Dr Christine Hawke: Making a difference in animal dentistry

The desire by vets to improve their patients’ health and reduce pain is universal.

Have you ever considered how recognising and treating dental disease in our pets can dramatically improve their quality of life? This realisation was the catalyst that sparked Dr Christine Hawke’s interest in dentistry.

In a recent interview, Christine gave me a candid account of her beginnings in veterinary dentistry – an area that was not always her favourite part of veterinary practice!

“I was always petrified of surgery and hated dentistry as I didn’t understand it; I used to have many tactics for avoiding doing dentals (even house-calls were preferable and that is saying something!). I was a budding internal medicine vet, had just completed my PhD in immunogenetics, of all things, and starting a clinical teaching position at the University of Sydney when I had to choose between running either the spey or dental clinic. Having sworn I’d never do another spey in my life, I had to learn dentistry on the fly. I was shocked to realise how much oral disease our small animals suffer with, how they do not express their pain, and the sheer extent of dental disease as a welfare issue in our pets. The difference we can make to our patients’ health and comfort with good dental care is astounding.”

I asked Christine what parts of veterinary dentistry she finds interesting and what she believes general practitioners would benefit from learning about and performing better?

“I am really interested in developmental issues in puppies (and just generally interested in puppies of course!!) – they are far more common than most of us realise. The malocclusions are the most obvious ones – we see a lot of linguoverted or ‘base narrow’ canines, overshot or undershot jaws and the like, especially as we have bred dogs to have ‘designer’ head shapes with less attention paid to their functionality. GPs can pick these up with a really good physical examination. If GPs know when treatment is required or not, and the treatment options available, they can not only limit the amount of pain and trauma but decrease the long-term issues these dogs have by offering early intervention.

The other big, underrated thing GPs can start doing is counting the teeth in dogs at six months (it’s easy when they are under anaesthesia for desexing). Unerupted teeth seem to be becoming more common, especially with the rise in brachycephalic breeds, and about a third of these will give rise to a destructive dentigerous cyst during the dog’s life. A simple dental xray can rule out whether there is an unerupted tooth, and early removal of the tooth can literally save the jaw from an inoperable pathological fracture down the track.”



With respect to dental extractions, Christine learnt from experience rather than just reading a textbook and has the following advice:

“ I have learned that extractions are not as difficult as they seem if you plan them well (just like any surgery) – my tip is to use anatomy and physics (the easy physics, like straight lines, clear pathways and which way to use the force for good rather than evil, not the hard stuff like quantum entanglement) to make your job easy. Knowing how and why things go wrong (and it is usually the same mistakes we see, over and over again) is the best way to avoid dental disasters.”

For new graduates who want to improve their knowledge and skills in veterinary dentistry, Christine has the following advice:

“Take your time and plan your extractions. Don’t rush and don’t lose your patience. Stick to the basic principles and, as you get more experience, you will get faster. You also don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Use the experience of those around you to pick up tips and improve your skills. If you don’t have mentors around you to help, look for postgraduate training, especially those with good hands-on workshops to hone your skills.”

What does Christine do on her days off?

“I have kids, need I say more? I am a skilled ‘muber’ driver (‘mum’s uber’). But when I get my own spare time, I do like to write fiction and I love to read, especially books that are on actual paper rather than a screen.”



Want to learn more from Christine, and share her passion for veterinary dentistry?

Join us at Practical Skills Bootcamp with a nuts and bolts curriculum specifically designed for experienced vets, new grads, or those returning to work. We’ll get you fit for the job with topics in abdominal surgery, dentistry and animal behaviour. Along with wet-labs, we have communication and meditation topics in this 3-day workshop jam packed full of theory and practical sessions you can implement immediately in your clinic.


Christine can be contacted on 1300 838 336 and www.sydneypetdentistry.com.au



The “Two Traceys” – Legends of animal behaviour

At VetPrac we love teamwork, and thrive on it, from planning workshops to facilitating workshop participants to work together in their learning experience! When I met Dr Tracey Henderson and Tracy Irons a few years ago, I was blown away by their working relationship; it’s certainly something to witness – a perfect example of a team achieving more than the sum of its parts. There’s a reason why within VetPrac circles we call them the 2 Traceys!

