Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bats in Crisis

There is a disease spreading among bats that is wiping out large populations of the only winged mammal. A disease commonly called "white nose" (for the fungus that grows on the nose of some affected bats) is killing them off in large numbers. It is even leading to calls for the government to close all known bat caves to the general public due to fears that cavers are actually spreading the disease.

Loathed by many and downright feared by some, bats are a hugely important part of any ecosystem. Depending on the species, they feed mostly on insects and fruit. Then, of course, there are the few species that eat blood, typically from mammals or birds (again, species dependent). Those that eat insects will consume an astonishing amount. There are an estimated 20 million bats in the Bracken Cave in Texas, and they eat an estimated 200 tons of insects every night! Yes, 200 tons of insects every night!!! Bats are amazing creatures, and certainly need to be saved. For more information, visit Bat Conservation International which currently owns the Bracken Cave and many other bat caves around the country.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Running with your Dog

Here is an interesting article regarding running with your dog. Though a favorite past-time for some people, there are many who don't find it so enjoyable. Human running is much different from the preferred route by most dogs. Even walking many dogs can be a chore, especially if there are interesting smells of activities going on. And, just like people, dogs need conditioning as well. You can't expect most dogs to be able to keep up on a 3-mile run if they haven't done it before. You also need to pay attention to the weather. If it is hot, dog's easily overheat and damage the pads on their paws. Also, if it is cold, dogs can develop other breathing issues, as well as hurting their paws. The bottom line is, you cannot simply go out for a jog with many dogs unless you train them properly.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Selecting The Winningest Racehorses

Racehorses have been a popular way to make (and lose) money for centuries. The ability to see talent in a horse with the potential to be the fastest around a track has long been both an art and a science. Well, things at the science end are progressing.

Research is being done in locating the "speed gene," a marker in a horse's genetic makeup that may give a clue into their speed potential. Specifically, researchers have been targetting the myostatin gene, the gene responsible for muscle mass regulation. Now, at the University College of Dublin, you can send a blood sample in and for about $1,400 (a very cheap test considering that many prospective horses that haven't even been raced yet can fetch over $250,000 at auction), determine the muscle-mass genetic makeup of your racehorse prospect. They can even tell you if your horse is best suited to short sprints, the traditional middle distances, or the longer (greater than a 1 1/4 mile) races. (source story)

Clearly, there are many flaws in this test, not the least of which being overall conformation. Focusing on one gene won't guarantee you a winning horse. What if they have the muscle mass potential to run well at 1 1/4 miles, but don't have the bone structure to support it? One of the biggest problems in the Thoroughbred racing industry today is that they have been breeding more for speed and a short career rather than for toughness and sound build.

Personally, I don't see this test as changing the horse racing industry all that dramatically. It may, certainly, but the art of horse racing has a long history. Genetic tests of this sort will likely have their place, and may even help people to more appropriately race their horses at the distances that they, genetically, may do better in. But there will be stories of genetically "sprint" horses doing well at distance and visa versa. I would like to see more emphasis put on soundness and overall conformational health, and I do fear that more focus put on muscle mass may damage the breed rather than help it. Your horse may look great on paper, but if he doesn't have the bones to support it, he'll never win a race. The perfect racehorse is the complete package, and it still takes a lot of art and hope to make that come together.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Endlessly Fascinating Falcons

I never get tired of watching these amazing birds:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Terror Bird!

I'm sure in life, this creature was terrifying. Called "Terror Birds," these critters lived about 2 million years ago. They were predatory, flightless birds living on the prehistoric grasslands. Yeah, I think I am glad they are extinct...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Update! Lost Dog Found!! And Home!!!

Hooray! The lost dog I posted about has been found, and my sister adopted her! She is reportedly very sweet, and starting to settle into her new home. She didn't know hoe to walk down stairs, which is very common in stray dogs. She does well with people and other dogs and, so far, seems housebroken. That's the great thing about adopting adult dogs; many are housebroken, or mostly so, and if they aren't, the smart ones pick it up fast. Apart from a lot of burs and "stink," she is none the worse from her day on the loose. She will be visiting a local vet tomorrow, and the groomer at the end of the week. Now the big challenge is to come up with names!

