Friday, April 29, 2016

Vets (and sheep) in the movies: Rams

Two of  the stars of Rams.
Veterinary cinema is niche, with veterinary themes in mainstream movies few and far between. Many – possibly even some veterinarians – might be relieved about this. But now and then a film with veterinary themes pops up, which one might feel compelled to see.

The Icelandic so-called “tragicomedy”, Rams, is a recent addition to the veterinary cinematic archives.  The story revolves around Gummi (SIGURĐUR SIGURJÓNSSON) and Kiddi (THEODÓR JÚLÍUSSON), feuding bachelor brothers living on neighbouring sheep properties, who have not spoken for 40 years. Now and then they send each other a note, carried in the mouth of their sheep dog, but relations are more than a tad frosty.

Both are proud of their rams who carry an ancient lineage and regularly win awards. The town veterinarian, played by CHARLOTTE BÖVING, judges the awards.

But after one particularly bitter competition, Gummi observes what he believes are signs of scrapie in Kiddi’s prize Ram. Scrapie is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE), related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy or Mad Cow Disease. It leads to incurable degenerative neurological disease which is fatal. Gummi goes home that night and, in a scene reminiscent of The Crying Game, washes his prize ram in the bath as if he can scrub away the scrapie (this doesn’t work).

This will not get rid of scrapie, or any other TSE.
The town veterinarian, once rewarding the farmers for their excellent stock, must carry out an order to cull all sheep on the properties. I must admit I didn’t quite get the “omedy” part of this “tragicomedy”. I could feel the vet’s anguish, the despair of both men – deeply attached to their sheep – was evident and the absolute heartbreak of culling one’s stock to contain an infectious disease was clear. Its a movie that haunted me and I'll admit for therapeutic reasons I had to dig for a bit of background info.

Director Grímur Hákonarson knew it well. His dad used to work for the Ministry of Agriculture.

“One of the hardest things my father ever had to face in his professional life was making decisions about whether certain livestock should be slaughtered – or not – in the event of an outbreak of disease,” he said.

The town veterinarian, Katrin (played by Charlotte Boving) judging the ram competition.
Analysis of reviews suggests one aspect of the movie that some deemed comic was the men’s attachment to their respective flocks – something unremarkable and not necessarily comic if you know people who look after animals. But Hákonarson is making the point that such strong emotional connection with animals is very rare in modern society.

“…people like my main characters Gummi and Kiddi are dying out,” he said. Hákonarson feels this is disappointing because he wants the eccentricity to live on. I think its disappointing as one wants good animal husbandry to live on.

Scrapie is a big concern in Iceland. The disease originally spread to Iceland via British sheep in the late 19th century, and has not yet been eradicated. Hákonarson’s own niece had scrapie diagnosed in her flock, and he described the profound psychological impact it had on her and her family (and that's not even adding the consideration of the welfare of affected animals).

For the characters in his movie, this impact was compounded by isolation. As a companion animal veterinarian I am rarely faced with the need to cull or kill a single animal for the protection of others, although there are cases where this may be deemed the best solution (or the lesser of two evils). This is a concern more commonly faced by colleagues working with livestock. The impact on veterinarians, farmers and of course livestock is huge.

On a happier note, I learned that in pre-production for the movie, auditions were held for sheep, which sounds like a lot of fun.

“It turns out that sheep’s temperaments vary greatly between farms,” Hákonarson said. “On one farm we went to, the sheep weren’t at all docile, and they ran away from us as soon as we tried approaching them. But after a lot of searching we ended up at a farm called Halldórsstaðir where Begga, the farmer there, treats her sheep with love and affection.  The rams there came right over to us and gave us a nudge as if they wanted a little scratch behind the ears”. 

“These sheep were great to work with, in fact even easier than working with actors.  A local farmer from Budardalur, Magnus Skarphédinsson, was our sheep trainer, and he did an amazing job.”

