Newsletter April 2016

 April 2016

What's New?

The Animal Behavior Institute is pleased to announce that we have been approved to provide continuing education units (CEU) for the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC). Wildlife rehabilitators certified by the IWRC may receive CEU credits for any of the courses listed in our Wildlife Rehabilitation program.


Homeopathic Pet Remedies


Please note that this newsletter is intended to inform the reader only. The Animal Behavior Institute neither endorses nor refutes the practice of homeopathic medicine. Owners should discuss their plans with their veterinarian prior to implementing new treatments.

In the late 1700s, a German doctor named Samuel Hahnemann was trying to understand how medicine worked to make people better. He had the unique idea to test medicines on healthy people to see what effects they produced. Sick people had a mixture of side effects, so he thought that healthy people might give a clearer picture of medicine’s true actions. Hahnemann observed that medicines often caused symptoms in healthy people that were similar to the symptoms sick people had due to their illnesses. These medicines were very beneficial when given to the sick. Hahnemann realized that the medicine was acting as a stimulant; it stimulated the healing process. However, he realized that people were very sensitive to the medicines, so he continued to dilute the doses more and more until he was only administering a tiny quantity. This has lead to the small homeopathic doses used today.

Today, homeopathy is a medical philosophy and practice based on the ideas and discoveries of Samuel Hahnemann. Homeopathy centers on the idea that the body has the ability to heal itself. It views symptoms of an illness as normal responses of the body as it attempts to regain health. A homeopathic dose enhances the body’s normal healing and self-regulatory process using the logic that “like cures like.” It uses a very small dose of natural substances that in a healthy person would produce the symptoms of the disease it is intended to treat. There are no side effects of homeopathy, but the symptoms it invokes must match the symptoms of the disease that the afflicted is experiencing.

Homeopathy was originally used only on humans, but there are many now homeopathic remedies that are used on pets, such as dogs and cats, to treat a variety of ailments. There are many resources that provide recommendations and treatments; here are a few of the more common remedies.

Apis mellifica – This is very effective for bee and other insect bites. It is also used for allergic reactions or hives.

Arsenicum album – Often used to treat vomiting and diarrhea, food poisoning, sepsis, anxiety, and restlessness.

Borax – Excellent for fear of thunderstorms and fireworks.

Calendula Cream – This remedy is useful in speeding up the healing of wounds, but should not be applied if drainage is still necessary because it will close a wound quickly. Additionally, if the wound is infected, it should not be used.

Hepar Sulphur – Treats infections as well as respiratory inflammation, sinusitis, abscesses, and even cold-sores. Also works well for bad colds that result in hoarseness or loss of voice.

Silicea – This remedy pushes foreign bodies like splinters or foxtails out of the skin.

Homeopathic remedies generally come in tiny white pellets, or liquid form. When giving these treatments to your pet, do not hide them in a treat or food. Instead, do your best to drop the remedy directly from the bottle into the inside of your pet’s cheek. Many homeopathic remedies are made to melt on the gum, thus this is the best way to administer them. The exact amount does not have to be precise as homeopathy is an energy medicine. This may seem strange, but unlike many traditional drugs, homeopathic remedies aren’t as strongly influenced by body weight. Homeopathic remedies are extremely diluted. This is why some treatments have numbers after their name; the number indicates how many times the remedy has been diluted.

There are sometimes multiple remedies for an illness. The best remedy will depend on how the illness presents itself in your specific pet. For example, if your dog had arthritic stiffness, one remedy would be better if your dog was better after resting and another remedy would be better if your dog felt worse after resting.

For more information or help with caring for your pet using homeopathy, refer to this symptom checker. This interactive website lets you choose your pet’s symptoms and then assigns possible causes and recommended treatments. This information-rich process allows you to consider all possible options before treating your pet. Additionally, the book "Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs" by Don Hamilton, DVM provides more information, tips and methods for organically healing your pet.

