Category Archives: research

Cortisol in shelter dog hair shows signs of stress

In the Netherlands, thousands of dogs stay in a shelter every year. Despite the good care, a shelter can be a stressful environment for dogs. Researchers at Utrecht University investigated if the amount of the hormone cortisol in hair indicates the levels of stress that dogs experience before, during and after their stay in the shelter.

There is no difference between the cortisol levels of dogs when they enter the shelter and the control group of domestic dogs. After six weeks in the shelter, cortisol levels in the hair appear to have increased by one-third (on average from 16 pg/mg to 21.8 pg/mg). In measurements six weeks and six months after adoption, cortisol levels lowered, moving in the direction of the values at admission to the shelter. The results were published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports on 21 April 2022.

Cortisol in hair

The stress hormone cortisol accumulates in hair, in humans but also in animals. By measuring cortisol levels in hair, researchers can get an idea of the stress response and recovery over weeks or months – depending on the length of the hair examined. This technique has been used extensively in humans and other species, and some fifteen scientific studies have been carried out in dogs so far.

“In addition to the cortisol measurements in hair, we also measured cortisol values in the dogs’ urine. This gives a short-term picture while the hair measurements show the long term”, researcher Janneke van der Laan explains.

To the shelter every day

The researchers examined hair of 52 shelter dogs at four moments: just before admission, after six weeks in the shelter, six weeks after adoption and six months after adoption. They compared the cortisol values before admission with those of twenty domestic dogs, which were similar in terms of breed, age and sex. 

Van der Laan: “We took daily measurements in the shelter for over a year. After adoption, the new owners – after clear instructions – cut the dogs hair and sent it to us. They were helpful and enthusiastic, and were very interested in what their dog had experienced before adoption.” 
 

For the cortisol measurements, hair from the same location on the body was used every time. The researchers shaved the area and allowed new hair to grow during the period in which they wanted to measure the stress hormones. This is called a ‘shave-reshave method’. 

More cortisol in small dogs

A surprising result is that smaller dogs generally have higher cortisol levels than larger dogs. “We have also seen this pattern in previous studies, for example in a study on the resting pattern of shelter dogs. We don’t have a clear hypothesis about why that is, but it is interesting and is an area of focus for future research.”

Well-being in shelter

All the examined shelter dogs were in the same shelter, the largest in the Netherlands. Of course there are significant differences between shelters, not only within the Netherlands but also internationally. In The Netherlands, dogs are usually kept individually, while in other countries they are often kept in groups. 

“We know that a shelter is not a stress-free environment for dogs, even though staff members do their best to achieve the highest possible welfare,” Van der Laan says. “Even if you organise a shelter in the best possible way, there are still stress factors, such as crowds of other dogs and not being able to go outside as often as usual. And most important: the dog is gone from their old, familiar environment.”

The shelter in this study has a pioneering role in improving the welfare of dogs: they use glass walls instead of bars to reduce noise pollution for the dogs, for example. “The fact that we measured an increased amount of cortisol even in this shelter, suggests that this will also be the case in other shelters,” Van Der Laan said.

Source: Utrecht University

DCM Report: Incidence Rate Shows No Correlation to Grain-Free Growth

Veterinarians and scientists from BSM Partners, the largest pet care research and consulting firm, and the University of Missouri, published an analysis of a retrospective survey that evaluated the annual incidence of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) diagnosed by veterinary cardiologists across the United States, along with previously unknown information regarding the growth of grain-free pet food store sales.

The peer-reviewed article, which appears in Frontiers in Animal Science, includes data that did not indicate a significant increase nationally in DCM incidence over time, from 2000 to 2019, while grain-free pet food store sales grew 500 percent between 2011 and 2019. Researchers also found no significant correlation between the national DCM incidence rate in relation to the grain-free pet food sales.

Researchers received information on more than 68,000 total canine cardiology cases from veterinary cardiology referral hospitals, diagnosed between 2000 and 2019. The average incidence rate of DCM, amongst these referral cases seen in participating hospitals during the survey period, was 3.9 percent (range 2.53-5.65 percent). They also analyzed data regarding grain-free pet food store sales provided by the Nielsen Company, which showed a 500 percent increase in sales from 2011 to 2019.

