Newsletter October 2014

What's New?

We'll have some exciting new programs rolling out for 2015 that we can't wait to announce. The details aren't ready for release right now, but in the meantime, we do have a couple of new initiatives to share.

ABI 238 Training Your Therapy Dog

We're very excited to begin offering this new course, beginning in January, that emphasizes the specific training skills you'll need to teach your dog to work in Animal Assisted Therapy and Activities. Learn from a veteran trainer how to best prepare you and your dog for this wonderful line of work. You'll learn everything from selecting dogs to preparing for national certification exams. Don't miss this exciting addition to our AAT and canine training programs.

ABI becomes a Learning Partner of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA)

The Animal Behavior Institute and the AZA share a common mission to provide professional, high quality training. Our new status as an official Learning Partner will allow students to use a number of ABI courses as electives in AZA Professional Development Certificate Programs. For more information, visit our ABI-AZA Learning Partners site or the AZA Professional Development Certificates site.

Trick or Treat - for Pets

When your kids come home this Halloween, jack-o-lanterns stuffed with candy, mouths smeared with chocolate, teeth encrusted with layers of sugar, you will probably tell them to go brush their teeth and save some candy for later. Stuffing your face with candy is fun and exciting for kids, but we wouldn’t want them doing it everyday. But are we doing this to our pets, without even knowing it? Like children, cats and dogs love treats! But did you know that many store-bought treats are basically the equivalent of candy? Feeding these treats to your pet on a regular basis can be detrimental to their health. Many store-bought treats are largely devoid of nutritional value. Yet there is no reason to settle for this when there are so many healthier options available.

Just as you might encourage your child to eat their veggies, you can consider feeding fruits and vegetables to your pet as treats. These low calorie, low fat, vitamin and mineral-packed “treats” are a great alternative to the packaged dog biscuits and kitty chews. Some great examples of healthy snacks include apples (just not the core – it can be poisonous!), blueberries, strawberries, bananas, green beans, carrots, sweet potato, squash, zucchini, lettuce and spinach. (Keep in mind that cats don’t like fruit because they lack sweet taste receptors.) It is important to cut these foods into small pieces and give them out in small amounts. Treats should only be about ten percent of a pet’s daily calories. They can be served alone or mixed into a regular meal. In addition, crunchy or chewy vegetables, like asparagus and celery, can be fantastic chew-toy alternatives. You might need to give it a few tries but your dog will most likely enjoy this new treat. Cats especially like zucchini because of its semi-moist crunch.

FattyThere are some plant foods that are toxic to pets that you need to stay away from. If you are not sure about feeding your pet a certain food, check with your veterinarian first. Dogs are omnivorous and more open to trying different kinds of foods. Cats, on the other hand, are carnivorous and often develop strong food preferences early in life. They are not just picky about what they eat; they are simply incapable of digesting some types of foods. Make sure you avoid feeding dogs or cats any of the following: grapes and raisins, garlic, onions, tomatoes, avocado, mushrooms, fruits with pits and nuts. Though they may look tempting, these foods can all present various degrees of risks to your animal. Any time you change your pet’s diet, you should observe them to make sure the new food is not causing any issues. If you notice a change, stop feeding your pet the new food and contact your veterinarian for further assistance.

Replacing high fat packaged treats with fruits and vegetables is one of the best things you can do for a pet (and ourselves!) In the long run, your pet’s immune system will be stronger, its weight will remain steady, and her immune system will be stronger. While toothpaste and carrots might be a healthy alternative, few children would like to see them show up in the Halloween baskets. But fortunately for us, fruits and veggies can still be quite a treat to our furry companions. So when Halloween rolls around this year, make sure your pets get a treat and not a trick!  [back to top]

Pumpkins Recycled

This fall, you may not be the only one amped up about sweater weather and pumpkin-flavored everything. Many zoos are finding creative and festive ways of enriching their animals’ lives by getting them involved in the season as well.