I won’t lie. I found this film a bit grim and depressing, and it wasn’t the best choice of movie to watch after a fairly full-on clinical shift. I may have involuntarily cried "NO!" at the ending, and may have copped a glare from the colleague whom I invited out to watch a "comedy-tragedy". Still, it is nice to see veterinary themes being dealt with on the big screen and learn about ovine auditions.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Mental health in companion animals: interview with Dr Katrina Ward

Dr Katrina Ward with her dog Lucy.

Veterinary behaviour is a relatively new field which addresses behavioural and mental health issues in companion animals. Like all areas of mental health, one of the biggest challenges is creating awareness around the issue. All too often, the concept of "pets on prozac" is laughed off as an indulgent middle-class fad. Behaviour veterinarian Katrina Ward argues that in fact mental health is essential for the well-being of animals. She discusses her career trajectory, and her favourite behaviour resources, below.

What is your day job?

When I am not taxiing my 14 year old twins to school, music, sport etc. I run my own businessas a behavioural consultant (in 2008 I obtained, by examination, Membership to the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists in the field of Veterinary Behaviour). This primarily involves assessing animals with problematic behaviour and mental disorders, making a diagnosis and determining a management plan with the owner. My work does also take me to some interesting places- for example, being an expert witness in court, helping police and local councils etc. I run weekly puppy classes at my husband’s veterinary practice. I have been a committee member on the Australian Veterinary Behaviour Interest Group for many years and have been the President since 2014. I have also recently retired with my dog Lucy from volunteering as a Delta Therapy worker. Understandably, my “day job” carries on until the late hours of the night as this is when I often write up my client reports.

What lead you to work in veterinary behaviour?

Multiple reasons…I started developing an interest as a general practitioner. No one in Tasmania was able to help in this field and there was some potentially harmful advice being provided. I undertook the Centre for Veterinary Educationbehaviour course and then was motivated to do my Memberships. It also suited my lifestyle as it didn’t involve emergencies and late nights (I had enough of those as a parent and as a general practitioner for 17 years!)

Have you ever lived with an animal with behaviour or mental health issues?

Eleven years ago we adopted a 3 year old Golden Retriever (Lucy) who had been neglected by her family due to allergies and a new born child. She spent most of her days tethered on a property with no fences and a public walkway to the beach out the front of the property. As a result, she was a barker. She barked in frustration, for attention, at the beach activities…When the owners agreed to let us take care of her, she continued to bark, a lot. She has been a challenging dog in that regard, but all our training, patience and enrichment of her environment has paid off. Her love of people made her a superb therapy dog. She’s showing her age now with degenerative osteoarthritis but still manages a frolic on the beach. She is being managed well with NSAIDs, stem-cell therapy to her stifles, weight control and DHA/ Omega-enriched food. She loves games with food-releasing toys that don’t require much physical activity- to keep her mentally busy.

Why do you think animal mental health is still under-recognised?

There is definitely an increase in awareness but it’s not at the level it could be. To a degree I think it is not encouraged to be thought about by the industries that rely on animal use (it’s hard to eat meat, wear leather, take the kids to the zoo or justify medical experiments etc. if we think too much about the sentience, or the uniqueness, or the personality of the individual creature).

It is similar in the way certain training methods of dogs and horses are justified as “necessary”. To address the impact these techniques might be having on the animal’s mental state is inconvenient for those who rely on their use.
With respect to domestic pets, the interaction between the owner and the pet can have an influence on the pet’s mental health. To convince an owner to change their behaviour with the pet can sometimes be difficult to achieve.

There is also unfortunately a lack of focus on this discipline in veterinary education at the undergraduate level.

As animal health seems to follow in the footsteps of human medicine, I certainly hope that this educational deficit will lessen with time. As veterinarians become more empowered with the confidence to teach owners about recognising signs of stress, see the benefit in running a “fear-free” practice and address behavioural issues with owners, I certainly expect there will
be an increase in owner awareness and then into the general community.

How does someone recognise distress in an animal?

Distress can often be seen by a change in body language, such as (in dogs), pinning the ears back, tucking the tail down, raising hackles, lifting their lip and showing the whites of the eyes. Their behaviour will also change, for example by panting, urinating or defecating, being hypervigilent, crouching down or showing avoidance behaviour. They will often vocalise too, such as whining or growling. There are also physiological changes such as an increase in heart rate, cortisol levels in saliva/hair/urine which can be measured.