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Territoriality in Animals

If you’ve ever seen a child put a sign on his or her bedroom door saying that it’s their room, or even taking it a step further and adding, “No boys allowed,” you’ve experienced the kind of territoriality that is prevalent in the animal world. We are used to seeing signs of animals marking their territory everywhere, most commonly when dogs urinate during walks. However, territoriality often goes unnoticed by humans.

Territoriality is more than simply marking a spot with your scent. Territorial animals actively defend a certain area, usually because they depend on it for resources. Therefore, the animal must advertise its ownership and do everything in its power to protect that space. Many early studies focused on territoriality in birds, but more resent research has revealed territorial behaviors in fish, rodents, reptiles, primates, and even hoofed animals such as cows. Territories are very complex! They may be held by individuals or groups, and they may be defended against anyone, against only members of the same species, or against only members of the same sex, as seen in the “No boys allowed” sign.

Even males of some non-territorial species may establish temporary mini-territories in the mating season to impress females. But why do most animals engage in territoriality? There appear to be a host of reasons, territoriality increases security, reduces the spread of disease, reinforces dominant structures, and can even control population size.

View two wild Australian Frilled Lizards fighting to defend their territory.

Animals mark their territories in a variety of ways. From the songs of birds to the pheromonal scents from the skin glands of mammals, each species has its own way of warning others to keep their distance. For many, the benefits of this can be as simple as mating in peace, or raising offspring in an environment with limited competition for food. Because of this, some territories are seasonal. For example, many birds defend territories only until their young leave the nest. In fact, for some birds, the nest is the extent of the territory that they defend. 

Some animals, such as cougars, have overlapping territories. That is, a male’s territory may overlap with that of several females, but remain defended against other males. In this case, though the territories would overlap, the inhabitants of each territory would avoid each other unless they were breeding. Bears also have a unique habit in that they mark their territory by clawing trees as high as they can reach. This shows other bears how tall they are and warns them to stay away.

Deer mark their territories using trees, but instead, they rub up against the tree to leave their scent. However, dung also plays a large role in the way that deer mark their territory. Believe it or not, dung can indicate the sex and age of one deer to another. Frogs and toads often use calls to communicate to other frogs and toads that the area belongs to them. Interestingly, the Jamaican lizard marks its territory by doing push-ups, head bobs, and extending a colorful neck flap called a dewlap at dawn and dusk.

Article on Jamaican lizard territory.

Territoriality is a natural tendency in many animals around the world, though each of them has a unique way of showing it. So next time you see a child with a sign on the door to their bedroom, be thankful they chose that relatively peaceful method.

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Polly Want a What? Why Parrots Mimic Humans (And Other Sounds)


Iago the parrot had an interesting relationship with the dog, Mittens, that lived with him. Though the two went their separate ways for the most part, there were occasions when Iago would say, “Mittens, sit!” and Mittens would sit down, whining and looking around for her owner, nowhere to be found. Other times, Mittens would start barking at something outside, and Iago would yell, “Shut up! Shut up!” This was certainly an entertaining behavior. But why would Iago do that? Why do parrots mimic not only human voices, but also other sounds they hear? There are several reasons why parrots have evolved to have this ability.


Relying on learning vocals instead of having calls developmentally hardwired in the brain, as many other animals do, allows parrots to get to know territorial neighbors through learning their distinct vocal patterns, and helps them distinguish a bird that is just passing through from a bird that lives in the area. Additionally, imitating vocal sounds helps parrots tell other parrots that they have good hearing, memory, and muscle control. This can help them gain a mate or ally. Because parrots are highly social and intelligent animals, they often imitate sounds made by their family or flocks. In fact, studies have shown that adult parents often give names to their chicks.

Parrots that live as pets in households usually learn calls from their human companions. While imitation does not provide the same benefits in captivity that it would in the wild, it still helps parrots to get adopted. Because they have the ability to sing lower notes than some smaller birds, they can more accurately replicate human voices. This makes them very appealing for people that enjoy a bird mimicking them, or seeming to talk as if it is another person. However, many people do not know that their pet parrots actually have the ability to produce sounds that are much higher in pitch and faster in tempo than any human voice is capable of.


