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Which support services are available for pet owners

Our pets can bring great joy and fulfilment to our lives, but being a pet owner can also be challenging at times. So it’s good to know there are resources we can turn to for sound advice and support, whatever the situation. Your most important resource will always be a veterinarian, but there are many helpful resources and services you can utilise as well, in addition to regular veterinary checkups. Here is a sample of well-known and respected sites that owners can refer to for support:

The RSPCA is Australia’s oldest and most trusted animal welfare charity, and operates the RSPCA Knowledgebase, where pet owners can find answers to commonly (and not so commonly!) asked questions about their companion animals, farmed and wild animals, and more. For dogs and cats, there are sections on health issues, behaviour, training and general care, including the specific needs of puppies and kittens and how to safely introduce pets to each other and to children. These articles are developed by the RSPCA’s expert animal welfare science team to provide awareness of the care needs of pets and to educate owners about potential health issues, always with a focus on the importance of direct veterinary care.

Shelters and adopting a pet

For those who are thinking of bringing a new dog or cat into their home, RSPCA Adopt a Pet has a search engine of available animals in every state and territory who are available for adoption at RSPCA shelters. The section on caring for your pet is invaluable, as it has reminders about all aspects of care and includes training videos. There is education for potential new owners on safe ways to find that special dog or cat and factors to consider in choosing a pet whose needs will be compatible with their lifestyle and situation. Of course, trained RSPCA shelter staff will also work with you to find the right pet for you when you visit in person. Likewise, the websites of state and territory RSPCAs (NSW, Victoria, Queensland, ACT, South Australia, Northern Territory, Western Australia and Tasmania) have sections on adoption, pet care, health issues (including when medical help is required), behaviour and training. These sites also have a lot of helpful information, including lost pets, RSPCA veterinary services, temporary foster care and how to keep pets safe during disasters and emergencies, with contact details for local support services.

Pet care and resources

Another source of pet care information is the Australian Veterinary Association, which provides online articles on pet ownership. The veterinarian-written guides include puppy care (covering bedding, socialisation, feeding, behavioural issues and training), kitten care (handling, training, litter trays, keeping cats indoors, bathing) and a range of other topics including behavioural issues, toileting, safe handling, procedures such as nail clipping, common health problems, training, socialisation, enrichment, dental care, grooming and euthanasia. The websites of most veterinary specialist and emergency centres also provide advice on pet care issues, such as what to do in an emergency and how to perform necessary procedures advised by a veterinarian, such as cleaning eyes and ears, giving pills and administering drops.

Reputable adoption agencies always offer information about pet care and support for owners, and these are useful for those with both new and existing pets. PetRescue is a national resource with an online adoption platform used by over 1,000 rescue organisations. It also helps current owners to keep their pets by providing information about free resources to deal with common challenges such as renting or travelling with them, problem behaviours, introducing a new baby and financial hardship. Best of all, PetRescue offers crisis support and safe short-term accommodation for pets during times of hardship. The Companion Animal Network Australia is a similar resource and provides links to adoption and foster services in most states and territories, including information on renting with pets and keeping pets in aged-care accommodation.

Training options

Training is a crucial area of pet care, both for you and your companion animal’s safety as well as their wellbeing. There are numerous trainers advertising their services, but it’s important for owners to understand that reward-based training is the RSPCA recommended way to train pets. There are still trainers who use cruel punishment-based methods that can cause pain and suffering and risk worsening a pet’s behaviour, so training organisations that only recommend and use reward-based training are the safest and most effective sources of advice.

The Pet Professional Guild Australia offers free online advice on puppy socialisation and training, including training videos, management of behavioural issues (such as barking and biting), kitten care, enrichment and socialisation, claw trimming, scratching, fear and anxiety, aggression and night-time wakefulness. The Delta Institute is an accrediting body for trainers who use only positive reinforcement training and offers a database search for Delta Dog trainers along with a guide for finding a good training class. For owners of pets whose behavioural needs go beyond training and require veterinary treatment, there is an Australia-wide list of registered specialists in veterinary behavioural medicine and veterinarians with College Membership in Veterinary Behavioural Medicine.

Emergency services

Unfortunately, as careful as we can be, sometimes pets are exposed to toxic substances. The Australian Animal Poisons Helpline is a free poisons helpline for pet owners that is open 9 to 5 seven days a week (with a fee for after-hours calls). Emergency veterinarians and poisons specialist pharmacists offer first-aid advice, risk assessment and triage recommendations to owners whose animals have been exposed to a poisonous substance (including snake venom). The website contains immediate first aid advice for owners, information about multiple poisons (including which mushrooms are poisonous!) and details required for the telephone risk assessment.

A virtual helping hand

For owners who need additional support with their dog or cat, there is no better person to approach than a veterinarian, and preferably a trusted regular veterinarian who knows the pet and their history. Online advice is always general, so if you have concerns, the best approach is to call your veterinary practice and follow advice from there.

The unexpected can always happen of course, so having pet insurance is a great way to help your pet receive treatment for eligible accidents and illness. If you’re with RSPCA Pet Insurance, a portion of first-year premiums will go towards supporting the RSPCA.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.