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  • September 27, 2016
  • 02:55 AM
  • 9 views

Neurotensin, intestinal inflammation and autism?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Elevated peripheral pro-NT [neurotensin] levels reflect more severe forms of active celiac disease, indicating a potential role of NT in intestinal inflammation."The suggestion, from Caroline Montén and colleagues [1], that the neuropeptide called neurotensin might play a role in paediatric coeliac disease is an interesting one that caught my eye recently. Interesting not only because of the potential implications for the archetypal 'gluten-causing' autoimmune condition called coeliac disease, but also because neurotensin might have some rather important links to [some] autism too [2].OK, a quick recap is perhaps useful. Neurotensin when it comes to autism typically means one name, Theoharis Theoharides, he of mast cells fame (see here). The idea is that neurotensin (NT) is, among other things, quite a 'potent trigger' of mast cells and when activated these mast cells can release their inner contents that include quite a few substances linked to allergic inflammation. At least some of the talk linking 'inflammation' and autism might include a role for mast cells [3]  and so hey presto, a potentially important chain of biological events might therefore be linked.Going back to the original Montén paper on NT and coeliac (celiac) disease, researchers set about investigating "if plasma pro-NT levels correlated with the degree of intestinal mucosal damage and tissue transglutaminase autoantibody (tTGA) levels in children with celiac disease." They did find elevated levels of one of the NT precursor fragments in a coeliac disease group (n=96) compared with controls (n=89) and there did seem to be something of a possible connection between pro-NT levels and tTGA. On these basis, they concluded that NT might indeed be linked to the intestinal inflammation noted in cases of coeliac disease. Mast cells might also be important to coeliac disease too according to recent findings.Accepting that coeliac disease is not autism (even though in some individual cases they may be linked [4]), there are a few further studies that might be required on this topic with autism in mind. As I've already mentioned, inflammation - particularly inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract - is not something unheard of in autism research/practice circles (see here). I know furrowed brows can be associated with this area of discussion but I'm talking about peer-reviewed science not anecdote and speculation. One might for example, see an investigation whereby those with autism and GI-related issues (including an inflammatory component) might be more closely inspected for something like NT to see if it is something important. You could even include those potentially falling into the grey area of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) if you so wished (see here). Given also related findings for some on the autism spectrum in relation to tTGA too (see here) and the possibility of another link there with NT, some brave research team might also wish to inspect this parameter. I might also suggest that looking at gut motility patterns in relation to NT levels could be another area ripe for further investigation with autism in mind (see here) given some previous discussions on the effects of NT.Just a few suggestions for how a little more work in this area might prove illuminating.Insofar as what to do about a possible link between NT and autism, well someone it seems has already started that conversation [5] and discussions are seemingly continuing in the peer-reviewed domain [6]...----------[1] Montén C. et al. Role of pro-neurotensin as marker of paediatric celiac disease. Clin Exp Immunol. 2016 Sep 10.[2] Angelidou A. et al. Neurotensin is increased in serum of young children with autistic disorder. J Neuroinflammation. 2010 Aug 23;7:48.[3] Theoharides TC. et al. Atopic diseases and inflammation of the brain in the pathogenesis of autism spectrum disorders. Transl Psychiatry. 2016 Jun 28;6(6):e844.[4] Genuis SJ. & Bouchard TP. Celiac disease presenting as autism. J Child Neurol. 2010 Jan;25(1):114-9.[5] Ghanizadeh A. Targeting neurotensin as a potential novel approach for the treatment of autism. Journal of Neuroinflammation. 2010; 7:58.[6] Patel AB. et al. Neurotensin stimulates sortilin and mTOR in human microglia inhibitable by methoxyluteolin, a potential therapeutic target for autism. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Sep 23. pii: 201604992.----------Montén C, Torinsson Naluai Å, & Agardh D (2016). Role of pro-neurotensin as marker of paediatric celiac disease. Clinical and experimental immunology PMID: 27612962... Read more »

Montén C, Torinsson Naluai Å, & Agardh D. (2016) Role of pro-neurotensin as marker of paediatric celiac disease. Clinical and experimental immunology. PMID: 27612962  

  • September 26, 2016
  • 07:04 PM
  • 18 views

What is behavior? Baby don’t ask me, don’t ask me, no more

by Piter Boll in Earthling Nature

by Piter Kehoma Boll One of the most difficult concepts to explain in biology is certainly life itself. But I am not here today to talk about the definition of life, but rather of another puzzling concept: behavior. Behavior is the … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • September 26, 2016
  • 01:35 PM
  • 29 views

Why do more men than women commit suicide?

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Why do more men die when they attempt suicide than women? The answer could lie in four traits, finds scientists. There are over 6,000 British lives lost to suicide each year, and nearly 75 per cent of those are male. However, research has found women are more likely to suffer from depression, and to attempt to take their own life.

... Read more »

Deshpande, G., Baxi, M., Witte, T., & Robinson, J. (2016) A Neural Basis for the Acquired Capability for Suicide. Frontiers in Psychiatry. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00125  

