Category Archives: animal welfare

Most dog breeds highly inbred

Dog breeds are often recognized for distinctive traits — the short legs of a dachshund, wrinkled face of a pug, spotted coat of a Dalmatian. Unfortunately, the genetics that give various breeds their particular attributes are often the result of inbreeding.

A study shows the majority of canine breeds are highly inbred, contributing to an increase in disease and health care costs throughout their lifespan. (Getty)

In a recent study published in Canine Medicine and Genetics, an international team of researchers led by University of California, Davis, veterinary geneticist Danika Bannasch show that the majority of canine breeds are highly inbred, contributing to an increase in disease and health care costs throughout their lifespan.

“It’s amazing how inbreeding seems to matter to health,” Bannasch said. “While previous studies have shown that small dogs live longer than large dogs, no one had previously reported on morbidity, or the presence of disease. This study revealed that if dogs are of smaller size and not inbred, they are much healthier than larger dogs with high inbreeding.”

Inbreeding affects health

The average inbreeding based on genetic analysis across 227 breeds was close to 25%, or the equivalent of sharing the same genetic material with a full sibling. These are levels considered well above what would be safe for either humans or wild animal populations. In humans, high levels of inbreeding (3-6%) have been associated with increased prevalence of complex diseases as well as other conditions.

“Data from other species, combined with strong breed predispositions to complex diseases like cancer and autoimmune diseases, highlight the relevance of high inbreeding in dogs to their health,” said Bannasch, who also serves as the Maxine Adler Endowed Chair in Genetics at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

The researchers partnered with Wisdom Health Genetics, a world leader in pet genetics, to obtain the largest sample size possible for analysis. Wisdom Health’s database is the largest dog DNA database in the world, helping researchers collect data from 49,378 dogs across 227 breeds — primarily from European sources.

Some breeds more inbred

So, what makes a dog breed more inbred than others? Bannasch explained that it’s often a combination of a small founding population followed by strong selection for particular traits in a breed — often based on looks rather than purpose. While she has always had an interest in the population structure of some of these breeds, she became particularly interested in the Danish-Swedish farmdog several years ago. She fell in love with their compact size, disposition and intelligence, and ended up importing one from Sweden.

Bannasch discovered that Danish-Swedish farmdogs have a low level of inbreeding based on their history of a relatively large founding population of 200, and being bred for function, rather than a strong artificial selection for looks. And according to the insurance health data on breeds collected from Agria Insurance Sweden and hosted online by the International Partnership for Dogs, the farmdog is one of the healthiest breeds.

The study also revealed a significant difference in morbidity between brachycephalic (short skull and snout) and non-brachycephalic breeds. While that finding wasn’t unexpected, the researchers removed brachycephalic breeds from the final analysis on effects of inbreeding on health.

Preserving genetic diversity

In the end, Bannasch said she isn’t sure there is a way out of inbred breeds. People have recognized that creating matches based solely on pedigrees is misleading. The inbreeding calculators don’t go back far enough in a dog’s genetic line, and that method doesn’t improve overall high levels of population inbreeding.

There are other measures that can be taken to preserve the genetic diversity and health of a breed, she said. They include careful management of breeding populations to avoid additional loss of existing genetic diversity, through breeder education and monitoring of inbreeding levels enabled by direct genotyping technologies.

Outcrosses are being proposed or have already been carried out for some breeds and conditions as a measure to increase genetic diversity, but care must be taken to consider if these will effectively increase overall breed diversity and therefore reduce inbreeding, Bannasch said. In particular, in the few breeds with low inbreeding levels, every effort should be made to maintain the genetic diversity that is present.

Source: UC Davis

The latest review of NZ’s greyhound racing industry

Last week, a new review report into the greyhound racing industry in New Zealand was released. As most of you know, greyhound welfare is a topic near and dear to my heart because Izzy is an ex-racer.

This review, by the Hon Sir Bruce Robertson, is not the first review of the industry. It’s not even the second (but the second, known as the Hansen report was a whopping 93 pages. I discussed that earlier report in my blog post How many hounds needing a home?). The 2021 review is the third review of greyhound racing in this country.

