Category Archives: research

Dogs put the fun into learning vital social skills

A new UBC Okanagan study finds children not only reap the benefits of working with therapy dogs–they enjoy it too.

“Dog lovers often have an assumption that canine-assisted interventions are going to be effective because other people are going to love dogs,” says Nicole Harris, who conducted this research while a master’s student in the School of Education. “While we do frequently see children improve in therapy dog programs, we didn’t have data to support that they enjoyed the time as well.”

Harris was the lead researcher in the study that explored how children reacted while participating in a social skill-training program with therapy dogs.

The research saw 22 children from the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club take part in a series of sessions to help them build their social skills. Over six weeks, the children were accompanied by therapy dogs from UBC Okanagan’s Building Academic Retention through K9s (BARK) program as they completed lessons.

Each week the children were taught a new skill, such as introducing themselves or giving directions to others. The children would first practice with their assigned therapy dog before running through the exercise with the rest of the group. In the final phase, the children —accompanied by their new furry friend and volunteer handler —would practice their new skills with university students located in the building.

“Therapy dogs are often able to reach children and facilitate their growth in surprising ways. We saw evidence of this in the social skills of children when they were paired with a therapy dog,” says Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, associate professor in the School of Education and director of BARK. “The dogs helped create a non-threatening climate while the children were learning these new skills. We saw the children practice and hone their social skills with and alongside the dogs.”

While the children were learning and practising their new skills, the research team collected data.

“Findings from our observations suggested that canine-assisted social and emotional learning initiatives can provide unique advantages,” says Harris. “Our team saw that by interacting with the therapy dogs, the children’s moods improved and their engagement in their lessons increased.”

In fact, 87 per cent of the team rated the children’s engagement level as very or extremely engaged during the sessions.

At the end of the six weeks, Harris interviewed eight children, aged 5 to 11 years old, who regularly attended the sessions. Each child indicated the social skill-training program was an enjoyable and positive experience and the dogs were a meaningful and essential part of the program.

One participant noticed that the children behaved better at the sessions than at their regular after-school care program, and they thought it was because the children liked being around the dogs.

Half of the children mentioned ways that they felt the dogs helped with their emotional well-being, with one participant crediting a dog with helping him “become more responsible and control his silliness.”

As a full-time elementary school teacher, Harris notes that schools have become increasingly important in helping students develop social and emotional skills, and this research could contribute to the development of future school-based or after-school programs.

“Dogs have the ability to provide many stress-reducing and confidence-boosting benefits to children,” says Harris. “It was really heartwarming to see the impact the program had on the kids.”

The research stemmed from the Building Confidence through K9s program, which was offered in partnership with the TELUS Thompson Okanagan Community Board.

The study was published in the Journal of Research in Childhood Education.

Source: University of British Columbia

New Stem Cell Therapy in Dogs

A team of scientists in Japan has developed a novel method to induce stem cell generation from the blood samples of dogs. Through this technique, the scientists hope to advance regenerative therapies in veterinary medicine. This would mean that, in the near future, veterinarians might be able to reverse conditions in dogs that were previously thought incurable.

Dogs have been faithful human companions ever since their domestication thousands of years ago. With various improvements in veterinary medicine in the past decades, their life expectancy has increased. However, an unfortunate side effect of this longevity, much like in humans, has been an increase in the occurrence of chronic and degenerative conditions.

In humans, modern efforts to fight such diseases have culminated in the development of regenerative therapies, largely based on stem cells. These “baby” cells have the potential to differentiate and mature into many specialized cell types— called “pluripotency.” By transplanting stem cells and guiding their differentiation into desired cell types, researchers are effectively able to regenerate damaged tissues, thereby reversing the course various complex diseases. Although this technology is widely studied in humans, the potential for stem cell therapy in dogs is lacking.

