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Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Commercial Dog Foods Affect Fertility and Sexual Development

Researchers Richard G. Lea and associates published on Aug 9th, 2016, a report entitled Environmental chemicals impact dog semen quality in vitro and may be associated with a temporal decline in sperm motility and increased cryptorchidism. (In Nature, Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 31281 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep31281). Against the background of declining semen quality and rising incidence of undescended testes (Cryptorchidism) in humans associated with exposure to environmental chemicals (ECs) during development they report that “a population of breeding dogs exhibit a 26 year (1988–2014) decline in sperm quality and a concurrent increased incidence of cryptorchidism in male offspring (1995–2014). A decline in the number of males born relative to the number of females was also observed. ECs, including diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and polychlorinated bisphenol 153 (PCB153), were detected in adult dog testes and commercial dog foods at concentrations reported to perturb reproductive function in other species”.

Estrogen-mimicking, endocrine-disrupting chemicals have become virtually ubiquitous in many of the foods we consume, some of which, along with their byproducts, are included in most manufactured pet foods; in the can-linings of moist, and in plastic bagging and wrapping of dry and semi-moist foods. Plastic may also be processed into the manufactured food along with discarded meats, packaging and all.

Food wrappers and other industrial and commercial products from firefighting foam to water-repellant clothing contain poly-and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, detected in drinking water and having endocrine disrupting and carcinogenic properties.

Dioxins, predominantly released as byproducts of human activities such as incineration and fuel combustion, are a most potent class of carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. They are ubiquitous in the environment, and from the soil and vegetation undergo bioaccumulation in the fat (tallow) of cattle, and sea foods, especially farmed salmon, which are common pet food ingredients. Their adverse impact on wildlife reproduction and sexual development in several aquatic and terrestrial species has been well documented.

Other estrogen-mimicking and endocrine disrupting contaminants of pet (and human) foods include glyphosate and other herbicide residues in corn and other cereals along with phytoestrogens in soy products especially in GMO soy, a widely used pet food ingredient.

Aflatoxin B1—yet another endocrine disruptor-from the mold on corn and other cereals, is often found in dry dog foods which are recalled too late to save many dogs from acute toxicity and death. Aflatoxins, dioxins and other endocrine disruptors, estrogen mimics, carcinogens and obesogens have  harmful consequences in extremely low concentrations in the diet over an extended time period with possible synergism operating where one contaminant increases the toxicity of one or more others; and prenatal, epigenetic, developmental effects on the offspring of exposed parents.

For additional details visit www.drffoxvet.net and see review: CHEMICAL-RELATED HUMAN DISEASES IN COMPANION ANIMALS

Statement to appear in Animal Doctor syndicated newspaper column by Dr. Michael W. Fox.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Farmer’s Insurance and the “Mer-Mutts”
Canine Synchronized Swimming Commercial

The Rio Olympics inspired a Farmer’s Insurance commercial featuring dogs enjoying a flooded home. The five dogs play in the water and perform a synchronized swimming routine.

In a related ad, the same water-filled home serves as the venue for a dog diving competition.

Seeing these commercials provides some compensation for the misery that comes from staying up way too late watching the Olympics every night!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
6 Simple Steps to Keep Pets Safe in the Heat

It can be dangerous when pets’ body temperatures get just a few degrees above normal. Elevated temperatures can lead to heat stroke, dehydration and hyperthermia. Fortunately, with a little planning and preparation, keeping four-legged friends safe in hot weather can be a breeze. Here are six easy ways pet parents can help their pets beat the heat.  

•    Chill out with a tasty treat. Freeze low-sodium chicken broth in a popsicle mold or ice cube tray for dogs and cats to enjoy on a hot day. See our recipe for Frozen Sunrise treats. Try Karen B. London’s Frozen Kong stuffing tips.

•    Hose down hot pavement, patios and porches before letting your pets outside. A little water could go a long way toward keeping paws cool and avoiding paw pad burns. Pet parents can also run cool water over their dog’s feet. 

