About

The website acts as a roof under which I keep information about my work and scientific interests, potential educational material and presentation of topics that tickle my interest regarding animal behavior, welfare and veterinary medicine. At times there may be posts about ongoing research projects I participate in. Quite rarely, an opinion post might show up.

I am mainly interested in research focusing on the behavior and welfare of cattle, and their association with good health and productivity. I have recently also developed an interest for the behavior and welfare of laboratory mice and rats, implementation on 3R and the impact of good welfare on the results of scientific experiments. This, however, does not exclude an interest in other species. Furthermore, my job as a clinician for companion animals often involves forming and applying behavioral solutions for my patients.

I hope you will find something useful or interesting among these pages. Thank you for visiting!

My former testing calves still remember me and come for cuddles.

Adopted lab mouse Gordon exploring new enrichment

Upcoming topics list

Here is a constantly updated list of topics I would like to write about – now if only I can make time for it. Got an interesting topic you’d like me to look up in scientific literature? Send me a message!

Cattle

Companion animals

  • Small rodents as pets: is it really that simple a task?
  • Why preventive medicine for your dog and cat makes a difference.

 

The life of Gordon: how keeping a lab mouse as a pet opened up new prospects for me

Attention! This is not an educational post but rather a (very, very long) narrative of a personal experience. I have almost entirely omitted referencing any sources in this post so please do not share this as a scientifically backed text! Proceed at your own discretion and feel free to verify any statements using tools like Google Scholar.

On Friday 29th of June 2018 I experienced, for the first time, the awful feeling of having to put down my very own companion animal. Adopted CD-1 laboratory mouse Gordon, born sometime in January 2016, had reached 2 years and 7 months of a long and somewhat adventurous life and his body gave strong indications that it was giving up on him. It all went very quickly and as peacefully as possible for him (more detail later in the text).

I know – what a sad way to introduce a piece about how the life of a little mouse can have such an impact on the mood, career interests and scientific inquiries of a person! But I promise this post is full of fun facts, optimism and a nice take-home message.  Let’s take this story from the beginning…

Enter Gordon

I met Gordon as a 3-month-old laboratory mouse who took part in one of our experiments for the course of Primate Ethology, during the second year of the Master’s program in Applied Ethology and Animal Biology of Linköping University. The topic of the study was “Fear of predators in marmosets, meerkats and chimpanzees”, and Gordon was one of the “test objects” presented in front of the different species for a 10-minute session, while the behavioral reactions of the animals towards the presented object were recorded. Gordon was, of course, safe in a terrarium with wood chip bedding outside of the animal enclosure but at a distance where he could be seen. It was without doubt a bit stressful for him as there was no hiding spot in the terrarium (otherwise he would remain unseen for the most part), but no further harm befell him during the short experiment sessions.

For the record, marmosets didn’t find Gordon particularly interesting or fearful, chimpanzees went bananas for him and even tried to poke the terrarium with a stick, while meerkats performed a wide range of behaviors of which none indicated fear but perhaps a little appetite for a mouse snack…

Gordon’s fate after the experiment would be either adoption or euthanizing, since he was exposed to the outside world and could not return to the lab. As I took care of him for the entirety of the days we spent at Kolmården Zoo performing the experiments, I developed a soft spot for him and opted for adoption. I never had mice before, I had been without companion animals for a long time, and watching his behavioral responses to novel items or areas was simply fascinating. I could not bind to long-living animals so a mouse sounded like an excellent idea. Here’s Gordon in his nest in the lab cage and during his first steps in the Great Outdoors (on me):

Being an intact male that lived alone since separation from the mother at the laboratory, there was no chance to keep Gordon with other male mice without risking deadly fights, and the anesthetic risk for neutering was at the time too big to take to keep him with females (the task will be undertaken with future male mice, now that I have better veterinary associations here in Sweden – even though I have come to understand that neutering in mice, or any much medicine for that matter, is rarely performed – more on this later). While mice are social animals, many males usually spend most of the time alone focusing in mating and survival after reaching adulthood, so my hopes are that loneliness did not have a serious impact on Gordon’s welfare.

I would like to think Gordon had a good life, and his behavioral indications and excellent health status up until April 2018 showed that he probably did. Following are some specifics on things I tried with Gordon and things that he did that were memorable. I could write an entire small book about Gordon, but I will contain myself to the most important things. Here we go:

Housing & enrichment

Enclosure design

Gordon went gradually from a very small laboratory compartment to a fully developed “Mouse Mansion” in a period of 2,5 years. This was the initial laboratory cage (hand included for size comparison):

