Thursday, August 5, 2010

Animal House 2: Circling the dragon, whale sharks and wild dogs

In addition to my duties learning about the various nasty things that can happen to your dog or cat (or bird) at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) convention recently in Atlanta, Ga., I took the small luxury of attending a few extra-curricular classes on aquatic life, an endangered species, and animal acupuncture.

FOUS: Fishes Of Unusual Size
Trixie is 25 feet long, weighs 2,000 kilograms, and doesn't like to go in the stretcher for her medical check-ups. She came from Taiwan in a giant 25,000-pound ziploc bag filled with water. (Not really, it was a high-tech UPS container). I learned about her and the Georgia Aquarium's three other whale sharks: Yu Shan, Taroko and Alice at a session called "Whale Shark Care."

These creatures, the largest of the sharks, can grow to over 60 feet long and require 2,000 gallons of the anesthetic agent MS 222 delivered by a machine called Mega S.N.U.Z. in order to do anything to them. This includes gill slit checks; blood collection; and the all-important "vent flush." They can fully retract their eye to the point where it looks like they don't have one, and the four animals at the Georgia Aquarium are the only ones on display outside of Asia.

It was cool to learn about them, but even better was a fundraiser later that night at the aquarium where I got to see these things up close. They are very large, and walking through an acrylic tube at the bottom of the 6.3-million gallon tank, sipping a glass of wine while Trixie and company floated by overhead was pretty awesome.

Acupuncture: Not just fluffy needles
Having recently embarked upon my own acupuncture (针灸, zhēn​ jiǔ​) adventure for a knee problem, I was curious to see what the veterinary world had to say about the ancient technique. I admit I was expecting some vague, new-agey stuff about animal meridians, but I soon found myself scratching my head over a detailed scientific lecture.

I learned that this 4,000-year-old technique of stimulating points along the body reduces production of Substance P, which is a neuropeptide that plays a key role in the up-regulation of the inflammatory cascade and helps transmit pain signals to the brain. (I think P stands for Pain). Acupuncture also deactivates parts of the limbic system, which is linked to the emotional aspect of pain. Acupuncture reduces the presence of certain excitatory neurotransmitters (神经递质, shén jīng dì zhì ) in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord (part of the grey matter inside the spinal cord that helps transmit pain signals). And last but not least, when they stick the little needles in you (or your pup) it releases awesome things called endogenous opioids. Those make you feel good.

Like lots of things in science and medicine, nobody seems to know exactly how it works, but it does. This includes the process of "circling the dragon," which is placing the acupuncture needles around the wound or painful area and (optionally) electrifying the needles. I had this done to my knee as well, and while weird, it did help reduce swelling and pain for a while.

Let's get wild, dogs
Another session I went to was on the endangered species known as the African Wild Dog (非洲野狗, fēi zhōu yě gǒu). Like I mentioned in my post about the Asiatic Wild Ass, the "Wild" is said as if it were the first part of an adjective, "wild-dog." These are one of the only canids (dog-like) animals in Africa, and they have giant ears and they are super fast runners. (Hyenas are in their own category, they are not canids).

Wild Dogs mainly eat impala ("the hamburger of the Okavanga Delta"), and only about 3,000-5,000 Wild Dogs are still left in the wild. The Wild Dogs are one of the most efficient and successful hunters in Africa.
They have a 44% success rate on their hunts (really good considering the others: lion: 27%; hyena: 35%; and the cheetah: a dismal 4%!), and they can kill a wild wart hog in 30 seconds. They are very social and take care of their very young and old pack members (by puking up impala back at the homestead for them), but despite that they are hated by people, even though there has never been a reported attack on a human. Even lions hate them and will leave a kill (which they rarely do) to go and kill a Wild Dog. Jerks. Hopefully the Wild Dog will survive and make a comeback. Everyone loves an Underdog Wild Dog.

Finally, not to be too morbid, I went to a few sessions on animal hospice care. Yes, they have that. I just have to mention it because of one session: "creative euthanasia techniques." I imagined all kinds of crazy Rube Goldberg death apparatuses and lethal cocktails and stuff, but the presenter mostly talked about how to handle clients' grief and being accommodating about where they want to do it (like in their minivan in one case, since the dog loved the minivan.) The presenter was very cool and good and was all about doing the right thing in terms of euthanasia. She said: "The last thing I want is for the patient to have a bad experience with me before going to Heaven. Who knows who they're gonna talk to?"

Oh yeah, and there is a euthanasia drug marketed as "Fatal Plus." What would the advertising jingle be for that? The next conference is in January. We'll have to see what zany topics come up there. Stay tuned!


Susan Moger said...

Wonderful news from the wacky wonderful world of animal scince. Uncle Will would be proud of you! I love the aquarium party report. In Beijing we went to an aquarium with a similar tube experience with John, remember? 1998?

Cara Lopez Lee said...

Interesting stuff. You're so funny, Ben. "...puking up impala back at the homestead for them"? Haha, how very social. So, did you think of an advertising jingle for "Fatal Plus?" Here's my go at it:

Sick doggie to kill...
Can't think of a pill?
No muss, no fuss..
with Fatal Plus."

Benjamin said...

Thanks for commenting Cara! I see you have a dark poetic side in addition to your mad proze skillz. :)