Great Loss in the Dressage World

Dressage is the equine sport of performing patterns and maneuvers in an arena. There are set tests that each horse and rider must complete, and they are scored subjectively by judges. One off-shot of this sport is called musical freestyle in which the horse and rider complete a list of required maneuvers, but in an order of their own choosing and set to music.

Yesterday, a sensational mare by the name of Blue Hors Matine was euthanized after tragically breaking her leg while out in a paddock. Here is video of her 2006 World Equestrian Games Freestyle Final, one version of which has been viewed nearly 10 million times on YouTube. I found this video (which is clearer than the YouTube version) on a different site. Ever if you don't know anything about horses, just watch how this mare dances, especially at the end. An absolutely fantastic performance from an amazing mare!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Missing Dog!

A departure from my usual blog postings, this one hit home for me. My sister down in the St. Louis area was on the verge of adopting this adorable dog from a local rescue about an hour's drive outside of town. She had been found by a sheriff in an abandoned building. My sister saw a picture of her online, and was immediately taken with her. She very strongly resembles one of our own dogs, Rusty, who was the best dog ever (so we are very partial to the little, red tri mini Australian Shepherd look).Very sadly, as my sister was filling out the paperwork, a door was left open by a kennel worker, and the dog got away. She is very sweet, but scared and now lost. If, by chance, anyone in the St. Louis area reads this blog, please keep a look out for this little dog and contact me via e-mail at with any information. Thanks, and here's to hoping she is found! Click here to see a picture of her.

Sea Eagles on the Rise

The Sea Eagle is making a comeback in Scotland. Viewing the large raptor, which looks something like our North American Bald Eagle, has become a big tourist draw, boosting the economy of the Scottish town of Mull by an estimated £2 pounds and growing. I've always thought that ecotourism such as this is the ideal way for naturalists and capitalists (both of which I consider myself) to see eye-to-eye. If we can make money while saving threatened and endangered species, it is going to be a much more viable project moving forward. Donations can only go so far. And, while we are on the topic, I would encourage you to look for ecotourist opportunities on your next vacation. You'd be surprised the kinds of things that are available even just around your area. Visit your local Department of Natural Resources to see what is going on! (source)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Open Wide

In case you were ever curious as to what the inside of the mouth of a beluga whale looks like... (source)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Baby Albino Snapping Turtle

From the Red River Zoo in North Dakota, here is a picture of a baby albino snapping turtle. I'm be hard-pressed to call it cute, but it is interesting. We have a very large adult albino snapper at the local aquarium.

Friday, January 22, 2010

More Pictures of Australia's Asian Elephant Calf

I absolutely love elephants, so these pictures are hard for me to pass up!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gorilla Photo Op

Yet another photo of some photogenic primates posing! These gorillas are at the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden. (source)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Asian Elephant Birth

At the Melbourne Zoo, they are celebrating thee birth of the first Asian Elephant at the zoo. It is also a milestone since this calf was conceived with artificial insemination. Such reproductive technologies are crucial in keeping the gene pool of threatened and endangered species diverse and healthy, thus keeping the animals so as well! (source)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Orangutans Photo Op

Here is a neat picture of some orangutans from the Perth Zoo. (photo source) It looks like they are posing for a family picture!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Death Metal Rooster?

A very strange rooster with a very unique (and annoying!) voice!

Zoo Babies Figuring Things Out

Following are some utterly adorable videos from the Pittsburgh Zoo as several of their baby animals explore their worlds. Some of the most interesting are the Sea Lion and Beavers. Watching how the parents guide them around the water and help them in and out is a little hard to watch (they seem a bit rough to our sensibilities), but certainly demonstrative of their doting parent behaviors. You can almost translate exactly what that Sea Lion is saying!

The first video is some African Wild Dog pups that were raised by a surrogate domestic dog.

Second is the Sea Lions.

Now some ridiculously adorable baby beavers.

