Posts Tagged ‘Ham-rabbit’

Laboratory Animals are Exotic Pets on a Different Life Path

Monday, May 16th, 2011

I have spent the afternoon researching small pet (rabbit and rodent) nutrition in my constant, obsessive quest to be a better veterinarian for my patients and veterinary resource for CareFRESH.  Much of my reading today has circled back to laboratory animal nutrition resources.  That is weighing heavily on me.  It is difficult to read about research subjects when my frame of reference in Real Life centers around my own pets and the rodent patients who come in for individual, loving veterinary care, often in the hands of a child.

In college I worked with the best teacher I have ever had, Dr. Merlyn Nielsen, a Professor of Animal Science at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.  His research interest at the time was primarily the heritability of obesity in mice.  I loved helping Dr. Nielsen with his research and spending time with his super cute little white mice.

I did data collection and analysis pertaining to fat percentages of purposely bred thinner and heavier genetic lines of mice – all survival studies, because Dr. Nielsen knew from the start I was a wimp and would cry if I were asked to do terminal studies.  (A story for another day – CPR on a laboratory mouse was my first rodent CPR attempt, not CPR on our baby ratties.)

See full size image

It took me thirty minutes to find a plain ol’ white lab mouse picture to contrast with the pet hamster picture, and I still think this guy is super cute!

Fast-forward to senior year of vet school.  I was finishing a well-rounded Midwestern veterinary education covering cattle, horses, pigs, cats and dogs, and realized no one had said “mice” to me in four years.  So I headed down to the Lab Animal corner of the veterinary school and Dr. Lab Animal created an exotic pet rotation for me.  We threw in a couple goat cases for fun.  Again, a surprisingly wonderful experience.  And again, I was shielded from terminal studies.

Fast-forward um…many…years, and I LOVE my career as a small animal vet.  I started in Littleton where lots of vets saw exotics, and ended up in Omaha, where I often get “You’ll see my hamster??  Woo!  I will be right there!” which is almost more fun.  Yeah, exotic pet loving vets are here, and they are awesome, but they are few and far between.  I get quite a few referals from vets who only see dogs and cats and even from mixed animal practitioners (vets who see pets and large animals).  Imagine the courage it takes a pet owner to ask that guy for a hamster referral!

Most of what I have learned has been from exotic pet veterinary books, experience, continuing education and other veterinarians with an interest in exotic pets.  Every once in a while I will wonder…

What if laboratory animal researchers and veterinarians who like exotic pets communicated?

We don’t.  We have entirely different goals and focuses.  Pet practitioners are sad around research.  It is difficult to wrap our heads around.  Animals educated us so we could help other animals.  We got through it and do not want to look back.


Both of my experiences working with lab animals were very positive.  Both leaders who taught me were kind-hearted, compassionate people who cared very much for the animals they oversaw.

And SO MUCH research has been done over the years on animal health and nutrition and longevity.  It has mainly been done to benefit people.

Thank you researchers.  Thank you animals.

What if the knowledge from that research were also used to help pets?  I joke that we should have more medical knowledge about guinea pigs than any other species, because they are…guinea pigs.  But do we?  And if so, is it all being accessed to its fullest potential?

I think I have been ignoring a huge resource to the detriment of the patients under my care.  I do not have a conclusion for this post because I do not know how it ends.

When I figure out how to bridge the gap between the caretakers of the animals of the research world and the caretakers of the animals of the exotic pet world, I will share with you what I learn.  This is just one tip of the lab animal iceberg, which, for me, is a very emotional topic.  Chime in – I would love to hear your perspective.

Sometimes the most emotionally exhausting journeys are also the most rewarding.

Thermography and Veterinary Medicine

Monday, January 17th, 2011

It is funny how often I do things like take pictures of hamsters in costumes…


or show pictures of my glowing cat…

…or do equally silly things, and friends will be reminded of Super Awesome Medical Information they have to share.

I know I am supposed to be the veterinary professional here, but I am going to let my friends (vets and non-vets alike) continue to provide the Super Awesome Medical Information, and keep doing what I do best – promote preventative care by being random and celebrating pets (and, of course, providing links to the Super Awesome Medical Information, like this article on dysplasia by Jana Rade).

I do put medical information out there, but usually more in a conversational, story-telling sort of way.  (This one time, my dog got arthritis and my cat got arthritis and they both had arthritis…) Writing the technical, detailed stuff and case studies and research and the like is not my strong suit.  I promise I keep up with it and understand it, and most importantly, know where to find the experts in the things I am not an expert in!

