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Dogs May Reduce Allergies and Obesity in Babies

For the past couple of decades researchers have been looking at the role that pets, especially dogs, have to play in rates of allergies in children. Many have found that, what is being termed the hygiene hypothesis, is indeed correct, meaning that a little dirt early in life helps to stave allergic diseases, including obesity.

A new study by Anita Kozyrskyj a pediatric epidemiologist of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, found further evidence of this dog-human linkage and how this lessens the development of everything from obesity to asthma.

Starting in 2013 she wondered if she could pinpoint what and how this might be happening. Her team collected fecal samples from 4-month-old infants in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) pilot study. Of the 24 respondent infants, 15 lived in house with at least a dog or cat.

What they found was that within the households with pets, the children had a higher diversity of microbes in their guts. Microbes, as we now know, can be a good thing for our gut microbiome and immune systems actually develop alongside our gut’s “germs.”  Meaning that if babies grow in a more “sterile” pet-free environment, they would be more unprepared to “fight” germs as they grow up.

Kozyrskyj noted, "The abundance of these two bacteria (Firmicutes microbes) were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house," and added that the pet exposure was shown to affect the gut microbiome indirectly—from dog to mother to unborn baby—during pregnancy as well as during the first three months of the baby's life.

Also interestingly, this study suggested that the presence of pets in the house reduced the likelihood of the transmission of vaginal GBS (group B Strep) during birth, which causes pneumonia in newborns and is prevented by giving mothers antibiotics during delivery.

Kozyrskyj’s study confirms and expands on the work that many other researchers have shown that some “dirt” can be beneficial and help to ward off disease. Including one, conducted at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland in 2012, that concentrated on infants during their first year, and investigated the effect of contact with dogs on the “frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections.” Information about the length of time a dog spent indoors was also gathered, and turned out to be one of the key indicators.

The results were eye-opening. Children with dogs at home were healthier overall, had fewer infectious respiratory problems, fewer ear infections and were less likely to require antibiotics. Researchers considered these results supportive of the theory that children who live with dogs during their early years have better resistance throughout childhood. They also found that the effect was greater if the dog spent fewer than six hours inside, possibly because the longer dogs are outdoors, the more dirt they bring inside with them. The more dirt, the more “bacterial diversity.” This diversity is thought to have a protective influence by helping the child’s immune system to mature — that is, respond more effectively to infectious agents.

Then a 2013 study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, found that living with dogs may prevent children from developing asthma. Mice fed a solution containing dust from homes with dogs developed a resistance to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a childhood airway infectious agent. RSV, which is common in infants, is linked to a higher risk of childhood asthma. According to Dr. Susan Lynch of the study team, “Exposing the gastrointestinal tract to pet dust and other microbes early in life prepares it to respond appropriately to a variety of invaders. But since our modern lifestyles involve living in immaculate houses, our immune systems often overreact instead.” Early childhood is a critical period for developing protection against allergies and asthma, and exposure to pets can help.

The idea that our microorganisms may to some extent be collectively beneficial is intriguing. People and dogs have been exchanging microbes for at least 30,000 years, since the first little cave girl kissed the first proto-dog puppy smack on the muzzle. That’s a long history of sharing. It’s possible that our microorganisms are at least symbiotic, and perhaps even played a role in the dramatic domestication of the dog. 

As was reported in Nature: Researchers suspect that our long association with canines means that human and dog microbiomes may have developed in tandem. The microbiome of a baby growing up without a dog (and of a puppy growing up without a human) is, in a sense, incomplete. “All of the people alive today probably had ancestors who lived in tribes that hunted with dogs,” says Jack Gilbert, director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago in Illinois.”

Since 2013, Canadian researcher, Kozyrskyj has expanded her pilot study from 24 to 746 infants, around half of whom were living in households with pets. Her team then compared the babies' microbial communities.

The results were basically the same, microbial life flourished in the infants living with pets. And not only that but the “team was now able to show that babies from families with pets (70% of which were dogs) had higher levels of two types of Firmicutes microbes — Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, which have been associated with a lower risk of allergic disease and leanness, respectively.

“Pet exposure can reduce allergic disease and obesity” later in life, added Hein Min Tun, a veterinarian and microbial epidemiologist and a member of Kozyrskyj’s research team.

