Tag Archives: Dogs

Why can’t dogs eat chocolate?

The Conversation

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As little as three squares of chocolate can make dogs sick. Duffy Brook

Susan Hazel, University of Adelaide

Most pet owners know chocolate and dogs don’t mix. Despite this, chocolate poisoning in dogs remains a problem, particularly at Christmas, as a new study in the journal Vet Record shows.

Chocolate and cocoa are products of cacao beans (Theobroma cacao) after they are fermented, roasted, shelled and ground. Chocolate contains two ingredients potentially lethal to dogs – theobromine and caffeine.

There is 1-9 milligrams of theobromine per gram of chocolate, with higher levels in darker chocolate. White chocolate has zero risk of toxicity.

How much chocolate makes dogs sick?

Toxicity to chocolate starts at around 20mg of theobromine per kilogram of body weight. In a small dog weighing 5kg, this means 100mg of theobromine (around 70g of milk chocolate or 20g of dark chocolate) will cause problems. There’s about 25g per square of a chocolate block, so that’s around three squares of milk chocolate.

Cocoa powder contains higher levels – only 4g of cocoa powder contains 100mg of theobromine.


Further reading: Should you ever get a puppy at Christmas? Here’s all you need to know


A few years ago, my best friend’s dog, a dachshund, ate cake decorating chocolate stored in her spare room. How she managed to jump up onto the bed to get it remains a mystery. Dogs will find chocolate even if you think they can’t.

Luckily in this case, her dog vomited a large part of the chocolate before it could cause problems (although not so lucky for the cream carpet) and she was OK.

What are the signs your dog has eaten chocolate?

One of the first signs to look for if you suspect your dog has eaten chocolate is restlessness and hyperactivity. Caffeine is absorbed ten times faster than theobromine, which takes up to ten hours to peak. Signs are usually seen two to four hours after eating the chocolate and can last up to 72 hours.

It’s hard to say no to dogs, but when it comes to chocolate, we have to. Jay Wennington

Both caffeine and theobromine cause elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and abnormal heart rhythms.

Vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle tremors/shaking and hyperthermia (high body temperature) can occur at toxic levels. Your dog might seek out cooler places, although will be unlikely to settle anywhere. The hyperthermia causes panting, the main way dogs lose body heat.

In more serious toxicity, it may cause muscle rigidity (stiffness), ataxia (uncoordinated movement), seizures and coma. Death results from problems with heart rhythm or failure of the respiratory system.

Theobromine causes increased levels of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), an important chemical messenger in the cell. Theobromine and caffeine also increase the release of adrenalin, and affect the calcium flow in and out of the cell. This increases muscle contractions.

When combined, all of these biochemical changes stimulate the central nervous system and the heart muscle. Other types of muscles in the rest of the body called smooth muscles relax, which can cause respiratory problems and increased urination.

Why do so many dogs manage to eat chocolate?

The first reason is dogs like sweet things, unlike cats who lack the taste receptor for sweet.

The second is we underestimate the motivation and sense of smell of dogs. They can smell chocolate a mile away.


Read more – Canine and able: how dogs made us human


Once we had a family Christmas in a local park, and while I was unwrapping a present my Labrador swept past and grabbed the parcel. I didn’t know there was chocolate in it but she did! Twenty of us ran after her screaming “Don’t eat it!” but by the time I caught her all I got was the paper. Luckily there wasn’t enough chocolate to hurt her.

Dogs have an amazing sense of smell and love sweet things. Erik Cid

Remember, chocolate is potentially lethal to our best friend, so put it somewhere impossible to reach. A closed cupboard will be safer than somewhere a motivated dog can jump.

The problem at Christmas time is that everything is so hectic we forget or don’t notice. If you have a dog, educate everybody you know on the risks of chocolate and keeping it out of their reach. If you have young children, you will need to keep a close eye on them as they won’t understand and love to feed dogs – children and dogs should always be closely supervised anyway.

In the case of an accident or if you suspect your dog has eaten some chocolate, contact your veterinarian. There will be time to give it something to induce vomiting if they have only just eaten the chocolate.