I bought a new, spacious cage for him immediately after adoption (pictured at the left of the Mansion, with the gray bottom, several hanging tubes and a greenish surface inside). Finances, lack of space and lack of knowledge had me place a new area in the enclosure once per few months, but it was incredible seeing him getting excited and carefully exploring the additional space and enrichment ever single time I added something new. After the first cage came the little hut in the middle and extra tubes. I then drilled holes to the cage and hung a bunch of toilet roll tubes, hammocks, ladders and other climbing material. The second cage (to the right, with white bottom) came a couple of months after the hut, and when I moved to a bigger apartment I moved the enclosure to the top of this nice bookshelf and added the external tube to my desk. At first, Gordon could go out on the bookshelf top while I was awake, but then I dared to frame the bookshelf edges with a paper fence, add bedding on the surface along with chewing wood, a couple of hiding places (in the picture shown a plastic pear and a coconut house that he absolutely loved), paper tubes and a food bowl, and let him out whenever he’d please, with an opening to the “park” area from the hut. This access to the outer area gave a perfect opportunity for more elaborate foraging opportunities and acted as a health / behavioral monitor in later phases (described further below). The upper level was added May 2018, regrettably only two months away from Gordon’s last farewell.

Here is how the mansion looked in May 2018:

Enrichment: generics

Gordon was given some sort of enrichment on a daily basis. Hiding food for foraging was a daily task, and I kept altering between wood pieces, different kinds of paper and treats packaged in small carton boxes every other day. The entire enclosure was cleaned and changed either weekly or bi-weekly (when it became big enough to stay clean longer), and that meant “fresh everything”: bedding, nest material, carton and wooden houses to nest in, paper rolls, and all objects washed and wiped clean. It was particularly fun and creative to construct new carton houses for him, and see him show particular preference for some specific designs. Cartons were always non-colored or had very little printed text (like the one in the picture), to avoid toxicity in case he’d chew on them. I used kids water-based glue and natural hemp thread for all binding of materials. Here’s one of the models he loved spending activity time in, with a ladder that led to the rooftop, treat hideouts, a climbing shelf and soft nesting material in the back:

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Enrichment: wheel

I experimented a lot with different materials and objects for enrichment. The wheel was, as research has also proven, a cherished apparatus. Gordon did not particularly like the flying saucer wheel that is recommended for better back and tail posture, but loved his conventional wheel (not wired, but with a solid surface in order to avoid tangling and injury of feet and tail) and used it daily up until the end of April 2018 where he started showing decline in health (more about it in a later section). I have seen that some mice and hamster owners have installed a device that records the wheel speed and distances ran by their pets, which should be very interesting to observe both as a welfare, activity and health indicator in my future rodent companions.

An interesting observation on the wheel: I gave Gordon the choice of using either a wheel in the bigger (left) cage or a wheel of the same structure in the smaller (right) cage. After observations for a week, Gordon only preferred to use the wheel in the bigger cage, and I had verified that he had explored and tested the other wheel. My quick explanation was that Gordon liked having hideouts nearby, and in the smaller cage there were not many particularly good hideouts except for paper rolls. In the bigger cage, he had the opportunity to run either in a box or inside the green area in case of danger. I wish I had experimented more on that!

Enrichment: nesting material and places

Gordon was very keen on using papers with different softness and feel for his nest. Soft paper as well as special cotton bedding were preferred for the bottom, while harder stripes of wrapping paper for parcels or aquarelle paper were used to give the nest its round shape and keep the shredded paper that mostly comprised the rooftop in place. He also loved to manipulate baking paper and wrapping paper with paws and teeth. At a point I added timothy hay in the enclosure and noticed that he both consumed some as food and also used some for bedding in his nest. Gordon showed an interesting preference for nesting area as I first added small carton box houses in the bigger cage (preferred to build a nest in the carton box versus inside the wider “underground” green area), and then when I provided bigger wooden housing in the smaller cage (preferred to make his nest in the smaller cage with the bigger house). I assume that his preference was such because the wooden house was bigger that the smaller carton box and more solid to keep a nest in proper shape than the “green underground area”. He always had access to food and water in both areas, but the best treats and food were in the bigger cage, so comfort must have gone first than having access to luxury goods.

Another interesting observation here: in the last two weeks of his life, when Gordon showed the more obvious signs of reduced well-being, he opted for making his nest in the green underground area. While he did not use the wheel during this time and he did visit the entire enclosure for foraging, I believe that he made this dramatic preference change in nesting area due to the fact that a) all the deli food was available in the bigger cage and he still had good appetite and b) his favorite hanging wooly house (pictured here two weeks before he said goodbye) and another small plastic house were also placed in the bigger cage. He spent many hours sitting in those in “still and alert” mode when sick.

