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Tag: research

How farming changed dogs — and us

bread

It’s no big surprise — given it’s what led them to befriend us in the first place — that dogs have been dining on our scraps since early in their domestication.

What’s more interesting is how dogs adapted to our junk food ways.

A team of researchers from France, Sweden and Romania has found evidence indicating that domesticated dogs underwent a genetic transformation, developing multiple copies of a gene that aids in the digestion of starch.

That’s the same thing we humans did, when we made the transition from a hunting to a farming society, consuming more starches and vegetable and less meat.

In their paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the team describes what they found out by conducting a DNA analysis of ancient dog teeth and other bones.

They conclude that, around 7000 years ago, domesticated dogs were eating so much wheat and millet they made extra copies of starch-digesting genes to help them cope.

starchIn other words, as we began consuming more starches, so too — via our leftovers — did the dogs that were compromising their wolfy ways to hang around with us.

That we and dogs can have our genes altered by the food we consume and the repeated behaviors we engage in, is kind of intriguing, and kind of scary — and it brings new credence to the old phrase “you are what you eat.”

Some of the first insights into how farming changed the canine genome came three years ago, according to Sciencemag.com

That’s when a team led by evolutionary geneticist Erik Axelsson of Uppsala University in Sweden discovered that dogs have four to 30 copies of a gene called Amy2B, whereas wolves typically only have two.

The new study sought to get a better handle on when that happened.

Axelsson teamed up with Morgane Ollivier, a paleogeneticist at Ecole Normale Supéieure de Lyon in France and others, who extracted ancient DNA from the bones and teeth of 13 wolf and dog specimens collected from archaeological sites throughout Eurasia.

Four of the ancient dogs — from a 7000-year-old site in Romania and 5000-year-old sites in Turkey and France — had more than eight copies of Amy2B, Ollivier and his colleagues reported in Royal Society Open Science.

The findings rule out a modern origin for the increase in the number of Amy2B genes in dogs.

pastaDogs were likely domesticated more than 15,000 years ago, and likely continued eating mostly meat after that, as they became hunting companions to humans.

As humans turned to farming, the number of copies of Amy2B increased — first in us, then in dogs.

Being able to survive on whatever humans discarded likely enabled dogs to become widespread as people migrated across the globe, the scientists say.

It’s food for thought — how what we eat, or other repeated practices, can lead, far down the road, to alterations in our DNA.

Might scientists discover, generations from now, for example, that we humans have developed a selfie-taking gene that won’t let us stop taking excessive photos of ourselves?

They’ll name it 02BME.

In the unlikely event you are still undecided

hillary

I doubt, at this particular point in this particular presidential election, that their records on animal welfare would be much of a factor in who you choose for president.

But let’s just dive in and do some documenting, anyway, here at the very last minute.

The Clintons have three dogs at present. Trump is believed to have one, but try to find a photo of Trump and Spinee together and you’re in for a long, and possibly fruitless, search.

Trump did tweet about his dog having surgery back in February of this year: “My dog Spinee needs your prayers. She just came out of a difficult surgery …. She is my beloved.”

2015-westminster-winnerWhile photos of Trump and his dog are rare, he does get photographed nearly every year with the winner of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, of which he is an ardent supporter.

It’s clear he is fan of purebreds, and we all know he likes winners.

Because he lacks any kind of voting record, never having served in office, it’s hard to predict what his presidency would mean to animals.

He did tweet his disappointment in Ringling Brothers for getting rid of their elephants, and he has been a vocal supporter of his sons and their big game hunting in Africa — which in turn led animal welfare groups to deem that he, as president, would be a threat to animals.

He has called for the Food and Drug Administration to stop regulating pet food — and that’s a scary proposition.

Then there were the diving horses of Atlantic City.

steelpierIt was a show that began in the late 1920s at the Steel Pier and featured swimsuit-clad women on horses diving from a 40-foot platform. The show was discontinued after Resorts International purchased the pier in 1978.

In the summer of 1993, after Trump had bought the Steel Pier, the idea was revived by Anthony Catanoso who leased the property from him.

The new act would involve horses and mules, and no human riders, and it started back up amid protests by animal welfare advocates.

Some of those protesters would shout “Make Trump jump,” Catanoso recalls.

1993diveThe pressure led Trump to shut the show down by the end of that summer. In a press conference, he said he had disliked it from the start.