To this end, a research team from Japan, led by Associate Professor Shingo Hatoya from Osaka Prefecture University, has been working on isolating “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPSCs) from canine blood samples. iPSCs are a type of stem cell that can be “programmed” from a developed (or “differentiated”) cell by introducing a specific set of genes into them. These genes code for proteins called “transcription factors,” which induce the change from a differentiated to a pluripotent stem cell, which then have the ability to mature into various cell types. iPSCs can proliferate very rapidly, providing a reliable supply of suitable stem cells for regenerative therapies. “We successfully established an efficient and easy generation method of canine iPSCs from peripheral blood mononuclear cells” explains Dr. Hatoya. He highlights the significance of these findings for veterinary science, stating he hopes that in the near future, “it may be possible to perform regenerative medicinal treatments in dogs.” These findings were published in the journal Stem Cells and Development.

The previous attempts by these scientists to generate iPSCs from canine blood cells, using viral “vectors” to deliver the pluripotency-inducing transcription factors, were not as effective as hoped. Therefore, in this study, they tested a different combination of inducing factors, which they believe were key to harvesting the full potential of these cells. Most importantly, the researchers needed to control how the reprogrammed cells replicated in the host body. Viral vectors that encode pluripotency-inducing transcription factors can be used to infect cells obtained from the blood and convert them into iPSCs; however, the researchers needed to be cautious: because these vectors integrate into the host genome, re-expression of these pluripotency factors in the host cell can cause tumor formation when these cells are transplanted in patients. To avoid this, the team developed “footprint-free” stem cells by using a particular type of viral vector that can generate iPSCs without genomic insertion and can be automatically “silenced” via “microRNAs” expressed by the cells. Then, they grew these cells in a special type of medium that contained various factors enhancing their pluripotency (including a “small-molecule cocktail”). Indeed, these cells grew and successfully developed germ layers (which form the basis of all organs).

Fascinatingly, these findings have paved the way for an easy stem cell therapy technique for man’s best friends. “We believe that our method can facilitate the research involving disease modeling and regenerative therapies in the veterinary field,” says Dr. Hatoya. Furthermore, the authors also believe that additional research into regenerative therapies for canines might have some ripple effects for human medicine. “Dogs share the same environment as humans and spontaneously develop the same diseases, particularly genetic diseases.”

Translating findings from one field to another might mean veterinarians are able to find treatments, maybe even cures, for some of the diseases that still plague humanity.

Source: Osaka Prefecture University

Liv­ing en­vir­on­ment af­fects the mi­cro­bi­ota and health of both dogs and their own­ers

For both dogs and humans, the risk of developing allergic diseases was at its lowest when the skin microbiota was shaped by a rural environment and a lifestyle that promotes microbial abundance. Photo: Emma Hakanen

In urban environments, allergic diseases are more common among dogs and their owners compared to those living in rural areas. Simultaneous allergic traits appear to be associated with the microbes found in the environment, but microbes relevant to health differ between dogs and humans.

In a joint research project known as DogEnvi, researchers from the University of Helsinki, the Finnish Environment Institute and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare have previously observed that dogs are more likely to have allergies when their owners suffer from allergic symptoms. In a new study, the researchers investigated whether such simultaneous presence of allergic traits is associated with gut or skin microbes shared by dogs and their owners. A total of 168 dog–owner pairs living in rural and urban environments participated in the study.

“Research shows that dogs and owners living in rural areas have a lower risk of developing an allergic disease compared to urban areas. We assumed that in rural areas both dogs and owners are exposed to health-promoting microbes. We found that the microbial exposure of both was different in rural and urban environments. For instance, the skin microbiota varied more between individuals in rural areas compared to their urban counterparts. A diverse and varying microbial exposure may be precisely what provides the associated health benefit,” says Senior Researcher Jenni Lehtimäki, PhD, from the Finnish Environment Institute.

Dogs and their own­ers seemed to share mi­crobes on their skin, but not in their gut

The study demonstrated that the living environment had a markedly more significant effect on the skin microbiota than on that of the gut in dogs and humans. Dogs living in urban areas had on their skin more microbes typically found on human skin, which may be caused by the accumulation of microbes typical to humans indoors and in urban areas, a phenomenon that has been previously observed.

