Cetaceans and Humanity

What is Cetaceans?

Cetacean is one of the groups of marine mammals. Just like other mammals, marine mammals have similar characteristics such as covered in hair/fur, breathe air through lungs, warm-blooded, nurture their young with milk produced by mammary glands. In addition to those characteristics, marine mammals have adapted to live in the ocean because they rely heavily on the marine ecosystems for their existence.

Cetaceans are completely aquatic, and they cannot survive on land. They have two front flippers, and their tails are uniquely shaped into flukes, which provide tremendous swimming power. Examples of cetaceans are dolphins, porpoises, and whales.

Cetaceans in captivity

You probably have heard about the controversy of keeping cetaceans in captivity. Due to cetaceans’ intelligence, many people believe that they shouldn’t be kept in captivity. Some even believe that marine mammals can commit suicide, a statement which leads to another controversial discussion. But how true is the statement? According to Dr. Ann Weaver, an animal behaviorist and dolphin researcher, animals can get depressed but there is a powerful survival instinct that prevents them from killing themselves. According to her the continuum from melancholy to the blues to depression to despondency to the step to despair, which is a tipping point in suicide, is uniquely human.
On another hand, Dr. Lori Marino – a neuroscientist and expert in animal behavior and intelligence, believes that humans and dolphins share emotions, that they are more alike than different. “I think the idea that other animals can’t commit suicide because they are hardwired to live is very old fashioned. Basically it says that we are aware of what we are doing and other animals are just driven by this hardwired red in tooth and claw to survive and there is no evidence for that.”
Dr. Lori is internationally known for her work on the evolution of the brain and intelligence in dolphins and whales. She showed a human brain and a dolphin brain and explains how evolved they both are. Such big brains indicate a high level of cognitive processes. Suicide in animals is a provocative inquiry and scientists agree it requires more research.
Speaking of research, to provide and sustain a high momentum of research in marine mammal medicine, there is a need for advance conservation, increased research, more skilled scientists and sufficient financial support to improve the benefits of marine mammal medicine to man. How do humanity benefits from marine mammal medicine?

Cetaceans and human survival

Cetaceans and other marine mammals are sentinels of changes in the oceans and public health. Pollution in the sea and overfishing of seafood resources affects these organisms just as much as it affects human beings. Due to their prime position within the food web, marine mammals therefore have the ability to bioaccumulate pollutants and anthropogenic toxic compounds in the marine environment through a process called bio-magnification. Their long lifespans and unique blubber (fat reserves) have high ability to store toxic compounds. In summary, these compounds progressively move through the food chain and increase in amounts each time they enter a new trophic level, which means that by the time they reach the top (i.e., in marine mammals), their concentrations are generally quite high. Thus they are indicators of change in the marine environment and sentinels for public health and the health of our oceans.
Studies on the presence and levels of organic contaminants in marine mammals essentially provide us with a means to assess the potential risks and exposures to our species. A recent ecotoxicological study on a species of coastal dolphin in Brazil showed that octocrylene/OCT, an ultraviolet filtering agent found in sunscreen products, was detected in high concentrations in the dolphins’ livers. Another study shows that in the southeastern estuarine waters of the United States of America, two dolphin populations were found to carry a high load of chlorinated pesticides and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), amongst other organic contaminants, at levels that have reported adverse effects on wildlife and humans.
If dolphins are accumulating toxic compounds in their bodies from the fish they are eating, which for the most part is also the fish that we eat, we may also consume the same toxins. In other words, from public health and food security point of view, if contaminants are accumulated in the bodies of marine mammals, and marine mammal populations around the world are declining due to a lack of food resources, then it is a bad sign for our species’ viability.
Thomas Goetz, an American public health practitioner, stated that “Better health is not a science problem, it’s an information problem”. For the lack of information dissemination to the general public on the actual state of our marine environment and how it is ultimately linked to our overall welfare, one cannot expect the general public to be aware and want to care about the environment.

Last words, do you think keeping cetaceans in captivity is necessary? Is there a need to keep them for research and educational purpose? While it is better to let the wildlife live in the wild, due to pollution the ocean water may have become toxic for cetaceans. However, there are still some sanctuaries left in this world that provide a safe home for them. More info here.


Spay And Neuter: The Pros, The Cons, And Things To Consider


The pros and cons of spaying and neutering

Spay and neuter – that’s a very common thing that we hear almost every day now. Many pet owners approach me and ask my opinion regarding the matter. Some are very supportive towards the spay/neuter program, some are still considering whether their pets need it or not, while some others are hesitant or worried about the side effects of it. So what are the pros and cons of spaying/neutering?

