The problem with promoting ‘responsible dog ownership’

Responsible dog owner

Dog welfare campaigns that tell people to be “responsible owners” don’t help to promote behaviour change, a new University of Liverpool report suggests.

Dog owners interviewed for a study published in Anthrozoös all considered themselves to be responsible owners, despite there being great variation in key aspects of their dog-owning behaviour.

“Policy and campaigning messages related to dog ownership and welfare tend to focus on the concept of being a responsible owner. However, while ‘responsible dog ownership’ has considerable appeal as a concept, how it is perceived and interpreted has not been studied in-depth,” explains lead researcher Dr Carri Westgarth, a dog behaviour expert at the University of Liverpool.

In order to better understand beliefs and views about responsibility in dog ownership, the researchers carried out in-depth interviews with dog-owning households and shorter interviews with dog owners while walking their dogs or representing their breed at a dog show. The interviews focused on dog walking, an issue perceived to be a component of responsible dog ownership, as well as other aspects of campaign messages, such as dog fouling, aggression and neutering.

Dr Westgarth also reflected on her own experiences of walking her three dogs, and on her many conversations with other owners over the two-year study period.

Dr Westgarth said: “It’s clear from our research that responsible dog ownership means different things to different people at different times. It emerges from a blurred intersection of the needs of dogs, owners, and others, where often the dog comes first.

“Dog owners do what they perceive to be best for their individual dog, even if this goes against general advice given such as how often dogs need walking or neutering campaigns.

“Yet this perception may be different from to what others feel is best for that dog, or how people who are impacted by the dog want the dog and their owner to behave.

“Therefore, simply telling owners that they should “be responsible” is of limited use as a message to promote behaviour change because they already believe that they are. Any educational messages for dog owners need to be specific what they want owners to do and explain why that is in the best interest of the dog that they love so much.”

The report authors say that further research is now required in order to understand the implications for wider aspects of responsible dog ownership practices.


Research reference:

Carri Westgarth, Robert M Christley, Garry Marvin & Elizabeth Perkins (2019) The Responsible Dog Owner: The Construction of Responsibility, Anthrozoös, 32:5, 631-646, DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2019.1645506

Source:  University of Liverpool

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A new twist on couples massage

This year, I signed on to become a sponsor of the inaugural 4 Paws Marathon in Christchurch.  This event is the brainchild of a sports medicine doctor who loves to run with his dogs – but found that while his dogs could train with him, they weren’t allowed to join in on race day.

Yesterday was race day.

And I was set up at the finish line working alongside Rachel, a friend and colleague who is a human massage therapist at Bodyworks Massage Therapy.

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The massage tent at the 4 Paws Marathon

We decided to promote our joint sponsorship with the couples massage theme:  human + dog.   By working together,  not only did our services keep ‘in theme’ of the event, but we also showed the mutual respect we have for one another in our respective fields.

Rachel is qualified to massage humans; I’m qualified to massage canines.  Since canine massage is a relatively new field in New Zealand, I appreciated the opportunity to showcase the benefits of the modality in front of the runners and other sponsors at the event.

Here are just a few photos from the day:

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We look forward to sponsoring again next year!

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

The diet-microbiome connection in inflammatory bowel disease

Much remains mysterious about the factors influencing human inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but one aspect that has emerged as a key contributor is the gut microbiome, the collection of microorganisms dwelling in the intestines.

Diet is known to profoundly affect this microbial community, and special diets have been used as therapies for intestinal disorders including Crohn’s disease in people. They’re also commonly used in dogs, which can develop a chronic intestinal disease that mirrors many features of Crohn’s.

Beiting-diet-IBD

Tracking dogs on a prescription diet for an intestinal disease, researchers found that those that responded well shared a suite of changes to their microbiome. (Image: Penn Vet)

In a new study published in the journal Microbiome, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania investigated the connection between a prescription diet, the gut microbiome, and a successful entry into disease remission in pet dogs receiving treatment at Penn Vet’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital. They discovered key features of the microbiome and associated metabolic products that appeared only in dogs that entered disease remission. A type of bacteria that produces these compounds, known as secondary bile acids, alleviated disease in a mouse model. And comparing the impact of diet on the dog’s microbiome with that seen during diet therapy in children with Crohn’s, the study team found notable similarities.

