Thursday, October 30, 2014

Companion animals and the law

The NSW Young Lawyers Animal Law Committee put this guide together.

The Law Society of New South Wales Young Lawyers Animal Law Committee has put together a fantastic, plain language guide to Companion Animal Law in New South Wales.

It is great for pet owners but a nice refresher for veterinarians and veterinary students.

The Animal Law Committee has done some fantastic work and you can view their resources here.

You can also download a PDF of the guide here.

Topics covered include the legal framework in NSW as it pertains to animals, general requirements for animal ownership, buying animals, pets and apartments, assistance animals and pets and family law.

This is a really well put together, easy-to-read resource for those from a non-legal background.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cruelty Free Festival

vegan cupcake
Detail from a vegan cupcake (from crafted3).
On the weekend we attended the Cruelty Free Festival in Alexandria. Had I known dogs were welcome, Phil would have come along (he caught a nap instead). I like the CFF as it is a gathering of like-minded people – although just as with any group there is great diversity.

It has been said before that people often express their ethics by how they eat, and nowhere is this more apparent. There were vegans, high vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, dumpster divers and meat-eaters at the event, engaging in interesting discussion. Whatever your dietary persuasion, it is easy to perpetuate harm to animals or the environment by not asking questions about how food is sourced, prepared and processed.

The Medical Advances Without Animals stand (check out the MAWA trustees at
It’s one of the few festivals were vegans are spoilt for choice, with vegan sweet and savoury snacks (including hamburgers and hot dogs), groceries, pre-prepared meals and even wine available.

Here are a few highlights from the day…

I had an interesting discussion with the Veganpet people. If any discussion polarises people (at least in veterinary circles) its the topic of putting pets on a vegan diet.
Vegan cat food is particularly controversial, as cats are "obligate carnivores". A debate I won't enter here, but I always welcome the opportunity to discuss the topic.
I'm not sure because I couldn't ask her, but I have a feeling this is Millie the greyhound (see story here)

Award-winning chef Suzy Spoon and colleague with some of the vegan and vegetarian products from "Suzy Spoon's Vegetarian Butcher" 

This little dog was hanging out below while her owner did some organic wine tasting. (I confess I did not know that many wines utilise animal products as fining agents - things like fish oil and gelatin etc. This info and wine courtesy of Macquariedale Organic Wines)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Take away and home delivery food for pets

Waiting for home delivery? 
There’s a fine line between blogging and advertising the wares and services of others, but this is something a good friend alerted me to that I found fascinating. Home-delivery of human food specifically for dogs and cats. It’s certainly an interesting development in the human-animal bond department and says a lot about the way some people relate to their pets. is a company that connects Australians to over 3000 restaurants around the country, via its website and apps. But it isn’t just humans they are serving. The company recently launched a new service,,  which is quite the talking point. Essentially, this allows pet owners to order takeaway and a special something for their dog or cat at the same time. So SAT asked them what it was all about.

How did you come up with the idea of Doggy Bag? Do you think people were doing this on their own informally anyway?

It actually started as an April Fool’s - we came up with the fun idea of offering takeaway food for pets. But then we quickly realised that it could be more than a joke and it could actually become a great product to offer. When we started to contact some of our partner restaurants, we realised they were very excited about it so we decided to launch the Doggy Bags! And yes, I do think people were already sharing their takeaway dish with their pets, or at least feeding them with the leftovers.

Why is Doggie Bag simply better than just sharing your leftovers with the dog or cat?

The Doggy Bags are actual gourmet takeaway food. The chefs from our local participating restaurants came up with their own signature dish based on the fresh ingredients they use to cook dinner for 'humans' with. They don't use leftovers. The Doggy Bag are also specifically designed to suit dogs and cats' needs (no seasoning, etc).

[Remember that there are plenty of human foods that pets should not eat. For more info, see our post on barbie hazards here. You can also download an exceptional educational poster by Lili Chin here].

So I can promise you that Phil would pick out the vegies, but he would probably do a somersault if this was dropped at the door.
What’s on the menu?

Some examples of what is on offer are Penne in a meat sauce with chicken, zucchini, carrots, and pumpkin ($6/$8) from Micky's Cafe, Paddington; Grilled chicken kebab with rice and tomatoes ($9) from Turkish Pide and Kebabs, Erskineville and; Boiled chicken fillet with turmeric and garden vegetables ($5/$8) from Taste of India, Double Bay.

A funny story on this one is that the owner of Taste of India is a huge fan of dogs and he walked across the street to ask the Vet if Turmeric would be suitable for animal's consumption. You see, these restaurateurs have been really involved!

Is there any difference in the way the food is prepared or ingredients used?

Each dish contains proteins, carbohydrates and vegetables with the minimum seasoning to ensure they are suitable for animal consumption. The restaurateurs have been briefed with a list of ingredients to avoid (like onions that are toxic to dogs for instance).

