Tag Archives: University of Florida

Pet dogs help kids feel less stressed

Pet dogs provide valuable social support for kids when they’re stressed, according to a study by researchers from the University of Florida, who were among the first to document stress-buffering effects of pets for children.

boy-and-dog

Darlene Kertes and colleagues tested the commonly held belief that pet dogs provide social support for kids using a randomized controlled study – the gold standard in research.

“Many people think pet dogs are great for kids but scientists aren’t sure if that’s true or how it happens,” Kertes said. Kertes reasoned that one way this might occur is by helping children cope with stress. “How we learn to deal with stress as children has lifelong consequences for how we cope with stress as adults.” 

For their study, recently published in the journal Social Development, the researchers recruited approximately 100 pet-owning families, who came to their university laboratory with their dogs. To tap children’s stress, the children completed a public speaking task and mental arithmetic task, which are known to evoke feelings of stress and raise the stress hormone cortisol, and simulates real-life stress in children’s lives. The children were randomly assigned to experience the stressor with their dog present for social support, with their parent present, or with no social support.

“Our research shows that having a pet dog present when a child is undergoing a stressful experience lowers how much children feel stressed out,” Kertes said . “Children who had their pet dog with them reported feeling less stressed compared to having a parent for social support or having no social support.”

Samples of saliva was also collected before and after the stressor to check children’s cortisol levels, a biological marker of the body’s stress response. Results showed that for kids who underwent the stressful experience with their pet dogs, children’s cortisol level varied depending on the nature of the interaction of children and their pets.

“Children who actively solicited their dogs to come and be pet or stroked had lower cortisol levels compared to children who engaged their dogs less,” said Kertes, an assistant professor in the psychology department of UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “When dogs hovered around or approached children on their own, however, children’s cortisol tended to be higher.”

The children in the study were between 7 to 12 years old.

“Middle childhood is a time when children’s social support figures are expanding beyond their parents, but their emotional and biological capacities to deal with stress are still maturing,” Kertes explained. “Because we know that learning to deal with stress in childhood has lifelong consequences for emotional health and well-being, we need to better understand what works to buffer those stress responses early in life.”

Source:  University of Florida News

The mis-labelling of pit bulls

DNA results show that shelter workers are often mistaken when they label a dog as a pit bull, with potentially devastating consequences for the dogs, a new University of Florida study has found.

DNA pit bull study

Dr. Julie Levy holds a dog currently up for adoption at the Alachua County Animal Services facility in Gainesville, Florida

“Animal shelter staff and veterinarians are frequently expected to guess the breed of dogs based on appearance alone,” said Julie Levy, D.V.M., Ph.D., a professor of shelter medicine at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine and the lead author of a study published recently in The Veterinary Journal.

“Unlike many other things people can’t quite define but ‘know when they see it,’ identification of dogs as pit bulls can trigger an array of negative consequences, from the loss of housing, to being seized by animal control, to the taking of the dog’s life,” she said. “In the high-stakes world of animal shelters, a dog’s life might depend on a potential adopter’s momentary glimpse and assumptions about its suitability as a pet. If the shelter staff has labeled the dog as a pit bull, its chances for adoption automatically go down in many shelters.”

The past few decades have brought an increase in ownership restrictions on breeds including pit bulls and dogs that resemble them. The restrictions are based on assumptions that certain breeds are inherently dangerous, that such dogs can be reliably identified and that the restrictions will improve public safety, the study states.

The study focused on how accurately shelter staff identified dogs believed to be pit bulls. ‘Pit bull’ is not a recognized breed, but a term applied to dogs derived from the heritage breeds American Staffordshire terrier or Staffordshire bull terrier. The purebred American pit bull terrier is also derived from these breeds and is often included in the loose definition of ‘pit bull.’

The research team evaluated breed assessments of 120 dogs made by 16 shelter staff members, including four veterinarians, at four shelters. These staff members all had at least three years of experience working in a shelter environment. The researchers then took blood samples from the dogs, developed DNA profiles for each animal and compared the DNA findings against the staff’s initial assessments.

“We found that different shelter staffers who evaluated the same dogs at the same time had only a moderate level of agreement among themselves,” Levy said. Results of the study also showed that while limitations in available DNA profiles make absolute breed identification problematic, when visual identification was compared with DNA test results, the assessors in the study fared even worse.

