Category Archives: research

High meat diets – a NZ study

An independent study from New Zealand has found that a high meat diet is easier for dogs to digest, meaning more nutrients are able to be absorbed, resulting in higher levels of bacteria associated with protein and fat digestion.

The study found:

  • High meat diets are more digestible for dogs
  • More nutrients from a high meat diet are able to be absorbed
  • Dogs on a high meat diet had higher levels of the bacteria associated with protein and fat digestion
  • Dogs on a high meat diet had smaller poo and better fecal health

The research paper ‘Key bacterial families (Clostridiaceae, Erysipelotrichaceae and Bacteroidaceae) are related to the digestion of protein and energy in the dog’ is accessible here.

With Government funding and funding from the NZ Premium Petfood Alliance, which is a collaboration between Bombay Petfoods, K9 Natural and ZiwiPeak, the research is being undertaken at AgResearch and Massey University.

“To date there has been hardly any published research, so this study is a significant contribution to the international animal nutrition field. A lot of diets on the market have been designed to ensure a dog survives, but this research shows that high meat diet is the best to help a dog thrive,” said New Zealand Premium Petfood Alliance spokesperson Neil Hinton.

Another study, about cat diets, is underway.

Source:  Beehive.govt.nz media release and AgResearch media release

Perspectives on dog walking

Rather than there being a one-way flow of power where the human is dominant, the dog walk is where humans and dogs negotiate power within their relationship. This new study highlights a delicate balance between ‘listening’ to what a dog wants and needs from a walk and acting out a human’s own dispositions and interpretations of what is best for themselves, their dog and others within the communal space.

off-lead-dog-walking

The study was led by Dr Thomas Fletcher, Senior Lecturer and Researcher within the Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure at Leeds Beckett University with Dr Louise Platt, Senior Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Twelve people in Northern England, between the ages of 28 and 66 and who walk with dogs, took part in in-depth interviews as part of the research. The aim of the study was to examine how humans share spaces with their animal counterparts, and how walking experiences with animal companions are negotiated.

Respondents were asked to broadly discuss their dog’s personality, what their dogs meant to them and how their relationships with their dogs had developed and been negotiated. Respondents were asked to reflect on what walking meant, how it featured in their lives, how it was experienced and how they attempted to understand the relationship between themselves and their dog.

Dr Fletcher explained: “The study reveals that humans walk their dogs in large part because they feel a deep-rooted emotional bond with them and hold a strong sense of obligation to ensure they stay fit and healthy. Perhaps more interestingly, humans also walk their dogs because they believe their dogs have fun and are able to be more ‘dog-like’ while out on a walk.

“We found that it was whilst out on the walk that many respondents felt their relationship with their animal was most strongly enacted outside the confines of the domestic setting. This sense of humans ceding authority and providing the freedom and space for their dogs to enact their ‘dog-ness’ was important to the respondents.”

With 40% of UK households being home to a domestic pet and 8.5 million dogs living in UK homes (source: Pet Food Manufacturers Association, 2016), the average person walks with their dog for eight hours and 54 minutes a week, covering 36 miles (source: Esure Pet Insurance, 2011). The new research shows that a dog walk is a partnership, involving co-knowing and anticipatory knowledge, all of which is negotiated (and, to a degree, managed) by human walkers.

The study found that dog walkers commonly thought of the walk as something they did for their dog. Each respondent believed that dogs possess their own unique personality, likes and dislikes.

Dr Fletcher said: “In most cases, characteristics of the walk such as timing, length and place, were determined by their dog’s personality and what they, as humans, thought the dogs liked and disliked the most.”

Also important were ideas of caregiving and responsibility, and of walking being good for a dog’s health and wellbeing. Whilst walking patterns varied significantly, there was consensus that around 30 minutes twice a day was acceptable.

Whilst previous research suggests that the dog walk is seen as a human obligation, or even a chore, the new study found that, in most cases, this sense of obligation was actually overshadowed by the respondents’ want to walk, based on a desire to see their dogs having fun.

