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Home No. 39: Should I have predicted a lab animal would become more aggressive?

Jan 24

No. 39: Should I have predicted a lab animal would become more aggressive?

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Should I have predicted a lab animal would become more aggressive?

Reader Question: : I am in the second year of a disease study involving laboratory canines, and one dog took a dislike to a lab tech and nipped her several times. The last time it happened, the animal became very aggressive and bit the tech so that she required stitches. What can I do to prevent this in the future?

Expert comments:The dog gave you warning through the previous instances. In a sense it was telling you that it was going to bite the tech, but you evidently didn’t see it.

There are steps you can take to prevent this type of incident in the future:

• Change the animal’s environment or training so it can feel more secure. If you’re going to handle the animal in a way it’s not used to, like turning it upside down or giving it an injection, be mindful of its reaction. If a procedure might cause slight pain or fear, the animal might react with the natural “flight-or-fight” response and tend to bite. To adjust for this, have someone give it special attention at other times, perhaps stroke it gently or offer it treats so that it accepts that person’s touch. Then have them handle it in the way that’s needed until it gradually becomes used to that motion or position before actually doing the procedure.

• Work with your attending vet to see if there’s a medical problem. Perhaps the animal has a condition, such as arthritis, so that handling is painful. If that’s the case, your techs should be trained to work with such animals.

• Perhaps there’s an environmental issue. If the dog is at the end of a rack, it can’t see people approaching and might be easily startled. Perhaps move it so it can see people coming — or condition it by having everyone alert it by voice when they approach.

• The issue could be the animal’s training or temperament. The dog might have come from a line of animals with integration issues and thus not be suitable for research at all.

• You’re attributing the incident to just that person, and that’s possible. But did the person do something? Did the dog “learn” to not trust that person? This tech may not have been trained sufficiently or may be missing some remedial training on safe dog handling. If this was a particularly difficult animal, a higher level of training may have been required. If so, you might have been better served to assign another tech.

Keep in mind that handling of all same-study dogs must be uniform. There was something affecting that dog, and it could impact the results of your research. Behavior is never absolute. Nine times out of 10, it’s just a growling dog, but it always has the potential to be a biting dog.

The bottom line is that you can resolve unruly-animal issues only by finding out what’s behind their behavior.

by Emily Patterson-Kane, PhD, Animal Welfare Scientist, Animal Welfare Division, American Veterinary Medical Association, Schaumburg, IL.

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Comments (5)
written by J McHugh, January 27, 2011
Good suggestions. However, please start by not referring to the animal as "it" and treat more personally & with respect. Make sure your staff area treating the animals gently and with respect. Again, respect is key.
written by David E. Harrison, January 27, 2011
Totally agree that always must minimize stress for animals, and not just dogs - this is also just as important for mice and rats even though they can be more easily restrained, it is far better to train them to accept the procedure without stress. Otherwise stress can damage your experimental results.

BTW -even if the dog did not bite, but was the only one growling and upset - this still could damage your results.
President Animal Research Consulting, Lab Animal Consultant to the Animal Welfare Institute
written by Michele Cunneen, January 27, 2011
Additionally I would recommend an external eye; the vet or animal care staff watch the interactions with this dog and others in the study and see if others are displaying the precursor signs. The research tech may be in a rush or other actions making the dogs stressed. Does it happen if it’s a different tech? Does it happen with the care staff? If not it is the experiment or the experimenter somehow. A dog behaviorist would also be good to have evaluate the conduct of the study procedures to see if any are simply too stressful and could be modified to lessen stress. This maybe this dog finally reaching the point at which stress becomes distress and acting out. I would model the care and environment to the human condition of the disease under study. If the humans would get softer furniture the dogs should, pain meds, highly palatable food, puzzles as enrichment. This could be done so long as applied to all animals in study without destroying the comparisons within groups.
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Depending on the type of study, this may work.
written by J Davidson, June 12, 2011
At our large vet. med. research center, we had a young female student
who kept getting snapped at by one of our terminal black labs. Her
advisor solved the problem by issueing her a collapsable batton. The
dog ended up losing an eye and had a broken left front leg but never
bothered the student again. For the cancer study, the injuries did not

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