And some River Otters.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Humane Euthanasia in Shelter Situations

I came across this article which outlines a controversy regarding a shelter in Garland, TX. The shelter uses a gas chamber which uses carbon monoxide to euthanize its surplus and unadoptable animals. The article includes a description of the procedure as witnessed by the reporters. This procedure is currently considered a humane method of euthanasia in the US.

Euthanasia is one of those realities about the animal population problem that many people want to forget or ignore. The plain truth of the matter is that there are too many domesticated dogs, cats and other animals out there who do not have a home. Dogs and cats that roam the streets create a variety of problems, ranging from effects on wildlife to threats to public health and the health of our homed pets due to bites and disease transmission. And I would encourage you to not take the statements from "no kill" shelters at face value. Many of these groups, while well-meaning, publicly defame "kill" shelters as being inhumane and barbaric in an effort to increase their own funding. The truth of the matter is, where there is a "no kill" shelter, there is a conventional shelter nearby that euthanizes animals. No facility in any community is ever large enough or well-funded enough to shelter all of the unwanted pets in their area, particularly since a large number of those pets are not suitable for living in most homes due to behavioral issues.

The controversy comes from the use of such a technique to euthanize animals. Most of us are more familiar with the idea of an intravenous injection of (essentially) an overdose of an anesthetic that is commonly used for this procedure.

From the shelter's perspective, the use of carbon monoxide as opposed to the injection has clear advantages. The euthanasia solution is a controlled substance, requiring special permits to possess and use. The shelter workers that do the injections need special training. From my own personal experience with the procedure, it can be difficult to find usable veins in some animals. And it can be next to impossible to humanely inject the solution intravenously into an aggressive or frightened animal, which many of these dogs and cats obviously are. The carbon monoxide method allows shelters to euthanize in a humane manner without putting personnel at risk for injury and helps minimize the fear and anxiety of the animal. This would be especially useful for feral cats which are always a large number of the adoptable animals in any community and can be next to impossible to catch let alone safely restrain.

I encourage everyone, even if you are not in the market for a new pet, to visit your local shelter. It is a good reminder of our responsibilities as pet owners and members of the community. Many of the animals there are very nice, and don't deserve to be in that situation. They are there because of people irresponsibly breeding (or simply not spaying or neutering their pets) their own animals, and not seeking behavioral counseling when needed. Contribute to your local shelter in whatever way you can, be it in time, money or supplies. And whenever there are controversies risen about something involving how things are done, make sure you have all of the information before making your decision.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dog Senses Quake

Here is a video from a surveillance camera moments before the 6.5 magnitude quake that hit California last week. Though not much of a head start, this dog knew something was coming.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Wash Your Hands!

Today's commonsense tip of the day comes to us from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Apparently, there was a Salmonella outbreak that affected some 31 states that has been linked to handling pet frogs. Some 30% of those polled in connection with the outbreak had cleaned their pet frog's aquarium in the kitchen sink.

Interestingly, this is the first actual report that deals with such a Salmonella outbreak that has been traced to amphibians specifically. The reptile and Salmonella link has been known for awhile, and lead to some ridiculous legislation in order to lessen the risks of children catching Salmonella from turtles. Specifically, it is illegal to sell or distribute turtles with a shell size of less than 4 inches across, because kids are more likely to try to put that sized turtle in their mouth. This legislation ignores the fact that Salmonella and similar organisms are far more likely to be contracted simply from not washing your hands and putting your hands or anything your unwashed hand has touched into your mouth.

It should also be pointed out that, in most cases, reptiles and amphibians are not a good choice for a pet for households with small children or people with weakened immune systems because of the diseases that they commonly carry. Also, contrary to popular belief, it can be harder and more expensive than people realize to properly keep a reptile or amphibian pet, because their needs are so much different and species-specific.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Rinderpest Extinction in 2011?

Rinderpest, also called "cattle plague," is a devastating disease of cattle that may be eliminated by 2011. Due to a worldwide vaccination effort, the virus has almost been wiped out much as Smallpox has been for the human population. Though Rinderpest can't be contracted by people, the virus has caused massive die-offs of cattle over the centuries, especially in areas of the world already afflicted with famine and hunger.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bird's Eye View

Ever wonder what the world looks like to a Golden Eagle? Thanks to my sister for the idea!

