Category Archives: research

Research shows dogs de-stress families with autistic children

Owning a pet dog reduces stress and significantly improves functioning in families who have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), new research has shown.

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, and funded by the US-based Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation, also found a reduction in the number of dysfunctional interactions between parent and child among families which owned a dog.

Published in the American Journal of Veterinary Behavior, it is among the first of a number of HABRI-funded research projects which examine the effects of companion animals on human health. This project focused specifically on the effects of pet dogs on families with children with ASD.

Professor Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, led the research. He said: “While there‭ ‬is‭ ‬growing‭ ‬evidence ‬that ‬animal-assisted‭ ‬therapy‭ ‬can aid in ‬the‭ ‬treatment‭ ‬of‭ children with ‬autism‭ ‬spectrum‭ ‬disorders, this study is one of the first to examine how‭ ‬pet‭ ‬dog‭ ‬ownership‭ ‬can also ‬improve‭ ‬the‭ ‬lives‭ ‬of‭ ‬those‭ ‬more widely affected‭ ‬by‭ ‬autism. Researchers have previously focused on the positive effects that assistance dogs can have on the child’s well-being and have passed over the impact they might also have on close relatives, but our results show that owning a pet dog (rather than a specifically trained assistance dog) can considerably improve the function of the whole family unit.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

“We found a significant, positive‭ ‬relationship‭ ‬between‭ ‬parenting‭ ‬stress‭ ‬of‭ ‬the child‭’‬s‭ ‬main‭ ‬caregiver‭ ‬and‭ ‬their‭ ‬attachment‭ ‬to‭ ‬the‭ family dog. This highlights the importance of the bond between the carer and their dog in the benefits they‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ gain.”‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

The research involved families who took part in a previous study, which examined the short-term effect of a pet dog on families of a child with autism. The researchers followed up with the families two and a half years later in order to determine the longevity of the benefits of pet ownership. The study demonstrated that initial results of reduced family difficulties lasted years beyond the early stages of acquiring a dog, and that stress levels continued to experience a steady decline.

“Stress associated with parenting a child with autism continued to decrease among dog owners over time, but we did not see the same reductions in families without a dog,” added Professor Mills. “This long-term follow up study highlights the potential benefits of pet ownership in bringing long-term improvements to the lives of families living with a child with autism.”

HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman said: “Parents of children with autism can experience increased anxiety and stress, and now we have strong scientific evidence to show that pets can have positive effects on these quality-of-life issues. Families with an autistic child should consider pet ownership as a way to improve family harmony.”

The study at Lincoln is one of a series of research projects from a major body of work carried out at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences which sheds light on the benefits that pet dogs can bring to children with ASD and their families.

Source:  University of Lincoln media release

9 special abilities that show how smart dogs really are

I enjoy reading and sharing information about research involving dogs and their cognitive abilities.

Business Insider Malaysia has published a good synopsis of research in the area with references to the relevant studies.

2-dogs-make-eye-contact

The 9 special abilities are:

  1. Dogs feel empathy
  2. Dogs make eye contact
  3. With eye contact, they form a special bond with humans
  4. Dogs see humans as part of their family
  5. And they interact with us as if they were children
  6. Dogs understand gestures, like pointing
  7. Dogs brains react to human voices
  8. Some dogs can learn new words the way children do
  9. And some dogs have the ability to generalize

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

The history of canine transmissible venereal cancer

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have produced this interesting YouTube video about how canine transmissible venereal cancer has spread over time.  If you are interested in evolution, genetics or DNA research – this video is for you.

See also my previous posts:

A dog cancer that is 11,000 years old

Global snapshot of infectious canine cancer

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

 

How dogs can sniff out diabetes

A chemical found in our breath could provide a flag to warn of dangerously-low blood sugar levels in patients with type 1 diabetes, according to new research from the University of Cambridge. The finding, published in the journal Diabetes Care, could explain why some dogs can be trained to spot the warning signs in patients.

Claire Pesterfield, a paediatric diabetes specialist nurse at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has type 1 diabetes, which requires insulin injections to manage blood sugar levels. She also has a golden Labrador dog that has been trained by the charity Medical Detection Dogs to detect when her blood sugar levels are falling to potentially dangerous levels.

“Low blood sugar is an everyday threat to me and if it falls too low – which it can do quickly – it can be very dangerous,” says Claire. “Magic is incredible – he’s not just a wonderful companion, but he’s my ‘nose’ to warn me if I’m at risk of a hypo. If he smells a hypo coming, he’ll jump up and put his paws on my shoulders to let me know.”