And while it might be too soon to predict how this finding will play out in the future, they don’t rule out the concept of a “dog in a pill” as a preventive tool for allergies and obesity. Or, as we much rather see, “dog as the pill.”

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Stress and Shelter Dogs
Study looks at how time away can benefit homeless pups.

Animal shelters are stressful places for homeless pets. While classical music and thoughtfully designed spaces can help, nothing can completely make it a comfortable environment. This can affect adopters who can have a hard time predicting how the behavior they see at the shelter may look like at home.

Lisa Gunter, a doctoral candidate studying behavioral neuroscience at the Arizona State University's Canine Science Collaboratory, has embarked on research that explores how we can reduce stress and increase adoption success. Lisa acknowledges that one challenge for shelters is bringing out an animal's true behavior in a stressful environment that looks nothing like home.

As a first step, Lisa wanted to look at the sleepover program at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, the largest no-kill shelter in the country. About 1,600 dogs and cats live there, and it's become a popular vacation destination for pet lovers. One volunteer program lets visitors take a dog back to their hotel room for the night.

The pilot study set out to see how these sleepovers affected stress levels.

Lisa measured cortisol levels, a diurnal hormone that is a measure of stress, at three time points: at the shelter pre-sleepover, during the sleepover, and back at the shelter post-sleepover. She also took a behavioral snapshot of each dog, answering questions such as, What's he like on a leash?, What's he like when he sees another dog?, and What's he like when you come into his kennel?

The impact was measurable. The dogs' cortisol levels were significantly reduced after one night.

"We're trying to get more at the dog's welfare, how they're feeling on a larger timescale, not just 10 or 15 minutes," explained Lisa. "When we saw the cortisol had significantly reduced on just one overnight, that was pretty exciting. We didn't imagine that one night out would make a difference."

Lowered stress levels could allow the dogs to behave more naturally, giving people a better view of their true personality. They also discovered another potential factor into shelter pets' welfare.

Anecdotally, people who participated in the sleepover program reported that after the dog settled down, they would often immediately go for a long sleep. This could be an important finding.

"Getting good, uninterrupted sleep could be one mechanism by which we're seeing this reduction in cortisol," says Lisa. "The dogs are getting a good night's sleep, something they can't get at the shelter because they have a lot of noisy neighbors."

Lisa has been working on this study in collaboration with a researcher at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. They were recently awarded a grant to carry out this study at four more shelters with a two-day sample instead of the one-day Lisa did at Best Friends.

I look forward to seeing more developments and would be interested in seeing the long term effects of getting away from the animal shelter, even if it's just for a few hours. While most organizations wouldn't be able to implement a sleepover program like Best Friends, most shelters do have volunteers who can take the dogs out for a long walk or day trip.

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Canine Invasion in Newark Airport
89 guide dogs-to-be train at a New Jersey airport.

We've written about comfort dogs visiting airports during times of stressful travel, but what if you got to the airport and saw nearly 100 pups romping around?

Last weekend travelers passing through New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport saw just that--89 guide dogs in training. These pups were brought to Terminal C as part of their prep with The Seeing Eye, a local group that places about 260 guide dogs per year with the visually impaired. 

The Labradors, Poodles, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers accompanied their handlers through ticketing, security checkpoints, and baggage claim. They rode escalators, explored the terminals, and even boarded a United Airlines plane.

Newark Airport has been hosting guide dog training for more than 20 years. According to airport deputy general manager Frank Radics, "the program has trained nearly 3,500 dogs to assist visually impaired passengers navigate busy airports, making air travel a little easier."

Exposure to a variety of environments is essential to a guide dog's training.

"We have to make sure the dogs are steady when there's a lot of noise so they're confident and it doesn't scare them," said longtime puppy raiser Jeanne Kollmer. "It's so many different experiences you can have in one venue."

Jeanne was at the airport with ten month old Black Labrador, Shari, the 18th dog she helped raise for The Seeing Eye. It's been incredibly rewarding.

"You're making a difference in someone else's life," says Jeanne. "There's nothing better than that."