Dr Tracey Henderson always had pets and loved them; she grew up wanting to be a farmer, but her parents wouldn’t let her come home on the farm as they wanted her to ‘strive higher’. And the rest is history! When she graduated in 2000, she started puppy preschool at her first job at Willunga Veterinary Services. That is where her passion for behaviour unexpectantly grew! And grow it did! The more she learnt and consulted, the more passionate she became. Tracey finds it so rewarding being able to help pets and their owners live their best lives with mental illness. Since 2004 Tracey has been offering behaviour consultations – initially at Willunga Veterinary Services, and then at Australian Veterinary Behaviour Services, which she co-founded with Tracy Irons in 2012. She left GP practice about 5 years ago to do 100% behaviour – now she can live and breathe it!!!

Tracey and Tracy have known each other for many years, but probably really became friends when they were both pregnant – their two girls were born 1 day apart in 2008! And again, the rest is history. When I asked Tracey about her working relationship with Tracy, she said “Tracy and I get along really well both in the consulting room, the clinic and presenting workshops. We are both as passionate as each other about animal behaviour. Her strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa – we bounce off each other so well. The secret of a successful working relationship includes similar motivation level and work ethic, good communication, honesty, kindness and support.”

Tracy Irons has worked for 8 years at the RSPCA as a behaviour trainer and kennel supervisor, and became a Delta trainer in order to have the qualifications to work with a behaviour vet! (No prizes for guessing which vet that might have been!). She recalls that she first met Tracey when she came to assist at the RSPCA. Their friendship and love for behaviour developed from then. They call themselves the “behaviour nerds”. Tracy says that the secret to their relationship is honesty, dedication and lots of laughter… and wine!!!!



I asked them both if they had noticed any behavioural problem that is significantly more common now, compared to say, 10 years ago?

Tracey said that over the last 10 years she’s been seeing a lot more anxiety cases in general, but that this is probably because pet owners are more aware that there is help available, and behavioural medicine is becoming more widespread and referred more often.

Tracy has noticed an increase of diagnosing dogs with “hyperarousal disorder”. She says that “instead of being labelled as a “naughty dog or disobedient” these dogs are suffering emotionally. And the owners are so grateful for our support and assistance”

In Tracey’s opinion, recent veterinary graduates receive inadequate undergraduate training in behaviour. She believes that they aren’t adequately trained to advise pet owners about behavioural issues, “which is concerning because many pet owners turn to their vet as their first port of call for a behavioural problem”. She is also concerned that they may not receive adequate training in animal handling to be able to safely manage “difficult” dogs and cats in their everyday GP practice case load. At Roseworthy University in South Australia Tracey is allocated just 2 hours to teach dog behaviour to the 5th years, and another 2 hours for cat behaviour.

Experiencing the 2 Traceys in a workshop, it’s hard not to develop a keen interest in behaviour.

When asked about what they enjoy about teaching, Tracey said “I am so passionate about behavioural medicine and educating people on how to recognize mental illness and understand pet’s behaviour in general, which in turn helps pets improve their quality of life. I love watching participants get excited and motivated as they learn throughout a workshop.”

Tracy says “I enjoy the moment when participants learn something that they haven’t learnt before. And from then the participant has a keen interest in behaviour.”

Believe it or not, the 2 Traceys do enjoy their leisure time in different ways!

Tracey likes to walk her dog in the mornings to start her day off well. She likes to spend time with her horse and her dogs, and loves spending time with her family. She also loves camping, with no internet or devices, and off the grid!



Tracy and her husband have just started sailing racing nacras which is a great opportunity for them to spend time together. They have 5 children between them, so they spend a lot time on the river water skiing, and down at the beach.



To experience firsthand this amazing duo of Traceys, come along to the VetPrac Practical Skills Bootcamp on October 16-18th at UQ Gatton. This workshop is open to new veterinarians, those returning to work after a break, or experienced veterinarians looking for a refresher course. We’ll cover everything from animal behaviour to abdominal surgery, dentistry, communication, and so much more!



Dr Tracey Henderson and Tracy Irons can be contacted at Australian Veterinary Behaviour Services (AVBS), 116 Main Road, McLaren Vale, SA 5171

Phone: 08 7480 0597 Email: info@avbs.net.au



Dr Peter Young – A world of experience for younger generations

Dr Peter Young is a private practice surgeon and he’s joining the education team at not one but two VetPrac workshops in 2020. These workshops are an opportunity for veterinarians to get hands-on experience under the tutelage of industry experts, such as Dr Peter Young, who has been working in the industry for almost 40 years!

