, environmental management is a pillar of psychogenic feather plucking in birds. If your bird has psychogenic feather plucking unresponsive to thorough environmental management, speak to your vet about what medications may improve their well-being.


Visit the Cairns Veterinary Clinic’s website here. 



How Can I Stop My Dog From Running Away When We Take His Lead Off?

We’ve all been there – one minute we take the lead off our dog, the next minute they’ve picked up a scent and are off! Being unable to recall your dog is a potential danger to both your dog and other people. Your dog may get lost, a car may accidentally hit them, or other dogs may attack them. Having a consistent and reliable recall is an important skill that every dog exercised (off lead) needs to develop. Thankfully, the training is fun and rewarding!

Choose a recall word and provide consistent, positive reward

“Come” is a commonly chosen recall word. Additionally you could use your pets name. Use a friendly, positive voice, and when they come give them an instant, positive reward in the form of treat. Never call your dog to come in order to discipline them.. Never use a growl or an angry voice, as both of these can act as deterrents.

Start in a quiet area and gradually increase the amount of distractions

You can start recall training at home. When you’re in the house, randomly call your dog using your chosen command. As soon as they come provide them with a treat. Once they’ve picked this up, you can try training in your backyard for short, five minute sessions. Let them sniff around the backyard and get distracted, then call them using their command. When they come, give them a treat straight away.  Once they’ve mastered this, you can do this practice in a quiet part of an off-lead area in public. Note that in Queensland every public area is on-lead by default, unless it is clearly designated as being an off-lead area.

Once you’ve mastered the recall in a quiet public place, you can try it in a  much more distracting environment of a busy, off-lead area. Some dogs get too excited to recall. If this is the case, an intense run in the backyard before going into public can help to burn off some of this excitability.

What if they don’t come back?

If your dog doesn’t come back when you call them, sometimes getting their attention then running away from them can encourage them to catch up to you. Avoid the temptation to get angry or growl at them when they eventually return, as this provides negative feedback.

What if I don’t want to keep giving them treats?

When your dog is well trained, you can also try  teaching them a release command. This gives them permission to go and play. Eventually the release command can be used as the instant reward instead of the treat! If they return, give them a verbal reward, “good boy” for example. Then say, “okay, go!” and let them get back to their play.

Usually with enough time, consistency, and a increased exposure to more and more distracting environments, we can keep our dogs under control while they have fun in public.

You can read more helpful advice article on the Cairns Veterinary Clinic’s website

Read more of PakMag’s Cairns Vet expert blogs here



Help, My Cat Keeps Marking Its Territory!

Urine marking can land your cat straight into the bad books. Even some furniture and shoes in particular can often be permanently ruined by a smelly territorial mark. Thankfully, there are many treatments and preventative strategies to reduce the incidence and severity of this noxious behaviour. 

In general cats tend to mark in the wild to define their territory to reduce violent overlap with other cat’s territories. Feral cats can have natural ranges of anywhere between 2.5 and 700 acres. So if you think about it, we’re taking animals that are genetically geared to roam hundreds of acres by themselves, and putting them into tiny apartments in close proximity with other cats. No wonder it can be very stressful for them.  

In response to the stress mentioned above, cats are prone to developing urinary tract inflammation and crystals. For this reason, abnormal marking is a problem where you should visit the vet first. Ideally, bring in a fresh urine sample for testing. A visit is essential to check for infection, urinary crystals, stress cystitis, and kidney failure, amongst other problems.

If your cat gets the all-clear after being checked, then their marking problem is likely behavioural. So how do we reduce this behaviour? 

Take your number of cats, plus one, and that’s how many litter trays you need. 

Got two cats? Get three litter trays. Got three cats? Get four litter trays. Cats prefer fresh, clean litter, so encourage them to use their litter tray by changing it regularly. You can even try offering different types of litter to see if there’s one they prefer. By making the litter as appealing as possible, you’re helping encourage them to urinate where they’re meant to. 

Restrict access to the area, and clean the area immediately. 