It is also important to point out that animals can also show signs of stress when they are excited. This is called eustress (a positive form of stress having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being, literally meaning “good stress”). An example of that would be a dog that barks and pants in eager anticipation of a walk when it sees the owner get out the lead. It is important to look at the whole context of the animal’s behaviour and the environment in which it occurs.

Katrina with Lucy.
In veterinary settings one cofounding factor is the so called "white coat effect" or fear of vets. How do we tell what animals are truly anxious in a general sense and those that just freak out at the vet?

Thorough questioning of the client is the only way to diagnose generalised anxiety. Questionnaires for the owner to complete can be a good way to identify the animal’s mental well-being. An animal that shows an extreme fear reaction, even if only at the veterinary clinic, is worth helping. If it needs hospitalising then this stress will interfere with healing and the ability to handle the animal. It is also stressful for the staff and of course for the owner who may be less inclined to seek veterinary help. If we can improve the animal’s experience at the vet clinic it is win-win-win for everyone.

There are both harmful and helpful ways of modifying animal behaviour. In a field where the evidence is building and everyone is an "expert", how can we sort out the helpful from harmful methods?

One of the simplest answers is “if you wouldn’t do it to your child, should you do it to your pet?” or “how would you feel if you couldn’t speak the same language and someone did that to you?” If the idea makes us uncomfortable, then it is most likely going to be harmful. An example of this is a behaviour modification technique called “flooding”. This is often recommended for dogs that are reactive to other dogs and sounds like “just take him to a dog park and let him get over it”. Even though he might stop reacting in that overwhelming situation, in all reality this is likely to sensitise the dog further and in future interactions with other dogs his behaviour will be worse. With humans, at least we can explain why we might use that technique, explain to the person how they will feel and how to calm themselves. We do not have that privilege with dogs and they can’t tell us how uncomfortable they feel, especially if they “shut down” (a condition called learned helplessness).

My other advice is to always seek help from qualified personnel e.g. trainers that have done study in animal handling, ethology or psychology and belong to a reputable training association that promotes force-free methods. Veterinarians who have done further study in behavioural medicine are also professionally obligated to be up to date with current research.

Quite often pet owners approach veterinarians about behaviour issues only when they are at their wit's end. Realistically, how long and how much work can it take to change "problem" behaviour?

This really depends on the diagnosis and hence the prognosis. For pets with behaviour problems the prognosis is multi-factorial. If it’s easy to see that learning (or lack of guidance) and environmental factors have contributed to the onset of the behaviour problem, then usually the prognosis is good with behaviour modification. If changes can’t be explained, then there is probably more going on physiologically with that animal. 

Five factors contribute to the success of the modification plan:
  1. Client compliance.  This includes whether they have the finances, the time and commitment to follow the advice. The prognosis is certainly worse if they are scared of their own pet.
  2. The age on onset. If the onset is early, the more likely the problem involves a genetic predisposition, or is a result of influences during sensitive stages of development, including the prenatal, perinatal and socialisation periods
  3. The duration of the condition will affect the prognosis as the longer it has been continuing, the more entrenched the behaviour may be and more difficult to change.
  4. The predictability of the behaviour is also a measure. Obviously the less predictable the behaviour, the more difficult it is to identify triggers and control exposure to them. This is particularly difficult in cases that involve aggressive behaviour.
  5. Finally, the pattern of the behavioural response to recommendations (including environmental, behavioural and pharmacological interventions) will indicate how successful the plan will be in the long run.

So, in summary, some cases respond quickly and very successfully. Others can require life-long commitment from the owner to manage their animal’s condition.

What is preventative behavioural medicine?