MeerkatBeginning on November first, the Toledo Zoo will be implementing their new fall program “Jumping Pumpkins,” where they will introduce a pumpkin to an animal’s environment – something the animal has likely never encountered before – and watch to see its reaction. Some animals will eat the pumpkin. Others will poke and prod at it, timidly trying to elicit a reaction and discover more about the unfamiliar object. Either way, it will make for quite the entertaining afternoon both for the animals and their observers.

In Brookfield, IL, many animals such as western lowland gorillas, African wild dogs, hippopotamus, sloth bears, and meerkats have been treated to this perrenial fall favorite. In fact, this trend has been spreading through zoos across America. Presenting animals with different stimuli encourages them to explore their surroundings, manipulate objects and engage in naturalistic behaviors.

Enrichment is a vital part of life for animals in captivity. Stimulating objects, environments and activities can increase an animal’s behavioral choices and its welfare. Pumpkin enrichment programs benefit animals by eliciting some of their natural behaviors such as exploration, foraging, locomotion, social interaction, manipulating objects and simply playing. The range of behaviors encouraged provides a better experience for both the animals and visitors alike.

Check out the way tigers and other big cats play with pumpkins at Big Cat Rescue
or explore these recipes for homemade Pumpkin Dog Treats.

Have you tried pumpkins as enrichment for the animals in your life? If so, send us a picture or post it at our Facebook site! [back to top]

Animal Allergies

Sneezing catCats don’t just sneeze to make cute YouTube videos. When a cat or dog’s immune system overacts to foreign substances, they have an allergy. These foreign substances are called allergens - foreign proteins that your animal’s immune system tries to remove.

As a pet owner, it is important to identify allergies right away and begin treatment for your animal. Allergy symptoms in cats can include: skin itchiness - causing scratching and rubbing, sneezing, coughing or wheezing, nasal or ocular discharge, and vomiting, flatulence or diarrhea. Symptoms in dogs are mostly about being itchy. They can include: itchy, red, moist or scabbed skin, increased scratching, itchy/runny eyes, itchy ears and ear infections, sneezing, vomiting, diarrhea, snoring, paw chewing/swollen paws, and constant licking. Yuck.

Cats and dogs can be allergic to many of the same things that torment us: tree, grass, weed, mold, mildew and dust pollens, smoke, fabrics, shampoos and more.  And as with people, animals can be allergic to foods, although they don’t seem to have the prevalence of peanut allergies that we do! It can be difficult to ferret out the allergens responsible for your cat or dog’s misery, particularly since reactions don’t always occur right away. Itching might occur immediately after Fluffy is exposed to an allergen, but symptoms may also occur hours or even days after exposure. This is why a cat or dog may continue to itch even after allergens are removed from the environment.

Like people, animals develop allergies at any time in life, Fido may have never been allergic to his flea medicine before, yet he can suddenly develop a problem. Any dog can develop allergies at any time during his life, but allergic reactions seem to be especially common in Terriers, Setters, Retrievers, and flat-faced breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs and Boston terriers.

Of the four types of allergies found in cats and dogs (flea, food, inhalant and contact) flea allergies are the most common. It produces a severe, itch-producing reaction when a flea’s saliva is deposited in the skin. Most cats and dogs will show a minor skin irritation in reaction to fleas. However, animals with a flea allergy will experience much more severe symptoms, such as intense itching, causing the animal to scratch or chew itself, removing large chunks of hair. Open sores or scabs on the skin can lead to a secondary bacterial skin infection. These scabs are most commonly found around the rump and base of the tail, hind legs, or around the head and neck. Removing the fleas is the most important remedy to this allergy. Topically applied monthly flea products and corticosteroids, also referred to as "cortisone" or "steroid shots" can also bring relief.

Food allergies in pets are more common than then was once thought. It is now known that food allergy and atopy often occur together. Although many cats and dogs have food allergies, they are rarely born with them. Food allergies can be particularly vexing as animals may develop allergies to foods that they have already been eating for a long time. Most frequently, the protein element of the food is the source of the allergen. For example, pork, beef, chicken or turkey can cause allergic reactions. In cats, this can cause itching, digestive disorders and respiratory distress. Dogs will often have ear yeast infections and skin infections that respond to antibiotics, but recur as soon as the antibiotic is finished. Some dogs with food allergy will also have increased bowel movements and soft stools. Food allergies should not be confused with food intolerances, which generally cause more severe vomiting and diarrhea.

