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Home No. 32: How to Solve Problem of Animal That's Aggressive Toward Post-Doc?

Nov 22

No. 32: How to Solve Problem of Animal That's Aggressive Toward Post-Doc?

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How to Solve Problem of Animal That's Aggressive Toward Post-Doc?

Reader Question: I have a talented post-doc on my team who has been scratched repeatedly when she removes and replaces a subject cat from its cage. Even though she has daily interaction with the animal, it becomes aggressive with her. I don't want to ask other team members to assist; they have their own work, and a scheduling problem would result. In any case, I’d rather just solve the problem. How can I help my post-doc and keep my research on track?

Expert Comments:

It may not be possible in every lab, but one simple solution is to let the animal leave the cage on its own.

A second possibility, if it won't compromise your study, is to replace the aggressive animal. I once had to replace a rat that inexplicably became belligerent with one of my students, even though she was well-trained and accepted by the other animals.

Your cat might be making a kind of Pavlovian response. Perhaps the post-doc took some positive action in the past but discontinued it. She could now resume that or give another reward or perk when she passes the cage and reinforce it during more frequent visits.

Yet another possibility is that it's simply the post-doc's appearance, a perfume she uses, or an action she takes that is an unconditioned aversive. Enlist the help of a good animal behaviorist, who may help you discover the aversive and change it.

Finally, it could be something purely physical. The animal could have a benign adhesion in its stomach or elsewhere, and pressure to it might be painful. Therefore the post-doc might try altering her methods of handling.

We sometimes forget how individual animals are. For example, we have 100 cats that can be trained with sweetened condensed milk, but one doesn't like the milk and can't be trained.

In most cases, if you are willing to make a careful analysis, taking steps like those described above, you will find your solution.

Expert comments by Emily Patterson-Kane, PhD, animal-welfare scientist in the Animal Welfare Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association. She has conducted animal-enrichment research with several species.

Like this article? Get more in your FREE issue of Laboratory Animal Welfare Compliance.

Comments (3)
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written by ML Erskine, November 23, 2010
our lab has experienced this more than once. usually we just replace the animal if we can. but sometimes you need to keep it in. in that case, we try to get another person to handle the animal. but some of these suggestions are good, too. i'm sure we'll try some of them.
written by Victoria L Voith, December 02, 2010
A competent animal behaviorist could be very helpful. Be aware that the term "animal behaviorist" is not a licensed term. Anyone can call themselves an animal behaviorist - and do. There are two bodies of well educated professionals that have criteria for credentialing and recongnition. The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists that recognizes Diplomates and The Animal Behavior Society that recognizes Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists. Information about both of these organizations can be found on line.
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