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The favorite hanging wooly house
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Entrance to the nest in the underground green area (discovered after Gordon was put to sleep)

Enrichment: chewing material

Regarding woods, Gordon was provided with pet store wood sticks to gnaw on, as well as a variety of wooden toys made for rodents, and wooden houses and ladders. He was very excited to receive sticks from an apple tree from the “outside world” – while this wood is apparently confirmed not to be toxic for mice, I cannot verify 100% that it did not contain any pathogens that might have ended up deteriorating his health. However, I could not make any associations on the appearance of health symptoms and the use of the apple tree twigs. I’d advise caution in the use of anything coming from the outside world that is not processed in a way that pathogens are diminished. Wooden tongue depressors were an excellent and safe idea provided by my supervisor, and Gordon loved dragging these in his house and chewing on them.

A perhaps more daring and probably bad idea was giving Gordon plastic straws to play with. The idea was for him to cut open the straw and remove seeds that were hidden inside, and boy did he love that! I even noticed that he liked poking holes to empty straw pieces – not chewing away any parts, just poking the hole with his teeth. The risk with using plastic straws was that pieces could be consumed and end up causing serious gastrointestinal issues. We were lucky not to get any of these (in any obvious way, anyhow), but I would not recommend it and will not use straws in the future as enrichment, despite them having been great fun for Gordon.

Other than that, Gordon chewed on all types of non-colored paper and carton that I could get my hands to and bring to him, showing no specific preference for a type of paper.

Olfactory enrichment was also something I tried with Gordon, in the form of ground spices, dried herbs and essential oils. Caution here! I discovered rather late that certain essential oils (like basil) and herbs (like tarragon) can be carcinogenic for mice. I doubt that Gordon consumed, accidentally or on purpose, any large amounts of either but I will still always wonder if I inadvertently harmed him. Anyhow: herbs and spices were placed in areas of the enclosure for sniffing, while a drop of essential oil was either placed on baking paper or on a wooden piece and wiped immediately. Gordon seemed to be particularly interested in vanilla, basil and a “freshly cut grass” essential oil (the one used in my thesis, that was recently published!), while raspberry and strawberry were mildly interesting. He did not seem to like lavender. He seemed to have a short interest in several dried herbs (tarragon, basil, parsley, dill, rosemary, thyme, marjoram) and spices (paprika, curry, ginger, turmeric) that I tried with him.

Metallic objects such as bells did not do much for Gordon, even though they were often implemented in wooden enrichment structures bought at the store (no, not only for birds). However, he did one specific behavior which I cannot tell if it was a stereotypy of some sort or if he just liked doing it for the shits-and-giggles: whenever he’d pass by a little metallic chain that hung from a wooden bridge, he’d sometimes momentarily mess with it with his paws and teeth. There were four of these chains but he’d only do it on this one, which was positioned nearest the entry tube of this particular case. Interestingly, he would do the behavior only during entrance to but not exit from the specific entry, and this was not a behavior that was constantly repeated. The chain was not blocking his path and he would not get tangled in it in any case. We will never get an answer to this question…

Food preferences

While there is a large body of research that shows that caloric restriction in mice prolongs their lifespan, I opted for allowing my mouse to try all sorts of things and get a load of treats while not becoming obese. He may have become a little more overweight, as he weighed 47g in his healthy days, but I did read that male CD-1 mice can reach that weight in a normal body condition score even though an optimal weight would be around 39g, as indicated by my supervisor. Despite his rich gastronomic experiences, he never reached anywhere near obesity.

Gordon was provided with the best non-lab pellet diet I could find in the local market and that he showed a preference for (Versele-Laga Complete for Rat and Mouse and Vitakraft Emotion were all-time favorites, Selective for Mice was liked in the beginning but not so much later on). He had additional sugar-free treats and seed sticks to gnaw on, with an occasional sugar-added rodent cupcake-formed treat every once in a month. Yogurt drops were interesting for a few times but then became boring. He was quite indifferent for berry sticks but always loved to nom on seed and honey sticks. Oats were one of the best things one could offer Gordon, and I used on a nearly daily basis as foraging treat. Sunflower seeds were a second favorite, with variations in preference strength over time.

I tried providing small amounts of fruits and veggies for Gordon without much success. He only ate some overripe peach a few times, and a bit of lettuce now and then. Boiled broccoli and green peas could be somewhat okay. Boiled or canned corn was a huge success. Bananas, apples, apricots, raspberries, tomato, cucumber and carrot were met with denial. Dried bananas bought at the store were, on the contrary, adored.

Of the human foods, Gordon would give up his life, mansion, stashed goods and wooly hanging spot in exchange for mayonnaise, whipped cream, a mildly spicy pizza sauce, fish sticks, pasta, noodles, rice (preferably fried with eggs), tortilla bread, nacho chips and corn flakes. He would also appreciate bread (dried or fresh) especially when dipped in tomato soup, a fine piece of oven-baked salmon and boiled egg yolk. Tried navy beans and lentils but gave up on them after a while, and never showed interest for meat, potatoes and cheese.