Let’s start with the pros:

  • No off-spring (obviously!).
    Finding homes for your new family members is not as easy as you may think. Every year about 17 million dogs and cats were turned over to animal shelters. Only one out of every 10 taken in to the shelters found a home. This means that over 13.5 million had to be destroyed. The tragedy is that this is unnecessary. Much of the problem could be eliminated by a simple surgery: sterilization. By sterilizing pets, owners can help lower the numbers of unwanted and homeless animal companions.
  • No risk of pyometra in queens and bitches. Pyometra is an infection of the uterus that may occur in dogs and cats. The uterus is generally filled with pus. Removing the whole uterus will eliminate the risk of getting pyometra.
  • Less risk of mammary cancer.
  • No dominance and aggressive behavior.
    Dominance and aggression are often (but not always) related to sexual hormone. Getting your pets spayed and neutered removes their sexual hormone which also removes their dominant and aggressive behavior. This is especially helpful to reduce fights in a pack of male dogs or in a clowder of toms.
  • More gentle, more calm, and more affectionate pets.

Apart from the pros, here are the cons of spaying/neutering:

  • Excessive weight. Neutered pets tend to become fatter because their metabolism is slower once the sexual hormones are removed. This problem can be solved by decreasing your pet’s meal portion and take them for more exercise.
  • Hormonal imbalance and diseases related to it. A few examples of common hormonal imbalance diseases are hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease. Dr. Karen Becker wrote that Dr. Jack Oliver, who ran the University of Tennessee’s adrenal lab, said that indeed adrenal disease was occurring at epidemic proportions in dogs in the U.S. and was certainly tied to sex hormone imbalance (read full article here).

De-sex, sterile, intact. Which one is better?

Before we start reading the answers, let’s familiarize ourselves with these terms to make sure we’re on the same page:

  1. De-sex: the animals have all their reproduction organs removed. Females do not have ovaries and males do not have testicles anymore. Hence they cannot breed and they don’t have their sexual hormones secreted. Examples of this practice are spay and castration.
  2. Sterile: the animals have their reproduction organ partially removed so they cannot breed and produce offspring, but they still have sexual hormones secreted by ovary or testicle. They still have their sexual hormones and minimal behavioral change is observed. Examples of this practice are tubal ligation, hysterectomy/ovary sparing spay/partial spay (applicable in bitches, but not preferred in queens), and vasectomy.
  3. Intact: no change is made to the animal’s reproductive systems. They still have their reproductive organs and hormones, and can produce offspring.

Spay and castration are the most common methods for de-sexing, but there’s another option called sterilization. If you ask me which one is better, I always opt for sterilization without fully de-sexing the pets. Popular methods of this option are ovary-sparing spay and vasectomy.

In sterilization, your pets will have almost no risk of hormonal imbalance and behavior change is minimal because the reproductive system is kept in a more natural condition than de-sexing.

Bitches which are sterilized but still have at least one ovary intact will still show signs of heat in their behavior. Some people refer this to “clean heat” because there will be no blood, but the bitch will still show heat behaviors.

Should I get my pets fixed?


Like I always say, you know your pet better than anyone else and eventually the decision is yours. However here are a few things to take into consideration before deciding to have your pets de-sexed or sterilized:

  • Indoor or outdoor pets. If you keep your pets indoor all the time and they have no chance to meet (or breed) with neighboring animals, maybe they need neither de-sexing nor sterilization. However if you don’t supervise your pets outside, please sterilize them so you are not contributing to the stray overpopulation problem. Don’t be an irresponsible pet owner who allows your intact pet outside without a leash and direct supervision.
  • Hyperactive and aggressive pets. Aggression and hyperactivity are related to sexual hormone. Most pets become less aggressive and less active after they’re de-sexed because the hormone producing organs are removed. If your pet is highly aggressive and dangerous, de-sexing is an option, but of course a better solution is to contact an animal behaviorist to alter their aggressive behavior.
  • Number of pets. If you have more than one pets in your place, they make hierarchy and normally there’s only one dominant male leading the group. The presence of other dominant males in the group will lead to fighting and possibly injuries. If you experience this problem with your pets it’s better to have them de-sexed.
  • Species of your pets:
    1. Old bitches are prone to pus-filled uterus infection called pyometra. It can’t be treated with antibiotics and the only way to treat is to remove the uterus through surgery. If you have a bitch then you should consider spaying her in her young/adult age. When a bitch is too old, there are higher risks of getting a surgery done on them (for example they may not survive anaesthesia, they make slow recovery, the surgical wound may lead to a complicated health problems, etc) and in this case often the final solution to pyometra is to put them to sleep.
    2. Spaying in queens have less complication and less negative impacts compared to spay in bitches. The only negative impact they will experience is being overweight. No significant case of hormonal imbalance disease has been observed in spayed queens.

