Wellness: Healthy Living
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
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".
News: Guest Posts
Study finds these elective surgeries influence perceptions of dog personality
Just when you think you know a thing or two about dogs, there I was in Italy a few weeks ago after the Canine Science Forum, looking at a dog on the street and exclaiming, “Who the heck is that!”
“A Doberman!” offered my good friend and Do You Believe in Dog? colleague, Mia Cobb.
“Really?” I said in disbelief. Because it was true. I’d never seen a dog that looked like that. Every Doberman I’ve seen has looked like this:
Dog with docked tail and cropped ears. Credit: Figure 2. Mills et al (2016)
Not like this:
Same dog, but natural. Credit: Figure 2. Mills et al (2016)
The bottom image, of course, is the Doberman in her natural form. A dog born from two Dobermans will grow up to look like the bottom image. But the Dobermans I’ve seen have had two post-birth surgeries; their tails are shortened or docked, and the floppy part of each ear is cut, followed by the ears being taped to a hard surface forcing them to stand upright in a way they normally would not.
These cosmetic surgeries (also referred to by veterinarians as elective surgeries) are built into breed standards — see an example from theAmerican Kennel Club. Which is to say that a Doberman puppy born from two Doberman parents does not meet his or her own breed standard.
In some countries, dog surgical procedures for cosmetic purposes are restricted or banned, but in others, the practices are rampant. For example, cosmetic tail-docking is banned throughout Australia and in numerous parts of Europe, which is why I saw my first natural Doberman in Italy. In North America, things look a bit different. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) oppose these procedures, with the AVMA stating that these procedures "are not medically indicated nor of benefit to the patient," and "these procedures cause pain and distress, and, as with all surgical procedures, are accompanied by inherent risks of anesthesia, blood loss, and infection." Even so, restrictions are rare. As of 2014, only two states, Maryland and Pennsylvania, have any restrictions on tail-docking, focusing on the dog’s age at the time of surgery and the use of anesthesia. Only nine states regulate ear cropping.
In addition to welfare concerns associated with docking and cropping, the surgeries could affect dog social communication. Numerous studies find that tails are (gasp) useful and meaningful in dog-dog communication (more formally known as intraspecific communication, or communication between members of the same species). Even Charles Darwin recognized that tail up has a different meaning than tail down, and dogs attend to long tails better than short ones. The side of the body that a tail wags can even be informative to another dog: a dog seen wagging more to his right-side would be perceived more positively than a dog wagging more to his left. A stump is less informative.
The communicative function of dog tails has received oodles of attention (see additional readings at the end of the post), and I’m going to focus on a new issue raised last month by Marina von Keyserlingk and colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Their open access article in PLoS One finds that these appearance-altering procedures are not meaningless; they affect how dogs are perceived, independent of the dog's actual behavior or personality.
Study participants, United States residents participating via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk), saw images of four dog breeds that commonly have their tails docked and ears cropped: the Doberman Pincher, Miniature Schnauzer, Boxer, and Brussels Griffon. The first three are in the top 20 of registered breeds, and the Brussels Griffon, while not as popular, was selected to include a small breed in the study.
Participants saw two different images of the same dog breed, one in the natural state (long tail and unaltered ears) and one modified (docked tail and cropped ears). They were told that the dogs were siblings and asked to explain why the ears and tails looked different.
Fifty-eight percent of participants correctly identified that “some dog breeds have part of their ears and tails surgically removed after they are born.” Dog owners were more likely to answer correctly than non-owners.
On the other hand, 40% did not know that these dogs are not born with their ears cropped and tails docked. Instead, these participants thought these traits resulted from genetic variation, agreeing with the statement, “individual dogs of the same breed vary in appearance, meaning some will have tails and ears of different shapes and sizes.” Sorry y’all. Not so for the dogs in this study! The tails and ears on the ‘modified’ dog are all us.