“The bacteria in the gut are known to be a really important factor in tipping the scales toward disease,” says Daniel Beiting, senior author on the work and an assistant professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine. “And the environmental factor that seems to contribute the most to rapid changes in the microbiome is what you eat. Given that dogs’ microbiomes are extremely similar to those of humans, we thought this was an intriguing model to ask, ‘Could diet be impacting this disease through an impact on the microbiome?’”

To begin pursuing this question required treating a population of pet dogs with canine chronic enteropathy (CE), a chronic condition involving weight loss and gut inflammation, diarrhea, occasional vomiting, loss of appetite, and a chronic relapsing and remitting, just as seen in Crohn’s disease. The study involved 53 dogs, 29 with CE being treated at Penn Vet’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital, and 24 healthy controls.

Researchers collected stool samples at the outset of the study and at different times as the sick dogs began a prescription diet to treat their disease. Using advanced genetic sequencing techniques, the team developed a catalog of the microbes present in the stool, a stand-in for the animals’ gut microbiome. They also collected information about the metabolic products present in the stool.

“That gives us a functional read-out of the microbiome,” says Beiting. “It doesn’t just tell us who is there but also what they’re doing.”

Twenty of the 29 sick dogs quickly entered remission. Together, the genomic and metabolite analyses revealed characteristic changes in these dogs. In particular, those that responded well to the diet tended to have an increase in metabolites known as secondary bile acids. These are produced when certain microbes in the gut consume the bile that is released by the liver.

One of these “good” microbes that can give rise to secondary bile acids was the bacterium Clostridium hiranonis, which the researchers found in greater numbers in dogs that went into remission. Dogs that responded well to the diet also had fewer harmful bacteria, such as Escherichia coli and Clostridium perfringens after starting treatment.

To learn more about what these apparent markers of remission were doing, the team took bacteria from the dogs—both when they were sick and after they had entered remission—and grew them in the lab.

“Having these organisms gave us the opportunity to test our hypothesis about what actually causes remission,” says Shuai Wang, a postdoc at Penn Vet and the study’s lead author.

Taking the secondary bile acids found to be associated with remission, the researchers applied them to the E. coli and C. perfringens grown from the sick dogs and found the bile acids inhibited their growth. They also gave C. hiranonis from the dogs to mice with a form of inflammatory bowel disorder to see if the bacteria could reduce disease in a different animal model.

“We observed a stabilization of secondary bile acid levels and reduced inflammation,” Wang says.

“This allowed us to show that secondary bile acids and C. hiranonis aren’t just biomarkers of remission,” says Beiting, “they can actually effect change. Bile acids can block the growth of pathogens, and C. hiranonis can improve gut health in mice.”

As a final step, the researchers looked to a dataset taken from children with Crohn’s disease who were treated with a specialized liquid diet known as exclusive enteral nutrition. Youngsters who responded to the therapy had an increase in numbers of the bacteria species Clostridium scindens, which, like C. hiranonis, is a potent producer of secondary bile acids.

The authors say the findings offer hope for better dietary therapies for IBD, perhaps ones that deliver “good” bacteria such as C. scindens or C. hiranonis while suppressing disease-associated species.

“Similar environmental exposures of dogs and children make the canine IBD model an excellent model of pediatric inflammatory bowel disease,” says Robert N. Baldassano, a study coauthor and pediatric gastroenterologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “This study has greatly improved our knowledge of pediatric IBD and will lead to new therapies for children suffering with this disease.”

Source:  Penn Today

How Humans Have Shaped Dogs’ Brains

Dog brain structure varies across breeds and is correlated with specific behaviors, according to new research published in JNeurosci. These findings show how, by selectively breeding for certain behaviors, humans have shaped the brains of their best friends.

