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

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Doggy quote of the month for September

Brigitte Bardot quote

Dogs with lung cancer may get gene-directed treatment with the same drug used to combat a type of human breast cancer

Despite those velvet paintings of poker-playing dogs smoking pipes, cigars and cigarettes, our canine friends really don’t use tobacco. But like many humans who have never smoked, dogs still get lung cancer.photo-for-her2-study

And, like many women who develop a particular type of breast cancer, the same gene — HER2 — also appears to be the cause of lung cancer in many dogs, according to a promising new study of pet dogs led by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), an affiliate of the City of Hope, and The Ohio State University.

Published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, this study could have significant implications for people who have never smoked.

TGen and Ohio State found that neratinib — a drug that has successfully been used to battle human breast cancer — might also work for many of the nearly 40,000 dogs in the U.S. that annually develop the most common type of canine lung cancer, known as canine pulmonary adenocarcinoma, or CPAC.

Neratinib inhibits a mutant cancer-causing form of the gene HER2, which is common to both CPAC and HER2-positive human breast cancer patients.

“With colleagues at Ohio State, we found a novel HER2 mutation in nearly half of dogs with CPAC. We now have a candidate therapeutic opportunity for a large proportion of dogs with lung cancer,” said Dr. Will Hendricks, an Assistant Professor in TGen’s Integrated Cancer Genomics Division, Director of Institutional Research Initiatives, and the study’s senior author.

Based on the results from this study, a clinical trial using neratinib is planned for dogs with naturally occurring lung cancer that have the HER2 mutation.

“This is the first precision medicine clinical trial for dogs with lung cancer. That is, the selection of cancer therapy for a particular patient is based on the genomic profile of the patient’s tumor and matched with agents that are known to specially target the identified mutation,” said Dr. Wendy Lorch, an Associate Professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, who also will run the study’s clinical trial.

“Our team at The Ohio State University has worked for years to find treatments for canine lung cancer. This breakthrough shows the value of these studies for dogs, as well as humans with lung cancer who never smoked,” said Dr. Lorch, who also is the study’s lead author.

CPAC is an aggressive disease that clinically resembles human lung cancer among never-smokers. There is no standard-of-care treatment for CPAC and — prior to the work performed by the TGen-Ohio State team — little was known of the disease’s genetic underpinnings.

“These results are the first example of our efforts to adapt genomics tools from the human world, such as gene sequencing and liquid biopsies, to generate novel insights in canine cancers, with mutual benefit for both,” said Dr. Muhammed Murtaza, Assistant Professor and Co-Director of TGen’s Center for Noninvasive Diagnostics, and one of the study’s contributing authors.

While the sequencing of hundreds of thousands of human cancer genomes has driven the transformational development of precise targeted cancer treatments for humans over the past decade, relatively few canine cancer genomes have undergone similar profiling. The canine cancer genomic discovery and drug development efforts of the TGen-Ohio State team are pieces of a larger puzzle that could similarly transform veterinary oncology, while creating bridges between canine and human cancer drug development.

“This study is groundbreaking because it not only identified a recurring mutation in a canine cancer that had never been found before, but it actually led directly to a clinical trial,” said Dr. Jeff Trent, TGen President and Research Director, and one of the study’s contributing authors. “This clinical translation from dog to human and back is the holy grail of comparative cancer research.”

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., annually taking the lives of more than 154,000 Americans.

“This study is really exciting to us because, not only have we found a recurrent hot-spot mutation in a canine cancer that had never been found before, but it actually has direct clinical translational relevance. For humans, we already have drugs that can inhibit many dysregulated proteins. We hope to show that we can provide the same benefit for dogs with canine cancers,” Dr. Hendricks added.

No dogs were harmed in this study. Only pet dogs with naturally occurring cancer were examined.