But what’s the effect? Another experiment in the study found that these cosmetic surgeries are not meaningless to dogs or people; in fact, these procedures affect how participants perceived dog personality traits. Generally speaking, surgically altered dogs were seen as more aggressive toward people and dogs than natural dogs, and natural dogs were seen as more playful and attractive than their altered counterparts.
But when looking at the four breeds individually, something odd popped out about attractiveness. For the Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, and Miniature Schnauzer, neither the natural or surgically altered dog was considered more attractive. Take the tail off, leave it on, crop those ears, whatever. For those breeds, people were indifferent — one appearance was not viewed as more attractive than the other. Only for the Brussels Griffon was the natural dog considered more attractive than its surgically altered counterpart.
If not all people know that the cropped/docked look is surgically created and don't find these dogs less attractive than their natural counterparts, what incentive is there to reduce these cosmetic surgeries in the companion dog population? Since 2008, the American Veterinary Medical Association has encouraged “the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards.” Who is going to stand with them?
This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
This dog running company is great business idea
Like many runners who have lived in Flagstaff, Ariz. Adam Vess is a professional runner. Adam is also, like many people in Flagstaff, a dog person. He found that if he runs 4-6 miles with his dogs Alex and Macy before going to work, they are happier and easier to live with. His business began with the thought, “Could other people use this, too?”
The answer was yes, and Flagstaff Dog Running was born. Now that Vess has moved back to the east coast, there is not anyone in our area offering this service. Vess spent many hours taking dogs out to run on the trails or fire roads around town to keep their joints and the rest of them safe from the dangers of the streets. Dogs were always on leash, and were with him for up to two hours. He ran them long enough that they’re fatigued, but not anywhere near exhaustion. Most dogs are happily tired out in 30-40 minutes, though some dogs need well over an hour to reach that point.
The charge was $25 a session, and $40 for two dogs. They never ran more than two dogs at a time because of safety concerns, and 10-12 miles is the maximum distance he took any dog. That was only for fit dogs who have gradually and safely built up to running such distances.
Adam originally planned to expand his business to exercising dogs at boarding kennels. People boarding their dogs would have been able to request and pay for the running as a special service. The exercise and the opportunity to go on an adventure as well as to have some company would all have enhanced their kennel experience.
If you lived in a town with a dog person who was a professional runner, would you consider hiring that person to exercise your dog? Does anyone in your area offer this service?
Wellness: Healthy Living
Annual check-ups are in order.
With few exceptions, most of us in the pet industry deal with problems and solutions. Consider these examples:
A problem-based approach is still the way almost anyone who sells a product or service focuses their marketing. In fact, a reliable marketing formula is “problem, agitate, solve.” State the prospective customer’s problem, make it sound even worse, offer your solution. However, people are becoming more proactive and health-conscious regarding both themselves and their pets. The number of premium, organic pet-food diets on the market has exploded. Training techniques have, for the most part, moved away from the historical “show ’em who’s boss” approach to ones better grounded in the science of animal behavior and learning (although there is still plenty of room for improvement!). Initiatives have been undertaken to help veterinary visits be less stressful for pets.
All of these efforts to help dogs live happier, better-quality lives are laudable, but to be most helpful to owners and professionals alike, let’s put them into a broader context: which common, daily husbandry or caretaking practices have a big effect on behavioral health, both good and bad? Before we offer some examples to answer that question, we should step back and offer a few definitions.
We’ve all heard the statement “health is more than the absence of disease.” The terms health and wellness, which are sometimes used interchangeably, are rarely defined by specific, measurable criteria. When we applied that statement to pet behavioral health in our article “Behavior Wellness Concepts for the General Veterinary Practice,” we defined behavior wellness as “the condition or state of normal and acceptable pet conduct that enhances the human-animal bond and the pet’s quality of life.” To define “pet conduct,” we created the “Characteristics of Behaviorally Healthy Dogs and Cats” (which you can find at SensibleDogTraining.com and CatBehaviorHelp.com).
To conform to a wellness approach, behavioral health should be described in terms of what pets do, not what they shouldn’t do. For that reason, we’ve long encouraged our clients to ask themselves, How can I get my pet to do what I want? instead of How can I get him to stop [fill in the blank]?—which is usually the behavior(s) we are called upon to help change.