How about a Goshawk and a Peregrine Falcon?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

White Rhinos, on the other hand

Yesterday, I posted about white tigers and the misconceptions surrounding them. White rhinos, on the other hand, are a distinct and critically endangered species of rhino, teetering on the brink of extinction primarily from the idea that their horn can be made into medicines. So it was with joy that the Kolmarden Zoo in Sweden announced the birth of a white rhino calf. CLICK HERE for a cute video of the calf.

There are five species of rhinoceros in the world, the White Rhino being the largest of them all. The name of the White Rhino has absolutely nothing to do their their color, instead thought to come from a simple misunderstanding. There are two species of rhino in Africa, and the easiest way to tell them apart is their lip structure. The White Rhino has a wide, square-shaped lip while the Black Rhino his a pointed, triangular upper lip. It is thought that in describing the White Rhino as having a wide lip, someone misheard and "wide" and thought "white," the name sticking. The Black Rhino was again not named for its color, but merely as a name to differentiate it from the White Rhino. To the left is a picture of a Black Rhino so you can see the difference in the lip structure.

Monday, January 11, 2010

White Tigers ≠ Albino Tigers

I came across this article detailing the birth of several white tiger cubs in Chile. The article incorrectly states that albino tigers are a highly endangered species, and the birth of these cubs is a good thing because of it.

I blogged about white tigers a few years ago here and here, talking about the benefits they bring as well as the problems they represent in a conservation program.

The talking points that are important from this information:

1. These are white tigers, not albino tigers. True albinos would have red eyes (from lack of pigment) and no stripes.

2. White tigers are not a species of tiger, but rather a genetic mutation, and typically cross-bred and inbred to express that mutation.

3. Along with the color mutation, white tigers often display other mutations (again, the result of the limited gene pool that comes from inbreeding to achieve the color) that can affect their health.

4. White tigers bring in more money for conservation than those with the typical black and orange color pattern, so many zoos and conservation groups will keep them as a money-maker, hopefully generating enough funds to offset the cost of maintaining the white tiger as well as several genetically healthier cousins.

With the maintenance of white tigers, I actually feel bad for the general public. In a sense, they are being duped, as that above article perpetuates. They think, by giving money to support these cubs, they are saving an endangered species. Well, I suppose they are, in a round about way, if that money ends up going to support actual Siberian or Bengal or Sumatran or Indochinese or Malayan or South China tigers. Would they give less or more if they knew the truth of the matter? Hard to say, but at least you know and can inform others.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lazy Sunday of those days.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

New Exhibition at Kentucky Horse Park

The Kentucky Horse Park is one of those places I want to go visit (if time and money allow!) sooner rather than later. They have announced a new exhibition that will be displayed there May thru October which will feature the Arabian Horse called A Gift from the Desert: The Art, History, and Culture of the Arabian Horse.

For those of you unfamiliar, the Arabian horse is one of the most ancient of horse breeds, and is the foundation for most of the horse breeds we have today. Even today, the Arabian horse is nearly worshiped in the Middle East, considered honored members of the family of wealthy sheikhs and unarguably treated much better than many people in the world. The horse is valued for its elegance, endurance and speed.

Going down a tangent, many of you may remember perhaps the most famous Arabian to many Americans, Cass Ole, the stallion that starred in the 1979 movie based on Walter Farley's book, "The Black Stallion." That is a movie certainly worth watching if you never have, and rewatching if its been awhile. A large part of the movie is spent with the characters of Alec and "The Black" learning to trust each other after becoming stranded on an uninhabited island. It is a series of some of the most beautiful cinematography featuring a horse you are ever going to see. And, naturally, the book is a must-read for any young reader. There are many books in the Black Stallion series, and they were largely responsible for fostering my own love of reading at an early age.

Friday, January 8, 2010


A few days ago, I introduced you to the Keyboard Cat (in case you were unaware of that internet phenom and how it started). Today I have another internet lesson for you...the photobomb! It is much easier to describe with a picture than with words (I'm told this image was not manufactured, but even if it is, it is hilarious...and a good photobomb example!):

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Someone needs a comb!

