Category Archives: Dogs

To the man in the little red car

Yesterday, Izzy and I were out for our late afternoon walk  in our neighborhood.

Like many residential areas, over the years I have watched as the local streets have become busier and often, despite the Council’s efforts at introducing traffic calming measures, cars race through intersections to trim a second or two off their commuting times on the main road.

So I’d like to thank the man in the little red car.  Izzy and I were waiting to cross the street, since you had the right-of-way.

Instead, you stopped and let us cross.

Thank you for your small act of kindness; it really made our day!

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

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Bulldogs’ Screw Tails Linked to Human Genetic Disease

With their small size, stubby faces and wide-set eyes, bulldogs, French bulldogs and Boston terriers are among the most popular of domestic dog breeds. Now researchers at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine have found the genetic basis for these dogs’ appearance, and linked it to a rare inherited syndrome in humans.

bulldog

Moxie, a 3-year-old French bulldog, took part in a study of the genetics of “screwtail” dog breeds (bulldogs, French bulldogs and Boston terriers). A common mutation in these dogs is similar to genetic changes in a rare human disease, Robinow syndrome. (Photo credit: Katy Robertson)

Bulldogs, French bulldogs and Boston terriers aren’t the only dogs with short, wide heads, but they do share another feature not found in other breeds: a short, kinked tail or “screwtail,” said Professor Danika Bannasch, Department of Population Health and Reproduction in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. These three breeds all lack the vertebrae that make up the tail bone, she said.

The researchers sequenced the whole genome — the entire DNA sequence — of 100 dogs, including 10 from screwtail breeds. All the participating dogs were privately owned pets seen at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, whose owners agreed to participate. Graduate students Tamer Mansour and Katherine Lucot, with C. Titus Brown, associate professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Genome Center, searched through the DNA sequences to find changes associated with screwtail breeds.

From more than 12 million individual differences they were able to identify one mutation, in a gene called DISHEVELLED 2 or DVL2. This variant was found in 100 percent of the bulldogs and French bulldogs sampled, and was very common in Boston terriers.

This kind of whole genome comparison is relatively new, Bannasch said.

“Normally, we would have first had to identify a region DNA and work from there,” she said. “We could look at breed-specific traits, but not as well as we can now.”

Professor Henry Ho at the UC Davis School of Medicine studies similar genes in humans. Mutations in the related DVL1 and DVL3 genes are known to cause Robinow syndrome, a rare inherited disorder in humans characterized by strikingly similar anatomical changes — a short, wide “babyface,” short limbs and spinal deformities. In addition, Robinow patients and the screwtail breeds also share other disease traits, such as cleft palate. In both humans and dogs, DVL genes are part of a signaling pathway called WNT involved in development of the skeleton and nervous system, among other things, said Peter Dickinson, professor of surgical and radiological sciences at the School of Veterinary Medicine. By characterizing the screwtail DVL2 protein product, Sara Konopelski, a graduate student in the Ho lab, pinpointed a key biochemical step in the WNT pathway that is disrupted by the mutation. This finding further suggests that a common molecular defect is responsible for the distinct appearances of both Robinow patients and screwtail dog breeds.

The DVL2 screwtail mutation is so common in these breeds, and so closely tied to the breed appearance, that it would be difficult to remove it by breeding, Dickinson said. Other genes are known to contribute to short, wide “brachycephalic” heads in dogs, and there are likely multiple genes that contribute both to appearance and to chronic health problems in these breeds.

Understanding a common mutation in popular dog breeds may, however, give more insight into the rare Robinow syndrome in humans. Only a few hundred cases have been documented since the syndrome was identified in 1969.

“It’s a very rare human disease but very common in dogs, so that could be a model for the human syndrome,” Bannasch said.

Source:  UC Davis media release

What I’ve been reading…

Most people in New Zealand went back to work on Monday after a couple of weeks of holidays around the Christmas and New Year period.

Although I worked the non-statutory days, I also had some ‘me time’ and I was able to get stuck into the many books that have been piling up on my end table.  (I prefer real books to electonic books, by the way, – no Kindle here!)

I read two of the David Rosenfelt books featuring Andy Carpenter, a lawyer and dog lover.  Andy has a Golden Retriever, Tara, and also supports a local rescue organisation.  He can afford to be choosy about the cases he decides to take on; Andy is wealthy thanks to a sizeable inheritance.

Play Dead and New Tricks are actually the 6th and 7th books in the Andy Carpenter series and I’ve got to get my hands on numbers 1-5 before proceeding in sequence again.

These novels were interesting stories packed with courtroom drama and, of course, dogs.

In Play Dead, the key to overturning Richard Evan’s  life sentence for murdering his girlfriend Stacy Harriman lies with his Golden Retriever, Reggie.  Presumed drowned after Richard murders Stacy on a boat (Stacy’s body was never found),  Reggie suddenly turns up at a local animal shelter years later.  Will Reggie lead Andy to the real killer?

