Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Brucellosis in dogs and people

Hunting dogs on the back of a ute.

Today’s blog continues SAT’s focus on zoonotic diseases (i.e. pathogens that humans and animals can share), and the topic is brucellosis. I was fortunate enough to graduate after Brucellus bovis was successfully eradicated from Australia (officially in July 1989), thanks to a massive,multi-decade vaccination program.

Lots of the older vets, however, did contract brucellosis and it was a nasty, relapsing disease that caused all kinds of awful signs. But Dr Jenny Robson, Microbiologist and Infectious Diseases Physician with Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology in Queensland, told the conference that we haven’t seen the last of brucellosis yet.

There have been recent cases of Brucellus suis in humans and dogs, with exposure to feral pigs the common link. That is, usually the dogs and humans go pig hunting, and are exposed that way. Domestic (i.e. pet and farmed) pigs in Australia have so far been spared, with one exception being a free range piggery in Queensland where a spillover infection occurred.

A wild pig and pet dog inspect the trash together.
Dr Robson quoted sources estimating the number of feral pigs in Australia to sit at around 23 million, which works out at almost one for every person in Australia. Walk down the street in Sydney on a busy day and that’s a lot.

Humans are most likely infected when B suis enters cuts and abrasions in the skin, or during the process of butchering. Dogs may be infected the same way or through inhalation of aerosolised pathogen or eating meat from infected pigs.

So what has this got to do with you if you aren’t a pig hunter? Well, potentially a bit. Let’s say you adopt a dog from a shelter who happens, in a former life, to have been taken pig hunting. That dog may have relapsing signs. Dr Robson spoke about a dog who developed orchitis (I used to think this had something to do with orchards but it’s actually – I am told by sources who know these things – excruciatingly painful inflammation of the testicles [our physiology lecturer, who had happened to have a bout of orchitis, claimed it was "worse than childbirth"]) due to brucellosis, long after humans had stopped taking the dog hunting.

B suis can also cause infection in other parts of the body including bones (osteomyelitis), fever, pain, abscesses on organs, endocarditis, meningitis etc. etc. Certainly not a benign disease you just get over by having a couple of days off and keeping up the fluids.

There is a question about whether sufferers can ever be truly cured, as relapses are not uncommon even with “successful” treatment. There is a risk that infected dogs can infect other dogs, pigs and people.

It would certainly be useful, as Dr Robson pointed out, to know more about the distribution of this pathogen around Australia and to have a better treatment for affected dogs (and people of course!).


One thing that is KNOWN to contribute to spread of the pathogen is illegal relocation of pigs by those who hunt them. There are a million reasons why this practice should be stopped, and the spread of a nasty disease like brucellosis is one of them.

Thank you, keen readers, for the ongoing stream of small animal likes. Rachel, again, gets a nod for this footage of an Armadillo playing with a toy pig. This is the kind of video that justifies the entire existence of the internet (aside from SAT of course!!!)

And then Deb chipped in with this tear-jerker compilation of good news compiled by Animals Australia.

Meanwhile if you want to read a bit more about the occupational exposure of vets to zoonoses, check our previous post here - which includes some links to very helpful guidelines about preventing infection with a range of hideous pathogens. 




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why pet food and water bowls should be washed regularly

Tawny frogmouths. They're cute, but they're increasingly seen with rat lungworm -
a parasite that can infect companion animals and people too. (NB people don't catch it
FROM tawnys...read on).

SAT had a brief hiatus yesterday as we were recovering from a three-day continuing education adventure (two days with medicos at the Zoonoses conference backed up with a day of oncology with Dr Sandra Nguyen at the Animal Referral Hospital). It was one of those weekends where one might be moved to utter the phrases “this is awesome” and “my brain hurts” in the same conversation (probably with oneself after three days of lectures).

Over the next weeks I will be sharing some things I learned, in no particular order, as one thing emphasised in the Zoonoses conference is the need to share information.

(And for anyone who might not know, “zoonoses” are diseases that can be shared between humans and animals. Rabies would be a good example, but so would Q-fever). By the way, the sharing can go in both directions.

Dr Derek Spielman, a lecturer in pathology at the University of Sydney and also a wildlife vet, talked about angiostrongylosis, a condition caused by the nematode parasite Angiostrongylus cantonensis (known as the rat lungworm).

This causes very nasty, horrible disease in humans, wildlife and companion animals. You may remember some years ago a young gentleman was hospitalised with a bizarre parasite after being dared to eat a slug (well, it wasn’t the daring that caused his predicament – it was acting on the dare)(read the story here).

(To me the most interesting thing about this case is that it wasn’t the FIRST TIME someone had contracted the disease from a dare – which makes me think that the Department of Health should be looking into the epidemiology of dares as I imagine they’re also a risk factor for other conditions like trauma as well – but I digress).

