Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What's the Deal With Catnip?

Many species of felines seem to love eating catnip, it has even been used as bait to hunt lynx and bobcats. It effects many species of felid, including domestic cats.

The catnip response involves ingestion, rubbing, rolling and periods of gazing into space, and lasts for about ten minutes on average. However not all cats show the response and some are completely indifferent to catnip. Kittens under 8 weeks of age also typically show no response.

The active ingredient of catnip is nepetalactone.  There are a few theories as to exactly why it provokes this response.

Some feel catnip activates a response related to courting females. It is more effective on cats of reproductive age.  However it does not actually produce a sexcual response and so may be a more general category of social signal.

Others feel catnip simply produces a pleasurable feeling, perhaps similar to the intake of marijuana in humans.

There is no evidence that catnip is at all harmful to cats.

  • Hart, B.L. (1974). The catnip response. Feline Practice, Nov-Dec, 8, 12.
  • Hill, J.O. et al (1976). Species-characteristic responses to catnip by undomesticated felids. J Chem Ecol 2, 239-253.
See also:

Saturday, December 25, 2010

2011: year of the Metal Rabbit

By the Chinese Zodiac, 2011 is a year of the rabbit. The rabbit is a friendly introvert and a good teacher. A rabbit year should be calm, peaceful and a good time to work by diplomacy and compromise. I hope that will make it a good year for animal welfare advocacy.

It seems that, more and more, animal welfare is an issue of side, or extremes, attack ads and entrenched positions. It is sometimes difficult to move the discussion to a place of calm, friendly, middle-of-the-road discussion. But in many cases this is where the solutions are to be found.

The zodiac also has a five year cycle of the elements. And 2011 will be metal, hence, a year of the metal rabbit. This might help those of us one the more moderate path stick to it with determination rather than getting pulled into the tit for tat and blame game of competing interest groups.

Let's hope so, anyway.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Simon's Cat

Cat in the Christmas tree = ...accept the things you cannot change....

Friday, December 3, 2010

Chris-Mouse Cookies for the Win!

This post is a shout out to Bioserv, which is a company that makes food and toys for laboratory animals.  At the AALAS convention they were giving away mouse-shaped cookie cutters. Cute, right?

Here I am cutting out the mouses.  I can't say 'mice' because it would ruin the pun.  You see, these are 'Chris-mouses'.

Here they are with some icing.

Now all plated up with ginger bread and sugar-cinnamon Devon cream at the AVMA Christmas Party.

Add a little decor....

Aaaaaand... won the prize for "presentation" :)  Yay!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Veterinarian's Oath

Almost four years ago I took a position at the American Veterinary Medical Association as an Animal Welfare Scientist.  I did this in part because the veterinary profession is hugely influential when it comes to the treatment of animals, they are widely respected as animal experts.  I also felt that veterinarians were becoming more progressive when it came to animal welfare issues and had the potential to be a real. agent of change

I think this increased willingness to step forward was signalled in the recent changes made to the veterinarians oath.  Just a few words here and there, but a giant leap in meaning and engagement with animal welfare and the opportunities we have to prevent rather than only treat animal suffering.  The added words are underlined.  I suppose quite a few vet schools and practices will need to get new plaques made, but I--for one--think it is well worth the investment.
"Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge."


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dr. Emily's Incomplete List if Unproductive Animal Welfare Discussions (and Stock Answers)

1) What exactly "is" Animal Welfare?
It's like art or--if your prefer--pornography.  People know it when they see it.  Having more precise definitions in more precise settings is fine, but don't expect the social issue to conform to your chosen definition.  Reality creates semantics, not the other way around.  And in most cases we can get along just fine addressing issues without paragraph long quizzling "defintions', the creation of which is often used as a substitute for real action.

2) Why focus on animals when so many people in the world are suffering?
I'll focus on what I want to focus on, and you can focus on what you want to focus on.  But, frankly, a compassionate and just society tends to extend consideration and protection to all, to the best of its ability and resources.  I am just one of those resources. So are you.

3) But I see that you [eat meat, leave your dog at home while you go to work, insert something else questionable here], so how dare you tell me what to do?
I try and tell people about the consequences of their choices and actions, what they do is then up to them.  Like them I am not perfect, I am sometimes even hypocritical.  Feel free to call me on it, but try and keep it somewhat on topic and be sure to do the same to yourself.  Then we might both learn something and make some better choices in the future.  Nobody is perfect, which is why everybody has room for improvement.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


So there I am, wandering around the exhibit hall watching people shamelessly snag freebies, and what do I see... me! I think the blue scrubs really bring out the color of my eyes. The eagle-eyed amongst you might see that this is the very picture I used the profile from in my business card design.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Who Scoops the Poop?

