Category Archives: research

More communication needed about disposal of pet pharmaceuticals

If no one told you the proper way to get rid of those leftover heartworm pills, bottles of flea shampoo and other pet care products your household no longer needs, you’re not alone.

New research from Oregon State University found that more than 60 percent of veterinary care professionals do not counsel their clients when it comes to the environmental stewardship aspect of medicine disposal – findings that are troublesome but also represent an opportunity to dramatically reduce watershed contaminants.

OSU dog

“People are just starting to understand the impact that discarded pharmaceuticals and personal care products have on the environment,” said the study’s corresponding author, Jennifer Lam, who worked on the research while a graduate student in marine resource management at Oregon State University.

“This study opens the door and shows a communication gap, shows where there’s an opportunity to help educate people. There’s not much communication going on between veterinary care professionals and their clients on how to dispose of expired pet medicines, meaning there’s a lot of potential for those professionals to help their clients learn what to do.”

Lam, now a senior analyst for Blue Earth Consultants, and other researchers at OSU surveyed 191 pet owners and found nearly half of them got rid of unneeded care products and medicine via the garbage; Blue Earth, based in Oakland, California, is an environmental management consulting division of ERG.

Researchers surveyed 88 environmental educators and 103 veterinary care professionals. The survey revealed 61 percent of the veterinary professionals did not share information about proper disposal with their clients. And the 39 percent who reported sharing that information did so 19 percent of the time – roughly one appointment in five.

“It’s not a popular topic to bring up,” said Lam, who noted the professionals listed a number of barriers to communication, including lack of knowledge about proper disposal, time, cost and lack of concern on the part of both client and care provider.

“Survey respondents said their professional organizations, such as their veterinary associations, are their top source for disposal information,” Lam said. “This shows that veterinary-care professionals can serve as role models for other pet owners on environmental stewardship practices.”

Scientists have long known about the potential environmental effects stemming from the use and disposal of products aimed at keeping people healthy and clean, but with roughly seven in 10 Americans owning at least one pet, animal medications and other care products are slowly beginning to move into the spotlight too.

Pet supplies and over-the-counter pet medications are a nearly $15 billion industry in the U.S. Veterinary care including prescription medicine is close to a $16 billion chunk of the economy. Both figures are on the rise.

“But you can count on one hand the number of studies that have been done on what people actively do with the disposal of PPCPs – pharmaceutical and personal care products – for both themselves and their pets,” said Sam Chan, a watershed health expert with the Oregon Sea Grant program at Oregon State. “PPCPs are used by almost everyone and most wastewater treatment plants are not able to completely deactivate many of the compounds they include.”

Increasingly, Chan said, chemicals from PPCPs for people and pets are being found at low levels in groundwater and surface water; anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, antibiotics, estrogens, insect repellant, antimicrobials and sunscreen compounds are among what’s being detected.

Some impacts are already appearing, he said. For example, fish exposed to antidepressants become more active and bold and thus more susceptible to predation.

“Most people tend to throw extra pills or personal care products into the trash and, in fewer instances, flush them down the drain,” Chan said. “It seems like the right thing to do but it’s not the best thing for the environment.”

The national Sea Grant program is partnering with the American Veterinary Medical Association to promote proper PPCP disposal: Dropping them off at a take-back event or bringing them to a depository such as those in place at some police stations and college campuses.

“This study is one of the first to really show a baseline on the environmental stewardship of pet owners regarding their use and disposal of personal and pet medicine and care products,” Lam said. “It also shows the correlation between what pet owners do with their own medicine versus their pets’ – both types of products are being disposed of in similar ways.”

This research was funded in part by Oregon Sea Grant. Findings were published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Source:  Oregon State University media release

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Pain in dogs with noise sensitivity

Dogs which show fear or anxiety when faced with loud or sudden noises should be routinely assessed for pain by veterinarians, a new study has found.

Animal behavioural scientists from the UK and Brazil examined cases of dogs which had developed a sensitivity to either loudness, different pitches, or sudden noises, and found that those which also had associated musculoskeletal pain formed a greater sensitivity to noise.

The study suggested that that fear or anxiety about noise could be association between a fear of noises and underlying pain.

dogs and noise

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The researchers believe that pain, which could be undiagnosed, could be exacerbated when a noise makes the dogs tense up or ‘start’, putting extra stress on muscles or joints which are already enflamed, causing further pain. That pain is then associated with a loud or startling noise, leading to a sensitivity to noise and avoidance of situations where they had previously had a bad experience—for example a local park, or a louder room in the house.

Researchers say that veterinarians should ensure that all dogs with behaviour problems associated with noise receive a thorough physical examination to see if pain could be a factor in their fear or anxiety, so that undiagnosed pain could be treated, and the behavioural issue tackled. All the dogs that had pain which were treated showed an improvement of their behaviour. This is the first study to explore this phenomenon.