The decision to sterilize, spay, or neuter your pet, at what age, and with what technique is a very personal decision that is based on your pet’s breed, temperament, personality, and your commitment to training, lifestyle management, and responsible pet ownership. – Dr. Karen Becker

Ready to make the decision? Or still unsure? Contact me if you still have questions regarding spay and neuter.


Introduction to Using Essential Oil for Animals

What is Essential Oil?

Essential oils are aromatic, naturally occurring chemical components of plants that are usually extracted by distillation. Thorough lab testing of these chemical constituents has led to an understanding of their benefits, and in recent years, interest in therapeutically blended essential oils for animals has increased.

Every batch of a medical drug must by law be identical to the batch that preceded it. Plants, on the other hand, adapt and change with the tiniest variable in their environment, for example, a change in the water supply. So essential oils, created from ever-adapting plants, never reach a point where pathogens become resistant to them. They stay at least one step ahead – which makes them much smarter than anything we can create in a laboratory.”


The Benefits of Essential Oil

Essential oil is one of my favorite treatment method and here are a few reasons why:

  • it works on physical level to easy the physical symptoms

  • it affects the animals at the cellular level

  • it works on the emotional and psychologic level

  • it helps behavior modification

Their uses include blends for increasing appetite; boosting the immune system; combating fatigue; and dealing with puppy teething, ear cleaning, bad breath, colds and congestion, separation anxiety, and many more. Application methods range from soaps and shampoos to salves and sprays.

Most essential oils have been found to confer benefits of one kind or another—among them, anti-infectious (antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial), sedative, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), immunostimulant and expectorant.

Using Essential Oil For Your Animal Companion

One of the expert vets in using essential oil, Dr. Melissa Shelton, DVM, stated she was cautious when she first introduced essential oil for her pet cats. She watched them closely and she did countless blood and urine test to make sure the cats stayed healthy and that there was no toxicity caused by the oils. Over time she felt confident of using essential oil for pets and now she has been using this modality in her practice for many years.

In a survey sent to members of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, 15 respondents reported significant use of essential oil in their practices, and in quite disparate ways (Keith, Elizabeth Rowan. 2010. “Essential Oil Use in Canine Veterinary Medicine.” Dissertation, South Dakota State University (click here for the abstract).

holiztic vet essential oils.jpg

I am aware that there is some controversy in using essential oil for animals, especially for cats. Some complications have been reported as well, but we cannot conclude that essential oil is dangerous without knowing the details of the oils used, especially when there are research which state that essential oil causes significant health change in animals. There are many factors that can cause problems from essential oil usage, some very common ones are the quality of the oil and the amount of the oil applied. Make sure you only pick medical grade oil and use only a small amount diluted in carrier oil because animal’s sense of smelling is more sensitive than human’s.

Using cheap but poor grade essential oil will likely cause more health problems than curing the animals. Just like any other health related products, you want to pick one which has the best quality for the best result and if any problem occurs it is fair to say that the brand is not of the best ones. For example: canned food. If your pet becomes sick to a poor quality canned pet food, we cannot outlaw all canned food , but we have to find better quality.

For essential oil, make sure you pick a brand that has medical-grade oils, because you want to use the oils for medicating your pets. Otherwise, non medical grade oils may not show any health improvement when used for your pets. As another general rule of thumb: find information about the essential oils and animals from a reputable source.

Upcoming next: DOs and DONTs when applying essential oil for your pets.

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Traveling secret: Revealed!

As mentioned in my previous post, I spent the last year traveling and volunteering in Thailand. This has raised some questions asked by people, well, actually most of my friends, about how much money I earned in the past, how much saving I had, and how much I spent. They assumed I must be either very rich for not having a job yet still enjoying vacation, or exceptionally stingy to survive a whole year travel with no income.


To answer the questions: I was paid below vet salary standard and followed NGO’s low salary standard, my saving was not big, and on average I spent about $400/month for the last year. This amount had included everything from visas and visa runs (yes visas and flights were not provided and I had to pay from my own pocket) to entertainment and leisure such as drinks and diving. True, I’m not a big fan of drinking and partying, so probably more money was spent for diving than drinking.