Great question and a topic that will be covered at the AVBIG behaviour stream at the upcoming AVA conference. Basically, it involves taking appropriate steps to mitigate stress, fear and negative associations. This should happen before birth and continue for life. Stressed pregnant animals will have offspring which are more prone to anxiety and increased stress reactions. Puppies go through developmental stages which can have profound effects on their behaviour in adult life. The socialisation stage for example, is one of these sensitive periods and puppies should be exposed in a safe way to people (of all ages), places and objects that they are expected to encounter as adults. This should all be done when they are young and curious (before approximately 14 weeks of age). Well-run puppy classes can be an ideal way to educate clients and expose their puppy to other puppies, people and objects (and build a positive association with your veterinary clinic). “Fear-free” vet visits will also be discussed at the AVA conference.

Prevention of stress is also very important for animals of any age. Providing good client education on how to do this, (for example by setting consistent rules, providing appropriate environmental enrichment and keeping the animal free of any painful conditions), is a vital component to providing good veterinary care.

Do you have any advice for vet nurses, vet students and vets about how they can better help the mental health of animals?

There is a wealth of information available. Excellent books are available (such as the BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural MedicineClinical Behavioural Medicine for SmallAnimals by Karen Overall, Canine and Feline Behaviour for Vet technicians and Nurses by Shaw and Martin, to name a few).

Good websites include:

This is an excellent resource for veterinary visits:

The Centre for Veterinary Education provides both short and long courses on veterinary behaviour, both run by the two registered Australian specialists in the field.

At every AVA Conference AVBIG provide a behaviour focus. This year Dr Xavier Manteca, from Barcelona, a Diplomate of the European College of Animal Welfare and Behavioural Medicine is our keynote speaker. He will be providing over 8 hours of enlightenment, plus we have many other expert presenters from around Australia. Joining the AVA is always a great step to support your professional Association, keep up to date and make friends all over the country.

Then, of course, you should join the behaviour special interest group. AVBIG membership gives you free access to all our webinars, discounted attendance rates to AVBIG conferences, free subscription to The Journal of Veterinary Behaviour and online access to a supportive network of colleagues.

Reading and being informed is very different to actually handling a case. I encourage everyone to practice with your own pets first! Teach them to settle, to high five, to “touch” to walk loosely on a lead, to accept and enjoy nail trims and mouth exams. If you can’t do it on your own pet you will not be able to help your clients! Even better, video yourself and your pet during these interactions and replay them to yourself.

Another good test to give yourself is to watch interactions between animals and their handlers (youtube is always a good place to start). Turn down the volume and read the animal’s body language. You might be surprised by what you see once the “happy music” or voice-overs have been removed.

How have non-human animals changed your life?

It all began with Mr Percival dying in the book, Storm Boy. Charlotte’s Web and James Herriot also fuelled the passion for animals. I had a childhood filled with animal encounters- my escaping guinea pigs, the duck eggs which hatched and the ducklings which imprinted on me, the bantams that roosted in the walnut tree, the rescued wombat…

When I was 11 years old I witnessed lambs being mulesed. Despite everyone’s explanations that in the long run it was better for their health, I recall thinking that there must be a kinder way.

Once I was in the profession I was in my element. I recall many of my patients vividly and emotionally, from Tassie Devils to Kookaburras and all the usual suspects in between. Most of my pets have been supplied from my work, and I’ve certainly supplied many friends too.

Katrina with her non-human companions.
I have also two very special animals in my life right now: a young semi-feral cat who is providing me with great training opportunities (and entertainment) and Lucy, the Golden Retriever. The experiences we went through as a therapy team at an aged-care residential facility were profound and watching her ability to “unlock” the residents was exhilarating.

To be able to live and work with animals is a privilege. My children are growing up surrounded by animals and it has helped them develop empathy, patience and an understanding of our part in nature’s huge, fascinating and complicated ecosystems.

Thank you so much Katrina for your time. If you want to follow up on those resources, check the links throughout the article. Otherwise check out Katrina's website here or follow her on Facebook here.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Veterinary podcasts

What are long weekends for, if not making new friends at the beach?

Hello, long weekend. For many it means long walks on the beach with their loved ones, or catching up with friends at the movies, or just mooching around with their non-human animal companions. For just about everyone in my social circle, it means weekend shifts or study, or a combo of the two.