A recent study by Deborah Wells investigated who is more likely to pick up after their dog.  Basically they followed dog walkers and noted their sex and leash use, and when the dog pooped they recorded whether the owner picked it up.  Then they intercepted the same people leaving the park and asked their age and income level. It seems that those most likely to scoop the poop were wealthier females with leashed dogs.  Make of that what you will.  What might have been interesting is if they has asked the same people if they picked up after their dog or not and saw what factors best predicted lying about it....

  • Wells, D.L. (2006). Factors influencing owners' reactions to their dogs fouling. Environment and Behavior, 38, 707-714.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Robot Cat Wakes Up

I was once asked how to respond when someone sends you a novel manuscript that is... not good.  That is, in fact, double plus ungood. 

My suggestion was: "Have you considered self-publishing; I hear it is a wave of the future."

Yes, I do in fact have a point. 

What should you say when some-one fundamentally unsuited to owning a cat asks you what kind of cat they should get? "I think you should get a robot cat; I hear they are the wave of the future."

The as-yet-unnamed robot cat is shown in his post guarding the candy bowl.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


There is, apparently, a sl... sexy Halloween costume version of just about everything.

 Including, I kid you not, "sexy vet nurse". 

Yeah, this makes Pet Vet Barbie look positively puritan.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Will bake for appliances

Hopefully tonight I will get a friend's cast off TV. In return they will get chocolate cat, cinnamon fox, and custard snail biscuits.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cat 'n' Bat Cookies

Getting ready for Halloween with chocolate cookies.

I am a better psychologist than I am a baker, honest.

Actually the bear-shaped sugar cookies I made yesterday were better than this... but I didn't have my new camera then.

OK Go, with dogs....

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Do You Know These Cats?

If so, I may have found your photo CD on the side of the road in the Chicago suburbs.  Drop me an email and I can either post you the CD or email the files. 

BTW, cute cats :)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where have all the cowboys gone?

First, there was the story that nobody could figure out how to contain a heavily pregnant heifer at a fair in California without using lethal force (It's called a rope, people).  Then the news that a bunch of people at the Royal Adelaide Show (Australia) standing in a hot tent with lots of cows could not work out why their eyes were all itchy.  (It's called cow pee.  Cow pee + heat = ammonia).
To quote the singer Paula Cole: where have all the cowboys (and girls) gone?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why do dogs wear collars, but cats don't?

One reasons that is often given for collarless cats is that cats just won't wear collars.  Is this really true?  A recent study suggests three out of four cats will wear a collar, and most cats exceeded their owners estimates when it came to collar acceptance. 

Despite my prediction that pet collars may eventually become obsolete with the improvement of microchip technology, they are currently the best method for ensuring that you get your lost pet back.  They also signal to anyone who comes across you cats that it is not feral or 'up for grabs' for them to adopt. 

I think that, if we are honest, the use of collars for dogs only is just a tradition--and reflects the archaic notion of the cats as a lower value animal kept more for pest control than as a companion.  And it is about time that animals were valued and cared for in a way that reflects their current role, not some notion from the agrarian past. 

Even indoor cats can get out, and may be in more distress when they do.  So it might be time to consider a collar and tag to help your cat find his or her way home. Just make sure it fits loosely enough to slide two finger underneath it, and has a break-away feature in case it gets caught on something.

And ignore that initial offended look, most cats will quickly get used to their new fashion accessory....

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Animal Welfare and the Case of Red Riding Hood

Recently a video emerged of a young girl killing small puppies by throwing them in a river.  The response was intense and predictable.  Because animal abuse is is evil, it stands to reason that the people who do it are monsters. The comments on news articles include judgments like "put her behind bars" and "inherent sadism, cruelty and disregard for life will remain unchanged".  Celebrity condemnations of the girl came from the likes of Twilight star actor Kellan Lutz.

In order to rescue the girl from the severe hostility a story that the puppies were recovered from the river and lived was apparently faked by family and neighbors. Because you don't totally give up on a teen girl even when she does something this bad--you try to help her learn it was wrong, and learn how she should behave towards vulnerable animals. Our approach to animal cruelty as a moral stain leaves us with little choice but to condemn the guilty, often as congenitally abnormal and deserving of cruelty themselves.  By separating out a certain group (abusers) and saying they deserve all they get, they should receive no sympathy--we are delivering exactly the wrong lesson to people who have the same attitude to animals.

If forced to choose between puppies and children, most communities will choose their children and defend that choice. But this is a false dilemma. The child that hurts animals is also a victim in need of help. They should be offered compassionate correction, hope, and the option of changing their ways and being again fully embraced by their local and digital community.  For those who condemn her acts and then attack her are displaying a rank hypocrisy that should not be accepted. "Sick Bitch" a commenter says, oblivious of the innate nonsense of denigrating the girl by comparing her to a being of low value... a dog.