Humans and dogs are on the same wavelength in so many ways, but while some of us run on chocolate and caffeine, dogs just can’t. Remember that and have a happy Christmas with all your four legged family members.


The ConversationFurther reading – Curious Kids: How can you tell if your cat is happy and likes you?


Susan Hazel, Senior Lecturer, School of Animal and Veterinary Science, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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How to talk to your dog – according to science

The Conversation

Juliane Kaminski, University of Portsmouth

Dogs are special. Every dog owner knows that. And most dog owners feel their dog understands every word they say and every move they make. Research over the last two decades shows dogs really can understand human communication in ways no other species can. But a new study confirms that if you want to train your new puppy, you should be speaking to it in a certain way to maximise the chances that it follows what you’re saying.

There is already quite a lot of research evidence showing that the way we communicate to dogs is different from the way we communicate to other humans. When we talk to dogs, we use what is called “dog directed speech”. This means we change the structure of our sentences, shortening and simplifying them. We also tend to speak with a higher pitch in our voices. We also do this when we are not sure we are understood or when talking to very young infants.

A new study has shown we use an even higher pitch when talking to puppies, and that this tactic really does help the animals to pay attention more. The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, showed that talking to puppies using dog-directed speech makes them react and attend more to their human instructor than regular speech.

To test this, the researchers use so-called “play back” experiments. They made recordings of humans repeating the phrase “Hi! Hello cutie! Who’s a good boy? Come here! Good boy! Yes! Come here sweetie pie! What a good boy!”. Each time, the speaker was asked to look at photos of either puppies, adult dogs, old dogs or at no photos. Analysing the recordings showed the volunteers did change how they spoke to different aged dogs.

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The researchers then played the recordings back to several puppies and adult dogs and recorded the animals’ behaviour in response. They found the puppies responded more strongly to the recordings made while the speakers looked at pictures of dogs (the dog-directed speech).

The study didn’t find the same effect applied for adult dogs. But other studies that recorded dogs’ reactions to the human voice in live interactions, including work I have done, have suggested dog-directed speech can be useful for communicating with canines of any age.

Following the point

It’s also been proven (and most dog-owners will tell you) that we can communicate with dogs through physical gestures. From puppy age on, dogs respond to human gestures, such as pointing, in ways other species can not. The test is very simple. Place two identical cups covering small pieces of food in front of your dog, making sure it cannot see the food and doesn’t have any information about the contents of the cups. Now point to one of the two cups while establishing eye contact with your dog. Your dog will follow your gesture to the cup you pointed to and explore the cup, expecting to find something underneath.

This is because your dog understands that your action is an attempt to communicate. This is fascinating because not even human’s closest living relatives, chimpanzees, seem to understand that humans communicate intent in this situation. Nor do wolves – dog’s closest living relatives – even if they are raised like dogs in a human environment.

This has led to the idea that dogs’ skills and behaviours in this area are actually adaptations to the human environment. That means living in close contact with humans for over 30,000 years has led dogs to evolve communication skills that are effectively equal to those of human children.

But there are significant differences in how dogs understand our communication and how children do. The theory is that dogs, unlike children, view human pointing as some kind of mild command, telling them where to go, rather than a way of transferring information. When you point for a child, on the other hand, they will think you are informing them about something.

This ability of dogs to recognise “spatial directives” would be the perfect adaptation to life with humans. For example, dogs have been used for thousands of years as a kind of “social tool” to help with herding and hunting, when they had to be guided over a great distance by gestural instructions. The latest research affirms the idea that not only have dogs developed an ability to recognise gestures but also a special sensitivity to the human voice that helps them identify when they need to respond to what’s being said.

The ConversationJuliane Kaminski, Senior lecturer in psychology, University of Portsmouth

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Dingoes do bark: why most dingo facts you think you know are wrong

The Conversation

Eloïse Déaux, Université de Neuchâtel

As I visited a wildlife park in New South Wales in 2011, the keeper at the daily “dingo talk” confidently told us that “pure dingoes don’t bark”. After five years studying dingoes’ vocal behaviours, I can tell you that this is a myth. Dingoes do bark!

