“I could throttle him!”

The young woman dragged her Border Collie into the clinic.

“He just pulled my daughter onto the road. If a car had been coming she would be dead! I want one of those Halti’s that controls your dog when he is on the lead.”

My veterinary nurse fitted and sold her a Halti, and then a second one five minutes later when the Collie had chewed through the first.

But an appointment with our behavioural trainer wasn’t made.

This owner didn’t just need a product; she needed help with training.

Failure to get that right could mean an early death sentence for this dog. This episode was a failure in our delivery of care. We didn’t think of the whole picture.

Halifax Veterinary Centre exists to enhance the relationship that you enjoy with your pet.

We do that by increasing your awareness of ways you can help keep your pet happy and healthy for as long as possible.

To achieve this we have to promote a different level of veterinary care than the traditional ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ approach. We have to look at the whole picture.

In pet health, as in human health, the biggest gains come in preventing problems before they occur, sometimes called a wellness approach because the focus is on keeping the pet well.

We are familiar with this approach with vaccination, which has controlled many previously devastating diseases of pets.

But there are even bigger benefits to be gained through a comprehensive wellness approach – looking at the whole picture.

How do we deliver that at Halifax?

Our wellness approach focuses on making you a successful pet owner – making good decisions on all aspects of pet care. This means we are your partner in caring for your pet and the biggest part of our job is sharing important information with you.

  • We sit down with you for consults
  • we take longer
  • we discuss with you just what is going on
  • we help you make the best decisions
  • we keep comprehensive records
  • and we give you full copies of the case notes in hard copy or by email
  • this includes relevant photos, Xrays, weight graphs

Key areas to focus on include pet selection, behaviour management, nutrition, parasite control, oral and skin health, and early detection of illness or problems.

If you do these well, it is easier to enjoy a close relationship with your pet.

On the other hand, it is clearly harder to enjoy a pet to which you are allergic, which destroys your garden and your furniture, pees on your carpet, has bowel problems and flatulence, worms and fleas, rotten breath and a greasy, smelly skin!

That many pet owners in my experience put up with many of these problems in their pets is a testimony to the love our pets evoke in us.


Starting out right.

The Halifax team will be able to guide you in selecting an appropriate pet for your lifestyle.

We may be able to recommend good local breeders of the type of pet you choose.

If you have just obtained a pet a prompt visit for a thorough check-up is well worthwhile. Sometimes significant pre-existing problems are found.

There are some blood tests available now for breed-specific heritable diseases. These are often worth doing. This is a rapidly developing field and the next decade will see a battery of these tests come on stream.

They not only help selection decisions but also help the management of the pet to minimise the impacts of a genetic disease.


Behaviour management needs to start right away.

This is good for kittens and especially important for dogs.

Puppies and owners get great benefit from the puppy classes. Halifax was a pioneer of puppy classes with Duncan Graham bringing the concept from the USA in 1992. Todd Field is continuing the fine tradition.

They are lots of fun and make coming to the clinic a positive experience for the whole family.


Excellent nutrition is the basis of good health.

The food you feed your pet should at least be AFFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) tested.

This information is found with the nutritional information on the side of the packet.

AFFCO testing shows that the diet is adequate to maintain health if fed exclusively for six months.

I believe there is a difference between adequate and optimum nutrition.

The marked improvement seen in dogs with joint problems fed prescription diets such as Hills j/d shows that enhanced nutrition can make a major impact on a pet’s well-being.

Unfortunately there are as yet no long-term studies that have defined optimum nutrition.

It is likely to vary from pet to pet depending on such things as genetic make-up, exercise patterns, allergies and oral health.

At Halifax we aim to tailor the best diet for your pet’s needs.


The biggest dietary mistake most of us make is eating too much.

Obesity is a major issue for our pets too.

An extensive 1996 survey in the United States showed that 35% of cats over a year of age were moderately or severely overweight and found that obesity linked to a range of serious diseases. Relatively modest obesity (about 20% above lean weight) in Labradors caused lifespan decreases of nearly two years, and marked increase in and earlier onset of arthritis.

Expect us to be very proactive in helping you manage this issue with your pets.


Keeping your pet nice to be near.

As close-knit members of our families we want to know our pets are kept parasite free using safe and effective products.

We want good oral hygiene, healthy and fresh smelling skin, and no discharges from eyes, ears or anal glands.

Not dealing properly with these issues now can tip the balance against a pet when a serious health decision is faced in the future.


Mobility is often a major quality of life issue for pets.

Pets rarely complain about chronic pain, but they slow down, lose their zest for life, may limp or seem stiff, and may have restless sleep.

Many of these signs are interpreted merely as the pet getting old or slowing down.

At Halifax we are proactive in preserving mobility and the enjoyment of life for your pet for as long as possible.


Early detection of disease greatly improves success in treating it.

At Halifax we advise annual health checks for your pet, and more often after middle age.

Some probing questions will be asked, backed by a thorough physical examination of all body systems.

Contrary to the popular saying, what you don’t know can hurt you.

This is especially true of lumps and bumps.

“Waiting to see how it grows” can be a recipe for disaster with cancerous lumps.

Lumps are best managed by testing with fine needle aspiration and cytology as soon as they appear.

Many masses can be accurately identified in clinic using this technique.

If benign they are measured and mapped.

You are be given a copy of this tumour map so that if other lumps appear you can recognise them as something new and get them checked.


These regular health checks often turn up dental disease that is unrecognised by the owner.

Good oral hygiene and early detection and treatment are the recipes for a healthy mouth.

Periodontal disease (disease of the tooth-gum attachement) occurs in about 70% of pets over two years of age.


Screening tests

As pets approach middle age – 6 years in a large breed dog; 8 years in a small dog or cat – there is a greater need for screening tests of blood and urine to detect underlying disease or deterioration in organs.

Unsuspected urinary tract infections, deteriorating kidney function and quietly grumbling liver disease are all common.

All benefit greatly from treatment too.

Expect your wellness-focussed team at Halifax to recommend screening tests.


There are now very clever disease-specific diets for managing a broad range of diseases.

These use a ‘food as medicine’ approach and can have substantial impact in settling that grumbling liver, slowing the rate of kidney deterioration, and even improving brain function in old dogs showing signs of ‘dogzheimers’!

Regular monitoring through physical exams and blood or urine tests is still required to get the best out of the ‘food as medicine’ prescription diets.


Does wellness care cost more?

It is difficult to say.

Generally speaking, prevention is better and cheaper than cure.

Some elements of wellness care, like keeping your pet lean, give a fantastic return for very little expense.

It is also true in health care generally that the biggest cost comes from getting it wrong.

Our proactive approach improves the chances of detecting and sorting out problems sooner.

Having said that, health issues will keep on cropping up in our pets and smarter solutions are becoming more costly.

Pet insurance is a way of managing that expense so that the bigger unexpected costs can be covered.

The New Zealand pet health market is still under-insured compared with Europe and North America.

This becomes a wellness issue when the cost of repairing, say, a broken leg forces a second-rate treatment option or even euthanasia.


Hans Andersen