So the report made some headlines last week in the news because the Minister of Racing, Grant Robertson, says he’s putting the industry ‘on notice.’ Frustratingly, none of the mainstream news sources provided a link to a copy of the actual report. Being the information geek that I am, I tracked down the report and read it thoroughly over the weekend – with highlighter pen in hand.

Before I go into some of the key findings, you should be aware that a major reason why this review was undertaken is that Greyhound Racing NZ (GRNZ) wrote to the Minister for Racing in June 2020 stating that all 20 recommendations stated in the Hansen review had been successfully implemented and so they would no longer be providing progress reports. The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee felt that the information provided was insufficient and, with more deaths and injuries of greyhounds on the track, this review was commissioned.

I like this review, for one reason because it is PITHY. 19 pages including the appendices, it gets straight to the heart of the matter.

Key points:

  1. Kennel audits were supposed to have been undertaken regularly; GRNZ reported that audits were done annually. This review says that comprehensive information on both the regularity of the audits and their outcomes is not available.
  2. The database on greyhounds was to have been updated to ensure it is easily accessible, and contains accurate information on every greyhound born in NZ or imported into New Zealand until it is de-registered. This review found that not only are the data difficult to access but even the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee cannot obtain even the simplest of information. “There does not appear to be any reason why information regarding the welfare of greyhounds should be outweighed by reasons of privacy, commercial confidentiality, or otherwise.”
  3. The first review of racing recommended that dogs privately re-homed (as in, not through an adoption agency), should be audited to verify their whereabouts. Yet, through submissions to this review, it was found that there is not sufficient information to give any true assurance about the welfare of these dogs.
  4. GRNZ has expanded re-homing efforts BUT it has not established any form of public reduction targets, population projections, or estimated the number of dogs needed for the industry each year. In other words, there is nothing to stop the unchecked breeding of greyhounds for the industry which expects others to take care of their dogs for their lifetimes once they are no longer deemed suitable for racing. The Hansen report clearly said that re-homing alone was not going to solve the industry’s problems.
  5. The negative impacts of racing on overall health often do not present until a dog is settled into a new home.
  6. “No reason given” is still the most common reason for euthanising a greyhound – and by a significant margin.
  7. It is unclear what education and experience standards are in place for individuals employed to assist with breeding and managing kennels.

Conclusions

It has become clear that no matter the outcome of this report, or any reports henceforth, the social license of the industry will continue to be challenged for the foreseeable future. If GRNZ wishes to secure a future for the industry it governs, then it must set out to demonstrate the decency of the greyhound racing industry at every possible opportunity.

GRNZ has made its job harder by unnecessarily obfuscating information and pushing back against those with an interest. All information should be recorded, and it should be available. Arguably GRNZ has data to support its stances on the issues raisedin this report but is seen as unwilling to share this.

For those of you who have an interest, I encourage you to read the report in its entirety and share it with others. The current NZ Government says the industry is on notice and must report by the end of 2022 on its actions in response.

My view is that greyhound racing has been banned in many countries because of the animal welfare considerations. New Zealanders must ask themselves why those animal welfare issues don’t exist here. Because clearly this review has found that they do.

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

The pledge

With every New Year, I read about how people make resolutions – many of which despite the good intentions don’t last much longer than February. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the lifelong commitment we make to a dog, and of course the number of cases we see each year when people don’t fulfill that commitment.

If we could change the rules of pet ownership, I’d definitely support the case for licensing owners rather than the dogs.

If I could change one thing about my practice, it would be that I would see more dogs for canine fitness and well-being and less for rehabilitation. Rehab means that the dog has been injured in some way, and often when I do the health history as part of my intake process, I can see where the dog was probably going to have a problem and that the early warning signs were missed or ignored.

So here’s my best effort for the Dog Parent’s Pledge for 2021.

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

Training methods based on punishment compromise dog welfare, study finds

Dogs trained using aversive stimuli, which involve punishments for incorrect behavior, show evidence of higher stress levels compared to dogs trained with reward-based methods, according to a study published on December 16 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro from the Universidade do Porto, Portugal, and colleagues.