I've also visited them to have a look at the dish itself. The key is to keep their dish fresh, but simple: meat, veggies, carbs - no need to go over the top and serve something that would sound fancy but would not be suitable to animal consumption.

What sort of pet owners do you think will use the service?

I think we will see a mix of pet owners ordering this product. Whether they are people willing to treat their pet at the same time than the family, or time-poor professionals who forgot to pop by the grocery store after work to buy pet food... the price makes it very accessible too, starting at $5 for a 440ml container.

How popular has this service been so far? If so, are dog meals or cat meals more popular?

We have launched the Doggy Bag only last week and we are planning of talking to our customers about it this week. We will then be able to assess if this is a popular service or not.

Doggy Bag is a service marketed to people whose animal is included in family dinner. Do you think that pets are increasingly being treated as part of the family?

I think that any pet owner finds themselves wanting to treat their little loved ones. The same way ordering takeaway delivered to your door might be a treat for the entire family, you want to treat your pet. There's also more and more cafes and restaurants in Sydney that become dog-friendly. People also spend a lot on treating their pets with accessories or good food. This shows that pets are definitely part of the family.

Intriguing. Of course as a vet I am obliged to say that this is not a complete diet. Just as no doctor would recommend eating take-out food every night, one wouldn’t advocate feeding take-out food to one’s dog.

In addition it is important to be careful when introducing new foods as these can cause gastrointestinal upsets. Also one should avoid these dishes in animals on elimination diets, those with pancreatitis and so forth. But I must say from a health perspective it seems better than feeding dogs the leftover human takeaway food which may contain potentially harmful ingredients. Have you ever ordered take-away or home delivery especially for your pet?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Furbabies vs human babies: what do functional MRIs say?

Do photos of human babies trigger similar responses in our brains to photos of companion animals? (NB I borrowed this human baby for the photo!)
The expression “furbaby” has crept into the common parlance, and I must confess to using it in a sentence or two as shorthand to describing the human-animal bond, at least as it is manifested in certain contexts (my own included).

The practice of adopting and caring for other species, like dogs and cats, is a common human behaviour across cultures and places. It has been referred to as “alloparenting”. Alloparenting occurs when individuals other than the biological parents of someone play a parenting role toward that someone. For example, if your grandparents raised you, they were alloparenting. Pet owners are not a homogenous group and the human-animal bond is far from homogenous, so the term “alloparenting” doesn’t apply to every human-companion animal situation.

But, aside from that, companion animals bother some scientists. What possible evolutionary benefit, they ask, is there in looking after someone else’s baby? Why invest time and energy in providing for another being? Many studies looking at the potential benefits of pet ownership are prefaced by such a concern. What’s in it for us?

Bring on the fMRI, I can feel most of my brain light up at the site of Phil.

One hypothesis that has gathered much traction is that “happy hormones” such as oxytoxin, beta-endorphin, prolactin, beta-phenylthylamine and dopamine are increased in positive interactions with pets. They’re also “bonding” hormones in people.

So are we bonding to pets the way we bond to babies?

A team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School got together to work out if the attachment looks the same on the brain level (see the full paper here).

They compared interviews and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) patterns in mothers viewing photographs of their own child and their own pet dog, as well as an unfamiliar child and unfamiliar dog.

The mothers were 22-45 years old, had at least one child who was 2-10 years old, had at least one dog for at least two years, and were generally healthy. A complete data set was collected from 14 participants – so we’re talking a reasonably small number here.

In interviews, mothers reported images of their own child and dog as eliciting similar levels of excitement/arousal and pleasantness (valence), although they were bigger differences in the response to own vs unfamiliar child than there were to own vs unfamiliar dog.

The pleasantness a mother felt when seeing her own dog’s photo was positively correlated to how attached she was to her own dog, which makes sense.

Viewing photographs of their own child was associated with activity in the midbrain (specifically the ventral tegmental area/substantia nigra, an area rich in dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin). This area of the brain is thought to be critical in reward/affiliation – but it was NOT activated by images of the dog.

Viewing photographs of their own dog was associated with a more posterior cortical brain activation pattern involving fusiform gyrus (usually responsible for visual processing, social cognition). The authors speculate that maybe we find dogs harder to read so there is a lot more processing of visual cues.

The amygdala, believed to be an important region for bonding, was activated by both familiar child and familiar dog images.

So the researchers conclude that mother-child and mother-dog bonds are same-same but different: they share aspects of emotional experience and patterns of brain function (at least as apparent on fMRI), but there are also differences in the brain’s activity which might reflect differences in these relationships. It doesn't quite solve the mystery of "alloparenting" but provides another piece of information in the puzzle.

