News: Karen B. London
Its association with lifespan and cause of death
In a new study called Reproductive Capability is Associated with Lifespan and Cause of Death in Companion Dogs, researchers report on the links of reproductive status (intact or spayed/neutered) with both lifespan and cause of death. Previous studies have suggested that sterilization increases the risk of certain cancers. However, if spaying and neutering actually does increase life span, then any cancers that are more common in older dogs may only appear to be more common in sterilized dogs because sterilized dogs live longer.
The overall conclusions of this new study are that there is a link between lifespan, cause of death and reproductive status. Sterilization was associated with longer lifespan. The mean age of death for intact dogs was 7.9 years and for sterilized dogs was 9.4 years. Sterilization increased life expectancy 13.8% in male and 26.3% in females.
In this study, researchers found differences in the cause of death between the reproductively capable group and the sterilized group. Compared to reproductively capable ones, dogs who were spayed and neutered were more likely to die of cancer and immune-related diseases, but less likely to die from infectious diseases, trauma, vascular disease and degenerative diseases. These differences in causes of death were consistent when the data were compared between dogs of the same age.
Data are from 40,139 dogs in a veterinary teaching hospital who died from 1984 to 2004. Juvenile dogs, dogs with a congenital issue that caused death, and dogs whose reproductive status, cause of death, or age were unknown were eliminated from the over 80,000 dogs originally considered for inclusion in the study. Reproductive capability was defined in this study as intact versus spayed or neutered, and does not mean the sterilized dogs had not reproduced. It’s unknown if they had reproduced prior to being sterilized. There were no data on how many times intact dogs had reproduced, only that they were still reproductively capable.
Though the results of this study are intriguing, it is important to recognize the limitations in the data and therefore in the conclusions. Though the groups—intact or sterile—are assumed to differ in no other way, that may not be the case. It is possible that the members in the sterilized group have received more regular or better medical care throughout their lives, for example. The sterilized dogs may come from different sources such as rescue groups or shelters rather than from pet stores or breeders. In other words, differences in life span or cause of death may not relate to reproductive status, but to one of these other factors. This study shows links of reproductive status with lifespan and cause of death, but we cannot assume that reproductive status is the cause of these differences. They may be correlated for some unknown reason.
Some other concerns I have about the data are that the dogs had all been referred to a veterinary teaching hospital for medical reasons, which means that the dogs in the study may be largely dogs with serious health issues rather than typical dogs. This means that conclusions based on this study may not be applicable to dogs in general.
I’m glad that studies are expanding on the question of lifespan and reproduction by looking at causes of death instead of just reproductive capability. I think this study is a great start at exploring questions that are of interest to all of us who love dogs, but I do think we need to exercise caution in order to make sure that we are distinguishing between studies that show correlations between various factors and those that demonstrate a causal relationship between those factors.
News: JoAnna Lou
Is dog food having a negative impact on the earth?
Being "green" has become quite trendy in recent years and it seems like every industry is jumping on the bandwagon. For pets, I've seen biodegradable waste bags, organic toys, and beds made of recycled plastic bottles. But beyond the novelty products, some scientists believe that pet food is where we can make the biggest difference in terms of the impact we have on the earth.
When University of Illinois professor Kelly Swanson was approached by the Nutro company to look at sustainability in the pet food industry, he thought it would be a good opportunity to collaborate with their scientists on an interesting emerging topic (they define sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the future).
"If you just change the diet a little," explains Kelly, "the financial and environmental costs associated with it are quite different."
For example, animal protein can be replaced by plant protein, which requires significantly less water and energy to produce. Producing soy based proteins, a common pet food ingredient, is estimated to be 6 to 20 times more efficient in terms of fossil fuel requirements than an animal protein.
On the positive side, pet food manufacturers already make use of secondary products from the human food chain, ingredients that would otherwise be wasted.
Pet food is a $55 billion industry, so adopting sustainable practices could have a significant global impact. The effects will only increase as pet ownership continues to become more popular in Eastern Europe, areas of Latin America, and the China-Pacific region.
