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SPCA launches second children’s storybook series to stop cycle of animal cruelty


Developing empathy and encouraging humane treatment towards all animals from the next generation is behind the SPCA’s launch of a series of storybooks for primary school children. Front cover of storybook Guzzler Does the Job

This month the SPCA releases the next stage in its nationwide education programme for New Zealand primary schools – a second collection of six storybooks for children. The series will help educate young readers about the care and wellbeing of animals, aiming for a change in attitude and behaviour from the next generation of animal owners.

The first storybook collection was released in August 2016 and to date around 78,000 books have been used by more than 2,000 primary schools. The first storybook series focused on companion animals and the second on farm animals.

SPCA CEO Andrea Midgen says the books further extend the charity’s New Zealand curriculum-aligned education programme, which first launched in 2016.

“We continue to care for around 46,000 animals that have been lost, abandoned, injured, or abused each year. This is simply not good enough and we need to do better as a country. Teaching animal care and empathy at a young age is vital to turning this around. These storybooks build on the overwhelming success of our education programme which is available to all Primary and Intermediate Schools in the country.”

The focus of each original story is to teach animal care and wellbeing, through engaging, and thought provoking narratives, while supporting the development of children’s reading skills and strategies at school and home.

“We chose to focus on farm animals because, after their pets, New Zealand children are most likely to interact with farm animals. However, the goal of the series is to develop empathy towards all animals from the next generation,” says Andrea.

The storybooks are part of the SPCA’s free in-school education programme which launched in 2016 after three years of development. It was created by teachers for teachers and includes classroom resources, teaching plans linked to the New Zealand Curriculum, a teachers’ and students’ online portal.

Each school will receive 36 new books this month; six sets each which are funded by donations and community grants. Teaching notes are available to teachers through the SPCA Teachers’ Portal. Suggested activities help to extend and consolidate children’s understanding of animal care concepts and increase their empathy for the animal characters within the stories.

“Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, US, say that reading can ‘trick’ our brains into thinking we are part of the story. The empathy we feel for characters can wire our brains to have the same sensitivity in real life. This is crucial in helping shift attitudes and behavior towards animals, helping to reduce cruelty in the future,” says Andrea.

The new books include:
• Garry the Goat’s Escape
• Barney and the Sheep With No Name
• Guzzler Does the Job
• Toni, the Party Pony
• Mrs Wigglesworth Gets the Milk
• Wake Up, Drongo!

Children and their families can access resources to support the books at the SPCA Kids’ Portal: 
Teachers can register for free, curriculum-aligned resources at the SPCA Teachers’ Portal:

Purchase a set for your school or home at

Veterinarian Dr Sarah Zito answers your pet health questions


Q: I have recently inherited a 6 year old Cockatiel called Barney. I’ve never had a pet bird before and I would like to know what can I do to do to stop him getting bored and give him a good quality of life?

A: It is great that you want to give Barney a good quality of life. A good diet, regular checkups and routine health care are all important for his physical health but his mental well-being is just as important. So it is fantastic that you are asking about this aspect of his care. Captive birds are often bored and this negatively impacts their quality of life but can also lead to the development of behavioural problems such as feather plucking, self-mutilation, destructiveness and screaming.

It is important to provide an interesting and enriching environment for Barney.