Not only can dogs look like their owners; they can also start having allergies at the time of year their human companions start sneezing and wheezing too. The third most common type of allergy in cats and dogs is an inhalant allergy or atopy, sometimes referred to as “hay fever”. This is often referred to as a “seasonal allergy” as it can be related to pollen. Again, cats and dogs can be allergic to some of the same allergens that affect humans, such as tree, grass and weed pollens, mold, mildew and dust. Many of these occur seasonally, although others can be year round. These allergies produce severe itching in both cats and dogs. Treatment depends on the allergy season as some can be year round while others are seasonal. Steroids, allergy shots, medicated shampoo and frequent bathing can all bring improvement. However, the most important form of treatment for atopy is to minimize exposure to allergens. A cat or dog with pollen allergies should be kept inside with the windows closed. Too bad you can’t train your dog to use tissues!

Contact allergies are the least common. They can include reactions to shampoos, flea collars, carpet, plastic, cleaners, detergents, lawn chemicals, grasses or types of bedding. These substances will cause skin itching and irritation at the point of contact. Removing the irritant can solve the problem, however, identifying what the irritant is can be the challenge for pet owners.

So far we’ve discussed how allergies develop in cats and dogs (as well as other animals) and the signs that your pet may be struggling with this challenge. Please join us again in our November newsletter for Part 2: How to treat (and live with) animal allergies. [back to top]

Elephant Emotions

Jenny and Shirley were circus elephants living together one winter as close friends, until Jenny became injured and was abandoned. An activist took Jenny to a sanctuary and Shirley remained in the circus until twenty-two years later, when Shirley became injured as well. Shirley was delivered to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, where Jenny had been living for several years. When Shirley caught sight of Jenny, she could hardly contain herself. The two elephants were placed in adjacent stalls, but desperately wanted to be in the same one. Shirley was agitated, banging on the gate and trying to climb through and over. After several minutes of touching each other, the two elephants began to roar. When the trainers opened the gate and let them in together, they immediately bonded physically. All day the following day, they moved side by side and when Jenny lay down, Shirley straddled her a protective manner and shaded her body from the sun and harm. After being separated for all those years, they not only remembered each other, but also the emotional bond they had shared.

Elephants are among the most exuberantly expressive of animals. Scientists have found that they are capable of complex thought and deep feeling. In fact, the emotional attachment that elephants form toward family members may rival our own.


Known for recognizing and responding to another elephant's pain or problem, elephants make heroic efforts to assist one another. In Kenya, researchers have watched mother elephants and other adult females help baby elephants climb up muddy banks and out of holes, find a safe path into a swamp, or break through electrified fences. Scientists have also noted elephants watching out for their friends. They have been seen plucking out tranquilizing darts from other elephants and spraying dust on wounds. When a friend is injured, they run to stand beside them, touch them with their trunks to soothe them, and make soft chirping sounds. Sometimes elephants even put their trunk inside their friend's mouth, a behavior elephants find particularly comforting. This behavior is very similar to what you might experience while watching a horror movie with a friend. When you and your friend are afraid, you reach out for each other’s hands for reassurance.

Elephants also follow Lilo and Stitch’s motto, “Family means nobody gets left behind” with regards to their herds. A herd may travel slowly because one of its members has never recovered from a broken leg or because one female is carrying a dead calf. In one remarkable instance, an adult elephant made repeated attempts to help a baby rhinoceros stuck in the mud despite the fact that its mother charged her each time. She risked her life for an animal that was not even her own species.


Baby elephantsPlaying games and greeting loved ones are all displays of joy in elephants. One event that stirs a level of happiness beyond compare is the birth of a baby elephant. The excitement of the females in the family can’t be contained as they are heard bellowing and blaring during the birth of the new baby. Another highly emotional occasion in an elephant’s life is a reunion, much like Jenny and Shirley’s. Elephants about to be united begin calling each other from a quarter a mile away. As they get closer, their pace quickens and fluid from their temporal glands streams down their faces. Eventually, the elephants make a run towards each other, screaming and trumpeting the whole time. When they finally make contact, they lean on and rub each other, spinning around in sheer delight.


