Animal welfare issues in the news

14 09 2018

Tina, Steph and their students featured in a nice article in the Globe & Mail last week. (I just realised though that the picture might at first glance look gory: the bird just has activity has an activity meter strapped to her, and is coloured with dye for identification).


Rather less happily, the Parkinsons appeared in the local news, because the cruelty trial starts tomorrow. I think a couple of my grad students may go (if it’s open to the public) to see what happens.

Congratulations to Jamie!

4 09 2018

At loooong last it can be made public: Jamie got the recent new animal welfare faculty position at Laval!  It was a secret ’til now so that he could surprise his family in Quebec. Mission accomplished last weekend (‘there was a lot of crying’ he says). Welcome home Jamie!!!! So very proud of you.



Goats like smiles

4 09 2018

Screenshot 2018-09-03 21.51.40

Following work 14 years ago showing that sheep like smiles, researchers in London have now found that goats do too.

Here’s a write-up in VICE, and here’s the paper itself, which also shows that the effects depend a bit on laterality (something I’m always always a sucker for). I do wish a search of the paper revealed the word “blind” though.

Also, clearly the obvious question is: when is someone going to do something similar with cats?

Mouse adoptions and other endings

4 09 2018

We came to the end of a whole series of experiments in August, our mice now 18 months old.

We killed about half of them for their organs (including brains to test hypotheses about stereotypic behaviour and depression, and hearts to investigate why non-enriched DBAs die so young, our suspicion being cardiac hypertrophy from excessive stereotyping). Killing research animals always makes me wonder what I’m doing with my life. But I’ve learned that physiological data impress people far more than “mere” behaviour, and we really want our research to have an impact. Neuroscience students from UTM and Elena’s lab led the way, to ensure this was done as effectively as possible (I don’t want to mess things up this time). All the mice got treats on their last day too, despite this ruling out some assays we might have done later (due to their little nuclei accumbens lighting up from the sugar rush …).

Next, the non-enriched remaining mice got moved to enriched cages for the first time in their lives, Aimee carefully collecting data on how quickly their behaviour changed (as we suspect anhedonic animals may find enrichments less rewarding). And now, at last, everyone was ready to be adopted out!  Aimee made posters (below), everyone made a ‘mouse care guide’ (led by Lindsey), and we all composed an email to send out right, left and centre.



And here are the first to leave the lab, adopted by Steph Torrey’s student Zhenzhen.


More tests for depression-like effects

4 09 2018

Soon after the anhedonia study came Porsolt Testing: a bizarre protocol in which mice are placed in warm water for 5 minutes to see who will struggle, splash and try to escape, versus who will just hang there hoping it’ll soon be over.


The aim is to get a measure of ‘helplessness’, a trait consistent with depression.  Carole found that non-enriched mice were more helpless than enriched ones, and to a degree that correlated with a strange form of inactivity in the home cage (standing immobiIMG_6994le, just doing nothing despite being awake). So, Aileen wanted to see if she could replicate this, and also find other signs of depression too.


When Carole did this test we really dreaded it, and it was indeed quite stressful. But thanks to her, we were now more sure in advance that no mouse would need rescuing (and none did), and that our warming pads and towels (right) would dry them off quickly.

And this time that was also followed by dried banana chips and other treats, once back in the home cage, as an apology for their not-very-nice day.

The Giant Anhedonia Screening

4 09 2018

Aileen and Aimee had an anhedonia blitz just before the ISAE, pulling together  medley of cameras from all over, and making the room look quite chaotic (though actually super-organised) as every cage was angled for the best image.

anhedonia setup

The solid sucrose idea had bitten the dust by now (too many problems couldn’t get solved in time). Instead I bit the bullet, spending a fortune on graduated waterbottles (some $25 a pop). Half of these were filled with sugar water. Mice  then had access to both types round the clock, the videos recording away so we can find out who is drinking what.


Sweet or plain? Mice choose their drinking water


So far, at the cage level it does not look like enriched mice drink more sucrose: a blow since one hypothesis was that standard cages induce anhedonia. But we’ll get the videos scored anyway, in case it’s just one strain of the three that’s affected (our money being on the C57s), or maybe even just some individuals (perhaps the most aggressive, or the ones most prone to learned helplessness).

Emma’s big day: coming up fast!

4 09 2018

Semester starts again tomorrow …. and Emma’s defence is suddenly on Thursday!