I didn’t stay at Couchsurfing hosts, neither traveled the backpacker style, nor cut my expenses as lowest as possible. So now the question is: how did I survive with such low expenses, less than $15 a day? If you’re thinking that I robbed someone’s treasure, sorry to disappoint you. It’s not true.

Some of you travelers might have noticed that the one of the biggest expenses in traveling is accommodation and food. So if you somehow manage to cut those expenses you can save a great deal for your traveling. Now here’s my little secret to avoid those expenses: volunteer where your skill is appreciated and get free accommodation (even better with free kitchen), and sometimes free transportation or meals, in return of doing high-skilled work. Because I’m an animal lover and a vet, I’m going to talk about volunteering with animals from a vet’s point of view; and when I said “skill” it means a specialized skill where people have to spend years of studying and years of experience to master the skill.

It is rare to see free accommodation offered to people who have no special skill, in exchange for general work such as cleaning the cages and feeding the animals. Almost everyone can do those. To be honest I’m getting sick of hearing travelers asking “Do you know where I can get free visa, stay for free, and get free meals in exchange of doing some work?” basically asking for a free holiday. Let me tell you the answer: it’s almost impossible to find such place. Before someone tries to find a place where they can get sponsored holiday they should ask themselves what kind of skill can they offer? General helping is not considered as a specialized skill.

liz renae bloodless surgeries

Even if you have a special skill and are experienced, some places still require you to pay for the whole volunteer experience. (Again, we’re talking about volunteering with animals here, so) this is usually the case if you want to volunteer at wildlife rescue centers. For stray dogs and cats it is easier to stay for free in exchange to your skill. Why? Because not everyone can experience working with wildlife but anyone can interact with cats and dogs any day they want. Another reason is because it needs special permit to keep wildlife, while anyone can have any number of dogs and cats anywhere they want. Fair enough?

So in the next upcoming weeks/months, I’ll share my volunteer experience and include as much helpful details as I can. You can also comment below if you have questions about volunteering with animals or share your experience to let me and the readers know. Here’s another little secret: next I’ll reveal my experience volunteering with Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation in Chiang Mai. Stay tuned and don’t miss the story 🙂


4 Simple Steps to Make Natural Calcium Supplement

Calcium is one of the most important minerals to maintain your pet’s health, especially in young pets, pregnant and nursing mothers. A lack of calcium results in weak bones and teeth, bone deformities, weak joints and in a severe case called hypocalcemia, it causes disorientation, muscle twitch, tremors and sometimes seizures. Notable pet behavior of this condition is licking cement, concrete and brick.

Depending on what kind of diet you feed your pets with, the total calcium in their diet may not be enough. Thus calcium supplement is needed, but buying a commercial calcium supplement can be expensive sometimes and they may be loaded with chemicals and preservatives. The good news is, you can make simple calcium supplement for your pet (and for yourself too) from only egg shells in a few simple steps.

What you need
  • 30-60 egg shells (depends on how much supplement you want to make)
  • saucepan
  • oven (optional)
  • rolling pin/food processor/coffee grinder
  • air tight container
What to do

Collect egg shells and keep them in the fridge until you have enough of them. An easier and faster alternative is to get egg shells from your neighboring restaurants. Talk to the manager nicely and you may collect the shells for free! Once you have enough egg shells, here are the simple steps you have to do: 1. Soak egg shells in water and wash from any dirt, dust and egg white. Removing the inner layer of the egg is not necessary because it has nutrition and minerals too.

Tips: crush the egg shells into smaller pieces to save the amount of water needed.

egg shell calcium1

2. Boil egg shells for at least 10 minutes to kill pathogen microorganisms.

Tips: Clean the egg white completely in step 1 to avoid foam formed during this step. If that happens, don’t worry, simply remove the foam.

calcium egg shell (03)

3. Drain and dry the shells. If you have oven, you can bake them to remove the moisture completely. The next step is easier to do with less moisture.

Tips: Lay them on moisture absorbent material, such as sponge or newspaper for faster drying process.

eggshell calcium4

4. Grind the dried shells finely into tiny pieces, grains, or powder. Coffee grinder works best for this purpose, but not necessary. I currently don’t have any fancy kitchen appliance so in this process only mortar and pestle were used. If you don’t have fancy equipment, simply use glass or rolling pin to grind. calcium egg shell (06) Done! Store in an air tight container. Add some silica gel packets if necessary to keep it dry. One teaspoon of the powder contains 800 mg calcium in average. To find out how much calcium your pets need, please check with your vet for advice.

calcium egg shell (07)

Directions: Mix the calcium powder with your pet’s food. Note that calcium is not water soluble and mixing them with water will make them sink to the bottom.

