Category Archives: research

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

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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

Risk of chocolate poisoning in dogs peaks at Christmas, warn experts

Christmas dog

Christmas dog, photo courtesy of the University of Liverpool

Pet owners are being urged to be vigilant this Christmas, as University of Liverpool researchers warn of a “significant peak” in the risk of chocolate poisoning in dogs over the festive period.

Most people know that chocolate can be poisonous to dogs but may not know why. The toxic ingredient is a caffeine-like stimulant called theobromine that can lead to an upset stomach, a racing heartbeat, dehydration, seizures and in the most severe cases death.

In a new study published in the Vet Record, researchers from the University’s Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET) have used electronic health records from UK veterinary practices to analyse cases of chocolate ingestion in dogs.

The findings reveal significant seasonal peaks of chocolate ingestion cases across the year, most notably at Christmas and to a lesser extent at Easter –  as chocolate becomes more accessible within the home.

In most cases the amount of chocolate consumed was quite small, with common festive culprits including selection boxes, chocolate cake, liqueurs, chocolate Santas and advent calendars.

Veterinary researcher Dr P-J Noble who led the study commented: “Dogs love a chocolate treat and at Christmas there are plenty about. Sadly dogs can’t eat chocolate safely so many of them end up making an unplanned visit to the vet, which can disrupt the celebrations.

“People should keep festive chocolates away from pets. If chocolate is consumed, owners should talk to their vet as soon as possible, and ideally be prepared to quantify the amount and type of chocolate consumed. Information on the chocolate packaging may help the vet take the best action. While many cases of chocolate-eating are not at toxic levels, where they are, it is better to see the vet quickly.”

The research, which analysed 386 cases of chocolate ingestion in dogs from 229 UK veterinary practices between 2013 and 2017, also revealed some differences in the seasonal pattern of UK cases compared to other countries. Peaks in similar cases around Valentine’s Day and Halloween that have previously been reported in the USA and Germany were not found in the UK, which the researchers suggest could be due to different festival priorities.

The study also found that chocolate ingestion was significantly less common in older dogs and that no specific breed is more at risk than others.

Dr Noble added: “Big data is allowing us to perform wide scale studies of issues like chocolate exposure. This will help us to understand the influence of age, breed, season and geography on a wide range of different problems.”

New sniffer dog research

A team of scientists has provided the first evidence that dogs can learn to categorise odours and apply this to scents they have never encountered before.

The research reveals how the animals process odour information and is likely to have a profound impact on how we train sniffer dogs.

Sniffer dog research
Training a sniffer dog (photo courtesy of University of Lincoln)

The study, led by researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, and funded by the Office of Naval Research and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global in the US,
found that dogs are able to categorise odours on the basis of their common properties. This means that dogs can behave towards new smells from a category in the same way as smells that they already know.

As humans, we do not have to experience the smell of every fish to know that it smells ‘fishy’; instead we use our previous experience of fish and categorise the new smell in the correct way. The new research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, reveals that dogs can do the same.

Researchers separated dogs into two groups and then trained them to respond to 40 different olfactory stimuli – or smells – half of which were accelerant-based. The dogs in the experimental group were trained (through a reward) to offer a behavioural response, for example “sit”, when they were presented with smells which fit a specific category, but to withhold that response for other non-category stimuli. The remaining dogs were trained on the same stimuli but were not rewarded for the categorical variable.

The researchers found that only the dogs in the category group were able to learn the task. Even more significantly, when presented with completely unknown smells, the dogs were able to place them in the correct category and to remember the odours six weeks later.

The researchers concluded that this means that dogs can apply information from previous experience to novel – or new – scents in order to apply an appropriate response.

Dr Anna Wilkinson from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln said: “As humans, we are very good at assigning different things to different categories; for example, we know something is a chair because there are identifiable aspects such as a flat space to sit on, or four legs. Categorising odours works the same way, and we were keen to discover whether dogs would be able to learn those skills.  

“This was an extremely hard task for the dogs as the odour stimuli varied in strength, so animals were never trained on exactly the same stimulus. As such, it is even more impressive that the experimental group dogs learned and retained the information.

“These findings add substantially to our understanding of how animals process olfactory information and suggest that use of this method may improve performance of working animals.”

The findings have implications in the field of working dog training as it implies that it may be possible to improve the way we train detection dogs.

Source:  University of Lincoln press release

A dog’s life in families with children

Note from DoggyMom:

This research reinforces my advice to families with young children and dogs:  understand your dog’s non-verbal and verbal cues so you can pick up when they are stressed, going over threshold, and need time away from the children.

I have several clients on my books currently who are expecting their first child in 2018; this is a subject that we discuss on a regular basis.


Millions of families know how rewarding and enjoyable dog ownership can be – but now a new study has for the first time examined the quality of life for a pet dog owned by a family with children.

happy dog

Photo courtesy of University of Lincoln

There is now extensive scientific research showing the many benefits that pet dogs bring to families, including improved family functioning and wellbeing for those with children with neuro-developmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ADHD. For all children, dogs can provide valuable companionship, encourage exercise and family activities, and teach them about responsibilities.

Until now, little attention has been paid to how living with children affects quality of life for pet dogs (those not trained as assistance dogs). Funded by Dogs Trust – the UK’s largest dog welfare charity – a team of animal behaviour and welfare specialists from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences are examining this question.