With so much info to keep up with, one has to get a bit creative with one’s methods of study to ensure that time spend studying is as efficient as possible. Right now I am benefiting from a bunch of awesome podcasts, available absolutely free.

My personal favourites at the moment are:
  • Vet ECC small talk – features podcasts on canine and feline veterinary emergency and critical care with a primary care/non-referral focus. This is the brainchild of Shailen Jasani, a small animal veterinary ECC specialist. He’s just posted a great podcast about antimicrobial stewardship which includes a helpful review on bacteriology. Check it out here.
  • Vet Talk TV – features podcasts and videos on a range of topics including referral medicine and surgery, with some great case studies. There’s a great talk by Dr Amy Lane on “what islymphoma anyway”
  • Knowing Animals -features podcasts, usually based on interviews conducted by Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan. This has an animal welfare/animal studies focus and includes interviews with people like Peter Singer and Bidda Jones. 

If you’re studying a particular topic, there are podcasts available on just about anything so with a bit of searching you can usually find something decent.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Why are foreign bodies such bad news and why is intestinal surgery risky?

Unhappy intestines. The foreign body is distending this dog's intestine, compromising blood supply.

Radiographs can tell incredible stories, and often the best radiographic stories relate to foreign bodies: things that should not be inside animals that are inadvertently ingested.

Every year, Veterinary Practice News runs their ”They ate what?!” imaging competition, to highlight the more unusual items dogs, cats and other species swallow. You can review the impressive results here, and nope, you don't have to work as a vet, nurse or student to interpret most of these x-rays.

The foreign body once removed - a piece of rubber from a toy.
Such as 26 golf balls (all swallowed by one dog). Or a fishing pole. Gorilla glue, hair ties, a plastic dinosaur, steel wool pads, teddy bears and rocks also feature. The radiographs presented give an indication of just how problematic foreign bodies can be, without the full-colour gore we see on the operating table.

They make for great stories, but foreign bodies are life-threatening. As mentioned in the results of the competition, unfortunately not all of the patients made it. Why not?

Even in the best hands, intestinal repairs can break down (the overall rate of intestinal incision breakdown, or dehiscence, is 12-16 per cent). The risk of such complications is much higher in animals over time, i.e. the longer the foreign body is present, the higher the risk. The risk is also higher in animals that are systemically unwell, septic or those who have had a previous surgery.

There is a fabulous article by Sabrina Barry explaining all of this in the latest issue of Clinician’s Brief. Following surgery, intestine undergoes inflammation in the early stages of healing. Inflammation actually reduces the holding strength of the wound – so there is a real race between collagen breakdown and collagen synthesis.

Barry recommends supporting tissue oxygen delivery to the GIT, minimising contamination, being mindful of vascular anatomy, minimising inflammation and ensuring vascular wound edges, engaging the submucosa during suturing (even though its softer than the muscular layer, the submucosa is the layer that maintains its integrity when other tissues at the wound edge have lost their strength), approximating submucosal edges, minimising the number of enterotomies, preserving the omentum and offering early nutrition.

This is a lovely article and well worth a read for anyone who performs intestinal surgery.

However, you can do all of these things and an intestinal incision can still break down. As Barry points out, intestinal incisions aren’t like skin incisions – we can’t inspect them regularly, treat them topically or just throw in a few additional sutures if we think the wound needs reinforcing. And foreign bodies can wreak total devastation on the gut, especially those with sharp or abrasive edges.

Prevention is the best bet. Often, foreign body eaters are repeat offenders. I’ve surgically retrieved foreign objects from the same patient (almost invariably a dog) up to four times. They don’t associate eating the thing they ate with gut pain, nausea, hospitalisation or surgery.

If you notice your animal swallowing things they should not in your presence, it’s reasonable to expect they will do so in your absence. Toddler-proof your home, lock your laundry basket, put the garbage bins out of reach, block access to the compost – it’s worth the inconvenience.

