Category Archives: research

Pet therapy and how it helps cancer patients

Therapy dogs may improve the emotional well-being of some cancer patients, according to results of a clinical study, the first to document the benefits of animal-assisted therapy in adult cancer patients. The research was published this month in the Journal of Community and Supportive Oncology.

The results show a significant improvement in quality of life for more than 40 patients who took part in a trial at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City, where they interacted with therapy dogs following chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Photo courtesy of The Good Dog Foundation

Photo courtesy of The Good Dog Foundation

The study, conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, found that patients receiving intensive multi-modal radiation therapy and chemotherapy for gastrointestinal, head or neck cancers experienced increases in emotional well-being and quality of life when they received visits from a certified therapy dog during the course of their treatment.

Increases in emotional well-being were significant over the course of the animal-assisted visits, even as patients underwent marked and significant declines in both physical and functional well-being.

“This study is the first such definitive study in cancer, and it highlights the merits of animal- assisted visits using the same scientific standards as we hold for the cancer treatment itself. It shows the importance of an innovative environmental intervention during cancer treatment,” said Stewart B. Fleishman, MD, principal investigator and Founding Director of Cancer Supportive Services at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. “Having an animal-assisted visit significantly improved their quality of life and ‘humanized’ a high-tech treatment,” he said. “Patients said they would have stopped their treatments before completion, except for the presence of the certified Good Dog Foundation therapy dog and volunteer handler.”

“Thanks to this rigorously designed study, we now have strong evidence that pet therapy is an effective tool to help cancer patients get through challenging treatments,” said Gabriel A. Sara, MD, Medical Director, Infusion Suite at Mount Sinai Roosevelt, and Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

The study has been called another piece of ‘mounting evidence’ of how the human-animal bond can enhance emotional and physical health.

If you would like to pass on the journal article to your oncologist/hospital provider,  you can access it here.

Source:  EurekAlert! media release

The migration of dogs in the Americas

A new study suggests that dogs may have first successfully migrated to the Americas only about 10,000 years ago, thousands of years after the first human migrants crossed a land bridge from Siberia to North America.

Photo by Angus McNab

Photo by Angus McNab

The study, which looked at the genetic characteristics of 84 individual dogs from more than a dozen sites in North and South America, is the largest analysis so far of ancient dogs in the Americas. The findings appear in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Unlike their wild wolf predecessors, ancient dogs learned to tolerate human company and generally benefitted from the association: they gained access to new food sources, enjoyed the safety of human encampments and, eventually, traveled the world with their two-legged masters. Dogs also were pressed into service as beasts of burden, and sometimes were served as food, particularly on special occasions.

Their 11,000- to 16,000-year association with humans makes dogs a promising subject for the study of ancient human behavior, including migratory behavior, said University of Illinois graduate student Kelsey Witt, who led the new analysis.

“Dogs are one of the earliest organisms to have migrated with humans to every continent, and I think that says a lot about the relationship dogs have had with humans,” Witt said. “They can be a powerful tool when you’re looking at how human populations have moved around over time.”

Human remains are not always available for study “because living populations who are very connected to their ancestors in some cases may be opposed to the destructive nature of genetic analysis,” Witt said. Analysis of ancient dog remains is often permitted when analysis of human remains is not, she said.

Previous studies of ancient dogs in the Americas focused on the dogs’ mitochondrial DNA, which is easier to obtain from ancient remains than nuclear DNA and, unlike nuclear DNA, is inherited only from the mother. This means mitochondrial DNA offers researchers “an unbroken line of inheritance back to the past,” Witt said.

The new study also focused on mitochondrial DNA, but included a much larger sample of dogs than had been analyzed before.

Source:  University of Illinois press release

 

I may be neurotic…but that makes me a good dog mom

I am conscientious and reliable.  From an early age, I also had a strong sense of self-preservation when it came to putting myself in potentially dangerous situations.  To some, that makes me neurotic.  However, that’s not such a bad thing, according to new research out of the University of California at Berkeley and California State University.


Helicopter parenting may not be the best strategy for raising independent kids. But a healthy measure of clinginess and overprotectiveness could actually be advantageous when rearing dogs and cats, according to new research from UC Berkeley and California State University, East Bay.

A Web-based survey of more than 1,000 pet owners nationwide analyzed the key personality traits and nurturing styles of people who identified as a “cat person,” a “dog person,” “both” or “neither.”

Surprisingly perhaps, those who expressed the greatest affection for their pets also rated among the most conscientious and neurotic, suggesting that the qualities that make for overbearing parents might work better for our domesticated canine and feline companions, who tend to require lifelong parenting.

“The fact that higher levels of neuroticism are associated with affection and anxious attachment suggests that people who score higher on that dimension may have high levels of affection and dependence on their pets, which may be a good thing for pets,” said Mikel Delgado, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and co-author of the study, recently published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.