While travelling around Australia to study dingoes, I have had the opportunity to meet and talk with all sorts of people. One thing I realised is that the “dingoes don’t bark” belief is widespread – and it isn’t the only unproven dingo myth out there.

Lots of people in Australia take these three myths as hard facts:

  1. “pure” dingoes don’t bark
  2. “pure” dingoes are all ginger
  3. dingoes are “just dogs”.

But none of these are actually true and here’s why.

Myth 1: dingoes don’t bark

Anyone who has been around dingoes for long enough will tell you that they do bark, but not like domestic dogs. Dingoes’ barks are generally harsher, and given in short bursts.

Domestic dogs will bark anytime, anywhere, for anything (often to their owners’ or neighbours’ chagrin). This is not the case with dingoes. They will generally bark only when alarmed – such as when researchers trap them to fit a radio tracking collar, or if you stumble across one in the bush.

Dingo barking sequence.
Eloïse Déaux, CC BY-NC-ND133 KB (download)

Dingoes can also bark if they get very excited (about food, for example) but this is quite uncommon. The rarity of these events probably explains the prevalence of the “no barking” myth – wild dingo barking just doesn’t happen often enough for most people to witness it.

Another associated misconception is that captive dingoes will learn to bark from listening to domestic dogs. Although humans are very good at learning new sounds – indeed, that’s how we acquire our language – most other species (including canines) can make only a limited range of vocal sounds, and can’t learn new ones.

So the fact that captive dingoes bark actually confirms that they have barking abilities right from the start. It is, however, possible that by listening to nearby domestic dogs, captive dingoes learn to bark more often and in more situations than they otherwise might.

It is easy to see how this myth might harm efforts to protect dingoes. Imagine a well-meaning pastoralist shooting or baiting anything that barks, in the mistaken belief that it’s not a dingo.

Myth 2: all pure dingoes are ginger

The “typical” dingo that people picture in their minds – think Fraser Island – will be ginger (or tan) with white feet and a white-tipped tail. But dingoes, like people, come in a variety of shapes and colours.

Importantly, although ginger dingoes make up about three-quarters of the population, there is genetic evidence that their coats can also be black, black and tan, black and white, or plain white.

A black and tan dingo…Tim Pearson
…and a white one. Tim Pearson

There is also a lot of variation in the size and shape of white patches and these may even be absent altogether. It’s often thought that dingoes that lack ginger fur or white patches are dingo-dog hybrids, but this is not necessarily true.

Like the no-barking myth, misconceptions about coat colour can potentially harm dingo conservation. If we were to protect only ginger dingoes, we would unwittingly reduce the natural genetic variation of the population, making it more vulnerable to extinction.

Myth 3: dingoes are just dogs

This is perhaps the hardest belief to address, because it can vary depending on whether we look at their behaviours, ecology or origins. But this concept is arguably even more relevant to their conservation and management.

So is a dingo a dog? Although dogs’ evolutionary origins are still unclear, we know that dingoes are descendants of animals domesticated long ago somewhere in Asia and then brought to Australia. Dingoes are thus an ancient dog breed and so, yes, dingoes are dogs.

However, we also know that dingoes arrived in mainland Australia roughly 5,000 years ago and have since been isolated from all other canines right up until European settlement. Some experts argue that this makes them distinct enough to warrant protection from hybridisation with domestic dogs.

As dingo researcher Ben Allen puts it, “pure ones need to be distinguished from hybrid ones somehow, and it is the pure ones that have conservation value as a species”.

But as fellow dingo expert Guy Ballard points out, dingoes are undeniably a type of dog, so arguably all that really matters is that their function as top predators in the ecosystem is preserved.

But there’s a catch (as Ballard has acknowledged): we do not know whether dingoes, feral dogs and hybrids behave similarly – or in other words, whether all three can perform the same ecological role.

We do know that India’s free-ranging dogs behave very differently from Australian dingoes: they are inefficient predators, do not form packs and do not breed cooperatively. This suggests that, in terms of their behaviours, dingoes may be very different from other types of dogs after all.

Until we know more, the best approach to safeguarding dingoes and their role in the ecosystems might be to view and treat them as completely separate and distinct from other free-ranging dogs in Australia.

Far from being “just dogs”, dingoes really are unique dogs.