From the Singapore Zoo. (Which, incidentally, has an amazing website.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

There is something on your stomach...

Yeah, right there! This is a picture of a baby koala born at the San Diego Zoo.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Declawing Debate

The procedure of declawing cats is one with impassioned views on both sides of the issue, as this article points out (which provides a fairly reasoned synopsis). For those of you unfamiliar with the procedure or the debate, and why it has relevance to all animal-lovers, not just the cat fanciers, here is the low down:

The Procedure:

Feline declawing (scientifically called onychectomy), is the surgical amputation of the tip of each of the cat's toes. Under a surgical level of anesthesia, the veterinarian removes the tip of each digit at the level of the first knuckle. Pain medication is required (oral and/or injectable) at the time of surgery and for several days thereafter. Many vets (including myself) also inject local anesthetic in the paw in specific points that will provide a "nerve block," completely numbing the paw for several hours to help with pain control. This procedure effectively and permanently removes the cat's claws. The red dashed line to the right shows where the amputation is made. The whole bone attached to the claw (marked as "3" on the diagram) is removed. The procedure is acceptable according to the standards of care recognized by the American Veterinariy Medical Association (the largest veterinary organization in North America) as well as all state veterinary boards (as of right now). Several towns in California have banned the procedure citing animal rights/welfare concerns, and there is movement in other communities to do the same. (picture source)

The Pro-Declaw Side:

So, why would someone want to do this to their cat? Several reasons are typically given:

1. To protect themselves and family members (especially children and elderly people with frail skin) from being scratched. Even nice cats with claws will use them in play, and are very likely to leave scratches on people.

2. To protect furniture and drapes. In order to keep their claws healthy, cats will scratch them on a variety of surfaces. The favored surfaces are those that are vertically situated, and provide good resistance. Couch corners are favorites, especially leather ones. (picture source)

3. To keep cats from climbing. Again, this is a protection issue. Some cats that are able will try to climb everything, including drapes, coat racks, even walls.

4. People do not like trimming cat claws. Cats can be difficult for nail trims, especially if you don't have someone around that can effectively hold the reluctant kitty.

The Anti-Declaw Side:

It is fairly obvious why there are people against this procedure. I'll outline them along with the basic reasons why the veterinary boards still allow the procedure:

1. It is disfiguring. There is no doubt...this procedure is an amputation, and any amputation is disfiguring. However, there are several other somewhat similar procedures such as ear cropping and tail docking that are also currently acceptable procedures.

2. It is painful. Again, it is an amputation. We try to control pain during and after the procedure with injectible, oral and local nerve blocks. And, from my perspective, most of the cats (especially if they are less than 9 months of age at the time of the procedure) seem pretty comfortable when they wake up. Most of them are clearly irritated with the bandages, and struggle to move around. Many veterinarians (including myself) work especially hard to persuade people against the procedure in cats that are older than a year old. By that time, their complete musculature and anatomy has grown and developed accustomed to claws, and the procedure is clearly more painful (and somewhat more difficult) in mature cats. (picture source)

3. It makes cats more aggressive. This argument is often made, citing the observation that - removed of their claws and the natural behaviors that accompany the using and maintenance of those claws - makes declawed cats more likely to bite. Subjectively, I would agree with that. I worry about clawed and declawed cats biting me, but declawed cats seem to be more eager to do so. However, objectively, studies have not supported this observation.

4. It is unnecessary. With providing proper scratching posts and keeping the claws trimmed, most of the issues that people are trying to avoid by declawing their cats can be minimized. Cat claws are much easier to trim than dog claws. Besides proper care, people can use a product called Soft Paws which are caps that can be glued onto cat claws.

The Bottom Line:

From my perspective, I am against animal disfigurement. I am an avid opponent of ear cropping and tail docking in dogs (topics that I will cover at another time). My position as a veterinarian means that I need to be an advocate for animals, and to recommend and perform procedures that are in the animal's best interests. So, it would follow that I would also be as vehemently anti-declawing.

However, I am not against declawing.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't need to declaw cats. In a perfect world, there would be no homeless dogs, cats or other domestic animals. In a perfect world, I would have won the family football pool.