This study — Identification of recurrent activating HER2 mutations in primary canine pulmonary adenocarcinoma — lays the foundation for potential rapid translational development. Follow-up clinical and genomic studies have been funded in part by a $300,000 grant investment from the Petco Foundation made possible through their 10-year Pet Cancer Campaign in partnership with Blue Buffalo. Susanne Kogut, President of The Petco Foundation, said her organization’s investment in the next phase of TGen-Ohio State studies is part of a larger effort to improve the health and welfare of pets everywhere.

“We are so excited to be a part of this study of canine lung cancer, which we hope will rapidly benefit our pet, and pet-parent, communities worldwide,” said Kogut, who in 2016 was named one of 25 “women of influence” by Pet Age magazine.

Source:  TGen meda release

Julian Castro’s PAW Plan

The campaigning for the US presidential election is just getting started.  Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro has upped the ante with his release of a plan for animals – both domestic and wild.

Julian Castro

I don’t know a lot about Mr Castro, except that he served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama.

It’s really great to see a policy statement that includes things like:

  • Opposing efforts to prohibit pets in social housing
  • Implementing pet-friendly and breed-neutral policies in affordable housing
  • Supporting animal companionship in federal policy because “pets are considered family and federal policy on housing should reflect that”
  • Prohibiting the testing of cosmetic products on animals

Plus policies addressing dog breeding, strengthening the Endangered Species Act, establishing a National Wildlife Recovery Fund ….and more.

Read the full Protecting Animals and Wildlife (PAW) Plan here

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

Pawsitively sad

We are all familiar with the sounds of a cat or dog vying for human attention, and for pet-owners, these sounds are particularly evocative. Dog sounds are especially sad to both cat and dog owners, who actually rate a whimpering dog as sounding as sad as a crying baby.

Pawsitively Sad

These results are reported in the new study, Pawsitively sad: pet-owners are more sensitive to negative emotion in animal distress vocalizations, from Associate Professor, Christine Parsons, who is based at the Interacting Minds Centre at the Department of Clinical medicine at Aarhus University, Denmark. She is the first author of the scientific article published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

“Pet ownership is associated with greater sensitivity to pet distress sounds, and it may be part of the reason why we are willing to spend large amounts of time and resources on our domestic companions. It might also explain why we find interacting with pets so rewarding, and are emotionally impacted by both positive communication signals, like purring and negative, like meows or whines,” says Christine Parsons.

She explains that the work was carried out as part of building a major database of emotional sounds — originally developed to test the instinctive responses that parents have to their children. In this study, Parsons has worked with researchers from the University of Oxford, the University of California LA, and King’s College of London.

The researchers tested more than 500 young adults and found that dog whines sounded ‘more negative’ to dog or cat owners, compared to people with no pets, whereas cat meows sounded sadder only to cat owners. Another finding was that regardless of pet ownership, dog whines sounded sadder than cat meows.

“The result suggests that dogs, more effectively than cats, communicate distress to humans and that pet ownership is linked to greater emotional sensitivity to these sounds. For sounds that we need to respond to, like a dog that is utterly dependent on its human host for food and care, it makes sense that we find these sounds emotionally compelling,” says Christine Parsons.

Parsons’s collaborator, Katherine Young, a lecturer at King’s College London and senior author, also points out that dog owners in general spend more time providing basic care to their pets than cat owners. Dog owners need to take their pets for walks, they need more dedicated care, while cat owners have fewer obligations. Cats are semi-domesticated, and generally retain their independence, along with an air of mystique. They come and go as they please.

“This difference in animal dependence may explain why dog whines are rated as more negative than cat meows by all adults, including cat-owners. Dogs may simply have more effective distress signals than cats,” says Katherine Young.

According to Christine Parsons the study also found no evidence to support the longstanding ‘crazy cat lady’ stereotype. Female cat owners have, for many years, been portrayed as neurotic, lonely, sexless and eccentric. Dog owners, and dog ownership is seen more positively, associated with benefits like the ‘Lassie effect’. Named after the TV collie, Lassie, dog owners typically get more physical exercise than non-owners, a happy side-effect of dog walks.

“In general, we think of dog owners in more positive terms than cat owners. In our study, we were able to test how cat-owners, dog owners and people with no pets responded on a series of robust psychological measures. We found no differences,” Christine Parsons says.