Dogs with pit bull heritage breed DNA were identified only 33 to 75 percent of the time, depending on which of the staff members was judging them. Conversely, dogs lacking any genetic evidence of relevant breeds were labeled as pit bull-type dogs from 0 to 48 percent of the time, the researchers reported.

“Essentially we found that the marked lack of agreement observed among shelter staff members in categorizing the breeds of shelter dogs illustrates that reliable inclusion or exclusion of dogs as ‘pit bulls’ is not possible, even by experts,” Levy said. “These results raise difficult questions because shelter workers and veterinarians are expected to determine the breeds of dogs in their facilities on a daily basis.

Additionally, they are often called on as experts as to whether a dog’s breed will trigger confiscation or regulatory action. The stakes for these dogs and their owners are in many cases very high.”

Dog breeds contain many genetic traits and variants, and the behavior of any individual dog is impossible to predict based on possible combinations.

“A dog’s physical appearance cannot tell observers anything about its behavior. Even dogs of similar appearance and the same breed often have diverse behavioral traits in the same way that human siblings often have very different personalities,”Levy said.

Even though most pet dogs are of unknown mixed breeds, there is a natural inclination among pet owners to speculate on what their dog’s breed heritage might be, the authors said.

“This has fueled an entire industry of pet dog DNA analysis,” Levy said. “These tests are fun, but they won’t help predict behavior or health traits. Shelters and veterinary clinics are better off entering ‘mixed breed’ or ‘unknown’ in their records unless the actual pedigrees are available.”

As for legal restrictions on dogs based on their appearance, Levy said public safety would be better served by reducing risk factors for dog bites, such as supervising children, recognizing canine body language, avoiding an unfamiliar dog in its territory, neutering dogs and raising puppies to be social companions.

Source:  University of Florida media release

See also my 2013 post on Visual identification of breed – one reason why BSL doesn’t work

Controlling the brown dog tick

Dogs and their owners who battle the Brown Dog Tick sometimes go to desperate measures ─ including getting rid of their dogs, fumigating their homes, throwing many possessions out or even moving ─ to control the pesky bugs, which breed indoors and hide in places that are practically impossible to reach.

A petri dish contains several brown dog ticks, a species researchers believe has become resistant to the most commonly used pesticides.  UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

A petri dish contains several brown dog ticks, a species researchers believe has become resistant to the most commonly used pesticides. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

Phil Kaufman, an associate professor of veterinary entomology at the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences, is one of several investigators who have just published two studies. One shows the tick is resistant to the most commonly used chemical applied directly between the dog’s shoulder blades. The other shows the effectiveness of carbon dioxide as a lure for baiting ticks to bed bug traps.

The first finding, while not good news, is practical. Pet owners and pest control companies know pesticides with permethrin will not control the Brown Dog Tick. The chemical fipronil should work in most situations, but owners should watch for loss of activity of the chemical, such as ticks that appear to be alive and swelling within the month after treatment.

The second finding is critical as Kaufman and other scientists, such as Faith Oi, grapple with getting rid of the Brown Dog Tick.

Kaufman and Oi describe the Brown Dog Tick as “cryptobiotic,” meaning it hides in nooks and crannies of your house where you’d never find them, and they spend about 95 percent of their time away from the dog. But if experts can get the ticks to come to one spot, they can better control them, Kaufman said.

Meanwhile, homeowners can use pesticides to control the ticks, but “the vacuum is your best friend,” Oi said.

Brown Dog ticks can complete their lifecycle inside people’s homes, unlike most ticks, which spend most of their lifetime outside, Kaufman said. One female Brown Dog Tick can lay up to 5,000 eggs in its lifetime and if that is in your home, you could be in for trouble.

“They’re particularly troublesome for people who have cluttered homes, and they drive some homeowners to desperate measures in search of ways to control the tick,” Kaufman said. “Eliminating places where ticks live and breed is the one of the best practices for tick control.”

Homeowners also can help by simplifying their interiors. That allows for more thorough inspections, easier cleaning and pesticide applications, he said. It also allows for more effective evaluation of the treatment after products are applied.

In addition to being pesky, Brown Dog ticks can damage or irritate a dog’s skin. In rare cases, they can cause a fever, anorexia or anemia. If you see these signs in your dog, you should see a veterinarian as soon as possible, Kaufman said.

This research into the brown dog tick has been published in the March 2015 and May 2015 issues of the Journal of Medical Entomology.

Source:  University of Florida media release