Published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, their latest research involved interviewing parents who own a dog – half with typically developing children and half with children with Autism or ADHD, with all children aged between four and 10 years old.

The research revealed that the child-dog relationship has a number of beneficial aspects for the dog, including a sense of routine, more time for fun and play, and companionship.

Dr Sophie Hall, a Research Fellow specialising in human-animal interactions at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, said: “Our study involved 36 dog-owning families, who all highlighted some key benefits that their pet dogs receive from living with young children.

“For example children provide close companionship for pets as well as imposing a sense of predictable and consistent routine in the home, in terms of feed and walk times, which we know is extremely important for a dog’s wellbeing. Of course, children also play regularly with their pet dogs and activities such as throwing a ball and doing assault courses represent really valuable opportunities for exercise and positive mental stimulation.

“The study also highlighted some potentially negative impacts on the pet, which it is important for parents to be aware of when bringing a dog into a home with children.”

The negative impact could be brought on by children having tantrums, with parents observing their dogs running away, shaking or hiding on some of these occasions. Parents also observed a change in their dog’s behaviour if it became ‘over stimulated’ – such as barking, becoming agitated, or seeking a place to escape – when their children were very noisy.

Other events that could cause potential distress for dogs in homes with children could include rough play or accidents such as collisions with toys or pulling the dog’s tail.

The study suggests that in a home with small children, it is important for dogs to have a ‘safe haven’ to escape to if needed, and for parents to understand both the obvious and more subtle signs of distress in their pets and to teach their family about these signs. For example, pet dogs often have wide eyes or lick their lips when they are mildly stressed.

Dr Hall added: “The positive and negative aspects of the child-dog relationship were similar in families with typically developing children and in those with children with a neuro-developmental disorder.

“As such, providing they are aware of key risk events and how to cope with these, and ensuring adequate supervision, parents should not necessarily be dissuaded from acquiring a pet dog because of their child’s developmental issues. As we know, pet dogs can really enrich family life and support child development and wellbeing.”

The results of this initial study are now being developed further by the team at the University of Lincoln with support from Dogs Trust.

The paper is freely available to view online at PLOS ONE.

Source:  University of Lincoln media release

Dogs get the Hollywood treatment to make animal animations more realistic

Researchers are creating a library of movement data from different dog breeds, to make animal animations in films and video games more realistic.

Hollywood greyhound

Motion data from the dogs will help create more realistic animal animations for games and films

Films such as the Planet of the Apes used motion capture techniques extensively to transform their human actors into apes, however this process doesn’t work well for true four-legged animals.

Now computer scientists from the Centre for Analysis of Motion, Entertainment Research & Applications (CAMERA), at the University of Bath, are looking to automate this process.

Two legs to four

They are developing a new technique that will be able to use the movements of a two-legged human actor to drive a four-legged animal character, to make it move in a more realistic way.

The team has invited canine residents from local neighbours Bath Cats and Dogs Home to their studio to help collect the motion capture data.

Head of Studio at CAMERA, Martin Parsons, said: “At the moment, actors have to walk around on all fours, and the computer software changes them into an animal.

“What we want to do is to look at the movements of the human actor and then use a kind of translator to look at a library of real animal data to make the character on the screen move in a realistic way.

“It works a bit like a puppeteer, with the actor using their whole body to drive the animal avatar.

“We’re really grateful to the Bath Cats and Dogs Home for letting us work with their dogs.

“It is fantastic to be working with an important local charity just down the road from the University and we’re delighted to be making a donation to contribute towards the valuable work they do.”

Hollywood treatment

Cameras on the greyhound

Cameras in the studio detect light reflected from markers worn by the dogs, so researchers can capture the movement accurately

The dogs will be wearing coats with reflective markers fixed onto them. Infrared light hitting the reflective markers is sensed by special cameras that are placed around the edge of the studio, which can then record the 3D position of the marker. This information can be used to reconstruct the movement of the dogs on the computer screen.

The dogs will play on an agility course set up in the studio with their Animal Carers from the Home and an animal behavioural assistant on hand to help them interact, overcome any camera shyness and of course have fun.

Simon Lynn, Head of Animal Operations at Bath Cats and Dogs Home, said: “This is such an innovative project for our dogs and team to be a part of. It will be so beneficial for the dogs taking part as it is great socialisation for them – meeting new people and seeing different sights and sounds.

“Kennel life can become repetitive so we’re always looking at ways to add enrichment to our dog’s lives whilst they’re waiting to be adopted and a trip to the CAMERA team at the University of Bath definitely fits the bill.

“Their carers are with them at all times so we can check they’re relaxed and happy but we’re sure they are going to love it. Not only that but the donation towards Bath Cats and Dogs Home’s work will help these dogs find new homes and help us to save many other unwanted animals in our area.”

They will be using lots of different breeds to study the different gaits of the animals, and hope to expand the project to use cats next year.

As well as informing the research at CAMERA, the data collected during the shoots will be used as part of collaborative research and developments projects with industrial partners to drive the next generation of tools and processes across the visual effects and games industries.

CAMERA is a £5 million research centre funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) at the University of Bath. CAMERA will create advanced motion tracking technologies for use in the entertainment industry, to enhance training and athlete performance, and to help develop assistive technologies.

Source:  University of Bath press release