So , while he did shut it down, it also opened up and operated all summer while he owned the property.

Later, Catanoso bought the property from Trump, and a return of the show was announced in 2012.

Protests resumed and Catanoso opted not to pursue it further.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has an entire page on her website about how she plans to “promote animal welfare and protect animals from cruelty and abuse.” She says she would make sure animal breeders, zoos, and research institutions create plans to protect the animals in their care; that she would strengthen regulations on puppy mills, and that she would support the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act.”

During her time in the Senate, Clinton co-sponsored the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2007, as well as a bill to amend the Horse Protection Act, according to PetMD.com

As for the veep candidates, Tim Kaine, got a fairly low rating of 38 percent from the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF) while serving in the Senate. The Richmond SPCA, where he and his wife adopted their dog, says he is “a compassionate and unpretentious friend to animals.”

Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, has a dog and two cats. He was given a 0 percent approval rating in the 2012 HSLF scorecard for taking anti-animal stances on both the Hunting in National Parks vote and the Emotional Support Animals vote.

(Photos: Hillary and Tallie, Instagram; Donald Trump with Westminster’s 2015 Best in Show, the beagle Miss P, Instagram; a diving horse at Atlantic City’s Steel Pier in the late 1930s, The Press of Atlantic City; a riderless horse dives from Trump-owned Atlantic City’s Steel Pier in 1993, AP Photo/ Charles Rex Arbogast)

The nose knows but the ears tell

hotears

Many of us may be most familiar with infrared thermography from its least valuable (I’d argue) use — ghost hunting.

It serves many far more sophisticated purposes, though, than providing fodder for those shaky-camera paranormal TV shows — from assessing medical conditions to military reconnaissance, from finding missing children to sensing mood changes in humans.

And, no big surprise, dogs.

In the latest post on Dog Spies, her blog on Scientific American, Julie Hecht recounted a recent study at the Animal Behavior, Cognition and Welfare Research Group at the University of Lincoln in the UK.

Researchers found, through infrared thermography, that the ear temperature of dogs decreased (turning blue on the camera) when they were isolated, and warmed backed up (turning red) when they reunited with people.

It’s similar to findings in studies of human stress levels — except in humans it’s the nose, instead of the ears, that is the most common giveaway.

As Hecht explained, infrared thermography picks up changes in surface temperature. When frightened, stressed or placed in unfamiliar surroundings, blood rushes away from your extremities, in dogs and humans. They get cooler as your core gets warmer and ready to react to whatever threat may be ahead.

The tip of a scared person’s nose gets cooler in such situations, just as rat paws and tails have been shown to do in experiments. In rabbits and sheep, the ears are the most obvious indicator.

Stefanie Riemer and colleagues placed dogs for brief periods in an isolated and novel environment. As the researchers expected, thermographic images of the dogs in isolation showed their ear temperature increasing, then rising when they were reunited with people.

The study appears in the current issue of Physiology & Behavior.

Six dogs were included in the study, and several were found to be unsuitable for study because their fur was too dense to get a good reading.

It seems like a technology that could be put to good use when it comes to studying dogs, and in learning more about those with behavioral issues and what triggers them.

That seems to me a better pursuit than chasing ghosts who aren’t really bothering anybody. Non-invasive, physically, as it is, even infrared photography has the potential for being cruel.

In a study in Italy two years ago, 20 bank tellers who had been robbed at gunpoint were shown a series of faces — happy, neutral, angry, etc. On the fifth face, the researchers exposed them to a loud and unexpected blast, and recorded, thermographically, how the blood left the noses and face.

Half of the tellers had already been diagnosed with PTSD.

Whether the researchers ended up giving PTSD to the other half is not addressed in the study.

(Photo: S. Riemer / Physiology & Behavior)

Dig this: Uncovered tooth shows Mesolithic man took road trips — and with dogs

stonehenge

Archaeologists say they have uncovered evidence that dogs weren’t just already domesticated by man 7,000 years ago, but they were taking road trips with him as well.

They say a dog’s tooth found one mile from Stonehenge is the earliest evidence of people traveling to the site of the prehistoric monument — even before its famous rock formation was constructed, believed to be 5,000 years ago.