In a study conducted earlier, the researchers noticed that both the living environment and living habits affected the canine skin microbiota.

“The same was now observed in humans. For both dogs and humans, the risk of developing allergic diseases was at its lowest when the skin microbiota was shaped by a rural environment and a lifestyle that promotes microbial abundance. Such a lifestyle was associated with a number of different animals in the family, as well as larger family size,” says Professor Hannes Lohi from the University of Helsinki.

While the living environment appeared to alter the species of the skin microbiota as well as the risk of allergic diseases in both dogs and their owners, no single shared microbe in the environment had a link to allergies in both dogs and humans.

“We detected microbes associated with allergies in urban dogs, as well as microbes connected to health in rural dogs and humans, but these microbes were different in dogs and humans. It appears that the microbes in the living environment are important for the health of both dogs and humans, but due to the physiological differences of the species, the microbes that are relevant can vary,” Lehtimäki sums up.

DogEnvi, a multidisciplinary research project launched in 2014, is aimed at investigating the significance of the living environment to canine health. Under the project, a study on the link between canine gut microbiota, nutrition and allergies is being prepared. The project has received funding from the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation, among others.

Source: University of Helsinki

Ori­ginal art­icle:  

Jenni Lehtimäki, Hanna Sinkko, Anna Hielm-Björkman, Tiina Laatikainen, Lasse Ruokolainen, Hannes Lohi. Simultaneous allergic traits in dogs and their owners are associated with living environment, lifestyle and microbial exposures. Scientific Reports 2020. DOI:10.1038/s41598-020-79055-x  

Women influenced co-evolution of dogs and humans

Man’s best friend might actually belong to a woman.

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis

In a cross-cultural analysis, Washington State University researchers found several factors may have played a role in building the mutually beneficial relationship between humans and dogs, including temperature, hunting and surprisingly—gender.

“We found that dogs’ relationships with women might have had a greater impact on the dog-human bond than relationships with men,” said Jaime Chambers, a WSU anthropology Ph.D. student and first author on the paper published in the Journal of Ethnobiology. “Humans were more likely to regard dogs as a type of person if the dogs had a special relationship with women. They were more likely to be included in family life, treated as subjects of affection and generally, people had greater regard for them.”

While dogs are the oldest, most widespread domesticated animal, very few anthropologic studies have directly focused on the human relationship with canines. Yet when the WSU researchers searched the extensive collection of ethnographic documents in the Human Relations Area Files database, they found thousands of mentions of dogs.

Ultimately, they located data from more than 844 ethnographers writing on 144 traditional, subsistence-level societies from all over the globe. Looking at these cultures can provide insight into how the dog-human relationship developed, Chambers said.

“Our modern society is like a blip in the timeline of human history,” she said. “The truth is that human-dog relationships have not looked like they do in Western industrialized societies for most of human history, and looking at traditional societies can offer a wider vision.”

The researchers noted specific instances that showed dogs’ utility, or usefulness, to humans, and humans’ utility to dogs as well as the “personhood” of dogs—when canines were treated like people, such as being given names, allowed to sleep in the same beds or mourned when they died.

A pattern emerged that showed when women were more involved with dogs, the humans’ utility to dogs went up, as did the dogs’ personhood.

Another prevalent trend involved the environment: the warmer the overall climate, the less useful dogs tended to be to humans.

“Relative to humans, dogs are really not particularly energy efficient,” said Robert Quinlan, WSU anthropology professor and corresponding author on the paper. “Their body temperature is higher than humans, and just a bit of exercise can make them overheat on a hot day. We saw this trend that they had less utility to humans in warmer environments.”

Quinlan noted there were some exceptions to this with a few dog-loving cultures in the tropics, but it was a fairly consistent trend.