We need to teach the animal abusing child what it feels like to look at cruel acts and be horrified, not what is feels like to be abused (a feeling that many of them will already be far too familiar with).  We need to be part of a cycle of compassion, not participate in a cycle of abuse.

Animal abuse is harmful to animals, and to abusers, and to the community.  It is a public health issue like drunk driving or smoking, not a subjective "moral" health issue like promiscuity or swearing. Only by managing to condemn the act without utterly demonising the perpetrator will we encourage people to see the early signs of trouble in themselves, their children and others around them--and to intervene to help and correct these aberrations.  Only then are we likely to make more headway in developing compassionate, non-violent, and inclusive communities in which both animals and people and nurtured and protected.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Good Sherpherd is not a Robot

Traditionally the person who cares for stock is the epitome of the careful and caring working.  The good shepherd watches his flock at night, the cowboy carries the weak calf on his own back.  But a recent blog post, Workers, robots and progress in the food industry, seems to me to be making a rather different argument:

1) Farm and slaughterhouse work is undesirable because it is long hours or hard manual labor.
2) Therefore we use immigrant labor, often including illegal immigrants who may be underpaid and unfairly exploited.
3) It might be better if we use robots.

I can follow this argument from the point of view of a current farmer responding to immediate pressures.  But as a person who is able to step back a bit from the melee of making a living in the current economic climate, I disagree with it at every step.  This is not just because I can "afford to be unpragmatic".  But because our society should, and must, do better than this.

1) Farm and slaughterhouse work is important and we need to find a way to reflect this in the working conditions and pay.   
2) Whether the worker is a citizen, an immigrant or even an illegal immigrant they must be treated the same. 
3) Robots are ultimately tools not replacements for people.  The robot should allow that human care to be freed up from repetitive tasks but skilled human supervision should be available at all times.

Raising animals, moving animals and killing animals is a task that must be carried out mindfully by caring, skilled humans--including the direct involvement of the owner (or their proxy, the manager) of the animals or the facility.  If a workplace has become so intolerable that the owners will not willingly spend a lot of time there, and no human could be reasonably expected to do the job, the answer is not to replace them with a robot. 

A farm or slaughterhouse not fit for workers is not fit for animals either.  It should not be patched with technology, but fixed with the intelligent application of ethics, psychology, business expertise and technology. In some cases this is not, I can clearly see, an easy task.  But any step that excuses the lack of skilled stockmen in the raising, transport and killing of animals is only going to delay and impede progress to the real solution.

A good shepherd may choose to use an augur to distribute feed, a web cam to watch by night or robotics to milk a cow or collect an egg.   The one who watches, who cares, who moves and  who kills an animal must be a stockperson who cares about that animals--but to appropriately care for any animal you must also care about that animal.  That is why the good shepherd is not a robot.

I do not think we have arrived at a place where it would be easier to teach a robot to care, than teach a person to.  I do not think we have arrived at a place where we cannot hire and train caring people, where we cannot oversee and guide their work so that it retains that quality.  And if we have, then it lends legitimacy to the demands of those who question whether we should farm animals at all. I can, will and do defend the good shepherds, the good farmers, the humane slaughterhouse.  But if an industry in solidarity demands that the consumer choose between the bad shepherd (or the shepherd who is not clearly good) or no shepherd at all, they may be surprised by the outcome.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Open Source WTF

I recently received an spammy email about a new open source veterinary journal called Veterinary Science Development.  I am, in general, supportive of open source.  Ever since I stopped working for large universities the sheer inaccessibility of most recent research reports has become very clear to me. However in the course of reading the email my skepticism kicked in, big time.

"...Publication in our journals means that your research articles will be available for free access online being immediately citable...."


"...All research articles published by PAGEPress are subject to a rigorous peer review...."


"Open access publishing does have its costs. Since PAGEPress does not have subscription charges for its research content it can defray publishing costs from the Article Processing Charges (APC)."

Wait.  What?

"This is because PAGEPress believes that the interests of the scientific community can best be served by an immediate, worldwide, unlimited, open access to the full text of research articles."

That's fine for the 'scientific community'.  But what about us poor schlobs who are trying to pay the bills, get tenure, or live on the meagre salaries of full time scientists?  Why are we paying for this?

"The Article Processing Charge for publication of each article in our journal is EUR 500,00 for Original Articles, Rapid Communications and Review Articles. Editorials, Case Histories and Letters are entitled for a 50% discount."

Yeah, you just lost me.  If I have a paper that will hold up to 'rigorous peer review' why in holy heck would I pay someone to publish it?

"Veterinary Science Development (eISSN 2038-9701) is a new Open Access, online-only, peer-reviewed journal published by PAGEPress, Pavia, Italy."