On a related note, if you’ve ever contemplated introducing a human baby where you have a pre-existing furbaby, check out this post.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sculptures by the Sea and more on Lyssavirus

The Sculptures by the Sea complement the landscape.
I don’t know much about art, but I know I like public outdoor art exhibitions where dogs are welcome. And it turns out that Sculptures by the Sea is the world’s largest public outdoor art exhibition. So we travelled to Bondi Beach to view the sculptures there.

Phil wasn't sure about this one (Thomas Quale's "Comenavadrink and waddayalookinat".
Even without sculptures, the Bondi to Tamarama walk is stunning, especially early in the morning. And the thing we’ve discovered about sculptures is that once you start looking at them, every structure you come across on the bath seems like a sculpture. A simple rubbish bin between artworks prompts the question “is this a sculpture? What does it mean?”

Sculpture by Julie Collins and Derek John, "Evidence based research: crossing the line".
Unlike just about every other art exhibition I’ve been to, at Sculptures by the Sea, you don’t have to cloak your bag, photographs are encouraged and touching of works (at least some of them) expected.

Kerrie Argent's work, "Overconsumption" is meticulously constructed from bottle tops.

If you are in Sydney this weekend and looking for something nice to do, it’s well worth a visit – though I strongly recommend public transport or car pooling.
More information here.

Harrie Fisher, "Which way forward?"
In other news we were asked a question by Judy G about what to do if an animal is bitten or scratched by a bat. The NT’s Chief Veterinary Officer released information this week about Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL) being detected in the Northern Territory. I think the best resource (though NSW-centric) is the Department of Primary Industry’s guidelines (click here to view the PDF).

(One thing I found interesting is that the key differential diagnosis for bats showing clinical signs associated with ABL – seizures, tremors, paralysis, paresis, weakness, overt aggression, ground-dwelling or acting unusually – are rat lungworm and head trauma. Another reason for vets to be aware of rat lungworm infection).

Essentially if an animal is bitten or scratched by a bat, the bat – where possible – should be submitted for testing. If the body is NOT available for testing, vaccination of the animal against rabies is recommended. This is done under a permit system. The animal is also monitored for two years.

If an animal is bitten or scratched and the bat tests NEGATIVE, vaccination is not required. More details in the guidelines here. Excellent question!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Australian Bat Lyssavirus in the Northern Territory and Cat Protection releases information in Chinese

Take care when handling bats (and use gloves to minimise scratches)
The Chief Veterinary Officer of the Northern Territory, Dr Malcolm Anderson, announced that Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL) was detected in a fruit bat in Katherine in September last month.

It is only the second time ABL has been detected in the Territory (the first time was in 1997), although it is considered endemic throughout the Australian bat population. In Australia there have been three reported cases of ABL in humans, all fatal. Two cases have been reported in horses.

He reminded everyone that anyone handling or caring for bats should be vaccinated prior to exposure, and if you are scratched or bitten wash the wound thoroughly for at least FIVE MINUTES with soap and running water. Medical attention should then be sought immediately.

In the event that bat saliva contacts your mucous membranes (ie eyes, mouth, nose) flush the area with water and seek attention.

Anyone with this sort of contact should seek attention, whether vaccinated or not.

Finally, if the bat or bat’s body can be contained without putting yourself in further danger, put this in a box and contact the Centre for Disease Control or Department of Health in your area as the bat can be tested.

Further information is available here.

Meanwhile the Cat Protection Society of New South Wales has released an information sheet, in Chinese, about cat welfare and the benefits of desexing.
The project is the result of collaboration with University of Sydney Medica and Communications students Jiaying Zhou, Yunfei Qian and Xiaoqing Feng, and veterinarian Dr Eva Tang.

You can view and download the sheet here.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dolphins visit Sydney

Bronte beach yesterday evening. Not exactly everyone's favourite beach weather but as it happened, the best time ever to go.

It has been a very busy week here at SAT HQ, research on two big projects is ramping up and the office, frankly, looks like a disaster zone. Yesterday, in an attempt to achieve work-life balance (bwahahaha) Phil and I went to meet up with a friend at Bronte Beach for a spot of fish and chips.

This dude wasn't camera shy. He's not posing either - he was checking out our chips.
We fought our way through peak hour traffic wondering if it were such a good idea to venture east.

It was a tad windy, a smidge overcast and a touch dark…on the up side it’s never been easier to score a park. Only the really hard-core, wet-suited surfers were braving the water.

And when we were sitting down enjoying potato scallops, we noted some action in the waves…a pod of dolphins rode in on the waves and played around in front of us.

This might be a good pic to zoom in on. I promise they are there.
Naturally I was under-lensed but just to prove it happened, here they are. Not being a beach-dweller and only visiting sporadically I’ve never seen dolphins visit a Sydney beach before. Spectacular.

Truly awesome.