Hunting also seemed to strengthen the dog-human connection. In cultures that hunted with dogs, they were more valued by their human partners: they were higher in the measures of dogs’ utility to humans and in personhood. Those values declined, however, when food production increased whether it was growing crops or keeping livestock. This finding seemed to go against the commonly held perception of herding dogs working in concert with humans, but Quinlan noted that in many cultures, herding dogs often work alone whereas hunting requires a more intense cooperation.

This study adds evidence to the evolutionary theory that dogs and humans chose each other, rather than the older theory that humans intentionally sought out wolf pups to raise on their own. Either way, there have been clear benefits for the dogs, Chambers said.

“Dogs are everywhere humans are,” she said. “If we think that dogs are successful as a species if there are lots of them, then they have been able to thrive. They have hitched themselves to us and followed us all over the world. It’s been a very successful relationship.”

Source: Washington State University

Study Sets Baseline for Sleep Patterns in Healthy Adult Dogs

A new canine sleep study from North Carolina State University could serve as a baseline for research on chronic pain and cognitive dysfunction in dogs, potentially improving detection and treatment of these conditions.

“The study was necessary because research on dogs and sleep has outpaced our basic knowledge about what a ‘normal’ sleep/wake cycle looks like,” says Margaret Gruen, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at NC State and corresponding author of the work. “The studies currently available are over 20 years old, only followed small numbers of dogs or dogs that were not in a home environment, and didn’t really capture data that is relevant to how dogs live (and sleep) now. We designed the study to update these findings and fill the knowledge gap.

“And for me, someone interested in how dogs develop and age, it’s a critically missing gap: we talk about a symptom of age-related cognitive dysfunction in dogs as being a disruption in the sleep/wake cycle without really understanding where the baseline is.”

The study followed 42 healthy adult dogs – 21 male and 21 female – ranging in age from 2 to 8 years old. The dogs wore activity monitors on their collars for a two-week period, and their owners filled out a questionnaire on the dogs’ sleep patterns. Functional linear modeling of the activity data showed that most dogs have two activity peaks during the day: a shorter window from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., followed by a midday lull and a longer active period from about 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. All dogs were more active during weekends than weekdays.

“Since most of the participants were pets of people who work outside the home, we saw that the dogs were most active when human interaction happens,” Gruen says. “There were the occasional outliers – we did capture some midday ‘zoomies’ – but the pattern held true on average across 14 days for each dog. These findings aren’t surprising – they line up with many of the assumptions we’ve been making, but now the data are characterized and documented.”

The research revealed that weight and sex had an effect on the active periods; lighter dogs tended to be more active in a short period just after midnight, while female dogs seemed to be more active during the evening peak than males. Even in these healthy adult dogs, age had an effect; older dogs were less active during the peak activity times.

“Our hope is that this will serve as a foundational study for future work on the relationship between pain, cognitive dysfunction and sleep disruption, and as a study that is relevant to the way dogs live now,” Gruen says. “By establishing norms, we can better identify abnormalities and intervene earlier in the process. We can also use this as a baseline to evaluate development of adult sleep patterns in puppies.”

The research appears in Scientific Reports. NC State graduate student Hope Woods is first author. Duncan Lascelles, professor of translational pain research and management at NC State, also contributed to the work. Evolutionary anthropologist David Samson and his team, from the University of Toronto, Canada, created the functional linear models.

Source: North Caroline State University


New research reveals widespread contamination of English rivers with pesticides commonly used as flea treatments

Researchers at the University of Sussex have found widespread contamination of English rivers with two neurotoxic pesticides commonly used in veterinary flea products: fipronil and the neonicotinoid imidacloprid. The concentrations found often far exceeded accepted safe limits.  

These chemicals are banned for agricultural use due to the adverse environmental effects, but there is minimal environmental risk assessment for pesticides used on domestic cats and dogs. This is due to the assumption that there are likely to be fewer environmental impacts due to the amount of product used.  

River Nene, near Nassington taken by Iain Simpson – Wiki Commons (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

But there is growing concern that this assumption may be incorrect. To investigate this, Professor Dave Goulson and Rosemary Perkins from the University of Sussex analysed data gathered by the Environment Agency in English waterways between 2016-18. They found that fipronil was detected in 98% of freshwater samples, and imidacloprid in 66%.  