Okay, so I go to the website and see their idea of a good rigorous source for a definition of Veterinary Medicine is Wikipedia.  Uh-huh.  I searched the editorial team for someone with a postgraduate degree or DVM, and didn't find one.  I didn't find any kind of typical editorial board at all--that is a board made up of scientists in the field the journal addresses.

So essentially this seems to me to be a veterinary journal with no veterinarians on the editorial board and no impact factor or established readership asking people for US$1000 just to submit, and a further $600 to be published.  It's like vanity publishing, but they can refuse to publish the work and still keep most of the money!

Pull the other one, mate.  It's got bells on.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

My Trophy Wall

A while ago I acquired a rather nice Victorian era embossed print of an unfortunate rabbit. With the addition of my inflatable deer head this is starting to develop into my 'trophy wall'.

I have a bit of a fascination with fakes and kitch in general. I am awaiting with interest the delivery of my Sega Toys Dream Cat. I am under no illusion that it will be like a real cat, but it looked cute and I have poor impulse control sometimes when it comes to online shopping.

Friday, August 27, 2010

California Drivers Handbook 2011 says: No Dogs in Hot Cars

When I sat for my driver's license in the U.S. I only got one question wrong, something about the restrictions relating to drivers under the age of... 16, 18?  I guess I didn't pay much attention to that section because it didn't apply to me.  But I should have known better.  Learning the road code is not just about obeying the law, it is about knowing the law and help the community be safe.

A good case in point is the change that will appear in next year's copy of the California Drivers Handbook requiring drivers to be aware of the law against leaving a dog in the care during warm weather.  This is important information, not just for the safety of your own pets, but as a reminder to keep an eye out for pets left in dangerous conditions and to report these to the appropriate authorities (if in doubt, the police).

See also:
No dogs in hot cars: California puts warning in driver manual

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Of Rats and Women

I received my PhD for studies into the how rat caging affects the rats' welfare. Every single rat used in my four and a half year course of study was female. The main reason for this was that one animal facility supplied both the biology and psychology departments. When I visited this facility in the basement of a neighboring building I was told there were almost always 'excess' female rats. The reason being that most of the researchers in the biology department wanted only male rats. I immediately decided to use female rats to avoid further exacerbating the unnecessary breeding of litters from which only the males were wanted. Over the following months and year I heard the same question over and over:

Why did you use only female rats?

Initially out of naive sincerity, and later out of perverse dogmatism, I gave the same answer. I used them because they were there, and because they had a longer happier life being in my experiment rather then being culled as excess animals. Besides, almost all of the respected studies on the effects of environmental enrichment on rats used single-sex groups. All of them used males. If it is not a flaw in a study to use only male rats it cannot be a flaw to use female rats, using female rats replicates these findings with the other sex, and using female rats serves the goal of the 3Rs--that the use of animal in the laboratory should, whenever possible, be refined, reduced and replaced.

This explanation was usually met with mild consternation, silence and bemused acceptance. But each new reviewer would repeat it again. I must have delivered this explanation about thirty times. In fact I delivered long after I realised that I was just perpetuating an error, and they were just letting me. Research that is not sex-specific (for example on testicular cancer, or pregnancy) should not be carried out on single sex groups. The old justification that using single sex-groups reduces 'error variation' is bunk.

Sex is not random and it is not error, it is in fact a fundamental quality of most species. Any study that uses only one sex should not, no matter how obvious it seems, extrapolated to the species as a whole. Not because males and females are radically different in every way, but because it creates a subtle but dangerously skewed science in which the male is normal, and the female is aberrant. It tailors our ideas of biological truth, our understanding of sickness and our approach to healing, primarily to the service of the male. And if a few more animals are needed to account for sex-based variation... well, I bet many fewer animals will ultimately be needed due to the improved validity of the outcome of the study.

I was reminded of all this by Chelsea Wald and Corinna Wu who wrote an article in Science magazine called Of Mice and Women: the Bias in Animal Models . They point out that, to this day, the vast majority of research us conducted on male animals, ultimately undermining the effectiveness of medical treatment on women--and also I suspect leading to the unnecessary death of female animals not needed for the breeding population of the animal colony. In retrospect I still think I made the right choice in taking those 'excess' female rats--but I should have had a word with those biologists.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vet Phobia and Blood Donation

Today I was thinking about those pets that develop a real fear of going to the vet. What brought it to mind was that I finally cowboyed up and signed up to donate blood. I believe in donating blood, it is simple and it is life-saving.  I also know that only around 5% of people do it.  Why so few?  Well, I have a theory about that. I have donated blood twice before, both times at high school.  Both times were painful.  The first time I fainted.  the second time I had a livid 6 inch long bruise and pain in my arm for a week.  Despite the best intentions, I wasn't in a hurry to do it again.