Professor Daniel Mills from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, said: “Although the average ages of the dogs were similar, the average age of onset of the problem was nearly four years later in the ‘clinical cases’. This strong theme of an older age of onset suggests that the pain may develop later in life and that owners seek treatment more readily, perhaps because the appearance of the problem is out of character in the subject.

“These results are consistent with the suggestion that whenever there is a late age onset to a behaviour problem, medical issues including those related to pain, should be carefully evaluated. It is worth owners being aware that once pain is successfully managed, the previously learned associations with noise may persist and require their own targeted behaviour modification programme.”

Researchers assessed two groups of dogs which presented with noise sensitivity: those which had already been diagnosed with underlying musculoskeletal pain and those which hadn’t.

In both cases, the presenting signs of the dogs’ behavioural issue included shaking, trembling and hiding, but those with a diagnosed pain issue also showed a higher level of avoidance when it came to places they had a bad experience with noise – for example attempting to avoid a certain area at a park altogether compared with those without pain.

The dogs with the musculoskeletal pain also started to show signs of fear of noises much later in life than the control cases, and were on average four years older than their pain-free counterparts. Noise triggers ranged from fireworks, thunderstorms and aeroplanes, to gunshots, cars and motorbikes.

Veterinary Medicine student Ana Luisa Lopes Fagundes, from Centro Universitário de Belo Horizonte in Brazil, led the research at Lincoln as part of Brazil’s Science without Borders scheme.

She said: “The aim of the study was to explore the presenting signs of dogs with generalised noise sensitivity with and without pain in their muscles or joints. We think that dogs with this sort of chronic pain may experience the noise quite differently, because if the noise makes them startle it may cause them to tense their muscles and as consequence they feel pain associated with the noise.

“We found that these dogs which had pain do indeed show different signs, in particular they seem to form much wider associations with the noise, for example they would often tend to avoid not just the place where they had the bad experience but much larger areas too. These dogs also tended to avoid other dogs as well. The findings of this study are really important because they contribute to the dog’s welfare and improved behaviour as pain could be identified and subsequently treated.”

Sit, Stay, Heal: Study finds therapy dogs help stressed university students

Therapy dog sessions for stressed-out students are an increasingly popular offering at North American universities. Now, new research from the University of British Columbia confirms that some doggy one-on-one time really can do the trick of boosting student wellness.

“Therapy dog sessions are becoming more popular on university campuses, but there has been surprisingly little research on how much attending a single drop-in therapy dog session actually helps students,” said Emma Ward-Griffin, the study’s lead author and research assistant in the UBC department of psychology. “Our findings suggest that therapy dog sessions have a measurable, positive effect on the wellbeing of university students, particularly on stress reduction and feelings of negativity.”

In research published today in Stress and Health, researchers surveyed 246 students before and after they spent time in a drop-in therapy dog session. Students were free to pet, cuddle and chat with seven to 12 canine companions during the sessions. They also filled out questionnaires immediately before and after the session, and again about 10 hours later.

The researchers found that participants reported significant reductions in stress as well as increased happiness and energy immediately following the session, compared to a control group of students who did not spend time at a therapy dog session. While feelings of happiness and life satisfaction did not appear to last, some effects did.

“The results were remarkable,” said Stanley Coren, study co-author and professor emeritus of psychology at UBC. “We found that, even 10 hours later, students still reported slightly less negative emotion, feeling more supported, and feeling less stressed, compared to students who did not take part in the therapy dog session.”

While previous research suggested that female students benefit from therapy dog sessions more than male students, the researchers found the benefits were equally distributed across both genders in this study.

Since the strong positive effects of the therapy dog session were short-lived, the researchers concluded that universities should be encouraged to offer them at periods of increased stress.

“These sessions clearly provide benefits for students in the short-term, so we think universities should try to schedule them during particularly stressful times, such as around exam periods,” said Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of psychology at UBC. “Even having therapy dogs around while students are working on their out-of-class assignments could be helpful.”

The therapy dog sessions were organized in partnership with UBC’s Alma Mater Society and Vancouver ecoVillage, a non-profit organization that provides therapeutic services, including therapy dog sessions, and mental health wellness services.

Source:  University of British Columbia press release

 

The importance of “Dog Speak”

Scientists at the University of York have shown that using ‘dog-speak’ to communicate with dogs is important in relationship-building between pet and owner, similar to the way that ‘baby-talk’ is to bonding between a baby and an adult.

dogspeak

Dogs paid more attention to people that used ‘dog-speak’ (photo courtesy of University of York)

Speech interaction experiments between adult dogs and humans showed that this particular type of speech improves dog attention and may help humans to socially bond with their pets.

Previous studies on communicating with dogs had suggested that talking in a high-pitch voice with exaggerated emotion, just as adults do with babies, improved engagement with puppies but made little difference with adult dogs.