Rosemary Perkins, a PhD student at Sussex and a qualified vet, said: “The use of pet parasite products has increased over the years, with millions of dogs and cats now being routinely treated multiple times per year. 

“Fipronil is one of the most commonly used flea products, and recent studies have shown that it degrades to compounds that are more persistent in the environment, and more toxic to most insects, than fipronil itself. Our results, showing that fipronil and its toxic breakdown products are present in nearly all of the freshwater samples tested, are extremely concerning.”   

According to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), who funded the research, there are 66 licensed veterinary products containing fipronil in the UK, and 21 containing imidacloprid, either alone or in combination with other parasiticides. These include spot-on solutions, topical sprays and collars impregnated with the active ingredient. 

While some of these products can be purchased only with a veterinary prescription, others can be bought without a prescription from pet shops, supermarkets, pharmacies and online. Many pet owners receive year-round preventative flea and/or tick treatment from their vet practice via healthcare plans. 

Fipronil has a history of very limited agricultural use prior to its ban in 2017. It is also licensed for use in ant and cockroach baits, however only one product is licensed for use by non pest-control professionals. Use on pets seems to be the most plausible source of the widespread contamination of rivers.

The paper, co-authored with Martin Whitehead from the Chipping Norton Veterinary Hospital and Wayne Civil at the Environment Agency, examines the occurrence of fipronil and imidacloprid in English rivers as indicators of the potential contamination of waterways from the use of pet flea treatments. 

They found that the average fipronil concentration across the rivers sampled by the Environment Agency exceeded chronic safety thresholds five-fold. The overall pollution levels in English rivers indicate that fipronil and its toxic breakdown products pose a high risk to aquatic ecosystems.

While, in most rivers, imidacloprid was found to pose a moderate risk, in seven out of the 20 rivers sampled there was a high environmental risk. 

Co-author Professor Dave Goulson said: “Fipronil and imidacloprid are both highly toxic to all insects and other aquatic invertebrates. Studies have shown both pesticides to be associated with declines in the abundance of aquatic invertebrate communities. The finding that our rivers are routinely and chronically contaminated with both of these chemicals and mixtures of their toxic breakdown products is deeply troubling.”

The paper, published in Science of the Total Environment, notes that the highest levels of pollution were found immediately downstream of wastewater treatment works, supporting the hypothesis that significant quantities of pesticide may be passing from treated pets to the environment via household drains. 

Bathing of pets treated with spot-on fipronil flea products has been confirmed as a potentially important route to waterways for fipronil via sewers, and the washing of hands, pet bedding or other surfaces that have come into contact with treated pets are potential additional pathways for entry to sewers. Other pathways for contamination of waterways includes swimming and rainfall wash-off from treated pets. The strong correlation between fipronil and imidacloprid levels across the river sites tested suggest that they may be coming from a common source. 

Rosemary Perkins added: “We’ve identified a number of steps that can be taken to minimise or avoid environmental harm from pet flea and/or tick treatments. These range from introducing stricter prescription-only regulations, to considering a more judicious and risk-based approach to the control of parasites in pets, for example by moving away from blanket year-round prophylactic use.  

“We’d recommend a re-evaluation of the environmental risks posed by pet parasite products, and a reappraisal of the risk assessments that these products undergo prior to regulatory approval.” 

Source: University of Sussex

Early-life diet and can­ine atopy can have a con­nec­tion

Meat-based maternal diet during pregnancy and as the puppies’ first solid diet during the early postnatal period (at 1–2 months of age), both showed a significant “protective” effect from atopy in adult age.

Researchers from the international multidisciplinary research group “DogRisk” at the University of Helsinki have found novel early-life risk factors that impact the prevalence of atopic dermatitis in adult dogs. The results are also interesting for human medicine as the disease, atopy, is very similar in young dogs and in children.