The researchers observed the behavior of 92 companion dogs from 7 dog training schools in Portugal that use either aversive methods (which use mainly aversive stimuli), reward methods (which focus on rewarding desired behaviours), and mixed methods (which combine the use of both rewards and aversive stimuli). They filmed training sessions and tested saliva samples for the stress-related hormone cortisol. Dogs trained using aversive and mixed methods displayed more stress-related behaviors, such as crouching and yelping, and showed greater increases in cortisol levels after training than dogs trained with rewards.

The cognitive bias test

The authors also conducted a cognitive bias test in an unfamiliar location outside of the dog’s usual training environment with 79 of the dogs, to measure their underlying emotional state. They found that dogs from schools using aversive methods responded more pessimistically to ambiguous situations compared with dogs receiving mixed- or reward-based training.

Previous survey-based studies and anecdotal evidence has suggested that punishment-based training techniques may reduce animal welfare, but the authors state that this study is the first systematic investigation of how different training methods influence welfare both during training and in other contexts. They say that these results suggest that aversive training techniques may compromise animal welfare, especially when used at high frequency.

The authors add: “This is the first large scale study of companion dogs in a real training setting, using the types of training methods typically applied in dog training schools and data collected by the research team. The results suggest that the use of aversive training methods, especially in high proportions, should be avoided because of their negative impact on dog welfare.”

Source: Science Daily

Journal reference: Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro, Danielle Fuchs, Gabriela Munhoz Morello, Stefania Pastur, Liliana de Sousa, I. Anna S. Olsson. Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare. PLOS ONE, 2020; 15 (12): e0225023 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0225023


The first re-homing of laboratory beagles in Finland

The paper’s abstract begins “The fate of experimental animals represents an ethical dilemma and a public concern.” I would say that this is an understatement. But, researchers in Finland decided to re-home their laboratory Beagles once their work was completed and documented the process of helping the dogs to adjust to pet life.


The re-homing of laboratory dogs was the first of its kind in Finland. The re-homing process was started with months of practising basic pet dog skills with the dogs and by familiarising them with the world outside the laboratory.  

The practice period lasted from four to six months, depending on the dog.

“However, we found out that the socialisation time was not quite sufficient for all dogs; owners reported that some dogs continued to be timid and suffer from separation anxiety. The laboratory dog re-homing process would be smoother if in the future laboratory dog facilities separated out the defecation and rest areas, gave dogs access to an outside area and walked them outside on a leash,” says Docent Marianna Norring from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Helsinki.

The dogs had been living in packs of eight dogs for two to eight years in the University’s laboratory animal facilities, from where they had daily access to an enclosed outside space. They spent the nights in smaller groups of dogs.

At the University, the dogs had participated in both animal cognition and veterinary medical studies. The cognition research provided basic information on canine minds, and a new tranquilising agent suitable for dogs was developed in the veterinary medical study. The University of Helsinki does not currently have laboratory dogs.

The re-homing of laboratory dogs was implemented as a collaboration between SEY Animal Welfare Finland and the University of Helsinki. A large group of individuals participated in socialising the dogs and acquainting them with life outside the facility: animal caretakers, researchers, animal-rights campaigners and dog trainers. The aim was to take into account the individual characteristics of each dog when searching for a new home for them. Whenever possible, dogs were re-homed in pairs. Generally speaking, the new owners have been extremely happy about their new pets.

For the study, the dog re-homing process was monitored at the University for four years by interviewing the participants and collecting information from the new owners.  

Article:

Laura Hänninen and Marianna Norring, 2020, The First Rehoming of Laboratory Beagles in Finland: The Complete Process from Socialisation Training to Follow-up, Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (ATLA), Vol 48, Issue 3, 2020.

Source: University of Helsinki

The Dogs of Democracy

“Humans would do well to study the character of dogs” – Diogenes

This quotation is the opening slide of the documentary Dogs of Democracy, by Mary Zournazi, which was released in 2016. I’ve just watched the film on Doc Play, the app where it is available in New Zealand.