An isotope analysis of the tooth’s enamel at Durham University showed the dog originally hailed from York, or at least had consumed water there. Bones found near the site suggest the dog feasted on salmon, trout, pike, wild pig and red deer.

toothThe dog most likely resembled a German shepherd, but with a more distinctly wolf-like appearance.

Researchers believe the dog made the 250-mile trip from York to Wiltshire 7,000 years ago with a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer.

Possibly, they say, he was taking it there to trade.

Archaeologist David Jacques, who leads the team digging at an encampment site called Blick Mead, said the findings show that dogs were domesticated by Mesolithic times, and that, contrary to popular thought, man was doing some long distance travel back then.

And it shows that what’s now the world’s most famous prehistoric monument was drawing people from afar even before whoever arranged those rocks arranged those rocks.

“The fact that a dog and a group of people were coming to the area from such a long distance away further underlines just how important the place was four millennia before the circle was built,” said Jacques, a senior research fellow at the University of Buckingham.

As the decade-long dig continues, The Guardian reported, evidence is accumulating that Stonehenge — as long as 7,000 years ago — was a gathering place.

“It makes us wonder if this place is a hub point, a really important place for the spread of ideas, new technologies and probably genes,” Jacques said.

Our guess? It was a flea market.

A modern day Dr. Frankenstein?

A controversial neurosurgeon in Italy said this week that he and his fellow researchers may be able to conduct the first human head transplant next year.

We suggest they start with their own.

Dr. Sergio Canavero has been compared to Dr. Frankenstein, and called a nut, but that hasn’t stopped him and members of his consortium — from China, South Korea and the U.S. — from severing the spinal cord of the beagle above (just so they could try to reattach it) and doing the same with numerous mice.

If that’s not weird enough, Canavero and team say that before they attempt a head transplant on a live human, they will conduct some experiments on human corpses, and then reanimate them with electricity to test his technique.

We can only assume they will do so in the basement laboratory of a castle, during a thunderstorm.

canaveroCanavero is director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group. He released three papers this week, and the video above, showing how he and his collaborators had successfully reattached the spinal cords of the dog and several mice.

Canavero also claims that researchers led by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University have already performed a head transplant on a monkey – connecting up the blood supply between the head and the new body.

Canavero’s short term goal is to successfully transplant a human head. His long term goal, he admits, “is immortality.”

What’s an acceptable number of dogs to torture in a quest of that nature?

We’d say none.

Canavero says the experiments on animals prove the technique used — known as GEMINI spinal cord fusion — incorporates a chemical called polyethylene glycol, or PEG, to encourage neurons to grow toward each other and connect.

He suspects it will also work in humans to fuse two ends of a spinal cord together, or to connect a transplanted head to a donor body.

He made the claims in a series of papers published in the journal Surgical Neurology International.

The claims have been met with widespread skepticism, according to New Scientist.

Canavero first announced his plans to conduct a human head transplant in 2013 and established the ead Anastomosis Venture, or HEAVEN, project to develop the techniques needed to carry out such an operation.

His collaborator in South Korea is Dr. C-Yoon Kim, a neurosurgeon at Konkuk University in Seoul who partially severed and reattached the spinal cords of 16 mice. Five of the eight mice who received PEG regained some ability to move. The other three died — as did eight who were in a control group.

In another experiment the South Korean team nearly severed the spinal cord of a dog. While the dog was initially paralyzed, three days later the team reported it was able to move its limbs and wag its tail.

South Korea is also the birthplace of dog cloning and up until this summer — when an American company cloned a dog for a customer — it was the only country cloning dogs for profit.

It’s probably not too outlandish — given all the bizarre turns medical researchers are taking — to wonder if surplus canine clones in South Korea end up being used for other wacky experiments by mad (or at least overly zealous) scientists.

In fact, if you look at its history, creating dogs for medical research use was one markets mentioned by the developers and marketers of dog cloning.

Could it be that some of the ideas initially presented in science fiction might ought to remain in the realm of science fiction?

Canavero’s research papers don’t indicate how many more dogs might have their necks snapped or heads severed by his research team as they boldly and single-mindedly stride toward their goal.

But, again, we’d argue that — no matter what medical gains it could lead to for humans — it should be NONE.

Is the quality of dog semen declining? And are contaminants in dog food to blame?


Researchers at the University of Nottingham say they’ve documented a serious decline in the fertility of male dogs — and suggest that dog food or environmental causes may be to blame.

