Text Message Reminders Show Promise in Encouraging Kids to Play with the Family Dog

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Photo by Shutterstock

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) revealed results of a new publication led by researchers at the Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia (UWA), which found a simple health intervention using text messaging may encourage children to spend more time being physically active with their family dog.

“This study shows that a simple text message reminder to play or walk with the family dog can result in increased physical activity for children and their caregivers,” said Steven Feldman, president of HABRI. “HABRI looks forward to raising awareness of the results of this publication which outline new and simple ways to encourage families to spend more quality time playing with and walking their dogs.”

The randomized controlled trial was published in the journal BMC Pediatrics.

 “We found texting parents to remind them of how easy and important it is to be active with the family dog is a low-cost intervention with the potential to boost public health, which can be easily implemented across entire communities,” said Telethon Kids and UWA associate professor Hayley Christian, principal investigator on the study. “Interventions, policies and community programs should capitalize on the high level of dog ownership and incorporate dog walking or play into physical activity campaigns.”

Dr. Christian and colleagues led the Play Spaces and Environments for Children’s Physical Activity’ (PLAYCE) PAWS mHealth intervention, a randomized controlled trial conducted in Perth, Western Australia. Families of children between the ages of 5 and 10 with a family dog were placed into three experiment groups: one group of parents received regular text reminders about family play with the dog, one group received text reminders while also receiving a dog pedometer to further engage them with the dog, and the third group carried on as usual. This study was the first of its kind to utilize a mobile-based dog-facilitated strategy to increase children’s physical activity. 

At baseline, approximately 60 percent of families walked their dogs more than once a week, and this increased to more than 75 percent at the 3-month follow-up. No differences were observed in dog walking or dog play at 1-month. The text-message only group were 2.6 times more likely to increase their frequency of total dog-facilitated activity at 3-months, compared to the usual care group. The combined intervention group were twice as likely to increase their frequency of total dog-facilitated physical activity compared with the usual care group at 3-months.

Similar findings were reported by a HABRI-funded study conducted by Richards et al., which found that significant increases in family dog walking in the intervention group only occurred at 6 months and were also sustained at 12 months. The positive associations with total dog-facilitated physical activity lost significance after adjusting for socio-demographic factors. Most parents found the intervention strategies acceptable, with 81 percent satisfied with the text-messaging program, and 83 percent satisfied with using the dog pedometer. Parents indicated that the text messages were good motivators to engage in more play with the dog.

Source: Pet Products News

Bergie’s blog

One week ago today, our special friend Bergie passed away. I say ‘our’ because Bergie was special to Izzy and any dog that captured her heart would have always been special.

Bergie and Izzy were adopted from Greyhounds as Pets around the same time and we often met at greyhound walks.

Izzy loved the water at the beach; Bergie didn’t at first. He would bark at her whenever she played in the waves. Eventually, though, Bergie came to enjoy his beach walks and didn’t mind getting wet. I’d like to think that Izzy taught him the joy of the beach, since the beach was her happy place.

Bergie was a regular at Izzy’s birthday party each year, including the year that we hired the Dog Swim Spa and invited her friends to come for a swim. He enjoyed the car ride out of town for that one, too.

On the way to Izzy’s party, February 2019

Bergie even came along and had a swim session with Izzy once, where they rugged up afterwards and enjoyed the ride home together.

In the car, after swimming, 2017

Bergie lived on the east side of town, within walking distance of some of the ‘red zone’ which is land that was cleared after the earthquakes and no one is allowed to re-build there. It’s a great place for dogs, though. Bergie would meet Izzy at his special park for off-lead exercise. On one day in particular, he showed off for her by digging her a hole.

In 2018, Bergie strutted the catwalk at our Greyt Fashions fundraiser, looking handsome in his Dr Seuss collar and other outfits, too.

Bergie was also a regular customer for birthday cakes over the years

As with Izzy, age and arthritis started to catch up with him. Unlike a lot of his black greyhound friends, though, Bergie hardly had any grey hairs right up to the time that he passed. He was a very handsome boy, as seen in this photo in February of this year, relaxing after his massage (this photo is my favourite):

Bergie, February 2022, relaxing after his massage

What is it about the turning 12 and hoping your dog will make 13? Bergie was a year younger than Izzy and we celebrated his 12th birthday in early May. Looking back on it, though, he was withdrawn and didn’t engage much. By early June, he was in a lot of pain which the vet initially diagnosed as severe arthritic pain; a week later and with an x-ray, we had the news that it was the dreaded osteosarcoma and that his shoulder had been broken.

