Monday, January 23, 2017

Overpopulation of Humans Affects Animals

Human overpopulation is an uncomfortable subject for people to talk about it, but if we claim to love other species of animals it is something we need to be aware of.  As the human population continues to explode other species are at risk and many have already been driven to extinction.  In fact, scientists are calling our current time "The Holocene Extinction Event", as species of animals are going extinct at rates faster than normal, and due to human activity.

Why Are Animals Going Extinct?

Habitat loss.  We take land for our homes, we take land for agriculture, we take land for recreation.  More people = more land taken.  A lot of people deny human over population because they say there is still more land for more homes, but what they fail to consider is that the land they speak about is already "home" to another species.

Pollution.  Pollution kills animals in many ways, one of the biggest concerns is how pollution is affecting the reefs of the world, and yes, coral is an animal!  When coral reefs die so do many of the other species that call them home.  Then other species that depend on those animals for life starve to death.  More people = more pollution.  Pollution in lakes and ponds kills off other animals too and some animals have such small habitats that if you poison the only lake/pond that they are found in they will be extinct.  Amphibians are very sensitive to pollution as well.  Migrating birds are affected by light pollution.
This whale likely died as a result of being tangled in fishing lines

Food.  We eat animals.  In some areas of the world meat is hard to come by, beef is expensive, so people eat whatever they can even if the animal is listed as endangered.   Overfishing has put many fish species at risk of extinction.

Other Reasons.  Trophy hunting of rare and endangered animals, including poaching for horns, has put many species at risk, however this is not necessarily related to human overpopulation in as much as it is related to the selfishness of some particular humans.  Capturing animals for the exotic pet trade also endangers them in the wild, but again is not directly related to overpopulation.

Let's Talk About Agriculture!

This farm land was once all forest, and the thin line of trees in the distance is not enough to sustain wildlife, it serves only as a windbreak to prevent topsoil from blowing away when the farmer plows the fields on the other side of the treeline.
 The biggest threat to other species is agriculture.  For thousands of years the human population was under 1 billion people, but in the last 100 years the population has risen to over 7.5 billion, and all of us need to eat.  As our population grew we relied more and more on agriculture.  Agriculture relies on deforestation in most cases.  Deforestation means less habitat for animals, and sometimes animals are killed if they come on to areas claimed for agriculture.  Meat production, specifically cattle, is a huge burden on the planet.

If you look at pictures of pasture land in England and Ireland they sure do look lovely; rolling green hills and all, but consider that much of that land was once a forest and that many species which lived there are now extinct.  The same thing happened in North America.  Forests were removed to make room for farm land.  Today the leading cause of loss of the Amazon rain forest is agriculture, with thousands of acres lost to be converted into land for cattle or food production for cattle.  Animals that needed forests, such as the passenger pigeon, are now gone forever.

In other parts of the world, Borneo for example, rain forests are cleared so we can produce palm oil.  The animals of those rain forests (such as orangutans) are at risk, and others have already gone extinct.

Agriculture is one reason why people are in denial about human overpopulation.  They see a lot of space being used as farm land and think it equates to having more space for more people... but of course if we put more people on that land then we need other land to make up for the loss and even more land to feed those additional people and thus we destroy even more habitat.

We Control The Population Of Other Species, But Not Our Own

Human  population growth chart.
 Largely we control the growth of other species.  We kill off thousands of seals and dolphins every year because we are concerned about them eating "our" fish stocks.  We kill off wolves, coyotes, cougars, and bears, that eat our livestock.  We even spay or neuter our pets to prevent them from becoming a problem with pet overpopulation. 

Think About It 

Nobody wants to consider slaughtering humans to keep our numbers low, and that is not what I am saying, but something must be done.  The birth rate is falling, but the main reason our population is exploding is because we are living longer than ever before.  Eventually we will reach a point where our population has destroyed so many other species that our own survival is at risk.

What can we do?  We can put off having children until we are in our late 20's and limit ourselves to one child only.  We can reduce the amount of meat we eat in general.  We can make birth control available to those who want it and cannot afford it.  We can stop making women feel bad for deciding not to have children!

If we claim to care about animals we need to be better at sharing the planet with them and stop taking from them.  This earth is for all of us, not just "us".

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Top Ten Facts About Domestic Animals

These are some simple facts about some domestic animals that everyone really should know, but not everyone does.

1.  You do not need a rooster to get eggs.  Hens (and other female birds) can, and will, lay eggs even when no male is present.  Without a male the eggs will not be fertile.  Some birds lay more eggs than others.  Eggs only hatch if fertile and if incubated for the required period of days.