  • September 26, 2016
  • 02:48 AM
  • 32 views

On HERV-H, autism, ADHD and methylphenidate?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Today's post is a bit of a mash-up including two paper: the first from Emanuela  Balestrieri and colleagues [1] (open-access available here) talking about "increased HERV-H [Human Endogenous Retroviruses - H] transcriptional activity in all autistic patients" included in their cohort (author's words not mine) and the second from D'Agati and colleagues [2] (open-access available here) describing "the reduction of HERV-H expression and the significant improvement of ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder] symptoms after 6 months of methylphenidate treatment."Taken together, both papers provide some potentially important information on how those fossil viruses that litter the human genome might not be as redundant as we might have first thought. Also how some of the commonly used medications to treat/manage certain psychiatric labels might have quite a few more effects than those listed on the package insert. A shocker indeed.I've covered HERVs a few times on this blog in relation to quite a few labels (see here and see here and see here). If you've clicked on that first link, you'll know that this is not the first time that Balestrieri et al have talked about HERVs with autism in mind [2]. On that first occasion, they even went as far as proposing that "HERV-H expression be explored in larger samples of individuals with autism spectrum in order to determine its utility as a novel biological trait of this complex disorder." This time around "the transcriptional activity of three human endogenous retrovirus (HERV) families, in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs)" was examined in 30 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 30 asypmtomatic controls. Quantitative real-time PCR was the analytical weapon of choice, as "transcriptional levels of env of HERV families were quantitatively evaluated." As I've already mentioned, HERV-H expression showed some interesting trends compared to the not-autism controls. The authors note that this data from Albanian children is pretty much the same as what they found in Italian children diagnosed with autism.The D'Agati findings - also including Balestrieri on the authorship list - although discussing a case report on what happened to HERV-H expression following use of methlyphenidate (MPH) in relation to ADHD, might also have some implications for [some] autism. Reiterating that this was a case report where both before and after HERV-H expression levels were measured, it potentially offers a road map for how HERV-H expression might be 'affected' by the use of certain medicines. Yes, I know that researchers only measured one variable (HERV-H) and one variable/measurement does not a link make. But given the quite significant overlap between ADHD and autism (see here) and the insinuation that over-expression of HERV-H might not necessarily be a 'good thing', one could see how further [independent] studies might be informative in this area.Although slightly complicated by the fact that we are only beginning to realise how important HERVs might be to things like stem cells for example or even potentially being involved in the process of genetic deletion (see here), what is becoming clear is that these fossil viruses might be something to watch when it comes to health and wellbeing at different times of development. I've tried not to be too enthusiastic about HERVs and autism / ADHD / other (delete as appropriate) on this blog given our lack of understanding on any connection, specifically the hows and whys of any effect on either aetiology or symptoms. But it is getting harder not to wonder what role these and other mobile elements might play in development and behaviour, particularly in the context of HERVs being implicated in autoimmunity [3] (yes, that might also show a connection to some autism) and a possible role for the still emerging science of epigenetics in both HERV expression [4] and also [some] autism. There is lots more research to be done on this topic.----------[1] Balestrieri E. et al. Transcriptional activity of human endogenous retrovirus in Albanian children with autism spectrum disorders. New Microbiol. 2016 Sep;39(3):228-31.[2] D'Agati E. et al. First evidence of HERV-H transcriptional activity reduction after methylphenidate treatment in a young boy with ADHD. New Microbiol. 2016 Sep;39(3):237-9.[3] Tugnet N. et al. Human Endogenous Retroviruses (HERVs) and Autoimmune Rheumatic Disease: Is There a Link? The Open Rheumatology Journal. 2013;7:13-21.[4] Lavie L. et al. CpG methylation directly regulates transcriptional activity of the human endogenous retrovirus family HERV-K(HML-2). J Virol. 2005 Jan;79(2):876-83.----------Balestrieri E, Cipriani C, Matteucci C, Capodicasa N, Pilika A, Korca I, Sorrentino R, Argaw-Denboba A, Bucci I, Miele MT, Coniglio A, Alessandrelli R, & Sinibaldi Vallebona P (2016). Transcriptional activity of human endogenous retrovirus in Albanian children with autism spectrum disorders. The new microbiologica, 39 (3), 228-31 PMID: 27602423... Read more »

Balestrieri E, Cipriani C, Matteucci C, Capodicasa N, Pilika A, Korca I, Sorrentino R, Argaw-Denboba A, Bucci I, Miele MT.... (2016) Transcriptional activity of human endogenous retrovirus in Albanian children with autism spectrum disorders. The new microbiologica, 39(3), 228-31. PMID: 27602423  

  • September 25, 2016
  • 02:57 PM
  • 53 views

Linking perception to action

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Researchers studying how the brain uses perception of the environment to guide action offer a new understanding of the neural circuits responsible for transforming sensation into movement.

... Read more »

  • September 24, 2016
  • 03:26 AM
  • 72 views

Correcting ophthalmic problems in autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

'Does Correction of Strabismus Improve Quality of Life in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder?' went the title of the paper by Pinar Ozer and colleagues [1]. Yes, it may very well do was the answer (but with certain caveats and the requirement for a lot more research in this area).Strabismus, a condition where the eyes don't line up in the same direction, can sometime have some quite noticeable effects on a person's vision and indeed, has been linked to various other non-vision related symptoms and outcomes.Ozer et al looked to identify "the impact of optical or surgical correction of the strabismus on the child using a questionnaire for parents." The published research of this team has been previously discussed on this blog (see here) with ophthalmic findings in mind, and the requirement for quite a few more resources to be put into eye examinations when autism is diagnosed (see here). This time around they were discussing what happens when such eye issues are resolved.I'm not completely convinced that the Ozer findings this time around reporting 'significant improvements' in areas of "psychosocial interactions" is as it stands, a methodologically firm finding just pertinent to autism. Although no expert on strabismus, from what I gather, the 'cosmetic' side of the condition can have some far-reaching effects on 'psychosocial' functions. I daresay that such effects would be just as prevalent in autism as they are in the general population and hence, correction would likely have similar outcomes.I am more open to the idea that if strabismus is affecting vision, as in causing something like blurred or double vision, correction of the issue may in some cases have some important 'effects' in relation to autism. Accepting that structural issues with the eye are not necessarily the same as or causative of visual perceptual issues that seem to crop up quite often in the autism research arena, it is not outside the realms of possibility that something like strabismus could be part and parcel of visual effects for some people.I suppose to reiterate, screening for structural eye/vision issues when it comes to autism remains a pretty important area.To close, karate gradings for one of my brood today and this is what they will be attempting...----------[1] Ozer PA. et al. Does Correction of Strabismus Improve Quality of Life in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Results of a Parent Survey by Ophthalmologists. Semin Ophthalmol. 2016 Sep 6:1-6.----------Ozer PA, Kabatas EU, Bicer BK, Bodur S, & Kurtul BE (2016). Does Correction of Strabismus Improve Quality of Life in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Results of a Parent Survey by Ophthalmologists. Seminars in ophthalmology, 1-6 PMID: 27599387... Read more »

  • September 23, 2016
  • 02:42 AM
  • 78 views

Epilepsy and systemic autoimmune diseases: birds of a feather?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