The ConversationEloïse Déaux, Postdoctoral fellow in mammal vocal communication, Université de Neuchâtel

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Who’s top dog? New research sorts dominant and submissive canine poses

The Conversation

Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation

In the first quantitative study on status behaviour in a stable group of domestic dogs, Dutch researchers have identified and categorised dog behaviours most consistently associated with dominance and submission.

The new study, published today in the journal PLOS ONE, adds some quantitative data to a debate usually infused with opinion.

The researchers found that the concept of dominance does apply to domestic dogs and that certain behaviours, regardless of context, are good indicators of the dog’s status.

“The best indicator for status assessment in a pair of individuals, as well as for the position in the group (rank order), is submission, not aggression,” said lead researcher, Joanne van der Borg, a behavioural biologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

“The best formal submission signal is body tail wag, often shown in combination with mouth lick. Lowering of posture is the best status indicator for most relationships. The tail position is the most informative body part of dogs for the assessment of status in relationships.”

The best formal submission signal is body tail wag, often shown in combination with mouth lick.

Lessons for dog owners

Janice Lloyd, Senior Lecturer in Animal Behaviour at James Cook University said dominance-submissive relationship only exists when one dog consistently submits to the other. “Once the relationship is established, it is reinforced through warning postures and ritualistic aggressive encounters, rather than full-blown fighting,” she said.

Aggressiveness and social dominance are not the same thing she said, adding that postural displays can provide more information about status and rank than aggressiveness alone.

“I think it is important to note that the paper analysed dominance through behavioural measures and that dominance was used as a variable. It is uncertain if the ‘concept of dominance’ is useful to explain dog–dog aggression or dog-human aggression,” said Lloyd, who was not involved in the study.

“Although dominance-submissive relationships exist among some pet dogs (and probably cats), a linear hierarchy may not exist as individuals can share similar ranks and an animal will guard only what is important to it.”

The dominance-submissive model is not that relevant for most of the behaviours dog owners want from their dogs, she said.

“Most aggressive behaviour seen in dogs is caused by fear and/or anxiety rather than dominance. It would be ill-advised for a dog owner to think that there was one or two dog postures identified in the paper that would be most likely to predict a dog that was about to be aggressive,” she said.

Visual cues that indicate fear include blinking, licking, turning away, moving away and – if the perceived threat is not removed – growling, snapping and possibly biting, she said.

“My advice is for dog owners to learn as much as they can about canine body language and avoid putting their dogs into situations where the ‘ladder of aggression’ may escalate. If owners believe that an individual dog has a ‘dominance-trait’ that drives it to achieve a high rank, this might lead to coercive and punishment-based techniques, in order for the owner to erroneously try to ‘show the dog who is boss’, which can exacerbate the problem and ruin the owner-pet relationship.”

The ConversationSunanda Creagh is Editor at The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.
 

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When is it ethical to euthanize your pet?

The Conversation

Bernard Rollin, Colorado State University

In the 1960s, I knew people who, before going on vacation, would take their dogs to a shelter to be euthanized. They reasoned that it was cheaper to have a dog euthanized – and buy a new one upon returning – than pay a kennel fee.

Two decades later, I was working at Colorado State’s veterinary hospital when a group of distraught bikers on Harley-Davidsons pulled up carrying a sick chihuahua. The dog was intractably ill, and required euthanasia to prevent further suffering. Afterwards, the hospital’s counselors felt compelled to find the bikers a motel room: their level of grief was so profound that the staff didn’t think it was safe for them to be riding their motorcycles.

These two stories illustrate the drastic change in how animals have been perceived. For thousands of years, humans have kept animals as pets. But only during the past 40 years have they come to be viewed as family.

While it’s certainly a positive development that animals are being treated humanely, one of the downsides to better treatment mirrors some of the problems the (human) health care system faces with end-of-life care.

As with humans, in many cases the lives of pets are needlessly prolonged, which can cause undue suffering for the animals and an increased financial burden for families.

The growth of veterinary medicine and ethics

In 1979, I began teaching veterinary medical ethics at Colorado State University’s veterinary school, the first such course ever taught anywhere in the world.