I gave Bergie his last massage on Saturday, 11th June. He was waiting for his Mum to arrive back from overseas that night so she could be there when it was his time to fly. It was a privilege to be able to make him more comfortable and, as I kissed him on his cheek, I told him to say hello to Izzy for me.

Rest in peace, Bergie. Another special dog that will not be forgotten.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

A glimpse into the dog’s mind: A new study reveals how dogs think of their toys

Many dog lovers want to know what goes on in their furry friends’ minds. Now scientists are finally getting closer to the answer. In a new study just published in the journal of Animal Cognition, researchers from the Family Dog Project (Eötvös Loránd University University, Budapest) found out that dogs have a “multi-modal mental image” of their familiar objects. This means that, when thinking about an object, dogs imagine the object’s different sensory features. For instance, the way it looks or the way its smells.

The group of scientists assumed that the senses dogs use to identify objects, such as their toys, reflect the way the objects are represented in their minds. “If we can understand which senses dogs use while searching for a toy, this may reveal how they think about it” explains Shany Dror, one of the leading researchers of this study. “When dogs use olfaction or sight while searching for a toy, this indicates that they know how that toy smells or looks like”.

In previous studies, the researchers discovered that only a few uniquely gifted dogs can learn the names of objects. “These Gifted Word Learner dogs give us a glimpse into their minds, and we can discover what they think about when we ask them – Where is your Teddy Bear? –“ explains Dr. Andrea Sommese, the second leading researcher.

In the first experiment, they trained 3 Gifted Word Learner dogs and 10 typical family dogs (i.e., dogs that do not know the name of toys), to fetch a toy associated with a reward. During the training, dogs received treats and were praised for choosing this toy over a few distractor toys.

A picture of Gaia, one of the Gifted dogs (from Brazil) searching for her toy in the light (on the left) and in the dark (on the right)

The researchers then observed how the dogs searched for the targeted toy, always placed among 4 others, both when the lights were on and off. All dogs successfully selected the trained toys, both in the light and in the dark. However, it took them longer to find the toys in the dark. Only the Gifted Word Learner dogs participated in the second experiment. Here, the researchers aimed to find out what these dogs think about when they hear the name of their toys. “Revealing the senses used by the dogs to search for the named toys gave us the possibility to infer what these dogs imagine when they hear, for example, Teddy Bear explains Dr. Claudia Fugazza, co-author of the study.

The Gifted dogs were successful in selecting the toys named by their owners in the light and the dark. This reveals that, when they hear the name of a toy, they recall this object’s different sensory features and they can use this “multisensory mental image” to identify it, also in the dark. “Dogs have a good sense of smell, but we found that dogs preferred to rely on vision and used their noses only a few times, and almost only when the lights were off” clarifies Prof. Adam Miklósi, head of the Department of Ethology at ELTE University and co-author of the study. “Dogs sniffed more often and for longer in the dark. They spent 90% more time sniffing when the lights were off, but this was still only 20% of the searching time”.

To conclude, the dogs’ success in finding the toys and the different senses used while searching in the light and the dark reveals that, when dogs play with a toy, even just briefly, they pay attention to its different features and register the information using multiple senses.

Source: Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE)

Dogs inhale new immunotherapy to fight lung cancer

A protein that the body naturally produces could become an important new immunotherapy drug in the cache of cancer-fighting tools available to oncologists. UC Davis cancer researchers for both companion dogs and humans joined scientists from other institutions to study a new approach that triggers the body’s defense mechanisms, its T-cells and natural killer (NK) cells, to respond and destroy cancer. 

Oncologist Robert Canter said an inhaled immunotherapy for dogs with cancer shows promise for human cancer patients.

Surgical oncologist Robert J. Canter with UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and canine oncologist Robert B. Rebhun with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine are corresponding authors for a study just published in the Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer.

In the first-of-its-kind Phase 1 clinical trial, 21 pet dogs of various breeds that had metastatic lung disease resulting from osteosarcoma or melanoma were treated with protein interleukin-15 (IL-15). Although previously recognized for immunotherapy properties, IL-15 has undergone few human clinical trials because of toxicity risks associated with concentrated doses. 

“No one previously had administered IL-15 as an inhaled treatment in dogs to deliver it directly to the site of the cancer. We came up with that idea as a means of reducing exposure to the rest of the body, in order to improve the benefit-risk ratio, to improve the immune stimulating effects, and to reduce toxicity,” Canter explained. “In this study, we used interleukin-15 to reinvigorate the immune system to make it recognize the cancer cells that had evaded the immune system and eliminate them.” 

