We study strategies for improving animal welfare in a variety of contexts, such as examining approaches for mitigating agonistic interactions in socially housed animals, improving human-animal interactions, and reducing procedural pain and stress. Dr. Carly Moody also has expertise in animal handling, having conducted low stress handling research in companion cats and laboratory rats.
1. Companion cat welfare research: i) examining the use of video telemedicine for providing health and behavior care for cats, ii) studying agonistic interactions in companion cats and potential mitigation strategies.
Photo: Dr. Moody’s cats Alfie and Henry
2. Dairy goat welfare research: i) Examining the health and welfare of dairy goats with a lysozyme transgene, and ii) studying strategies for improving the lives of production dairy goats.
Photo: Pita, a dairy goat at the UC Davis Goat Teaching and Research Facility
1.Companion cat welfare research
i) Incorporating video telemedicine into cat health and behavior care
Routine veterinary visits are crucial for preventing, detecting, and managing pet health, behavior, and welfare. However, dogs are more likely to receive health care than pet cats, with reports suggesting 40% of pet cats are not brought to the veterinary clinic for routine visits. This is concerning given that there are an estimated 94.2 million pet cats in the US, all requiring routine veterinary care to maintain their health and welfare throughout their lifetime. Research shows that cat owners have a reduced willingness to bring their cats to the veterinary clinic due to many reasons including cat resistance to travel, accessibility challenges (ex. time away from work/home responsibilities, living in rural/remote communities), and stressful experiences at the veterinary clinic. The COVID-19 pandemic has created even more barriers to accessing veterinary care, resulting in a reduction of veterinary visits detected in US companion animal clinics. An important solution for overcoming these barriers may be use of video telemedicine: using video technology to deliver health and behavior care, education, and information remotely. Use of interactive videos allows health and behavior care to be provided to pets at home, and may become an important extension of the veterinary and behaviorist practice. Although the use of telemedicine has increased in many parts of the world with the COVID-19 pandemic, little research has examined the use of video telemedicine for improving access to veterinary health and behavior care for companion cats.
Our lab is currently working on examining veterinarian and owner attitudes about incorporating video telemedicine into health and behavior care for cats. Thanks to an ASPCA grant, we are also examining the efficacy of using video telemedicine compared to in-clinic visits for diagnosing and treating common cat health and behavior problems.
Photo: Olive getting ready for her annual veterinary visit
ii) Agonistic interactions in companion cats
Estimates suggest that over 32 million households own a cat in the US, and about half these households own two or more cats. Agonistic interactions between cats in the same household are a significant and complex issue, often resulting in problem behavior which increases the risk of cat relinquishment. Agonism includes overt aggression such as physical fighting, but also includes submissive and dominance related behaviors that do not involve physical altercations. Although agonism is part of a cat’s normal behavioral repertoire, excessive agonism has serious consequences such as stress (ex. subordination or dominance related), distress (ex. prolonged inability to escape negative interactions), fighting-related pain from wounding, and negatively impacts an animal’s health and welfare.
Cat behavior is often the first sign of a health and welfare concern in pets, and veterinarians commonly rely on owner interpretations of behavior in the home. However little research has examined cat owner ability to identify and understand inter-cat interactions. Our lab is currently studying cat owner knowledge of inter-cat interactions, with a focus on agonistic interactions.
2. Dairy goat welfare research
i) Examining the health and welfare of dairy goats with a lysozyme transgene
A subset of dairy goats at the UC Davis Dairy Goat Teaching and Research Facility have been genetically engineered to express higher levels of lysozyme in their milk. Lysozyme-rich goat milk has antimicrobial properties that may help protect the gastrointestinal tract (GI) from inflammation, prevent GI damage, and help promote a healthy GI tract overall. Recent research suggests that animals fed lysozyme-rich goat milk have shown GI-related benefits, with a reduction of inflammation and diarrhea-related illness. These results could have significant impacts for the human population, particularly those living with gastrointestinal problems, such as children in developing countries living with E.coli -induced morbidity and a reduced quality of life.
In collaboration with Drs. Jim Murray and Elizabeth Maga, (UC Davis Dept of Animal Science faculty) our group is running a retrospective study to examine the health and welfare of the multi-generational transgenic dairy herd. It is important to assess if the transgene impacts dairy goat morbidity and mortality/culling rates compared to non-transgenic dairy goats. Therefore students in the lab are currently examining transgenic and non-transgenic dairy goat records to analyze whether there are differences in various parameters of morbidity, mortality, and culling rates between the two groups. Records examined includes data related to udder health (e.g., mastitis), reproductive health (e.g., dystocia), diarrheal disease, and respiratory-related illness (e.g., pneumonia).
ii) Studying strategies for improving the lives of production dairy goats
Dairy goats are unique, gregarious, and social animals. More milk comes from dairy goats than dairy cows worldwide, although in the US dairy cows largely outnumber dairy goats. However, over the past decade the dairy goat industry has been increasing as consumer’s preference for goat-milk products (cheese, yogurt, and milk) grows. Domestic goats are not indigenous to the US; however, California has long had commercial farms producing goat milk. There are many benefits of dairy goat production systems as they have a lower environmental impact than dairy cows, and goat milk is easier to digest (particularly for those lactose-intolerant) in comparison to dairy cow milk.
Research is needed to provide evidence-based decision making and best-practice for dairy goat production systems in the US. Areas of interest includes handling, husbandry, and disbudding procedures. We are excited to begin work in dairy goat welfare this coming 2021-2022 academic year.
Photo: 10-day-old goat kid from the UC Davis Goat Teaching and Research Facility