The results echo those of a 2010 study by University of Texas psychologist Sam Gosling, a UC Berkeley graduate, which showed dog owners to be more extroverted, but less open to new experiences, and cat owners to be more neurotic, but also more creative and adventurous.

While previous studies have focused on people’s attachment to their pets, this is the first U.S. study to incorporate the principles of human attachment theory – which assesses the bond between parents and children or between romantic partners — with pet owners’ personality types, including whether they identify as a “dog person” or “cat person.”

It is also the first to find a positive correlation between neuroticism, anxious attachment and the care of and affection for pets, said CSU-East Bay psychologist Gretchen Reevy, co-author of the paper and a graduate of UC Berkeley.

Delgado and Reevy recruited male and female pet owners of all ages through the Craigslist classified advertising website, their personal Facebook pages and pet-related pages on the Reddit news and social networking site. Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed said they liked dogs and cats equally, while 38 percent identified as dog people and 19 percent as cat people. A mere 3 percent favored neither.

The online questionnaire was based on both human and animal attachment assessments, including one that measures the “Big Five” overarching human characteristics (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism). Pet owners were also rated according to the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale, which measures affection for pets, and the Pet Attachment Questionnaire, which gauges “anxious attachment” and “avoidant attachment.”

People who score high on anxious attachment tend to need more reassurance from the objects of their affection, and in the survey those tended to be younger people who chose a cat as a favorite pet.

Conversely, people who rate highly on avoidant attachment, which refers to a less affectionate and more withdrawn temperament – and can inspire such rejoinders as “commitment-phobe” in romantic relationships – are much less needy. Both dog and cat lovers scored low on avoidant attachment, suggesting both personality types enjoy close relationships with their pets.

“We hypothesized that more attentive and affectionate pet owners would receive higher affection scores and lower avoidant attachment scores, as higher levels of avoidant attachment would suggest distancing behaviors between the individual and their pet,” Delgado said.

Delgado and Reevy plan to dig more deeply into the link between neuroticism and affection for and dependence on one’s pet.

“We will investigate further whether greater affection for and greater anxious attachment to one’s pet, and neuroticism, are associated with better care and understanding of the pet’s needs,” Reevy said.

Source:  UC Berkeley media release

Autistic children who live with pets are more assertive

Yet another piece of research that points to the value of dogs and other animals.  This time the research was done at the University of Missouri and focused on the social skills of autistic children.

You guessed it – the children who lived with pets developed better social skills including assertiveness.  “When I compared the social skills of children with autism who lived with dogs to those who did not, the children with dogs appeared to have greater social skills,” said Gretchen Carlisle, Research Fellow.

Source:  University of Missouri press release

Paleo-dogs ate reindeer

Perhaps not the most festive of postings for this time of year…but researchers from the University of Tübingen and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment has revealed that dogs that lived 30,000 years ago ate reindeer as a staple in their diet.

reindeer

Předmostí I is an exceptional prehistoric site located near Brno in the Czech Republic. Around 30,000 years ago it was inhabited by people of the pan-European Gravettian culture, who used the bones of more than 1,000 mammoths to build their settlement and to create ivory sculptures. Did prehistoric people collect this precious raw material from carcasses – easy to spot on the big cold steppe – or were they the direct result of hunting for food? This year-round settlement also yielded a large number of canids remains, some of them with characteristics of Palaeolithic dogs. Were these animals used to help hunt mammoths?

To answer these two questions, Tübingen researcher Hervé Bocherens and his international team carried out an analysis of carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes in human and animal fossil bones from the site. Working with researchers from Brno and Brussels, the researchers were able to test whether the Gravettian people of Předmostí ate mammoth meat and how the “palaeolithic dogs” fit into this subsistence picture.

They found that humans did consume mammoth – and in large quantities. Other carnivores, such as brown bears, wolves and wolverines, also had access to mammoth meat, indicating the high availability of fresh mammoth carcasses, most likely left behind by human hunters.

Surprisingly, the dogs did not show a high level of mammoth consumption, but rather consumed essentially reindeer meat that was not the staple food of their owners. A similar situation is observed in traditional populations from northern regions, who often feed their dogs with the food that they do not like. These results also suggest that these early dogs were restrained, and were probably used as transportation helpers.

Source:  AlphaGalileo press release

A close up look at how our dogs drink…

The field of fluid dynamics explains how our dogs drink and why they splash and slop more than cats…

The drinking mechanism of a dog is videotaped from three different angles (A, B, and C). The curved tongue is rapidly withdrawn and a water column is formed underneath. A physical experiment is designed to understand and characterize the underlying fluid mechanics.  Photo by:  Sean Gart and Sunghwan (Sunny) Jung/Virginia Tech

The drinking mechanism of a dog is videotaped from three different angles (A, B, and C). The curved tongue is rapidly withdrawn and a water column is formed underneath. A physical experiment is designed to understand and characterize the underlying fluid mechanics. Photo by: Sean Gart and Sunghwan (Sunny) Jung/Virginia Tech

By studying the drinking habits of various dog breeds and sizes, a group of researchers at Virginia Tech and Purdue University has recently identified and modeled the fluid dynamics at play when dogs drink water.