The identified risk factors include non-modifiable and modifiable variables in the pre- and postnatal age, being just before or after birth. This new knowledge empowers dog owners, opens up research on processed foods, and advances primary atopy preventive strategies. 

So far over 12,000 dog owners have answered the Finnish internet-based DogRisk food frequency questionnaire. The data allows for associating many non-modifiable and modifiable risk factors with owner-reported canine atopic dermatitis (CAD) prevalence.

As partly reported previously, an increased prevalence of atopy in adult age significantly associated with the dog being from an allergy prone breed, its mother having a history of atopy, and more than 50 % of the dog’s hair coat being white. But the most interesting for the owners are the things that they can have an impact on: early life diet had the strongest association with the disease.

Novel diet-re­lated risk factors for atopy in dogs

A non-heat-processed, meat-based maternal diet during pregnancy and as the puppies’ first solid diet during the early postnatal period (at 1–2 months of age), both showed a significant “protective” effect from atopy in adult age. The same diet also indicated protection at a later puppy stage (at 2–6 months of age), but this finding did not reach significance.

On the contrary, an ultra-processed carbohydrate based maternal diet (commercial dry kibble) during pregnancy and as the puppies’ first solid diet during the early postnatal period, increased atopy incidence in adult age.

“As the differently processed diets also have a very different macro-nutrient profile it is, at this stage, impossible to say whether it is the lack of “cooking”, the minimal amount of carbohydrates, preservatives and coloring agents, the different quality and quantity of animal proteins and fats, the non-sterility of the food, or something else, that made raw foods come out as superior for atopy health in our data”, says the study’s main researcher Dr. Manal Hemida from the Helsinki One Health network.

Additionally, de-worming the dam during pregnancy, exposing the young puppies to sun light for at least one hour per day, spending time on a dirt floor or lawn before six months of age, keeping the young puppies at normal body weight, and continuing to live in the same family where they were born, were all associated with a significant decrease of CAD risk at adult age.

“These results, however, only suggest causality, but do not prove it. A prospective diet intervention during pregnancy and at young age is needed to confirm our findings”, says Adjunct Professor Anna Hielm-Björkman, leader of the DogRisk research group.

Original article in PLOS ONE: Identification of modifiable pre- and postnatal dietary and environmental exposures associated with owner-reported canine atopic dermatitis in Finland using a web-based questionnaire. Manal Hemida, Kristiina A. Vuori, Siru Salin, Robin Moore, Johanna Anturaniemi, Anna Hielm-Björkman. Published: May 29, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0225675

Source: University of Helsinki

Study of ancient dog DNA traces canine diversity to the Ice Age

A global study of ancient dog DNA, led by scientists at the Francis Crick Institute, University of Oxford, University of Vienna and archaeologists from more than 10 countries, presents evidence that there were different types of dogs more than 11,000 years ago in the period immediately following the Ice Age.

In their study, published in Science, the research team sequenced ancient DNA from 27 dogs, some of which lived up to nearly 11,000 years ago, across Europe, the Near East and Siberia.* They found that by this point in history, just after the Ice Age and before any other animal had been domesticated, there were already at least five different types of dog with distinct genetic ancestries. 

This finding reveals that the diversity observed between dogs in different parts of the world today originated when all humans were still hunters and gatherers.

Photo by E.E. Antipina

Pontus Skoglund, author and group leader of the Crick’s Ancient Genomics laboratory, says: “Some of the variation you see between dogs walking down the street today originated in the Ice Age. By the end of this period, dogs were already widespread across the northern hemisphere.”

This study of ancient genomics involves extracting and analysing DNA from skeletal material. It provides a window into the past, allowing researchers to uncover evolutionary changes that occurred many thousands of years ago.

The team showed that over the last 10,000 years, these early dog lineages mixed and moved to give rise to the dogs we know today. For example, early European dogs were initially diverse, appearing to originate from two highly distinct populations, one related to Near Eastern dogs and another to Siberian dogs. However, at some point this diversity was lost, as it is not present in European dogs today.

