Tag Archives: wildlife

Amur (Siberian) Tigers Killed by Canine Distemper Virus

I’m sorry that I’m running behind on the blog this week. Thursday was occupied by a big project that I’ll start discussing in a post later on Sunday.

I’ve mentioned before that nature and conservation are important to me. Sometimes, my profession and my passion for conservation overlap. The article I’m linking is an example of that intersection. It’s a sad occurrence.

Canine distemper virus, which can infect not only dogs but animals like raccoons and foxes, has spread into a massive area in Russia. The virus has been responsible for the death of several Siberian (Amur) tigers, which are a highly endangered species. Apparently, the tigers have come into contact with the virus in part by hunting and killing domestic dogs. This is the result of encroachment on the tiger’s habitat by human settlement.

This cross-species infection is another example of the adaptability and easily altered behavior of some viruses. The canine distemper vaccine may pose a danger to these tigers if it were given, and there’s no vaccine designed for cats of any kind to protect against canine distemper. It’s a tough dilemma in deciding how to protect these rare and valuable tigers.

The full article can be found here.

An additional article with lots of overlap but some additional info can be found here.

790px Harbin Siberian Tigers


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Filed under cats, exotic, feline, infectious diseases, nature, news, wildlife

Thursday News – Dolphins Have Names?

The BBC covered a research project that looked into some interesting vocalizations by bottlenose dolphins. It seems that dolphins may create a unique vocal noise to identify themselves — a name! — when they communicate with other dolphins.

Here’s a link to the article.

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Every 13 or 17 years, an insect called a cicada will emerge from a long sleep underground. It’s actually part of their life cycle to remain dormant for that long of a time. While this summer’s brood will not hatch in Michigan, there are cicadas that emerge each year in addition to the really big broods that hatch every 17 years. These are the bugs that make that really, really loud and long buzzing/humming noise every summer. They typically emerge in April, May, and June.

This article explains that they’re mostly harmless to pets; not toxic, don’t bite.

If you happen to see one, they’re both interesting and grotesque all at once.

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Thursday News – Wildlife Outreach?

A client sent me a video yesterday that’s likely to raise some strong emotions. I’ll let the story speak for itself. How do you feel about what’s happening?


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Necessary Evil?

Domestic pets are frequently spoiled by their owners. Schedules are set to include walks and play time for dogs. Cats often have climbing trees and other toys to play with. We interact daily to enrich their lives and to keep them happy. It’s an instinct on our part to care for our pets’ emotional and behavioral needs just as much as their physical needs. Most pet owners are so well-suited to this relationship that doing the right thing comes naturally.

Our relationship with non-domestic animals isn’t always so easy. Wild things are far enough away from our suburban lives that we don’t think often think about them. It isn’t easy to look at the links we have to the natural world and understand that we are responsible for its preservation. While I believe that “pet people” are more likely to understand conservation efforts, it’s still not an immediate connection the way our pets are.

Zoos occupy a spot between our yards and the greater wilderness. There are very few people that haven’t been to a zoo. The chance to be close to exotic wild animals captures our attention easily. We’re very aware, somehow, that looking eye to eye with a lion or tiger in safety is a rare event. Whatever part of our own survival instinct that survives tells us that is a wild animal and it will eat you if it can! That moment of connection between human and wild may well be enough to encourage a person to support conservation efforts. Zoos, aquariums, and preserves serve as an inspiration.

Captive animals also ignite very, very strong opinions about animal welfare. The stark truth is that we have confined an animal to a given setting for the remainder of its life. Very few zoos are able to release animals into the wild, so the survival of certain species is unfortunately limited to a captive population. We do need to acknowledge that maintaining a captive population in a zoo can provide breeding stock for programs that may in fact be able to release animals back to the wild. I believe that’s a minority of cases, though.

This leaves us in a quandary. If we accept that zoos serve an important function, then we accept that there will be animals in captivity. If we accept that this “ownership” brings the same responsibilities that owning our own pets does, then we have a very clear directive. We must care for the emotional, physical, and mental well-being of zoo animals.

Caring for those needs is easier said than done. I’m honestly not sure if a tiger would chase a laser pointer, but I’m certain that stalking and chasing are natural activities for a big cat. We’re obligated to find a way to provide an opportunity for that behavior. Thankfully, zoos have come up with a lot of great strategies for the well being of the animals. If we accept that zoos are providing for the animals appropriately, then we can accept that a zoo is a “necessary evil.”