A year later, the veterinary school hired an oncologist to head up a new program on animal oncology. Soon, our clinic was applying human therapeutic modalities to animal cancer. The visionary head of the veterinary program also hired a number of counselors to help pet owners manage their grief – another first in veterinary circles.

I’d been under the impression that people would be reluctant to spend much money on animal treatments, so I was genuinely shocked when the following April, the Wall Street Journal reported individuals spending upwards of six figures on cancer treatments for their pets.

As a strong advocate for strengthening concern for animal welfare in society, I was delighted with this unprecedented turn of events. I soon learned that concern for treating the diseases of pets besides cancer had also spiked precipitously, evidenced by a significant increase in veterinary specialty practices.

One of the family

So what’s behind the shift in how pets are perceived and treated?

For one, surveys conducted over the last two decades indicate an increasing number of pet owners who profess to view their animals as “members of the family.” In some surveys, the number is as high as 95% of respondents, but in nearly all surveys the number is higher than 80%.

In addition, the breakdown of nuclear families and the uptick of divorce rates have contributed to singles forming tighter bonds with companion animals.

Such attitudes and trends are likely to engender profound changes in societal views of euthanasia. Whereas before, many owners didn’t think twice about putting down a pet, now many are hesitant to euthanize, often going to great lengths to keep sick animals alive.

Vets caught in the middle

However, veterinarians continue to experience extensive stress as they experience two opposite – but equally trying – dilemmas: ending an animal’s life too soon, or waiting too long.

In a paper that I published entitled Euthanasia and Moral Stress, I described the significant stress experienced by veterinarians, veterinary technicians and humane society workers. Many chose their profession out of a desire to improve the lot of animals; instead, they invariably ended up euthanizing large numbers of them, often for unethical reasons.

These ranged from “I got the dog to jog with me, and now it’s too old to run,” to “If I die, I want you to euthanize the animal because I know it can’t bear to live without me.”

In other cases, the animal is experiencing considerable suffering, but the owner is unwilling to let the animal go. With owners increasingly viewing pets as family members, this has become increasingly common, and many owners fear the guilt associated with killing an animal too soon.

Ironically this, too, can cause veterinarians undue trauma: they know the animal is suffering, but there’s nothing they can do about it unless the owner gives them permission.

The consequences are manifest. One recent study showed that one in six veterinarians has considered suicide. Another found an elevated risk of suicide in the field of veterinary medicine. Being asked to kill healthy animals for owner convenience doubtless is a major contribution.

How to manage the decision to euthanize

Here is my suggestion to anyone who is thinking about getting a pet: when you first acquire it, create a list of everything you can find that makes the animal happy (eating a treat, chasing a ball, etc). Put the list away until the animal is undergoing treatment for a terminal disease, such as cancer. At that point, return to the list: is the animal able to chase a ball? Does the animal get excited about receiving a treat?

If the animal has lost the ability to have positive experiences, it’s often easier to let go.

This strategy can be augmented by pointing out the differences between human and animal consciousness. As philosopher Martin Heidegger has pointed out, for humans much of life’s meaning is derived from balancing past experiences with future aspirations, such as wishing to see one’s children graduate or hoping to see Ireland again.

Animals, on the other hand, lack the linguistic tools to allow them to anticipate the future or create an internal narrative of the past. Instead, they live overwhelmingly in the present. So if a pet owner is reluctant to euthanize, I’ll often point out that the animal no longer experiences pleasant “nows.”

In the end, managing euthanasia represents a major complication of the augmented status of pets in society. Ideally, companion animal owners should maintain a good relationship with their general veterinary practitioner, who has often known the animal all of its life, and can serve as a partner in dialogue during the trying times when euthanasia emerges as a possible alternative to suffering.

The ConversationBernard Rollin is Professor of Philosophy, Animal Sciences and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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Ten Animal Welfare Myths

by Tim Harding, B.Sc.

(An edited version of this essay was published in The Skeptic magazine, June 2014, Vol 34 No 2, under the title ‘Creature Features’. The essay is based on a talk presented to the Mordi Skeptics in February 2012).