The research shows that amplified concentrations of IL-15 can stimulate immune system defenses against some types of cancers in dogs. IL-15 is one of several types of cytokines—substances that have signaling and regulating functions in immune system activity.

“As part of our comparative oncology research, we are strong advocates of clinical trials in companion dogs, especially for immunotherapy, as a way to speed bench-to-bedside translation,” said Canter, who is chief of the UC Davis Division of Surgical Oncology and co-director of the comparative oncology training program at UC Davis. “The cancers that afflict dogs, including sarcomas, brain tumors, lymphoma and melanoma, are incredibly similar to cancers that humans develop.” 

UC Davis received a $2 million National Cancer Institute grant to fund the comparative oncology training program to support the next generation of oncology researchers collaborating on curing cancer in both humans and dogs. For instance, osteosarcoma and melanoma that develop elsewhere in the body commonly spread to the lung, in dogs as well as humans. 

Methodology

In the study, conducted between October 2018 and December 2020, the dogs inhaled a mist containing IL-15 twice daily. Doses were increased over time, to help determine not only effectiveness, but also tolerable levels and the ceilings above which toxicity would result. Dogs exhibited significant responses within 14 days after they began inhaling the IL-15 mist. 

Tumors shrank dramatically in two dogs in the study, including one that went into complete remission for more than a year. Cancer that had been growing rapidly in five other dogs stabilized for several months. “Our overall response rate, the clinical benefit rate, was close to 40%,” Canter said. 

For that and other reasons, additional studies are needed, noted Rebhun, a professor in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Surgical and Radiological Sciences. 

“The inhaled IL-15 responses that we’ve seen in dogs are better than prior human studies, but clinical benefit is seen in less than half of the dogs. Using IL-15 in people has led to potentially favorable immune responses but has not yielded good tumor responses. This indicates that combining IL-15 with other immunotherapies may result in additive or synergistic responses,” said Rebhun, who holds the Maxine Adler Endowed Chair in Oncology and is the associate director of the cancer program in the Center for Companion Animal Health

Key findings

In his view, the study yielded two significant findings: the therapy was well tolerated, and even a short two-week course of inhaled IL-15 could lead to sustained suppression of advanced and diffuse metastatic cancer. Both he and Canter noted that in eventual clinical application, IL-15 likely would be used not as a standalone therapy, but as a reinforcement in combination with other treatments. 

“All of the canine patients in this study had advanced metastatic cancer, and the majority already had received prior chemotherapy, radiation therapy and, in some cases, immunotherapy. Studies are ongoing now to see whether we can predict which patients might respond to this therapy based on properties of the tumor or the patient’s immune status,” Rebhun said. 

“This may help us identify patients that might respond to this therapy, as well as help us understand how to potentially combine other immunotherapies to improve response rates. We are grateful to the extremely dedicated clients who sought any and all possible care for their pets, elected to enroll them in this study, and even delivered the inhaled IL-15 to their dogs at home—in hopes that it could benefit their dog, other dogs, or possibly even people with advanced metastatic cancer,” Rebhun said. 

Other authors of the study included UC Davis researchers Daniel York, Sylvia M. Cruz and Sean J. Judge, along with Colorado State University scientists Rachel V. Brady and Jenna H. Burton, and Louisiana State University researcher Sita S. Withers. 

As part of the grant for the study, the National Institutes of Health supplied the recombinant IL-15, which it expressed from source materials. The study was supported in part by National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute.

Source: UC Davis

Scent dogs detect coronavirus reliably from skin swabs

Scent dog Silja at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport. (Image: Egil Björkman)

A recent study by the University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital confirmed that scent detection dogs can be taught to identify individuals with a coronavirus infection from skin swabs. In the experimental set-up the accuracy of the dogs in identifying the samples was 92 percent.

The rapid and accurate identification and isolation of patients with coronavirus infection is an important part of global pandemic management. The current diagnosis of coronavirus infection is based on a PCR test that accurately and sensitively identifies coronavirus from other pathogens. However, PCR tests are ill-suited for screening large masses of people because of, among other things, their slow results and high cost.

Researchers from the Faculties of Veterinary Medicine and Medicine at the University of Helsinki and from Helsinki University Hospital jointly designed a triple-blind, randomized, controlled study set-up to test the accuracy of trained scent detection dogs where none of the trio – dog, dog handler or researcher – knew which of the sniffed skin swab samples were positive and which negative. The study also analysed factors potentially interfering with the ability of the dogs to recognize a positive sample.

The three-faceted study has now been published in the journal BMJ Global Health. The study provides valuable information on the use of scent dogs in pandemic control.

