Category Archives: research

Canine hereditary diseases more common than previously indicated

Comment from me (DoggyMom):  I am particularly pleased to read in this media release that the researchers are recommending cooperation between industry, science and laypersons.  As a canine massage therapist, I have found the traditional ‘evidence-based medicine’ fraternity reluctant to involve specialists in other fields and particularly those that are not research scientists or veterinarians.
It is my hope that we can cooperate more in the future as we undertake research into dog health and behavior because by sharing different points of view and expertise, we develop a richer range of options in problem-solving.
Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Genoscoper Ltd. has published in cooperation with the researchers of University of Helsinki and Pennsylvania (USA) the most comprehensive study on canine hereditary disorders so far. The research brings new information about genetic disorders causing diseases in different dog breeds. The results can be utilized both in dog breeding and veterinary diagnostics. The study was published on PLOS ONE on 15 August 2016.
Dogs have more hereditary diseases than previously thought

Dogs have more hereditary diseases than previously thought. Photo: Eeva Karmitsa

– We noted that surprisingly many canine inherited disorders are actually more widespread than indicated by their original discovery studies, which opens up the door for several future scientific investigations, explains senior author Dr. Hannes Lohi from the University of Helsinki canine genetics research group.

– The technological potential to test a dog for multiple inherited disorders at once has existed for several years. The challenge is to harness that potential for practical use in improved veterinary disease diagnostics, sustainable breeding selections, personalized pet care, and canine genetics research, says lead author Dr. Jonas Donner of Genoscoper Laboratories. Genoscoper Ltd. is a Finnish company specialized in animal genetics and gene testing.

By testing nearly 7000 dogs representing around 230 different breeds for predisposition to almost 100 genetic disorders, the research team observed that 1 in 6 dogs carried at least one of the tested disease predisposing genetic variants in their genome. Moreover, 1 in 6 of the tested genetic variants was also discovered in a dog breed in which it had not previously been reported in the scientific literature. Through clinical follow up of dogs genetically at risk, the research team was able to confirm that several disorders cause the same disease signs also in other than previously described breeds.

– Precisely as we humans, every dog is likely to carry genetic predisposition for some inherited disorder, so we expect these numbers to grow as the numbers of tested disease variants, breeds, and dogs further increase, confirms Dr. Donner.

Co­oper­a­tion is key to health­ier dogs

– Our study demonstrates the importance of collaboration between different contributors – academics, industry and dog fanciers – to reach novel resources that not only enable better understanding of canine genetic health across breeds but also provides viable solutions to improve the health.  The published study provides also an excellent example of the added value of research collaborations between academia and industry in a form that leads to a powerful innovation that start changing the everyday practice in veterinary medicine and improves the welfare of our dogs, says Lohi.

Ge­netic panel screen­ing de­liv­ers res­ults

The study concludes that comprehensive screening for canine inherited disorders represents an efficient and powerful diagnostic and research discovery tool that has a range of applications in veterinary care, disease research, and dog breeding. The authors emphasize that availability of complex DNA-based information is important progress for improvement of the health of purebred dogs, but it should be utilized in combination with other established approaches that promote sustainable breeding and benefit breed health.

The full scientific publication can be accessed here.

Reference:
Donner J, Kaukonen M, Anderson H, Möller F, Kyöstilä K, Sankari S, Hytönen MK, Giger U and Lohi H. Genetic panel screening of nearly 100 mutations reveals new insights into the breed distribution of risk variants for canine hereditary disorders. PlosONE, 1(8): e0161005. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0161005, 2016.

Source:  University of Helsinki media release

Study demonstrates rapid decline in male dog fertility, with potential link to environmental contaminants

A study led by researchers at The University of Nottingham has discovered that the fertility of dogs may have suffered a sharp decline over the past three decades.

The research, published in the academic journal Scientific Reports, found that sperm quality in a population of stud dogs studied over a 26-year period had fallen significantly.

The work has highlighted a potential link to environmental contaminants, after they were able to demonstrate that chemicals found in the sperm and testes of adult dogs – and in some commercially available pet foods – had a detrimental effect on sperm function at the concentrations detected.

Semen study

Researchers believe that the latest results showing that dogs’ quality of semen has diminished may offer a new piece of the puzzle over the reported significant decline in human semen quality. Credit: © jurra8 / Fotolia

As ‘man’s best friend’ and closest companion animal, the researchers believe that the latest results may offer a new piece of the puzzle over the reported significant decline in human semen quality – a controversial subject which scientists continue to debate.