•    Say yes to ice water. Adding ice to pets’ water bowls creates a game for curious canines—they’ll bob for ice cubes and stay cool and hydrated in the process! Be careful for choking and teeth damage with ice, as always assess your individual dog’s abilities.

•    Cool the crate. If your pet will be crated while you’re away, try freezing two-liter water bottles and placing them on top of the crate. They’ll give off cool air and help keep the spot cool. 

•    Wear a cold compress. A refrigerated wet bandana will help keep Fido cool and stylish this summer—this is especially effective because of the temperature receptors around dogs’ necks. 

•    Make a splash. A backyard baby pool is a great way for pets to stay cool (and it’s fun too!). 

Wellness: Healthy Living
Study Finds Declining Fertility in Male Dogs
Toxic chemicals also found in dog food

A long-term study conducted in Britain has found that male dogs are losing fertility, and that exposure to environmental chemicals (ECs) that have leached into the environment may be to blame.

The dogs—Labradors, Border Collies, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers bred to aid the disabled—made an ideal group to explore the larger question of a decline in human semen quality that has been occurring since long before this study.

This twenty-six year long study, 1998-2014, was conducted by Richard Lea and colleagues at Nottingham University’s school of veterinary medicine. They collected annual samples of semen from dozens of dogs, all from the same breeding program, all healthy and well cared for. Each year, the same problem recurred; a 2.4 percent dip in sperm motility, that is the ability to swim in a straight line. In addition to monitoring semen quality, they analyzed health records, finding an increase in cryptorchidism, a condition in which the testicles fail to extend normally to the scrotum. Over the same years, fewer male pups were born than females, also there was an increase in fetal and prenatal female mortality.

And, lurking in the samples of semen and testicles of dogs obtained from neutering, it found ECs—chemicals that tamper with hormones. The chemicals include polychlorinated bisphenol (PCB), a compound banned in 1977, and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). PCBs don’t readily break down while phthalates are common in a wide number of products, from cosmetics to detergent. Both chemicals are associated with fertility issues and birth defects.

In human babies, exposure to chemicals has been linked to faulty development of semen quality and cryptorchidism. According to the study, such reproductive problems often cluster in geographical areas, and so are suspected of having a common cause; exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals is “thought to be the initiator.” To explore the same possibility in dogs, chemicals were measured in canine testes and semen taken from the same geographical area where the study took place.

Both chemicals “perturbed sperm viability, motility and DNA integrity in vitro.” The researchers concluded that the direct effects of chemicals on sperm “may contribute to the decline in canine semen quality” that parallels that in humans.

“Why the dog?” said Dr. Lea. “Apart from the fact that it is a great population of animals to work with, dogs live in our homes, they sometimes eat the same food, they are exposed to the same environmental contaminants that we are, so the underlying hypothesis is that the dog is really a type of sentinel for human exposure.”

The same ECs were found in a range of commercially available dog foods. DEHP and PCB153, “were detected in adult dog testes and commercial dog foods at concentrations reported to perturb reproductive function in other species.”

While the brands were not named, they are reported to be both wet and dry forms sold worldwide. The scientists don’t know how the chemicals made it into the food, but since they are not deliberate additives, they may have leached from the packaging or processing sources.

These overall findings are troubling, but they also noted that: “Amongst the dry dog food samples, one sample designed for puppies (1 to 24 months of age) had higher concentrations … relative to the other samples tested.”

Plus, while the researchers cannot say the dog food is a direct source of the ECs, the New York Times reports that "Dr. Lea said it was probably a major one." 

What is known is that the chemicals wound up in dog’s testicles, where they messed with sperm motility and viability. “This may be a way by which environmental chemicals directly affect male fertility.”

While the dogs in the study were still able to reproduce, it’s hardly reassuring that, once more, the dogs who share our homes also share our diseases, unwittingly, acting as the “canary in the mine” for us.

 

News: Guest Posts
Adopting From Thousands of Miles Away
German flight attendant meets her dog in Argentina

When flight attendant Olivia Sievers met a stray dog near her hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she could hardly have predicted that she would adopt him a few months later. A dog lover, she gave the dog some food and played with him for a bit. This loving attention resulted in a strong attachment by the dog to her, and he continued to seek out her company. He waited outside her hotel until she emerged again, and no matter where she went or by what route, he found her and followed her.

