Doggy quote of the month for August

“Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate in their object-relations.”

– Sigmund Freud

Cute dog buddies

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Empathetic dogs lend a helping paw

Many dogs show empathy if their owner is in distress and will also try to help rescue them. This is according to Emily M. Sanford, formerly of Macalester College and now at Johns Hopkins University in the US. She is the lead author of a study in Springer’s journal Learning and Behavior that tested whether there is truth in the notion that dogs have a prosocial and empathetic nature. Interesting to note, the study found that dogs specially trained for visitations as therapy dogs are just as likely to help as other dogs.

Helping paw

Many dogs are ready to lend a helping paw if needed. Credit: © Mat Hayward / Fotolia

In one of their experiments, Sanford and her colleagues instructed the owners of 34 dogs to either give distressed cries or to hum while sitting behind a see-through closed door. Sixteen of these dogs were registered therapy dogs. The researchers watched what the dogs did, and also measured their heart rate variability to see how they physically reacted to the situation. In another part of the experiment, the researchers examined how these same dogs gazed at their owners to measure the strength of their relationship.

Dogs that heard distress calls were no more likely to open a door than dogs that heard someone humming. However, they opened the door much faster if their owner was crying. Based on their physiological and behavioural responses, dogs who opened the door were, in fact, less stressed than they were during baseline measurements, indicating that those who could suppress their own distress were the ones who could jump into action.

The study therefore provides evidence that dogs not only feel empathy towards people, but in some cases also act on this empathy. This happens especially when they are able to suppress their own feelings of distress and can focus on those of the human involved. According to Sanford, this is similar to what is seen when children need to help others. They are only able to do so when they can suppress their own feelings of personal distress.

“It appears that adopting another’s emotional state through emotional contagion alone is not sufficient to motivate an empathetic helping response; otherwise, the most stressed dogs could have also opened the door,” explains co-author Julia Meyers-Manor of Ripon College in the US. “The extent of this empathetic response and under what conditions it can be elicited deserve further investigation, especially as it can improve our understanding of the shared evolutionary history of humans and dogs.”

Contrary to expectation, the sixteen therapy dogs in the study performed as well as the other dogs when tested on opening the door. According to Meyers-Manor this may be because registered therapy dogs, despite what people may think, do not possess traits that make them more attentive or responsive to human emotional states. She says that therapy dog certification tests involve skills based more on obedience rather than on human-animal bonding.

“It might be beneficial for therapy organizations to consider more traits important for therapeutic improvement, such as empathy, in their testing protocols,” adds Meyers-Manor. “It would also be interesting to determine whether service dogs show a different pattern of results given their extensive training in attentiveness to their human companions.”

Reference: Sanford, E.M. et al (2018). Timmy’s in the well: Empathy and prosocial helping in dogs, Learning & Behavior DOI: 10.3758/s13420-018-0332-3

Source:  Springer media release

Anxiety and the Fear-Free Approach

When the makers of the famous  ThunderShirt conducted a survey of dog owners back in 2011, the results showed that anxiety problems of various types are very common in dogs.    Although this survey was based in the USA, the results are likely to be comparable in other English-speaking countries.  From what I can see, there are plenty of anxious dogs in New Zealand.

Their survey found that:

  • Over 29% of all dogs suffer from at least one anxiety or fear issue…Nearly 23 million dogs in the United States alone.1 16% of all dogs are suffering from multiple anxiety and/or fear issues
  • Over 12 million dogs are left to just suffer with their anxiety problems without their owners trying any remedies…over half of all dogs with anxieties. Why? 71% of dog owners do not feel that treating the problem was necessary; 29% do not feel that there is a viable solution for the problems; 13% feel that solutions are too expensive.
  • Over 41% of dog-owning households had at least one dog with an anxiety or fear issue. That translates into over 18.6 million households in the United States that are dealing with anxiety and fear issues.
  • Dog owners are spending over $1 billion each year dealing with anxiety problems. Over $240 million on damaged property alone. (Average household cost of $246 x 18.6 million households owning at least one dog with anxiety issues / 4.5 years average time with dog)
  • The most common anxiety or fear issues among dogs in the US are the following:
    o Fear of Noise or Noise Anxiety – 17% of all dogs or over 13 million dogs.
    o Separation Anxiety – 13% of all dogs or 10 million dogs.
    o Reactivity towards people and/or dogs – 12% or nearly 9 million dogs.
    o General Anxiety – 5% or 3.5 million dogs.
    o Travel Anxiety – 5% or 3.5 million dogs.
  • The most common NOISE fears or anxieties among the 13 million dogs are:
    o Fear of Thunderstorms – 86%
    o Fear of Fireworks – 74%
    o Fear of Vacuum Cleaners – 41%