Anders Bergström, lead author and post-doctoral researcher in the Ancient Genomics laboratory at the Crick, says: “If we look back more than four or five thousand years ago, we can see that Europe was a very diverse place when it came to dogs. Although the European dogs we see today come in such an extraordinary array of shapes and forms, genetically they derive from only a very narrow subset of the diversity that used to exist.” 

The researchers also compared the evolution in dog history to changes in human evolution, lifestyles and migrations. In many cases comparable changes took place, likely reflecting how humans would bring their dogs with them as they migrated across the world.

But there are also cases when human and dog histories do not mirror each other. For example, the loss of diversity that existed in dogs in early Europe was caused by the spread of a single dog ancestry that replaced other populations. This dramatic event is not mirrored in human populations, and it remains to be determined what caused this turnover in European dog ancestry. 

Greger Larson, author and Director of the Palaeogenomics and Bio-Archaeology Research Network at the University of Oxford, says: “Dogs are our oldest and closest animal partner. Using DNA from ancient dogs is showing us just how far back our shared history goes and will ultimately help us understand when and where this deep relationship began.”

Ron Pinhasi, author and group leader at the University of Vienna, says: “Just as ancient DNA has revolutionised the study of our own ancestors, it’s now starting to do the same for dogs and other domesticated animals. Studying our animal companions adds another layer to our understanding of human history.”  

While this study provides major new insights into the early history of dog populations and their relationships with humans and each other, many questions still remain. In particular, research teams are still trying to uncover where and in which human cultural context, dogs were first domesticated. 

*The researchers sequenced ancient DNA from 27 dogs. Their analysis also included previously sequenced genomic data from a further 5 dogs.

Source: The Francis Crick Institute

The first re-homing of laboratory beagles in Finland

The paper’s abstract begins “The fate of experimental animals represents an ethical dilemma and a public concern.” I would say that this is an understatement. But, researchers in Finland decided to re-home their laboratory Beagles once their work was completed and documented the process of helping the dogs to adjust to pet life.


The re-homing of laboratory dogs was the first of its kind in Finland. The re-homing process was started with months of practising basic pet dog skills with the dogs and by familiarising them with the world outside the laboratory.  

The practice period lasted from four to six months, depending on the dog.

“However, we found out that the socialisation time was not quite sufficient for all dogs; owners reported that some dogs continued to be timid and suffer from separation anxiety. The laboratory dog re-homing process would be smoother if in the future laboratory dog facilities separated out the defecation and rest areas, gave dogs access to an outside area and walked them outside on a leash,” says Docent Marianna Norring from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Helsinki.

The dogs had been living in packs of eight dogs for two to eight years in the University’s laboratory animal facilities, from where they had daily access to an enclosed outside space. They spent the nights in smaller groups of dogs.

At the University, the dogs had participated in both animal cognition and veterinary medical studies. The cognition research provided basic information on canine minds, and a new tranquilising agent suitable for dogs was developed in the veterinary medical study. The University of Helsinki does not currently have laboratory dogs.

The re-homing of laboratory dogs was implemented as a collaboration between SEY Animal Welfare Finland and the University of Helsinki. A large group of individuals participated in socialising the dogs and acquainting them with life outside the facility: animal caretakers, researchers, animal-rights campaigners and dog trainers. The aim was to take into account the individual characteristics of each dog when searching for a new home for them. Whenever possible, dogs were re-homed in pairs. Generally speaking, the new owners have been extremely happy about their new pets.

For the study, the dog re-homing process was monitored at the University for four years by interviewing the participants and collecting information from the new owners.  

Article:

Laura Hänninen and Marianna Norring, 2020, The First Rehoming of Laboratory Beagles in Finland: The Complete Process from Socialisation Training to Follow-up, Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (ATLA), Vol 48, Issue 3, 2020.

Source: University of Helsinki

Tracking the working dogs of 9/11

When veterinarian Cynthia Otto was in Manhattan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks helping support the search and rescue dogs, she heard rumors about the possible impact on the dogs’ long-term health.