Researchers at York tested this theory with new experiments designed to understand more about why humans talk to dogs like this and if it is useful to the dogs in some way or whether humans do this simply because they like to treat dogs in the same way as babies.

Speech register

Dr Katie Slocombe from the University of York’s Department of Psychology, said: “A special speech register, known as infant-directed speech, is thought to aid language acquisition and improve the way a human baby bonds with an adult.  This form of speech is known to share some similarities with the way in which humans talk to their pet dogs, known as dog-directed speech.

“This high-pitched rhythmic speech is common in human interactions with dogs in western cultures, but there isn’t a great deal known about whether it benefits a dog in the same way that it does a baby.

“We wanted to look at this question and see whether social bonding between animals and humans was influenced by the type and content of the communication.”

Unlike previous experiments, the research team positioned real humans in the same room as the dog, rather than broadcasting speech over a loud speaker without a human present.  This made the set-up more naturalistic for the dogs and helped the team test whether dogs not only paid more attention to ‘dog speak’, but were motivated to spend more time with the person who had spoken to them in that way.

Dog-related content

Researchers did a series of speech tests with adult dogs, where they were given the chance to listen to one person using dog-directed speech containing phrases such as ‘you’re a good dog’, and ‘shall we go for a walk?’, and then another person using adult-directed speech with no dog-related content, such as ‘I went to the cinema last night.’.

Attention during the speech was measured, and following the speech, the dogs were allowed to choose which speaker they wanted to physically interact with.

The speakers then mixed dog-directed speech with non-dog-related words and adult-directed speech with dog-related words, to allow the researchers to understand whether it was the high-pitched emotional tone of the speech that dogs were attracted to or the words themselves.

Preferences

Alex Benjamin, PhD student from the University’s Department of Psychology, said: “We found that adult dogs were more likely to want to interact and spend time with the speaker that used dog-directed speech with dog-related content, than they did those that used adult-directed speech with no dog-related content.

“When we mixed-up the two types of speech and content, the dogs showed no preference for one speaker over the other.  This suggests that adult dogs need to hear dog-relevant words spoken in a high-pitched emotional voice in order to find it relevant.

“We hope this research will be useful for pet owners interacting with their dogs, and also for veterinary professionals and rescue workers.”

The research paper, ‘’Who’s a good boy?!’ Dogs prefer naturalistic dog-directed speech, is published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Source:   University of York media release

New – but is it safe and effective?

Look what I found when cleaning out yesterday – in a file of old vet records for Daisy (who passed away in July 2014) – a brochure for Periovac.  With February being Pet Dental Health Month – I thought this blog post was entirely appropriate.

Periovac brochure

Perio-what?

Periovac, marketed by Pfizer with some fanfare in 2006, the vaccine was touted as the latest and greatest thing that dog owners could do to support dental health in their dogs.  On a routine visit to a vet for a lump on Daisy’s side, he handed me this brochure when he noted that she had some tartar buildup recommending both a dental cleaning and vaccination with this product.

“It’s quite new,” he said.

I remember that this statement raised some alarm bells for me because animal medications have a much lower threshold for testing and approvals before they hit the market.  In fact, most pet owners are unaware that the newest medications on the market are often being sold with fairly limited research behind them, often under limited or conditional licenses.

At that time, I was also of the view that dental health in people is managed through dental care such as regular brushing of the teeth and professional cleanings.  I thought that the same would apply to dogs (and still do!).  I couldn’t imagine a vaccine for my dental health – so why one for my dog?

I remember emailing Angell Memorial Animal Hospital’s advice line about use of the product.  The response is one I vividly remember, “Has she tried everything else?”

That answer spoke volumes for me.  I didn’t vaccinate Daisy.

Pfizer withdrew the product from the market in 2011.  They said after a 4-year study, use of the vaccine could not be linked to a long-term reduction in periodontal disease.  The company stood by the product’s safety, however.  I wonder how many dog owners had paid to use the vaccine in good faith – possibly stopping other care methods like brushing of the teeth – I bet they weren’t told that the vaccine turned out to be ineffective!

So my advice for Pet Dental Health Month remains – brush your dog’s teeth.  Everyday.

And my other advice – for dog health in its entirety – is be careful about being an early adopter of new medications.  Make sure you understand how the medication works and what research has been done into both its efficacy and its safety.

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

Pets (not siblings) are a child’s best friend

Children get more satisfaction from relationships with their pets than with their brothers or sisters, according to research from the University of Cambridge. Children also appear to get on even better with their animal companions than with siblings.

Child's best friend

The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental

Matt Cassells

The research adds to increasing evidence that household pets may have a major influence on child development, and could have a positive impact on children’s social skills and emotional well-being.

Pets are almost as common as siblings in western households, although there are relatively few studies on the importance of child-pet relationships.