It’s for this reason that I’m so glad I chose to become Fear-Free certified because I see dogs in my massage and rehab practice that are anxious and for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes my new (dog) clients are anxious because they don’t know me.  So our first session is about getting them to relax and realize that I am not a threat.   I bring yummy treats, for example, and play relaxing music.  And I specialize in in-home care, so the dog is in their own environment from the start – and their owner is there for comfort and reassurance.

I’m using more and more flower essence blends, too, which are proving to have dramatic results with anxious dogs.  In the last month alone, I’ve had three clients come to me because their dogs are anxious at their training grounds and/or at dog shows.  These dogs have had untrained dogs rush at them, or worse, and they’ve become anxious whenever a strange dog is nearby.  It’s a real shame, but there are things we can do to alleviate their stress.

Massage, of course, by its very nature can be calming.  Just as with vets and vet techs who are taught about touch gradient, touch gradient is important to the work I do.  Keeping a connection with the dog during massage, stretching and other exercises is important to ensure we have a trusting bond and I don’t startle them.

FF Certified Professional Logo jpg

Fear free is also about working at the dog’s pace; all bookings are taken with an hour allotted to each client to ensure we have plenty of time and aren’t rushed.

If you have an anxious dog and think you have run out of options, I hope you will reconsider by finding a Fear-Free certified professional near you.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

 

Therapy Dogs Effective in Reducing Symptoms of ADHD

In a first of its kind randomized trial, researchers from the University of California Irvine School of Medicine found therapy dogs to be effective in reducing the symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.  The study’s main outcomes were recently published by the American Psychological Association in the Society of Counseling Psychology’s Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin (HAIB).  Additional new findings were presented at the International Society for Anthrozoology 2018 Conference held July 2-5 in Sydney, Australia.

Titled, “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Traditional Psychosocial and Canine-Assisted Interventions for Children with ADHD,” the research involved children aged 7 to 9 who had been diagnosed with ADHD and who had never taken medicines for their condition.  The study randomized participants to compare benefits from evidenced-based, “best practice” psychosocial interventions with the same intervention augmented by the assistance of certified therapy dogs.  The research was led by Sabrina E. B. Schuck, PhD, MA, executive director of the UCI Child Development Center and assistant professor in residence in the Department of Pediatrics at UCI School of Medicine.

UCI study

New study led by Sabrina E. B. Schuck, PhD, MA, executive director of the UCI Child Development Center and assistant professor in residence in the Department of Pediatrics at UCI School of Medicine, finds therapy dogs to be effective in reducing the symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Photo by UCI

Results from Schuck’s research indicate children with ADHD who received canine assisted intervention (CAI) experienced a reduction in inattention and an improvement in social skills.  And, while both CAI and non-CAI interventions were ultimately found to be effective for reducing overall ADHD symptom severity after 12 weeks, the group assisted by therapy dogs fared significantly better with improved attention and social skills at only eight weeks and demonstrated fewer behavioral problems. No significant group differences, however, were reported for hyperactivity and impulsivity.

“Our finding that dogs can hasten the treatment response is very meaningful,” said Schuck.  “In addition, the fact that parents of the children who were in the CAI group reported significantly fewer problem behaviors over time than those treated without therapy dogs is further evidence of the importance of this research.”

Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics for the management of ADHD underscore the importance of both psychopharmacological and psychosocial therapies.  Patients who receive psychosocial therapy prior to medications have shown to fare better.  Additionally, many families prefer not to use medications in young children.