This model could be used in response to those who believe we should not keep pets at all, like a controversial study published in 2009 that equated the environmental cost of keeping a mid-sized dog with driving an SUV 12,500 miles a year.
Eating less meat is one personal goal of mine for both health reasons and, as Kelly pointed out, because meat production is so taxing on the environment. However, there has been much information about the potential dangers of soy protein in canine diets, so I think there's still much research to do in this area. But Kelly's study is a good starting point in thinking about how we minimize environmental impact while making sure we have the healthiest diet for our dogs.
What's This Have to Do with Dogs?!
We’ve taken some criticism on Facebook for our post earlier this week on Jason Collins and his dog, Shadow. Some people have taken exception with our use of the word “courageous” in connection with Collins’ announcement that he is gay (a first for an active, professional male athlete). Others, have questioned “what does someone’s sexual preference have to do with dogs?” I wanted to take a moment and express The Bark’s curatorial perspective when posting content to Facebook and to our other social media channels. It has been our goal since we began publishing The Bark 16 years ago, to explore the world of dogs in as varied and expansive a manner as the topic itself. It not only includes the traditional subjects of health, science and the arts, but also how dogs touch nearly every aspect of our lives from social issues to cultural events, and increasingly, their presence in the media. We don’t claim to cover every worthy story on dogs, but we try to mention the ones that interest us, the stories we feel are important. This is why we wrote about Jason Collins. As one reader wrote “thanks for finding the humanity in a dog’s story … and the dog in a human story.” Collins himself expressed his revelation thus: “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.”
The Bark is happy to engage in that conversation and others we deem meaningful, and we welcome your comments—both supportive and critical. We think that the diversity of ideas makes for a richer community.
News: JoAnna Lou
NYC dogs search for rodents in their spare time
Walking around New York City, you see a wide range of dog breeds. While they all play the role of loyal companion, few get to partake in what they were originally bred to do. A group of urban terriers is changing that by taking advantage of the city's plentiful rodents to exercise their instincts.
Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society (RATS), organized by New Jersey breeder Richard Reynolds, has been hunting for rodents every week in downtown Manhattan for over a decade.
The group congregates in a rat infested alley about an hour after sunset. The dogs include two Border Terriers, a wire-haired Dachshund, a Jack Russell Terrier/Australian Cattle Dog mix, a Patterdale Terrier, and a Feist.
The dogs often work together as a team. One will bark when they locate a rat, another leaps at the rodent, and another lunges to catch the prey as it tries to get away.
The pups are trained to kill the rat (usually by shaking) and bring it back to someone on the human side of the team. It's not unusual for the them to kill 13 rats in a half hour.
I would be worried about the dogs getting sick from the wild animals, but Richard says that no member of the team has ever fallen ill, after all this is what they were bred to do.
There are references to rat catchers working with terriers and ferrets as far back as 1851, but most people today rely on traps and poison. Modern rat catching has become more of a hobby.
This year the American Kennel Club started recognizing titles from the sport of barn hunt, where dogs sniff around a course and indicate where they smell a rat concealed in a container.
I love to see new dog sports that take advantage of our pups' natural talents. RATS and barn hunt provide another way to bond with our dogs while having fun... and in the case of RATS, removing a few more rodents from the streets of New York.
A man walking his dog witnesses a police shootout. Rescued hikers are greeted by their wives and dogs. Lurking behind many of the news headlines of the day’s biggest stories is a dog. Yesterday, one of the biggest stories was the announcement by NBA player Jason Collins that he is gay. Collins is the first active player in a U.S. professional male team sport to come out publically. It is a courageous act, a historic moment that is being compared to Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in major league baseball. But was there a dog angle? As I read Collins excellent first person article in Sport Illustrated, I came upon this passage:
“As I write this, I haven’t come out to anyone in the NBA. I’m not privy to what other players say about me. Maybe Mike Miller, my old teammate in Memphis, will recall the time I dropped by his house in Florida and say, ‘I enjoyed being his teammate, and I sold him a dog.’ I hope players swap stories like that. Maybe they’ll talk about my character and what kind of person I am.”
