Climbing the social ladder is ruff business says new research

Top dogs in a pack are known to assert their dominance, but scientists studied a group of free-roaming mongrels and found high levels of aggression in the middle of the dominance hierarchy.

Most theories predict more aggression higher up the ladder. However, the researchers say the difficulty of working out the pecking order in the crowded middle leads to aggression.

Wild_dogs

The study focussed on a group of wild dogs living on the outskirts of Rome (credit: Simona Cafazzo)

The research was carried out by the University of Exeter (UK) and by the Veterinary Service of the Local Health Unit Rome 3 (Italy).

“Our results reveal the unavoidable costs of climbing a dominance hierarchy,” said Dr Matthew Silk, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“In the middle of the hierarchy – where it’s harder to predict which animal should be dominant – we see lots of aggression.”

Professor Robbie McDonald said: “Fighting over food and mates uses energy and time and can lead to injuries, so hierarchies play an important role because animals know their place without needing to fight.”

The year-long study examined a pack of 27 mongrel dogs that roamed freely in the suburbs of Rome.

The dogs did not live with humans, although they relied on humans for food.

Their hierarchy was based on age and sex, with adults dominant over younger dogs and males dominant over females of the same age group.

“Although fights within a social group of free-roaming dogs are usually characterised by low-intensity aggression, the middle of the hierarchy is occupied by young males of similar size and age, among whom nothing is definitive and for whom the challenge is to gain rank,” said Dr Simona Cafazzo, of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.

“Our results confirm that these dogs have an age-graded dominance hierarchy similar to that of wolves,” added Dr Eugenia Natoli, of the Veterinary Service of the Local Health Unit Rome 3.

Dominant behaviour included a stiff, upright body, holding the head and tail high and laying a paw on another dog’s back.

Submissive behaviour included avoiding eye contact, holding the head and ears low and lying down with the chest and stomach exposed.

The research was partly funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

The paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is entitled: “Elevated aggression is associated with uncertainty in a network of dog dominance interactions.”

Source:   University of Exeter

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Doggy quote of the month for July

“Like humans, dogs should be eating a variety of nutritious foods, and not living on just one specific formula.”

– Dr Jean Dodds, DVM

Izzy the greyhound eats a varied diet

The Box

Izzy loves our AutoShip with Pet.co.nz, which means we have a regular dog food delivery.    Her eyes light up, but not because she’s a foodie…

…rather, much like a young baby who likes playing with the pots and pans rather than her expensive new toys, Izzy loves The Box!

In her world, there’s nothing better than having paper products to shred.

2Izzy with pet food boxIzzy with pet food shipmentIzzy with her shredded box

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

The evolution of puppy dog eyes

Dogs have evolved new muscles around the eyes to better communicate with humans. New research comparing the anatomy and behavior of dogs and wolves suggests dogs’ facial anatomy has changed over thousands of years specifically to allow them to better communicate with humans.

Puppy dog eyes

In the first detailed analysis comparing the anatomy and behavior of dogs and wolves, researchers found that the facial musculature of both species was similar, except above the eyes. Dogs have a small muscle, which allows them to intensely raise their inner eyebrow, which wolves do not.

The authors suggest that the inner eyebrow raising movement triggers a nurturing response in humans because it makes the dogs’ eyes appear larger, more infant like and also resembles a movement humans produce when they are sad.

The research team, led by comparative psychologist Dr Juliane Kaminski, at the University of Portsmouth, included a team of behavioural and anatomical experts in the UK and USA.

It is published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

Dr Kaminski said: “The evidence is compelling that dogs developed a muscle to raise the inner eyebrow after they were domesticated from wolves.

“We also studied dogs’ and wolves’ behavior, and when exposed to a human for two minutes, dogs raised their inner eyebrows more and at higher intensities than wolves.

“The findings suggest that expressive eyebrows in dogs may be a result of humans unconscious preferences that influenced selection during domestication. When dogs make the movement, it seems to elicit a strong desire in humans to look after them. This would give dogs, that move their eyebrows more, a selection advantage over others and reinforce the ‘puppy dog eyes’ trait for future generations.”

Dr Kaminski’s previous research showed dogs moved their eyebrows significantly more when humans were looking at them compared to when they were not looking at them.

She said: “The AU101 movement is significant in the human-dog bond because it might elicit a caring response from humans but also might create the illusion of human-like communication.”

Lead anatomist Professor Anne Burrows, at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, USA, co-author of the paper, said: “To determine whether this eyebrow movement is a result of evolution, we compared the facial anatomy and behaviour of these two species and found the muscle that allows for the eyebrow raise in dogs was, in wolves, a scant, irregular cluster of fibres.

“The raised inner eyebrow movement in dogs is driven by a muscle which doesn’t consistently exist in their closest living relative, the wolf.

“This is a striking difference for species separated only 33,000 years ago and we think that the remarkably fast facial muscular changes can be directly linked to dogs’ enhanced social interaction with humans.”