In New Tricks, Andy becomes the court-appointed guardian of Waggy, a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy.  Waggy’s owner was murdered and the man’s wife is going to battle it out for custody of Waggy with her stepson.  That is, until the wife is also killed when her house explodes in front of Andy’s eyes and the stepson is charged with murder.  This story was full of twists and turns as well as courtroom drama.

Andy Carpenter is the protagonist is these books, unlike the Chet and Bernie books by Spencer Quinn (which I also love!) which feature Chet the Dog as the storyteller.

These novels were entertaining and made for a great, relaxing read over the holidays.   I definitely want to read all of the other Andy Carpenter books.  (there are 17 books so far with the latest book, Deck the Hounds, published in October 2018).

I think more books are going to pile up on the end table!

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

Research reveals overweight dogs may live shorter lives

New research from the University of Liverpool and Mars Petcare’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition reveals overweight dogs are more likely to have shorter lives than those at ideal body weights.

Results from the study, conducted retrospectively across two decades and published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, revealed the lifespan of dogs that were overweight was up to two and a half years shorter when compared to ideal-weight dogs.

fat bulldog

The study examined more than 50,000 dogs across 12 of the most popular dog breeds. The effect of being overweight was seen in all breeds, although the magnitude of the effect differed, ranging from between five months less for male German Shepherds to two years and six months less for male Yorkshire Terriers.

Poorer quality of life

It is estimated that over a quarter of households (26%) in the UK and nearly half in the US (47.6%) own a dog. However despite our affection for canine companions, concern is growing that many pet owners are unaware of the serious health implications of dogs carrying extra weight. Pet obesity is steadily on the rise, with latest figures estimating one in three dogs and cats in the U.S. is overweight.

Although the study did not examine the reasons behind the extra pounds in dogs, feeding habits are thought to play a role in pet obesity. According to a recent Better Cities For Pets survey , more than half (54%) of cat and dog owners always or often give their pet food if they beg for it, and nearly a quarter (22%) of cat and dog owners sometimes overfeed their pet to keep them happy.

Study co-author and Professor of Small Animal Medicine at the University of Liverpool Alex German, said: “Owners are often unaware that their dog is overweight, and many may not realise the impact that it can have on health. What they may not know is that, if their beloved pet is too heavy, they are more likely to suffer from other problems such as joint disease, breathing issues, and certain types of cancer, as well as having a poorer quality of life. These health and wellbeing issues can significantly impact how long they live.

“For many owners, giving food, particularly tasty table scraps and tidbits, is the way we show affection for our pets. Being careful about what you feed your dog could go a long way to keeping them in good shape and enabling them to be around for many years to come.
“Worryingly, it is estimated only one in five pet owners always measures how much food they are giving their pet, with four in five (87%) always or often simply estimating the amount of food they think their pet needs at each serving.”

About the Study

The University of Liverpool and WALTHAM study was a retrospective, observational cohort study that leveraged demographic, geographic and clinical data from dogs that received care at BANFIELD® Pet Hospitals between April 1994 and September 2015. Data were available from 50,787 dogs across 12 of the most popular family breeds: Dachshund, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, American Cocker Spaniel, Beagle, Boxer, Chihuahua, Pit Bull Terrier, Pomeranian, Shih Tzu, and Yorkshire Terrier. For each breed, the lifespan dogs whose owners reported them to be overweight and those in optimal body condition was compared.

As the largest general-veterinary practice in the world, Banfield has more than 1,000 hospitals across the United States and Puerto Rico comprised of veterinary teams who are committed to providing high-quality veterinary care for more than three million pets annually. The data extracted for this study included demographic (breed, sex, neuter status and date of birth) and geographic (latitude and longitude of the owner’s postcode) variables, plus data collected during in-clinic visits (date of visit, bodyweight and if available body condition), and date of death. Pedigree status and date of birth are both owner-reported parameters and were not verified by veterinary staff.

Source:  University of Liverpool

For gait transitions, stability often trumps energy savings

A dog’s gait, according to the American Kennel Club, is “the pattern of footsteps at various rates of speed, each distinguished by a particular rhythm and footfall.” When dogs trot, for example, the right front leg and the left hind leg move together. This is an intermediate gait, faster than walking but slower than running.

In the December 12, 2018 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a multi-institutional team of researchers based at the University of Chicago Medical Center take a novel and wide-ranging approach to understanding such speed-related gait transitions. The generally accepted approach has long focused on reducing locomotor costs, essentially finding the least taxing way to ramp up from one gait to a faster one without wasting energy.

gait transitions

Each animal ran in the metabolic chamber two to five times a day. From these metrics it was possible to determine the energetic costs of running at a particular speed. Credit: Caleb Bryce from the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust

The researchers, however, uncovered a different explanation. They chose to focus less on energy conservation and more on locomotor instability–in layman’s terms, reducing the risk of stumbling or toppling over. Their findings suggest that gait transitions represent “predictive, anticipatory switching of movements to minimize unstable dynamic states.”