Dr Fletcher explained: “The walk was seen as an invaluable opportunity for dogs ‘to be dogs’. There was widespread belief that dogs are happiest when out in the open, and it is here that they are able to best demonstrate their ‘dog-ness’. This was important because, despite the respondents acknowledging that their dogs had been domesticated, they also took pleasure from seeing them behave ‘like dogs’.”

One respondent articulated this by saying: “One of the biggest joys for us is when one of us stands at one part of the field and the other; and he just runs. And we’ve managed to time him. He does 30 miles an hour. And he looks like a cheetah, he looks like a wild animal. And it just makes your heart, I mean, I feel a physical change in my body when I watch him run, which has never been created by anything else, really.”

Some respondents discussed modifying their walks as a result of anticipating their companion’s behaviour, which highlighted the tension between human authority and animal submission. For example, one walker generally kept his dog on a lead due to a perception of that breed being ‘poachers’. This walker feared if, let loose, his dog would kill rabbits and other small animals.

Dr Fletcher commented: “The dog’s ability to run free was often curtailed by her ‘other’ instincts and the human interpretation of these. In the case of the respondent highlighted above, whilst his intention was undeniably good, it does raise a number of questions about the ethics of domesticating animals to suit human needs.”

Similarly, respondents tended to frame their commitment to their dogs’ wellbeing and fun in terms of allowing them to behave in certain ways.

Dr Fletcher continued: “In spite of this, respondents did attempt to ‘listen’ to their companions and wanted to please them. They acknowledged and appreciated the ‘beastly’ nature of dogs in needing the freedom to explore and do their own thing independently. However, this ‘listening’ relies on humans imposing their own interpretations onto animals and their actions.”

Whilst dog walking is commonly thought of as a social activity, the researchers found that most of the respondents preferred to walk alone and some actively avoided interacting with other walkers. One noted that a culture of judgement existed in her dog walking community, where people known to walk their dogs less regularly were actively excluded.

Dr Fletcher said: “Respondents acknowledged the problematic nature of human and dog interaction, with some discussing how the spaces chosen for walks were selected purposefully to ensure a relatively straightforward (and pleasurable) experience is maintained for both dog and walker. Some respondents chose to walk routes they knew would be quiet. They did this for two reasons. Firstly, they did not want to socialise with other humans (or their dogs); and secondly, some believed their walk would be easier and less stressful if their route was human and dog-free.”

One participant commented: “Sometimes I have had to apologise for no reason, like even when my dog hasn’t done anything wrong. Just sometimes you get children who are scared of dogs and they would run away and have a little cry, even though he hasn’t gone anywhere near them. You just say “sorry”. I suppose it is just another etiquette thing really.”

Dr Fletcher said: “Walking with dogs represents a potentially important cultural space for making sense of human-animal relations. Our research has shown how the personalities of both dog and walker can shape not only walking practices, but also the human-animal bond.”

The researchers feel that future research in order to understand how humans attempt to fulfil the needs and wants of their dogs (and other animal companions), is vital.

Dr Fletcher added: “Moving forward, we would like to see research taking place that can capture the ‘beastly’ nature of animals, allowing them to act without human interference. Technology, such as ‘dog-cams’ and GPS, has great potential for furthering our understanding of the world of dogs beyond their relationships with human companions.”

Source:  Leeds Beckett University

Scat sniffer dogs help tell the story of endangered lizards

Dogs can be trained to find almost anything (people, drugs, weapons, poached ivory) but one York University researcher had them detect something a little unusual – the scat of endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizards.

The scat detection dogs helped biology PhD student Alex Filazzola discover not only scat, but the importance of shrubs in preserving lizard populations in the face of climate change.

“The loss of these lizards would likely have a cascade effect on other species,” said Filazzola, the study lead.

The research team geo-tagged 700 Ephedra californica shrubs in a 32.3-hectare area of the Panoche Hills Management Area in San Joaquin Valley, California. They then took two scat detection dogs from Working Dogs for Conservation on the hunt for lizard scat in 2013 and 2014.

In 2014, there was a drought during which time lizard scat was found more frequently under shrubs, especially those with dense canopy cover, than out in the open. The shrubs proved instrumental in providing critical micro-environments for the blunt-nosed leopard lizards, in particular, shady places to regulate their body temperature in extreme heat, as well as refuge from predators. The lizards use rodent burrows, most often found under shrubs, to escape predators.