However, it is not a perfect world. The plain truth of the matter is that, without the option of having their cat declawed, many people would not own cats. People do not want to be scratched up, especially people who need to be careful to avoid skin infections. People don't want their furniture and fixtures ruined. There would be a lot more homeless cats. (picture source)

When people ask me if they should get their kitten declawed, I always make sure they have all of the information. I am very straight-forward with people and make it clear that, yes, it is an amputation. Yes, it is painful. The way the procedure is done, and the medications that are used help reduce the discomfort. I've done enough of them to be confident in my technique and how I control that pain. I show people how they can trim their kitten's nails, and recommend scratching posts and Soft Paws where appropriate. Some people decide to have their cat declawed, some don't.

Though it is a procedure I don't necessarily like to do, it is one that I will happily do if it means that a cat has a home.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Random Ode to Dogs

Those of us who have dogs can list a variety of reasons why we like them so much. Loyalty, companionship, entertainment, lap-warming...dogs make the best companions. For some people, their dogs even help them with medical issues such as warning them before their blood sugar gets low, before they are going to have a seizure, or even before they are going to have a migraine. Some dogs have even detected cancer or other medical problems in their owners. And then there is this dog who fetched help when her owner had a stroke. They can even make people feel better in the hospital.

Many dogs work for a living alongside their owners, herding cattle and guarding sheep. Many a rancher has stated that their working dog is invaluable to them, that they'd need to hire several more people to do all the jobs that their one working dog happily does. Then there are the people who participate in sports with their dogs, be it hunting, hiking, or jogging. There are even sports made especially for dogs like agility, obedience and rally.

We value our companion dogs for their loyalty, their trust, and their unselfishness. Many attributes that are hard for people to master come naturally to a dog. They don't judge people, don't care about your race or religion. They are forgiving and don't take offense. Our dogs love us despite all of our faults.

Dogs are so much more than man's best friend. They can teach us so much, as long as we are as open to listening as they are. (picture source)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Keyboard Cat

For those of you who may (or may not have) heard of the keyboard cat, here is an explanation:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Top Pet Names of 2009

Around this time of year, you are likely to come across several lists of the "Top Baby Names of 2009." What do you think the top pet names were? Well, according to records of the 50,000 (!!!!) animals a Boston hospital saw this year alone, Bella and Max top the list. Interestingly, Max was the top name for both male dogs and male cats. I don't see too many cats named Max. Tiger/Tigger is definitely the tops there. Bella won out for female dogs and Kitty for female cats. Other top male dog names included Bailey, Charlie, Jake and Buddy. Around here, it seems like 9/10 of the dogs with these names are Labs. Bella was also among the top of the female cat list along with Sophie and Lucy, also very popular female dog names. Male cats came in under the old standbys of Oliver, Tigger, and Tiger. (source) (picture source)

I can speak from experience that all of those names are very popular in the Midwest. I'd probably need to add such names as Blizzard and Shadow, especially for cats. Yeah, you can guess what color those critters are! I'd love it if someone had a gray cat named Slush. One of the best cat names I've seen is an orange male cat named "The Todd."

I'd also need to add the name of "Coco" and its many spelling variations for female dogs. Many are Chocolate Labs, but there are a fair number of Shih Tzus and other little, fluffy dogs with that name. And Teddy is also a perennial favorite name for male dogs of all shapes and sizes. Naturally, I have my own idea as to who bears that name the best. (My own "Teddy," a 12-yr-old male Yorkie)

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Resolution

One of my New Year's Resolutions this year is to post more on this blog. Hopefully that is good news! ;)

I'm going to keep posting about a variety of critter-related topics from commentary on animal stories to fun animal pictures to tales about my travels in the world of veterinary medicine. If anyone has specific topics or issues they would like to discuss, please send me an e-mail!

Also, I would encourage everyone to use Google Reader or another RSS service to keep track of this and your other favorite websites. I find Reader hugely useful in keeping tabs on my favorite websites, so that I don't miss anything!

So, a Happy New Year to everyone, and hopefully many good critter capers to come! (photo source)