“I was at Ground Zero and I would hear people make comments like, ‘Did you hear that half of the dogs that responded to the bombing in Oklahoma City died of X, Y, or Z?’ Or they’d say dogs responding to 9/11 had died,” she recalls. “It was really disconcerting.” 

Cynthia Otto (center) cared for search-and-rescue dogs during their work at the 9/11 disaster site, later studying the impact of their service on their health. (Image: Courtesy of Cynthia Otto)

It also underscored to her the importance of collecting rigorous data on the health of dogs deployed to disaster sites. An initiative that launched in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks did just that, and this week, 19 years later, Otto and colleagues’ findings offer reassurance. Dogs that participated in search-and-rescue efforts following 9/11 lived a similar length of time, on average, compared to a control group of search-and-rescue dogs and outlived their breed-average life spans. There was also no discernible difference in the dogs’ cause of death.

“Honestly this was not what we expected; it’s surprising and wonderful,” says Otto, director of the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Working Dog Center, who shared the findings in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association

While postmortem results showed that dogs that deployed after the 9/11 attacks had more particulate material in their lungs upon their death, it seems this exposure didn’t cause serious problems for the animals in life. The most common cause of death were age-related conditions, such as arthritis and cancer, similar to the control group.

During and in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 response, Otto and colleagues reached out to handlers to recruit search-and-rescue dogs into a longitudinal study that would track their health, longevity, and cause of death. They recruited 95 dogs that had worked at the World Trade Center, Fresh Kills Landfill, or Pentagon disaster sites. As a control group, they also included in the study 55 search-and-rescue dogs that had not deployed to 9/11.

As part of being involved, the dogs received annual medical examinations, including chest X-rays and blood work. When the dogs died, the researchers paid for the handlers to have veterinarians collect samples of various organ tissues and send them for analysis at Michigan State University. Forty-four of the 9/11 dogs and 19 of the control group dogs underwent postmortems. For most of the other dogs in the study, the research team obtained information on cause of death from medical records or the handlers themselves.

While the team had expected to see respiratory problems in the exposed dogs—conditions that have been reported by human first responders to 9/11—they did not.

“We anticipated that the dogs would be the canary in the coal mine for the human first responders since dogs age faster than humans and didn’t have any of the protective equipment during the response,” Otto says. “But we didn’t see a lot that was concerning.”

In fact, the median age at death for 9/11 dogs was about the same as the control group: 12.8 compared to 12.7 years. The most common cause of death for the dogs that deployed was degenerative causes—typically euthanasia due to severe arthritis—followed closely by cancer, though the risk of cancer was about the same as in control group dogs. 

Otto and her colleagues have ideas for why the foreign particulate matter found in some of the dog’s lungs did not translate to ill health, though they emphasize that they’re speculations, not yet based in data. 

“For the pulmonary effects, it’s somewhat easier to explain because dogs have a really good filtering system,” Otto says. “Their lungs are different—they don’t get asthma, for example—so it seems like there is something about their lungs that’s more tolerant than in humans.”

She notes that working dogs tend to be extremely physically fit compared to pet dogs, perhaps counteracting any ill effects of the deployment conditions on health. But working dog handlers and trainers can always do more to focus on fitness and conditioning, especially because doing so could slow the progression of arthritis, a disease which played a role in the death of many dogs in the study.

“We know when people stop moving, they gain weight and that puts them at a higher risk of arthritis, and arthritis makes it painful to move, so it’s a vicious cycle,” she says. “The same can be true of dogs.”

The mind-body connection may also help explain the difference between humans and dogs and the longevity of the working dogs, Otto says, as dogs don’t necessary worry and experience the same type of stress in the wake of a disaster.

“These dogs have an incredible relationship with their partners,” Otto says. “They have a purpose and a job and the mental stimulation of training. My guess is that makes a difference, too.”

Cynthia Otto is director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and professor of working dog sciences and sports medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences and Advanced Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

Source: University of Pennsylvania, Penn Today