“As the climate warms and lizards find it more difficult to regulate their body temperatures in the heat, these findings could help preserve them not only in California, but globally,” said Filazzola of York U’s Faculty of Science. “It demonstrates how much animals rely on plants for survival that goes beyond that of simply eating them. Positive plant-animal interactions could further support animal populations that are already threatened.”

The research, “Non-trophic interactions in deserts: Facilitation, interference, and an endangered lizard species,” was published in the journal Basic and Applied Ecology.

Once abundant in the San Joaquin Valley, agriculture and industrialization has reduced the lizards’ range by close to 85 per cent. Predictions of increased drought in the area put the lizards at a high risk of being wiped out. The study also pointed out that management techniques used over the past 50 years have done little to change the endangered status of the lizards.

“Planting shrubs, such as the Ephedra californica, could prove critical in managing and preserving endangered species in high-stress or arid ecosystems, such as a desert,” said Filazzola. “Continuing to remove these shrubs to install solar panels, however, further endangers this species.”

In addition, the study found that invasive grasses in the desert were not beneficial. They interfered with the lizards’ ability to move around and limited available habitat by reducing the variety of rodent species which create burrows. The invasive grasses also competed for space with shrubs and caused diminished shrub growth. Managing invasive plant species is therefore crucial in these ecosystems.

The research was funded by the Central Coast Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and York University.

Source: York University media release

New hope for diagnosis of Chiari-malformation in toy dog breeds

Continuing to build on their specialist work in this area, researchers in collaboration with neurologists at Fitzpatrick Referrals and Helsinki University and a geneticist at the University of Montreal, have developed two separate studies, published the journal PLOS ONE last month, to learn more about these painful conditions affecting toy dogs.

Study one focused on how the Chiari malformation and Syringomyelia disorder affects the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a breed which is predisposed to the condition.

ckc-spaniels

Chiari malformation is the premature fusion of bones in the skull, which alters the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, resulting in a collection of fluid pockets within the spinal cord. These fluid pockets are commonly known as Syringomyelia and over time can cause irreversible damage to a dog’s spinal cord.

Using a novel MRI mapping technique, which can standardise images for different size dogs, researchers were able to examine a section of the dog’s skull, brain and vertebrae in greater detail and highlight via a movie clip how such disorders develop in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Examining the footage from the MRI movie clip, researchers were able to observe the compression of a dog’s brain caused by the premature fusion of bones in the skull. Such fusions also occur at the front of the head causing a dog’s face to become flatter, creating the often desirable doll like features common in this breed.

Study two examined characteristics that increased the risk of Syringomyelia in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua and the Affenpinscher dog breeds. Using a similar technique to study one, the study found that skull and neck conformation that increased the risk for Syringomyelia associated with Chiari-like malformation were subtly different between breeds.

Researchers found that Syringomyelia-affected Chihuahua’s tended to have a smaller angle between the base of the skull and the first and second neck vertebrae, whereas the Affenpinshers had a smaller distance between the first and second vertebrae. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels had reduced space between the joint on the skull base and the first cervical vertebrae. All breeds had a reduced hind skull which altered the angulation of the skull base with neighbouring bones in affected dogs and observed in the movie clips.

Dr Clare Rusbridge, from the University of Surrey, said: “Toy dogs are increasingly popular and as such demand for these breeds is unprecedented. Due to selection for rounded head shapes with short muzzles we are seeing more and more dogs with the painful Chiari malformation and Syringomyelia disorder.”

“The innovative mapping technique used in this study has the potential to provide a diagnostic tool for vets, helping them to quickly identify dogs suffering from these painful disorders.”

Source:  University of Surrey media release

My other posts on toy breeds and the Chiari malformation include:

Study Shows How a Dog’s Diet Shapes Its Gut Microbiome

Studies of the gut microbiome have gone to the dogs — and pets around the world could benefit as a result.