  • Give him as big a cage or aviary as possible, no cage is too big!
  • Make sure that he has plenty of perching places at various heights in the cage and these should be natural (but non-toxic) tree branches. The branches need to be wide enough to prevent Barney’s toes from wrapping the whole way around the perch, should be of different sizes and should be replaced regularly (they will become damaged, soiled or chewed over time). Perches at different heights will encourage Barney to climb and swing on the branches which will provide him with exercise; this is also extremely important for pet birds.
  • If possible Barney should also be given the opportunity to explore outside his cage for more exercise and fun, but you will need to train him to do this safely and make sure he cannot escape the area or hurt himself first.
  • Barney will also need somewhere he can bath safely; this can be achieved by using a large and fairly flat dish with shallow clean water in it.
  • Captive foraging is a great way to keep your bird busy and prevent boredom. Birds in the wild spend 6‐7 hours every day using their beak to forage for food. Captive foraging means offering Barney his food in a way that he has to actively find his food and develop methods for obtaining access to that food source. It is necessary to start with easy foraging methods so your bird can adapt to these new methods of obtaining his food. Then, as he gets the hang of it you can introduce more complex foraging challenges.
  • There are many foraging techniques that can be used, here are a few examples:
  • Wrapping his food inside a safe material such as butcher’s paper or used envelopes. You can close the ends by twisting and then Barney will need to break into the package to get his food.
  • Hiding his food by placing a small amount in a food bowl mixed or buried with a safe material such as paper kitty litter, wood shavings or shredded paper. Barney will then need to dig through and search for the food.
  • Covering his food bowl with paper so that he has to remove the paper to get to his food.
  • Using foraging toys to put his food in; there are commercially available toys, such as baffle cages, piñatas, puzzles and kabobs, or you can make your own, these can be constructed from basic bird safe materials like untreated wood, leather and paper.
  • Last but not least, spend time with Barney; interaction with their human is something most birds really enjoy.
By following these suggestions you will ensure that Barney has a much more interesting and rich life.

Q: Someone told me that owning a cat has been linked with the development of schizophrenia. Do I need to be worried?

The link that has been reported in the past is an epidemiological association between some human psychoses such as schizophrenia and Toxoplasma gondii infection or cat ownership. However, this just means that humans with certain psychoses were more likely to be infected with Toxoplasma gondii or own a cat; this association does not mean that there is a cause and effect relationship. Almost any animal can be infected with Toxoplasma gondii but cats play an important part in the parasite’s life cycle. Despite this, human infection with Toxoplasma gondii is often not from a cat. Rather it is most often a result of ingestion of undercooked meat that contains the parasite; humans may also be infected though ingestion of the parasite’s oocysts (similar to an egg) from cat faeces in the environment.

Recently a large, well-conducted and scientifically rigorous study from the UK has given some more clarity on the subject. This study followed several thousand children through to early adulthood and found that there was strong evidence that cat ownership during pregnancy or early childhood had no relationship with the development of psychoses during early or late adolescence.

There is the possibility that exposure to Toxoplasma gondii may be linked to certain psychotic disorders but cat ownership does not appear to increase the risk. It is unusual for people to get infected by Toxoplasma gondii from their own cat. Even if a cat has been infected by the parasite, they only shed oocysts for a very short time just after they are first infected and not again (unless they are immunosuppressed in which case some may shed again). It is important to remember that healthy cats that carry the parasite but were not infected recently do not pose a risk of infection to humans. So in short, no you do not need to be worried, I certainly am not and I am in contact with a lot of cats!

 Q: I think that Pugs are really cute and am thinking of getting one. Do they have any health issues that I need to know about?

A: Pugs are lovely little dogs but unfortunately they are one of the many pedigree breeds of dog that have exaggerated physical features which cause them considerable health and welfare issues. In particular, most Pugs (and other short nosed or ‘brachycephalic’ breeds such as Boston Terriers and British Bulldogs) have serious difficulty breathing. This is because they have been selectively bred over time to have a drastically shortened muzzle. However, the soft tissue inside the head, such as the soft palate, has not shortened and this blocks the dog’s airways. In addition, brachycephalic breeds often have nostrils and windpipes that are not wide enough and this makes it even more difficult for them to breathe.

The malformations that brachycephalic dogs suffer from have been actively selected for to exaggerate the dogs’ physical appearance and lead to serious consequences. Brachcephalic dogs may pass out or collapse due to a lack of oxygen or they may overheat, even fatally. These problems are particularly likely to occur when the dog exercises or gets excited. Many of these dogs cannot sleep properly because they find breathing so difficult and may even have to sleep sitting or standing up.

These problems are so widespread and serious that they have been formally recognised and named as Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome. Many of the affected dogs need major surgery to try to correct the physical malformations, relieve their serious symptoms and improve their quality of life. In addition to these serious breathing problems, many brachycephalic dogs like Pugs also have eye problems due to their protruding eyes, and also have such problems giving birth that they have to have caesarean sections to deliver their puppies. Anyone who loves dogs, owners, breeders and veterinarians need to work together to address and prevent these problems. Dogs deserve better.