“For symptoms of anxiety, depression and self-reported experiences in close relationships, we found no differences between adults with and without pets. We suggesting that cat or dog ownership is not necessarily associated with individual differences in psychological health, at least as tested here.”

Sources:  Pawsitively sad: pet owners are more sensitive to negative emotion in animal distress vocalizations and ScienceDaily

Continuing education in pain management

In some professions (like mine) unless you choose to belong to a professional association that requires it, there is no requirement for continuing education (“CE”) or lifelong learning.

Long before I became Fear Free certified, I pledged that I would invest time and resources each year to additional study and I list everything I’ve done on my website to give my clients transparency and assurance.

This weekend has been a study weekend for me.  I’ve just finished a course in the Effects and Management of Chronic Pain in dogs and cats.  Chronic pain presents challenges for a number of reasons including:

  • recognition by the owner that their animal may be in pain
  • scoring of pain and tracking of improvements – a communication challenge across practitioners (owner, vet, massage/rehab therapist)
  • trigger points, myofascial pain syndrome, and compensation in movement which must be resolved to manage the pain (this is where my skills, in particular, are important)
  • setting realistic goals for the dog’s future activity

I was pleased to see the course endorse things I already do in my practice, such as having owners keep a journal of their dog’s movement and pain.

What I particularly liked is the description that arthritis is not an old dog’s disease – it’s a young dog’s disease because development of osteoarthritis is typically secondary to a conformational issue.   For those of you who wonder why I insist on gait analysis, this is why!

I cannot emphasise enough that we need to use our observational skills with our dogs because they are non-verbal communicators.  This video from Canine Arthritis Management ‘In Silence’ puts this important issue into perspective.

So in signing off, I use the words of basketball coach John Wooden, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

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

It will soon be a crime in Alabama to misrepresent a pet as a service animal

Note from DoggyMom:

It’s been fairly easy to buy fake service dog gear online and too many people think that that’s okay – to get their pet dog into a restaurant or onto a plane.   I love dogs; I particularly love well-mannered and trained dogs (which are a reflection of their owners).  Whenever a fake service dog causes a problem, it undermines those of us who want a more open and dog-friendly community which promotes and supports responsible dog ownership.

Most importantly, the people who rely on service dogs have come under suspicion and have been denied access to the places that they lawfully have a right to go. Given the investment and support needed to train a legitimate service dog, and the proven benefits to their human recipient, these incidents are tragedies for all involved.

It’s good to see penalties for those who misrepresent their dog as a service dog.


People who falsely claim their pet is a service animal could soon face criminal charges in Alabama.

Alabama comfort dog

Fido may provide comfort but Alabama is cracking down on people who misrepresent pets as service animals.

Starting Sept. 1, there will be a criminal penalty for those who misrepresent a pet as a service animal or animal-in-training in public spaces or when seeking housing accommodations in Alabama. Making false claims will be a Class C misdemeanor resulting in a $100 fine and 100 hours of community service to be performed with an organization that serves people with disabilities or one approved by the court.

The Alabama act stipulates that a service animals are limited to two types: a dog or a miniature horse. The animal must be individually trained to do work or perform tasks that benefit a person with a disability, such as a guide dog for someone with visual impairments or an animal trained to provide help to someone with post traumatic stress disorder. The ADA does not restrict service animals to a particular dog breed and service animals are generally allowed in all public areas and private businesses.

Animals that provide comfort or emotional support just by being with someone are not classified as service animals under the ADA.

“A service animal may not be a pet,” the Alabama law states. “The crime-deterrent effect of the presence of an animal and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort or companionship may not constitute work or tasks…”

The law also allows for signs to be posted in public places with the message: “Service animals are welcome. It is illegal for a person to misrepresent an animal in that person’s possession as a service animal.”

The bill makes Alabama one of 25 states that have laws related to fraudulent representation of service animals. Penalties range from up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,000 in California to fines of $100 in New Jersey.

Source: AL.com