Massage for dogs with neurological conditions

I love working with special needs dogs of all kinds.  Last month, I had the privilege of working with two very special puppies at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary – Kit and Caboodle.

These puppies, Siberian Husky crosses, are brother and sister and were abandoned at the age of 8 weeks in Missouri.  They found their way to Utah to be cared for and rehabilitated.  Their kennel is lined with layers of pillows and blankets because both dogs struggle to stand up, although they are getting stronger every day thanks to caregivers and volunteers who work with them on a regular basis.  They even have purpose-built mobility carts to help them!

These kids are approaching their first birthday and have puppy levels of energy and are interested in all that is going on around them; the veterinary team has managed their conditions through medications for nausea and nerve pain….

During my session, we filmed a number of videos with two of the volunteers observing what I was doing with the dogs – so they could replicate some of my actions.

With both dogs, I was interested in calming their central nervous system, relaxation, and lots and lots of stretching since their limbs are working very hard.  Despite their neurological status, both dogs had trigger points just like ‘normal’ dogs do.

I am very grateful for the staff who organized my work schedule so I could offer my skills to 10 dogs at the sanctuary.

And I watch with interest on the progress reports about my neurological babies.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Inspirations

Another inspirational card shared with me on my recent course…

As you grow older

Remember what is important in life – and enjoy the weekend!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Dogs´social skills linked to oxytocin sensitivity

The tendency of dogs to seek contact with their owners is associated with genetic variations in sensitivity for the hormone oxytocin, according to a new study. The findings contribute to our knowledge of how dogs have changed during their development from wolf to household pet.

Golden Retriever

A golden retriever turns to his owner for help. Photo credit: Mia Persson

During their domestication from their wild ancestor the wolf to the pets we have today, dogs have developed a unique ability to work together with humans. One aspect of this is their willingness to “ask for help” when faced with a problem that seems to be too difficult. There are, however, large differences between breeds, and between dogs of the same breed. A research group in Linköping, led by Professor Per Jensen, has discovered a possible explanation of why dogs differ in their willingness to collaborate with humans. The results have been published in the scientific journal Hormones and Behavior.

The researchers suspected that the hormone oxytocin was involved. It is well-known that oxytocin plays a role in social relationships between individuals, in both humans and animals. The effect of oxytocin depends on the function of the structure that it binds to, the receptor, in the cell. Previous studies have suggested, among other things, that differences in dogs’ ability to communicate are associated with variations in the genetic material located close to the gene that codes for the oxytocin receptor. The researchers in the present study examined 60 golden retrievers as they attempted to solve an insoluble problem.

“The first step was to teach the dogs to open a lid, and in this way get hold of a treat. After this, they were given the same task with the lid firmly fixed in place, and thus impossible to open. We timed the dogs to see how long they attempted on their own, before turning to their owner and asking for help,” says Mia Persson, PhD student at the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and principal author of the article.

Before the behavioural test, the researchers increased the levels of oxytocin in the dogs’ blood by spraying the hormone into their nose. As a control, the dogs carried out the same test after having received a spray of neutral salt water in the same way. The researchers also collected DNA using a cotton swab inside the dogs’ cheek, and determined which variant of the gene for the oxytocin receptor that each dog had.

The results showed that dogs with a particular genetic variant of the receptor reacted more strongly to the oxytocin spray than other dogs. The tendency to approach their owner for help increased when they received oxytocin in their nose, compared with when they received the neutral salt water solution. The researchers suggest that these results help us understand how dogs have changed during the process of domestication. They analysed DNA also from 21 wolves, and found the same genetic variation among them. This suggests that the genetic variation was already present when domestication of the dogs started, 15,000 years ago.

“The results lead us to surmise that people selected for domestication wolves with a particularly well-developed ability to collaborate, and then bred subsequent generations from these,” says Mia Persson.

The genetic variations that the researchers have studied do not affect the oxytocin receptor itself: they are markers used for practical reasons. Further research is necessary to determine in more detail which differences in the genetic material lie behind the effects.

Per Jensen points out that the study shows how social behaviour is to a large extent controlled by the same genetic factors in different species.

“Oxytocin is extremely important in the social interactions between people. And we also have similar variations in genes in this hormone system. This is why studying dog behaviour can help us understand ourselves, and may in the long term contribute to knowledge about various disturbances in social functioning,” he says.

The article: Intranasal oxytocin and a polymorphism in the oxytocin receptor gene are associated with human-directed social behavior in golden retriever dogs, Persson, M.E., Trottier, A.J., Beltéky, J., Roth, L.S.V., Jensen, P., 2017, Hormones and Behavior 95, 85–93, published online 17 August 2017. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2017.07.016

Source:  Linköping University media release

De-stressing airport passengers – PUPs

I flew through LAX earlier this week, and the Las Vegas shooting happened when I was in the air on my way home to New Zealand.  LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) has had a dog therapy programme in place for a few years.

The airport announced this week that in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, it had added more of its PUP teams to support passengers at a time of intense stress and grief.

PUPS

Volunteer PUPs Jack and Chance with their “moms” Debra Mindlin and Heidi Huebner at LAX’s terminal 4 on Monday, Oct 2, 2017. (Photo courtesy Heidi Huebner)

The PUP teams are made up entirely of volunteers who enjoy sharing their dogs with passengers and staff at the airport.  Yet another way that our dogs can work for us, and use their unique gifts of unconditional love and support.

I wrote about the PUPs programme in August 2014, by the way:

August 2014

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Inspirations

How time flies.  This time last month, I was frantically busy getting ready for a study and work trip to Best Friends Animal Society.  I’m back at work this week and my trip is becoming a memory – far too quickly.

But there are still a few items to put away – including my inspiration cards.  A lady on my course encourages people to pick one every day as an inspiration and thought for the day.

I’ll share them all with you – but here’s the first one:

It's not how good

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Pet obesity

October 12th is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day in the USA.  Pet obesity is a ‘first world’ problem; I often see dogs in my practice that are overweight or obese.

This handy obesity chart gives you an idea of how to score your dog’s (and cat’s) body condition:

Layout 1

A vet check is always advisable before starting your dog on a weight loss programme.  In my experience, weight loss isn’t just about dietary changes.  Massage and stretching combined with exercise can help your dog feel  better and move more freely – meaning more calories are burned to assist with any reduction in food intake.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Doggy quote of the month for October

“Dogs laugh, but they laugh with their tails.”

tail wagging dog

—Max Eastman, writer