2.  "Pitbull" is not a breed of dog.  The term pitbull (also written as pit bull) is a term that refers to a type of dog for which many breeds fit.  The term comes from the fact that certain dogs were bred to be used for blood sport, often being "pitted" against bulls, mules, or other animals, for entertainment.

3.  Pigs are as intelligent as dogs.  Pigs can be trained to walk on a leash (usually with a harness) and can be house trained.  They can learn basic commands and enjoy human company.  They like to wallow in mud to keep themselves cool, to control pests, and just to have fun.

4.  Most cats are lactose intolerant and can get diarrhea or tummy cramps from having dairy.  Goat's milk is usually somewhat more gentle on a cat's stomach than cow's milk, but either way the calcium level can also contribute to urinary tract problems.  Another food commonly given to cats, but one they really should not have is tuna, especially if the tuna was canned in oil for people.

5.  Not all sheep have wool.  Primitive sheep did not have the thick wool coats we associate with sheep now.  Selective breeding produced woolly sheep.  Hair sheep are still popular in parts of the world and only grow a thicker coat for winter, shedding it in the summer.  Hair sheep are also popular among hobby farmers who want sheep but don't want to have to shear them.
The brown sheep pictured above are hair sheep.

6.  Dogs with docked tails suffer a social disadvantage compared to dogs with tails.  Dogs communicate though scent.  They spread their scent by wagging their tail.  If scared they sometimes clamp their tail.  From a distance a dog can wag its tail to spread its scent to dogs it sees before it gets too close, thus offering an early greeting or signalling "stay away".  A dog with a docked tail cannot spread its scent as effectively and this could concern another dog that sees.

7.  Guinea pigs are social animals and do best in pairs, or in small groups.  They find it hard to make new friends when older so should be purchased as pairs when young.  In some areas it is illegal to own only one guinea pig.

8.  Rabbits are not rodents they are lagomorphs.  They have two pairs of upper incisors (teeth).  Some owners are surprised to see their pet rabbit eating its own feces but they actually produce special feces (often in the morning) which they do eat.  This is normal and part of their diet.

9.  The betta fish typically sold in stores are males.  Some times female fish are offered for sale but the males are the more colorful ones.  Males will attack other males and will also attack females unless she is in her breeding phase.  They do not need air filters because they get their air from the surface.  Although often kept in tiny tanks they should really have at least 3 gallons of space.

10.  This last fact is not about a specific type of domestic animal at all but is a fact about what you should do if you happen to find an animal and have taken it into your home or yard.  The animal is not yours to keep or sell, you must first contact the local animal shelter or whomever deals with lost and found pets in your area (sometimes this is a veterinarian or police in areas where a proper shelter does not exist).  You can take it to a veterinarian who will check it (for free) for a tattoo or microchip.  You can also try to find the pet's owner by posting its picture on Facebook or other websites, but make sure you contact the proper authorities in your area as mentioned. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What is Vestibular Disease in Dogs?

If your dog is suddenly acting strange, falling over, rolling to one side, behaving not quite right, you may want to consider that your dog has Vestibular disease. The sympoms are similar to that of a stroke, and prior to development in brain imaging techniques, we often mistook Vestibular disease as being a stroke. You will note that dogs can get strokes, but what we are talking about here is something different than a stroke.

Vestibular disease is basically an inner ear problem. The vestibular system being the name for the inner ear and the nerves that run to the brain. Since balance is controlled and regulated in the inner ear any problems with this area will show as dizziness or balance problems. Vestibular disease is not contagious.

You will want to note that the common age of onset of Vestibular disease is after 10 years, but it can occur in younger dogs as well.

Symptoms of Vestibular Disease
healthy dog

The dog may tilt its head to one side
Eyes tend to wander, often looking off to the side
The dog may keep its eyes shut or blink more often
The dog may walk with a staggering gait, even falling down to one side
Circling behavior
Facial tics or twitching of the face muscles
Paralysis of facial muscles
The dog may seem confused, drunk, or dizzy
The dog may loose interest in eating
Incontinence, or frequent urination

Causes of Vestibular Disease

Vestibular disease in dogs can have many causes. Infection to the ear, or from the brain. Cancer, poison, or even parasites in the ear. Immune diseases can contribute to a dog developing this problem as can an under active thyroid. Encephalitis can also bring on Vestibular disease. Sometimes we simply do not know the cause of the problem, and occasionally it starts, and stops, all on its own.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Vestibular Disease

A veterinarian is required to diagnosis vestibular disease and to make the distinction between it and a stroke, or other problem. They may do a test of the Cerebrospinal Fluid, which is fluid around the brain, and/or giving the pet an MRI. Both tests may be costly to an owner. A thyroid test may be done as well. Do not encourage the dog to “snap out of it” rather it is best to keep the dog calm, and relaxed.