Hypoglycaemia – low blood sugar – can cause problems such as shakiness, disorientation and fatigue; if the patient does not receive a sugar boost in time, it can cause seizures and lead to unconsciousness. In some people with diabetes, these episodes can occur suddenly with little warning.

Given the reports of dogs alerting owners to blood glucose changes, researchers at the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge, believed that certain naturally-occurring chemicals in exhaled breath might change when glucose levels were low. In a preliminary study to test this hypothesis, the scientists gradually lowered blood sugar levels under controlled conditions in 8 women, all around their forties, and all with type 1 diabetes. They then used mass spectrometry – which look for chemical signatures – to detect the presence of these chemicals.

The researchers found that levels of the chemical isoprene rose significantly at hypoglycaemia – in some cases almost doubling. They believe that dogs may be sensitive to the presence of isoprene, and suggest that it may be possible to develop new detectors that can identify elevated levels of isoprene in patients at risk.

“Isoprene is one of the commonest natural chemicals that we find in human breath, but we know surprisingly little about where it comes from,” says Dr Mark Evans, Honorary Consultant Physician at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, University of Cambridge. “We suspect it’s a by-product of the production of cholesterol, but it isn’t clear why levels of the chemical rise when patients get very low blood sugar.

“Humans aren’t sensitive to the presence of isoprene, but dogs with their incredible sense of smell, find it easy to identify and can be trained to alert their owners about dangerously low blood sugar levels. It provides a ‘scent’ that could help us develop new tests for detecting hypoglycaemia and reducing the risk of potentially life-threatening complications for patients living with diabetes. It’s our vision that a new breath test could at least partly – but ideally completely – replace the current finger-prick test, which is inconvenient and painful for patients, and relatively expensive to administer.”

The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre with support from the Cambridge NIHR Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility.

Source:  University of Cambridge media release

Clinical trials to help beat cancer

Raelene Wouda’s passion for improving cancer treatment starts with our four-legged friends.

Dog cancer photo
Wouda, Kansas State University assistant professor of clinical sciences, is conducting clinical trials to treat cancers in dogs, cats and other companion animals.

When pet owners bring their dogs, cats, horses and other animals to the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Veterinary Health Center for treatment, Wouda and the Oncology Service can offer groundbreaking new treatments often at a lower cost to pet owners.

Wouda also is able to study important topics, such as improved diagnostic testing, monitoring approaches and innovative treatment options, including anti-cancer vaccines, t-cell transfer, combination chemotherapy and nanoparticle drug formulations. She has recently published her research in Veterinary Comparative Oncology and the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“Although surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and, more recently, immunotherapy have improved patient outcomes, many cancers still do not have a long-term cure,” said Wouda, a clinical veterinary oncologist. “These clinical trials are a crucial step.”

But Wouda’s research benefits humans, too. Many cancers in animals — especially dogs — are similar to those in humans, which means that the diagnosis, monitoring, treatment and response to treatment are also similar.

“Any research that we do in our patients has the potential to provide important information for how the disease can be better diagnosed, monitored and treated in human patients,” Wouda said. “That’s what I would like to do with our research. I would like to continue to improve outcomes for our veterinary patients and, by extension, help human cancer patients.”

Companion animals offer several research advantages. Wouda’s clinical trial program focuses primarily on dogs because of the similarities between their cancers and human cancers, such as osteosarcoma, melanoma, lung cancer and urogenital cancers. Osteosarcoma, for example, is both clinically and genetically almost identical in dogs and human pediatric patients.

Dogs also live with us and are exposed to the same environmental factors. Additionally, because dogs age faster than humans — one dog year is equivalent to seven human years — their diseases progress faster, which is a practical advantage for rapidly evaluating a new treatment’s efficacy and clinical benefit, Wouda said.

“We get clinical answers more quickly in dogs,” Wouda said. “The benefit of a particular therapy becomes evident in dogs more rapidly compared to people, and because of this we can preserve research and development finances, but more importantly, we save valuable time and resources.”

Animal clinical trials are structured similarly to human clinical trials and are tightly regulated and overseen. Wouda works with Mary Lynn Higginbotham, associate professor of clinical sciences, their graduate students and oncology technicians as well as the Veterinary Health Center’s referring veterinarians to conduct these clinical trials. They also collaborate with human medical researchers to discuss how the research can best be applied in the field of human oncology.

“For many pet owners, cancer is a terminal diagnosis for their beloved family member,” Wouda said. “These studies provide owners an opportunity to trial a cutting-edge therapy for their pets at a reasonable price. Moreover, owners participating in these clinical trials take comfort and are pleased to know that they are helping to achieve better treatments and outcomes for pets that may be diagnosed with cancer in the future.”