If we want to take a wellness approach, then it’s up to us to create a life for our furry family members that promotes healthy behaviors and provides an environment that meets their behavioral needs. We know that behavioral and physical health are intertwined, so the first responsibility of any pet owner is to provide preventive and all other needed medical care.
To create a behaviorally healthy lifestyle for our dogs, one that meets their needs, we first must know what their behavioral needs are. That’s a trickier undertaking than you might think.
One of the earliest attempts at this came in the 1965 Brambell Report (Farm Animal Wellness Council 1992), which listed “Five Freedoms” in reference to the care and welfare of farm animals:
Ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
Providing an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
Prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
Providing conditions needed to prevent mental suffering.
We worked from these freedoms and other research on behavioral needs to create our version of the Behavioral Needs of Companion Animals (Hetts, et al. 2004):
Let’s examine one common caretaking example in light of these behavioral needs: the use of crates. Is a crate really a good thing for a dog? How a crate is used to confine a dog has an impact on almost all of the behavioral needs mentioned above. It’s not uncommon for owners to crate their dogs for a typical eight-hour workday. Some also crate their dogs at night, leaving the dog with perhaps four to six hours of unconfined time each weekday. Can a dog have his needs for exercise, play, social contact, mental stimulation and expression of species-typical behaviors met in those limited hours? Unlikely, in our opinion, especially when you consider other responsibilities and activities the owners typically have on their agendas during those same hours.
And what about a crate as a comfortable place to sleep and rest? At six square feet, the crate we used to housetrain our Irish Setter, Coral, was bigger than what we often hear recommended: “just large enough for him to comfortably turn around in and not And what about a crate as a comfortable place to sleep and rest? At six square feet, the crate we used to housetrain our Irish Setter, Coral, was bigger than what we often hear recommended: “just large enough for him to comfortably turn around in and not
While crating can be a short-term technique, useful for housetraining and safe traveling, in too many instances, it becomes a way of life for dogs, one that virtually ensures that their behavioral needs will not be met. One study found, in fact, that dogs who spent considerable time in their crates were at significant risk for being surrendered to a shelter (Patronek, et al. 1996).
With so many high-end pet products available these days—from food to spa days—it’s easy to overlook the basics that dogs need to lead behaviorally healthy lives. Take a look at the characteristics of behaviorally healthy dogs and the behavioral needs of companion animals and see how your dog measures up.
In our behavior consulting work, we see common practices and beliefs that interfere with a behaviorally healthy lifestyle for dogs, including:
Taking a wellness approach to your dog’s behavior also means being proactive and considering what your dog needs and how you can mitigate stress during changes in your lifestyle, such as moving, the birth of a child, or a significant change in schedule that will result in your dog being left alone for longer periods.
It also means ongoing monitoring of your dog’s behavior using our healthy-dog criteria and taking action when you notice small changes before they become big issues.
It’s human nature to avoid attending to things until they break or become problems. We may be better at getting regular maintenance on our cars than we are at maintaining our own physical and mental health and that of our dogs. We hope, however, that this article provides food for thought about how you can monitor and improve your dog’s behavior health.
Golden Retriever Rocky 3 was hit by a car and sustained a major spinal cord injury, that virtually paralyzed him. Watch how Karen Atlas, MPT, CCRT and her team at HydroPaws in Santa Barbara performed amazing rehabilitation physical therapy on him. Karen also serves as the president of the California Association of Animal Physical Therapists. This is a coalition of animal physical rehabilitation professionals (licensed physical therapists with advanced training/certification in animal rehabilitation) who seek to play a leading role in defining appropriate legislative/regulatory language in California; similar to those states (such as Colorado, Nevada, and Nebraska) who have already successfully regulated this area of animal care. Even now, the California Veterinary Medical Board wants to limit/restrict our access to qualified non-vet rehab therapists and this video is proof of why this coalition disagrees. This inspirational video of Rocky 3 certainly does demonstrate the important work that is performed by these highly skilled professionals.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Tonight my littlest dog Nellie came in the house sneezing. Any other time of year and I would be unconcerned, but in late spring and early summer an abrupt onset of sneezing after being outdoors is a “foxtail-in-the-nose alarm bell.” I’ll be watching Nellie like a hawk for the rest of the evening. Any crinkling of her nose, ongoing sneezing or bloody nose, and she’ll be my first patient tomorrow morning.