Human handling & relationship

Gordon never became a cuddly mouse, despite all the love and training I tried to do with him so that he would not fear being held by human hands. Until he moved to the bigger mansion on the top of the bookshelf, he’d use to come out for about 30 minutes per day and get in my hoodie from the sleeve. He could run around from one sleeve to another, on my belly, around my shoulders and back to the enclosure. Gordon never, ever bit me except for two strange incidents where he specifically nibbled on my, erm, nipples (ouch!) and which he never did again after I removed him immediately from my jacket. I asked my supervisor about this and it was possible that it had to do with odors from these particular areas that he might have found interesting. Aside from this, Gordon was always excellent in his contact with me, only afraid to be held. He’d defecate if he’d get very scared, but that didn’t happen often as I rarely had to force-grab him. He’d always come in and out of the jacket by himself.

The jacket gave Gordon the opportunity for sniffing the outdoors from a safe environment. Gordon moved with me from Linköping to a farm in Småland where he accompanied me in my master’s thesis experimenting months. He’d be there for me in the long evenings of data analysis and literature reading, and we’d take short 5-minute walks with him in my jacket to sniff flowers, say hi to cows (he did sniff the nose of a cow!) and enjoy the fresh summer countryside air. Here’s us getting ready for one such walk:

We then moved to Örebro that was a little less fun due to being in a smaller apartment in the city, but after that we ended up in the town of Nora, where he’d get to sniff the countryside again at our balcony, in one of his favorite plastic houses.

From the moment Gordon had access to the bigger enclosure in Nora, he stopped requesting visits to the jacket and came into my sleeve only on a few occasions and only for a minute or two. I am assuming that the jacket worked as “extra exploration space” for him, but that given an option for a non-human and more optimally equipped mouse environment he’d preferred the latter. No hard feelings, mousy!

As I needed to be able to do clinical examinations for Gordon when he turned senior, we started training lifting him by cupping him with my hands, palpating for tumors and checking body conditions score, and getting the scruff of the neck lifted both for hydration status but also for future subcutaneous injections. He was always stressed by this but never bit, and while he initially would not accept treats from me right after having been placed back in the enclosure, he quickly learned it was no big deal and readily nommed on mayo, oats, nachos or corn flakes after release.

Smelling hands, accepting treats and licking mayonnaise and whipped cream off of fingers did not make Gordon afraid. He’d sometimes even grab my fingers with his tiny front paws to lick off leftover mayonnaise, and make my heart melt. Cuddles and petting he did not like. But Gordon showed significant interest in interacting with me and my partner daily for at least a few minutes – certainly because he had connected us with tasty treats, but he also sought after our company without a treat being involved as I’d loosely evaluated if he’d spend the same amount of time seeking our company when offered a treat versus when not being offered one, and the times did not vary. He’d want to come and sniff us, he frequently came to say hello in the tube that ended at my desk, he’d react with interest when being talked to (moving around, not hiding, trying to get near me) and he’d sometimes rattle his ladder to possibly make a noise to get me to come to the cage – not hard for him to make the association as I’d always respond to the ladder rattling and go to him. It would have been interested to have recorded interaction times and actually made a statistical analysis of treat versus no-treat times! In the folder of future plans…

Behavioral habits & health

Gordon generally had a steady behavioral pattern throughout his life that was expected of a mouse and that involved all natural behaviors a solitary mouse could perform (an excellent guide can be found in http://mousebehavior.org/ethogram/ from Stanford University of Medicine). He was active mostly during the dark hours of the day, which shifted from around 5-6pm to 7am in the winter time and 8-9pm to 6am in the summer time. He would always aim for contact about 30 minutes after coming out in the evening and always in the morning if he’d notice I’m heading to work, either by rattling the ladder or by coming and sniffing at the middle hut, which was a frequent treat area. The days I was home I noticed that he’d come out for food once at around 10am, and he’d come to greet if he knew I was around. His sleep-wake cycle changed a bit in the last months of his geriatric life, with more short waking periods for food in the morning and noon, and less activity but more still-and-alert time in the evenings.

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The central hut being a favorite treat point for Gordon

Wheel use was a daily habit, which became reduced in frequency and finally almost ceased when Gordon’s health deteriorated. An interesting observation is that he’d always have urinated a little on the wheel, which I assign to marking behavior of such an important object for him.Another interesting behavior was speeding through frequently used straight tunnels, something I had read about in a scientific publication that I currently seem to be unable to find, but that I am almost certain had to do with olfactory signals.

Gordon’s exploratory and maintenance behaviors lasted until the very last days of his life. He groomed himself daily, ate with good appetite, drank an average of 3-3,5ml of water per day, and constructed a nest one week before his death, which was the last time I cleaned his mansion and provided new materials. I never noticed any stereotypical behavior, self-injury, over-grooming or dermatitis on Gordon.