Source:  Kansas State University

Dogs were domesticated not once, but twice

The question, ‘Where do domestic dogs come from?’, has vexed scholars for a very long time. Some argue that humans first domesticated wolves in Europe, while others claim this happened in Central Asia or China. A new paper, published in Science, suggests that all these claims may be right. Supported by funding from the European Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council, a large international team of scientists compared genetic data with existing archaeological evidence and show that man’s best friend may have emerged independently from two separate (possibly now extinct) wolf populations that lived on opposite sides of the Eurasian continent.

Domestication photo

Man’s best friend. Dogs were domesticated not once, but twice… in different parts of the world. Credit: © lenaivanova2311 / Fotolia

This means that dogs may have been domesticated not once, as widely believed, but twice.

A major international research project on dog domestication, led by the University of Oxford, has reconstructed the evolutionary history of dogs by first sequencing the genome (at Trinity College Dublin) of a 4,800-year old medium-sized dog from bone excavated at the Neolithic Passage Tomb of Newgrange, Ireland. The team (including French researchers based in Lyon and at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris) also obtained mitochondrial DNA from 59 ancient dogs living between 14,000 to 3,000 years ago and then compared them with the genetic signatures of more than 2,500 previously studied modern dogs.

The results of their analyses demonstrate a genetic separation between modern dog populations currently living in East Asia and Europe. Curiously, this population split seems to have taken place after the earliest archaeological evidence for dogs in Europe. The new genetic evidence also shows a population turnover in Europe that appears to have mostly replaced the earliest domestic dog population there, which supports the evidence that there was a later arrival of dogs from elsewhere. Lastly, a review of the archaeological record shows that early dogs appear in both the East and West more than 12,000 years ago, but in Central Asia no earlier than 8,000 years ago.

Combined, these new findings suggest that dogs were first domesticated from geographically separated wolf populations on opposite sides of the Eurasian continent. At some point after their domestication, the eastern dogs dispersed with migrating humans into Europe where they mixed with and mostly replaced the earliest European dogs. Most dogs today are a mixture of both Eastern and Western dogs — one reason why previous genetic studies have been difficult to interpret.

The international project (which is combining ancient and modern genetic data with detailed morphological and archaeological research) is currently analysing thousands of ancient dogs and wolves to test this new perspective, and to establish the timing and location of the origins of our oldest pet.

Senior author and Director of Palaeo-BARN (the Wellcome Trust Palaeogenomics & Bio-Archaeology Research Network) at Oxford University, Professor Greger Larson, said: ‘Animal domestication is a rare thing and a lot of evidence is required to overturn the assumption that it happened just once in any species. Our ancient DNA evidence, combined with the archaeological record of early dogs, suggests that we need to reconsider the number of times dogs were domesticated independently. Maybe the reason there hasn’t yet been a consensus about where dogs were domesticated is because everyone has been a little bit right.’

Lead author Dr Laurent Frantz, from the Palaeo-BARN, commented: ‘Reconstructing the past from modern DNA is a bit like looking into the history books: you never know whether crucial parts have been erased. Ancient DNA, on the other hand, is like a time machine, and allows us to observe the past directly.’

Senior author Professor Dan Bradley, from Trinity College Dublin, commented: ‘The Newgrange dog bone had the best preserved ancient DNA we have ever encountered, giving us prehistoric genome of rare high quality. It is not just a postcard from the past, rather a full package special delivery.’

Professor Keith Dobney, co-author and co-director of the dog domestication project from Liverpool University’s Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, is heartened by these first significant results. ‘With the generous collaboration of many colleagues from across the world-sharing ideas, key specimens and their own data — the genetic and archaeological evidence are now beginning to tell a new coherent story. With so much new and exciting data to come, we will finally be able to uncover the true history of man’s best friend.’

Source:  Science Daily

Does your dog understand you?

Research by a Brigham Young University psychology professor shows how dogs perceive and use human emotional cues and gestures.

Professor Ross Flom conducted two experiments where he looked at the frequency in which dogs followed a pointing gesture to locate a hidden reward. Those gestures were paired with either positive or negative behaviors from the person pointing. Positive behaviors included smiling and speaking in a pleasant tone. Negative behaviors included frowning, a furrowed brow and speaking in a harsh tone.

The main finding of the study is that dogs use human emotions in determining how quickly or how slowly they’re going to go and explore an unfamiliar location. While positive behaviors didn’t improve response time from the control group, negative behaviors, which simulated emotions closely tied to anger, delayed the response time.

The bottom line:  your dog doesn’t trust you when you’re angry.