“Three years ago, we studied how cats drink,” said Sunny Jung, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech. Jung’s research focuses include biofluid mechanics and the nonlinear interactions between soft bodies and surrounding fluids. His current project is sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Physics of Living Systems program. “I was curious about how dogs drink, because cats and dogs are everywhere.”

As members of the order Carnivora, cats and dogs have incomplete cheeks, which allow them to open their mouths wide to deliver killing blows. But what makes pack hunting possible also makes suction drinking impossible. Unable to seal their cheeks completely, there is no way for a dog to suck up water. Conversely, humans have “complete” cheeks, and we drink by creating negative pressure, allowing us to suck water into our mouths and down our throats.

Cats, too, lack suction, and they compensate by drinking via a two-part “water entry-and-exit” process. This consists of a plunging and a pulling phase, in which a cat gently places its tongue on the water’s surface and then rapidly withdraws it, creating a column of water underneath the cat’s retracting tongue.

“When we started this project, we thought that dogs drink similarly to cats,” Jung said. “But it turns out that it’s different, because dogs smash their tongues on the water surface — they make lots of splashing — but a cat never does that.”

When dogs withdraw their tongue from water, they create a significant amount of acceleration — roughly five times that of gravity — that creates the water columns, which feed up into their mouths. To model this, Jung placed cameras under the surface of a water trough to map the total surface area of the dogs’ tongues that splashed down when drinking.

The researchers found that heavier dogs drink water with the larger wetted area of the tongue. This indicates that an allometric relationship exists between water contact area of the dog’s tongue and body weight – thus the volume of water a dog’s tongue can move increases exponentially relative to their body size.

In order to better understand how the physiology works, Jung and his colleagues could only go so far by watching dogs drink. They had to have the ability to alter the parameters and see how they affected this ability, and since they could not actually alter a dog in any way, they turned to models of the dog’s tongue and mouth. “We needed to make some kind of physical system,” Jung said.

For their model, Jung and his colleagues used glass tubes to simulate a dog’s tongue. This allowed them to mimic the acceleration and column formation during the exit process. They then measured the volume of water withdrawn. They found that the column of water pinches off and detaches from the water bath primarily due to gravity. Dogs are smart enough to close their mouth just before the water column collapses back to the bath.

Source:  Newswise media release

Dogs pay attention to what we are saying

When people hear another person talking to them, they respond not only to what is being said–those consonants and vowels strung together into words and sentences–but also to other features of that speech–the emotional tone and the speaker’s gender, for instance. Now, a report in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on November 26, 2014 provides some of the first evidence of how dogs also differentiate and process those various components of human speech.

I'm listening...new research proves our dogs are paying attention to what we say and how we say it

I’m listening…new research proves our dogs are paying attention to what we say and how we say it

“Although we cannot say how much or in what way dogs understand information in speech from our study, we can say that dogs react to both verbal and speaker-related information and that these components appear to be processed in different areas of the dog’s brain,” says Victoria Ratcliffe of the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex.

Previous studies showed that dogs have hemispheric biases–left brain versus right–when they process the vocalization sounds of other dogs. Ratcliffe and her supervisor David Reby say it was a logical next step to investigate whether dogs show similar biases in response to the information transmitted in human speech. They played speech from either side of the dog so that the sounds entered each of their ears at the same time and with the same amplitude.

The input from each ear is mainly transmitted to the opposite hemisphere of the brain,” Ratcliffe explains. “If one hemisphere is more specialized in processing certain information in the sound, then that information is perceived as coming from the opposite ear.”

If the dog turned to its left, that showed that the information in the sound being played was heard more prominently by the left ear, suggesting that the right hemisphere is more specialized in processing that kind of information.

When presented with familiar spoken commands in which the meaningful components of words were made more obvious, dogs showed a left-hemisphere processing bias, as indicated by turning to the right. When the intonation or speaker-related vocal cues were exaggerated instead, dogs showed a significant right-hemisphere bias.

“This is particularly interesting because our results suggest that the processing of speech components in the dog’s brain is divided between the two hemispheres in a way that is actually very similar to the way it is separated in the human brain,” Reby says.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that dogs actually understand everything that we humans might say or that they have a human-like ability of language.  But, says Ratcliffe, these results support the idea that our canine companions are paying attention “not only to who we are and how we say things, but also to what we say.”

Source:  EurekAlert! media release

Journal reference:  Ratcliffe et al. Orienting asymmetries in dogs’ responses to different communicatory components of human speech. Current Biology, November 2014