If you are unfamiliar with foxtails, count your blessings! These pesky, bristly plant awns grow in abundance throughout California and are reported in most every state west of the Mississippi. Once the plant heads dry, they become hell-bent on finding their way into dogs’ noses, ears, eyes, mouths and just about every other orifice. They can dive deep into a dog’s nostril or ear canal (beyond sight) in the blink of an eye. And a foxtail camouflaged under a layer of hair can readily burrow through the skin (a favorite hiding place is between toes). Foxtails can wind up virtually anywhere in the body, and associated symptoms vary based on location. For example, a foxtail within the ear canal causes head shaking, under the skin a draining tract, or within the lung, labored breathing and coughing. Not only is the dog’s body incapable of degrading or decomposing foxtails, these plant awns are barbed in such a way that they can only move in a “forward” direction. Unless caught early, they, and the bacteria they carry, either become walled off to form an abscess or migrate through the body causing infection and tissue damage. Once foxtails have moved internally, they become the proverbial needle in a haystack—notoriously difficult to find and remove.
Take the example of Emma Louise, an undeniably adorable Brittany Spaniel mix whose family told me that her favorite pastime is running through fields with her nose to the ground. They described her as a “foxtail magnet,” having accumulated several in her ears and nose over the years. I was asked to help figure out the cause of Emma Louise’s hunched back and straining to urinate. With abdominal ultrasound, I discovered a gigantic abscess tucked up under Emma Louise’s spine, extending into her pelvic canal. Given this girl’s history, I just knew there had to be a foxtail in there somewhere. The question was, would we be able to find it?
As is my medical tradition before launching a foxtail search, I recited a prayer to the “god of foxtails.” I then turned Emma Louise over to one of my surgical colleagues for exploratory surgery. After two hours of nailbiting and a barrage of expletives originating in the O.R., I heard a shout of, “Got it!” The foxtail had been located and removed, and sweet little Emma Louise made a rapid and complete recovery. Not finding the foxtail would have meant a lifetime of antibiotics to treat her foxtail-induced infection.
If you suspect your dog has a foxtail-related issue, contact your veterinarian right away to find out what steps can be taken (at home or in the veterinary hospital) to rid your dog of this unwanted plant material. Whenever possible, avoidance of foxtail exposure is the best and only foolproof prevention. If your dog does have access to foxtails, carefully comb through his or her haircoat—checking ears and toes, too —a couple of times daily to remove any that are embedded and poised to wreak havoc!
Wellness: Health Care
Out of the blue, your dog rolls on his side and starts to shake. What’s going on?
Charlie, a four-year-old Shih Tzu mix, held his head low and cried out when touched. His regular veterinarian performed blood tests and took X-rays, none of which revealed a reason for the neck pain. After discussing possible causes—a slipped disk and meningitis among them—the vet prescribed a trial of antibiotics and pain medication. At first, Charlie improved, but within a few days, his pain seemed to increase. Then he had a seizure.
His people rushed him to a local emergency clinic, where he was admitted. The clinic kept Charlie overnight to stabilize him, and the next day, transferred him to our practice, Southeast Veterinary Neurology in Miami, Fla.
Charlie was minimally responsive. When we examined him, we saw that he tended to turn his head to the left and didn’t react to stimuli on the right side of his body; he didn’t blink when touched near the right eye or when his right eye was approached. After a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spinal fluid analysis, we had a diagnosis: encephalitis. Treatment was started immediately.