The definitive host for the rat lungworm is, as you might guess, the lung of the rat.

They sit in the rat lungs, lay their eggs in the blood, and then these eggs (L1) pop off into the airways, up the trachea (windpipe) and get swallowed where they are digested and escape into faeces. The ova in faeces are very active and as soon as a snail or slug comes along they are able by various mechanisms I won’t discuss here to penetrate the foot of the snail. Within the snail they moult a couple of times, first into L2 and then into L3 stages, and then these are meant to be ingested again by rats.

Once ingested the L3 larvae penetrate the intestinal wall of the host, spreading via the blood and lymphatic system to the brain and spinal cord where they mature into L4 and L5s before heading back into the venous system and into the pulmonary vessels. But in people and other accidental hosts, the combined effects of movement (basically the larvae munch along their path) and inflammation leads to neurological signs, characterised by marked pain and meningitis in humans and animals if they’re unfortunate enough to become “aberrant hosts”.

In Australia, most non-dare related infections are associated with either babies or toddlers that pick up slugs and snails and eat them, or eating unwashed salad vegetables (be particularly careful with back garden and organically grown fruit and vegies where molluscicides aren’t used). 

Sanchez enjoys a salad. Never mind the pirate hat.
[A note for the cavy enthusiasts: guinea pigs aren't particularly susceptible to clinical disease, but as hell-bent salad eaters this might be something they've had to evolve? (As an aside within an aside, I learned that the oncology drug l'asparaginase was first isolated from guinea pig serum, and later from E. coli carried by guinea pigs). I prefer to wash their vegies regardless.]

There is also a potential to ingest the parasite in poorly cooked prawns from South-east Asia (another reason we should be doing all we can to promote biosecurity not only here but overseas – the incursion of an exotic slug in one country can have health implications internationally).

But Dr Spielman also added that pet owners should be very careful when feeding pets outside, as slugs and snails are attracted to pet food.

Dog and cat food bowls should NEVER be left out where they can be exposed to snails or slugs – dogs and cats will often ingest slugs with the food, but as veterinarian and rat lungworm expert Ken Mason added, they will often also just eat slugs and snails that happen to be in the vicinity. Rather like you and I might eat an olive if we see one.

Possums are attracted to pet food left outside. If that pet food is attracting slugs or snails, there is potential for transmission of rat lungworm.
Dog and cat food is also a temptation for local wildlife so should not be left out overnight, as possums and birds are also susceptible. In fact, there is an increasing number of cases in wildlife which may indicate greater spread of the disease. Wildlife infections are a concern in their own right, but Dr Spielman also argues that wildlife are important sentinels of zoonotic disease (you can read more here).

It has not been proven but there is speculation that some infective larvae might be present in slug and snail trails. Pet food and water bowls should be cleaned daily to minimise the risk.

In other news…

Mick sent us this link on organising care for your pets in the event of your death. It might seem like a bit of a downer to talk about but I’d much rather be prepared than not – just in case. (It would be nice to have $12 million to leave them, like Trouble’s owner – but that certainly upset a few human relatives left behind).

Rachel sent in this link about a chihuahua, born without forelimbs, who is getting around using a set of custom-made wheels. Most dog wheelchairs are made for larger dogs, so the vets have had to use toys to improvise. Surely there’s an engineering student out there willing to have a crack at it?


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Interview with Shark Girl Madison Stewart

Madison Stewart with a shark.

Madison Stewart, also known as Shark Girl, is passionate about creatures that many of us are terrified of. So passionate is she in fact that there is a DVD documenting her inspiring story. Which is not bad given that she was born in the 1990s! According to Madison, fear of sharks is much scarier than sharks themselves - especially if we take the time to examine the consequences of that fear. Sharks are not the only animal to suffer because humans are frightened of them. But theirs can be a tough cause.

Madison took the SAT challenge and answered our questions about sharks, people, and her campaign to help both species. 

You’ve been described as a conservationist, activist and shark campaigner, but what does your typical day involve?

I am not a conservationists or activist, I’m an unprofessional filmmaker and someone who loves sharks! I really don’t like labels, I think any human can make a difference and we don’t need to label ourselves to do so. My normal day job involves making coffee, because what I do for sharks is not a job, its my hobby, its not for money, its my chosen obligation to the oceans I love. I take the responsibility of teaching the public, and challenging the corporations and business that harm sharks, a big part of this is filming sharks, the rest is personal research. So I see my ‘job’ as protecting sharks and my future.  

Many people feel out of their element in water but you describe it as your home. Why are you so comfortable in the ocean?

I grew up in the oceans and spent the most time there, as a kid I wasn’t allowed to ride a push bike because it was dangerous, but I was taken diving with sharks. Its all a matter of perspective, and my perspective was that the oceans were home.