Correct identification in over 90 percent of samples; only small differences in accuracy between dogs

In the first phase of the study, the dogs were taught to discriminate the skin swab samples of coronavirus patients from those of volunteers who tested negative. After a training period of several weeks, the dogs moved from the training centre to Helsinki-Vantaa Airport for the next stages of the study.

In the second phase of the study, four trained dogs completed a validation test to prove their discriminatory ability. During the experiment, each dog was presented with a series of 420 samples over a period of seven days. As several parallel samples had been collected from each sample donor, each dog received an identical set of 114 coronavirus patient samples and 306 control samples for sniffing. The coronavirus status of all sample donors had been confirmed by PCR. During each testing day, the dog sniffed 20 sample tracks with three samples each, with the tracks presented in random order.

The dogs recognized the samples correctly 92 percent of the time. While their sensitivity to detect a positive coronavirus sample was 92 percent, their specificity was 91 percent. Only small differences in accuracy were observed between the four dogs. The coronavirus infection being caused by virus variants was the single largest factor contributing to erroneous identification by the dogs.

The study confirms previous reports suggesting that scent dogs can identify individuals with a coronavirus infection.

“Our study set-up was of a high scientific standard. The sample sizes were sufficiently large, and all dogs sniffed an identical set of samples, allowing comparison of their performances. The dogs also had to successfully indicate sample sets containing only negative samples – an important trait when screening individuals. Another significant advantage was that samples were collected from outpatients instead of hospital patients. In addition, the testing was performed under real-life conditions rather than in a laboratory”, says the leader of the DogRisk research group and docent of clinical research in companion animals Anna Hielm-Björkman from the University of Helsinki.

“I was particularly impressed by the fact that dogs performed worse with samples we had collected from patients suffering from a disease caused by a coronavirus variant. The explanation is simple: the dogs had originally been trained with the initial wild-type virus, and thus they did not always identify the variant samples as positive. This reveals their incredible ability of discrimination”, says Anu Kantele, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Chief Physician at the University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital.

Major help from scent dogs at airports and ports

The third phase of the study was conducted by screening passengers and staff at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport in a real-life situation. The scent dogs correctly identified 98.7 percent of the negative samples. The low number of coronavirus-positive samples in real-life testing prevented a proper assessment of the dogs’ performance with positive samples. However, based on positive ‘work motivation samples’ regularly given to the dogs during this part of the study, the performance on the correctly identified positive samples also was evaluated at 98.7 percent. Work motivation samples are naive samples pre-collected from PCR positive patients, but not previously sniffed by dogs. They are provided to the dogs at regular intervals to maintain their interest in the target odour in situations and environments where the proportion of positive samples is otherwise very low.

“Scent dogs can provide an invaluable tool for limiting viral spread during a pandemic, serving for example at air- and seaports. Such a reliable, cheap approach to rapidly screen a vast number of samples or to identify passing virus carriers from a large crowd is of value particularly when the testing capacity with traditional approaches is insufficient”, says Anu Kantele.

“Our research group will continue to study how scent dogs can best help our society. We hope that this newly published study will help to allocate funds for the development of this new ‘tool’. There are many other diseases where research could benefit from the excellent sense of smell that these dogs possess”, says Hielm-Björkman.

The study was conducted with the support of the Finnish Cultural Foundation, Svenska Kulturfonden i Finland, Academy of Finland, Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation, Finnish Medical Association, Veterinary Hospital Chain Evidensia, Nose Academy, Finavia, Vantaa city and deputy mayor Timo Aronkytö. The research group of Anna Hielm-Björkman has also been supported by private donations through the coronadog fundraising campaign, organized jointly by the Finnish Kennel Club and the University of Helsinki. The dogs were initially trained at the NGO Wise Nose trainings center.

Original article: Kantele A, Paajanen J, Turunen S, Pakkanen S, Mattress A, Itkonen L, Heiskanen E, Lappalainen M, Desquilbet L, Vapalahti O, Hielm-Björkman A. Scent dogs in detection of COVID-19 – triple-blinded randomized trial and operational real -life screening in airport setting . BMJ – Global Health, 2022; 0: e008024. Doi : 10.1136/bmjgh-2021-008024

Source: University of Helsinki

Doggy quote of the month for June

Sophia Yin was a pioneer and advocate for low-stress handling. She sadly took her own life in 2014; veterinarians around the world have high suicide rates – a combination of on-the-job stress and easy access to drugs. Please be kind to your veterinarian and others in your dog’s healthcare team.