Dr Richard Lea, Reader in Reproductive Biology in the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, who led the research said: “This is the first time that such a decline in male fertility has been reported in the dog and we believe this is due to environmental contaminants, some of which we have detected in dog food and in the sperm and testes of the animals themselves.

“While further research is needed to conclusively demonstrate a link, the dog may indeed be a sentinel for humans – it shares the same environment, exhibits the same range of diseases, many with the same frequency and responds in a similar way to therapies.”

The study centred on samples taken from stud dogs at an assistance dogs breeding centre over the course of 26 years. Professor Gary England, Foundation Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science and Professor of Comparative Veterinary Reproduction, who oversaw the collection of semen said: “The strength of the study is that all samples were processed and analysed by the same laboratory using the same protocols during that time and consequently the data generated is robust.”

The work centred on five specific breeds of dogs – Labrador retriever, golden retriever, curly coat retriever, border collie and German shepherd – with between 42 and 97 dogs studied every year.

Semen was collected from the dogs and analysed to assess the percentage of sperm that showed a normal forward progressive pattern of motility and that appeared normal under a microscope (morphology).

Over the 26 years of the study, they found a striking decrease in the percentage of normal motile sperm. Between 1988 and 1998, sperm motility declined by 2.5 per cent per year and following a short period when stud dogs of compromised fertility were retired from the study, sperm motility from 2002 to 2014 continued to decline at a rate of 1.2% per year.

In addition, the team discovered that the male pups generated from the stud dogs with declining semen quality, had an increased incidence of cryptorchidism, a condition in which the testes of pups fail to correctly descend into the scrotum.

Sperm collected from the same breeding population of dogs, and testes recovered from dogs undergoing routine castration, were found to contain environmental contaminants at concentrations able to disrupt sperm motility and viability when tested.

The same chemicals that disrupted sperm quality, were also discovered in a range of commercially available dog foods – including brands specifically marketed for puppies.

Dr Lea added: “We looked at other factors which may also play a part, for example, some genetic conditions do have an impact on fertility. However, we discounted that because 26 years is simply too rapid a decline to be associated with a genetic problem.”

Over the past 70 years, studies have suggested a significant decline in human semen quality and a cluster of issues called ‘testicular dysgenesis syndrome’ that impact on male fertility which also include increased incidence of testicular cancer, the birth defect hypospadias and undescended testes.

However, declining human semen quality remains a controversial issue – many have criticised the variability of the data of the studies on the basis of changes in laboratory methods, training of laboratory personnel and improved quality control over the years.

Dr Lea added: “The Nottingham study presents a unique set of reliable data from a controlled population which is free from these factors. This raises the tantalising prospect that the decline in canine semen quality has an environmental cause and begs the question whether a similar effect could also be observed in human male fertility.”

Source:  University of Nottingham media release

The dogs of the In Situ Foundation

The In Situ Foundation based in Chico, California, has spent the last 12 years developing scientific protocols that are needed to train cancer detection dogs and their handlers.  In collaboration with top research universities including Duke and UC Davis, they rescue dogs and train them to sniff out specific cancers.  All training is reward based.

What I particularly like about this registered charitable foundation is their mission to use rescue dogs “Our mission is to use shelter/rescue dogs whenever possible. We adopt dogs and give them loving homes, so what could have been a dog on death row, is now being trained to save human lives. All dogs are “super sniffers”, so we do not believe in breeding them, or creating a “super sniffer” breed.”

The dogs of In Situ live in residential homes with their adoptive families.  Their day jobs are to go to work at the Foundation.

Here are the current dogs in the In Situ team:

Stewie

Stewie is a 5 year-old, female, Australian Shepherd. She has been one of In Situ’s best dogs, and has been trained to detect early stage lung, ovarian, and breast cancer. She was one of our star dogs in a 2012 ovarian cancer study, and she is also on Duke University’s canine team for breast cancer. Stewie has also competed in agility, obedience, and is a certified therapy dog with Pet Partners and LA Children’s Hospital, where she visits sick children. Stewie was nominated for the 2015 American Hero Dog Award, given by the American Humane Association. Stewie is a beautiful, loving, smart and talented dog, who loves her work more than anything, except the frisbee.