“Based on the data we received from veterinary cardiologists across the United States, we did not observe a significant increase in DCM incidence rate over time, which included the recent period when grain-free pet food sales grew exponentially,” said Dr. Stephanie Clark, PhD, CVT, PAS, CFS, Dpl. ACAS of BSM Partners, an article co-author and a board-certified companion animal nutritionist. “The existing scientific literature indicates that nutritional factors can lead to the development of DCM, but we did not find a correlation in the DCM incidence rate to grain-free pet food sales.”

Dr. Stacey Leach DVM, DACVIM, an article co-author, and Chief of Cardiology and Associate Teaching Professor of Cardiology at the University of Missouri’s Veterinary Health Center, noted the following: “This work is unique because we only examined cases of canine DCM diagnosed by veterinary cardiologists and is a significant addition to our understanding of DCM.”

BSM Partners is the largest full-service pet care research, consulting and strategy-to-shelf product innovation firm. BSM Partners’ research professionals collaborate with hundreds of clients ranging from the largest companies to the smallest upstart companies to formulate, review and advise on the development of hundreds of new products each year, including grain-free and grain-inclusive dog foods, treats, and supplements.

Read the journal article here.

Source: Pet Age

Dogs can get a canine form of dementia — and it is very similar to the human version

If you have ever been close with a dog, the chances are that you have wondered what your canine companion might be thinking. As time goes on and your relationship grows — whether as a primary owner, a family member or an occasional visitor — you will probably ask yourself if the dog remembers you. Like our human friends and family, we would like to think that, even if we are not in the room, dogs still think about us.

Beagle Lies On The Floor In The House (Getty Images / Aleksandr Pobeda / EyeEm)

Scientists agree dogs are intelligent, emotional and capable of forming lasting relationships with humans. While there is robust debate about the extent to which this is true, animals like Bunny the “talking” sheepadoodle are able to communicate in such a sophisticated manner that they will even discuss their dreams.

The bad news is that, just like humans, dogs can develop degenerative nerve diseases which damage their minds. One illness in particular has a direct analogue in dogs: Alzheimer’s disease. Dogs, sadly, can develop a similar condition — and tragically, that might mean that your dog could suffer some of the same sad Alzheimer’s-like conditions, such as forgetting its close family, in its final days.

“Canine Cognitive Dysfunction [CCD] mirrors two key components of Alzheimer’s disease in humans,” Dr. Silvan Urfer of the Dog Aging Project and the University of Washington told Salon by email. It comes down to a peptide and a protein that will suddenly accumulate in your brain: Amyloid-beta 42 and hyperphosphorylated Tau (pTau). “While there are likely a few differences regarding the details of pTau pathology in particular, it is fair to say that CCD is the dog analog of Alzheimer’s Disease,” Urfer noted.

Dr. Elizabeth Head, a professor in the Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine at the University of California, Irvine, told Salon in writing that in addition to developing these beta-amyloid plaques — one of the hallmark features of Alzheimer disease — the dogs also suffer like humans, in that neurons die. The synapses, or connections between neurons, are lost, and these are observed in humans who as they age suffer from cognitive decline.

“From a psychological perspective dogs may show signs of disrupted sleep patterns (e.g. up pacing at night), more vocalizing, [being unable to] remember how to signal to go out and may have trouble recognizing family members,” Head explained. “This can lead to more anxiety. From a physical perspective, there may be more episodes of incontinence but oftentimes other physical problems are ruled out with the CCD diagnosis (e.g. deafness, blindness, systemic illness).”

Indeed, the similarities between CCD and human dementia are so striking that researchers believe man’s best friend could actually help him find a cure for the debilitating ailment. There is a nationwide study known as The Dog Aging Project — which was launched by Cornell University, the University of Washington and the University of Arizona and funded by the National Institute on Aging — which exists precisely because scientists are intrigued by those similarities. They believe that learning more about how to help dogs with the condition can, in the process, provide research data that helps fight human diseases related to senescence.

“What we’re trying to do is find a better understanding of the disease in dogs and translate those findings to humans,” Dr. Marta Castelhano, director of the Cornell Veterinary Biobank and one of the involved scientists, told Cornell News at the time.

Until a cure for CCD exists, the sad reality is that dogs and humans alike who experience cognitive decline will be left to manage their symptoms to the best of their ability. When speaking with Salon, Urfer stressed that he is “not providing veterinary advice on individual dogs, as there is no vet-patient-client relationship here.” People who are concerned about their dogs should consult a veterinarian. What we do know for sure, however, is that causal treatments do not exist for CCD. All we know is that there are certain physical characteristics that make dogs more or less likely to be at risk.