A couple of years back on this blog I talked about some rather intriguing research suggesting that epilepsy and autoimmune disease might not be unstrange diagnostic bedfellows (see here) and that a "potential role of autoimmunity must be given due consideration in epilepsy." [1]Today, I'm continuing that research theme as the findings from Zhang Lin and colleagues [2] caught my eye concluding that: "There is an association between epilepsy and SAD [systemic autoimmune diseases], which was shown to be stronger at a young age."Relying on that rather important methodological tool called a meta-analysis, where various study findings are lumped together and conclusions (hopefully) derived from the whole, Lin et al included data from some 25 studies where epilepsy and SAD had been examined together "which included 10,972 patients with epilepsy (PWE) and 2,618,637 patients with SAD."Aside from those with epilepsy showing "more than a 2.5-fold increased risk of SAD" the authors also observed the opposite too: "patients with SAD were also shown to have a more than 2.5-fold increased risk of epilepsy." When it came to specifics, those diagnosed with epilepsy were observed to show "a 2.6-fold increased risk of celiac disease" and those "patients with systemic lupus erythematosus had a 4.5-fold increased risk of epilepsy."I remain intrigued about this topic. Appreciating that within the peer-reviewed literature there is such a thing as autoimmune epilepsy [3] and that even in cases of epilepsy seemingly without the autoimmune encephalitis element to it, there may be antibodies to neuronal tissue involved [4], there are perhaps some further important clinical studies to be done in this area. It is for example, not uncommon to see more than one autoimmune condition appearing at the same time (see here) as various autoimmune overlaps have been noted in the quite voluminous science literature on this topic. The implications perhaps being that if one could find some of the 'causes' behind such autoimmune issues (be that related to molecular mimicry or the presence of a superantigen for examples) one may potentially be able to treat/manage quite a few conditions.Wearing my autism research blogging hat and extending the possibility of an 'autism link' discussed on my previous post on this topic, I'd like to think there may be some scope for further inquiry with autism in mind too. Not only because epilepsy is one of the prime comorbidites attached to a diagnosis of autism (see here) but also that for some people on the autism spectrum, autoimmunity is also potentially something to contend with (see here). Should we therefore be so surprised at the possibility that autism, epilepsy and autoimmunity could form an important clinical triad for some?And with full caveats in action about not giving medical or clinical advice on this blog, there is a body of evidence out there supporting immunotherapy for certain types of epilepsy [5] where other interventions have failed. Mmm, I also wonder...----------[1] Ong MS. et al. Population-level evidence for an autoimmune etiology of epilepsy. JAMA Neurol. 2014 May;71(5):569-74.[2] Lin Z. et al. Association between epilepsy and systemic autoimmune diseases: A meta-analysis. Seizure. 2016 Aug 23;41:160-166.[3] Britton J. Autoimmune epilepsy. Handb Clin Neurol. 2016;133:219-45.[4] Wright S. et al. Neuronal antibodies in pediatric epilepsy: Clinical features and long-term outcomes of a historical cohort not treated with immunotherapy. Epilepsia. 2016 May;57(5):823-31.[5] Bello-Espinosa LE. et al. Efficacy of intravenous immunoglobulin in a cohort of children with drug-resistant epilepsy. Pediatr Neurol. 2015 May;52(5):509-16.----------Lin Z, Si Q, & Xiaoyi Z (2016). Association between epilepsy and systemic autoimmune diseases: A meta-analysis. Seizure, 41, 160-166 PMID: 27592469... Read more »

  • September 22, 2016
  • 03:14 AM
  • 89 views

"Paediatricians are seeing more children with developmental-behavioural conditions"

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The findings reported by Harriet Hiscock and colleagues [1] are brought to the blogging table today, specifically that suggestion that paediatricians, at least in Australia, might be encountering an increased number of "developmental/behavioural conditions" as part of their workload.Looking at the clinical experiences of some 180 paediatricians who took part in the study in late 2013 and comparing them with data from 2008, researchers probed a number of practices relating to "(i) conditions seen; (ii) consultation duration; (iii) imaging and pathology ordered; and (iv) prescribing." The details associated with seeing an increasing number of children "with developmental-behavioural conditions" included: "More paediatricians reported diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder... attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder... and intellectual disability... in first consultations."Whilst being slightly careful that 'seeing more children with developmental-behavioural conditions' is not necessarily equated with there 'being' more children with such issues, I'm inclined to suggest that such data is important. Quite a few times in the British media at least, stories have emerged about long waiting times for developmental assessments (see here for one example) and how an already stretched National Health Service (NHS) is seemingly struggling in some parts, to cope with the number of referrals coming through (see here).As part of a wider peer-reviewed and 'other' evidence base suggesting that (a) the estimated prevalence rates for autism have increased (see here) and (b) there may be a 'real' increase in 'rates of behaviour' associated with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (see here) I am becoming more and more convinced that old arguments about 'better awareness' or 'diagnostic switching' are becoming less relevant to the debate about the increasing numbers of cases of autism (see here for example).I don't doubt that as a society we are far more aware of autism than we ever were (we've even started 'screening for it' during early infancy here in Blighty) and where decades ago someone for example, might have been diagnosed with a learning disability even though they presented with autistic features so things are a little different nowadays. But the sorts of stresses and strains being placed on developmental screening and diagnostic services (particularly paediatric services) in comparison to times gone by are seemingly not comparable anymore. Even taking into account population increases and changes to the organisation of screening and diagnostic services, talk of a growing tide of children being diagnosed, or waiting to be assessed, as being on the autism spectrum is something that really should be prompting a lot more urgency and action. I might also add that arguments about better clinical awareness - did they really miss all those children? - really do a disservice to those who have been skillfully diagnosing autism for many years. Value our experts!And alongside the talk about children being diagnosed, adult services too are also under a lot more pressure these days...----------[1] Hiscock H. et al. Trends in paediatric practice in Australia: 2008 and 2013 national audits from the Australian Paediatric Research Network. J Paediatr Child Health. 2016 Sep 4.----------Hiscock H, Danchin MH, Efron D, Gulenc A, Hearps S, Freed GL, Perera P, & Wake M (2016). Trends in paediatric practice in Australia: 2008 and 2013 national audits from the Australian Paediatric Research Network. Journal of paediatrics and child health PMID: 27594610... Read more »

  • September 21, 2016
  • 07:02 AM
  • 90 views

Interracial marriage is more accepted in 2016, except for those who find it “icky”

by Doug Keene in The Jury Room

We’ve written about American attitudes toward interracial marriage a fair amount here and (at least once) questioned poll results suggesting dramatic improvement in attitudes toward  interracial marriage among Americans (an 87% approval rating?!). While interracial relationships may be more acceptable to many more Americans, there is also the recent report of an attack on an […]

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Where are racism and sexism in 2016? They haven’t gone  anywhere….... Read more »