Seizures—a manifestation of uncontrolled electrical activity in the cerebral cortex—are the most common canine neurological disorder. The cerebral cortex is made up of cells (neurons) that communicate with each other via electrical activity. A seizure happens when that electrical activity becomes excessive or uncontrolled.
Seizures are classified as either focal or generalized, with the latter being the most frequently seen. In a classic generalized seizure, all four legs become stiff and the dog lies down or falls over before losing consciousness and convulsing. During a convulsion, many dogs will vocalize and salivate; some will urinate or defecate. The seizure may last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes, or longer.* Focal seizures are milder and only affect one part of the body—part of the face, or one leg.
Any disturbance that either increases the electrical activity in the brain or decreases the control mechanisms that prevent seizures can cause these episodes. There are three basic types of disturbances: extracranial (problems outside of the brain that secondarily affect the brain), intracranial (physical or structural problems with the brain itself) and idiopathic epilepsy.
Low blood sugar, severe liver or kidney disease, electrolyte abnormalities such as low calcium, and toxins/poisons are among the causes of extracranial seizures. All of these conditions are relatively easy to identify with blood and urine tests.
Intracranial causes include brain tumors, strokes, encephalitis/ meningitis (as in Charlie’s case), head injury or a malformation such as hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”). Diagnosing these conditions requires an evaluation by a neurologist, an MRI of the brain, and possibly a cerebrospinal f luid analysis. Seizures experienced by certain breeds of dogs—including Boxers, Yorkshire Terriers, Maltese and other terriers—are more likely to have an intracranial cause.
Idiopathic epilepsy—seizures with no known cause—is the most common reason for recurrent seizures, and is the result of an inherent hyperexcitability of the neurons of the cerebral cortex. In general, dogs with idiopathic epilepsy are between one and five years of age when they have their first seizure, which is usually of the generalized type. In between seizures, they’re completely normal, as are their neurological examinations.
Seeing your dog have a seizure can be distressing, but the primary thing you need to do is to remain calm. Do not put your hands near your dog’s mouth, as in the throes of a seizure, he’s not aware of his actions and may unintentionally bite you. Keep your dog in a safe area where he is unlikely to hurt himself, moving him away from stairs, pools or other hazards. If this is your dog’s first seizure, take him to your veterinarian immediately.
Your vet will likely start with a series of blood and urine tests to evaluate the liver, kidneys, electrolytes and other internal organs, looking for an extracranial cause. A consultation with a veterinary neurologist and an MRI may be recommended if the blood tests are normal, if your dog is younger than one or older than six, or if he acts abnormally between seizures.
Diazepam (Valium) or midazolam, fast-acting drugs, will halt a seizure in progress. Depending on the cause and the dog’s response to treatment, longer-acting anti-seizure medications are also prescribed. Among these are phenobarbital, potassium bromide, levetiracetam (Keppra), zonisamide (Zonegran) and felbamate (Felbatol); each has both positive and potentially adverse effects. Your veterinarian or neurologist will discuss which medication makes the most sense for your dog. For many conditions, including idiopathic epilepsy, medication can help reduce the frequency and severity of seizures, but some seizure activity can still be expected.
Seizures are indeed scary, but understanding their causes and knowing what to do when they occur go a long way toward successfully coping with them.
*Ed. note: According to other sources, a seizure that lasts more than five minutes or that reoccurs three times in a 24-hour period should be considered an emergency.
Researchers at Cambridge University looked at Labrador Retrievers (the most popular breed in the U.S. and the UK) to assess why that breed is more prone to obesity than other breeds. Their findings, recently published in the journal Cell Metabolism, point to a possible genetic reason behind this.
“About a quarter of pet Labradors carry this gene [difference],” lead researcher Dr. Eleanor Raffan noted. “Although obesity is the consequence of eating more than you need and more than you burn off in exercise, actually there’s some real hard-wired biology behind our drive to eat,” she added. Labs have the greatest documented obesity prevalence.
More than 300 Labradors, from pets to assistance dogs, were screened for known obesity genes in the study. The international team found that a change in a gene known as POMC was strongly linked with weight, obesity and appetite in both Labradors and Flat-Coated Retrievers.