It’s easy to imagine that this sociable dog had rarely encountered people who were as kind and giving to him, so naturally he felt a strong bond with Sievers. He stayed by the hotel’s entrance, prompting her to give him an airline blanket to keep him cozy at night.

She returned to Germany, but the dog greeted her outside the hotel on her next trip to Argentina, and the next one, and the one after that. For several months, the dog was outside her hotel every time she arrived in Buenos Aires, and their friendship grew. She named him Rubio (Spanish for blond) and continued to feed and play with him. Wanting the best for him, Sievers contacted a local rescue group so that he could be adopted. Though he was in a loving home, he escaped and headed back to the hotel in search of his German friend.

When Sievers learned that Rubio escaped and had apparently come to find her, she decided to adopt him herself. Following a mountain of paperwork for the woman and a flight to the other side of the world for the dog, there was a happy reunion for the pair of them.

Sometimes we have to travel to the ends of the earth to find our true love!

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Pilot Program Connects Dogs With Students Overcoming Speech Anxiety
Presenting to Pups
Every semester, my Sheltie, Nemo, participates in a program where we go to one of the local colleges during finals week. The students always say how much they look forward to these visits, and how much comfort the pups provide during a stressful time of year. Bonnie Auslander, director of American University's Kogod Center for Business Communications, was inspired by how much students seemed to benefit from these programs that she decided to connect dogs with students trying to overcome speech anxiety. "As a dog lover, it occured to me what a wonderful thing it would be to practice with a dog," she said. "It's easier to practice with a nonjudgemental presence."

Last semester, the center booked about a dozen sessions using six pups recruited for their calm personalities. Students were sent photos of their canine match in advance and then met in person.

Masters student Zachary Fernebok was skeptical at first, but decided to try it out because he was familiar with the amazing work of therapy dogs. "My background before coming to business school was actually in therater," Zachary says. "So I had experience speaking in front of a lot of people, but never as myself." He found it extremely helpful to practice his final masters presentation in front of Ellie, a Bernese Mountain Dog.

    Jessica Lewinson, who recently practiced a presentation on corporate responsibility, said that the pups made her smile during her speech, but they also play a practical role as well. "It kind of gives you a chance to step back from your presentation, to step out of that track you get stuck in."

For those of us with dogs, I'm sure we've all used our pups as guinea pigs for everything from practicing speeches to testing a new cookie recipe. It's always great to see new ways the human-canine relationship manifests itself. In the words of Bonnie, "what is more human than loving an animal?"

 
Dog's Life: Humane
Malachi the Wolfdog Snuggles with Foster Puppies
Malachi the wolfdog and Becca the puppy
Our litters of foster puppies always adore our feral sanctuary wolfdog, Malachi, and he loves playing with them. Malachi wasn’t handled as a baby and although he lives in the house with us, he still behaves like a wild animal in many ways. After the loss of his closest dog friend, our rescued Great Dane Tyra, Malachi was depressed and even more flighty than usual. Playing with the puppies cheers him up and the puppies love him so we made sure they got lots of time together. And although not comfortable with people much of the time, Malachi is amazing with puppies. When we have bottle babies he’s especially interested and has even overcome some of his fear of people to be near them. He licks and nuzzles them and wants to be as close as possible.    As our last litter of fosters began to wean and their mama was adopted, one puppy in particular sought out Malachi for comfort. Little Becca was the smallest of the litter of ten and preferred Malachi’s company to that of her littermates. There are always plenty of dogs here to play with between our own and various fosters but I was fascinated to see how little Becca always bypassed the other dogs and searched for Malachi when I let the puppies out. He would lie down and patiently let them clamor all over him but Becca always stayed long after the others wandered off to explore.      One evening as I sat quietly outside with the dogs I saw Becca snuggle as close as she could to Malachi. He wrapped his big paw around her and leaned in. The two of them remained in that sweet embrace for a long moment as I watched, enthralled. Although Malachi rarely lets us comfort him, he comforts the puppies and in doing so, sooths his own loss. And so, although not quite wild and not quite tame, Malachi has found his place in the world as the comforter and playmate of the endless rescue dogs and puppies that come through our doors.   
News: Editors
Dog Helps a Lost Hiker in Mexico
A injured and disoriented teen is aided by a local pup.
We've written about rescuing dogs that get injured on a hike, but what about when it's the other way around? 14-year old Juan Heriberto Treviño was attending summer camp in Mexico's Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range when he got separated from his group on a hike. Things quickly got worse when Juan fell down a ravine looking for wood to start a fire.