  • September 21, 2016
  • 02:41 AM
  • 97 views

Respite care and parent stress with autism in mind

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"While most studies found that respite care was associated with lower stress, several found that respite care was associated with higher stress."That sentence is perhaps the most important finding recorded in the 'integrative review' published by Kim Whitmore [1] looking at "the relationship between respite care and stress among caregivers of children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder]."Covering a "final sample of 11 primary research reports" the author provides yet another example of how sweeping generalisations in relation to autism really do no-one no good and how "tailoring respite care services to the unique family needs" is most definitely the way forward.This is important stuff [2]. I've previously talked about how - again, minus any sweeping generalisations - parental stress in relation to raising a child with autism is one of the more pressing issues when it comes to the health and wellbeing of carers (see here). A steady flow of firsthand accounts also substantiate this finding even in some instances talking about "trauma-related symptomatology" [3]. Respite as one tool in the arsenal to care for the carers is something important; not least because of how such stress can sometimes severely impact on parental quality of life (see here) and potentially onward parent-child (and other) relationships. In amongst all the discussions about autism - how we view it and the implications for the person diagnosed - the effect of a diagnosis on parents/carers can sometimes get a little lost in all the noise.What's more to say on this topic? Well, I think it is perhaps important to bring in the paper by Southby [4] who brought up an interesting point about how: "Residential respite appears to be the default conceptualization of 'respite' for carers, service users and stakeholders." It's not, and as per the organisation that I'm linked to, something like domiciliary support (otherwise known as home care) can sometimes provide a viable alternative to residential respite/placement. The knowledge that a person does not have to leave the family home, for example, can in some instances have a more positive impact on carer stress, and indeed, most probably will be less cost- and resource-intensive too. I don't also doubt that when it comes to stress for the person diagnosed with autism (an important consideration), for some the familiarity of the home environment is something not to be tinkered with by thoughts of residential respite. But again as per the idea of 'tailoring' resources to individual needs, for some families [5], residential respite every now-and-again should not be discounted.Finally, it's all well and good talking about the benefits of respite and tailoring respite to meet individual needs, but the cold, hard reality of providing respite in these austere times should not also be forgotten. Indeed, as social purse strings are tightened alongside criteria for eligibility for such services, the factors associated with use and non-use of such services present some difficult choices [6] and are only likely to become even more narrow in future...----------[1] Whitmore KE. Respite Care and Stress Among Caregivers of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Integrative Review. J Pediatr Nurs. 2016 Aug 31. pii: S0882-5963(16)30150-6.[2] Dyches TT. et al. Respite Care for Single Mothers of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. J Autism Dev Disord. 2016 Mar;46(3):812-24.[3] Stewart M. et al. Through a trauma-based lens: A qualitative analysis of the experience of parenting a child with an autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability. 2016. Sep 16.[4] Southby K. Barriers to non-residential respite care for adults with moderate to complex needs: A UK perspective. J Intellect Disabil. 2016 Jul 20. pii: 1744629516658577.[5] Harper A. et al. Respite care, marital quality, and stress in parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. J Autism Dev Disord. 2013 Nov;43(11):2604-16.[6] Preece D. & Jordan R. Short breaks services for children with autistic spectrum disorders: factors associated with service use and non-use. J Autism Dev Disord. 2007 Feb;37(2):374-85.----------Whitmore KE (2016). Respite Care and Stress Among Caregivers of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Integrative Review. Journal of pediatric nursing PMID: 27592275... Read more »

  • September 20, 2016
  • 03:11 AM
  • 128 views

First trimester maternal vitamin D status and offspring autism risk?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin/hormone - is seemingly everywhere these days in research terms. At the time of writing this post we have news that vitamin D might cut the risk of severe asthma attacks if taken alongside prescribed asthma medication. The week before that it was the suggestion that vitamin D might be part of the explanation as to why childhood learning difficulties were more commonly found in children conceived during the winter months. Vitamin D is seemingly shouldering quite a bit of responsibility when it comes to health and wellbeing.Today I'm adding to that research responsibility by introducing the paper by Jianzhang Chen and colleagues [1] who suggested that: "Lower first trimester maternal serum levels of 25(OH) D were associated with increased risk of developing autism in offspring." 25(OH)D by the way, is calcifediol, and refers to the typical metabolite assayed for to provide a measure of ones vitamin D status.Chen and colleagues accessed archived maternal blood samples taken during the first trimester of pregnancy - "11–13 weeks gestational age" - for some "68 children diagnosed with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and 68 sex and age matched typically-developing children." Not only was vitamin D status examined in those samples but various other potentially useful metabolites: "unmetabolized folic acid (FA), vitamin B12, homocysteine (HCY) and High Sensitivity C Reactive protein (CRP)" that may have some important autism-related links for some (see here and see here for example).Their report on this occasion focused on the vitamin D results and the finding that mums of children diagnosed with autism/ASD were as a group more likely to present with lower levels of 25(OH)D than control (not-autism) mums. Indeed, when it came to the percentages of who were and weren't vitamin D deficient, some 55% of mums with a child with autism fell into this category compared with less than 30% of control mums. I might add that vitamin D deficiency is typically only one 'banding' when it comes to looking at vitamin D status. With the caveats that this was a study of maternal vitamin D and autism offspring risk in China (so not necessarily translatable to other parts of the world; see discussions shortly) authors also observed a possible correlation between maternal vitamin D status and autism 'severity' in their cohort.Bearing in mind my recent discussions on the maternal body as 'an environment in autism science' (see here) and the potential pitfalls this presents, the data from Chen et al are interesting. Accepting also that I have a bit of a research 'thing' for vitamin D when it comes to autism on this blog (see here and see here for examples), this work seemingly fits in pretty well with the idea that nutritional factors at critical periods may indeed play a role in the development of at least some autism. Indeed, when one talks about season of conception as potentially being associated with offspring risk of behavioural or developmental issues [2], vitamin D levels look like an attractive research target. The next stage in this research process would be independent replication and perhaps, looking at other populations too.In fact, on the topic of other populations similarly studied with maternal vitamin D status and offspring autism or autistic traits in mind, the research path previously trodden might not be all one-way. Take for example research coming out of Australia [3] a few years back that observed little in the way of connection between maternal vitamin D levels and offspring development (see here). OK, they used the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) as their behavioural diagnoser (something that might not be cutting the appropriate mustard in recent times) but all-in-all they found little in the way of any relationship in contrast to the Chen findings. The fact that the Raine study data used in the Australian paper also included quite a few more participants also offers a significant advantage to the smaller Chen study.But I don't think we can just discount the Chen results as they stand, as more and more vitamin D is thrust onto the [autism] research stage. Combined with the recent guidance from the Government here in Blighty suggesting that vitamin D supplementation perhaps needs to be a lot more widespread than it is (see here and see here) throughout the population as a whole, research opportunities aplenty present themselves in this area of growing importance...Oh, and that includes with regards to the genetics of vitamin D metabolism too (see here).To close, if you are easily offended by bad language, please stay away from this advert for a cookbook (probably not the language you're likely to hear on Bake Off whatever channel it's on).----------[1] Chen J. et al. Lower maternal serum 25(OH) D in first trimester associated with higher autism risk in Chinese offspring. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 2016; 89: 98-101.[2] Zerbo O. et al. Month of conception and risk of autism. Epidemiology. 2011 Jul;22(4):469-75.[3] Whitehouse AJ. et al. Maternal vitamin D levels and the autism phenotype among offspring. J Autism Dev Disord. 2013 Jul;43(7):1495-504.----------Chen, J., Xin, K., Wei, J., Zhang, K., & Xiao, H. (2016). Lower maternal serum 25(OH) D in first trimester associated with higher autism risk in Chinese offspring Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 89, 98-101 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2016.08.013... Read more »