But high school is over twenty years ago now and the AVMA had a blood drive right in the convenience of the building.  So I went in.  The procedure was simple and really quite inconsequential and I wouldn't hesitate to do it again.  The room was calm, the staff relaxed and competent, and I got a snack at the end for being 'good'.  I also has a nice confirmation that my iron levels and blood pressure are well in the healthy range. In retrospect the blood drives at high school were noisy, rushed, crowded and the nurse dug for my vein like she thought I was hiding it somewhere inside my humerus.  How many people, I wonder, had similar experiences with high school or college blood drives, with similar results?  I also suspect that on the first occasion (when I fainted) the scale was rigged to over-estimate kids weights and get more over the donation threshold.

Early experiences are important, no matter what species you are.  Emotional impressions can last for decades and have a negative effect on behavior.  And that is why there are more and more programs to give pets positive experiences on their early vet visits.  Health checks, puppy and kitten socialisation classes in clinics, and making a good first impression--calm, careful, competent--is always a good idea. More, quicker, cheaper can be counter-productive even with the best of attentions.  Doing too much in too much of a hurry might have short term benefits--but lead to lower, poorer levels of care over the client's entire lifetime.  Whether it is a vet-shy dog, alienated pet owner, or just a needle wimp like me....

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Will the collar become obsolete?

In many way the dog collar is a matter of custom.  If you consider its uses they are generally: 1) to secure the dog during walks and 2) to identify the dog's owner and to identify the dog's vaccination and registration status and 3) fashion.

There really is no absolute need for 'walking' purposes for the collar to be attached to the dog, rather than to the leash.  In fact many people now use alternative leash attachment devices like a halter or body harness that are attached only when required.  There may well be other times when it is useful for your dog to have a "handle" but are they pressing enough to need to attach something to the dog permanently? Historically a lot of dogs here contained by tether, but I would hope that is pretty uncommon for companion animals and once again the collar could be used only as required when the dog is tethered for an event (camping, picnic etc).

The sticking point is, of course, the tags and contact info.  Currently analogue methods like little metal discs are the state of the art.  But there is no real reason why microchip, and microchip readers could not become almost ubiquitous. The chip could connect to a database updated by your veterinarian with vaccination records.  Readers could be built into devices like cell phones.  As a back up the record number could also be almost painlessly tattooed on the dog's ear.  A person with that number could get all the information they need to contact the owner or deal with a dog bite situation.

It may seem weird to suggest a somewhat invasive procedure over a collar, but it is a matter of a few second, versus a dogs entire life--which is really more of a bother to them? It seems possible to me that one day a collar on a dog will seem as archaic as a nose ring on a pig or hobbles on a horse.  More and more, instead of modifying the animal to fit the environment we are modifying the environment to suit the animal.  And the pet animal dress code might just relax as a result.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Vet Jokes: The Dead Duck

This is a vet joke doing the rounds at the moment.  I have no idea of the origin:

A woman brought a very limp duck into a veterinary surgeon. As she laid her pet on the table, the vet pulled out his stethoscope and listened to the bird's chest.

After a moment or two, the vet shook his head and sadly said, "I'm sorry, your duck, Cuddles, has passed away."

The distressed woman wailed, "Are you sure?"

"Yes, I am sure. Your duck is dead," replied the vet.

"How can you be so sure?" she protested. "I mean you haven't done any testing on him or anything. He might just be in a coma or something."

The vet rolled his eyes, turned around and left the room. He returned a few minutes later with a black Labrador Retriever. As the duck's owner looked on in amazement, the dog stood on his hind legs, put his front paws on the examination table and sniffed the duck from top to bottom. He then looked up at the vet with sad eyes and shook his head.

The vet patted the dog on the head and took it out of the room. A few minutes later he returned with a cat. The cat jumped on the table and also delicately sniffed the bird from head to foot. The cat sat back on its haunches, shook its head, meowed softly and strolled out of the room.

The vet looked at the woman and said, "I'm sorry, but as I said, this is most definitely, 100% certifiably, a dead duck."

The vet turned to his computer terminal, hit a few keys and produced a bill, which he handed to the woman.

The duck's owner, still in shock, took the bill. "$150!" she cried, "$150 just to tell me my duck is dead!"

The vet shrugged, "I'm sorry. If you had just taken my word for it, the bill would have been $20, but with the Lab Report and the Cat Scan, it's now $150."

Friday, August 13, 2010

No Cedar for Small Animals

Cedar bedding is often made from “red” cedar (including Juniperus virginiana and Thuja plicata). This product is sold in many pet stores as a general pet bedding, routinely showing small animals such as rodents on the packaging material. In some cases a small disclaimer might state that the product should not, in fact, be used with small animals. In my opinion this tiny warning, when present, is grossly inadequate.

