Tag Archives: poop

Sniffing out error in detection dog data

A new study in the journal Scientific Reports gets to the bottom of it: Why do dogs that are trained to locate poop sometimes find the wrong kind of poop?

Sniffer dog reseawrcgh

Washington University researcher Karen DeMatteo and her scat-sniffing dog Train are on a mission to preserve jaguars, pumas, bush dogs and other carnivores in the forests of Northeastern Argentina. (Photo: courtesy of Karen DeMatteo/Washington University)

It happens anywhere from 4 percent to 45 percent of the time, said Karen DeMatteo, a biologist in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Her new research confirms that there are three viable, alternative explanations beyond errors in handler or dog training that can explain the collection of non-target scats with detection dogs in some ecosystems.

Detection dogs are trained to use scent, not their eyes, to locate specific kinds of scat. They’re useful partners in conservation projects as an alternative to camera photo traps or other more invasive means of identifying which individual animals are present in an area.

And while finding the wrong kind of poop doesn’t ultimately muck up research results — researchers who use scat to track animals usually use DNA tests to confirm the identity of target and non-target evacuators — collecting and testing false positives costs a project time and resources.

“To date, when non-target samples are found in detection dog studies, it is assumed it may be due to errors in detection dog or handler training; however, our study determined that this is not always the case,” DeMatteo said. “Instead, the complexity of ecosystems where a study is conducted can affect the perceived accuracy of detection dog studies because the natural behaviors of non-target species, like coyotes in our study, can alter the genetic profile of target scat, like that from a puma.”

In her own work, DeMatteo has successfully used scat-detection dogs to identify the routes traveled by endangered pumas and other reclusive carnivores along a biologically important corridor in Argentina.

Detection dogs are great at determining the presence of specific animals because they can find droppings hidden in grass, droppings that have been rained on and disintegrated into the mud — or even droppings that have been eaten and then recycled.

Yes, that’s right, and it’s a normal part of life for many animals, DeMatteo said.

“Humans have a natural aversion to coprophagy, which is reflected in the visual horror on an owner’s face when they see their dog gobble down their own scat or the scat of another dog or cat,” DeMatteo said. “Once this shock subsides, the owner typically worries that the scat will cause health problems or there is something psychologically wrong with their four-legged friend.”

“While the reasons underlying coprophagy in domestic dogs are still fuzzy, it is known in wild canids that coprophagy is natural and is often associated with territoriality or nutritional benefits,” she said. “So while the finding that coyotes will consume puma scat is novel and has various ecological implications, coprophagy occurs naturally under a variety of circumstances.”

The tendency of one animal to eat another’s scat is one of three behaviors that might alter the type of scat, or the state of the scat, that a detector dog might encounter, and thus affect the perceived accuracy of the technique.

Researchers also considered how urine-marking by non-target species might affect a detector dog’s ability to locate scat from a species of interest, and also what happens if one animal picks up another’s scat and moves it using its mouth, potentially bringing it into contact with saliva. Field trials were conducted in the St. Louis area and in northwest Nebraska.

The researchers found that each of the proposed behaviors alters the genetic profile of the scat in question, and all were confirmed to play a role in the detection dog indicating on non-target scats.

The pool of conservation-trained detection dogs is constantly growing in number, as are the types of target species and the areas where they are being used, DeMatteo said. One of the continuing questions surrounding their use for these types of projects is how to maintain a high quality standard for training detection dogs and their handlers.

“In reality, the dog is easier to train than the handler, with the latter having a higher chance of introducing error,” DeMatteo said. “Even with these variables, these results are extendable to other dog-handler teams with less experience, as long as consistency is used.”

While this study, “How behavior of nontarget species affects perceived accuracy of scat detection dog surveys,” demonstrates that there are alternative explanations for why dogs sometimes collect non-target samples, it also shines a light on behaviors that humans may not understand — but that could play a role in ecosystem functioning.

“Genetic testing can eliminate these samples and maintain accuracy in the [detection dog-assisted] studies,” DeMatteo said. “However, this non-target interaction with target scat potentially has important implications for other ecological questions, including parasite/disease transmission, zoonotic diseases and general health of wild populations.”

 

Source:  Washington University in St Louis media statement

 

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Your dog’s poo

They say that the eyes are the window to the soul; in many ways your dog’s poo is a window on their health.

(I never thought I’d see the day when I wrote about poop – but there’s a first time for everything.)

Have you noticed that the color of your dog’s poo changes with what they are fed?  For example, if you are feeding raw venison, chances are the poo is quite dark.

If, however, the stool has a noticeably black color such as in this photo, this can indicate digested blood and you should be off the vet for a check (don’t be shy, take a sample with you!).