As a guide for clinical examination, I followed the comprehensive article on Health Evaluation of Experimental Laboratory Mice by Burkhold et al. (2012) alongside with behavioral observations. Foraging, climbing and wheel use were important behavioral indicators of health, aside proper food and water intake and grooming. I monitored foraging and climbing by placing treats in several areas of the enclosure that would require foraging of the entire area as well as climbing in order to be found and consumed. Had they disappeared the following day I’d get confirmation that Gordon was out foraging and that he could climb. I also visually checked to see him climb and noted any difficulty in movement. In the last few months of his life, I made sure everything in the cage was easily accessible without strenuous climbing.

Illness

Clinically speaking, Gordon developed the first signs of illness when he was about 2 years and 3 months of age. Before that he had outstanding clinical examinations, with the only complaint of being slightly overweight but never obese (body condition between 3 and 4). In March 2018 I noticed that he’d started to have a small hunch that however did not seem to obstruct his fluid movement. At this point he also had two small red lumps on his tail that were almost without a doubt localized arthritis. I then suspected an underlying autoimmune disease or arthritis due to ageing. The first signs of sneezing / coughing (despite literature supporting that mice don’t have a coughing reflex, I as a clinician can only describe the motion more similar to coughing than sneezing) and chattering when lifted as well as a gradual weight loss came in April 2018. Again, no behavioral changes whatsoever, good body condition score and activity levels. Due to a complete lack of discharge from the nose / eyes or signs of dirt on the paws from grooming discharge away, I had doubts about a viral or even a bacterial infection. I read in Chandra & Frith (Chandra, M., & Frith, C. H. (1992). Spontaneous neoplasms in aged CD-1 mice. Toxicology letters, 61(1), 67-74.) that geriatric male CD-1 mice are candidates for benign alveolar-bronchiolar adenomas but that they are usually asymptomatic.

Nevertheless, Gordon started using the wheel infrequently in May, and this is when I decided to opt for antibiotic (tetracycline) and anti-inflammatory (meloxicam) treatment for a couple of weeks, without much result. The respiratory signs were generally stable, so the weight loss (one gram per 5-6 days on average), the hunch and the reduced wheel use were my indications for putting Gordon to sleep. However, as the rest of his behavioral and health indicators were particularly good, and since he received veterinary monitoring every day, I decided to keep him alive as long as he had good body condition score and he showed a good quality of life. The limit to weight loss was set to 30g, provided that there were no palpable tumors that could trick the scale into showing he was gaining weight.

Gordon received auxiliary NSAIDs twice from May till the end of June when he passed. He ate with good appetite, accepted treats gladly, foraged, climbed, explored and even used the wheel a few times until June 26th. On the 27th, however, I noticed alterations in his gait and breathing that without doubt denoted pain, and that he’d spend less time exploring and interacting, and more time hiding in his carton box when he was out, which was a firstie in his behavioral repertoire. On the evening of the 28th, I tried sedating him unsuccessfully for euthanizing – the medication barely affected him and instead gave him an appetite for treats and exploration aside some temporary gagging reflex as a side effect. That’s him munching on his seed bar 30 minutes after receiving a subcutaneous sedative:

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However, the morning after I could see that he was not feeling well, even though he still climbed, walked around and ate a bread treat with good appetite. Steady weight loss, signs of pain and a clear indication of lower quality of life in the last two days set the call for the Grim Squeaker (from Terry Pratchet’s Reaper Man, at my supervisor’s suggestion), and on June 29th Gordon received a subcutaneous cocktail of anesthetics that sent him to cloud nine. It took one minute from injection to loss of consciousness and subsequent but partly unexpected respiratory and cardiac arrest arrest, barely giving me time to place him in his hanging wooly home. He stopped living moments after entering the place, and while I verified that his little heart had already stopped, I gave him an extra dose of anesthetic and the final euthanizing agent intraperitoneally, out of safety.

Humane endpoints

Clinically speaking, some may argue that Gordon should have been euthanized in May, when the first signs of health deterioration started appearing. Had I not been a veterinarian that constantly monitored him I would have probably suggested euthanizing unless the owner was dedicated are reported often. However, behavior plays a really big role in assessing how the animal feels, aside obvious clinical signs of critical illness which should not be neglected (e.g. a palpable tumor, bleeding, dehydration etc). Mice are excellent in hiding pain and can keep going about their daily business even with serious illness. A good balance between clinical picture and behavioral status is important in telling when the animal has reached a humane endpoint.

For me, Gordon was an old mouse and one must be able to expect and accept that old mice will have some health problems and will not be able to perform like they did in their prime. Signs of old age alone should not be the sole markers for putting down an animal. Gordon had a hunch, weight loss and some respiratory symptoms that for a good amount of time (two months is a long time for a mouse) did not significantly impact his daily activities and quality of life. Respiratory difficulty was only marked during the last few days of life, but did not affect foraging, eating, drinking. Movement difficulty was only obvious during these last few days too, even if it did not hinder climbing and foraging in the entire enclosure. At the time of death he weighed 33g, still had a good palpable body condition and no palpable tumors. Teeth, skin, ears and eyes seemed to be in excellent condition and there were no visible signs of arthritis on the legs and paws. I was tempted to perform a necropsy and perhaps “dig up” some more information on what happened to Gordon, but in the end I decided to let him be – it was too tense for me to open him up.