“We know that bigger dogs have a lower risk of developing CCD than small dogs, and there is also some evidence that intact males have a lower CCD risk than neutered males, and that existing CCD progresses faster in neutered than in intact males,” Urfer explained. “This is interesting in that it also mirrors findings from human medicine that taller people are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease, and that men who undergo anti-androgen treatment for prostate cancer have an increased Alzheimer’s disease risk.”

If your dog is healthy now, then the best thing to do is make sure they stay healthy. That can prevent CCD from developing. It is the exact same as the approach for homo sapiens.

“The best approach is always prevention – ensure good physical health (e.g. keep up with dentals), exercise, lots of social and cognitive enrichment, and a good diet, manage co-occuring conditions (e.g. obesity)  – just like for people!” Head told Salon.

Source: Salon.com

Affection from a dog really is medicinal, according to a new study

Dogs may also be a doctor’s best friend.

For patients suffering from pain in the emergency room, just 10 minutes with a four-legged friend may help reduce pain, according to a study published Wednesday.

The results support what dog lovers everywhere have long suspected — canine affection cures all ills — as well as provides a bit of optimism for patients and health care providers frequently grappling with strapped hospital resources in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There is research showing that pets are an important part of our health in different ways. They motivate us, they get us up, (give us) routines, the human-animal bond,” said lead study author Colleen Dell, the research chair in One Health and Wellness and professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

The study, published in the journal PLOS One, asked more than 200 patients in the emergency room to report their level of pain on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 as the highest level of pain). A control group had no intervention for their pain, while participants in the other group were given 10 minutes of time with a therapy dog, and patients rated their pain levels again, according to the study.

Those who got the visit from the dogs reported less pain.

The study has a strong methodology, said Jessica Chubak, senior investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute. Chubak, who was not involved with the study, noted that there is still a lot to learn about therapy dogs.

“The results of the study are promising,” she said in an email. “Our current understanding of the effects of therapy dog visits in emergency department settings is fairly limited. So, it is particularly important to have more research in this area.”

Dell hopes that research like this study means we can stop asking if therapy dogs are helpful in a medical context and start asking how they help and how to integrate them better with health care teams.

In the hospital

The emergency room experience might actually contribute to patients’ pain.

The bright lights, long waits, anxiety and focus on immediate, acute conditions can make the feeling worse, said Erin Beckwell, a dog owner who has experienced chronic pain for much of her life.

“It’s not a place that you usually get escorted to a comfy room that’s quiet and gives us any sort of specific interventions,” she said. “It’s often suggestions of things you’ve already tried, and then they send you home after a long time of distressing and anxiety-provoking, pain-filled waiting.

You may not come out feeling like you were even really heard.”

Some people have a misperception that utilizing therapy dogs can transmit disease and risk hygiene in a hospital setting, but Dell said there are ways health care providers can utilize them in sanitary ways to make the whole system operate better.

Mike MacFadden, a nurse practitioner based in Canada, said he sees a lot of potential in incorporating therapy dogs as part of a holistic approach to pain treatment in the emergency room, and that it could help everyone involved.

“Emergency service teams can feel conflicted and experience moral distress resulting from their inability to meet their own expectations for optimal care. With people’s experience of pain being multifaceted, we know that a multifacetedapproach is most beneficial to meet the needs of patients,” McFadden said. “The presence of a therapy dog not only has the benefits of supporting the patient’s experience, but I think it also serves as a comfort to the care providers.”

Hunter, a therapy dog, and his handler, Amanda Woelk, sit with Tyler Regier, 2, and his mother, Tina Regier, both of Overland Park, Kan., on Oct. 2, 2015, at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. (Allison Long/Kansas City Star/TNS)

In the home

Pain can be thought of as both a physical and social experience, said Michelle Gagnon, assistant professor of psychology and health studies at the University of Saskatchewan. Gagnon was not involved with the study.

Anxiety, depression, having support or being dismissed can all have an impact on how we experience pain, she said. It makes sense that spending time with a creature that brings you joy and doesn’t invalidate your feelings can help you feel better.