If you missed the parade of pups, they'll be back at the airport this Saturday for more training.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
When Your Partner Doesn’t Want a Dog
Persuasive strategies to consider

You’re all ready to adopt a dog! Perhaps you’ve been dreaming of this moment for years, or maybe it just occurred to you today that you need—really need—a dog in your life. There are so many wonderful dogs waiting for a home and the love of a family, and your life may soon be enhanced by a new best friend of the canine persuasion.

But what if you need to convince your partner—husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend—to get on board with your obviously fantastic plan? Well then, you have some work ahead of you, and it may not be easy. Your dream of adopting a dog is on hold. How can you proceed?

The first step is to figure out what your partner’s objections are. Many people who are opposed to getting a dog like the idea in general, but are held back by one or more particular concerns. If you can come up with a solution to what your partner views as the problem, you increase your chances of successfully convincing him or her to adopt a dog.

Financial: It costs money to have a dog, and the prospect of extra expenses scares a lot of people. It’s important to figure out how easily your budget can accommodate an increase in spending. If you can save money ahead of time for the dog, that shows your partner that you understand the concern, that you are serious about budgeting for it. It also indicates that your household can make it work. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut something else out of your budget to convince your partner that financial concerns need not hold you back.

Lifestyle Changes: Many people worry that having a dog will make it harder to go out in the evenings, to go away on for the weekend, or to take vacations during holidays or time off from work. It’s a legitimate concern—having a dog means that spontaneous outings present challenges, so it’s important to have a plan to meet them. Find out who can care for your dog when you are away or if you want to go out after work. Consider professional facilities, dog walkers and neighbors you could hire to help you. Do some research on local pet-friendly cafes and restaurants as well as vacations that could easily accommodate (and even be enhanced by!) your dog. Whether or not you can convince your partner that this issue can be resolved depends a lot on your current lifestyle and what kind of trips you enjoy. Hiking and camping with dogs is great fun, but a tour of the great cities of Europe will involve arranging care for your dog.

Fear of failing the dog: Having a dog is a lot of responsibility, and that can make many people nervous, especially if they have never had a dog before. Find out about resources in your area such as trainers, behaviorists and veterinarians. Educating your partner about the basics of dog behavior and care will help you both feel more confident about bringing home a new dog.

Household Cleanliness: Not everybody is unbothered by muddy paw prints and (let’s be honest) nobody is totally okay with dog vomit or what happens to the carpet while housetraining is still a work in progress. The really gross things tend to happen rarely, but the slobbering by the water bowl and dog hair showing up here, there and everywhere are daily occurrences for many of us. If this drawback to getting a dog is your partner’s concern, you are not alone. Many people without dogs are somewhere on the scale of hesitant to totally freaked out about the prospect of a dirtier house. Whether you promise to step up your housecleaning or shell out the money to hire people to clean your house, it’s essential to have a solution to this problem. It’s also sensible to choose a dog who is less likely to drool and shed than the nightmare your partner is probably picturing.

Affecting Other Pets: If your partner is concerned about how a dog will affect your cat, for example, consider yourself lucky to have such a thoughtful and caring person in your life. It’s very sad when a cat who has been happy in a home is suddenly living under the bed or only in one room because it is terrified of the dog. A dog will fit into the family far better if you choose one who gets along with cats, so make that a top priority. Additionally, it is wise to commit to doing the initial introduction with a professional trainer or behaviorist to make success more likely.

Along with addressing any of the specific concerns that your partner has about adopting a dog, here are some additional tips that may help you convince your partner. Let your partner have the final say in choosing which dog you adopt, and a lot of input into what kind of dog to consider. There are so many variables (old, young, big, small, long hair or short, hound or terrier or other type). Since your partner is—at best—on the fence about the whole dog thing, you may be able to tip the scales in your favor by giving them a weighted vote on which dog to adopt.

Let your partner know how important this is to you, and be prepared to make the case that since it matters to you, it should matter to him or her. This is a tricky one. Although it makes sense that if you want a dog so much, your partner should consider agreeing just because it is so important to you, there’s obviously a flip side to that. If adopting a dog is so unappealing to your partner, you need to consider that simply because it matters to your partner. Feeling very differently about this subject can cause a serious rift in a relationship, and the only sensible advice is not to let this difference ruin the relationship unless it truly is a deal breaker for you.