I think there will never be a perfect point for the owner to say that “now is the time” while looking at a still curious, still communicating, still having good appetite companion animal, but I believe I came as near the perfect point as possible by observing Gordon’s health status and reading his behavioral signs. I really think he maxed out his life capacity and I’m glad he came to be a very old, well-fed, well-traveled mouse. Gordon was buried in his favorite coconut, with his favorite treats and bedding material in a forest near Nora. He is already terribly missed, but I accept the fact that he died of old age and the problems that come with it.

Impact of having a lab mouse as a pet – future prospects

During the time I’ve had Gordon, I read a lot about mice, their natural behavior, needs, do’s and don’ts. Most of the information came from veterinary websites, pet stores and mice breeder or mice enthusiast forums, and it was at large related to good husbandry practices. I always took the non-veterinary info with a grain of salt, but I am not surprised that a lot of people turn to other fellow mice owners for advice – compared to what we know about dogs and cats, knowledge about pet mouse health and safety of enrichment seems to be, in my humble opinion, pretty scarce.

For instance, I painstakingly tried to find information about safe natural wood (from trees) for mice but to my knowledge there is no such list with valid citations anywhere to be found. Same goes about poisonous foods.While trying to compile a list of differential diagnoses for Gordon at the time he got sick, I could not find a veterinary book specialized in the medicine of mice that would go further than parasitic infections, dermatitis, malocclusion, neoplasia, a list of viral diseases and some bacterial diseases that lead to specifically respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms. I did not have enough time to search in every nuke and cranny of the scientific literature, but I have been given the impression that the predominant body of papers deals with induced diseases in mice that are studied under the scope of human medicine – no surprise there, as mice are the species used in advancing primarily human medical research. To put it simply: I wanted to find a book for mice like the available veterinary books one finds for e.g. rabbits. Like, 500 pages mouse-only medicine and surgery. Perhaps I did not look carefully enough, so if anyone is reading this huge block of text and has suggestions, please shoot away!

On a more positive note, there are actually several papers regarding mostly behavioral pattern changes in senior mice like activity levels and sleep-wake cycle which were fascinating to read, and that is because mice are also a model for studying ageing in humans. This helped a lot in understanding subtler behavioral changes in Gordon as he reached his senior phase of life.

The sum of this is that I would like to learn / research more about mouse husbandry and medicine than we already know. I am aware that there is no big demand about mouse health services, and that is because a) they are short-lived animals, b) they are not the easiest to handle, run blood tests or do diagnostic imaging due to their size and the risk for anesthesia is high and c) in my opinion, they are mostly bought as cheap convenience pets for little kids – which, again in my opinion, is a very bad idea for the welfare of the mice, but we’ll take that up in another post. But aside catering to the veterinary needs of the few mouse enthusiasts, knowing more about the mouse itself as both a laboratory and companion species could help us better translate the experimental results we get regarding human medicine. The importance of low stress and good welfare and the impact of bad welfare levels on the health of mice and subsequently on experimental results is a hot topic that has relatively recently been pointed out in the scientific community. How, for example, can providing more enrichment or more positive contact with humans affect the behavior and well-being of mice? At the same time, and particularly regarding geriatric medicine, shouldn’t we know more about the health and internal medicine of older mice, and how this could affect experimental results?

Of course, I dare speak while I know extremely little about biomedical research and mice – but I have already stocked my library with books to read. So, take my very generic and possibly blabbering commentary with a kind, understanding spirit towards the enthusiasm of a newbie.

Bottom line is that having a laboratory mouse as a companion animal has put me in the thought process of expanding my research and medical interests to laboratory rodents, while previously I had it more narrowed down to the behavior of cattle. Not because I think it is viable to build huge mansions for laboratory mice and give them a bunch of treats and love on a daily basis like I did with Gordon, but because – as with both farm and lab animals – we can certainly improve our standards in order to give the animals that we use for our benefit a better quality of life, and in turn receive better results in whatever it is that we put these animals to work for.

As this expansion of work and research interests is a big game changer for me, there will be more elaboration on these news in a separate post.

Thank you for being a part of my life, little mousy.

Adopted lab mouse Gordon exploring new enrichment

 

Moved and settled at WordPress

New year, new server and a simpler website to (try and) keep track of everything that is interesting to me (and perhaps you, dear reader) in the scientific world of animals. I will not make promises of posting once per week or per month, but the long-term goal is indeed to make a few posts per month. There is wealth of information to post and ponder about, both on the subject of cattle welfare and behavior as well as on weekly cases I see at work on companion animal behavior and medicine.