  • September 19, 2016
  • 03:30 PM
  • 115 views

Harnesses are a Great Choice to Walk Your Dog

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

A new study compares a harness to a neck collar and finds both are good for canine welfare.Milo. Photo: Sabrina MignaccaHarnesses are often said to be better for your dog than walking on a collar, but no one had investigated it. Now, a team of scientists at Hartpury College (Grainger, Wills & Montrose 2016) has published a study of the effects of walking a dog on a harness and on a neck collar.The same dogs were walked on a neck collar and on a harness on separate occasions, and their behaviour was monitored for signs of stress. The results show that harnesses do not cause stress and are a great choice for walking your dog.Dr. Tamara Montrose, one of the authors of the study, told me in an email,“Whilst neck collars are widely used when walking dogs, concerns have been raised about their potential to damage the neck and trachea. Furthermore collars can be problematic in dogs with eye conditions such as glaucoma. Harnesses are often anecdotally proposed to be better for dog welfare.“In our study, we investigated whether dogs walked on a collar or harness displayed differences in behaviours associated with canine stress or related to restriction of movement.“We found that there were no differences in behaviour between dogs walked on either a neck collar or a harness. The frequency of the behavioral stress indicators also tended to be low in dogs walked on either restraint type. Whilst dogs with a history of collar walking showed increased levels of one potential stress indicator (low ear position) which may suggest that these dogs are more stressed, it’s important to note that this was not supported by the other stress measures and thus this explanation should be viewed with caution.“Our findings suggest that dog welfare is not compromised by either form of restraint, however we are interested in undertaking future study with a range of different brands of harness and collar, consideration of physiological stress indicators and assessment of gait and magnitude of pulling.”30 pet dogs took part in the study; 15 that were normally walked on a collar, and 15 that were normally walked on a harness. Each dog was taken for a 20 minute walk along a route through a field. The middle 10 minutes of the walk was video recorded for later analysis.Zoe. Photo by Zoe's mom, Joanna.Then the owner was given the alternate piece of equipment to use so the dog could get used to it. A week later, they returned for a second 20-minute walk in the field. It was again recorded for analysis.The harness used throughout the study was the Perfect Fit. The group of dogs that were initially walked on a collar used their regular collar; the dogs that were fitted with a collar for the second walk were given a fleece-lined neck collar. A 1m leash was used for all of the dogs for standardization, and because this length is commonly used for dog walking.The walks took place in the mornings in a field in Worcestershire (UK). Two routes were marked out in the field, so that dogs would walk a new route each time.The videos were analysed for behaviours that could be signs of stress, including low tail, low body posture, licking the lips, yawning and panting. They also looked for signs that could show the dog’s movement is restricted, such as stopping.The statistical analysis showed no significant differences between current or historical use of the collar or harness on any of the behavioural indicators, with the exception of low ears. This was higher in the dogs who were normally walked on a collar, but not linked to when they were walked on collar or harness in the study. Given the lack of other differences, this is hard to interpret.These results show that neither a harness nor a collar causes stress to dogs. This is in contrast to prong and choke collars which have been found to sometimes elicit an aggressive response from dogs.In other words, as commonly believed, harnesses are a good choice for walking your dog.This is a timely finding because today sees the launch of the Harness the Love campaign from the Academy for Dog Trainers. The campaign highlights the use of no-pull harnesses to make it easier for people to walk their dog. No-pull harnesses have a front clip attachment for the leash, and a list of available brands can be found on the campaign’s website. People can take part by sharing a photo of their dog in their harness using the hashtag #HarnessTheLove.Do you walk your dog on a harness?ReferenceGrainger, J., Wills, A., & Montrose, V. (2016). The behavioral effects of walking on a collar and harness in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 14, 60-64 DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2016.06.002... Read more »

  • September 19, 2016
  • 07:02 AM
  • 83 views

This and that: Heat, attraction, smoking pot,  smartphones, tattoos and stature

by Rita Handrich in The Jury Room

It’s time again for a combination post of things that didn’t make the cut for a full post but that we thought interesting (or odd) enough to want to share with you. We hope you enjoy this latest collection of factoids that will make you memorable when (and if) you re-share them. Hot, hot, hot: […]

Related posts:
Tattoos as a restorative act (for college-aged women anyway) 
Can you assess juror morality by counting tattoos?
“Glasses can’t hide neck tattoos”


... Read more »

Noelke, C., McGovern, M., Corsi, D., Jimenez, M., Stern, A., Wing, I., & Berkman, L. (2016) Increasing ambient temperature reduces emotional well-being. Environmental Research, 124-129. DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2016.06.045  