One of the most touching aspects of elephant social customs is the incredible bond between mother and child. The calf is small enough to walk under the mother, who does not step on it, but guards it with her body to protect it from predators or the sun. The mother and child remain in constant touch, as the mother touches her child with her trunk and legs. She helps it to its feet, carries it over obstacles, bathes it, and steers it by grasping its tail with her trunk or having it hold onto her tail. This is very similar to a human mother and child holding hands while crossing the street. If a calf strays too far from its mother, she will fetch it. When the calf squeals in distress, its mother and others rush to its protection immediately. The bond between mother and calf can last 50 years or more.


Have you ever heard the phrase, “Elephants never forget?” Elephants remember and mourn loved ones many years after their death. Several behaviors  attest to this ability. When an elephant walks past a place where another elephant died he or she will stop and take a silent pause that can last several minutes. While standing over the remains, the elephant may touch the bones of the dead elephant (not the bones of any other species), smelling them, turning them over and caressing the bones with their trunk. Researchers don’t quite understand the reason for this behavior. The elephants could be grieving or reliving memories. Researchers suspect that the sheer interest in the dead elephant is evidence that elephants have a concept of death.

Mother elephants sometimes appear to go through a period of despondency after the death of a calf. They may drag behind the herd for days. Elephant herds circle their dead members and drop branches and grass on the carcass. Sometimes elephants will even take the tusks to a different spot to be “buried” separately. One researcher noted a family of African elephants surrounding a dying matriarch. The family stood around her and tried to get her up with their tusks and put food in her mouth. When the rest of the herd finally moved on, one female and one calf stayed with her, touching her with their feet.

Click here for a video of elephants grieving.


Emotion requires communication, and the vocalizations of elephants are incredibly sophisticated. They make some sound frequencies humans can hear and others that we cannot. Much of their long-distance communication occurs through vibrations that are inaudible to us. Low frequency sounds are transmitted constantly and can be sensed through the trunk and feet. They consist of a deep rumble somewhere between 15-30 Hertz. (The normal human range of hearing is between 20Hz and 20,000Hz.) Elephants can communicate from 50 miles away through the ground, in ways that we are only just beginning to understand. It is possible that each elephant can recognize up to 100 other individuals by their infrasonic ‘voice’.

Elephants also use contact calls to stay in touch with one another when they are out of sight. They can distinguish between calls of their own herd and calls of other families. They can also distinguish between different family groups other than their own.


Elephant paintingBelieve it or not, elephants are also capable of creating paintings by holding paintbrushes in their trunks and drawing on canvas. Their work has been compared to that of abstract expressionists. It is commonly featured in zoos, museums and galleries around the world, selling for as much as $25,000. The elephants choose their own colors and either paint freely or are guided by trainers to create identifiable objects including self-portraits.

Aristotle once said that elephants are “the animal which surpasses all others in wit and mind.”

In fact, elephants do have the most massive brain of any land animal. Their brain is like a humans in many ways, such as its complexity and structure. The elephant’s cortex has as many neurons as the human brain (257 billion). The elephant has a very large and highly complex neocortex, a trait also shared by humans, apes, and dolphins. Elephants have ranked with chimps and dolphins in several studies of intelligence and problem-solving abilities. Notably, they have a very large hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for emotion and memory. It accounts for 0.7% of the central structures of the brain, comparable to 0.5% for humans. This may be linked to why elephants exhibit such intense emotions and memories of their long lost friends or the deceased.

“When Elephants Weep: Emotional Lives of Animals” by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy, offers further insight into the complexity of elephant emotions. This book, like others, demonstrates the amazing sophisticated minds of elephants. As stated here, evidence suggests that elephants act on feelings and not solely for survival. This leads us to believe that the depth of elephant emotional capacity knows no limit. [back to top]


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