Bear with me as I currently dedicate a large chunk of my weekdays working on a potential research proposal on cattle behavior, and the rest of the time working with my incredible colleagues at C&C companion animal clinic.

My two months in Vasen

The post was written during my time at Vasen Gård, where I conducted the experiment for my Master’s thesis.

The past two months were very motivational for me, and it would probably take pages to explain the magnitude of the positive impact I got from being at the farm and working with animals and great people – but I’ll try to stick to the basics. Important changes and realizations regarding my interests in science, work prospects and life preferences took place while I was there, conducting my study on calf behavior.

When it comes to science, it was an incredible experience to actually conduct a proper scientific experiment for the first time. I was amazed at how much one has to and can learn for the experimental process. Every moment is useful: frustrating moments where you consider giving up, or when you think of improved sampling solutions midway through your data collection and wish you’d have thought of that in the beginning. Good moments where your results respond to your expectations, and great moments where you get new ideas for more experiments while sampling. Indescribable moments when the animals you collaborate with seem to enjoy your presence and your interactions with them.

I also came to realize that, if possible, science is what I wish to do in my life. I feel that I am made for the scientific process: tinkering my mind for ideas, reading through tons of literature to learn about all the interesting findings of other researchers, designing an experiment, going through a period of time dedicated to focused data collection, then sitting down and trying to make sense of all the data that was gathered. Perhaps discover something that could be of use to the world. Perhaps not, but then trying another route. Discussing with brilliant colleagues and getting even more new ideas. Yep, I’m up for that kind of job!

One very important aspect that I verified is that I want to work with farm animal welfare and behavior. Cattle, if possible, as I am in love with these animals. At Vasen, I was also given the opportunity to do some voluntary veterinary work, and deepen my knowledge on cattle medicine and behavior. It is a fact now that I want to work with animals, in the sense of, at least partly, actually do hands-on work with them. Thus, being at the farm and doing this experiment helped me at least set some broad limits to what I’d like to research and/or work with after completing the Master’s program. It is a sort of relief knowing where and what to focus on when this critical time arrives.

Aside from figuring out work and science-related questions that I had in mind, I also established that a) working with animals makes me feel balanced and happy, b) working with different farms is a very rewarding experience, both in matters of job satisfaction and of learning and c) living in a small town near nature is definitely better for me, compared to a city. I also realized that being happy with what I do in life has a very positive impact on how I feel as a person and how I interact with the people closest to me. So, feeling good at work is apparently very important for my well-being.

Of course, during all of this thought-provoking, self-realizing period of time, I had some excellent support and collaboration with Vasen’s wonderful people, my supervisor, and my family and friends. So I want to make a proper mention of a rather long list of people who contributed to my advancing one step further towards my life goals:

  • THANK YOU Vasen! Kjell and Ingrid, for having me at the farm, for treating me like family and for letting me learn through diagnosing your animals! Johanna, for being my connection to everything at the farm, a huge assistance to me when learning about cattle, a source of inspiration and a fantastic company! Thank you to all the incredible staff at Vasen for making me feel more than welcomed and assisting me every time I needed help: Armen, Benjamin, Berith & Per, Ceci 1 and Ceci 2, Johanna, Lawrence & Mia, Niklas, Nver, Viktor – and everyone else whose name I cannot recall because I am terrible at learning names (please do message me and let me know so I can add you to the list)! And thank you to veterinarian Susanne Lundin for discussing veterinary incidents at the farm with me and broadening my knowledge on a number of subjects!
  • Thank you so very much to veterinarian Johanna Habbe for connecting me to Vasen, for supporting and inspiring me to be an even better veterinarian!
  • A huge thank you to my supervisor, Matthias, for all his support, precious advice and guidance throughout this project! Also, for the excellent management during all the times I was stressed over the limit.
  • My most loving thanks to my partner, Henrik, for supporting me and listening to my endless enthusiastic cattle talk every single day, for cheering for me, helping me move to and from the farm and for visiting me. The same loving thanks to my parents who have believed in me since day 1 and have done all in their power to help me achieve my dreams. Also, for constructing the awesome experimenting apparatus Matthias designed – thanks dad! 😀
  • A very big thank you to all my classmates from the Master’s for helping me out in whatever way they could when I was looking for a farm, and for being supportive and kind at all times. Same goes for those outside the Master’s who have been there and listened to me or offered their encouragement and help! 🙂
  • A very special thank you to my former workmate Marie for doing all she could to help me look for farms in Östergötland in the beginning of the project! This also goes to all of Fröstorp’s staff and veterinarian Ole Martin Hegrestad, who helped me learn a great deal about cattle and have always been helpful and encouraging. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t spend one year rich in experiences at the farm. Special mention to Peter and Sławek, having been the closest to me together with Marie, assisting me through my road to understanding and handling cows.