In a study spanning 26 years, researchers tracked the sperm motility levels of five different breeds — Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, curly coat retrievers, border collies and German shepherds.

They took samples from between 42 and 97 dogs each year, according to the study, published in Scientific Reports.

Between 1988 and 1998, the team recorded a 2.5 percent decline in the amount of motile sperm per year. Between 2002 and 2014, this trend continued at a rate of 1.2 percent each year.

The researchers also found that male pups produced by dogs with declining sperm quality had an increased incidence of cryptorchidism, a condition where one or both of the testicles don’t descend properly.

The study suggests that the sperm quality may have been impacted by contaminants in dog food.

“We looked at other factors which may also play a part, for example, some genetic conditions do have an impact on fertility,” said Dr Richard Lea, leader of the study. “However, we discounted that because 26 years is simply too rapid a decline to be associated with a genetic problem.”

Dogs used for the study were all bred, raised and trained as service animals for disabled people at an unidentified center in England, according to the New York Times.

The scientists said that in addition to collecting samples throughout the study, they examined the testicles collected from dogs that had undergone castration.

Both showed environmental contaminants in high enough concentrations to affect sperm motility. These same chemicals were also discovered in various commercially available dog foods.

The researchers say the findings raise the question of whether a reported decline in human semen quality over the last 70 years could also be a result of environmental factors.

(Photos: Roscoe, a yellow Lab who was not involved in the study, and has no interest in the results, by John Woestendiek)

“Erect-tail dysfunction:” Losing the wag

erecttaillab

The university that cloned the first mammal is now investigating why some older dogs — especially those in colder climes — sometimes experience limp tails.

A study at Edinburgh University in Scotland says the phenomenon known as ‘limber tail,’ which causes a dog’s tail to become limp and difficult to move, tends to affect larger working breeds, and is more common among dogs who live in the north.

The study of dozens of dogs found that the chance of a dog developing the condition rose by 50 per cent for each additional degree of latitude further north he or she lived.

Working dogs, who spend more time outdoors, and those who enjoy swimming were also around five times more likely to develop “limber tail,” which is also known as “cold tail” or “swimmer’s tail.” More informally, the condition is sometimes referred to as a dog “losing their wag.”

Personally, we like the name a Telegraph headline writer gave the condition: Erect-tail dysfunction.

No, this is not The Onion you’re reading, and this is not a joke — at least not to the dogs who get it. Owners report that it can be very painful and distressing for the dogs.

“We were surprised by how many owners were reporting limber tail to us but it meant we had the chance to do a detailed investigation,” said Dr. Carys Pugh, of The Roslin Institute and Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies.

The Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies, commonly referred to as the Dick Vet, is no joke, either. It’s the veterinary school of the University of Edinburgh.

Dolly the sheep, the world’s first mammal clone, was born at the Roslin Institute in 1996, marking a new era of biological control. Nine years later the cloning of dog — the 18th species successfully cloned — was achieved by scientists in South Korea.

limptaillabIn the limber tail research, a team at the University of Edinburgh compared 38 cases of dogs with limber tail with 86 dogs that had no symptoms.

Those affected by limber tail were more likely to be working dogs, and more likely to regularly swim.

The condition, which was first reported in the scientific press in 1997, is thought to affect around 60,000 dogs in Britain, “but owners often struggle to find out what is wrong with their pets as there is little literature available,” the Telegraph reported.

It’s generally not a lifelong condition; rather, it resolves itself within a few days or weeks.

The researchers hope further studies will identify genes associated with the condition, which could one day help breeders to identify animals that are likely to be affected.

Caroline Kisko, Secretary of Kennel Club, which funded the research through its charitable trust, said owners should be careful not to over-expose their dogs to the cold.

“The condition is rare, but is it most often seen in working dogs such as Labrador retrievers, flat coated retrievers and pointers. Dogs usually recover their normal tail posture and function over a period of days or weeks, however it can be painful.”

Gudrun Ravetz, junior vice president of the British Veterinary Association warned owners not to become so worried about the cold that they stop exercising their pets.

“Limber tail is rarely seen in veterinary practices and the research indicates that most owners do not seek veterinary attention for this problem,” she said.

(Photos: Top, a young chocolate Lab with a perky and lively tail; bottom, an older chocolate Lab whose tail has gone limber)