The term ‘animal welfare’ is not easy to define, but it usually includes the mental and physical aspects of an animal’s well-being, as well as people’s subjective ethical preferences as to how animals should be treated.  These preferences can give rise to a range of opinions about animal welfare; but as we skeptics are fond of saying: ‘people are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts’.

I realise that this article may be controversial, even amongst my fellow skeptics.  Nevertheless, I would like to focus on some common factual misunderstandings about animal welfare; and try to dispel a few myths.

There appear to be two extreme polarised positions in the community regarding animal welfare.  An outdated view, often attributed to Rene Descartes (1596 –1650 CE), is that animals are not consciously aware, and are therefore unable to experience pain and suffering.  At the opposite pole are those who believe that animals have rights like humans do; and that hunting, farming and other uses of animals for human purposes are morally unacceptable.  Between these two extremes are various other views, including evidence-based or scientific approaches versus the so-called ‘organic’ or free-range farming industries.

Animal welfare science is a relatively new field of study; but some good research is now being done – including in Australia.  The two main experimental approaches are firstly, animal physiological and biochemical testing (e.g. blood tests) to objectively measure stress in animals under different conditions; and secondly, animal behavioural and preference studies (such as testing whether animals prefer more food or better surroundings).

Myth #1: Animals are best treated like humans

The attribution of human characteristics to non-human animals is known as anthropomorphism.  It is sometimes used to appeal to human emotions in campaign slogans about animal welfare (e.g. ‘Meat is murder!’ and ‘How would YOU like to be kept in a cage?’).

There are two main problems with an anthropomorphic approach to animal welfare. Firstly, it is emotional rather than evidence-based – and is therefore unscientific or lacking in objectivity.  Secondly, treating animals like humans is often a projection of human preferences rather than a consideration of the real needs of the animal.  Apart from the obvious differences in intelligence, anatomy and physiology, animals have different instincts to humans and they express a much more limited range of emotions than humans do.

Most of us love our pets and regard them as members of the family.  But treating them like little humans may not actually be in their best interests.  For instance, most of us are aware that chocolate is poisonous to dogs, but we may not be as aware that onions, garlic, grapes, avocados and macadamia nuts are also toxic to canine animals.[1]  Many dogs are also lactose intolerant, so dairy products are not a good idea for them either.[2]  So we should be careful about feeding human leftovers to dogs.

Myth #2: Dogs are tame wolves

Our treatment of dogs has been shaped by a historical view that they are basically wolves with nicer table manners. This is the concept behind much of traditional dog training – that dogs are pack animals competing with humans for dominance over the family.  This outdated view is now being challenged by modern canine science.[3]

All dogs are different varieties of one species descended from wolves.  Archaeological evidence now shows that dogs were first domesticated over 20,000 years ago – long before the first human settlements (around 9000BCE) and while we were still hunter-gatherers.  Dogs used to follow human hunters and scavenge from our leftovers.  We may have even used dogs to assist in our hunting.

Over this quite long period, dogs have been selected by humans for their mental temperaments as much as their physical characteristics.  As a result, modern pet dog breeds often bond more closely with humans than with other dogs.  It can therefore be bad welfare to deprive pet dogs (not farm dogs) of human contact for extended periods.

Myth #3: Some dog breeds bite humans more than others

Statistical research by the Victorian Bureau of Animal Welfare (BAW) has shown that the major contributing factor to dog attacks in urban public places is the inadequate confinement of dogs to their property, rather than the breed of dog.  Most incidents occur on the footpath or road bordering the dog owner’s property, as a result of dogs displaying territorial aggression toward people passing by or attempting to access the front door.  If owners ensured their dogs were adequately confined to the house or back yard, over 80% of dog attack incidents in public places could be prevented.[4]

The BAW studies have not shown that ‘restricted breed dogs’ (i.e. dogs bred for fighting) are excessively represented in the incidence of dog attacks on humans.  Any dog can bite if sufficiently provoked.  However, because of the relative strength of fighting dogs and their habit of tenaciously gripping their victims with their teeth and shaking them, anecdotal evidence suggests that the risks of injury and death may be greater from these types of dogs if and when they do attack humans.