“The take away from this is that families now have a viable option when seeking alternative or adjunct therapies to medication treatments for ADHD, especially when it comes to impaired attention,” said Schuck. “Inattention is perhaps the most salient problem experienced across the life span for individuals with this disorder.”

This study is the first known randomized controlled trial of CAI for children with ADHD. It illustrates that the presence of therapy dogs enhances traditional psychosocial intervention and is feasible and safe to implement.

Animal assisted intervention (AAI) has been used for decades, however, only recently has empirical evidence begun to support these practices reporting benefits including reduced stress, improved cognitive function, reduced problem behaviors and improved attention.

The study was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and Mars-WALTHAM® grant R01H066593.

Source:  University of California Irvine media release

Purina’s pets and people survey

It turns out dogs are more than just man and woman’s best friend. They are also counselors, confidants, bunk mates, stress relievers, and overwhelmingly viewed as part of the family, according to the 2018 Pets and People Survey by Just Right® by Purina®.

The brand’s survey of more than 1,000 dog owners revealed fascinating details about the unique relationship and unbreakable bond people share with their dogs.

Purina owner survey

Among the key findings:

  • 95 percent view their dog as part of the family,
  • 62 percent said their dog helps them de-stress after a long day at work, and
  • 55 percent believe their dog provides emotional comfort after receiving bad news.

The survey also found dogs have helped 15 percent of men gain the attention of the opposite sex, while half of all women surveyed said they preferred time with their dog over time with their partner and/or other family members. Among Millennials age 18 to 34 years old, 56 percent said they have purchased birthday cakes for their dogs, and 77 percent said they feed their dogs before they feed themselves.

“Having dogs myself, I know firsthand that the emotional connection between dog owners and their pets runs deep,” said Julia Pitlyk, brand manager for Just Right by Purina. “We conducted this survey to learn more about what exactly the owner-dog relationship looks like and while each relationship provides that deep connection, the results really support our belief that every dog is unique – some may be confidants while others are effective wingmen.”

About the Survey

Research Now SSI conducted an online survey on behalf of Just Right by Purina among adults ages 18+ who are dog owners and have some responsibility over the well-being of their pet. A total of 1,010 responses were collected between March 26 and March 29, 2018. The online surveys are not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Source:  PR newswire

Do grain-free diets really cause canine heart disease?

You may have heard that on July 12th, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a statement that it was investigating a potential connection between grain-free diets and canine heart disease:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting pet owners and veterinary professionals about reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods containing peas, lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes as main ingredients. These reports are unusual because DCM is occurring in breeds not typically genetically prone to the disease. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine and the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network, a collaboration of government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories, are investigating this potential association.

Canine DCM is a disease of a dog’s heart muscle and results in an enlarged heart. As the heart and its chambers become dilated, it becomes harder for the heart to pump, and heart valves may leak, leading to a buildup of fluids in the chest and abdomen. DCM often results in congestive heart failure. Heart function may improve in cases that are not linked to genetics with appropriate veterinary treatment and dietary modification, if caught early.

The underlying cause of DCM is not truly known, but is thought to have a genetic component. Breeds that are typically more frequently affected by DCM include large and giant breed dogs, such as Great Danes, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards and Doberman Pinschers. It is less common in small and medium breed dogs, except American and English Cocker Spaniels. However, the cases that have been reported to the FDA have included Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, a Shih Tzu, a Bulldog and Miniature Schnauzers, as well as mixed breeds.

Full text of the FDA statement here.

Investigating possible links is always a good thing; but equally concerning is understanding what data backs up any claim.

Pet Business magazine points out that the data backing up the link is very thin – at this point unlikely to pass the rigor of a peer-reviewed journal.  Obviously an industry body has concerns about the impact of consumer choices  and the impact on sales, but it is right that they point out that the data set so far is quite limited.

I follow research regularly, and I’m always open to findings that may cause us to re-think our choices of food and other healthcare strategies for our dogs.

But let’s be sure about evidence.