A yellow or slightly green tone indicates a rapid transit time in the bowel, typical if your dog has had diarrhea, as in below.  But consistently soft stools can also be an indicator of bowel disease such as IBD.

Diarrhea or loose stool

A white or chalky color to the stool indicates a very high content of calcium, often found in dogs that are being fed raw with a high bone content.  If your dog is passing stools of this color, they are at risk of constipation from the bone material they are ingesting because of the dryness and risk of impaction.  In my practice, I am seeing  instances of poor mixing of raw foods and it usually from the same supplier – which is why I recommend only certain sources of food to my customers.

White chalky stools, an indicator of high bone content

If you see bright red blood in the stool, it’s also time to talk to your vet and of course, if you see visible worms than a vet visit is also recommended.

And finally, if your dog passes poos that are a neon green in color, they’ve been exposed to rat or mice poison and urgent attention is needed.

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

 

Dog Poop Microbiome Predicts Canine Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Our gut microbiomes — the varieties of microbes living in our digestive tracts — may play a role in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Since dogs can also suffer from IBD, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine analyzed fecal samples from dogs with and without the disease. They discovered a pattern of microbes indicative of IBD in dogs. With more than 90 percent accuracy, the team was able to use that information to predict which dogs had IBD and which did not. However, they also determined that the gut microbiomes of dogs and humans are not similar enough to use dogs as animal models for humans with this disease.

The study is published October 3, 2016 in Nature Microbiology.

jorgie
This French Bulldog, named Jorgie, has recently been diagnosed with IBD. A test based on this research would likely be more cost effective for diagnosis and lead to earlier detection. Photo: K Crisley, The Balanced Dog

“One of the really frustrating things about IBD in humans is that it’s hard to diagnose — it usually requires intestinal biopsies, which are not only imperfect, but invasive and expensive to collect,” said senior author Rob Knight, PhD, professor in the Departments of Pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Computer Science and Engineering and director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC San Diego.

According to Knight, most people with IBD have similar changes in the types of microbes living in their intestinal tracts, relative to healthy people. Yet it’s still difficult to discern healthy people from those with IBD just by looking at the microbes in their fecal samples. In addition, Knight said it’s not yet clear whether the microbial patterns associated with IBD contribute to the disease’s cause or are a result of the disease.

In a separate line of study, pets appear to be a conduit for microbe sharing in a house. Knight and collaborators previously found that microbial communities on adult skin are on average more similar to those of their own dogs than to other dogs. With a fair amount of precision, they can pick your dog out of a crowd based solely on overlap in your microbiomes.

In this latest study, Knight and team collected fecal samples from 85 healthy dogs and 65 dogs with chronic signs of gastrointestinal disease and inflammatory changes confirmed by pathology. To determine which microbial species were living in each sample, they used a technique Knight and collaborators popularized, called 16S rRNA sequencing, to quickly identify millions of bacterial species living in a mixed sample, based on the unique genes they harbor.

With this information, the researchers were able to look for similarities and differences in the microbial species found in IBD and non-IBD dogs. The differences were significant enough that they could distinguish IBD dog feces from non-IBD with more than 90 percent accuracy.

The researchers also compared the dog data to 2014 parallel findings in humans. The team found some similarities in the microbial interactions of IBD samples between dogs and humans, however the overlap was only partial. For example, Fusobacterium bacteria are associated with diseases in humans, but in dogs was associated with the non-IBD samples.

The study’s first author, Yoshiki Vázquez-Baeza, a graduate student in UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering and a member of Knight’s lab, noted a potential limitation of the study — there were fewer healthy human samples than IBD samples in the 2014 human data set. But to best of their knowledge, he said, their statistical methods should not be affected by that.

“One of the really nice things about this study is that all of the statistical software packages we used to analyze data are available online, and anyone can see our exact calculations,” said Vázquez-Baeza. “Too often we read about a study with interesting conclusions, but it’s not completely clear how the authors got there. This approach is more open and transparent.”

This approach to diagnosing IBD in dogs is not yet available to veterinarians or dog owners, Vázquez-Baeza said. Moving forward, the researchers would like to study the overlap in IBD and non-IBD gut microbiomes among a series of animals. Zoo animals, for example, experience IBD more often than their wild counterparts, and studying them might help Knight, Vázquez-Baeza and team find key microbial players in IBD across species.

IBD is a family of diseases that includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. IBD is characterized by chronic inflammation in the digestive tract, which can cause pain, severe diarrhea and weight loss. IBD can be debilitating and sometimes leads to life-threatening complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than 1 million Americans are living with IBD.

Source:  University of California San Diego media release

An interesting comparison

The Waipa District Council in New Zealand has created an interesting infographic for its citizens about the cost of having to clean up dumped rubbish.Waipa

Notice that they could have spent this money, amongst other things, on 150 dog poo bins at local parks.