Research very rarely gives ironclad evidence, but as I will discuss below the data on red cedar is more than adequate to convince most people that this bedding should not be used with small pet animals, and to raise serious concerns about using it as an animal bedding at all. When the composition of a wood bedding is in doubt it should be avoided, regardless of how it is packaged, labeled, promoted or sold by retailers. The main sources of concern about red cedar relate to respiratory irritation and toxic effects. While I am focusing on red cedar there are also less severe but valid concerns about other aromatic woods including white cedar and pine.

Sabine (1975) documented that mice had a lower barbiturate sleeping time, indicating that chemical in the cedar bedding were being metabolized as toxins in the liver. The activation of hepatic drug metabolizing enzymes has been extensively demonstrated ( see also: Vessel, 1967; Okano et al, 2009). And in some more vulnerable strains of mice, those on cedar bedding developed more liver and mammary tumors (Sabine, 1975).

In the course of another experiment Burkhart & Robinson (1978) noticed that when rats were born on cedar (Aromatic cedar products Inc., Gainesville, MO) they experienced 58% mortality and were 20% smaller at three weeks of age when compared to pups raised on corncob or aspen wood bedding. At this time all they knew was that: “[i]t appears that the pups were ingesting or inhaling a compound which was toxic to them.”

There is also a body of research showing that cedar bedding had no ill effect on mice under some circumstances (e.g. Vlahakis, 1977; Jacobs & Dieter, 1978; Becker et al, 2010). And Heston (1975) directly challenged Sabine’s assertion that cedar bedding explained inter-lab differences in tumor incidence. This suggests that certain products may be safe for some small animals, however it remains unclear exactly what the risk/protection factors are. For this reason I would continue to strongly advice that cedar bedding not be used for any small pets on the basis that it is difficult for domestic consumers to determine whether a specific bedding is dangerous and whether a specific pet animal is vulnerable to that type or level of toxin.

One factor may be whether the wood is “conditioned” (often by treating with steam) to reduce the levels of resins (Wirth, 1983; Okano et al, 2009). Carefresh bedding, specifically, has produce null results (Becker et al 2010) which may be due to the manufacturing of this product including having it "processed to remove potentially harmful aromatic hydrocarbons".

However it is often difficult for a domestic consumer to know for sure whether a product has been conditioned in this way, and whether the resulting product is safe. For a list of alterative beddings see “The Toxicity of Pine and Cedar Shaving” by Debbie Ducommun. And if you have limited options and find yourself needing to by wood bedding of unknown provenance, select hardwood products free of dust or strong ‘woody’ odors.

I would encourage you to raise these concerns with pet product supplier that you use, asking them not to stock cedar bedding which by its labeling or lack of warnings encourages use with small animals such as rodents.

Other Links:
Sick Rat
The Problem With Pine: A Discussion of Softwood Beddings

References (in progress):

Supporting the null hypothesis:
  • Becker, C.E, Mathur, C.F., Rehnberg, B.G. (2010). The effects of chronic exposure to common bedding materials on the metabolic rate and overall health of male CD-1 mice. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 13, 46-55. [Carefresh Cedar, Carefresh Pine]

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dog Deaths in Hot Cars

You may notice a page on the blog called "Dog Deaths in Hot Cars".  I am using this to track media reports on this subject.  The number of deaths reported in the media for 2010 is currently 25.  If there are any I have missed please let me know.  The number of deaths that occur and are not reported on the internet is likely to be much higher.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Why is it that small hotels provide a lot of extras for free, but large luxurious hotels charge like a raging bull. 

Want to park a car?  $26.

Want to use the internet? 14.95, $18.95 for a high speed connection (per 24-hours). 

Want room service, a footnote mentions that the already high prices are inflated by a 21% service charge and a $3.50 delivery fee. 

Want to print out a boarding pass? $2.50 per minute plus $1 per page printed. 

The only extra I seem to get for free is a scent the room is drenched it, which I think I may be allergic to.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Convention Update....

A view of Atlanta from my hotel room. The hotel is round so every room has a pretty good outlook. Then off to the pool.

House of Delegates meeting on Friday.  Then the opening session first thing Saturday and some continuing education on animal behavior and the pet fish trade.

Hit the exhibitor's floor. The Wiley-Blackwell booth has two copies of the Sciences of Animal Welfare. Quick, somebody buy them!

Came across the Atlanta Flatiron building, five years older than the one in Manhattan.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Convention Approacheth

As mentioned on the AVMA at Work blog I will be at the AVMA Convention from Thursday night until Tuesday afternoon. Thus my newly resurrected blog will be afflicted with convention chatter. You may be spared pictures as I cannot work out where my camera has gone.

For the purposes of 'facilitating networking' with any of you who might be at the convention, we (in the Animal Welfare Division) had a few pictures taken (click to enlarge). I am the one in the blue-and-white shirt. The statue is right outside our headquarters here in Schaumburg.  For extra 'spottability' I will be laundering that shirt in time to take it to convention (yes, it will be clean).