“We found that gait transitions occur when the stability of a gait decreases so much that switching to a new gait improves stability,” said Michael Granatosky, PhD, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral student in the department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago. “The mammals and birds we studied tend to make gait transitions at critical points to provide a more rhythmic, less unstable locomotor state.”

These transitions, he added, can minimize “high inter-stride variation and unstable dynamic states, reducing the risk of inter-limb interference, such as tripping or falling.”

This wide-ranging study focused on gait transitions in nine animal models–seven mammals and two birds. The researchers started with Virginia opossums, tufted capuchins (“organ grinder” monkeys) and domestic dogs.

They subsequently found similar data on gait transitions in six additional species: American minks, Australian water rats, brush-tailed bettongs (small marsupials also known as rat kangaroos), ostriches, North American river otters and the Svalbard rock ptarmigan.

All of the initial animals–dogs, monkeys and opossums–were trained to exercise at a range of speeds on a treadmill within a plexiglass metabolic chamber. This familiarized the animals with the treadmills while improving their physical fitness. By the end of the training period, all of the animals could sustain six to ten minutes of vigorous running at “speeds required for metabolic movements.”

Once the training was completed, the researchers began testing. They monitored oxygen uptake, carbon-dioxide production, temperature, moisture levels, barometric pressure and air flow. Each animal ran in the chamber two to five times a day. From these metrics it was possible to determine the energetic costs of running at a particular speed.

These energetic costs were collected over a range of speeds during walking and running. Variations in stride cycle duration were collected for each speed interval.

Based on the data collected from this broad phylogenetic range of species, the authors determined that the assumptions of the energetic minimization hypothesis for gait transitions were rarely met.

Instead, most animals choose not to switch gaits when it was most energetically efficient. In this study, dogs, ptarmigans, ostriches and otters, showed no significant change in the energy cost of transport while switching from a walk to a faster mode. In contrast, almost all of the other species demonstrated high variability near gait transitions. They subsequently reduced variability after switching to a new more stable gait.

“Energy savings do not predict gait transition patterns,” the authors conclude. Instead, gait transitions “maintain dynamic stability across a range of speeds.”

“Our data,” the authors conclude, “suggest that gait transitions represent predictive, anticipatory switching of movement types to minimize high variability and avoid unstable dynamic states.” Birds and mammals, they added, appear to have evolved sensorimotor mechanisms for monitoring inter-stride stability during locomotion and for triggering gait transitions at critical levels of variation.

Source:  EurekAlert!

Doggy quote of the month for January

“Heaven Is People Smiling and Dogs Playing”

– Stephen Huneck, artist, author and founder of Dog Mountain, 1948 – 2010

Izzy (Imperative) and Bergie (Jed Norton)

Positive ageing (no one I know is getting any younger and that includes your dog)

I have wanted to write this blog post for a while.

The motivation behind this post rests squarely with the contents I have been reading on some Facebook groups I belong to.  There are consistently posts which say:

  • My dog is slowing down, is this arthritis?
  • She pulled up lame today.  What should I do?
  • I can’t take him out with us on walks anymore; he’s too slow.
  • I’m gonna take her to the vet, but I thought I’d ask for advice here…

So let’s get this straight – what my mother always said holds true for our dogs as well as us – no one I know is getting any younger.

Stan positive ageing

Stan having a snooze. Rest is important for recovery and older dogs will sleep more.

The basic principles of well being are the same for us and our dogs.  It’s called positive ageing – and to look out for ourselves we need:

  • good nutrition
  • exercise that is appropriate for our physical condition
  • rest
  • social interaction and stimulation
  • safety and security
  • medical care

We can’t be rehabilitated out of old age and neither can our dogs.  We can, however, facilitate a long and happy life by managing all of the basic principles.  We’re responsible for taking care of ourselves and, if you’ve chosen to have a dog in your life, you’ve made a commitment to care for them for their lifetime as well and so you need to look out for age-related changes and adjust your dog’s lifestyle and routines.

Case study – Stan

The picture above is Stan, who is now aged 10+.  I first met him when his Mum joined one of my massage workshops for dog owners almost 3 years ago.  She then brought me in to work with him directly because he was stiff and would occasionally limp.

We’ve worked as a team on things like weight loss, making good food choices and adding fresh ingredients, supplementation, and things to ask the vet during consults.

Unfortunately, Stan ruptured a cruciate ligament in 2017 when playing on wet grass and then (as the textbooks suggest), he also ruptured the ligament on the other leg earlier this year.  But his Mum has managed through it all and has kept up with exercises for rehab and committed to his diet and supplement regime.

Stan benefits from having a family member care for him when Mum is at work – so no noisy day cares for Stan which also helps him rest.

His Mum told me today that she looks back on the last couple of years and it has been a challenge (in many ways – including financial) to manage ‘one surgery after another’ but because Stan is happy, she knows she’s done the right thing for him.

Positive Ageing.  Are you ready to give your dog what he/she needs?

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