Adding a dog to your life is a big step, and that can be intimidating. A trial run of sorts could help your partner feel more comfortable about it. Consider watching a friend’s dog for a little while or fostering a dog so you can try out what it feels like to have a dog in your life without the long term commitment. The joy of sharing your home with a dog temporarily—whether it belongs to a roommate, a visitor or a traveling friend— has convinced many people to adopt a dog of their own.

If you’ve ever persuaded a partner to adopt a dog, how did you do it?

News: Guest Posts
Smiling Dog: Katie

Dog's name and age: Katie, 11 years

Adoption Story:

Katie's mom often went by the shelter to see the dogs in need of a home. On this particular day, after a jog, Katie was spotted in a kennel at PAWS rescue along with her sister. They greeted their soon-to-be mom with eyes that said You are my mom! She got into the kennel with them and just knew these two intended to go home with her.

Katie's Life:

Now Katie gets to enjoy napping, playing and hanging out with her mom and her sister everyday. Katie is pure love. Her health hasn't been well in the last year so her family makes sure that everyday Katie knows how much they love and treasure her! 

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Therapy Dog Uncovers Contaminated Water
San Diego is starting district wide water testing after a dog refuses to drink water from a classroom sink.
It's easy to get caught up in the busy day to day of our lives and overlook important details. On the other hand, our dogs live in the moment and take notice of of all the little things we miss. They also have the benefit of a much better sense of smell and hearing than we do. So in a way, it's not surprising that a San Diego therapy dog alerted a school to a serious problem.

Earlier this year, a teacher at Emerson-Bandini Elementary School noticed her therapy dog wouldn't drink from a bowl filled with water from the classroom sink. She then noticed a sheen similar to what oil looks like on the surface of water. The district tested a sampling of water from around campus and detected contaminants that exceeded the state's allowable level. According to the school district, they found vinyl chloride (C2H2Cl), a chemical that is related to degrading plastic, in a range up to 2.35 micrograms per liter. The maximum allowable level is 0.5 micrograms per liter.

As a result, beginning this week all pipes in the San Diego Unified School District will be tested for contaminants including lead. And in the meantime, the students are drinking bottled water until the district can ensure their safety.

There are countless stories of dogs who detect medical conditions, sense when bad weather is coming, and alert people to someone in trouble. Our pets have an uncanny ability to notice things that go right over our head. The students at Emerson-Bandini Elementary School are lucky that this therapy dog uncovered the toxic water before anyone became sick.

Have your dogs ever alerted you to something peculiar? 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog is Official Greeter at Assisted Living Home
Izzy stayed after her guardian died

Izzy lives at an assisted living senior center in Tennessee, even though her guardian, Jim, died months ago. When Jim came to live at the Brookdale Kingston senior living facility, he was able to bring his dog Izzy with him. Izzy was friendly to everyone, and became close to many of the residents and to the staff.

As Jim’s health got worse, other people stepped in to help take care of her. Staff members took her for daily walks. Other residents and their visitors spent time with Izzy, and she became an even more beloved member of the community. When Jim passed away, there were no relatives who could take care of Izzy, so she stayed at the assisted living center. Residents and employees said they were so glad that they didn’t lose Izzy, too, after Jim passed away.

At first, Izzy continued to spend a lot of time in Jim’s room, but over time, the staff began to move both Jim’s and Izzy’s possessions out of that room. Izzy eventually moved into the office of the facility’s sales and marketing manager. She spends much of her day visiting with residents all over the facility (except the dining room which is off limits to her). If she needs a break from all of the loving attention, she heads to the dog bed under a staff members’ desk to rest or nap.

Izzy’s job is “official greeter” and she is a good worker, making sure to welcome all visitors. She also attends social functions such as parties and socials. Besides playing with her rubber chicken, she loves to go door-to-door to say hello to each resident. She used to get a treat at each stop along the way, but when she started to lose her girlish figure and had some bellyaches, that changed.

If having Izzy live at the facility becomes a problem in the future, there are staff members who are willing to adopt her. For now, the plan is for Izzy to spend the rest of her life at Brookdale Kingston. She is happy there and makes others happy, too.