  • September 19, 2016
  • 02:59 AM
  • 130 views

Constipation in schizophrenia

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Constipation and dyspepsia are disturbing gastrointestinal symptoms that are often ignored in research on physical comorbidities of schizophrenia."Go on."The prevalence of constipation was 31.3%, and of dyspepsia 23.6%."So said the findings reported by Tomi Virtanen and colleagues [1] who assessed "dyspepsia and constipation in a sample of outpatients with schizophrenia spectrum psychoses." Alongside the general practitioner assessment of such functional bowel complaints, researchers also "assessed the possible contribution of several sociodemographic, lifestyle, and clinical variables" including gender/sex and medication use.As per the sentence above, functional bowel issues such as constipation and dyspepsia might not be unstrange bedfellows alongside a diagnosis of schizophrenia spectrum disorders. There were however some important potential 'correlates' associated with such bowel issues, not least that certain types of medication might exert some effect(s). So for example: "Clozapine use markedly increases the risk of constipation and may lead to life-threatening complications." Even something like the (not-so) humble medicine called paracetamol might also show some relationship to bowel symptoms according to the Virtanen data.Glancing through the other peer-reviewed literature on the topic of bowel issue prevalence and schizophrenia, I was struck by how little there seems to be at present. Yes, there are various papers talking about the comorbidity of certain bowel diseases and schizophrenia [2] but when it comes to the question of 'how prevalent are functional bowel disorders (i.e. constipation, diarrhoea, etc) in cases of schizophrenia?' there appears to be something of a bit of a research gap. This is perhaps a more important topic than many might realise given the suggestion that 'the gut might matter' when it comes to at least some schizophrenia [3]. Yet another example of the gut-brain axis at work eh?The very important effect that something like medication might have on the presentation of bowel issues in schizophrenia is not to be sniffed at either. When words like: "Constipation associated with antipsychotic treatment is frequent in patients with schizophrenia. It can be severe when early detection fails." one really would think that a lot more would be done to further quantify such risk and importantly, start providing viable options to reduce any risk from such potentially severe functional bowel effects. On this matter, and minus any charges of me providing clinical and/or medical advice (I'm not), I might draw your attention to the data suggesting that the use of probiotics in cases of schizophrenia with bowel issues [4] (see here for further discussion) might be something to look further at. More so if one assumes that such something like constipation might be more readily described in terms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for some, and the growing moves towards using probiotics as an intervention aid with that label in mind (see here). Dietary advice could also be something that could be utilised a lot more assuming that a diagnosis of schizophrenia (spectrum disorder) might confer some enhanced risk for a poor diet and nutrition [5].Who knows, treating such bowel issues as and when they present might also have some interesting knock-on effects for other areas of functioning too...----------[1] Virtanen T. et al. Dyspepsia and constipation in patients with schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Nord J Psychiatry. 2016 Aug 26:1-7.[2] Mäkikyrö T. et al. Comorbidity of hospital-treated psychiatric and physical disorders with special reference to schizophrenia: a 28 year follow-up of the 1966 northern Finland general population birth cohort. Public Health. 1998 Jul;112(4):221-8.[3] Severance EG. et al. Gastroenterology issues in schizophrenia: why the gut matters. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2015 May;17(5):27.[4] Dickerson FB. et al. Effect of probiotic supplementation on schizophrenia symptoms and association with gastrointestinal functioning: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Prim Care Companion CNS Disord. 2014;16(1). pii: PCC.13m01579.[5] Teasdale SB. et al. A nutrition intervention is effective in improving dietary components linked to cardiometabolic risk in youth with first-episode psychosis. Br J Nutr. 2016 Jun;115(11):1987-93.----------Virtanen T, Eskelinen S, Sailas E, & Suvisaari J (2016). Dyspepsia and constipation in patients with schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Nordic journal of psychiatry, 1-7 PMID: 27564411... Read more »

  • September 17, 2016
  • 08:27 AM
  • 138 views

Comorbidities surrounding paediatric chronic fatigue syndrome / myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS / ME)

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"This large nationwide registry linkage study confirms that the clinical picture in CFS/ME [chronic fatigue syndrome / myalgic encephalomyelitis] is complex."That sentence, taken from the paper by Inger Bakken and colleagues [1] (open-access available here), is perhaps the under-statement of the year as authors sought to "describe comorbidities diagnosed in primary care in children diagnosed with CFS/ME in specialist health care" and "describe the timing of the diagnoses from primary care in relation to the timing of the CFS/ME diagnosis."I grow tired of saying this but yet again, one of those very useful Scandinavian population registries was the starting point for the study - this time based in Norway - as some 1600 children diagnosed with CFS/ME were identified. Their data were compared against nearly 5000 children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1DM) and a little over 1.3 million control - general child population - children. You could say that this was an adequately powered study.A couple of important points were identified from the analysis of patient records. First: "Among children with CFS/ME, the most frequently observed primary care diagnosis was “weakness / general tiredness”." This is probably not unexpected given the nature of CFS/ME. Despite such weakness/general tiredness being initially identified in the vast majority of those with CFS/ME, sleep disturbances were also found more commonly among this group compared to other participants. Rather interestingly, asthma was also reported to be more common in the CFS/ME group than either of the control groups potentially reinforcing a role for atopy in the course/onset of at least some CFS/ME [2].Next: "we found higher frequencies of depression and anxiety in the CFS/ME group." This is an important point that one has to be slightly careful with in terms of the introduction of psychological/psychiatric elements to a diagnosis of CFS/ME. I'll come back to this shortly.Next: "Elevated frequencies of all diagnoses related to infection were observed in the CFS/ME group. In particular, infectious mononucleosis was far more frequent in this group (17.2 %) than in the control groups (T1DM: 3.7 %, general child population: 2.9 %). Influenza, acute tonsillitis, “strep throat”, and pneumonia were also more frequent in the CFS/ME group." Minus any sweeping generalisations, the suggestion that an infection illness might be part and parcel of at least some cases of CFS/ME is potentially borne out by this data. Infectious mononucleosis a.k.a glandular fever as a 'trigger' for CFS/ME is not unknown to the research [3] and other literature for example.Finally: "The time span from the first primary care diagnosis of weakness / general tiredness to the specialist health care diagnosis of CFS/ME was 1 year or longer for 47.8 %." Whilst everyone would love to see a timely diagnosis of CFS/ME made, particularly when it comes to children, this data kinda suggest that diagnosis in Norway can still a long and drawn out process. Yes, I understand that many of the numerous diagnostic criteria used to diagnose CFS/ME rely on symptoms being present for an extended period of time but this does little to aid the child and their family and the important effects of such symptoms on things like schooling and other important facets of childhood.The Bakken findings provide an important research snapshot of CFS/ME in children. The themes of (i) infection being potentially important to quite a few cases and (ii) the quite long time lag between primary care (i.e. General Practitioner, GP) diagnosis of weakness / general tiredness and specialist diagnosis of CFS/ME are important ones that research and practice can/should perhaps learn some lessons from.Insofar as the observation of depression and/or anxiety being more frequently present in cases of CFS/ME, the authors make reference to the paper by Winger and colleagues [3] (see this post for more information). Winger et al reported that depressive symptoms in their group did not seemingly link/explain the reduction of health-related quality of life scores they reported for their cohort of adolescents with CFS. Taken together with the Bakken results, the implication is that whilst more commonly reported in CFS/ME, depression (and anxiety) issues are important to cases. They cannot however at this point be described as anything more than comorbid. I say this because, unfortunately, there are still opinions out there that might see depression, anxiety and other psychiatric manifestations as 'causative' of CFS/ME rather than, as I see it, being a symptom stemming from the effects of CFS/ME. If you are bed-bound, not able to go to school, not able to socialise properly and not able to do all the things your peers are doing, it is highly likely that your psychology will eventually be affected to some degree."The long time spans observed from the first diagnosis of weakness / general tiredness in primary care to a specialist health care diagnosis of CFS/ME might indicate that the treatment of these patients is sometimes not optimal." I also struggle to disagree with that sentence.----------[1] Bakken IJ. et al. Comorbidities treated in primary care in children with chronic fatigue syndrome / myalgic encephalomyelitis: A nationwide registry linkage study from Norway. BMC Fam Pract. 2016 Sep 2;17(1):128.[2] Yang TY. et al. Increased Risk of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Following Atopy: A Population-Based Study. Medicine (Baltimore). 2015 Jul;94(29):e1211.[3] Winger A. et al. Health related quality of life in adolescents with chronic fatigue syndrome: a cross-sectional study. Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2015 Jul 3;13:96.----------Bakken IJ, Tveito K, Aaberg KM, Ghaderi S, Gunnes N, Trogstad L, Magnus P, Stoltenberg C, & Håberg SE (2016). Comorbidities treated in primary care in children with chronic fatigue syndrome / myalgic encephalomyelitis: A nationwide registry linkage study from Norway. BMC family practice, 17 (1) PMID: 27590471... Read more »