What’s significant here is the use of the comparison.  Picking up dog poo matters to most people.  Be a responsible dog owner and clean up after your dog.

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

 

Canine companions and the lure of inattentively pooping in public

The title of this post is unashamedly taken from an article in the journal Environmental Sociology.

Dog poop flagged for research

Photo by Matthias Gross

This article is a study, primarily focused on European nations, and the patterns of owners who do/do not clean up after their dog poops.

The author observed that people are more likely to clean up after their dog when there are people around to watch.

I’ll let you read it for yourself…

The study’s (published) conclusion is:

This exploratory study thus suggests that observing activities and strategies of defecating may provide new insight into human–animal relationships by exploring the role of droppings. An important prerequisite for successfully displaying poop and for diverting attention away from the fact that dog poop is increasingly to be seen in public is that the actors involved are skillful enough to attest to nonknowledge about the production of excrements by their best friends.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Other blog posts about dog poop include:

A different way to encourage owners to scoop

Let’s make the world less crap…

That’s the opening line of a current Kickstarter campaign to obtain funding for Poopins, a biodegradable marker for piles of dog poo that haven’t been removed by unthinking dog walkers.

Scoop Ya Poop

Motivated by walks on Sumner Beach here in Christchurch, where numerous piles of dog poo have been observed, local man Stephen McCarthy came up with the idea of Poopins  (think ‘poo’ and ‘pins’ combined).

I’m not sure if this product will ultimately get funded.  But, the fact that someone is thinking of this type of open reminder to dog owners, points to the fact that we have too many irresponsible dog owners in this city.

Picking up your dog’s feces should be non-negotiable.  Today, as part of my weekly shopping, I bought a package of nappy bags (diaper bags for Northern Hemisphere readers) for picking up poop.  Bags are probably the easiest thing to get hold of; I re-use bags when I have them available, and then the nappy bags the rest of the time.

Some of the options that could be available if Poopins are able to launch onto the market

Some of the options that could be available if Poopins are able to launch onto the market

I personally would like to see the City of Christchurch become more dog-friendly with urban design that makes responsible dog ownership the norm – and apply peer pressure to those dog owners who are not responsible.  When dog owners don’t clean up, they make it harder for the rest of us to enjoy our dogs openly and with a variety of locations to choose from.

My other posts on this subject include:

Please – no matter where you live in this world – clean up after your dog.  It’s the responsible thing to do!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

The public relations nightmare of unscooped poop

Every sector has an issue that, if not managed, becomes its downfall.  In the dog world, I think this issue is poo.  More specifically, it is poo that is not cleaned up.

A woman complained in our newspaper recently about the amount of dog poo that had not been picked up at a local dog park. I have been at our dog park and watched as dog owners conveniently ‘don’t see’ their dog do a poop.  Even less common (and perhaps something to do with kiwi culture?), are the other dog owners who see it but do not bring it to the dog owner’s attention.   I have found that most dog owners are embarrassed and very willing to clean up when the fact of the dog’s neglected poo is mentioned.

In Poole (UK), the local council has resorted to more overt tactics to get dog owners to recognise the errors of their ways.  They spray paint piles of poo green to highlight the scale of the problem.  It was reported that 200 piles of poo were found in one street alone.[1]  The painting campaign augmented other initiatives such as a crackdown by council officers in issuing fines.

In New Zealand, we have the benefit of a lower population density but that should not make us complacent about this problem.  Cities such as Auckland and Christchurch are actively encouraging infill housing and more urban development to stop urban sprawl.  Over time, people and dogs will be living much closer together.

We need to find ways to peacefully co-exist with one another; and leaving faeces for people to step in is not one of them.  There are also indications that dog waste contributes to water pollution through runoff.

Since August 2009 (when most supermarkets began charging for carry bags) free bags are harder to come by.  Our dog park has posted at least one plea for urgent bag donations.  However, is the lack of a plastic bag an adequate excuse for not cleaning up after your dog? 

There are plenty of other sources of bags and responsible dog owners always have a supply, even in the glove box of the car. Ask your non-dog-owning friends and co-workers to save bags for you.  Bread bags and produce bags work just as well as carry bags.  As a last resort, a roll of freezer bags will set you back a couple of dollars at the supermarket.  The last roll I purchased allowed me to pick up no less than 60 piles of poo!

It is very concerning to see the evidence of dog owners who are not cleaning up after their dog.  It gives all of us a bad name.  If your dog could talk, I wonder if they would say, “I poop.  You pick it up.  Any questions?”[2]


[1] BBC News, August 2010

[2] Puget Sound Starts Here campaign poster (Washington, USA)

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