Leo

Leo is a 2 year-old, male German Shepherd, that In Situ Foundation adopted from Westside German Shepherd Rescue. Leo was on death row, and he was scheduled to be euthanized. He is a wonderful, loving, friendly and well-trained dog, and he’s very valuable to In Situ’s team. Leo is on the team of dogs working in conjunction with Duke University on a two-phase, breast cancer trial.
Charlie

Charlie is the newest addition to the team.  She is a six week-old German Shepherd from champion lines (from Nadulhaus German Shepherds) and will be one of the first dogs in the world trained on upper thoracic (head, neck and throat) cancer, using saliva samples. After 12 to 18 months of training with In Situ Foundation, she will be owned and loved by Dr. Peter Belafsky (University of California, Davis) and will work with him to sniff samples in clinical trails, which will help advance protocols to detect cancer at its earliest stages through olfaction.

Linus
Linus is a 3 year-old male German Shepherd who was also on death row, and adopted by In Situ Foundation. He was returned to the shelter three times by his previous owner. When he came to our ranch and got his first “job”, it literally transformed Linus’s life. Linus went from a small “jail cell” to a life of love and play. He’s happy, balanced, and well adjusted, and he’s the most loving boy around! Linus loves his work, and he’s a gem on our cancer detection team. Linus also works on the Duke team of breast cancer detection dogs.
alfie
Alfie is another new addition to the In Situ team. He will be owned and loved by Dr. Hilary Brodie, Chair of Otolaryngolgy at University of California, Davis. Alfie is a Labradoodle (Lab/Poodle hybrid) who will also be trained to detect upper thoracic cancers, and he will be working toward advancing bio-detection by canines at UC Davis.
Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Scientists warn about health of English Bulldog

According to new research it could be difficult to improve the health of the English bulldog, one of the world’s unhealthiest dog breeds, from within its existing gene pool. The findings will be published in the open access journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology.

The English bulldog’s limited genetic diversity could minimize the ability of breeders to recreate healthy phenotypes from the existing genetic stock, which were created by human-directed selection for specific desired physical traits.

English Bulldog

Many large regions of the bulldog’s genome have been altered to attain the extreme changes in its outward appearance. This includes significant loss of genetic diversity in the region of the genome that contains many of the genes that regulate normal immune responses. Despite this, the English bulldog is one of the most popular dog breeds, particularly in the US, where the bulldog was the fourth most popular pure breed in 2015.

Lead author, Niels Pedersen from Center for Companion Animal Health, University of California, US, said: “The English bulldog has reached the point where popularity can no longer excuse the health problems that the average bulldog endures in its often brief lifetime. More people seemed to be enamoured with its appearance than concerned about its health. Improving health through genetic manipulations presumes that enough diversity still exists to improve the breed from within, and if not, to add diversity by outcrossing to other breeds. We found that little genetic ‘wiggle room’ still exists in the breed to make additional genetic changes.”

Pedersen adds: “These changes have occurred over hundreds of years but have become particularly rapid over the last few decades. Breeders are managing the little diversity that still exists in the best possible manner, but there are still many individuals sired from highly inbred parents. Unfortunately eliminating all the mutations may not solve the problem as this would further reduce genetic diversity. We would also question whether further modifications, such as rapidly introducing new rare coat colors, making the body smaller and more compact and adding more wrinkles in the coat, could improve the bulldog’s already fragile genetic diversity.”

This is the first broad-based assessment of genetic diversity in the English bulldog using DNA analysis rather than pedigrees. DNA analysis is needed to measure, monitor and maintain genetic diversity. This has been done in several other breeds including Standard and Miniature Poodles, American Golden Retrievers, and American and European Italian Greyhound.

The researchers sought to identify whether there is enough genetic diversity still existing within the breed to undertake significant improvements from within the existing gene pool. The researchers examined 102 English bulldogs, 87 dogs from the US and 15 dogs from other countries. These were genetically compared with an additional 37 English bulldogs presented to the US Davis Veterinary Clinical Services for health problems, to determine that the genetic problems of the English bulldogs were not the fault of commercial breeders or puppy mills.

Many Swiss breeders have started to outcross the breed with the Olde English Bulldogge (an American breed) to create the Continental Bulldog, hoping to improve the breed’s health. Although outcrossing the English bulldog could improve its health, many breeders feel that any deviations from the original standard will no longer be an English bulldog.

The breed started from a relatively small genetic base with a founder population of 68 individuals after 1835 and has undergone a number of human created artificial bottlenecks (drastic reductions in population size). These could also have greatly diminished genetic diversity.

Source:  BioMed Central media release

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