But thanks to a watchful pup, Juan wasn't alone. A Yellow Labrador Retriever, that Juan had encountered a few hours before, found him and stayed by his side through the cold night. Juan hugged the pup and took advantage of the extra body warmth. In the morning, Juan says the dog even led him to a puddle where he was able to drink some water.

When rescuers found the pair, 44 hours after they began their search, Juan and the pup were airlifted to safety. Juan was dehydrated and malnourished, but he quickly recovered at the hospital. Juan's family was so grateful for the dog's help that they requested to adopt the pup. But it turns out the Lab's name is Max and he already has a family in the area (it's not clear if Max was lost at the time or is allowed to wander for days at a time).

As an avid hiker, this story underscores the importance of being prepared when in the wilderness. However, I'm glad that Juan and Max found each other and that this story had a happy ending!

News: Guest Posts
English Bulldogs Face Extinction
English Bulldogs

Not surprisingly, a study published July 29, 2016 found that the English Bulldog no longer retains enough genetic diversity to correct life-threatening physical and genomic abnormalities. This means breeders cannot use the established population of purebred dogs to reverse the trend in extreme and painful exaggerations such as crippling dwarfism and respiratory deformities - traits that uninformed pet-owners find appealing.

In the early 1800s Bulldogs were trained for bull-baiting, a particularly cruel and vicious sport. In 1835 the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals convinced Parliament to enact the first animal cruelty law for the protection of domestic animals, including outlawing bull baiting. 

As such, the Bulldog had outlived its usefulness. Like the pre-19th century Wolfhound that disappeared with the eradication of wolves in the British Isles, and the Tumbler whose demise was the invention of hunting firearms, the Bulldog was destined for extinction.

English Bulldog from 1890

But it was not to be. Beginning about 1840, the Victorian dog fancy's unabashed sentimentality was a catalyst for saving even the most formidable working breeds from their inevitable demise. Like many others, such as the Dachshund and Mastiff, Bulldogs went from working hard to hardly working.

Utility dogs were "refined" and transformed to fill jobs they weren't originally bred for - as show dogs and companions. Altered physical and behavior characteristics along with decreased levels of aggression were more compatible for their augmented duties as house pets.

English Bulldogs from 1920s

Beginning in the late 1890s, Bulldog breeders (and other breeders as well) selected small groups of genes from a diverse genome and created new breed-types. They were in effect increasing the odds that genetic anomalies would more likely be expressed to bring out exaggerated traits, like the Bulldog's baby-like face, corkscrew tail and affable personality.

As "desirable" aesthetic traits were selected for, other genetic variants including beneficial genes that contribute to overall health were eliminated from the gene pool, never to be reclaimed.

In the last few decades the most exaggerated traits in the Bulldog - the extreme brachycephalic skull and deformed skeleton- have become increasingly pronounced because naive consumers want that type of dog and consequently that's what many breeders select for.

Driven by economics, fashion, and uninformed decisions, breeders and buyers either ignore or are unaware of the genetic problems that have spread throughout the population.

The demise of the breed may not be a good thing for Bulldog-lovers, but it will thankfully put an end to the malformed and painfully crippled modern Bulldog we recognize today.