Common skin problems in dogs


mason 2There are hundreds of different diseases that affect the skin of dogs. Since the skin can only react in a limited number of ways many of these diseases look very similar, which can make skin disease difficult to diagnose accurately. If your dog has a skin problem, it is important to see your veterinarian to help determine the kind of skin problem and the appropriate treatment. Sometimes it will be necessary to see a veterinarian who specialises in skin (a veterinary dermatologist) for problems that are hard to diagnose or treat.

Discussing all skin problems found in dogs would fill many books, so we’re going to concentrate on the problems most commonly seen in this article!

Atopic dermatitis

Also called atopy, this is a very complex and multifactorial disease that involves:

  • An allergic reaction to environmental allergens (such as grass, weed/tree pollens, moulds, dust mites or insects); this is similar to hayfever and atopic eczema in people.
  • Abnormal skin that does not function normally as a barrier and so allows increased penetration of allergens and infections; this leads to stimulation of the immune system.
  • Secondary infections, usually with bacteria and yeast.
 Genetics play important role in atopic dermatitis and some breeds seem predisposed, these include Beagles, German Shepherds, Labrador, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and West Highland White Terriers.

Factors that would indicate that your dog might have atopic dermatitis include:
  • The signs of skin disease started early in your dog’s life (<4 years old).
  • Your dog is itchy, this may be the only sign initially. The itch is likely to be affecting the feet, face, ears, around the eyes, abdomen, groin and/or bottom. The itching often results in your dog causing some trauma to their skin, this results in some or all of the following: hair loss, red inflamed skin, erosions, crusting, thickening, scaling, hyperpigmentation (darkened skin) and malodourous greasy skin.
  • The itch improves if your dog is given corticosteroids.
  • Your dog gets recurrent skin or ear infections; these may be bacterial, fungal or yeast.
  • Your dog is a purebred or a cross of one of the breeds that are commonly affected by atopic dermatitis.
 The diagnosis of atopic dermatitis is based on the presence of some or all of the above signs, the clinical elimination of other diseases that could cause similar signs and response to medication.

As atopic dermatitis has three main components that contribute to the disease, all three must be treated:
  1. The allergic component of the disease is best treated with immunotherapy and desensitisation. This involves intradermal allergy testing to identify the allergens involved and the creation of a special allergy vaccine specific to your dog’s allergies. If immunotherapy is ineffective, not possible or not desired, the allergic component of the disease needs to be controlled with some form of anti -inflammatory medication. There are a number of different medications available, your veterinarian can advise you on the one that is most appropriate for your dog.
  2. Improving the barrier function of the skin can be achieved by using some of the following: essential fatty acid (Omega 3 & 6 essential fatty acid oils) oral supplements, a special veterinary skin support diet and special shampoos and conditioners that help improve the skin’s hydration and provide short-term relief of irritation.
  3. Secondary bacterial and yeast infections need to be controlled. The type of organism causing the infection will need to be identified through cytology and the most appropriate drug used based on those results. This may involve oral drugs such as antibiotics and/or medicated shampoos, residual antiseptic conditioners, anti-fungal creams/lotions and medicated rinses.
 It can be challenging to control atopic dermatitis but it is a disease that significantly impacts the quality of life of your dog. Therefore, it is very important to have the disease properly diagnosed and treated so that your dog can live a happy life without the discomfort and serious side-effects of the disease.

Flea allergic dermatitis

When a flea feeds on your dog’s blood it injects saliva into the skin. In some dogs, repeated exposure to flea saliva can cause them to develop an allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva; this results in an inflammatory response, causing severe itching and self-trauma. The areas most commonly affected are around the base of the tail, along the back and the back of the thighs. It is important to note that, once the allergy has developed, the inflammatory response can be triggered by only a tiny amount of flea saliva. Often there are very few or no live fleas present on an animal that has flea allergic dermatitis.

Unfortunately, once the allergy has developed, there is no cure but the allergy can be controlled. Initially the dog is likely to need some anti-inflammatory medication to relieve the symptoms, as well as an effective flea treatment. Control of flea allergic dermatitis involves elimination of fleas from your dog and their environment. Thankfully there are now some very effective products available to achieve flea control. It is best to talk to your veterinarian about the most up to date and effective flea control options.