Myth #4: Feeding stray cats is being kind

A survey by Monash University in 2005 found that 22 per cent of people said they sometimes fed a cat that did not belong to them.[5]  People may feel they are being kind because they know that stray cats suffer from starvation, disease and injuries from fights with other cats. But because they are ‘unowned’, stray cats are deprived of the regular meals, shelter, grooming and veterinary care that owned cats receive.  Feeding stray cats provides people with a short-term ‘feel good factor’ that acts against the long-term welfare of the cats.  It is a form of preference failure. Being a stray cat is not a sustainable lifestyle, with an average life-expectancy of only 3 years.  So feeding them actually perpetuates the misery of these poor animals (and their kittens), which on a rational basis should either be adopted as pets or euthanased.

An adverse side-effect is that stray cats are also more likely to kill birds, possums and other native animals than owned cats, at least some of which are kept indoors overnight.  The kindest thing to do for a stray cat would be to ‘adopt’ it (but have it checked for a microchip by a vet first).  If this is not possible, contact an animal welfare organisation such as the RSPCA or the Cat Protection Society.

Myth #5: Livestock are slaughtered inhumanely in Australia

Slaughter standards in Australian abattoirs are dictated by the Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production of Meat and Meat Products for Human Consumption (AS 4696 — 2007), which requires that:

1. Animals are slaughtered in a way that prevents unnecessary injury, pain and suffering to them and causes them the least practicable disturbance; and.

2. Before killing commences, animals are stunned in a way that ensures that the animals are unconscious and insensible to pain beforehand, and do not regain consciousness or sensibility before dying.[6]

There is provision for a religious exemption under an approved arrangement that allows ritual slaughter involving the commencement of killing without prior stunning.  However, such animals must then be stunned without delay to ensure that they are rendered unconscious whilst dying.  Personally, I am opposed to such religious exemptions, on the grounds of cruelty.

Myth #6: Meat chickens are kept in cages

Many people are surprised to learn that no meat chickens (also known as broilers) are kept in cages, at least in Australia.  They are farmed in large ventilated barns or sheds where they are free to roam large distances, albeit under crowded conditions, as shown in the photograph below.  Traditionally, this has not been done for welfare reasons but to allow faster and easier collection for processing, which is usually done at night.

An RSPCA approved Australian meat chicken shed

An RSPCA approved Australian meat chicken shed

In Australia, feed lines and pans run the length of the shed and are supplied automatically by silos from outside. Water lines run the length of the shed, with drinkers at regular intervals. Water and feed are placed so that chickens are never more than about 2 metres from food and water.

Myth #7: Free range chooks live mainly outdoors

Chickens naturally prefer to live under cover from predators and bad weather. In the wild, they forage for insects and other food beneath shrubs and undergrowth, only venturing out into the open for short periods of time.

Free range chickens preferring shade (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Free range chickens preferring shade (source: Wikimedia Commons)

There are no government regulations about free-range farming practices – this is left to industry self-regulation.  Australian industry standards specify that free-range chickens only need free access to the outdoors – they don’t actually need to spend any time outside a shed to qualify as free-range.  As a result, free-range chickens don’t usually spend the bulk of their time in the open, as illustrated by the photograph above. Some free-range farms have sheds on wheels or other movable housing structures.

Myth #8: Pigs are permanently kept in sow stalls

This claim is often made by animal rights activists but is untrue.  The reason for confinement in sow stalls (gestation stalls) is to minimise early abortions as a result of stress from aggressive behaviour between adult female pigs (sows).[7]

The endorsed Australian national standards for pig farming specify a maximum confinement period of 6 weeks during the initial stages of pregnancy.  Parts of the pork industry are voluntarily introducing shorter periods, but these will require more supervision (and thus higher labour costs) to separate sows that fight.

There is also some public confusion between gestation stalls and farrowing crates, especially when photographs of the latter (see below) are described as the former.

Sow farrowing crate (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Sow farrowing crate (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Sows are moved in groups to farrowing sheds approximately one week prior to giving birth.  In Australia, a farrowing crate is only used for piglet feeding purposes.  It allows the sow less movement than a gestation stall, but provides creep areas along either side for the piglets. Adjustable rails alongside the sow slow her movement when she is lying down, thus protecting piglets from being crushed.  As soon as the piglets are weaned, the sow is moved to either a much larger pen or outdoors.