“The things that you can gain from pets and some of the positive emotions that could be elicited from having the pet around you I think could have an impact on the pain experience itself,” she said.

Beckwell said she has experienced it personally with her 10-year-old cocker spaniel, Reilly, as she has experienced arthritis and autoimmune disorders.

“I feel more in control of the situation and less panicked or anxious about the severity of my pain, the duration of my pain, those sorts of things when I have that unconditional support from my dog,” Beckwell said. “She will come in, and she has learned over the years when I’m in pain she can’t sit on my lap.

“I don’t need to tell her — she knows,” Beckwell said.

Source: CNN

Core strength could help dogs avoid knee injuries

Photo by Angel Luciano on UnSplash

Agility dogs lacking core strength from routine physical exercise and those participating in activities like flyball may be more susceptible to one of the most common canine knee injuries.

That knee injury is a cranial cruciate ligament rupture, which is equivalent to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in humans.

According to a research survey documenting activity and injury odds of more than 1,200 agility dogs, just about any physical exercise seems to lower the risk of rupturing the ligament, but some exercises seem to increase the risk. In addition, the size and shape of the dog — and thereby certain breeds — were also found to be at higher risk.

“Balance exercises, wobble boards, anything that improves the core strength of the dog seemed to lower the odds of a ligament tear,” said Deb Sellon, a Washington State University veterinarian and lead author on the study published in BMC Veterinary Research. “We found fitness matters for dogs just like it does for people, and we haven’t shown that before.”

Sellon is also the founder of the university’s Agility Dog Health Network, which was accessed in the study. By using odds ratios, which is essentially a statistical risk assessment, Sellon and Denis Marcellin-Little, a veterinary orthopedic specialist with University of California, Davis, looked for trends in 1,262 agility dogs — 260 that tore the ligament and 1,002 dogs that did not.

In addition to balance and core strengthening exercises activities like dock diving, barn hunt and scent work are associated with a decreased rate of ligament rupture, too.

While regular activity, like swimming, playing fetch or frisbee, walking or running didn’t increase the risk of injury, it didn’t lower the odds either.

Surprisingly, dogs that competed more frequently in agility events and competed at a higher level on more technically rigorous types of courses were less likely to rupture their cruciate ligaments.

The only physical activities that increased the odds of injury were short walks or runs over hilly or flat terrain on a weekly basis, and many of those injuries were in dogs early in their agility career that lacked core strength from routine physical exercise or at times, rest days.

Training or competing in the new and popular dog sport flyball was found to be the riskiest activity of all activities evaluated in the survey. Agility dogs that also engaged in the sport of flyball were nearly twice as likely to rupture the ligament as compared to other dogs. Nearly 12% of dogs reported to play flyball ruptured the ligament.

The survey confirmed some long-standing and well-accepted risk factors as well. In particular, female dogs spayed before the age of one were almost twice as likely to rupture the ligament compared to dogs that were spayed after their first birthday. Sellon said this is believed to reflect the importance of hormones in developing strong ligaments in young animals.

Trends were also identified among certain breeds.

Survey results indicated Australian shepherds and Labrador retrievers were more than twice as likely to rupture the ligament. Rottweilers and Australian cattle dogs were more than four times as likely to tear the ligament.

Marcellin-Little speculates that could have something to do with the shape of the dog, and maybe its tail.

“Larger dogs doing agility tend to be less balanced, so it is not surprising a Rottweiler or Australian Shepherd may be at a higher risk of a rupture compared to smaller breeds,” he said. “The tail could also be a factor; the tail has been proven very important for cheetahs and you can imagine it has a role to play in the overall balance of the dog.”

Marcellin-Little said there is still a great deal of research that needs to be completed, but the survey gives veterinarians a place to start. 

“This research decreases uncertainty; it doesn’t bring certainty, but this one study could provoke thoughts and help us look at potential research areas to target moving forward,” he said. “That is the type of research that the Agility Dog Health Network is planning to support.”

Source: Washington State University

Dog faeces and urine could be harming nature reserves, according to new study

New research finds that dogs being walked in nature reserves contribute a significant amount of nutrients to the environment through their faeces and urine, which researchers warn could negatively impact local biodiversity. The research is published in the British Ecological Society journal, Ecological Solutions and Evidence.