Otitis externa

masnOtitis is a general term that means inflammation of the ears. In otitis externa the inflammation affects just the outer part of the ear (the ear canal and often the ear flap).  This is a very complex disease potentially involving many different underlying factors and it is important to identify these in order to effectively control the disease.

The most common reason that a dog is presented for treatment of ear disease is because a bacterial or yeast infection has developed. However, infections are hardly ever the primary ear disease process; instead the infection is usually secondary to inflammation of the ear. Examples of primary disease processes that can cause ear inflammation are: allergies (a very common cause), parasites, keratinisation disorders and autoimmune diseases. In addition, there are many conditions that can predispose a dog to develop ear inflammation, for example: ear conformation problems (hairy, narrow or pendulous ears), excessive moisture (often from swimming), obstructions of the ear canal (e.g. a polyp or tumour) and systemic illness.

The clinical signs shown by the affected dog will depend on both the underlying disease that is triggering the inflammation and on any infection that has subsequently developed. The affected ear is often red and swollen, there may be discharge in the ears (this may be yellow or red coloured and/or dark brownish red tinged) and crusting. The dog is normally shaking their head, scratching at the affected ear and may find it painful to have the ear touched.

The diagnostic investigation of otitis externa should involve two separate but important and interconnected components:
  • If an infection is present, it will be preventing resolution of the ear inflammation. Therefore, the organisms (bacteria or yeast) that have proliferated must be identified. To do this your veterinarian will need to collect a sample from the ear and examine it under a microscope. It is also often necessary to collect samples and submit these for culture and sensitivity testing to select the most appropriate therapy for the organism (as the bacteria involved may be resistant to some antibiotics).
  • The primary cause of the inflammation must be investigated and identified. If this is not done then the ear inflammation and secondary infections are likely to continue to recur and long-term resolution is difficult. Your veterinarian will need to perform a thorough examination of the ear and down the ear canal with an instrument called an otoscope. This process allows your veterinarian to check that the ear drum is intact (this is important to establish prior to giving ear drops as some of them are toxic to the inner ear and can cause problems if the ear drum is perforated and allows the ear drops to enter the inner ear) and allows the identification of physical factors in the ear that may be involved in the problem such as foreign bodies (e.g. grass seeds), polyps or tumours. It may be necessary to sedate or aneasthetise the dog to perform this thorough examination of the ear canal, particularly if the dog is in a lot of pain. Other diagnostic tests may also be necessary to investigate possible underlying causes such as allergies.
 In order to successfully resolve otitis externa both the infection (if present) and the underlying disease process must be treated effectively. Effective treatment often involves some or all of the following:
  • If there is a significant amount of debris and discharge in the ear canal this must be removed, as it prevents penetration of any eardrops, can inactivate antibiotics and increases the inflammatory response. Cleaning out the ear canal may necessitate sedation or aneasthesia if the dog is in a lot of pain, there is significant inflammation and/or there is a lot of debris and discharge in the ear canal.
  • Oral and topical medication will then most likely need to be prescribed to reduce inflammation and eliminate the infection. The choice of medication is usually based on examination of the ear sample, and the culture and sensitivity results.
  • If an underlying cause such as an allergy is identified it must also be treated so that the infection does not continue to recur.

Demodectic mange

Demodectic mange is a parasitic infestation caused by demodex mites and is a relatively common skin problem, particularly in young dogs. These mites are found on nearly all dogs and live inside the hair follicles. The mites are a normal part of the skin but in some dogs there is a problem that allows the mites to proliferate abnormally and cause disease. The demodex mites are species specific and so there is no danger of humans becoming infected.