Once diagnosed, if the cause is parasites (including ear mites), or infection, treatment for the cause should be given immediately, however long term damage may have already been done. As mentioned, sometimes vestibular disease starts, and goes away all on its own, in these cases the dog may still have a characteristic tilt to its head but other symptoms (such as falling over) will have passed.

Focus is then placed on keeping the dog safe, and comfortable. The dog may be given medication to deal with the dizziness. Dogs should be taken for shorter walks, in safe areas (not next to the road) and be kept on leash at all times. Care should be taken in the home to prevent the dog from falling down stairs; as such the dog should not be allowed to climb stairs or go down them on their own, and stairways should be blocked off.

If the dog is unable to control its urination, it may be fitted with a doggy diaper. If the dog has problems eating it may need to be given a special, more pallet able, diet.

Finally, if you own a dog with a problem such as vestibular disease you must be sensitive; knowing how you feel when going through a dizzy patch will help you understand how your dog must feel. This condition is manageable with love and understanding.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Things to Know Before Adopting a Rabbit

Cute, soft, and popular; rabbits make great pets for some people, but there are some important things to know before adopting one. Learning a bit about them first will help a potential owner know if a bunny (another name for a rabbit) would be a suitable pet to adopt.

Unlike somepets, rabbits, are pretty much legal to keep everywhere, however, if a person rents their home they may need landlord permission. A potential adopter who is going to a shelter to adopt a rabbit should bring a copy of their lease agreement to indicate that they are allowed pets, otherwise the shelter will need to contact their landlord just to be sure.

Two rabbits getting to know each other.
The next consideration is their space requirement, some of the smaller breeds of rabbits are fine in a cage that provides at least 2 square feet of space, but the larger breeds will need at least twice that. No breed of rabbit should be housed in minimal space if the owner is not going to have sufficient time to allow it out of the cage every day. Two other housing options exist, one being to allow the bunny to roam loose in the home, the other is to confine it to an outdoor hutch.

There are some things to know before allowing a bunny to be loose in the home. Firstly, because they are natural chewers, they may nibble cords, so any electrical wires must be put out of reach or run through a piece of PVC pipe. Secondly, unless litter trained, they will leave messes throughout the home. Finally, if you have other house pets this may be a concern, while adult rabbits are usually safe with cats, some breeds of dogs have high prey instinct and a loose rabbit might not be so safe. It is important to note that all rabbits need time out of their cage and should be allowed access to at part of the house for at least an hour every day. 

If a rabbit is to be housed outdoors in a hutch there are some other considerations. The most important thing is that the owner be aware of the condition known as “FlyStrike”, whereby flies lay eggs on rabbits dirty bottoms and the maggots will eat the bunny alive. This means any rabbit kept outdoors must be kept in very clean conditions. Another consideration is climate, with larger bunnies being more tolerant of the cold than smaller ones. Additionally the hutch must be safe and secure against predator types in ones area.

One advantage of rabbits over cats and dogs, is that they are vegetarians, being a lot cheaper to feed than cats and dogs are. Also rabbits may be allowed by some landlords where cats and dogs are not. You should know that a well socialized rabbit is unlikely to bite or show signs of aggression
Rabbits have very few health problems when compared to cats and dogs, their teeth being a main concern. They must be given proper things to chew on so their teeth do not over grow. Like cats and dogs they may be spayed or neutered, as some male rabbits will spray. As mentioned earlier rabbits can be litter trained. Their lifespan is similar to that of a large dog, being about 8-12 years. A person not willing for this length of a commitment may decide to adopt an older rabbit rather than a young one.

A disadvantage may be that rabbits do not interact with their owner to the level that cats and dogs do, making it more difficult for some people to bond with them. Another disadvantage is that it may be slightly harder to find good veterinary care for an ailing rabbit. 

Before adopting a rabbit it is important to know that there are many breeds to choose from. They range from the tiny, Mini Rexes, to the larger meat breeds, such as the Flemish Giant. There are short haired rabbits, and long haired ones, such as the Angora and Fuzzy Lop, that require regular grooming or they will develop painful hair mats. Rexes are noted for their softness, and in addition to the Lop breeds, are one of the most popular as pets.  Do not just adopt a bunny because it is super cute, select the right one for you!