I believe Collins used this example as representative of the many ordinary, real life exchanges he has had with teammates over the years—nothing to do with basketball, nothing to do with sexual orientation. Everyday life. And what represents normal everyday life more than a dog.
“I’m glad I can stop hiding and refocus on my 13th NBA season,” Jason Collins said. “I’ve been running through the Santa Monica Mountains in a 30-pound vest with Shadow, the German Shepherd I got from Mike Miller.”
In the photo gallery accompanying the article, most of the 16 images show Collins in uniform battling for rebounds, defending and performing the unglamorous duties of an NBA journeyman that have earned him accolades from teammates and coaches. There’s an image of him and his twin brother, Jarron, (a former NBA player as well) when they were college students at Stanford. The second to last photo shows Jason with his dog Shadow, both are clearly smiling.
News: Guest Posts
As long as I don't have to pry ticks off, I'm happy
To Frontline, or not to Frontline, that is the constant question come Spring! Well, we got an answer a couple days ago. A stubborn gray speck on my Border Collie Magnum's eyelid proved to be a baby tick. We were too late. Ick!
I didn't feel comfortable prying this bloodsucker off of his eyelid, so we zoomed over to the vet. In the lobby, one of the vet techs came to greet us and take a look, but Magnum was worried and scrambling as best he could on the tile floor toward the door. I could still see that baby tick hanging on for dear life. Ugh!
We soon were ushered into the exam room. Before he could squeeze himself behind my chair, I offered his favorite tug rope. Suddenly, my scared little boy lit up and tugged all over the room. He shook his head back and forth till I asked him to release and offer a sit. Then we tugged and shook all over again.
When the vet tech came in, he flopped over for a belly rub and allowed her to take a good look at his eye. "Where is it?" she asked. I scanned his eyelid and only saw a tiny bald spot where the baby tick had been. He had shaken it off! If only it was always that easy to remove those things.
If you find a tick on your dog, how do you remove it? For tick prevention, do you use Frontline, Advantix or a natural remedy?
News: Karen B. London
Chicago neighborhood will remove them
Many neighborhoods provide bags for dog waste and receptacles for discarding them. People with dogs generally appreciate this service. It’s wonderful to have a bag available if you’ve forgotten one. It’s also helpful if your dog has a three-poop walk, and you brought two bags, which is usually enough considering he rarely goes more than once. People with dogs, and those without, appreciate that this type of service presumably helps keep an area cleaner.
It can be costly to supply the bags and maintain the containers, and the $5000 annual price tag explains why the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago will cease to provide both of them at the end of this month. In my neighborhood, there are bags and trash cans to help people with dogs, and I love it. It’s especially great when I am running. One of my favorite three-mile loops has three such stations, so I never have to run very far with a full bag.
Does your neighborhood or favorite park provides poop bags and containers to toss them in? If so, how much do you rely on them? If not, do you wish they were available?
News: JoAnna Lou
Study looks at the microbial connection we have with our pets
New research from the University of Colorado Boulder shows that we are more connected to our dogs than we think!
The study published earlier this month looked at microbes and the ways they're transferred between family members, both human and canine. Previous research suggests that microbe sharing is linked to living together, but studies have only looked at humans. Professor Rob Knight, the lead on the University of Colorado study, wanted to include dogs in his research. "Since so many people consider their pets truly a part of the family, it seemed appropriate to include them in a study involving family structure."
Professor Knight and his team sampled 159 people and 36 dogs in 60 families from their tongue, forehead, palms/paws, and fecal sample with the ultimate goal of working towards disease prevention and better treatments.
Interestingly (and not surprising to animal lovers) the team detected a strong link between people and their pets. The microbial connection appeared to be stronger between parents and family dogs than between parents and children. Also, people shared more skin bacteria with their spouse if they had a dog.
We have about 100 trillion microbes in and on our body, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. For example, some scientists believe that children who grow up with a lack of exposure to bacteria and microorganisms may be more prone to getting sick. Many microbes have co-evolved with people to be beneficial.