One of the best ways to break the marking habit is to remove access to the item or area they’re marking. This may mean closing off the lounge room door, or moving your shoes from the floor. Clean the area they’ve marked immediately with a urease-containing cleaner (“urine-off”) to reduce the scent trigger for them to re-mark the area.  

Have plenty of hidey holes and space. 

Many cats prefer their own company, and find social interaction with other cats quite stressful. Try making sure they have plenty of places to hide and relax around the house. Boxes, cat towers, and cupboards, can all be used as hiding places. 

Try pheromone sprays and diffusers.

“Feliway” sprays and diffusers contain artificial pheromones that help to reduce stress related marking behaviour. The spray can be sprayed daily on problem areas, such as the couch, whereas a diffuser will treat a whole room for around 30 days. 

Try some Zylkene.

“Zylkene” is a milk protein that seems to help relax stressed-out kitties. The powder is sprinkled onto their food and they tend to eat it enthusiastically. It has the main benefit of being a safe and simple treatment to reduce stress. 

Consider environmental adjustment.

Installing an outdoor cat run can take time and effort, but your cat will thank you when they can go outside and enjoy some space, sun, and fresh air. You won’t have to worry about them going missing, hunting wildlife, or getting into fights. This can help to increase their available space and reduce their stress levels. 

Try some cat nip toys.

Many cats respond positively to catnip toys or fresh catnip. We can use this in their environment to help keep them relaxed. 

Use separate water and food bowls.

Cats can find sharing food and water pretty stressful! Try placing food and water bowls around the house so they can eat where and when they want. 

Consider veterinary treatments.

Vets can provide advice on the best diets to reduce stress and reduce crystal formation in cats. We can also discuss stronger ways to reduce stress-related behaviour, such as antidepressant use. It is always necessary to address environmental problems alongside medical treatment.  


You can find more expert advice on the Cairns Veterinary Clinic website



How Can I Successfully Toilet Train My Puppy?

The puppy stage is a wonderful time to bond with your pet and set up good behaviours that last a lifetime. There are few behaviours that are more critical to get right than toilet training. Some pups are faster learners than others, but don’t worry, with enough time and perseverance you can toilet train any dog. Here are some tips to get them there as quickly as possible.

Positive Rewards

The main principle to follow with toilet training is to give your pet the opportunity to urinate/defecate in the correct area. Then, immediately provide positive reward in the form of praise and treats. Over time, they develop a strong positive automatic association with voiding in the correct area. To do this, every hour or so take your puppy outside to the desired spot. Taking them out immediately after eating and drinking is also important, as these are high-risk times to urinate and defecate. As soon as they are going, cheerfully praise them. Once they’re finished, produce a small treat reward from your pocket and offer it.  

At Night

When your puppy sleeps indoors at night, take them out for one final ‘pee visit’ just before bed. ‘Crate training’ sleeping them in a crate can discourage soiling at night. This is because pups instinctively prefer not to soil where they sleep. Ideally the crate should be just large enough for them to stand up and turn around in, and is lined with cleanable bedding. They may cry at night to be let out to urinate. Provided they are crying to urinate (and not just for attention), take them outside to do their business. Over time, their muscles to control their bladder strengthen. Eventually they can go for longer periods of time without toileting.

During the Day

During the day, make sure it’s easy for them to go outside to their desired spot. This may mean installing doggy doors and keeping them open, or cracking the door open. They need every opportunity to express the behaviour that you’re encouraging.  

You could also try using a command such as “go pee” when your puppy urinates. Over time, your pup develops an association between these words and urinating. This can be used later to help encourage them to go.  

Occasionally, having another dog come and visit your yard to mark the desired area can help to stimulate your pup to urinate over this spot.  

Consistency is Key

Most pups will take up to a couple of months before they are properly toilet trained, though this time can vary considerably. Factors such as stairs, distance to the outdoors, intelligence, and response to reward, can all affect how quickly you can toilet train your pup. Usually you can expect to see a trend of fewer and fewer accidents, starting within a week or two of training. If you’re not seeing this sort of improvement, check through the list above. Also consider looking at ways to improve your consistency of training. With enough time and consistency, most pups can be reliably toilet trained.  

You can more advice articles on the Cairns Veterinary Clinic website