Recommended dosage is 1/2 teaspoon per 10 kg body weight, twice a week. This dosage may vary due to different body weight, calcium necessity and calcium intake from other food source (growing, pregnant and nursing animals or animals with calcium deficiency need more calcium than animals in normal condition). If you are not sure, you can always contact me for free consultation.


A Very Simple Enrichment for Your Pets

What is enrichment?

Enrichment is something to keep the animals occupied for a while and chase the boredom away. Usually it involves treats to attract animals’ attention but enrichment could be anything as long as it stimulates the animal’s sensory organs and can keep them busy with the enrichment.

The simplest way to explain is: enrichment = toy.

Examples of common enrichments are scratch board for cats, toys, balls, Frisbees for dogs, water sprinkler, kong toys, and many more, bones. While some of you may think pet’s toys are expensive, you can make simple enrichment with very basic household equipment. One of my favorite enrichment is essential oil.

There are a lot of essential oil brands out there, some with good quality, which is of course pricey, while some cheaper brands only offer fragrance oil instead of essential oil. A good essential oil brand doesn’t add chemicals to enhance the fragrance. A truck of herbs or flowers may only result in/only yield/only produce a few drops or a few milliliters of pure essential oil, that’s why they are expensive.

Here are some reasons why essential oil can be a good enrichment for your pets:

  1. Your pet’s olfactory organ, especially dog’s, is better than any other sensory organs (sight, hearing, taste, touch). They are very observant with various smells surrounding them. You only need a drop or two of essential oil to make them busy for a while until the oil evaporates and the smell is gone.
  2. Essential oil is natural. A real essential oil is made of pure natural substance, such as flowers and leaves. When used correctly/when using the correct oil safely, a drop of essential oil is much better than a pack of chemical-loaded snack or plastic toys.
  3. Animals have amazing natural instinct. If the oil is dangerous for them, they might not like it. Always check with your veterinarian before giving an oil that you’re not familiar with. If you are not sure you can ask me for advice.
  4. If used regularly it can calm them down when they smell the oil. It can resolve ‘home sick’ problem (or master sick, in this case) when you are away from them
  5. You can use the oil for other purposes. For example, eucalyptus can be used as disinfectant; lemongrass can be used as insect (and external parasite) repellent; lavender is good to treat skin problem and to calm the nerves down; lemon oil can be used for cooking and making drinks; peppermint can soothes itchy skin and has energizing property.

Check the video of essential oil enrichment that I gave to Rambo the leopard at our rescue center. A few drops of various essential oils around his enclosure kept him busy for the whole afternoon!

Tips: Experiment with different smell and make note of which smells your pets like. The effect is similar to catnip effect in cats.

Always check your essential oil before giving them to your pets! Your pets may be allergic to it. Some oil can be dangerous for specific animals. If you are not sure you can contact me for free consultation.


What Language does Animal Speak?

As an animal communicator, I’ve been asked numerous questions by friends and clients. Some of the very common questions are: Can you speak to my Thai dog? My cat is Balinese, how can you speak to her? Does the animal speak better English than I do? When you speak to animals, what language do you use?

All these questions lead to one bigger question: What language does animal speak?

Some may say animal language, others may call it sign language, body language, telepathic connection, or mind reading, but for me it’s simply universal language.

It was the pure Language of the World. It required no explanation, just as the universe needs none as it travels through endless time.  – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.

Why do you call it universal language?

As the name suggests, because it’s so universal that everyone and every creature can understand, regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, nationality, and even regardless of species! There’s no language barrier when you communicate with nature. If it sounds too woo woo, please watch the video below to see that human and elephants can create strong bond and communicate well regardless of species difference.

If it’s universal why not everyone can hear what you hear?

The reason why only certain people can communicate with animals is because these people listen while others don’t. Some people even ignore the message they get. Unfortunately the number of people ignoring the messages is far greater than the number of people listening. Everyone is given the same ability, but it depends on the individual whether they want to develop it or kill it.

Animals speak to those who listen.

Animals speak to those who listen.

If you are still curious or haven’t fully understood yet, here’s a simple exercise to develop your animal communication skill: Next time when you see a baby, observe them and tell me what you think they want. Look into their eyes and tell me what they say. What feeling do you get? What emotion do you feel?

With the same method, observe a dog or a cat or an elephant or anything. Look into their eyes and tell me what it says. Most importantly: What kind of language do you use? Have you understood the universal language concept?

Please let other readers know your experience by commenting below.