Fears and phobias of sharks are common, yet you don’t seem to fear sharks. Was there ever a stage when you feared them? What is it about sharks that you love?

Never feared sharks, because they are not scary, they are just like a dog, but allot bigger. There have been a few times where I’ve deemed a situation dangerous and taken action to remove myself from danger, but there has been no fear of shark that go along with this. What is it about sharks? Im not sure how to answer this, I don’t really know, I’ve always loved them. I love the monsters, the neglected and the forgotten, the animals most run from, they always had a special place in my heart.  

Madison and I have many things in common as it turns out. We both like taking photos. Her subjects are somewhat different to mine...
Have you ever had an encounter with a creature that left you a little scared?

I was once chased by a turtle.

What are the biggest threats to sharks?

The industries that involve sharks are obviously the trade of shark meat, medicines, shark fins, pet food, and other commercial fisheries that have sharks as bycatch, however all of these only contribute to the biggest problem, which is fear. Things happening to sharks are not the issue the issue is that no one wants to fight against them!

But I am almost certain I have cuddled this exact same shark.

Pretty sure I didn't cuddle this one though.
You gave up school so you could spend more time underwater and campaigning for the conservation of sharks. That is incredible commitment – what drives you to keep going?

I actually gave up school just to selfishly dive with sharks and see more of the oceans and get into underwater filmmaking, it was just after this decision came about that I was faced with a shocking realisation that sharks were disappearing. I went back to places I had seen them in the past expecting to see them again only to see that they were gone. This is when my life took on a whole new meaning, And what drives me is the thought that I can never let those who took my whole world from me get away with it.

Madison speaks her mind.
How do people react when they find out that you are fighting to conserve a creature that frightens them?

Its always amazing, people question me in every way possible, and I tell them a few simple facts about sharks and they are shocked, talking to people on the street about what I do changes the world, they always leave with a different opinion! Then other times they are just a little bit offended that I am saving this animal they think is out to eat the human race.

Madison is somewhat more brave than I am.
In your view, how can people reduce the risk of shark attack?

This is crazy- its so simple, it should be taught in schools, it should be every day knowledge, especially in Australia, but its ignored for no good reason other than fear and stupid things like the WA shark cull that enforce that fear! To avoid a shark attack you need to avoid producing signs that you are injured wildlife, which is hard because humans are dorky in the ocean.

Don’t surf or swim in ideal hunting conditions for sharks like dusk or dawn and murky water. Being in the water near someone catching or searing fish will attract sharks, go and learn all about what sharks look for and how they look for it, and you can teach yourself to co exist with them is my best advice! We should treat the fact we share our oceans with a large dangerous predators the way we do driving a car, you have to know what you’re doing before you get in a drive, and if you cant handle the roads you should stay off them, or accept the associated risks.

What can ordinary people do to help conserve threatened shark species?

Ordinary people are the only ones that can help, avoid eating sharks, its often the key ingredient in plain ‘fish and chips’ and also called ‘flake’, don’t buy any products made form shark, shark liver oil or cartilage tablets for example. Even things like canned tuna, whose fishing practices kill thousands of sharks each year through accidental catch, so when you buy tuna your supporting the killing of sharks. Write letters, voice your opinion, find out more! Speak up for an animal thats never had human support!

Not a dish I've ever tried, I am proud to say.
Do you have any advice for animal lovers who want to turn their passion into action?

Never give up, out of the many issues in this world, the biggest one is people thinking they are powerless against them. We have so much influence, the rules I follow are these, show up to a protest dressed in your fanciest business attire, because you are serious about it. Research!!! Know more about the issue than the people you are confronting, and get public on your side, government never respond to a whisper, but cannot ignore a scream!

A rare pic of Madison on terra firma.
Thank you Madison for taking time to share your passion. If you like what you've read you might just wish to get yourself a copy of "Shark Girl", a DVD about Madison's life and passion, from your local ABC shop. Love the cover! You can also read SAT's previous post on shark science here.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Vets on TV - Village Vets Australia

University of Sydney alumni James Carroll and Anthony Bennett are the Village Vets.
There I was packing my suitcase for the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases Zoonosesconference when I caught two familiar faces on TV. James Carroll and AnthonyBennett were in my year at Sydney Uni, and now they’re the stars of the Lifestyle Channel’s Village Vets Australia.

Based at All Creatures Clinic on the South Coast of New South Wales, the show documents their caseload. The first episode was fantastic – James performed an exploratory laparotomy on a bearded dragon and retrieved a marble, and Anthony performed a calving on a cow with calving paralysis.

For those of you who like your vet TV, its great viewing. I don't want to give anything away in case some readers haven't seen it yet, but I couldn't peel myself away. (For any non-vet who wonders what vets think about veterinary TV programs, we often wince and cringe our way through them - but James and Anthony don't take themselves too seriously).