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Why DO dogs react to cats
Scientific study into the cues causing dogs’ reactions

“Fighting like cats and dogs” is an expression that succinctly describes the worst case scenario of dog and cat interactions. Not all dogs and cats have to get along with each other to live full and happy lives, but it sure is important to know which dogs can live with cats and which ones can’t. That’s especially critical for shelters seeking to find homes for dogs, because nobody wants to adopt a dog who will terrorize their cat. Though there are many ways that shelter staff can evaluate a dog’s response to other dogs and to people, there is far less information, and no validated assessment tool, for evaluating how a dog will react to cats. In most cases, we don’t even know what it is about a cat that sets dogs off, other than the useless knowledge that the dog is reacting because the cat is a cat.

A recent study seeks to change that by adding to what we know about which triggers from cats set dogs off. “Dogs’ responses to visual, auditory, and olfactory cat-related cues” concludes that the sound of a cat and how a dog reacts to it may be of critical importance when evaluating dogs. In the study, dogs reacted more to the auditory stimuli of cats than to visual stimuli of cats, but the stimuli they used were not directly comparable.

The visual stimulus was an animatronic children’s toy, the auditory stimulus was a recording of cat vocalizations, and the olfactory stimulus was cat urine. Because only the auditory stimulus was the actual stimulus that a dog would perceive in the presence of a cat, it is hard to accept the conclusions of the study. The actual odor of a cat and the sight of a live cat are different than the stimuli presented in the study.

The researchers found that dogs who had previously hurt a cat were more attentive to the auditory stimuli than other dogs were, though there was no difference in the behavior of dogs in either group towards the visual cat stimulus. The olfactory stimulus was associated with dogs spending more time sniffing than when no olfactory cue was present.

Responses to cat sounds could be a useful predictor of whether or not a dog will get along with cats, but more research is necessary. (It would be of particular importance in future studies to consider the stimuli presented during assessments.) The results of this study could also be explained by concluding that dogs attend more to realistic cat stimuli and that dogs who have previously hurt a cat are especially attentive to realistic cat cues, which in this study only applied to the auditory cue.

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
From Abandoned Pup to Working Dog
An abused Beagle finds his niche in airport customs.

Last year an abused Beagle was found abandoned outside of the Northeast Georgia Animal Shelter. The pup, who they later named Murray, had half of one of his ears missing and a band on his tail, as if someone had been trying to shorten it. Understandably, Murray was scared and nervous. Shelter workers said he probably hadn't been socialized much.

After receiving medical care, Murray was placed in a foster home through Alcovy Pet Rescue. His foster family gave him the love and attention he deserved, coaxing him out of his shell. It was here that they discovered he had a knack for sniffing out food.

"He was constantly smelling everything and getting into cabinets," said Yvonne Petty, director of Alcovy Pet Rescue. He was just very interested in that kind of thing."

While many people might find Murray's habit annoying, Alcovy Pet Rescue knew that Murray's propensity and activity level made him a good candidate for airport customs work. They had several rescue pups go down this path before.

That's how Murray ended up training with the United States Department of Agriculture where he excelled at his new job.

"He's a great dog," Yvonne said about Murray. Even when they're done training, he still wants to work."

Murray graduated from training earlier this month and was assigned to work at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport where he will be scanning luggage for prohibited plants and food.

"He's done so well and we're just so amazed at what a transformation he made from being abused," she Yvonne. "You can really find great dogs in animal control instead of going out and buying them."

Tammie Jourdanais, the director of the Northeast Georgia Animal Shelter, says that she's thankful Murray was left at shelter where he wasn't automatically euthanized due to his injuries.

"It's one of those stories that makes what I do rewarding," explained Tammie. "They always say 'poor shelter dogs,' but these poor shelter dogs can really do great things in the world.

I love that Murray's foster family believed in him and was able to uncover his true talents. Do you think your pup has what it takes to be an airport customs dog? 

 
News: Guest Posts
Smiling Dog: Saphira

Dog's name and age: Saphira, 4 years

Adoption Story:

Saphira was rescued from an unfortunate situation. She lived with drug addicts, was severely malnourished, and not cared for. Thankfully she was taken in by her new family and forever home! They have helped Saphira grow and enjoy life.

Saphira's Interests:

Saphira named after a character from the movie Eragon loves to swim, go for walks, and chase squirrels. She's known as a referee in her household, keeping an eye on her two pitbull fur-siblings when they play. When her person was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had the surgery, Saphira was there, like a good friend. Her family loves and appreciates her.

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