I want to briefly raise the topic of non-human primate captivity. The great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans) are creatures with intelligence we still don’t fully understand. Some of them exhibit the very foundations of our own humanity. They serve as outreach for conservation in a way that none of the other animals can, thanks to their immediately recognizable human-ness.

The apes’ habitats are shrinking, they’re hunted for non-food reasons, and they’ve been exploited miserably. We must confine them to highly secure exhibits in zoos to prevent their escape. Their intelligence makes care for their emotional and mental welfare a massive challenge. Thankfully, here too, zoos are working on clever solutions. (Remember the iPads for orangutans news post a while back?)

Certainly with all captive animals, but especially with the great apes, we have a massive responsibility to ensure that they are as well cared for as possible. I think we can improve what we’re already doing. As with most issues such as this, publicity and marketing will have to play a role. Without public support (including financial support), zoos and similar facilities will not be able to meet the needs of the animals.

Although we can’t pet the tigers at the zoo, their needs are no different than those of the ten pound cousin using your couch as a scratching post. It’s an easy thing to realize that, and to take steps to help spoil the 400 pound tiger just as thoroughly. It’s the least we can do.

Detroit Zoo 20101003  022

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Thursday News

Treating infections is one of the most widely known aspects of medical practice. Humans and other animals are in a constant and highly variable relationship with the microscopic world inside and outside our bodies. Bacteria help us digest and use our food, but they can also cause life-threatening infections. Dealing with the bad bugs often requires an antibiotic, a chemical that kills the bacteria. Finding new antibiotics that can be brought to the market as a safe, effective treatment is a long, expensive, arduous process. As a result, we don’t see too many new antibiotics.

Scientists have discovered a small molecule in the bloodstream of the giant panda that has antibacterial properties. The pandas make this small chain of amino acids (a peptide) naturally and it circulates in their body. Interestingly, it kills bacteria very quickly — more quickly than the drugs and molecules we already know about. The hope, of course, is that we can find a way to make this available to help humans and other animals. Scientists are working on making this peptide in the lab so that wild pandas can be protected.

This is another example of why research into the natural world is far, far more important than it might at first seem. Nature has a great deal to share with us about elegant solutions.

Here’s the link to the article. (It’s pretty short.)

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Filed under human interest, immunology, infectious diseases, medication, medicine, nature, news, wildlife

Thursday News – Tasmanian Devils

We’ve talked a lot about cancer in the past few weeks. The many wicked faces of cancer is concern enough for pet owners. Thankfully, cancer isn’t a contagious disease…usually. Dogs can get a venereal tumor that is transmitted through sexual contact. Tasmanian devils are also being wiped out of their natural habitat by a type of cancer that is transmitted easily from one devil to another.

The Tasmanian tumors are aggressive. They grow quickly, and they’re disgustingly nasty. Most of the time, they grow on the face. They get so big that the devils can’t eat enough to stay alive. Metastasis to other organs, including the heart, is also very common.

There’s a great article here, with a video, talking more about the Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD).

Wikipedia also has an extensive article about DFTD. The wiki article includes a picture.

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West Nile Virus

We’re firmly entrenched in the last week of August, and with the weather running warm to hot for the foreseeable future, I want to take some time to discuss a zoonotic disease that’s making headlines locally and nationally. This is something that -everyone- should pay attention to, whether you’re an outdoorsy or indoorsy person. Dog and Cat owners don’t have much to be concerned about with their pets, but horse owners should be concerned.

West Nile Virus (WNV) is closely related to a small set of viruses known as flaviviruses. It’s found throughout the majority of the US. While it generally infects birds, animals and people are potential hosts for the virus. Interestingly, WNV in the US hasn’t changed much since about 1999. In contrast, many types of virus can change their makeup more frequently.

WNV is primarily found in birds. Birds can survive the infection and become immune, but some of them will die after being infected. Mosquitos transfer the virus from bird to bird when they bite to drink a blood meal. These same mosquitos can bite other animals or people, which can lead to infection of those other animals. The main difference in the infections is that birds develop very high levels of virus in the bloodstream. Humans and other animals generally do NOT develop high levels of virus in the bloodstream. Animals other than birds and humans are called “dead-end hosts” because they don’t serve as a means for the virus to reproduce.