  • September 16, 2016
  • 09:45 PM
  • 163 views

Contiguity Effective for Deductive Inference

by Joshua Fisher in Text Savvy

Even if the benefits of retrieval practice were limited to improvements in recall (as prior research has demonstrated), such improvements do not stand in the way of improvements to higher-order reasoning, such as inference-making. (And shaping the path for students, such as improving informational contiguity can have a positive effect too.)... Read more »

  • September 16, 2016
  • 04:24 AM
  • 152 views

Anxiety disorders and mortality risk: implications for autism?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Anxiety disorders significantly increased mortality risk. Comorbidity of anxiety disorders and depression played an important part in the increased mortality."So said the findings reported by Sandra Meier and colleagues [1] looking to assess any relationship between the presence of an anxiety disorder and mortality risk. Based on data from one of those oh-so-useful Scandinavian population registries (Denmark this time), researchers reported that: "The risk of death by natural and unnatural causes was significantly higher among individuals with anxiety disorders... compared with the general population." Death by unnatural causes was also linked in quite a few cases to "comorbid diagnoses of depression."Although making sombre reading, the data from Meier et al provide further evidence [2] that a psychiatric/behavioural diagnosis might have far-reaching implications when it comes to the risk of early mortality, be that based on natural causes or something rather more unnatural such as death by suicide or an enhanced risk of accidental death or death because of illness. This also follows a trend suggesting that severe mental illness also has social implications such as an increased risk of becoming a victim of crime too (see here). Quality of life, health-related or otherwise, is nearly always affected by such diagnoses.I introduced the 'implications for autism' bit to this post simply because (a) when it comes to comorbidity surrounding the diagnosis of autism, anxiety and depression (various types) pretty much come top with regards to psychiatric labels applied (see here and see here respectively) and (b) enhanced risk of early mortality is also an unfortunate feature when it comes to autism too (see here). Putting these findings together and well, I'm sure you can understand the need for quite a bit more study in this area and in particular, a reiteration of how utterly disabling anxiety and/or depression can be when it comes to autism.If and when possible roles for anxiety and/or depression are found to contribute to some of the excess risk of early mortality when it comes to autism, the bright side is that this could have implications for intervention and management and onwards a reduction in mortality risk. I might also introduce the findings reported by Butnoriene and colleagues [3] at this point, who suggested that sex differences might also be relevant to the type of risk factors associated with mortality. Discussions in this area should also probably include discussions on a related topic based on a particularly extreme path being selected by some on the autism spectrum (see here).Without trying to make connections where none might exist, I'm also inclined to suggest that outside of psychological and pharmacological interventions to tackle anxiety and/or depression comorbid to autism, one might also look to treating certain somatic correlates also potentially exerting an effect (see here). There is potentially lots to examine across such comorbidities as yet again, another very important line of study opens up that intersects with autism.Finally, dare I also add that other labels such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that may also intersect with some autism (see here - yes, this is another Meier paper) might also increase the risk of early mortality when it comes to autism too [4]?----------[1] Meier SM. et al. Increased mortality among people with anxiety disorders: total population study. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2016; 209: 216-221.[2] Pratt LA. et al. Excess mortality due to depression and anxiety in the United States: results from a nationally representative survey. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2016 Mar-Apr;39:39-45.[3] Butnoriene J. et al. Metabolic syndrome, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and ten-year all-cause and cardiovascular mortality in middle aged and elderly patients. Int J Cardiol. 2015;190:360-6.[4] Fernández de la Cruz L. et al. Suicide in obsessive-compulsive disorder: a population-based study of 36 788 Swedish patients. Mol Psychiatry. 2016 Jul 19.----------Meier SM, Mattheisen M, Mors O, Mortensen PB, Laursen TM, & Penninx BW (2016). Increased mortality among people with anxiety disorders: total population study. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science PMID: 27388572... Read more »

Meier SM, Mattheisen M, Mors O, Mortensen PB, Laursen TM, & Penninx BW. (2016) Increased mortality among people with anxiety disorders: total population study. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science. PMID: 27388572  

  • September 15, 2016
  • 02:22 PM
  • 153 views

MRI scanner sees emotions flickering across an idle mind

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

As you relax and let your mind drift aimlessly, you might remember a pleasant vacation, an angry confrontation in traffic or maybe the loss of a loved one. And now a team of researchers say they can see those various emotional states flickering across the human brain.

... Read more »

  • September 15, 2016
  • 04:25 AM
  • 137 views

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)-predominant fatty acid supplements and the treatment of depression

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Further RCTs [randomised-controlled trials] should be conducted on study populations with diagnosed or clinically significant depression of adequate duration using EPA [eicosapentaenoic acid] -predominant omega-3 HUFA [highly unsaturated fatty acids] formulations."So went the conclusions of the review article published by Brian Hallahan and colleagues [1] who searched the peer-reviewed science literature for clinical trials "evaluating efficacy of omega-3 highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFAs) in major depressive disorder." They found over 30 trials of omega-3 supplementation vs. placebo published between 1980 and 2014 that together included participant numbers in the thousands.They reported that among those diagnosed with depression, the type of fatty acid supplement used might matter: "eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)-predominant formulations (>50% EPA) demonstrated clinical benefits compared with placebo." When it came to that other commonly discussed omega-3 fatty acid - docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) - the results were not so great for those diagnosed with depression in terms of changes to symptom presentation(s). Importantly too, the authors noted that: "EPA failed to prevent depressive symptoms among populations not diagnosed for depression."Interesting. More so when read alongside another recent review paper by Husted & Bouzinova [2] who similarly suggest that more targeted research is needed to "clarify an optimal dosage of EPA and DHA in [the] prevention of depression." They also described the idea that various processes particularly pertinent to the concept of inflammation (yes, depression and inflammation do seem to have some commonalities) might be a target for certain omega-3 fatty acids and onwards the presentation of depression. There may even be 'critical windows' where such supplementation might be more useful (see here) than others.What's the critical difference between EPA and DHA that could account for the Hallahan findings? Well, there are a few good articles on how not all omega-3 fatty acids are the same, but I found one that is pretty informative (see here). Chemically-speaking, there are differences in structure which might account for where and when these compounds might fit when it comes to various chemical reactions in the body. Going back to the whole inflammation thing, I understand that EPA might also have some important effects on an enzyme called delta-5-desaturase (D5D) but I'd guess this is not the only difference that might be important.I'll be keeping a watch out for developments in this area of study but for now, yet more evidence that food and nutrition might have some important influences on behaviour and psychiatry. Nutritional psychiatry is starting to come out from the clinical shadows perhaps...Music: The Fall and Eat Y'Self Fitter ('Up the stairs mister').----------[1] Hallahan B. et al. Efficacy of omega-3 highly unsaturated fatty acids in the treatment of depression. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2016; 209: 192-201.[2] Husted KS. & Bouzinova EV. The importance of n-6/n-3 fatty acids ratio in the major depressive disorder. Medicina (Kaunas). 2016;52(3):139-47.----------Hallahan B, Ryan T, Hibbeln JR, Murray IT, Glynn S, Ramsden CE, SanGiovanni JP, & Davis JM (2016). Efficacy of omega-3 highly unsaturated fatty acids in the treatment of depression. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science PMID: 27103682... Read more »