You can also keep track of where I am via twitter, and if you are either attending or following happenings at the convention the official twitter hashtag for the event is #AVMAconv

I have no idea what I will tweet about at convention but to avoid scaring off the few followers I have I will be keeping it down to no more than a tweet an hour--and the topic is more likely to be somebody-betta-give-me-coffee-right-now-b4-i-snap than anything truly enlightening.

p.s. the Blogger spellchecker doesn't think Schaumburg is a real word... and I think I agree....

The Sciences of Animal Welfare

So who wants to hear about the book then?  Well, here goes anyway. I am the proud co-author of The Sciences of Animal Welfare along with Professors David Mellor and Kevin Stafford.  This book is part of the UFAW Animal Welfare Series published by Wiley.
The Sciences of Animal Welfare (Universities Federation for Animal Welfare)"The Sciences of Animal Welfare analyses the diverse, interconnecting subjects which constitute this fascinating multidisciplinary field, whilst also considering the limitations and benefits of those subjects to the development and future of Animal Welfare Science. This book examines past, present and future practices and thinking, including the wide-ranging interests within society that influence attitudes towards animals and conversely how animal welfare scientists may influence those attitude." 

The Sciences of Animal Welfare is available from: Wiley, Amazon.com, Borders, and Barnes & Noble (and many other places).


The Sciences of Animal Welfare is:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

In Defense of the Retractable Leash

I use a retractable leash, so I make no pretense to being unbiased.  But I would suggest that there are a lot of acceptable ways to use a retractable leash use of you so wish.
  • To allow a dog who is fully obedient off leash to comply with leash laws.
  • To allow dogs to check their pee-mail and do other dogs stuff out of range of the 'heel' position.
There are also some things that 'good citizen' users need to do when using a retractable leash.
Do not use is in densely populated areas, including veterinary waiting rooms.
  • Be alert to where you dog is and keep him from bothering other people or making sudden alarming movements.
  • Even if the dog is not going to bother some, ensure leach length and position would prevent it--some people don't like dogs and are bothered if the dog 'could' get to them, .even if s/he doesn't want to.
  • Use a highly visible (e.g. colored tape) leash.
And I'll be honest here, occasionally my dog has got somewhere he wasn't meant to be while on a retractable leash.  But I still see it as a viable option, not just a leash-that-causes-bad-habits.  Because a retractable leash is not just an alternative to a standard 6-foot leash, it is an intermediate option between this leash and being entirely off leash. 

A retractable leash allows the dogs to more fully enjoy the environment without being entirely off leash, and given the legal restriction relating to leashes, I consider this--overall--to be a good thing.  But unless we want leash laws to become even more restrictive and outlaw long leaches altogether, those who use them need to be cautious and responsible, and reserve their use predominantly for times and places when other people are not around.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Science Blogs exodus

It sad to see that Science Blogs seems to be pretty much falling apart. This science blog network is run by Seed, whose magazine I find silly and pretentious, but whose blogs didn't seem to share these qualities. This is probably because the blogs are run, on a day to day basis, by independent scientists--not by Seed staff.

Science Blogs seemed to have some little known ongoing problems with paying their bloggers on time, or communicating with them at all. But the beginning of the end seems to have been their decision to rush out a Pepsi blog to be written by Pepsi staff. A move they quickly reversed, but the damage was already done.

The departure of pillar-of-the-community Bora (with a very thorough explanatory post) has sent another shock wave through the struggling network. Even the most popular single blog (Pharyngula) is now on strike. (But not so much on strike that he isn't still posting).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Google is onto me....

How sad am I, that I think it is kind of neat to see my own book come up in the Google Ads.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cats: Indoor versus Outdoor...

Well, here it is, my first AVMA@Work blog post!

Hopefully the first of many :)

Chicken Chic

It seems like everyone has to be seen with chickens these days. First on Survivor, and Kate plus Eight, now in Madonna's new Dolce & Gabbanna ad.  But I have to say the toy boy is clearly much more familiar with how to hold a...chicken.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The History and Etymology of Bunny Hugging

Historically speaking, the Bunny Hug is, of course, syncopated ballroom dance that was once popular in the United States (no... not so much). In 1912 Harry DeCosta released the Bunny Hug Rag, not to be confused with.... 1913: Bunny Hug Rag (no 'the') by George L. Cobb (shown left). The bunny hug was one of a number of animal dances that the 'crazy kids' were doing those days.

In 1951 Bugs Bunny hit the big screen with "Bunny Hugged". You can see it in full here.

These days, of course, the term has a different meaning.  It started off fairly specific: 1990s: "bunny-hugger [n] ... an environmentalist, esp. an anti-blood sport campaigner." And then became more general: "...derogatory term for an animal lover", or: "slang; derogatory: a conservationist or animal lover", or: "Noun. An animal lover. Derog."