Still, I was a bit disappointed in myself that I did not know anything about thermography before Tom came to our house to assess it for heat loss and electrical problems.  In a roundabout way, we came to discuss the applications of his profession to mine.

At first (Sorry if you read this Tom, but it’s true) I was worried since I had not heard of it before, that thermography in veterinary medicine was probably not a valid science.  I am one of those veterinary nerds who reads every small animal article in JAVMA and every horse article that includes a great picture and every large animal article pertaining to herd health. (You would be surprised how many parallels there are between cattle and guinea pig medicine).  And I NEVER EVER miss the synopsis of the artist who created the cover art.

I suck those bimonthly journals dry, and every other one I can get my hands on.

However, as much as I love to read and love veterinary medicine, I cannot read every important thing about everything without some direction from you all.  So I was very grateful Tom pointed me to these articles about thermography in veterinary medicine…


My second impression, after researching and reading a bit, was this makes sense.  One of the five hallmarks of inflammation is heat.  Another is pain.  Pain (as every veterinarian and pediatrician knows) can be very difficult to localize without some direction from the patient.

Thermography, which detects heat differences, seems to be a very promising tool in the detection of inflammation.  If we can better localize pain, we can better manage it.

It is kind of new, it is kind of different.  The scientist in me is cautiously optimisitic.  The optimist in me is really excited.  The art lover in me is really, really hoping Mom and Dad send me the pictures Tom took of Ernie Dog so I can post them here.  The blogger in me promises that as I learn more about thermography and veterinary medicine, I will pass on what I learn to you.  I have learned so much from you, it is the least I can do!

If you have information on thermography as it pertains to medicine or otherwise, or would like to weigh in with your impressions of its potential applications in Real Life, I would love to hear!  And if you have Ham-Rabbit or glowing pet pictures…I am going to need those too.

Ham-Rabbit and Friends

Friday, December 31st, 2010

This week, Ham-Rabbit reappeared, became more colorful and obtained all sorts of new friends.  Finally!  An answer to the question everyone has always asked:

“How do I make a costume for my hamster that is both cute and comfortable?”

The answer to the question

(as is true of many of life’s biggest queries)





The Very Scary Ham-Lion – “RAWR!”

Hamster Head Shark

Hamster Peacock

And perhaps my favorite of all…


If you send me hamster pictures, I will post them!  If you send me hamster costume ideas, I will meet with Hamlet and Sparks and their boys and see what we can do.  Then we will post those pictures too!

May your 2011 be fun and colorful and overflowing with friends, family and soft, cute pets.  And may those three categories overlap in every possible way.

Happy New Year!


Thank you to my two favorite hamsters in the whole world, Hamlet and Sparks.  And thank you to Hamlet and Sparks’ boys, and Hamlet and Sparks’ boys’ brother and Hamlet and Sparks’ boys’ and Hamlet and Sparks’ boys’ brother’s cousins.

You are my very favorite big kids in the whole wide world.


Monday, December 27th, 2010

A few years ago, I was bringing a Robo hamster back to her family after her veterinary visit.  Her cute little round face was peeking out from my closed fist.  I had a Sharpie in my lab coat pocket.  If you know me or have been around the Riley and James website, you probably know where this is going…I drew bunny ears and whiskers on the hand I had around the hamster, and Ham-Rabbit (named by the beautiful and talented Pet Nurse Erika Workman) was born.  SO cute!  The hamster was returned to her family without incident.

However, the next day when I handed the next client’s hamster back, she immediately asked, “Why do you have Sharpie on your hand?”  Wouldn’t you think her first question would be “Is my hamster going to be ok?” or “What medication do I need to give her?” or something like that?  No…she zeroed right in on my sharpied hand!  Some people are just obsessed with Sharpies.

Knowing she would either think it was as hilarious as I did, or completely unprofessional, like most grown-up clients (and doctors) probably should, I sheepishly asked to hold her hamster again, then hopped my hand towards her with her little hamster in it.  She could not stop laughing to say good-bye and was still giggling as she checked out.  *PHEW*

As we were driving home after visiting our family in Ohio last month, Russ said (after miles and miles of silence), “You know what would be REALLY cute?  Hamosaurus!”

We came up with all sorts of awesome hamster costume ideas that night, and this week we finally had Sharpies and hamsters and nephews who could give us permission all in one place at one time.  So now, I am proud to announce…

Ham-Rabbit.  And friends.

Coming to Riley and James New Year’s Eve.

You will love them.