And if you see your pet swallow something, seek immediate veterinary attention. Sometimes these objects can be retrieved by inducing vomiting or endoscopy, before they hit the intestines.


Barry, SL (2016) Intedyinal incision dehiscence. Clinician’s Brief April 2016: 71-76.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Birds vs windows: an underrated problem

One of the biggest hazards to birds in urban environments is window panes.

One of the commonest injuries I see in birds are head and neck injuries resulting from collisions with windows. Until recently I believed this was an unfortunate but freak accident. But according to US scholar DanielKlem Jr at the Acopian Centre for Ornithology, the annual bird death toll due to window strikes ranges from 100 million to 1 billion in the US.

“Clear and reflective windows in human structures of all sizes in urban, suburban and rural settings are unintentionally killing vast numbers of birds the world over,” he writes. ”Fatal strikes are possible wherever birds and windows coexist.”

Of course there are other threats to birds – disease, predation, starvation, adverse weather – but window strikes are often ignored when it comes to assessing and addressing threats. To appreciate the scale of the issue, Klem calculates that if you accept the most conservative estimate – 100 million deaths per year – you would need 333 Exxon Valdez oil spills each year to match that level.

These birds pick up speed pretty quickly.
He adds that predators such as cats may scavenge injured or dead birds after window strike. In one study, 50 per cent of window strikes resulted in fatalities and half of those surviving suffered some degree of trauma or injury.

Why is it that birds behave as if window panes are invisible to them? According to Klem, they simply don’t see them, or they see a reflection of habitat that they’re trying to reach, or they may be drunk fromfeeding on fermenting fruits. Factors that increase the density of birds around windows, such as perches, bird feeders, surrounding vegetation and artificial lighting can increase the risk of window strikes.

The majority of strikes were associated with windows at low-rise buildings (56 per cent) and private residences (44 per cent), while high rises and skyscrapers – even with their massive windows – accounted for less than 1 per cent. Klem argues that such numbers probably reflect the fact that most buildings are low rise.

Some species are more likely to suffer window strike than others, but this still accounted for 28 per cent of species in the US and Canada, and 9 per cent of bird species worldwide. In Tasmania, it is estimated that 1.5 per cent of the 1000 breeding pair population of Swift parrots (Lathamus discolor) succumb to window strike.

Klem argues that, given the scale of this problem, we need to transform window panes into something birds can see. This can be achieved by angling window panes, retrofitting windows with one-way external films or designing windows to incorporate UV signalling systems which are visible to birds but not humans.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Which animals are sentient?

Are spiders sentient? I took the above picture of a patient treated by my colleague Dr Stephen Cutter. The presenting complaint was mites. The use of insecticide spray as a treatment clearly had to be avoided.

Most of us assume companion animals have feelings that matter, but to what extent is this true of other animals?

The term “sentience” is usually applied to an individual who has the capacity to experience feelings. The word “feelings” has finally become acceptable in animal welfare science – and not a moment too soon. According to pioneering animal welfare scientist Professor Donald Broom, the reluctance of some scientists to use what they feared were anthropomorphic terms really put the brakes on animal welfare science for a good while:
“When scientists describe a complex system like the brain, terms such as awareness, sentience, welfare, emotion and feeling should be carefully defined and used. If they are not used, important aspects of biological function are missed. The reluctance of some in the scientific community to do this has slowed the development of knowledge.”(Broom, 2016)
According to Professor Broom, a sentient being is one that is able to evaluate the actions of others in relation to itself and other parties; to remember at least some of its own actions and their consequences; to assess risks and benefits of a particular course of action; to have feelings; and to have some degree of awareness.

If you think about it, there may be some human beings (for example, very young or very old humans) who don’t exhibit the above capacities. That is because, Broom says, sentience develops as we develop – and it can also diminish or disappear, for example with age, illness or brain injury.

Whether or not we recognise that an animal is sentient has huge implications in terms of how we treat them. Our attitudes to animals are affected by our evaluations of those animals abilities(Broom, 2010). We can just happen to be very wrong in our assessments.

Which brings us back to our original question, which animals are sentient?