‘‘Anyone who has loved a childhood pet knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people,” says Matt Cassells, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry, who led the study. “We wanted to know how strong these relationships are with pets relative to other close family ties. Ultimately this may enable us to understand how animals contribute to healthy child development”

This study, published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, was conducted in collaboration with the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, part of Mars Petcare and co-funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of a larger study, led by Prof Claire Hughes at the University of Cambridge Centre for Family Research.

Researchers surveyed 12 year old children from 77 families with one or more pets of any type and more than one child at home. Children reported strong relationships with their pets relative to their siblings, with lower levels of conflict and greater satisfaction in owners of dogs than other kinds of pets.

‘‘Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings,” says Cassels. “The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental.

“While previous research has often found that boys report stronger relationships with their pets than girls do, we actually found the opposite. While boys and girls were equally satisfied with their pets, girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than did boys, perhaps indicating that girls may interact with their pets in more nuanced ways.’’

“Evidence continues to grow showing that pets have positive benefits on human health and community cohesion,” says Dr Nancy Gee, Human-Animal Interaction Research Manager at WALTHAM and a co-author of the study. “The social support that adolescents receive from pets may well support psychological well-being later in life but there is still more to learn about the long term impact of pets on children’s development.”

Reference
​Cassells, M et al. One of the family? Measuring early adolescents’ relationships with pets and siblings. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology; 24 Jan 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2017.01.003

Source:  University of Cambridge media statement

Most dog treats exceed recommended daily energy allowance

Most commercially available dog treats contain a range of undefined ingredients, including sugars, and often exceed the recommended daily energy allowance for treats (‘complementary feed’), warn researchers in the Vet Record.

They say treat labels should be more explicit and provide more detailed information on ingredients and energy content to prevent dogs becoming overweight or obese and at increased risk of conditions like diabetes.Chicken jerky treats for dogs

Dog treats represent the fastest growing segment of the pet food industry. European regulation states that dog treats should be labelled as ‘complementary feed’ and sets out rules for labelling to provide adequate information for consumers.

World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) guidelines also state that daily treat intake should not exceed 10% of a dog’s energy needs (known as maintenance energy requirement or MER).

But little is known about the nutritional value of treats and their impact on the dog’s diet, health and wellness, despite the popularity of such products.

So researchers led by Giada Morelli at the University of Padua in Italy, set out to compare the nutrient composition of different categories of treats and to verify whether daily intake recommendations on the label were in accordance with WSAVA guidelines.

They identified 32 popular dog treats available in pet shops and supermarkets (five biscuits, ten tender treats, three meat-based strips, five rawhides [dry bovine skin], twelve chewable sticks and six dental care sticks).

Products were analysed for levels of minerals, starch, simple sugars (glucose, fructose and sucrose) and the amino acid hydroxyproline (a component of collagen).

They found that three out of four (76%) of treats contained between four to nine ingredients, and that ingredients were not precisely described on the label. For example, biscuits and dental sticks had ‘cereals’ listed as the first ingredient, while tenders, meat strips, rawhides and chewable sticks had ‘meat and animal derivatives’ listed first.

Almost half of products mentioned ‘sugars’ on the label’s ingredient list and all contained varying amounts of minerals.

The most calorically dense treats were biscuits, whereas the least calorically dense were dental sticks. When caloric density was expressed as kcal/treat, rawhides were the most energy-dense products, followed by chewable sticks and dental sticks.

When manufacturers’ feeding instructions (number of treats/day) were followed, on average, biscuits accounted for 16% of MER for dogs of any size; rawhides exceeded 25% MER for small-sized dogs and 18% MER for medium-sized dogs. Chewable sticks surpassed 10% MER for all size dogs, reaching 16.9% MER in small-sized dogs. Only feeding instructions for dental sticks remained below 10% MER for every dog size.

This is the first investigation to categorise dog treats and determine their nutrient profile,” write the authors.

They point to some study limitations, such as the small number of treats that were analysed in each category. Also, these results may not be representative of all products worldwide given the wide number of dog treats available on the market.

Nevertheless, they say their results suggest that treat labelling should include more information on the ingredients used, and that producers should reconsider the feeding instructions they provide on labels, especially for small dogs.

Caution should also be adopted when considering treats for dogs with specific ingredient sensitivities or in dogs with conditions such as heart failure and kidney disease due to their potential high mineral content, they add. Finally, they say future studies should sample a greater number of products to provide more precise data.

Source:  Science Daily media release

Journal reference: Giada Morelli, Eleonora Fusi, Sandro Tenti, Lorenzo Serva, Giorgio Marchesini, Marianne Diez, Rebecca Ricci. Study of ingredients and nutrient composition of commercially available treats for dogs. Veterinary Record, 2017; vetrec-2017-104489 DOI: 10.1136/vr.104489