In a  paper published in the journal mBio, researchers from Nestle Purina PetCare Company report that the ratio of proteins and carbohydrates in a canine’s daily diet have a significant influence on the balance of microbes in its gut. Among other findings, they observed that dogs fed a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet had decreases in the ratio of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes bacteria, as well as enriched microbial gene networks associated with weight loss in humans. The microbial responses were more pronounced in obese and overweight dogs than in dogs of a healthy weight.

microbiome-dog

The researchers say their study may help identify new microbiology-inspired strategies for managing pet obesity, which is  a growing problem. More than half of pet dogs in the United States are overweight or obese, according to the most recent annual survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. A comparison of that data with previous surveys suggests that obesity in dogs, as in people, is getting worse.

“We do believe dogs have become heavier over the last decade, and that it’s an epidemic,” says Johnny Li, a computational biologist at Nestle Purina, in St. Louis, Missouri, who led the new study. Li says he launched the study because only a handful of previous studies have explored the gut microbiome of canines, and the effect of diet on gut microbes hasn’t been well documented.

Studies on animals are lacking, but human studies have connected microbial imbalance in the gut to a variety of conditions, including obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, immune disorders, and liver and brain diseases.

Li and his team studied 32 Labrador Retrievers and 32 Beagles, with equal numbers of lean and overweight or obese dogs. During the first four weeks, all the dogs were fed the same baseline diet. During the second four weeks, half the dogs received a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet; the other half received a high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet.

Fecal microbiome studies conducted after the first four weeks revealed few differences in the gut microbiomes of the dogs. Studies conducted after the second four weeks, after the dogs had eaten an experimental diet, showed dramatic changes in the microbiome. Dogs that ate a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet had higher abundances of Bacteroides uniformis and Clostridium butyricum.

In dogs that ate a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, the researchers observed a decrease in the ratio of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes bacteria. They also reported that abundances of Clostridium hiranonis, Clostridium perfringens, and Ruminococcus gnavus were more than double the abundances observed in the other experimental group.

Li says the effects of diet on the microbiome were more pronounced in obese and overweight dogs than in lean dogs. “That seems to suggest that obese dogs and overweight dogs are more susceptible to dietary intervention,” he says. A different diet for those animals may have a greater impact on the bacterial balance in their guts.

The study involved only two breeds, but Li says the findings are likely applicable to all dog breeds, “though we need more studies on other breeds in the future to be sure.”

Li says his team’s study provides a framework to explore the connection between diet and gut microbes in dogs. Although the findings are preliminary, he says he hopes to see the research eventually translate into real-world ways to modify pet food, perhaps through the strategic use of probiotics or prebiotics, and reduce the obesity epidemic.

View the paper Effects of the Dietary Protein and Carbohydrate Ratio on Gut Microbiomes in Dogs of Different Body Conditions

Source:  American Society of Microbiology press release

 

Building a dog wheelchair

During the fall semester, three College of Engineering students working as on-campus co-ops at New Mexico State University designed and built a wheelchair device to assist a dog who had his right hind leg amputated due to cancer.

“When I started to research mobility options to help Kita after his amputation to remove bone cancer, there were a lot of ideas online about using 3-D printers to create custom dog wheelchairs or walkers,” owner Michelle Lebsock said. “Even in his old age, Kita is the type of dog who absolutely loves walks, and although he healed well and adjusted to getting around on three legs, he would get tired very quickly and I could tell he really missed his long walks.”

After realizing regular pet wheelchairs wouldn’t work for Kita, Lebsock contacted the Aggie Innovation Space for advice on do-it-yourself dog wheelchair instructions she had found online.

“I first spoke to Natalia, and instead of just offering advice she took on the project as her own,” Lebsock said. “The talented engineering students at the AIS including Natalia, Abdiel and Arturo worked all semester to create a functional and ergonomic device that was custom-built for Kita. Even though the idea of 3-D printing brought me to the lab, the final product used traditional materials, and the students worked tirelessly to make sure each piece was exactly right. Their work has made one little three-legged dog and his owner very happy.”

Kita dog with wheelchair and students who designed it

New Mexico State University College of Engineering students and Aggie Innovation Space mentors (from left to right) Natalia Perez, Abdiel Jimenez and Arturo Dominguez designed and developed a wheelchair for Kita and his owner Michelle Lebsock. Kita’s right hind leg was amputated due to cancer in spring 2016.