Other breeds—from the Shih Tzu to the Great Dane—were also screened, but this particular genetic difference was not found.
Dr. Giles Yeo, was one of the human geneticists from the University of Cambridge, who worked on the study. “What we have found is that some Labradors get fat because they have a deletion in a gene within their brain,” he said.
“And this particular gene plays a role in sensing how much fat they have in their body—and so some Labradors don’t know how much fat they have and so keep eating to try to get fatter.”
Researchers also found that the mutation is significantly more common in Labradors selected to become assistance dog breeding stock than those selected to be companions.
It is certainly intriguing why assistance Labs are more prone to be carrying this gene deletion, but as they hypothesized, dogs carrying the POMC deletion may be more likely to be selected as for work as assistance dogs because trainability and temperament are the main “drivers for selection of these dogs, and positive reinforcement with food reward is the mainstay of puppy training.”
Wellness: Healthy Living
We look at ways to make their lives easier.
In your eyes, your dog will alway s be a puppy, even if she’s getting up there in canine (and human) years, or her muzzle is beginning to gray. However, eventually the day will come when you notice that your pup is panting a little bit harder after a long walk and struggling to climb onto your bed. It’s time to start adjusting to the lifestyle needs of an older dog.
When a dog is considered a senior largely depends on breed. Smaller dogs (such as Chihuahuas or Terriers) don’t reach their golden years until they’re 10 or 12, while a Great Dane may attain senior status at the age of five or six. Beyond size and breed, genetics, diet and environment all have an impact on a dog’s life expectancy.
Just as modern medicine has extended the lives of people, with the right combination of attention and preventive care, it can also extend the lives of dogs. If you want your older dog to have a long and happy life, consider incorporating these strategies into your pet care routine.
Remember your dog’s teeth. Dental hygiene is particularly crucial as your dog ages. Regular brushing and professional cleaning can prevent painful dental disease and decay (and help your dog avoid the chewing problems mentioned earlier). If your dog doesn’t enjoy having his/her teeth brushed, consider dental treats and toys instead.
Watch your dog’s diet. Mature dogs often have food issues, including problems chewing, lack of appetite, obesity and digestive difficulties. Consult with your vet on the best diet and exercise plan for your aging dog. Dietary changes may include adding more fiber to aid with digestion or decreasing carbohydrates to maintain optimal weight. Supplements such as fish oil or glucosamine can be added to alleviate joint pain.
Exercise your dog’s body and mind. Like people, aging dogs experience pain and have difficulty performing physical activities they used to enjoy. However, exercise continues to be imperative to their health and well being. Take your dog on short, gentle walks and monitor his/her breathing and gait to make sure nothing is amiss. Your dog’s brain needs plenty of exercise as well. Stimulating toys such as food puzzles help keep your dog sharp.
See the vet more often. Take your dog in for a vet checkup at least twice a year. Just as elderly people need to be aware of health issues and visit their doctors more often, aging pets benefit from more frequent visits. Older pets may need additional blood tests, dental care and examinations. Additionally, many breeds have predispositions toward certain ailments, including arthritis, hip dysplasia, cancer and diabetes. Early detection can help catch these before they become major problems.
“Seniorize” your house. Just as you once puppy-proofed your home, you now need to provide your older dog with special accommodations. For dogs with hip dysplasia or joint issues, consider a special ramp or stairs so they can still get in the car or join you on the bed. Keep food and water in areas they can easily reach, especially if they are vision-impaired. Heated beds can soothe achy joints, particularly if you live in a colder climate. Finally, non-slip surfaces will prevent falls and help your older pet maintain traction when rising.
Pay attention. Monitor changes in behavior; appetite; weight loss or gain; dental issues; and any lumps, bumps or lesions and bring them to your vet’s attention. (A journal is a great memory aid.)
Taking care of an older dog may involve a little more work than you’re used to doing, but caring for a lifetime companion is a deeply rewarding experience. Your dog has been good to you (and for you) for years—now’s the time to return the favor!
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