Sign prohibiting dogs at one of the nature reserves. Credit: Pieter De Frenne

Significant levels of fertilisation

Researchers at Ghent University have estimated that each year dog faeces and urine add an average of 11kg of nitrogen and 5kg of phosphorous per hectare to nature reserves near the Belgian city of Ghent. The researchers say that the nutrients added through this neglected form of fertilisation are substantial and could be detrimental to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

The estimates for the amount of nitrogen being added by this previously unrecorded source are particularly significant when compared to the total levels of nitrogen being added across most of Europe through fossil fuel emissions and agriculture, which range from 5 to 25kg of nitrogen per hectare.

Professor Pieter De Frenne of Ghent University and lead author of the research said: “We were surprised by how high nutrient inputs from dogs could be. Atmospheric nitrogen inputs from agriculture, industry and traffic rightfully receive a lot of policy attention, but dogs are entirely neglected in this respect.

The researchers call for land managers, especially in low nutrient ecosystems, to emphasise the negative fertilisation effects of dogs to visitors, encouraging them to remove their dogs’ faeces. They also call for leash use to be enforced more stringently and the establishment of more off-leash dog parks to reduce the pressure on nature reserves.

Dogs on leashes and owners removing faeces have big impacts

In the experiment, which calculated the amount of nutrients dogs were adding to the environment by recording the number of dogs present in four nature reserves, the researchers modelled different scenarios including if the dogs were on or off leashes and if owners picked up dog faeces.

When the researchers modelled a scenario where all dogs were kept on leashes (legally required in all these reserves) they found that this reduced the fertilisation rates in the largest part of the reserves but strongly increased fertilisation rates in the small areas around paths. Over a year this input was as high as 175 kg of nitrogen and 73 kg of phosphorus per hectare.

Professor De Frenne said: “In our scenario where all dogs were kept on leashes, we found that in these concentrated areas around paths, nutrient inputs of both nitrogen and phosphorus exceeded legal limits for fertilization of agricultural land. Which is quite staggering as our study concerned nature reserves!”

In a scenario where dogs were on leashes, but all owners picked up their dogs’ faeces, the researchers found that this reduced fertilisation levels by 56% for nitrogen and 97% for phosphorus. This is due to dog faeces accounting for nearly all phosphorous being deposited whereas nitrogen is deposited equally by both faeces and urine.

Dog being walked on lead
In models where all dogs were kept on leashes, the researchers found that this reduced fertilisation rates in most of the reserves but strongly increased fertilisation rates in the areas around paths.

Increased nutrients a problem for nature reserves

The addition of nutrients to nature reserves might sound beneficial as these lead to increased plant growth, however, this mostly occurs in a limited number of nutrient demanding species that outcompete rarer specialists, reducing biodiversity.

“In many nature reserves, the management is specifically directed towards lowering soil nutrient levels to enhance plant and animal biodiversity. This can be done through methods like mowing and hay removal.” Explains Professor De Frenne. “Our findings suggest that the currently neglected inputs of dogs in nature reserves could delay restoration goals.”

Calculating nutrient levels

To estimate the amount of nutrients dogs were adding to the environment, the researchers first calculated dog abundance per hectare, per year, by counting dogs in four nature reserves close to the city of Ghent, Belgium. These counts were performed on 487 occasions over 18 months. They then performed a literature search of nutrient concentrations in dog urine and faeces to model different scenarios.

While this method meant that researchers could accurately calculate the abundance of dogs in the nature reserves, estimations had to be made based on the average dog and average volumes of urine and mass of faeces, as well as estimates of nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations.

The researchers say that their data could be improved by recording breeds of dogs, as well as their size, weight and the number of urine and faecal deposits, for instance, by asking owners. The researchers also suggest that georeferencing dog faeces and urine locations could further help to detect fertilisation ‘hot spots’.

Source: British Ecological Society

Paw hygiene no reason to ban assistance dogs from hospitals

Over 10,000 people in Europe use an assistance dog; think of guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired, hearing or signal dogs for the deaf and hard of hearing, medical response dogs and psychiatric service dogs.

Assistance dog user Iris and her dog Sandy in the recovery room after surgery. After a severe epileptic seizure, Iris was not doing well and Sandy was brought to the hospital in the hopes she could help improve Iris’ condition, which was indeed the case. Sandy even accompanied Iris to the OR, where Iris had to undergo a major surgery. One year earlier, bringing Sandy along was not negotiable in this particular hospital. Photo: private photo of Iris and Sandy.