The good news is that some breeders are intent on bringing back the "Olde-Fashioned-Bulldogge". 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs as Model for Emotional Expression by Robots
Using canine ethology to improve interactions
Belgian Malinois / Dog Robot

An understanding of canine emotional expressions and human responses to them are a promising avenue to pursue in developing the best social robots. Social robots are machines that interact and communicate with humans by following social behaviors and rules that go along with their roles. People want more out of them than simply performing tasks to make our lives easier. They want their Interactions with these robots to feel as natural as possible, which means minimizing the disturbing feeling many people experience with robots. For that to happen, social robots must act in a manner that is socially appropriate, which includes exhibiting the right emotions for the situation.

Much of the work on developing emotionally expressive robots has focused on human facial expressions, with some emphasis on gestures and tone of voice. These subtle forms of communication are difficult to create in an artificial system, and researchers are exploring other options. One promising line of study is to consider interactions between humans and robots as an interaction between two different species that must communicate, and to use a non-human species as a model for the robots.

Dogs are a natural choice because of the ability of humans, even without a lot of experience, to identify the emotional content of dogs’ behavior. Children can correctly identify the emotional content of dogs barks, people tend to ascribe emotions to their dogs, and these two species are able to cooperate and communicate with remarkable success. People are able to understand dogs, which is likely a result of our long-standing relationship and shared evolutionary history.

In a recent paper (“Humans attribute emotions to a robot that shows simple behavioral patterns borrowed from dog behavior”), a group of canine ethologists show that people are capable of understanding the emotions of robots when their actions are based on the behavior of dogs. Using a robot that was not shaped like a dog and could not alter its basic posture, this experiment asked the question, “Can even simple expressions of emotional behavior elicit an acceptable level of emotional attribution by people to the robot?” If so, such behaviors in a robot could lessen the need to develop robots capable of communicating complex emotions through behavior based on human facial expressions.


Photo from “Humans attribute emotions to a robot that shows simple behavioural
patterns borrowed from dog behavior” (Gásci et al. 2016)

 

The subjects in the experiment watched videos of a trained dog and of the robot and were asked to attribute emotions to them. The dog was a Belgian Malinois and the robot was a touchscreen mounted on a base with wheels. The body of the robot had arm-like limbs attached to it, one of which was capable of moving in a variety of ways and one of which was not movable. The touchscreen, or head-like part of the robot, could not move independently and had no face. The robot made sounds, which were considered vocalizations. The emotions expressed by the dog and by the robot were fear, joy, anger, sadness and neutral (no emotion). Both the dog and the robot made sounds to accompany other aspects of their behavior.

The behaviors of the dog for expressing joy were approaching, wagging his tail and sidling, while in the robot, joy was represented by approaching, lifting one arm and moving the fingers and spinning. Anger in the dog involved approaching and wagging the tail as well as moving the head up and down dynamically, barking and showing his teeth. The angry robot approached, moved its arm high and swung it several times. Sadness in the dog meant sitting followed by lying down with his head down and then not moving. The robot showed sadness by backing away and turning away, lowering its arm and remaining motionless.

People more often attributed emotions to the dogs than to the robots, but the type of emotion was correctly identified with similar levels of success. The amount of experience people had with dogs was not a factor in their ability to identify emotions in either the dog or the robot.

The goal of this study was to investigate the possibility that simple canine behaviors can provide a way to facilitate the understanding of emotional expressions of robots. The robot is not designed to resemble a dog, and indeed a strength of this approach is that robots do not have to match their animal models. That is an advantage because the robots can be built with their function in mind without the extra expense and constraints of creating a specific form in order to maximize emotional expression.

General behaviors such as approaching, backing away, turning to the side, being in motion or staying still can all be performed by a robot of any shape. These behaviors, though based on canine models, are hardly specific to dogs, but apply across a large range of mammals. It is possible that creating the most emotionally expressive and natural-seeming social robots may require developers to consider a number of universal actions that are easily understood by humans as well as by other mammals.

Because human facial expressions are often considered too complex or confusing to mimic in social robots, the use of simple behaviors that convey emotions may provide a better way to make robots that are capable of emotional expression. Future work will explore ways that dogs (and perhaps other mammals) can serve as models for combining functionality with sociality. This approach will allow researchers to develop better social robots that people consider more like companions and with which they are more comfortable.

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