Curious what microbes you and your dog are carrying? Professor Knight is also involved in the related American Gut project, a crowdfunded effort that allows people to learn more about their own microbes, as well as their dog's. The results from a kit will allow you to compare the microbes in your gut to thousands of other people. Not only will you learn more about yourself and your family, the data will also be shared with scientists for research.
The microbes living in our body can be affected by diet and other lifestyle decisions, having a significant impact on overall health. Scientists hope to one day develop biomarkers that would predict gut health based on a spit sample, hand swab, or even by a plaque sample from your teeth.
I loved what Professor Knight said about including pets in any research related to family structure. Hopefully more scientists will take note!
I know that this tip is a little late for tax day this year, but this is something definitely to consider for next year. A friend passed along this article about how a landmark 2011 U.S. tax court decision allows deductions for fostering dogs and cats.
“In Jan Van Dusen v. Commissioner, an Oakland-based cat lady successfully argued that the expense of caring for dozens of stray felines for a local rescue group should be deductible as a charitable contribution.
Any unreimbursed expenses, such as food or medical bills, have to be directly related to animal care, said Richard Panick, a spokesman for the IRS.”
Keeping your receipts is key, and if you claim more than $250 you will need a verification letter from the 501(c)3 organization.
Also good to note for those who raise puppies for service dog organizations, they also qualify for itemized deductions.
And while adoption fees aren’t deductible, if you offer a larger donation than just the adoption fee, that “extra tip” is deductible.
See other pet-related deductibles in this article.
We got the following story from the good folks at Muttville, a remarkable senior dog rescue organization in San Francisco. They publish wonderful stories from their adopters about their new senior pups and this one, by Tricia about her dear Winston was especially inspirational. Hopefully this will motivate you to consider opening up your heart to a homeless senior dog.
Oh, Winston. You are: hungry, happy, waggy, ridiculous, hungry, sweet, grumpy, hilarious, hungry, adorable, cute, impatient, hungry, endearing, charming, resilient, hungry, spunky, excitable, friendly, hungry and, without a doubt, unique.
When I first saw Winston on Muttville’s website in June of 2011, I was immediately smitten. I had never seen a dog quite like him before. Or since.
I still get a little sad when I think about his kennel card from the shelter he was at before coming to Muttville. STRAY HOLD ONLY – NOT RECOMMENDED FOR ADOPTION. Yeah, he’s old. Yeah, he’s got two teeth. Yeah, he’s got some health issues. Yeah, he seems pretty pathetic at first glance. I’m just so grateful that Muttville saw past all of that. It’s now two years later and he’s more excitable and spunky than either of my other two Chihuahuas, both of whom are considerably younger.
Winston is so unique in both appearance and personality. He’s been compared to a lemur, a sugar glider, a sloth, a badger. He does not, however, resemble an American Water Spaniel, which is what came up in his DNA test. I’m pretty sure Winston would sink like a stone if submerged in water.
I met my boyfriend after Winston entered my life. He has never been a big animal person and definitely not a Chihuahua aficionado. Winston has changed all that. He recently mentioned that he can’t believe that Winston was in foster care for four whole months prior to me adopting him. “I can’t believe that people weren’t lining up to adopt a dog like him.” I can’t believe it either. I was the lucky one.
I know that it is not uncommon for people to be quite incredulous at the idea of adopting a senior dog, especially one like Winston. They are put off at the idea of becoming attached to something that, most likely, won’t be around for a terribly long time. I’m of the opinion that it’s a very selfish way to look at it. Is the prospect of being upset at the passing of a pet more important than giving that pet a good life? Your feelings are more important than saving an animal’s life? Really!? I don’t think so. I’ve been through it before and I know what it’s like. I know that when it’s Winston’s time to go, the pain will be nearly unbearable. But it will be bearable. Just bearable enough to offer a home to another senior dog that got dealt a bad hand in life.
And yes, Winston is always hungry.
See Winston's Facebook page
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