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Over several hundred years, humans have selectively bred dogs to express specific physical and behavioral characteristics. Erin Hecht and colleagues investigated the effects of this selective pressure on brain structure by analyzing magnetic resonance imaging scans of 33 dog breeds. The research team observed wide variation in brain structure that was not simply related to body size or head shape.

The team then examined the areas of the brain with the most variation across breeds. This generated maps of six brain networks, with proposed functions varying from social bonding to movement, that were each associated with at least one behavioral characteristic. The variation in behaviors across breeds was correlated with anatomical variation in the six brain networks.

Studying the neuroanatomical variation in dogs offers a unique opportunity to study the evolutionary relationship between brain structure and behavior.

Read the manuscript in JNeurosci: Significant Neuroanatomical Variation Among Domestic Dog Breeds

Source:  Society for Neuroscience

That spot on Izzy’s muzzle

At a social walk yesterday, quite a few of our friends noticed the purple stitches in Izzy’s muzzle.  She had a lump removed a little over a week ago (her stitches come out on Monday).

Everyone needs to understand that lumps cannot be diagnosed by the naked eye.  Without a biopsy, you can never be sure about the type of cells that are growing there.

In Izzy’s case, the spot on her nose opened up and bled like crazy and, by the following morning, had totally disappeared again.  Bleeding concerns me – hence the reason we went off to the vet.

Izzy's nose

The testing has come back and it’s good news.  The spot was a hemangioma, a benign growth that is related to sun damage.

With the spring and summer on their way, I’ve made a promise to both of us that I will be much more diligent in applying sunscreen to her muzzle each and every day.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

House­holds feed­ing their dogs and cats with raw food do not con­sider the diet a sig­ni­fic­ant source of in­fec­tions

Raw food research

Raw food denotes any meat, internal organs, bones and cartilage fed to pets uncooked Photo credit: Johanna Anturaniemi

An extensive international survey conducted at the University of Helsinki indicates that pet owners do not consider raw food to considerably increase infection risk in their household. In the survey, targeted at pet owners, raw food was reliably determined to be a contaminant only in three households.

The safety of feeding raw food to pets has become a topic of debate on a range of forums, but so far, no outbreaks of contamination among humans caused by raw pet food have been reported. Raw food denotes any meat, internal organs, bones and cartilage fed to pets uncooked.

Now, a survey conducted at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine investigated perceptions on food-transmitted pathogens among pet owners who feed their pets raw food.

A total of 16,475 households from 81 countries responded to the survey. Out of these, only 39 households (0.24%) reported having been contaminated by pet food, and were also able to name the pathogen. The most common pathogens reported were Campylobacteria followed by Salmonella, in addition to which there were occurrences of Escherichia coliClostridiumToxoplasmaand a single Yersinia infection.

However, the meat fed to pets had been analysed in only three households (0.02%), identifying the same pathogen as found in the samples taken from the infected individuals. As well as the 39 households above, 24 households (0.15%) reported a contamination from pet food without being able to name the pathogen causing the symptoms.

In total, 99.6% of households feeding their pets raw food did not report any pathogens being transmitted from the raw food to humans. The time the responding households had been feeding raw food to their pets ranged from several weeks to 65 years, with 5.5 years as the mean value. The reported cases of illness covered whole time frame that raw food was consumed in the household.

The median age among the infected individuals was 40.1 years. From among the 39 households with infections, in four the infected individuals were children between two and six years of age, while in two households the infected were immunocompromised individuals (cancer and Crohn’s disease). However, a quarter of these households had children between two and six years of age, while 15% had immunocompromised individuals.

“It was surprising to find that statistical analyses identified fewer infections in the households with more than 50% of the pet diet consisting of raw food. Furthermore, feeding pets raw salmon or turkey was associated with a smaller number of infections,” says researcher Johanna Anturaniemi from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

A positive correlation with infection was only found in relation to children between two and six years of age living in the household, even though most of the infected individuals (90%) were adults.