Some people still think sentience is exclusive to humans. That view just isn’t supported by science. As Professor Broom has said, “hardly any ability is uniquely human(Broom, 2015).”

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re comfortable that humans and most non-human companion animals like dogs and cats are sentient. They can think, feel and suffer in ways we are generally able to relate to. You may have seen evidence yourself of your dog looking for a toy you’ve hidden, or your cat associating you walking into the kitchen with being fed (examples of learning). They may behave in ways we describe as fearful or sad. In fact, there is a huge body of research supporting the sentience of parrots, dogs, pigs, cattle, sheep and other farm animals, laboratory animals, wild mammals and birds.

Studies have found evidence of learning, awareness and capacity for pain and other feelings in amphibians, fish, cephalopods (this group includes octopus, squid and cuttlefish) and decapod crustaceans (crayfish, crabs and lobsters, for example). There is also evidence of learning and awareness in stomatopod 
crustaceans (e.g. shrimp). (For a recent discussion on cephalopod cognition and consciousness from a philosophical point of view, check out this article by Joshua Shepherd reflecting on the escape of Inky the Octopus from a New Zealand aquarium recently).

Spiders have “substantial cognitive ability” and awareness, and some insects such as bees and ants have a high level of cognitive ability and awareness.
While slugs, snails and swimming sea slugs have clear evidence of a pain system, there is less clear evidence for a pain system in insects and spiders – but the cognitive abilities of insects and spiders exceeds those of slugs, snails and swimming sea slugs.

What does it all mean? Well, we’re not alone in the sentience club. And as more studies come to light, it seems that membership is very broad. Professor Broom argues that this scientific data needs to inform our behaviour:

“All animal life should be respected, and studies of the welfare of even the simplest invertebrate animals should be taken into account when we interact with these animals. Even if we do not protect the animals by law, we should try to avoid cutting an earthworm in half, mutilating a snail, or damaging the wing of an insect.”
Which is why arachnophobes might need one of thesegadgets around the home.

BROOM, D. M. 2010. Cognitive ability and awareness in domestic animals and decisions about obligations to animals. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 126, 1-11.
BROOM, D. M. Sentience and pain in relation to animal welfare. .  XVII International Congress on Animal Hygiene, 2015 Kosice, Slovakia. International Society for Animal Hygiene.
BROOM, D. M. 2016. Considering animals’ feelings: Précis of Sentience and animal welfare (Broom 2014). Animal Sentience, 2016.005.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

What is veterinary anthropology?

In other words, how does culture influence illness and the treatment of?
So for example at Stanford University, where the above definition comes from, areas of research and study include things like cultures of medicine, the economics of bodily injury and psychic expressions of disease.

If your experience of veterinary care is limited to a fairly narrow context (e.g. urban Australia), it can be difficult to appreciate that veterinary practice is subject to similar economic, political and cultural forces.

The Centre for Medical Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh is holding a two-day workshop on veterinary anthropology this week (18 and 19 of April) to explore these issues. 

Scholars will be asking questions like “How far does the One Health paradigm go, when veterinary medicine involves interventions which are almost unthinkable in the treatment of human beings? Euthanasia, neutering and slaughter-outs in the name of infectious disease control are just three examples.” And “How are veterinary practitioners divided on acceptable practice, and how are these differentiated in settings such as farms, domestic pets, and zoos, or across different species? What might ‘informed consent’ mean when we are dealing with animals? What kind of attitudes towards their patients and animal owners must vets cultivate during their training, and how might this be different or similar to practitioners in the field of human medicine?”

These are big questions, but worthy of asking. If you can’t get on a plane and get yourself to Edinburgh this week (I won't be able to make it), you can read the abstracts here.

I will be staying home and hopefully enjoying a cup or two of cat nip tea, courtesy of Nerida from the Cat Protection Society.
The workshop has been organised by Rebecca Marsland (Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh), Andrew Gardiner (Royal Dick Vet School, University of Edinburgh) and Adam Reed (Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews).
It is hoped that the workshop will result in a special issue of Social Science and Medicine.

For more information click here.