The availability and variety of grain-free foods has increased dramatically in recent years, as cases of itchy dogs and dietary intolerances caused by corn and wheat have been documented.  Who’s to say that grain-free carbohydrates like peas, lentils and potatoes might not also come with side effects?

And all of this debate reinforces my belief in the hybrid diet.  Sometimes raw, sometimes kibble, and sometimes homemade.  Diversification is a strength!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Dogs prefer to eat fat…

Dogs gravitate toward high-fat food, but cats pounce on carbohydrates with even greater enthusiasm, according to research into the dietary habits of America’s two most popular pets.

Oregon research into diet

The study sheds new light on optimal nutrition for the animals and refutes a common notion that cats want and need a protein-heavy regimen.

The research, funded by The Pet Nutrition Center of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc, had its findings published in the Journal of Experimental Biology in May 2018.

“The numbers were much different than what traditional thinking would have expected,” said the study’s corresponding author, Jean Hall, a professor in the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University. “Some experts have thought cats need diets that are 40 or 50 percent protein. Our findings are quite different than the numbers used in marketing and are going to really challenge the pet food industry.”

Dietary proteins contribute to a number of important physiological functions such as blood clotting, production of hormones and enzymes, vision and cell repair.

Protein also has the most power to make the eater feel satiated; carbohydrates are No. 2 in that regard, followed by fat.

Hall’s research involved monitoring 17 healthy adult dogs and 27 cats over 28 days and used four types of food that were designed to taste the same; with flavor out of the equation, the animals could make macronutrient choices based only on what their bodies were telling them they needed.

“Previous studies have shown that if you don’t balance palatability between foods, cats do in fact prefer to eat very high levels of protein and dogs want to eat a lot of fat,” Hall said. “When you balance palatability, both dogs and cats prefer significantly different macronutrient content than what they would choose based on taste.”

The animals studied by Hall and her collaborators had four food choices: high-fat, high-carbohydrate, high-protein and balanced foods. Each day, dogs had an hour to eat all they wanted up a predetermined caloric intake – that is, they could get all the calories they needed for metabolic requirements and to maintain weight, but no more.

The cats in the study were likewise not allowed to overeat, though even if given unlimited access to food that tastes how they like it, cats tend to eat in a weight-maintenance way by adjusting their intake based on the food’s energy density. In the study, cats had 24-hour food access to the point of hitting their caloric threshold.

Food container placement for both dogs and cats was changed daily to guard against “bowl position bias” affecting the results.

The researchers found the cats on average chose to get 43 percent of their calories from carbs and 30 percent from protein.

Dogs on the other hand went for 41 percent fat and 36 percent carbs.

Not a single dog or cat chose to get the highest percentage of its calories from protein.

Within the aggregate cat findings were trends correlating with age and lean body mass – how much muscle an animal has.

Younger cats with less lean body mass tended more strongly toward protein consumption than younger cats with more lean body mass; younger cats in general wanted protein more than older cats.

On the dog side of the study, high-protein foods were the least popular among younger animals with less fat body mass; dogs with greater fat body mass had the strongest preference for getting calories from protein.

“Because the choice of macronutrients was influenced in both dogs and cats by age and either lean body mass or fat body mass, that suggests a physiological basis for what they chose to eat,” Hall said.

The research also involved determining the diets’ effect on selected metabolites of each macronutrient class – what they break down into in the body. Hall found the older cats’ blood had much lower levels of DHA, a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that’s important for the brain, heart and eyes, than the younger cats.

“None of the foods had ingredient sources of DHA or EPA, another long-chain omega-3, but cats are able to synthesize DHA by elongating and desaturating fatty acids,” Hall said. “The older cats, though, are a lot less efficient at that.”

More potential bad news for the older cats: Their concentrations of sulfated microbial catabolic products – protein-breakdown leftovers that in humans are connected to cardiovascular and kidney disease – were significantly higher.

“Just like with older people, older cats may have a different gut microbiome than younger cats, which would mean different microbial metabolic activities,” Hall said.

Basically, if a younger cat gets more protein than it can use, it can safely deal with and dispose of the excess a lot better than an older cat can.

Source:   Oregon State University