More important than breed, is how a rabbit was handled prior to being adopted. Rabbits who came from commercial breeders (those sold in pet stores) are seldom handled prior to arriving at the store and are less likely to be friendly than one adopted from a shelter or acquired from a private home/breeder. A person should know that rabbits generally dislike being picked up or put down, but should be able to be held without too much squirming and fuss.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Risks for Pets at Halloween

Halloween can be a fun time, but it is not always fun for our pets.  There are many risks and dangers to our cats and dogs at this time of year.  Know the concerns and follow these Halloween safety tips for your pets to ensure that everyone has a happy and safe Halloween.

1.  Poisons.  Chocolate and other candies can be toxic to cats, dogs, and even pet birds.  Cats are less likely to eat things not meant for them, but dogs will swallow something they think is food without much thought.  A dropped chocolate (particularly dark chocolate) can be fatal to a small dog.  Xylitol is a sweetener used in many candies and is also toxic to dogs, birds, and possibly cats as well.

2.  Confusion/Stress.  Halloween is "different" than the normal routine and this can cause stress in some pets.  Some pets will get upset at kids coming to the door and constantly ringing the doorbell or calling out.  Additionally with the door opening and shutting so often a pet is likely to run outside.  In many cases it is best to keep a pet in a different room for the night so it does not get upset.  A baby gate can be put at the front door to prevent a small dog from bolting outside or lunging at children.

3.  If the Dog Goes Trick Or Treating...  Of course some people like to take their dog trick or treating.  It is important that the dog have a collar and leash.  The collar should have identification tags in case the dog gets away.  Remember the dog might be frightened, confused, or excited, by the events of the night, so only a well trained, and socialized, dog should go out on Halloween.  If the dog is going to be wearing a costume, test it out with the costume prior.  The leash should be reflective, and kept short.  Again, watch the dog so it does not try to eat any dropped candy.

4.  Fireworks.  Many pets get lost in areas due to fireworks shows.  It is best not to take dogs to such shows.  Dogs, and cats, who are left outside in areas where fireworks are being set off have been known to run away having been frightened by the noise.

5.  Candles.  Pumpkins with lit candles should be placed carefully where pets cannot knock them over.

6.  Pet Concerns Prior to Halloween.  All pets are at risk from pranksters prior to October 31, however black cats are particularly at risk.  People have been known to steal black cats and have them at Halloween parties as "decorations", and discard them afterwards.  As such all pets should be supervised in the weeks leading up to this holiday.  People should be especially cautious about giving away "free pets" at this time of year as well.

Other Reading

Advice for Pets Concerned About Halloween
Facts About Halloween (hint it was not about animal sacrifice, or devil worship)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Why Does PETA Kill So Many Pets in their Care?

PETA is an animal rights group.  Many people have huge misconceptions about PETA and about animal rights in general.

Among other things, animal rights groups feel that it is against an animal's rights to be owned.  Because so many PETA members do have pets they do not really enforce this "rule" as much as some more extreme animal rights groups do.  Nonetheless it must be understood that animal rights groups do not encourage the ownership of any animal.

Consider the number of pets euthanized in general.  The Humane Society of America has reported roughly 4 million pets as being euthanized in shelters every year.  This number is actually down from several years ago thanks in part to more people spaying or neutering their pets, but is still a high number.

Now consider that the PETA shelter in Virginia euthanizes roughly 2000 pets per year and you can see that this number is just a drop in the bucket compared to the 4 million pets euthanized yearly across the nation.  PETA has said that the pets they get tend to be ones in bad shape, mostly brought to them by impoverished people who cannot afford to euthanize a sick and/or old pet in the first place and are not typically adoptable pets. 

Here is what PETA has to say:
"PETA operates as a “shelter of last resort” for poverty-stricken areas of Virginia and North Carolina. We take in animals who have been chained up outside for their entire lives like old bicycles, animals who have been abused or neglected, and animals whose owners—many of whom can’t afford to pay for euthanasia at a veterinarian’s office—come to us for help." As a Virginia official speaking of PETA’s statistics told USA Today, “PETA will basically take anything that comes through the door, and other shelters won’t do that.”
That “2,000” figure doesn’t include the adoptable animals we transferred to big family-friendly, open-admission shelters that offer animals the best chance at finding a home, and it doesn’t include the dogs and cats we provided with free or low-cost spaying or neutering or other veterinary services to help guardians keep their animals."

Thus it appears that people who dislike PETA, and the animal rights movement in general, might just be forgetting certain facts when they talk about the high volume of pets that PETA euthanized.  Yes, 2000 pets is a lot, but it appears that these pets were ailing in the first place.