“The AIS team became very passionate about this project sharing ideas, collaborating to assess specific constraints and requirements, and evaluating ideas for build-out materials. Collectively, we were able to design a device that was cost effective, functional, comfortable, strong enough to support the weight of the dog, and ultimately, easy to use,” Jimenez said. “We selected specific materials and specific design features to meet the unique needs of Kita. Michelle was kind enough to give us feedback, which allowed us to further refine the design.”

Throughout the fall, Perez, Jimenez and Dominguez met with Kita and Lebsock many times to determine the correct height, comfort, and restraint requirements of the device. Ease of assembly and disassembly were also important factors the Aggie Innovators had to consider to ensure the device was portable and easy to use.

“We were excited to have met a functional level of comfort for Kita with our first design, as he realized he could move around freely,” Dominguez said. “From there, we studied and evaluated Kita’s movement in the device, which allowed us to adjust the design to make it more comfortable and functional. With each iteration, Kita became more and more comfortable. During our final test, Kita was able to run for the first time since surgery and was able to move much more naturally. We then spent a week enhancing a few aesthetic features and branded it NMSU, including a specialized 3-D printed name plate.”

Kita dog in special wheelchair

Arturo Dominguez, a New Mexico State University College of Engineering student, fits nearly 17-year-old Kita with a wheelchair that was designed and built in the Aggie Innovation Space.

Dominguez said the group faced many design challenges throughout the duration of this project.

“Some of our initial design considerations required us to adjust the height of the device while ensuring that we provided adequate support of the shoulders and hips so as to minimize weight on pressure points,” Dominguez said. “As we adjusted the saddle mechanism in the device, we had to be sure not to pinch or irritate the underbelly and other sensitive areas of the dog.”

Perez said the challenges and hours spent working on this project was worth it when she and her fellow Aggie Innovators saw Kita run freely in the device and saw the happiness expressed in Lebsock’s reaction.

“This project reminded us how engineers can enhance quality of life, and made us realize that our duty as engineers is not just for people and the environment but for our furry friends that make our lives happier,” Perez said.

Source:  New Mexico State University media release

Dog-directed speech is more effective with puppies

 A small team of researchers from the U.S., the U.K. and France has found that puppies are more receptive to dog-directed speech than are adult dogs.
In their paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers describe experiments they conducted recording human voices and playing them back to dogs, what they found, and what it might mean for human communications.
dog

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Most everyone has heard dog-directed speech, which is similar to speech patterns some use when talking to infants—the voice gets higher, the words come out slower and there is a sort of sing-song phrasing.  (i.e. baby talk) Some of the phrases are familiar as well, such as “Who’s a good boy?” In this new effort, the researchers looked into the use of dog-directed speech seeking to learn if there might be any modulating factors in its use.

The experiments consisted of asking 30 female human volunteers to look at pictures of dogs while reading a script consisting of typical dog-directed speech phrases into a microphone to make recordings. The recordings were then played to 10 puppies and 10 adult dogs at an animal shelter as the researchers watched and recorded their reactions.

The researchers report that the volunteers tended to raise their voices in ways similar to people speaking to human infants regardless of the age of the dog they were looking at, though it was noted that the voices were raised slightly higher for puppies than for adult dogs. They also report that at the animal shelter, the puppies responded very clearly to the voices coming from the speakers, acting as if they wanted to play. The adult dogs, on the other hand, after a quick investigation, ignored the recordings altogether.

The researchers were not able to explain why the humans spoke in dog-directed speech or why the puppies responded to it while the adult dogs did not, but suggest that humans likely respond to puppies in much the same way they respond to babies—and babies have been shown to respond more to baby-directed speech. As for why the older dogs were not interested, it might have been the case that they were simply older and wiser—they could see very clearly there was no human present speaking to them, so they chose to ignore whatever was being said.

(DoggyMom’s comment:  Smart dogs!)

Source:  Phys.org

Full journal reference:

  1. Tobey Ben-Aderet, Mario Gallego-Abenza, David Reby, Nicolas Mathevon. Dog-directed speech: why do we use it and do dogs pay attention to it? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2017; 284 (1846): 20162429 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2429