WNV 21August 2012 a

WNVcycle4 18 big
Spending time outdoors is the primary risk factor for contracting WNV. Anywhere that you can get bitten by a mosquito puts you at risk for contracting WNV. One of the mosquito species that transmits WNV can survive the winter by hibernating in places like barns, underground, or in root cellars. The presence of mosquitos indoors means that people and indoor pets are at risk of being infected.

As I mentioned, dogs and cats are quite resistant to this virus. The CDC reports that a 1999 study (in New York) showed many dogs are infected by WNV but do not develop any symptoms. Horses, on the other hand, seem to be more susceptible. Not every horse that is infected will get sick, but those that do have a 40% chance of dying from the infection. A vaccine exists, but no one is certain how much it’s helping protect horses.

For people that are infected by WNV, about 80% will have no signs or symptoms at all. People over 50 years of age, or those with diabetes or other immune suppression, are more susceptible. About 20% of the people infected will develop flu-like symptoms 3-14 days after being bitten by a mosquito: fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. People can feel sick for a few days to a few weeks. About 1 in 150 of the people who are infected will get severely sick. High fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis can occur. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent. If you think you may have WNV, you should contact your physician for further instructions.

There is no vaccine for people. Preventing mosquito bites is the best way to avoid contracting WNV. According to the CDC, these methods can be used to lessen your risk:

Many mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. Be sure to use insect repellent with an EPA-registered insect repellant. Wear long sleeves and pants at these times or consider staying indoors during these hours. Make sure you have good screens on your windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out. Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children’s wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren’t being used.

Here’s the CDC webpage about WNV.

Here is the wikipedia page about WNV.

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Infectious Disease in Michigan

I received a newsletter from the State Veterinary Office this week. It contained some interesting data on infectious diseases in Michigan. We strongly recommend vaccinating against two of these diseases. I get a fair amount of pushback from clients on these recommendations, surprisingly. I’d like to share some of the data with you.


(details here in a prior blog post)

There were 74 cases of Lepto reported in Michigan in 2011. Keep in mind that these are only the cases that veterinarians actually called the state to report. (Reportable diseases are those which require a vet to call the state when diagnosed.) Of those 74 cases, 13 were in Macomb county; 10 were in Oakland county; and 33 were in Wayne county. So, our tri-county area accounted for 56 out of 74 cases. That’s about 75%!

A very wide variety of breeds were affected, but many were small dog breeds. In my experience, these are the dogs that owners insist don’t have exposure because they only go outside very briefly. They’re also the breeds that breeders frequently tell clients should not have lepto vaccinations.

Three quarters of the strains of lepto that caused illness in these cases were strains we can vaccinate for. This means that the affected dogs probably did NOT have the vaccine. (It is possible for a vaccinated dog to still get sick. It’s just unlikely.)

The take-home message here is that dogs in Oakland county need to be vaccinated for Lepto.


From January 1 to August 8 of 2012, there were 45 confirmed cases of Rabies in Michigan. Of those 45 cases, 37 were bats. Eight were skunks. In all of 2011, there were 65 confirmed cases. For 2012, Oakland county has had 2 positive bats and 3 positive skunks. There’s a neat map at this link showing where the positive cases have come from.

Michigan law requires all dogs be vaccinated for rabies. However, there is no law regarding cats. There really is no reason to avoid vaccinating a healthy cat. If a bat gets into the house, the cat will be the first to find it. Cats that go outside are also far more likely to come into contact with other wild animals than the average stay at home dog, so a cat’s risk is high enough to warrant vaccinating for rabies.

Finally, as rabies is frequently a fatal infection in people, the need to protect people by keeping our pets vaccinated is simply the smart thing to do.


Filed under infectious diseases, news, wildlife, zoonotic

A more local news story – Barn Owl in Rehab

This is a cool article about a species that was once native to Michigan. After first becoming endangered, it was believed that Barn Owls were extinct in Michigan. The article explains how this individual owl was saved and is being cared for by a wildlife rehab facility in Grand Rapids.

Wildlife experts shocked to find injured Michigan barn owl thought to be extinct, now being rehabilitated in Grand Rapids.

Barn Owl


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