There are three different kinds of disease syndrome caused by demodex mites:

  • Localised disease in which the excessive mite proliferation is restricted to a few small areas (<6 in total). Localised demodectic mange is characterised by patches of hair loss with the skin underneath becoming crusty, itchy, red and/or moist. This form of demodectic mange most commonly occurs around a dog’s front legs, eyes, muzzle and other parts of the head. In most cases, localised demodectic mange will resolve itself and treatment is not required. However, treatment will often speed the resolution of the mange.
  • Generalised disease in which the excessive mite proliferation involves larger numbers of lesions and in various body regions; in severe cases it can spread across a dog’s entire body. This is a much more serious condition than the localised form and immediate and aggressive treatment is needed. Dogs with generalised disease commonly develop a secondary bacterial infection, which can be very serious. There is a lot of variation in the clinical signs seen with generalised disease but these can include: hair loss, pustules (like little pimples), papules (little lumps in the skin), crusts, hyperpigmentation (darker colouration of the skin) and swelling (most commonly of the feet). Generalised demodectic mange is divided into juvenile and adult onset disease; these each have different causes and prognosis:
    • Dogs that have juvenile onset demodectic mange generally have an inherited abnormality of their immune system that means they are unable to control the mites and stop them proliferating abnormally.
    • Dogs that have adult onset demodectic mange generally have a concurrent underlying disease that is suppressing their immune system. This is a more worrying form of the disease as it is often indicative of serious underlying disease that must be identified and treated.
 It is possible that the affected area may develop a bacterial infection with any form of demodectic manage, although it is unusual in the localised form. If an infection is present pustules, papules and crusts may affect the skin. If a dog is suspected to have demodectic mange they should be taken to see a veterinarian as soon as possible. Localised demodectic mange may resolve itself without requiring treatment but veterinary attention is still recommended.

Diagnosis of demodectic manage usually straight forward. The veterinarian will need to take a deep skin scraping from the affected area; the sample obtained is examined under a microscope to identify the mites. It is very important that animals with adult onset disease have a thorough investigation to identify the underlying cause of the immunosuppression that is allowing the mites to proliferate.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment will be discussed. This will depend on the individual case but, if necessary, may involve systemic (injections or oral medication) or topical (e.g. an insecticidal dip) medication. Treating generalised demodectic mange can be an involved process and can take some time. Dogs with adult onset generalised demodectic mange will need their underlying disease identified and, if possible, treated.  Dogs that have secondary bacterial or fungal skin infections will also need injectable, oral or topical antibiotics, oral or topical anti-fungal medications and/or special medicated washes as appropriate to the individual.

Regular skin scrapings to look for the mites need to be taken throughout the treatment process. This will normally be performed after 4 weeks and then every 2 weeks. Two negative scrapings in a row will indicate that the mange has been resolved and the treatment can stop.  


Waharoa man failed to treat cow's severe eye injury


CaptureA Waharoa man was sentenced in the Hamilton District Court yesterday due to his failure to treat the obvious injuries afflicting his cow.Billy Tui was found guilty of failing to ensure an animal in his care received treatment and was sentenced to 150 hours community work, ordered to pay $788.20 in reparations and a contribution of $500.00 towards solicitor costs. He was also disqualified from owning all animals for five years.

The cow was examined by SPCA Inspectors and veterinarians at the Waharoa property of Tui’s associate, between 8 and 9 July 2015.Veterinary examination revealed that Tui’s cow had a severe eye injury involving a tumorous growth, consistent with a sun-induced cancer, affecting the lower eyelid, with severe inflammation and infection of the upper and lower eyelids.

The vet concluded that the cow would have been in severe pain for weeks. She added that irritation from pain, discharging fluid, and insects would have caused additional distress, and that the poor body condition of the cow indicated prolonged stress. Euthanasia was recommended, as the cow was not a surgical candidate due to the severe tissue damage and poor prognosis.

SPCA CEO Andrea Midgen says she is pleased that the sentence includes a disqualification of owning all animals.“This is a case of neglect where the offender has abnegated his responsibility for the wellbeing of his animal and has paid the price,” says Ms Midgen.“Animals rely on us to provide them with their needs and that includes veterinary care. It is unacceptable to see an animal in such pain and yet do nothing about it.”

For more information please contact:
Jessie Gilchrist, SPCA Communications Manager
P: +64 22 658 3182, E:

Creating a DIY house for your guinea pig


gGone are the days when guinea pig owners would keep their pets alone in a hutch in the backyard with little interaction with the family or socialisation. Now many owners are choosing to keep their guineas inside as part of the family. All guinea pigs need a palace fit for royalty - read on for our best DIY tips for creating one for your pet.

