About pets

These pages answer some of the commonly asked questions about selecting, owning and taking care of a pet.

If the information you're looking for isn't here, your local veterinarian will be able to help. Visit Find-a-vet to find one near you who's an AVA member.

What's the best pet for me?

When trying to decide on the best pet for you there are a range of things to consider. These include safety, animal freedom, space, native animals and the suitability of your home. It’s also important to consider the needs of different pets and how well this will fit in with our own lifestyle.

Do I need to take my pet to the vet when it's not sick?

Yes. Just as with humans, animals need to have preventive health care to keep them healthy and happy. Dogs and cats age differently to humans, so it is important for them to have a check up at least once a year. This is the same as us only visiting the doctor every five years or so.

Visiting your vet once a year means that they can check your pet for early signs of disease, make sure their teeth, skin, eyes and ears are healthy, update life-saving vaccinations and keep an eye out for problems as your pet gets older.

More about annual health checks

What to expect when you visit the vet

What vaccinations does my pet need?

It's extremely important that all puppies and kittens have a series of vaccinations to prevent life-threatening illnesses. It will save you the time, money and heartache that come with your pet getting sick from a preventable disease.

The AVA has revised its vaccination policy to recommend less frequent vaccinations for adult cats and dogs for some vaccines.

Vaccination for some diseases may not be needed on an annual basis, and may be given every three years (triennially). Other diseases such as canine cough (or kennel cough) still need to be boosted at least every year.

This change would only apply to animals that have completed their puppy or kitten vaccinations plus the first annual booster after the puppy or kitten vaccinations have been completed.

You should talk to your veterinarian about the most appropriate vaccination schedule for your pet, as the best approach differs depending on the age and health of your dog or cat, and where you live.

More about vaccination of dogs and cats

What should I feed my pet?

Like us our pets need a balanced diet to keep them fit and healthy, and the best diet for your pet will obviously depend on what kind of pet you have. Your veterinarian will be able to provide advice about the best diet to feed your pet.

However, there are some foods that humans can have that make our pets very sick. Things like chocolate, grapes, sultanas and cooked bones should never be fed to your pet.

How can I make sure my dog doesn't bite?

There are lots of things you can do to help prevent your dog from becoming a biter, but it’s important to start these things when they’re a puppy and to be consistent in the messages you give them about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour.

Discourage your puppy from excessive chewing. While all puppies with do some of this when they are teething, it's important that you don’t encourage this behaviour and that you give them appropriate toys to chew on.

When playing with your dog, do so gently. Also make sure that they're well exercised and walked frequently and that they have plenty of room to run around or enough toys to play with to keep them entertained.

Socialise your dog with other dogs and with people. A great way to do this is by enrolling them in a puppy preschool class. Lots of veterinary surgeries run these kinds of classes, so it’s a good idea to ask your vet to recommend one.

Any dog can lash out if it's scared or threatened. Remember that children under five should never be left alone with a dog, no matter how well-known or well-loved the dog. 

If you're having problems with your dog biting, see your vet who can give you good advice, or refer you to an animal behaviour specialist to fix the problem.

For further informtion download Reward-based training: a guide for dog trainers

Do I have a dominant dog?

If your dog is growling, baring its teeth or snapping at you or others, it's not because they're trying to dominate you. Often anxiety and insecurity are the primary contributors to aggressive behaviour. Dogs with medical conditions or those in pain are also more likely to be irritable or react defensively.

A lot of unwanted behaviour is actually normal behaviour for dogs, they may just not have been taught what we expect from them or want them to do.

Punishment is not the solution. Punishment also fails to teach your dog how you want it to behave, and can ruin your dog's trust in you and other people.

Predictability is important for dogs. You need to establish clear rules and be consistent in rewarding desirable bahviour. The golden rule is to reward the behaviour you do want and ignore or redirect the behaviour you don't want.

The best place to start is to ask fro advice from your veterinarian.

For further information download Debunking dominance in dogs


I'm moving and can't take my pet - what should I do?

Before you make the decision to give your pet away, make sure you consider all of the options and whether or not you really have to give it away.

If you really can’t take your pet with you, the best option is to ask your friends and family members to see if they're able to adopt your pet. If this isn't a possibility you can try advertising on a pet adoption website or ask your vet if you could place fliers in their practice.

If after all of this you still haven’t found a new home for your pet you should contact an animal shelter in your local area.

I don't want a traditional pet - what other pets are there?

With changes in licensing laws and people’s lifestyles, the choice of family pet might not be a dog or cat, but one of another dozen species. The Unusual and Exotic Pets group, a special interest group of the AVA specialises in the treatment of less traditional pets.

These might include snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs, native Australian mammals, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and mice, ferrets and even tarantulas!

How do I prepare my pet for a natural disaster?

Preparing ahead of time and acting quickly can be the best way to keep yourself, your family, and your animals out of harm’s way.

Be prepared for possible disruption to services, including power, water and phone lines for extended periods of time. Prepare for your animals by putting together a pet or livestock emergency kit.

The key things to think about when preparing for a natural disaster are:

  • Are you going to evacuate or stay at home?
  • If you need to evacuate, do you have a place to take your animals? Consider friends, kennels and animal shelters outside the danger zone.
  • If your pet is staying at home, think about confining it in the safest enclosed room of the house e.g. the bathroom, and DO NOT tie your pet up. Make sure there’s food and water.
  • Talk to your neighbours and tell them about your evacuation plans in case you're away.
  • Ensure your emergency kit contains plenty of non-perishable food (e.g. dry food) and water in spill-proof containers.
  • Make sure your pet is microchipped and has a current collar and tag in case it gets lost.

If you are at home with your pet during a cyclone, try to keep them as calm as possible.

Download the brochure, Keeping your pets safe in a natural disaster

How do I know if my pet has been traumatised?

Dogs and cats can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in the same way as their owners and for the same reasons, such as being placed  in an environment that is unpredictable. 

Signs to look out for

When the situation becomes more normal and pets are reunited with their owners in their home or temporary accommodation, owners may notice changes in their behaviour that indicate that the pet is anxious or stressed. Behavioural changes may include:

  • loss of housetraining
  • barking or vocalising more than usual for no apparent reason
  • hiding or avoiding interaction
  • aggression
  • decrease or loss of appetite. 

If you're concerned your pet is suffering from an anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress contact a veterinarian. 

Advice for pet owners

  • Set up a safe secure area your pet can get away from noise, people and other pets. This can be a crate, a laundry or a bathroom. Provide separate areas for dogs and cats.
  • Place familiar objects such as their own bed or mat, toys or a piece of your clothing in this safe area if at all possible.
  • Use DAP® or Feliway® diffusers in the area to decrease anxiety.
  • As far as possible provide a routine - have set times to feed, play with and groom the pet.
  • Increase active interaction - take dogs  for a daily walk (or better still two), play games like fetch, provide several short positive training sessions each day teaching fun things (not obedience exercises!)
  • Do not encourage attention seeking behaviour, pre-empt it with other activities.
  • Provide calm quiet direction at all times.

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