Catch it on the Lifestyle Channel (you can still catch episode 1 – Gypsy the horse and Elsie the cow, see here). Episode 2 screens on July 31 at 8.30pm.

Meantime for those with an interest in infectious diseases, check out this interview with the wonderful Associate Professor Tom Gottlieb here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to find pet friendly rental accommodation

Renting with pets can be challenging, but it shouldn't be.
As many pet owners know, it can be downright hard to find suitable rental accommodation that allows for pets. Inability to find pet-friendly accommodation is one reason that some pets are relinquished to shelters, severing the human animal bond and leaving the pet to an uncertain and unhappy future.

The Australian Companion Animal Council (ACAC) has teamed up with the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) and the Australian Small Animal Veterinary Association (ASAVA) to produce brochures on Renting with Pets and Tenants with Pets, along with Pet Application & Agreement Forms.

For ACAC’s guide for tenants wishing to rent with pets, click here.

To download ACAC’s guide on tenants with pets for landlords and managing agents, click here.

To download the pet rental application form, click here.


This is a big issue – not just for animals (for whom the stakes are very high), but for people as well. To read more about the challenges of renting with pets, check out our interview with cultural geographer Dr Emma Power.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Prize winners, compassion and heroes

I think we can all agree that Rex and Juan Enchilda Kakadu Cortez deserve to win our giveaway.

It’s time for SAT to announce the winners of our David Attenborough Giveaway. Thanks to everyone who sent in entries – they were very creative, and a great celebration of the human/non-human bond.

We’re not ones for keeping everyone in suspense (no edge-of-your-seat slow-mo envelope opening then pausing for dramatic effect here) so the winners are:

Rex and his two-year-old, David-Attenborough-loving Flinder’s ranges scorpion, the impressively named Juan Enchilada Kakadu Cortez (check out the details here).

No Rex, you don’t score an Oscar, a Grammy, Tony or even a Logie, but those things just gather dust anyway (though I am sure it would be great to have Hugh Jackman sing the intro to our blog). Instead you will be getting a brand spanking new lovely copy of David Attenborough’s Micro Monsters, featuring special double episodes with behind-the-scenes footage.

But the ABC have been very generous, allowing us to give away not one but THREE copies of the DVD.

That means we have two runners up. Congratulations then to Alaska and Sandwich, who watch TV like this.

Alaska and Sandwich.
...and of course Kirsten and her Kitty, who watches Kirsten while Kirsten watches TV.

Ever get the feeling you're being watched?
We’ll be sending your DVD’s out this week. If you missed out you can always purchase the DVD through your ABC shop.

On a non-directly-veterinary note, we want to highly recommend Uberto Pasolini's film Still Life. The movie has just been released in Australia and we were fortunate enough to catch a preview over the weekend. It is an exceptional essay on life, death and compassion, filmed beautifully and acted brilliantly. It isn't about animals, although animal lovers won't miss the three minor roles played by dogs and a character played by a cat.



In other news this week is SUPERHERO week, though I might be so bold as to suggest that it’s a tad chilly to run around in tights. Still, Phil and I will be undertaking super deeds to raise money for the incredible superheroes at Bear Cottage. To find out more about what we’re up to you can visit our page here. We've got one week left to raise some money for Bear Cottage so we're keen to do all we can. You can read more about Bear Cottage here

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cats playing in the snow and learning resources in animal welfare science, ethics and law

Mio the cat enjoys the snow.
After a small working tour of Italy and England (very select bits of both), SAT has now returned to our home headquarters in Sydney where its 9 degrees Celsius (I know our European friends will be laughing at us, but this is c-c-cold!).

One of the unexpected highlights of the trip was meeting Dr Christine Leeb from the Institute of Livestock Sciences, Department of Sustainable Agricultural Systems at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Austria.

Aside from talking about animal welfare research in general the discussion turned to companion animals. Dr Leeb shares her life with two cats that she describes as three-quarters “organic farmhouse cat”, one quarter Maine Coon. The brother (Mio, the grey prince, named after a famous Astrid Lindgren story) and sister (Zora, named after a character in the children’s book “Die Rote Zora”) are a stunning pair who enjoy playing in snow when it happens to be around.

Littermate Zora is also a fan of snow.
If you’ve not yet enrolled in the University of Edinburgh’s introductory course on animal welfare, it’s well worth it (especially since it is free).

You can sign up here.

Zora can jump in the snow too.
On the animal welfare theme, AWSELVA, the Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law Veterinary Association, is an organisation with membership open to vets but also others working in animal welfare science, ethics and law fields. Click here for more info.

If you don’t think birds are clever, this video might change your view. It shows a crow behaving very intelligently – or at least in a way that impresses humans. Check this out.

FINALLY I need to announce that our David Attenborough Giveaway Winners have been selected but the announcement is slightly delayed and will be made on Monday. Thank you to everyone who entered!