Dr Kaminski and co-author, evolutionary psychologist Professor Bridget Waller, also at the University of Portsmouth, previously mapped the facial muscular structure of dogs, naming the movement responsible for a raised inner eyebrow the Action Unit (AU) 101.

Professor Waller said: “This movement makes a dogs’ eyes appear larger, giving them a childlike appearance. It could also mimic the facial movement humans make when they’re sad.

“Our findings show how important faces can be in capturing our attention, and how powerful facial expression can be in social interaction.”

Co-author and anatomist Adam Hartstone-Rose, at North Carolina State University, USA, said: “These muscles are so thin that you can literally see through them – and yet the movement that they allow seems to have such a powerful effect that it appears to have been under substantial evolutionary pressure. It is really remarkable that these simple differences in facial expression may have helped define the relationship between early dogs and humans.”

Co-author Rui Diogo, an anatomist at Howard University, Washington DC, USA, said: “I must admit that I was surprised to see the results myself because the gross anatomy of muscles is normally very slow to change in evolution, and this happened very fast indeed, in just some dozens of thousands of years.”

Soft tissue, including muscle, doesn’t tend to survive in the fossil record, making the study of this type of evolution harder.

The only dog species in the study that did not have the muscle was the Siberian husky, which is among more ancient dog breeds.

An alternative reason for the human-dog bond could be that humans have a preference for other individuals which have whites in the eye and that intense AU 101 movements exposes the white part of the dogs eyes.

It is not known why or precisely when humans first brought wolves in from the cold and the evolution from wolf to dog began, but this research helps us understand some of the likely mechanisms underlying dog domestication.

Source:  University of Portsmouth

Sleeping with your dog – yes or no?

USA bedding manufacturer, Casper, has produced a useful infographic about the research into the benefits of sleeping with your dog (and a few tips about when you probably shouldn’t).

Reasons to sleep with your dog

Source:  Casper.com

“Moral distress” in the veterinary profession

This study’s lead author is Dr Lisa Moses.  Back in 2012, Lisa allowed me to follow her at Angell Animal Medical Center as she worked with dogs in her pain management clinic.

Although no one will argue about the rates of suicide in the veterinary profession, I’d also suggest that complementary practitioners also suffer from a level of moral distress – I’ve seen dogs that could have significant improvement but their owners are prevented from pursuing full therapy for a variety of reasons.  My very first tutor in canine massage prepared us by saying, “you will meet clients that don’t share your values or moral compass.”

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


In some ways, it can be harder to be a doctor of animals than a doctor of humans.

“We are in the really unenviable, and really difficult, position of caring for patients maybe for their entire lives, developing our own relationships with those animals — and then being asked to kill them,” says Dr. Lisa Moses, a veterinarian at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Animal Medical Center and a bioethicist at Harvard Medical School.

Dr Lisa Moses

Dr Lisa Moses courtesy of MSPCA – Angell

She’s the lead author of a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine about “moral distress” among veterinarians. The survey of more than 800 vets found that most feel ethical qualms — at least sometimes — about what pet owners ask them to do. And that takes a toll on their mental health.

Dr. Virginia Sinnott-Stutzman is all too familiar with the results. As a senior staff veterinarian in emergency and critical care at Angell, she sees a lot of very sick animals — and quite a few decisions by owners that trouble her

Sometimes, owners elect to have their pets put to sleep because they can’t or won’t pay for treatment, she says. Or the opposite, “where we know in our heart of hearts that there is no hope to save the animal, or that the animal is suffering and the owners have a set of beliefs that make them want to keep going.”

Distress around choices such as those is pervasive among vets, Moses and her colleagues found. For example, 69 percent said they had felt moderate to severe distress about not being able to give animals what they thought was the right care. Almost two-thirds were bothered by inappropriate requests for euthanasia.

The study’s senior author, Cambridge Health Alliance psychiatrist and Harvard bioethicist J. Wesley Boyd, sees a connection between the study’s findings and daunting statistics about veterinarians’ suicide rates: “My assumption,” he says, “is that the findings from our survey are definitely part of, or even the majority of, the reason why veterinarians have higher-than-average suicide rates.”

And Moses says that while euthanizing an animal is often the right thing to do to end suffering, that doesn’t make it easy.

“I want to make a plea to the pet-owning public to understand that, no matter what you think, odds are the person who’s trying to help you take care of your animal has pretty strong feelings about how important that is,” she says. “And they feel it.”

The study’s authors are calling for better training — in veterinary school and beyond — on self-care and how to cope with moral distress and ethical conflict.

Sinnott-Stutzman defines moral distress as the feeling when the vet determines an optimal treatment course but is blocked from carrying it out — whether because of money, or an owner’s beliefs, or rules about, say, dogs that bite.

“The most poignant example is when a young dog has a fracture — so a totally fixable, non-life-threatening problem,” she says. But an owner neither wants to pay for a proper fix nor have a three-legged dog, and opts for euthanasia instead.