Myth #9: Sheep mulesing is cruel and unnecessary

Mulesing is the removal of wrinkled skin from the breech or breech and tail of a sheep using mulesing shears.  Until accepted alternatives are developed and the current practice can be phased out, mulesing of lambs remains an important husbandry practice in Australia for animal health, welfare and management reasons.  The principal reason is to reduce urine and faecal soiling or dag formation in the breech and tail wool; and thus minimise susceptibility to even more painful breech and tail flystrike.

Currently, cost effective chemical, management and breeding solutions are not available for all types of production systems in Australia and mulesing is a valuable tool for the prevention of breech flystrike for certain production environments and sheep types.  Although potentially painful, mulesing can be a net welfare benefit.

Available scientific research suggests that it is possible to achieve pain relief in conjunction with mulesing. Pain relief is most effectively achieved through a combination of approaches such as the pre-mulesing administration of a systemic pain relief drug, followed by a post-mulesing application of topical anaesthetic to deal with the ensuing period of pain associated with the inflammatory phase.  That is to say, a combination of short and long-acting pain relief drugs may be needed to provide more complete pain relief.[8]

Myth #10: Fish can’t feel pain

The International Association for the Study of Pain’s widely used definition states: ‘Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage’.[9]  Unlike in humans, pain is difficult to observe and measure in fish, especially in the absence of tissue damage.

Even when pain avoidance is observed experimentally in fish, a possible explanation is that it is a conditioned response to stimuli without the adverse emotional experience necessary for suffering.  Because of these observational difficulties, the conclusion that fish experience pain is often inferred on the basis of comparative neural anatomy and physiology. Some scientists are currently of the view that all higher vertebrates feel pain; and that certain invertebrates, like the lobster and octopus, might too.

The current approach in Australian animal welfare regulation is to give the fish the benefit of the doubt, and to presume until further research that fish can feel pain.  Whilst painless fishing may be almost impossible to achieve, banning fishing would also be politically impossible in a democracy.  The current regulatory approach is to minimise pain by requiring fish to be either killed or released as soon as possible after capture.

Conclusion

It may come as no surprise that I support the current scientific approach to animal welfare rather than an anthropomorphic or animal rights approach.  My main reasons for this view are:

  • Evidence-based animal welfare standards are being progressively adopted by Australian governments.
  • Such standards are more likely to be enforced and complied with than other approaches.
  • As a result, animal welfare is steadily improving in Australia.
  • This approach maintains the competitiveness of Australian agriculture.

Tim Harding B.Sc. has worked for the last 13 years as a regulatory consultant, amongst other things evaluating state and national animal welfare regulations for both domestic animals and livestock.  

References: 

[1] Warren, Katrina.  DrKatrina.com web site.

[2] Pet MD web site. Dietary Reactions in Dogs.

[3] Bradshaw, John (2011) In Defence of Dogs. Penguin Books, London.

[4] Harding, Tim (2005)  Proposed Domestic (Feral And Nuisance) Animals Regulations 2005 – Regulatory Impact Statement. Department of Primary Industries, Attwood.

[5]  http://www.theage.com.au/environment/animals/citys-stray-cat-problem-has-melbourne-throwing-a-hissy-fit-20130610-2o07j.html

[6] Browne, Gavin  (2007)  Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production of Meat and Meat Products for Human Consumption (AS 4696 — 2007). Food Regulation Standing Committee Technical Report Series 3.  CSIRO PUBLISHING / Food Regulation Standing Committee, Collingwood.

[7] Harding, Tim and Rivers, George (2006) Proposed Model Code Of Practice For The Welfare Of Animals – Pigs: Regulatory Impact Statement. CSIRO PUBLISHING, Collingwood.

[8] Harding, Tim and Rivers, George (2013) Proposed Australian Animal Welfare Standards And Guidelines – Sheep: Consultation Regulation Impact Statement. Animal Health Australia, Canberra.

[9] Bonica, John (1979) The need of a taxonomy. Pain. 1979; 6(3): 247–8.

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