It should be noted that shelters across the USA (and in other countries) euthanize perfectly healthy cats and dogs, as well as kittens and pups, all the time, simply because they get so many animals in constantly and have so few adoptions.  Some shelters call themselves "no-kill" but they typically reject pets if they are full, or if they think the pet is not adoptable.
Puppy mill - place that breeds pups for stores.

PETA is well known but not as extreme as some animal rights groups are.  They have a lot of haters, and please note that I am not a member of PETA, I simply dislike it when some people try to discredit a group when the group has done some very good things in the past (for example forcing the release of monkeys being experimented on while alive). 

Ideally if more people adopted pets, and if more people spayed or neutered the pets they have, and if everyone would stop supporting puppy mills and pet stores who sell mill pups, then euthanasia rates of healthy pets would fall, but to get mad at PETA for helping poor people to euthanize their sick and dying pets is unfair.

Friday, July 10, 2015

About Horses Dying During Chuckwagon Races

As of July 12 a total of four horses have died as the result of chuckwagon racing during the Calgary Stampede, including a three year old horse.  I live in Alberta and have many chuckwagon families in the area, but want to tell the full story of chuckwagon racing and the risk to the horses.

I saw many comments to posts on Facebook and most of these comments contained some errors in thinking that I wanted to clear up as well.

First of all chuckwagon races are not really based on cowboy history but were created specifically for entertainment; the first race was held in 1923 at the Calgary Stampede.  In a race the chuckwagons are pulled by four horses, and each chuckwagon racing team also has two outriders (it used to be four outriders) who load the wagon before the driver takes it on a course, the riders then mount their horses and race too.  As such each "team" consists of 3 people and 6 horses.

Since 1986 at least 50 horses have died (or been euthanized) in relationship to the chuckwagon races.
2009 chuckwagon race at the Calgary Stampede

On the Facebook post following the most recent death one of the most common comments was people saying "Horses break legs running in the wild too".  I want to point out that this is true, but there is really no comparison.  In the wild horses rarely run at full speed.  They are more likely to walk, trot, or canter.  They are not forced to run in the situation that they are presented with during any type of race.  Wild horses tend to be extremely surefooted and because they are outside all the time their bone density is much better than most domestic horses, particularly those that are stabled a lot.

I have also seen comments about the fact that the horses are having fun and doing what they were bred to do.  Yes this is true to some extent, but horses at play (having fun) do not race each other as they do when they are being exploited purely for human entertainment.

Another comment was that the media loves it when there are crashes and injuries to horses in chuckwagon races but why don't they also show crashes at Spruce Meadows (a popular show jumping facility also in Calgary).  In truth they do show crashes that occur in show jumping events during the broadcast of that event, but the news rarely covers these crashes because typically no horses are killed (although the crashes can be spectacular to watch).  Show jumping horses suffer fewer injuries because they are not running at full speed, only one horse is on the course at a time, and these horses are not often ridden until they are 4 years of age, as such their legs are not subjected to stress early on.  

As for the care of the chuckwagon horses in general, I will say that most are cared for better than your typical thoroughbred race horse.  Most thoroughbred race horses (in North America) are kept stabled for weeks at a time, with only an hour or two out of their stalls every day, this causes bone density problems which makes a leg break more likely.  Chuckwagon horses are stabled a lot while at the track but most have time outdoors when back at their farms.

Do the owners of chuckwagon horses love their horses?  Yes, probably more so than the owners of most thoroughbred race horses for whom the horse is not really a part of their life in general but something they own to show off and have fun with.  Many thoroughbred race horse owners could not even pick their horse out from a group of horses in the field.  They do not know how to clean a hoof, and do not really have much contact with their horses.  Chuckwagon drivers, on the other hand, are usually actual horsemen that have a passion for equine sport.  To them the horses are part of their lives, but not necessarily "pets". 

In some cases the chuckwagon horses are horses that were rejected from the regular racetrack and would have been sent to slaughter had the chuckwagon drivers not purchased them.

For sure I do feel these races are putting horses at risk, and certainly the risk is greater than they would face in the wild, or if they were just pleasure riding horses.  I think it is ignorant to deny that there is a risk.   Horse racing in general is very risky as it pushes horses to their extremes.  You can decide for yourself if you want to watch these races or not.

Please note as well that when a horse breaks its leg it is not a simple fix.  They can recover but only with a lot of time and high expense, for most owners the expense is just too high for a horse that might not race again.