Growing up with a dog might protect against Crohn’s disease

A recent study suggests that having a pet dog or a larger family in early life may protect against Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease.

Researchers observed that individuals who owned a dog as a child were less likely in later life to have increased gut permeability, which is an early indicator of Crohn’s disease.

These results may help understand how environmental factors, such as having a pet dog, may influence the risk of Crohn’s disease.

Having a dog as a pet in childhood may be protective against Crohn’s disease, a study suggests. Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Image

Owning a dog or growing up in a large family during childhood could reduce the risk of Crohn’s disease later in life, according to a study presented at the Digestive Disease Week conference in San Diego.

The study also reports that owning a dog and having a larger family size were associated with changes in gut microbiome composition or gut permeability, paving the way to understand how these factors could influence the risk of Crohn’s disease.

The study’s co-author Dr. Williams Turpin, a research associate at Mount Sinai Hospital, told Medical News Today, “[ these results] imply that environmental factors are associated with risk of developing Crohn’s disease, and thus offer novel modifiable targets for studies aiming to reduce the risk of developing Crohn’s disease.”

Source: Medical News Today

Quantifying Cognitive Decline in Dogs Could Help Humans With Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers have found that a suite of complementary tests can quantify changes in dogs suspected of suffering from cognitive decline. The approach could not only aid owners in managing their elderly canine’s care, but could also serve as a model for evaluating cognitive decline progression in – and treatments for – humans with Alzheimer’s disease.

Photo by Ken Reid on Unsplash

Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCDS) is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans in that cognitive decline is associated with the development of amyloid plaques as well as cortical atrophy, a progressive degeneration of brain tissue. CCDS is also challenging to diagnose. Traditionally, CCDS is diagnosed based on ruling out any obvious physical conditions and an owner’s answers to a questionnaire.

“One problem with the current approach is that questionnaires only capture a constellation of home behaviors,” says Natasha Olby, the Dr. Kady M. Gjessing and Rahna M. Davidson Distinguished Chair in Gerontology at North Carolina State University and co-senior author of a paper describing the work. “There can be other reasons for what an owner may perceive as cognitive decline – anything from an undiagnosed infection to a brain tumor.”

Olby and co-senior author Margaret Gruen, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at NC State, wanted to determine whether cognitive function could be accurately quantified in dogs.

“Our goal was to bring together multiple tools in order to get a more complete picture of how CCDS presents in dogs,” Gruen says.

To that end, the researchers recruited 39 dogs from 15 breeds. All of them were in the senior and geriatric age range, but in good health overall. A dog is considered “senior” if it is in the last 25% of its expected life span based on breed and size, and geriatric beyond that.

The dogs underwent physical and orthopedic exams, as well as lab work that included a blood test that is a marker of neuronal death. Their owners filled out two commonly used diagnostic questionnaires, and then the dogs participated in a series of cognitive tests designed to assess executive function, memory and attention.

“The approach we took isn’t necessarily designed to be diagnostic; instead, we want to use these tools to be able to identify dogs at an early stage and be able to follow them as the disease progresses, quantifying the changes,” Olby says.

The team found that cognitive and blood test results correlated well with the questionnaire scores, suggesting that a multi-dimensional approach can be used to quantify cognitive decline in aging dogs.

“Being able to diagnose and quantify CCDS in a way that is clinically safe and relevant is a good first step toward being able to work with dogs as a model for Alzheimer’s disease in humans,” Olby says. “Many of the current models of Alzheimers disease – in rodents, for example – are good for understanding physiological changes, but not for testing treatments.”

“Dogs live in our homes and develop naturally occurring disease just like we do,” Gruen says. “These findings show promise for both dogs and humans in terms of improving our understanding of disease progression as well as for potentially testing treatments.”

The work appears in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. NC State postdoctoral fellows Gilad Fefer and Wojciech K. Panek are co-first authors of the work.

Source: NC State News

What does your dog’s tag say?

Sox is gradually coming up to speed with all the coats, food, treats, toys and accessories he needs for pet life. This week, I added his ID tag which I chose because it featured a greyhound.

On the reverse, it reads:

I’m Sox If I’m lost Call my Mum (and then my phone number)

I think ID tags are a personal choice with many designs available. Sox is happy with his tag.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Doggy quote of the month for May

“Did you know that there are over three hundred words for love in canine?”

– Gabrielle Zevin, author

A spontaneous photo of Zevin and her late dog Nico taken on a sofa trashed in Los Angeles. “As soon as we were done, a random guy loaded it into his truck.”
Photograph by Hans Canosa, Zevin’s partner