Hallahan B, Ryan T, Hibbeln JR, Murray IT, Glynn S, Ramsden CE, SanGiovanni JP, & Davis JM. (2016) Efficacy of omega-3 highly unsaturated fatty acids in the treatment of depression. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science. PMID: 27103682  

  • September 14, 2016
  • 10:30 AM
  • 131 views

Are rabbits lagging behind in basic pet care practices?

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

A recent study highlights pet rabbit management practices. Although some owners take extra steps to protect their rabbit, many do not.Guest post by James Oxley (Independent Researcher, UK; Twitter) and Clare Ellis (Moulton College, UK; Twitter; Web).Rabbits sometimes get labelled as an easy pet to keep, and some owners may not consider that common pet care practices used for dogs and cats may also be beneficial for rabbits. In fact, a recent study by Oxley et al. has highlighted how few pet rabbit owners take precautions such as microchipping and pet insurance for their furry bunny friends.In the UK, it is now a legal requirement to microchip your pet dog and a recent call for compulsory microchipping of cats has been highlighted . Millions of pet owners are microchipping their pets, including dog, cats and smaller commonly kept pets. Compulsory dog microchipping in the UK came about as an effort to increase accountability of dog owners and to reduce the number of stray dogs that end up in rescue centres so that owners may be traced. But what about rabbits?A recent internet survey explored rabbit management practices of pet rabbit owners to see how many pet rabbits were insured and microchipped and asked the owners for their opinions on the idea of compulsory microchipping for pet rabbits. Oxley et al (2015) received 1183 responses from pet rabbit owners. They found that 78.3% of rabbit owners do not microchip their rabbits. Given that pet rabbits are commonly kept in some kind of enclosure, it may seem odd to suggest that rabbits would benefit from microchipping as they potentially have less chance to stray than pet dogs and cats might.The Rabbit Welfare and Association Fund (RWAF) estimates that 67,000 rabbits pass through UK rescue centres each year. This is currently an area which is being researched by PhD student Clare Ellis as part of her PhD at Moulton College.She states: “It is very difficult to quantify the number of rabbits that are being given up by owners or entering re-homing centres as strays. Research from the USA and my current area of study indicates that large numbers of rabbits are becoming 'stray', as in their owner cannot be traced."If more rabbits were microchipped it may help ease the burden on re-homing centres so that escaped pets can be reunited with their owners and the centres can focus more efforts on rabbits in more urgent need of care." Oxley, who led the study the rabbit management practice study, suggests that owners may not consider the long-term benefits of microchipping and insuring their pet rabbits.“Rabbits are a commonly kept pet in many countries these days but the numbers entering rescue centres as strays are large for an animal that should be housed in a secure enclosure or building. Microchipping a pet gives the owner more chance of being reunited if the animal manages to escape the enclosure or garden. And it doesn’t cost as much as some people may think.”“In comparison to dogs and cats it may be that people are less willing to make the financial commitment to microchip and insure a rabbit or simply not see the potential benefits. I definitely think more work is needed to educate potential pet rabbit owners about the cost and effort involved in having rabbits as pets. They should not be viewed as ‘an easy pet’ to keep.”To help address this issue, Pets at Home have introduced a policy where all rabbits they sell are to be microchipped (RWAF, Rabbiting on, Winter 2014, p18).Microchipping, is beneficial for a number of reasons, including tracing owners whilst also being a cheap, safe and permanent method of identification which is quick and generally a pain fee procedure, especially in comparison to other forms of rabbit identification methods such as tattooing or banding.Furthermore the microchip records can hold a variety of important information such as vet contact details and medical information about the animal.In comparison to other pet species, rabbits are less likely to be insured (73.9% of 1,174 respondents stated that their rabbits were not insured in Oxley et al). Insurance of pet animals is important to prevent paying large veterinary bills when a rabbit falls ill.The RSPCA has previously stated that veterinary treatment for rabbits, such as a fractured limb, could cost £1,000 or more (RSPCA, 2012). It is important to ensure that the insurance conditions are read as insurance companies may differ about what they do and do not cover.If thinking about microchipping and insuring your rabbit, it is important to gain guidance through your local veterinary practice.Further rabbit related information can be offered through the relevant UK organisations such as the RWAF (Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund), RSPCA (Royal Society for the Protection of Animals), BVA (British Veterinary Association), Animal Welfare Foundation and PDSA (The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals).Are your rabbits microchipped and insured?About the authors James Andrew Oxley is currently an independent researcher with a broad interest in research relating to human-animal interactions and animal welfare.  He has a BSc (Hons) in Animal Management and a Masters by Research which investigated Dog owners perceptions of English laws relating to dogs.Clare Frances Ellis MSC BSc (Hons) PGCE is currently a PhD Animal Behaviour and Welfare candidate at the University of Northampton and Moulton College, UK. She is exploring factors surrounding the relinquishment of pet rabbits to re-homing centres in the UK and is developing a tool to assess individual behavioural differences in the species.ReferencesOxley, J., Previti, A., Alibrandi, A., Briefer, E., & Passantino, A. (2015). ... Read more »

Oxley, J., Previti, A., Alibrandi, A., Briefer, E., & Passantino, A. (2015) A Preliminary internet survey of pet rabbit owners’ characteristics. World Rabbit Science, 23(4), 289. DOI: 10.4995/wrs.2015.3771  

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