Well, to sum up: Working with animals is fantastic. Doing science is incredibly rewarding. The best choice in my life so far was to become a veterinarian and do a Master’s in animal behavior. The people that surround me (more or less familiar) are responsible for a great deal of my happiness, and for making my work choices and efforts worth even more.

Ah, what an unbelievable two months that was. Now, on to the next phase of the adventure! 🙂

Today’s vet farm news

The post was written during my time at Vasen Gård, where I conducted the experiment for my Master’s thesis.

The past few days we’ve had another incident of acute mastitis caused by E. coli infection. The cow is not doing very well, with two quarters of the udder being infected, painful and very swollen, and she’s milking small quantities of watery fluid for the time being. She currently has mild hypothermia (37,6 °C) due to lack of appetite and most likely hypoglycemia, but fortunately she is drinking a lot of water by herself. She is being treated with meloxicam and trimethoprim-sulfadoxine. Supportive treatment in the form of intravenous fluids and electrolytes can also be valuable in acute mastitis from E. coli. A very good article on the treatment of this and other forms of mastitis is available at the online version of The Merck Veterinary Manual.

Today Johanna and I treated two calves with burst abscesses by washing the abscess pouch with strong iodine solution and applying penicillin ointment. One calf had an abscess located under the skin surrounding the carpus – the joint is unaffected and the wound should heal fast. The other calf had an abscess under the skin surrounding the navel, also without any signs of further infection to internal organs. Both calves are otherwise happy and well, very active and well-fed 🙂

 

Helping cows with hind muscle/nerve injuries

Injuries in the hind muscles and nerves most commonly occur after the birth of a big calf (or the labor of a small-sized cow/heifer) or after excessive pulling and manipulation of the fetus during calving. The problem can also be seen in cows with hypocalcemia, especially those with the sneaky subclinical form where the animal can stand up but is “shaky” and uncertain in its steps and posture. These cows are in high risk of slipping and falling, or of spreading their hind legs in one of their efforts to stand up. Finally, older cows that calved numerous times can be susceptible to spreading their hind legs, most often due to a underlying subclinical hypocalcemia and chronic damage to muscles and/or nerves during calving. Slippery floors are perhaps the most important reason why such cows fall down or spread their hind legs while trying to get up.

The usual incident is finding a fully alert and otherwise healthy cow unable to stand up or fallen with its hind legs spread (overabduction of the hind limbs).

Provided that you have excluded scenarios of an infectious disease, a fracture or hypocalcemia that requires immediate administration of calcium intravenously, here is the action plan to help your cow get back on track:

  1. Act fast. The more time the cow spends lying down (either on the side or with spread legs) the more nerve and muscle damage occurs due to pressure and lack of blood flow. Moreover, the animal might try to stand up on its own and break a leg, strain or dislocate a joint or cause further damage to muscles and nerves. Get the cow to stand up (often with the use of hip clamps, if the staff is trained to use them) and keep it standing for at least a few minutes.
  2. Meanwhile prepare a pen with deep straw (avoiding any slippery floors), fresh water at all times and good quality feed. Keep the box deeply bedded and clean daily to avoid skin infections and reduce the risk of mastitis.
  3. Transport the cow to the box. See if the animal can stand on its own. If not, keep the animal standing for at least 15 minutes to allow normal blood flow to the hind legs. Then let the animal rest, but make sure that it stands for at least 15-30 minutes, 2-3 times per day.
  4. Administer NSAIDs right away to reduce pain, swelling and inflammation. Give the animal an injection or oral supplement of vitamin E (most commonly in combination with selenium) to help nerve and muscle repair. If you re suspecting subclinical hypocalcemia, you can assist the cow by giving it a dose of calcium orally (bolus or fluid). Consider discussing with your veterinarian whether the cow should be given a vitamin B12 supplement as well, to ensure nervous system integrity.
  5. Look for any skin wounds, usually near the hoof. Such friction wounds are superficial and can occur during the cow’s attempts to stand up on a slippery floor. Treat the wounds with rinsing and spraying with an wound spray, to avoid infection.
  6. Place hobbles in the middle of the metatarsals, allowing about 40-50cm of distance between the legs) to keep the cow from further spreading her hind legs. Keep these on until the cow can move confidently.
  7. If the cow is going through her lactation period, don’t forget to milk her at her pen twice per day. Avoid moving the animal from its pen unless it’s obligatory.

It is important to keep checking the animal at least twice per day in order to assist it to stand up, evaluate progress, make sure it is feeding and drinking water sufficiently and that no disease has developed. Depending on the nerve and muscle damage, the cow’s symptoms should progressively improve, but it might take a few days or even a couple of weeks for the animal to fully recover.

A useful and more extensive reference article can be found at The Merck Online Veterinary Manual – Overview of Bovine Secondary Recumbency.