The film portrays the many stray dogs who live in Athens and the people who take care of them. It’s set at a time when citizens of Greece had been protesting against years of austerity measures that depressed the economy and its people.

One dog, Loukanikos, participated in many of the anti-austerity marches and his story is told posthumously by the people who knew him best. I particularly liked when Loukanikos is described a symbol of revolt and purity.

If you like dogs, you’ll like this 57-minute film. And if you follow news about economies and world economics as well as being a dog lover, you’ll have an even better appreciation for the timing and subject matter of the film.

For me, well – I’d like to go to Athens when this pandemic is over and give every one of those strays a good massage while visiting the birthplace of democracy.

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

Izzy’s Words of the Day

Izzy is my greyhound and Poster Dog for The Balanced Dog, my practice in Christchurch, NZ.

During our lockdown (quarantine) for Covid-19, Izzy hosted Word of the Day on my Facebook page. Each word was selected for their relevance to canine health, fitness and welfare. I hope you enjoy this compilation.

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

Misplaced priorities (why does Giving Tuesday come last)?

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving Day was always the start of the holiday season.  In fact, Santa Claus would enter Macy’s Department Store at the end of the Thanksgiving Day parade to officially open Christmas shopping season.

The retail industry has changed a lot since then.

The 2019 holiday shopping season has officially begun with reports of traffic around every shopping mall in the area – shoppers taking advantage of Black Friday sales.  And it wasn’t just on Friday, of course.  These retail sales last the entire weekend through Monday.

Then someone came up with the idea of Small Business Saturday, contrived to help small business make some sales while customers may still have some money left to spend.

Then Cyber Monday.  Another date created by retailers to encourage people to shop online.

And at the end of the line – Giving Tuesday – a day designed to be the international day of charitable giving.  Animal shelters and re-homing agencies always need your donations and hopefully, you will have some left over.

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday banner from the Michigan Humane Society

It seems to me that the priorities are backwards.  I’d rather see the Friday after Thanksgiving be the day of giving.  Give thanks and then give to others who are more in need…

(All of this focus on buying stuff does my head in)

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

Come on, Jacinda, Ban the Boom

Successive governments, including the current Labour Government led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, have refused to heed the growing calls from animal lovers to ban the private sales of fireworks.

That’s a real shame.  Let’s face it, a lot has been said about the Prime Minister because she chose to become a mother while acting as PM.

Here’s Zoe, one of Izzy’s friends, all rugged up for Guy Fawkes.  She’s in a thundershirt, with ear muffs, and music and still nervous and anxious.  There are lots of similar photos and videos of stressed out animals on Facebook this week.

Zoe for Guy Fawkes

Now I wonder if Jacinda would like it if one of these stressed out dogs was her baby, Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford?  Not a nice thought, is it?  I wouldn’t wish it on the Prime Minister’s baby.  Maybe she and her Government shouldn’t wish it on ours.

Maybe what will get action from this government is to remind them that all fireworks are single use and disposable.  Just like the plastic bags that they and their coalition partners banned earlier this year.  These fireworks are filling up our landfills, too.   What’s the deal, Green Party?

I’m not going to apologise if this post is a lot more ‘in your face’ than most of my posts.  I’m entirely sick of the inaction.  Are you?

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

 

Pet owners who fail to walk their dogs daily face $2,700 fine in this Australian territory

Dog owners could be fined up to $2,700 (AU$4,000) if they don’t walk their pets at least once a day under new legislation recognizing animals as sentient beings in the Australian Capital Territory.

Dog owners walk their pets

Dog owners walk their pets (file photo).

 

The Animal Welfare Legislation Amendment Bill, which became law on Thursday, imposes a range of strict penalties in a bid to improve animal welfare.
Owners can face heavy on-the-spot fines if they fail to provide basics like shelter, food and water. People who confine dogs for 24 hours must also allow them to move freely for the next two hours or face prosecution.
The territory is the first jurisdiction in Australia to recognize animal sentience.
“Modern animal welfare is about considering how an animal is coping both mentally and physically with the conditions in which it lives,” ACT City Service Minister Chris Steel, who secured the bill, said in a media release.
Source:  CNN