“That’s a really tough thing to go through,” she says. It’s also particularly hard, she says, when owners, caught up in their grief, project their anger onto the vet. “So in this example,” she says, they might say, ” ‘We have to kill our dog because you’re all about the money,’ which is of course not the case.”

In her 15 years doing emergency and critical care, Sinnott-Stutzman says, she has changed how she copes with moral distress. In the past, she would mainly talk tough cases through with colleagues. Now, she often tries to refocus her mind — meditate, take a walk, think about her kids. She might share an experience with her husband — who will focus on her feelings — rather than a colleague, who is likelier to focus on the medical aspects.

She strongly endorses the study authors’ call for better training for vets in how to handle moral distress. Everything she has learned about coping has come from mentors and friends outside the veterinary profession, she says, and “it absolutely needs to be part of how we teach vets.”

Source:  WBUR

Bad teeth revealed as biggest problem for pet greyhounds

Dental disease is the most common health issue facing pet greyhounds, according to the largest ever study of greyhounds treated in first opinion veterinary clinics. The research, led by the Royal Veterinary College’s (RVC) VetCompass programme in collaboration with the University of Bristol Vet School, reveals that 39 per cent of greyhounds suffer from dental problems, which is a far higher percentage than for any other dog breed.

greyhound dental disease

As well as bad teeth, the research revealed that traumatic injuries, overgrown nails and osteoarthritis are also major concerns for pet greyhounds. Overgrown nails affected 11.1 per cent of greyhounds, wounds 6.2 per cent, osteoarthritis 4.6 per cent and claw injury 4.2 per cent.

Greyhounds in the UK are typically used for racing during their early lives, with an increasing number rehomed as pets after their racing careers are over. The results of this study, which is published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, adds significantly to evidence available for the debate on the welfare issues surrounding greyhound racing. It will also help breeders and regulators to prioritise activities to mitigate the worst of the harm to greyhounds from their racing careers, as well as help greyhound rehoming organisations advise adopters on optimal preventative care options.

Researchers studied 5,419 greyhounds seen by first opinion vets in 2016. Key findings include:

  • The most common disease in greyhounds was dental disease (39.0 per cent affected). This is much higher than reported for other larger breeds such as the German Shepherd Dog (4.1 per cent) or the Rottweiler (3.1 per cent);
  • Urinary incontinence was more common in female greyhounds (3.4 per cent) than males (0.4 per cent);
  • Aggression was more commonly reported in males (2.6 per cent) than females (one per cent);
  • The median lifespan for greyhounds is 11.4 years, compared to the 12 years previously reported for dogs overall;
  • The most common causes of death in greyhounds are cancer (21.5 per cent), collapse (14.3 per cent) and arthritis (7.8 per cent).

Dr Dan O’Neill, Veterinary Epidemiologist and VetCompassTM researcher at the RVC, who was the main author of the paper, said: “Pet greyhounds are now a common breed treated in general veterinary practices in the UK. Retired racing greyhounds can make very good pets, but these results sadly show that they also carry health legacies from inherent breed predispositions as well as impacts from their prior racing careers. These potential problems include bad teeth, behavioural issues and arthritis. Our new VetCompass evidence especially reveals a worryingly high level of dental disease. This awareness should encourage all those who care for the greyhound to prioritise preventive and remedial strategies for these issues and therefore to  improve the welfare of this lovely breed, both before and after rehoming as pets.”

Dr Nicola Rooney, co-author and lead researcher on Greyhound Welfare Project at the Bristol Veterinary School, added: “Greyhounds can make fantastic pets and live long healthy lives, but it has long been suspected that they are particularly prone to dental problems which can negatively impact upon their quality of life. Here we have the first evidence that levels of dental issues are higher in greyhounds than in other breeds. This highlights the importance of conducting research into ways of improving dental health.

“At Bristol we have been conducting a three-year research programme to further understand what causes dental problems in greyhounds and methods to avoid them. Combined with the current RVC study, this is an important step to understanding and improving the future welfare of greyhounds.”

Professor Steve Dean, Chairman of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust (KCCT), explained: “I must declare an interest in this study as my additional role as Chairman of the Greyhound Trust reveals my enthusiasm for this lovely breed. It will come as no surprise to those who love greyhounds that dental plaque is a significant condition in this breed. This latest study from the VetCompass initiative reveals the extent of the problem and should stimulate interest in further work to understand why periodontal disease is such an issue for both the racing dog and the retired greyhound. Effective research could also have a far reaching impact for several other breeds that suffer a similar challenge. The VetCompass programme has been helpful in revealing breed specific problems and this study is yet another informative analysis   of extensive clinical data. The Kennel Club Charitable Trust regards the financial support it provides as a successful investment in clinical research.”

Paper

Greyhounds under general veterinary care in the UK during 2016: demography and common disorders by O’Neill, D.G., Rooney, N.J., Brock, C., Church, D.B., Brodbelt, D.C. and Pegram, C. in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology [open access]

Source:  University of Bristol media statement