But, as is the case with many derogatory terms, they are subject to interpretation.  Bunnies, as a stand in for animals in general, are pretty damn huggable.  And as a gesture to express a love of animals, why not the hug?  So as a blog name for a professional animal lover, it didn't seem a bad choice.  I am an out and proud hugger of bunnies!

See also:
Bunny Huggers

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I am poised to start blogging on AVMA at Work....  I have had the training (this is a blog, this is a post, this is a page....).  Now the only problem is: what do I do at work that anyone would want to know about?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


"In 2007, Pork Quality Assurance evolved into Pork Quality Assurace Plus (PQA Plus)to reflect increasing customer and consumer interest in the way food animals are raised."

From: Pork Checkoff Certification Programs

Spelling is presumably not one of the qualities being assured....

Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Reviewers Wanted (for JAAWS)


I am looking for individuals who would be available to review books for the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. JAAWS is a peered reviewed academic journal that publishes articles and reports discussing methods of experimentation, husbandry, and care that enhance the welfare of animals in laboratories, farms, homes, and the wild.

Reviewers should have a strong background in a scientific discipline or profession, and a sound understanding of animal welfare. Members who are not directly invited should apply to join the group and leave a note outlining their relevant experience and/or qualifications. Members of animal related professions (e.g. laboratory technician, zookeeping, agriculture) are encouraged to join, as well as animal scientists and graduate students in animal science disciplines.

Books would be made available for selection by the reviewers, and books within the remit of the journal can be requested and may be provided at the discretion of the publisher. Reviews should be approximately 500-800 words in length and state a strong, expert opinion or perspective on the material covered in the book. The tone should be more like an editorial or commentary than a "book report". Reviews are due within two months of the receipt of the book unless otherwise arranged. Reviews will be published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science provided that they meet the approval of the editorial staff.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

People First?

I often see it argued that it is unjust to offer animals protections that are not offered to people, and to many this objection has intuitive appeal. It seems unnatural to place non-human animals first, like rescuing a dog from a house that is on fire while a baby is left in a burning bassinet. The point I would raise is, how should such inequities be remedied? Because the most common suggestion seems to be to not advance the protection of animals. I would argue that this is completely backward for two reasons.

Firstly, if two vulnerable groups need protection, leaving both unprotected is not morally superior to correcting this situation with one. Those active in neither animal nor human protection have no basis for criticising the choice of others to participate in animal protection initiative. Rather, if they see injustice in humans not being offered that same protection--they should pursue the provision of that protection rather than try to tear down advances in other areas. Rather than through the puppy back into the fire, they should go in to save the baby.

Secondly, the existance of a protection for animals will in fact encourage the advance of human protection. One famous example of this occurred in 1874 when there was very little legal protections for abused children. So when the case of Mary Ellen, a beaten and neglected 10-year-old girl, was taken by her would be rescuer--Etta Wheeler--to Henry Bergh of the ASPCA because he was known to be a compassionate and influential person. When agencies and individuals responsible for humans would not assist, the existence of a group compassionate towards animals provided a model and a champion for this girl, and this incident was a major stepping stone on the development of the child protection movement.

In summary, equality in suffering is no virtue. It reinforces a status quo where progress and compassion are subject to morally weighted criticism, but apathy and indifference are accepted as the norm. Advances in the treatment of animals should and must be pursued, and if this exposes the vulnerabilities of disadvantaged human groups, then this is better than leaving those situations unexposed.
If we find that we are, in some way, treating dogs better than people, the answer is to treat people better, not to treat dogs worse.

Picture credits: wilhelmien, contracox
See also:
Untangling the Animal Abuse Web, I am Only One
For an example of 'people first' see the comment section here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Taking the "Human" out of Psychology

As a psychologist who focusses on non-human animals, I find the decline of this specialisation rather sad. It is great to see biologists, veterinarians, sociologists and other academics and professional engaging in the study of animal behaviour. However, it seems that psychology as a whole is turning its back on non-human animals.

I am particularly dismayed the increasing trend of defining psychology as "the study the human mind and human behavior". (As exhibited by the institutions listed below). It seems to me that nothing would be lost, and much gained, if the word "human" was removed from that definition.

In this modern word it is important to understand what it is to be human, and why humans do what we do. But it is equally important to realise that humanity is not the only phenomenon worth studying--and the human animal is not the only species we should value, understand and learn from. Please join me in encouraging psychologists and psychological institutions to take the word "human" out of the definition of psychology.

Psychology Wiki: "Psychology ... is an academic and applied discipline involving the scientific study of human mental functions and behavior."
La Sierra University: "Psychologists study the human mind and human behavior".