“This raises the question of whether the pathogens could have been transmitted by children from outdoors, daycare centres or other public spaces, even if pet food had been assumed to be the source of infection,” Anturaniemi says.

According to the researchers, the role of other factors in infections cannot be assessed in more detail within the confines of this study; rather, further research is needed. In contrast, reports of outbreaks of pathogens linked to pet treats and dry food can be found from around the world. In fact, the Dogrisk research group is planning to conduct a comparative follow-up study where infections transmitted from pet food are to be investigated in households that use both raw food and dry food.

The survey was translated into five languages and made available to all dog and cat owners across the globe feeding their cats and dogs raw food.

Ori­ginal art­icle:

Anturaniemi J, Barrouin-Melo SM, Zaldivar-López S, Sinkko H, Hielm-Björkman A. Owners’ perception of acquiring infections through raw pet food: a comprehensive internet-based survey. Vet Rec. 2019 Aug 19. pii: vetrec-2018-105122. doi: 10.1111/vr.105122.

Source:  University of Helsinki Life Science News

The pet effect: FSU researchers find furry friends ease depression, loneliness after spousal loss

As Healthy Aging Month is underway this September, Florida State University researchers have found the companionship of a pet after the loss of a spouse can help reduce feelings of depression and loneliness in older adults.

The study, funded by The Gerontological Society of America and the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition and published in The Gerontologist, examined depressive symptoms and loneliness among people age 50 and older who experienced the loss of a spouse through death or divorce.

FSU researchers

FSU Researchers Natalie Sachs-Ericsson (L) and Dawn Carr (R). At center is Journey, a golden retriever certified as a pet therapy animal at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. (FSU Photography Services/Bruce Palmer)

“Increasingly, there’s evidence that our social support networks are really beneficial for maintaining our mental health following stressful events, despite the devastation we experience in later life when we experience major social losses,” said Dawn Carr, lead author and FSU associate professor of sociology. “I was interested in understanding alternatives to human networks for buffering the psychological consequences of spousal loss.”

Carr and her team compared individuals who experienced the loss of a spouse to those who stayed continuously married. Then they explored whether the effects of spousal loss differed for those who had a pet at the time of the death or divorce.

They found all individuals who lost their spouse experienced higher levels of depression. However, people without a pet experienced more significant increases in depressive symptoms and higher loneliness than those who had pets. In fact, those who had a pet and experienced the death or divorce of their spouse were no lonelier than older adults who didn’t experience one of those events.

“That’s an important and impressive finding,” Carr said. “Experiencing some depression after a loss is normal, but we usually are able to adjust over time to these losses. Persistent loneliness, on the other hand, is associated with greater incidents of mortality and faster onset of disability, which means it’s especially bad for your health. Our findings suggest that pets could help individuals avoid the negative consequences of loneliness after a loss.”

Carr’s team used data from a sample of older adults who participated in an experimental survey about human animal interaction as part of the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study in 2012, and linked the data with additional data collected between 2008 and 2014. They identified pet owners as those participants who either had a cat or a dog.

“In everyday life, having a cat or dog may not make you healthier,” Carr said. “But when facing a stressful event, we might lean on a pet for support. You can talk to your dog. They’re not going to tell you you’re a bad person, they’re just going to love you. Or you can pet your cat, and it’s calming.”

The researchers noted that additional studies should be conducted to explain why having pets helps maintain mental health better. However, Carr suggested part of it may relate to whether you feel like you matter to someone.

“Oftentimes, the relationship we have with our spouse is our most intimate, where our sense of self is really embedded in that relationship,” Carr said. “So, losing that sense of purpose and meaning in our lives that comes from that relationship can be really devastating. A pet might help offset some of those feelings. It makes sense to think, ‘Well at least this pet still needs me. I can take care of it. I can love it and it appreciates me.’ That ability to give back and give love is really pretty powerful.”

The findings have potential consequences for social policies. For instance, it may be beneficial to include companion animals in the treatment of people residing in senior-living facilities, or reducing barriers to pet ownership in such settings.

Source:  Florida State University News