Temple Grandin signed books after her talk.
Temple Grandin signed books after her talk.

Nearly 200 people (primarily in person and some via the online webinar) had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Temple Grandin and other dynamic speakers at the April 28th Continuing Education event for the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine focused on “Translational Discoveries at Birth and End of Life.” Many in attendance were veterinarians, others had various animal science backgrounds, and many were just interested in animal welfare. 

Grandin—known worldwide as an autism spokesperson and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior and treatment—discussed “Autism and Animal Behavior,” highlighting the core emotions (fear, rage, panic, anxiety, etc.) shared by humans and animals alike. She highlighted studies that indicated the neurotransmitters involved in emotion are the same between animals and humans, and that emotions originate in the same place in the brain. Due to her strong background in animal welfare, she addressed numerous concerns related to this field as she led the afternoon sessions.

The audience learned about things to consider when dealing with animals. Is a dog scared because the clinic floor is slick and it can’t get traction? Do horses show less fear when a familiar person is with them? Do shelter dogs get the recommended 45 minutes a day of exercise and socialization to help decrease cortisol levels? Is a dog’s anxiety the result of being left alone much of the day?

Dr. Monica Aleman presented a fascinating talk about research into what an animal experiences during euthanasia. Her interest in the topic started as a child when she had to say goodbye to a beloved dog. As an equine veterinarian, she helped conduct studies to measure brain activity, respiration and heart function during traditional euthanasia in the U.S. using barbiturates as well as intrathecal lidocaine for IV euthanasia, which is more commonly used in developing countries where barbiturates are not easily accessible. 

What veterinarians and pet owners alike should find reassuring, Aleman said, is that both techniques are effective, fast and humane methods of terminating life. These groundbreaking studies help veterinarians provide evidence to comfort owners during what is sometimes a scary and uncertain experience for them. 

“Knowing this—that we, as veterinarians and pet owners, are providing the most humane and painless transition to an animal at the end of life is the biggest finding of my career,” Aleman said in near tears. “Nothing will top this and I’m forever indebted to UC Davis for giving me the ability to be part of this research.”

Dr. Lynette Hart provided a wonderful lecture, which generated a lot of audience discussion on helping owners deal with the loss of their pet and to help veterinarians cope with the ever-stressful burnout fatigue they often face with these challenges. Providing coping strategies will be essential for everyone to continue to thrive. 

As the afternoon continued, Dr. Grandin allowed the audience to ask numerous questions and they were eager to ask her question after question.  When asked about autism, she mentioned that autistic children need to have a skill set and “to get them away from the video games.”  She also showed slides of the “squeeze box” she used that worked for her in the past. 

Dr. Kristine Corn, a physical therapist from Ride to Walk, then discussed how the sensory nervous system was utilized in her work with autistic children and other children with disabilities in therapeutic horseback riding. Dr. Vinod Bhutani, a pediatric neonatologist from the Stanford University provided an insightful talk on how his translational work with Drs. Madigan and Aleman is represented in his field with newborn babies—the changes in neuroendocrine hormones with skin to skin contact, again stressing the sensory nervous system. He expressed how much we can learn from the science that Madigan, a professor in medicine and epidemiology, is doing with his very impressive “squeeze” technique in the foal.   Madigan presented several videos of these foals after a simple placement of a rope to help manage and treat the maladjusted foal.

As the program concluded, several guests mentioned they would appreciate additional Continuing Education Programs to elaborate on the topics that were discussed on this day, suggesting that animal welfare and translational science have a broad range of appeal. The CE office would certainly love to do more of these programs in the future! Please do not hesitate to contact the CE office at: svmcontinuinged@ucdavis.edu if you have any other content suggestions for the office. 

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