According to European law, these dogs are welcome in stores, hospitals and other public places. However, in practice, many assistance dog users and their dogs are regularly refused entry. In the Netherlands, four out of five assistance dog users indicate that they regularly experience problems with this.

Often, hygiene reasons are given as the main argument for refusing entry to assistance dogs. Research by Utrecht University now shows that the paws of assistance dogs are cleaner than the shoe soles of their users, and thus, paw hygiene is no reason to ban assistance dogs from hospitals.

To investigate this, Jasmijn Vos, Joris Wijnker and Paul Overgaauw of Utrecht University’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine took samples from the paws of 50 assistance dogs and the shoe soles of their users. For comparison, they also investigated an equally large group of pet dogs and their owners. Vos and her colleagues examined the samples for poop bacteria (Enterobacteriaceae), which are very common outdoors, and for an important diarrhoeal bacteria (Clostridium difficile).

“The dogs’ paws turned out to be cleaner than the soles of their shoes,” says Jasmijn Vos, Masters student at Utrecht University. “This makes the hygiene argument that is often used to ban assistance dogs from public locations invalid.” Moreover, the diarrhoeal bacteria did not occur on the dogs’ paws whatsoever, and only once on a shoe sole.

81% of assistance dogs are refused

Dutch assistance dog users were also surveyed about their experiences. 81% are still regularly refused entry to public places with their dog, even though this is prohibited by law. This is mainly down to lack of knowledge on the part of the person refusing entry: lack of knowledge on what an assistance dog is, how it can be recognised, and about the rules of law.

The study also shows that assistance dog users constitute only a small fraction of the total number of patients in Dutch hospitals. Should they decide to bring their assistance dog to the hospital, or elsewhere, this should be made possible; assistance dogs are usually well behaved and are no more of a hygiene hazard than people!

Research publication
Vos SJ, Wijnker JJ, Overgaauw PAM. A pilot study on the contamination of assistance dogs’ paws and their users’ shoe soles in relation to admittance to hospitals and (in)visible disability. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2021; 18(2): 513.
Full text: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/2/513

Source: Utrecht University

Pets’ impact on human gut microbiome to be explored

Could pets offer “probiotic” benefits to their owners?

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) are set to investigate whether pets could be a source of microbiota that can help restore deficiencies in their owner’s gut microbiome (i.e. collection of microbes in the intestines).

The study, which has received funding from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), will follow pet owners (60 years or older) who are taking antibiotics for dental implant placement. Antibiotics disrupt the native gut microbiome, HABRI reports, which can result in adverse outcomes, ranging from mild diarrhea to severe “C. diff” (Clostridioides difficile) infection.

Researchers hypothesize the gut microbiomes of owners and their pets will resemble each other prior to the course of antibiotics, diverge during the disruption phase, then steadily converge during the recovery phase.

“A growing number of studies have documented the ability of animal contact to impact the human microbiome in ways that may help prevent certain types of disease, such as cardiovascular disease and asthma,” says principal investigator, Laurel Redding, VMD, PhD, DACVPM, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Penn Vet. “In conducting this study, our goal is to shed light on the microbial exchanges that occur between pets and pet owners and assess whether pets can mitigate disruption of their owner’s gut microbiome following antibiotic therapy.”

Researchers say the study’s results could support the promotion of contact between older adults and household pets, HABRI reports.

“HABRI is proud to fund research that will contribute to our understanding of the physiological health benefits of the human-animal bond,” says the group’s president, Steven Feldman. “We know pets and people are good for each other, and it’s exciting we can still discover new evidence underlying this powerful, mutually-beneficial relationship.”

Source: Veterinary Practice News

Walking your dog is better at reducing stress than strolling alone says new study

It’s time to slip on your boots and grab the lead because walking a dog is better at combating stress that strolling alone, a new study has found.

Darrya/Getty Images

According to scientists at the University of Animal Health Technology in Tokyo, sharing a daily ramble with a pet reduces the chances of depression, stress and anxiety. We know that heading outside with your pup provides dogs with the opportunity to get regular physical activity, but it can also help boost the calming GABA chemical in your body, too.