However, if you own a parrot, you probably know that parrots mimic other sounds they hear too, not just human voices. Iago the parrot has exhibited this behavior as well. One afternoon, Iago’s owners turned on the television for him so that he wouldn’t feel lonely while they were out. They didn’t think much of this until they got back. However, when they returned and for weeks afterwards, Iago would, at random intervals, yell things such as: “Touchdown! Goooo Bears!” or make scratchy noises that were later interpreted to be the sound of a crowd cheering.

Parrots sometimes mimic sounds like these, but only if they hear them repeated over and over. This is why pet parrots generally only repeat phrases they hear repeated around them, such as the sit command for a dog. The reason that Iago repeated the phrase “Touchdown!” was because the phrase was likely said many times during the course of the game he watched. Social context is also important. Birds are far more likely to learn from a person repeating a word than from hearing that word repeatedly on tape.


One talented member of the parrot family is the budgerigar, also known as a “budgie”. Though many of these pets don’t talk, they’re actually quite capable of learning human speech. Furthermore, budgies and parakeets “speak” with great clarity, and are the least likely to be overwhelmed or anxious in unfamiliar situations. This parakeet, Disco, has an impressive vocabulary of phrases and sounds.

Parrots are some of the most intelligent and fascinating animals that can live anywhere from your living room to the middle of a rainforest. And who knows what they’ll say next?

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Cool Bird Migration


Imagine the farthest distance you might travel someday, perhaps for that dream vacation. Now multiply it by ten. Think that makes you a seasoned traveler? Think again! The Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) circumnavigates the entire globe, every year! Known for having the farthest annual journey of any bird, the Arctic Tern travels about 25,000 miles every year from its Arctic breeding grounds to its second home off of Antarctica. And you thought that 12-hour flight was an adventure!

The Arctic Tern is a medium-sized white tern with coloring that looks like a black cap on its head. Arctic Terns can live for decades and don’t begin breeding until the age of three or four; the oldest recorded Arctic Tern lived until 34, when it was re-released into the wild. Most Arctic Terns return to the area where they were hatched, often returning to the same exact colony. Normally, Artic Terns will begin in Greenland and fly down to Antarctica and then back again. As a result, the average Arctic Tern flies about 1.5 million miles, or 2.4 million kilometers, during migration in the course of its lifetime. This is equal to three trips to the moon and back!

Recent technology has allowed scientists to track individual Arctic Terns during migration. This has led to fascinating insights, such as the fact that terns often take zigzag patterns, and will often stop for about a month in a certain area during migration in order to fill up on fish and crustaceans before continuing on. Most interesting, however, is the fact that Arctic Terns seem to follow huge spiraling wind patterns in the atmosphere in order to avoid flying into the wind. It’s not clear why the Arctic Tern travels so far every year, though some speculate that it is due to the rich polar feeding grounds.

Arctic Terns are not the only birds to have extraordinary migration habits. The hummingbirds visiting your feeders this spring may have flown hundreds of miles to end up in your backyard. Hummingbirds often spend the winter months in Central America or Mexico, flying back north as early as February. Humming birds fly alone, and have been known to fly up to 23 miles in a day. This is quite a feat for such tiny athletes! During migration, a hummingbird’s heartbeat may reach 1,260 times a minute, vs. the average resting human heartbeat of 60 - 100 times per minute. Additionally, the hummingbird is known to flap its wings up to 80 times per second during migration. To make this trip, hummingbirds often gain 25-40% of their body weight before migration to support themselves for the long journey. That’s akin to a human putting on an extra 40-50 pounds before going on vacation.

Interestingly, hummingbirds usually follow the same exact path each year. Unlike the tern, hummingbirds generally only stop for a maximum of a few days at a time. Stopping is impossible over open water, where no food is available. It’s not just a question of distance; hummingbirds also have to contend with strong cold fronts in the Gulf of Mexico, bringing strong winds and heavy rain with no shelter. It’s hard to believe that a bird scarcely bigger than a butterfly could withstand such challenging conditions. We have to agree that these graceful little birds have earned the “nectar” that humans so willingly supply at their feeders.

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