Peter’s career commenced in dairy work before he moved on to general and referral surgical practice in regional NSW. He spent almost a decade as a surgical educator at Charles Sturt University while working as a referral surgeon for their small animal clinic and completing research. He’s now working a shorter week as a general surgeon in Albury and we’re thankful for the opportunity to have him part of our educator teams.

Dr Young will join us on the 17th-19th April for Practical Skills Bootcamp and again in June for the Patella & Stifle Surgery workshop. We look forward to sharing more about Peter over the coming months. Here’s a glimpse of the legend that is Dr Peter Young.


Pete lives life to the full, enjoying competitive karate, trekking in Nepal, and volunteering overseas for Vets Beyond Borders and the Iditarod Dog Sled Race. Last year he travelled to Cape York – I’m sure he’s got plenty of fascinating stories to share from those adventures!

Pete has worked in both private practice and in university settings, as a lecturer, researcher and surgeon. In a university setting he found the case load to be challenging and interesting, however sometimes he found university clinical practice to be frustrating because the bean counters often do not have an appreciation of the clinical needs regarding staff, equipment and the need to do after-hours. He finds private practice to be very rewarding if you are in a supportive well-equipped practice with good professional standards.

When Pete was asked what advice he would give new graduates or those vets are aren’t confident with performing surgery, he cheekily stated “To appreciate that the first 25 chapters of Tobias and Johnson are critical to confidence and success (☹- sorry for that). Work in a supportive practice that will invest in appropriate level of equipment. Don’t let your enthusiasm exceed your ability. Take every opportunity to have mentorship and every case is an opportunity to learn something new.”



Join Dr Peter Young at Practical Skills Bootcamp this 17th-19th April at UQ Gatton. This workshop is suitable for experienced veterinarians in search of a refresher course, new grads, and veterinarians returning to work after a break.

We’ve crammed a lot of information into this 3-day workshop with topics in surgery, dentistry, animal behaviour, communication, and so much more! Seven other educators are joining forces with Dr Young and class size is limited to ensure participants receive the attention required to have them job-fit and able to immediately implement the skills in practice.

Register now for Practical Skills Bootcamp before the workshop fills or download the brochure for more information.



Animal Behaviour Vet Tips

Dr Tracey Henderson and Tracy Irons are directors of Adelaide Veterinary Behaviour Services and we’re looking forward to their fine company at our Practical Skills Bootcamp in April.

Tracey & Tracy are the expert educators in the Animal Behaviour component of Bootcamp with plenty of tips and techniques for interacting with animals to minimise stress to them, the pet owner, and yourself.

They’ve put together these wonderful Vet Tips as a sample of what you can look forward to if you register for Practical Skills Bootcamp.

VET TIP #1:  Safety advice for cat aggression

* DO NOT attempt to handle a cat when it is frightened or aggressive – as you risk injury to yourself
* Cats can remain aroused for 24-48 hours.
* Don’t use punishment to control aggression.
* Prevent the feline from coming into contact with the target of aggression.
* If it is placed in the situation, ensure an escape route.
* When this is impossible – cat should be separated or supervised/controlled (may need to use a harness and a leash).
* Refer refer refer!!! Cat aggression can cause serious injury to people and other animals.


VET TIP #2:  Behavioural  medicine – is it important?

Behaviour problems are the number one reason for the surrender and euthanasia of dogs and cats in Australia. This is a very sad fact that can be reduced by education of vets, vet nurses, pet owners and people involved in the animal industry.

Vets in general practice are often the first port of call for pet owners. Greater than 50% of new puppy owner’s questions at the first visit are about behaviour. Pet owners ‘assume or expect’ that vets know about animal behaviour. It is important for clinic staff to know the basics about behavioural medicine, so they can at least direct owners to the appropriate professional for help.


VET TIP #3:  The “Alpha/dominance” theory

This is a widespread and regularly used behaviour theory. It originates from studies based on wolves, done in the 1940’s. These were the first studies of their kind. These studies were a good start, but later research has essentially disproved most of the findings. So, there is NO SCIENCE supporting this outdated theory. However, the theory is widespread and currently still regularly used by many dog trainers.

Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) and wolves (Canis lupus) separated over 12,000 years ago.



Join us at Practical Skills Bootcamp on April 17th-19th 2020 at UQ Gatton. This Bootcamp is suitable for experienced veterinarians requiring a refresher, new grads, and those returning to work. Our expert team of educators will cover topics in Animal Behaviour, Abdominal Surgery, Dentistry, and so much more!



Places are limited and this workshop is proving to be very popular so REGISTER NOW to join Bootcamp or Download the Brochure for more details!