Researchers in the team took saliva samples from 14 dog owners for a week to see whether it was better to walk alone or with a pet. The results, published in the journal Animals, revealed that levels of stress (including the stress-inducing MHPG chemical) were much lower when owners took their dogs on a walk. Meanwhile, the levels of the GABA chemical were also 40% higher.

This isn’t the first time dog walks have been praised for their mental and health benefits, either. In fact, a previous 2017 study found that humans get just as much as their pups from regular strolls.

Rather than social or physical health benefits, it was found the ability of the walk to make them happy was the biggest drive, while findings also discovered that owners were happier when they believed they were making their four-legged friend happier too.

Why not wrap up warm and enjoy a scenic dog walk…

Source: CountryLiving

Full journal article: Hormonal and Neurological Aspects of Dog Walking for Dog Owners and Pet Dogs

Most dog breeds highly inbred

Dog breeds are often recognized for distinctive traits — the short legs of a dachshund, wrinkled face of a pug, spotted coat of a Dalmatian. Unfortunately, the genetics that give various breeds their particular attributes are often the result of inbreeding.

A study shows the majority of canine breeds are highly inbred, contributing to an increase in disease and health care costs throughout their lifespan. (Getty)

In a recent study published in Canine Medicine and Genetics, an international team of researchers led by University of California, Davis, veterinary geneticist Danika Bannasch show that the majority of canine breeds are highly inbred, contributing to an increase in disease and health care costs throughout their lifespan.

“It’s amazing how inbreeding seems to matter to health,” Bannasch said. “While previous studies have shown that small dogs live longer than large dogs, no one had previously reported on morbidity, or the presence of disease. This study revealed that if dogs are of smaller size and not inbred, they are much healthier than larger dogs with high inbreeding.”

Inbreeding affects health

The average inbreeding based on genetic analysis across 227 breeds was close to 25%, or the equivalent of sharing the same genetic material with a full sibling. These are levels considered well above what would be safe for either humans or wild animal populations. In humans, high levels of inbreeding (3-6%) have been associated with increased prevalence of complex diseases as well as other conditions.

“Data from other species, combined with strong breed predispositions to complex diseases like cancer and autoimmune diseases, highlight the relevance of high inbreeding in dogs to their health,” said Bannasch, who also serves as the Maxine Adler Endowed Chair in Genetics at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

The researchers partnered with Wisdom Health Genetics, a world leader in pet genetics, to obtain the largest sample size possible for analysis. Wisdom Health’s database is the largest dog DNA database in the world, helping researchers collect data from 49,378 dogs across 227 breeds — primarily from European sources.

Some breeds more inbred

So, what makes a dog breed more inbred than others? Bannasch explained that it’s often a combination of a small founding population followed by strong selection for particular traits in a breed — often based on looks rather than purpose. While she has always had an interest in the population structure of some of these breeds, she became particularly interested in the Danish-Swedish farmdog several years ago. She fell in love with their compact size, disposition and intelligence, and ended up importing one from Sweden.

Bannasch discovered that Danish-Swedish farmdogs have a low level of inbreeding based on their history of a relatively large founding population of 200, and being bred for function, rather than a strong artificial selection for looks. And according to the insurance health data on breeds collected from Agria Insurance Sweden and hosted online by the International Partnership for Dogs, the farmdog is one of the healthiest breeds.

The study also revealed a significant difference in morbidity between brachycephalic (short skull and snout) and non-brachycephalic breeds. While that finding wasn’t unexpected, the researchers removed brachycephalic breeds from the final analysis on effects of inbreeding on health.

Preserving genetic diversity

In the end, Bannasch said she isn’t sure there is a way out of inbred breeds. People have recognized that creating matches based solely on pedigrees is misleading. The inbreeding calculators don’t go back far enough in a dog’s genetic line, and that method doesn’t improve overall high levels of population inbreeding.

There are other measures that can be taken to preserve the genetic diversity and health of a breed, she said. They include careful management of breeding populations to avoid additional loss of existing genetic diversity, through breeder education and monitoring of inbreeding levels enabled by direct genotyping technologies.

Outcrosses are being proposed or have already been carried out for some breeds and conditions as a measure to increase genetic diversity, but care must be taken to consider if these will effectively increase overall breed diversity and therefore reduce inbreeding, Bannasch said. In particular, in the few breeds with low inbreeding levels, every effort should be made to maintain the genetic diversity that is present.

Source: UC Davis