Indoor living guineas have many advantages. For one, it is easier to control their environment as you don’t need to deal with the elements outdoors. Having your GPs indoors also means they get to be more involved with the action and spend precious time with their favourite humans.

Despite being small animal, guinea pigs need a lot of room to exercise and run around to be happy pigs, and for this reason are suited best to large accommodation. Exercise is very important for healthy guinea pigs; their best way of getting the exercise they need is to run laps around their housing. If their area is too small they will get bored and are at risk of serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

g 3A house fit for a piggie Queen or King

Indoor accommodation for your guinea pig can be fun and easy to create. It is also a great excuse to get creative and to build a perfect haven for your beloved companion.

Most hutches found at pet stores are far too small for your guinea pigs to be able to display natural behaviours and live the life they deserve.

To create a perfect and tailor-made house for your guineas then you may consider building a ‘C&C’ cage. A relatively new concept compared to the standard hutch, a ‘C&C’ cage stands for cubes and coroplast. Cubes refers to the metal grid system that forms the cage structure, and coroplast is the plastic ‘tray’ that forms the base of the cage.

Building your own C&C cage

g 2

The materials to build your cage can be easily sourced online or at hardware stores. To build a C&C cage, you will need a sheet of coroplast big enough to form the base of your cage, and the metal grid ‘cubes’ to form the walls. We recommend the following as preferred minimum sizing to adhere to ensure your guinea has all the space they need (dependant on the number of guinea pigs):

  • 1 guinea pig: Area – 0.7sq m / Grids - 2x3 grids / Size – 76x91cm
  • 2 guinea pigs: Area – 0.7sq m / Grids - 2x4 grids / Size – 76x127cm
  • 3 guinea pigs: Area – 1sq m / Grids - 2x5 grids / Size – 76x157cm
  • 4 guinea pigs: Area – 1.2sq m / Grids - 2x6 grids / Size – 76x193cm
The structure and soft furnishings inside your DIY guinea pig house can be made from easily sourced and inexpensive materials. All that is required is some time, a few basic tools and some imagination. It’s the perfect way to get creative and put your own touch on the space. Whether it is an L-shape or using different levels, building your own creation means you can have it just how you want it. Undoubtedly the best part is seeing your piggies run around squeaking with joy at something you created for them.

The best location for your guinea pig house is a room that isn’t too warm or prone to becoming damp, as GPs don’t cope well in these conditions. Choose somewhere safe away from other pets and loud noises, but close to the family.


The best bedding

g 4

Now you have your guinea pigs’ house built, it’s time to make it a home. When exploring bedding options remember that, above all, it needs to be absorbent as guinea pigs don’t use litter trays like rabbits. Common bedding options include recycled shredded paper, wood-shavings, and layered towels and fleecing. Just be sure to avoid any wood shavings that might have a high content of volatile oils or preservatives as these can be poisonous.

Both wood shaving and shredded paper are single-use and will need to be disposed of and replaced when they are soiled. Using layered towels and fleecing can be more efficient as these can simply be washed and re-used. You can get creative with colours and patterns of fleecing and create a unique piggie palace to suit your guineas’ personalities.

It's all about the detail

Once you’ve created the foundations, you can move onto the furnishings for your guineas’ pad.

Guinea pigs need lots of stimulation and entertainment; the more for them to do, the better. They love running around, darting in and out of tunnels, up and down ramps and snuggling away in hiding-holes.

Tunnels can be made to any length to suit their new house and can be made from plastic or material. These can easily be made from left over fleece blankets wrapped around cardboard.

g 5Create your own ramps that lead to a higher part of the cage. These can be made out of safe-to-use wood or plastic. These materials can also be used to create small platforms or igloo style dens for the guineas to hide in. Take note that your guinea pigs will need an area within their new house to hide away and sleep in. This could be a ‘hutch’ that is placed in a corner of the accommodation or a purpose-built undercover section.

As long as the house and materials you use for your guinea pigs’ accommodation are safe and pose no risks to their health or wellbeing, you can set up their new home however you choose. Section it off or keep it flat with more floor space; it’s up to you. As long as the GPs have plenty of room and stimulation, they will be happy and living a wonderful life.

For more information about creating a guinea pig palace, visit these websites: