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Tag: study

South Korean university announces that Snuppy has been recloned

reclonedsnuppy

The world’s first canine clone — an Afghan hound named Snuppy who died in 2015 — has been recloned, scientists at Seoul National University in Korea have announced.

It’s no big surprise, and it’s no huge achievement, but the scientists say they created the three clones of Snuppy to “immortalize” the “milestone” Snuppy represented — and that the clones will allow them to further study the lifespan of cloned dogs.

Snuppy, who spent most of his life in a laboratory, died at age 10 in April 2015.

“Three healthy reclones of Snuppy are alive, and as with Snuppy we do not anticipate that the reclones will go through an accelerated rate of aging or will be more prone to develop diseases than naturally bred animals,” the team wrote in Scientific Reports, a journal from the publishers of Nature.

To create the new clones, the scientists used fat-derived stem cells taken from Snuppy when he was five years old.

The stem cells were taken from his belly fat and frozen. Years later, they were thawed, grown in culture and then injected into enucleated eggs taken from female donors. The reconstituted eggs were then zapped with an electrical shock to fuse the membranes of the egg and stem cells. Ninety-four of them were transferred to surrogate female dogs.

Four resulted in births, but one of the pups died four days after it was born from severe diarrhea, the scientists reported.

The three remaining dogs will also live their lives in the lab, being monitored and undergoing tests the scientist say they suspect will dispel the notion that cloned animals die early deaths.

They say the second generation of Snuppy clones will contribute to a “new era” in the study of the health and longevity of cloned animals, and that they might contribute to cures being found for human diseases.

But with dog cloning having become big business — and having been initially researched with profits in mind — it’s no surprise that the latest research, funded in part by the Korean government, aims to dispel the thinking that clones live abbreviated lives.

Snuppy’s birth came eight years after Dolly the sheep became the first cloned mammal in 1997. Dolly died prematurely, at age six.

Snuppy

Snuppy

When Snuppy was born in 2005, Time magazine named him one of the most amazing inventions of the year. What wasn’t reported much, at least not initially, were the intrusive procedures involved, the birth defects that resulted, the surplus dogs that resulted, and the long list of animal welfare concerns about the process.

In the article written in Scientific Reports, by the researchers involved, those concerns also get short shrift.

“Animal cloning has gained popularity as a method to produce genetically identical animals or superior animals for research or industrial uses,” they write.

“There is lots of pet cloning going on right now. Owners are concerned whether their clones will live (a normal lifespan) or if they will experience accelerated aging and die early. So, there is some business concern,” said said co-author of the study CheMyong Jay Ko, of the University of Illinois.

The clones of Snuppy might also provide insights into the development of cancer and other diseases, Ko said.

(Top photo from the National Post; bottom of photo by John Woestendiek)

To read more about the birth of dog cloning and how it became a big business, read John Woestendiek’s book, “Dog, Inc.

Those living with a dog tend to live longer

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Dog owners have a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death, according to a comprehensive new study published by a team of Swedish researchers.

The scientists followed 3.4 million people over the course of 12 years and found that adults who live alone and owned a dog were 33 percent less likely to die during the study than adults who lived alone without dogs.

In addition, the single adults with dogs were 36 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, the study said.

While it’s already accepted that dog ownership can boost activity levels and lower blood pressure, especially among older people, the study was the largest to date on the health implications of owning a dog, according to WebMD.

The Swedish scientists analyzed seven national data registries in Sweden, including two dog ownership registers, to study the association between owning a dog and cardiovascular health.

And while their findings are Sweden-specific, they believe they probably apply to other European countries with a similar attitude to dog ownership.

Interestingly, they also found a connection between positive health effects and breeds.

“In general hunting type breeds had the most protective estimates, while mixed breeds and toy breeds the least,” said Tove Fall, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.

The study doesn’t explain how dogs may be responsible for providing protection from cardiovascular disease, but Tove speculated higher levels of activity and social contact lead to better health.

tove_dog_health“As a veterinarian I heard many stories on that vast impact a dog can have on their owner’s well-being and also on their physical activity levels,” she said.

The study’s authors suggested dog owners may have a lower risk because they walk more, feel less isolated and have more social contacts.

More than 3.4 million individuals, aged 40 to 80, were included in the study, which was published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household,” said Mwenya Mubanga, a Ph.D. student at Uppsala University and the lead junior author of the study.

The link between dog ownership and lower mortality was less pronounced in adults who lived either with family members or partners, but still present, according to the study.

(Photo: My dog Ace; Tove, with her puppy, Vega)

We have more empathy for dogs than we do for most humans, study says

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People are more empathetic towards dogs than they are their fellow humans — unless that human is an infant, a new study has concluded.

In the study, 240 students were shown fake newspaper clippings about attacks with baseball bats that left the victims unconscious, with a broken leg and multiple lacerations.

Then they were asked questions aimed at gauging their empathy for the fictional victims in the account they had read — either a one-year-old baby, a 30-year-old adult, a puppy, or a six-year-old dog.

While the human infant evoked the most empathy, the puppy trailed closely behind, then the adult dog, with the adult victim finishing last.

The study was published this week in the journal Society and Animals.

The study was similar to one conducted two years ago by Harrison’s Fund, a medical research charity in the UK.

In that one, two printed two advertisements were show to people, both of which asked: “Would you give £5 to save Harrison from a slow, painful death?” In one of the advertisements Harrison was a child, in the other he was a dog.

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Harrison the dog got significantly more clicks than Harrison the human, the Times of London reported.

The newer study found people are consistently more distressed by reports of dogs being beaten up than they are by the same reports about adult humans.

The scientists, from Northeastern University in Boston, found that those who who read the report about an attack on a child, dog or puppy all registered similar levels of empathy. When it was a human adult, however, the results were different.

“Subjects did not view their dogs as animals, but rather as ‘fur babies,’ or family members alongside human children,” the researchers concluded.

Did dog’s death actually break her heart?

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It’s a phrase we might all throw around a little carelessly — having a “broken heart” about something, or even dying of one — but the medical community is coming to suspect there’s something to it.

On top of loads of anecdotal evidence — such as one spouse dying unexpectedly soon after another — doctors are seeing more cases where what appears to be a heart attack turns out to more likely be spasms brought on by “broken heart syndrome.”

Now comes what doctors say is a solidly diagnosed case — of a woman in Texas who was grieving the death of her dog — featured in no less august a publication than the New England Journal of Medicine.

{A fuller and more layman-friendly account can be found on the Washington Post animal blog, Animalia.)

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, to use it’s official name, is a condition with symptoms that mimic heart attacks. And that’s what doctors at Houston’s Hermann Memorial Hospital say a Texas woman suffered after the death of her dog.

Joanie Simpson, after having chest pains, was rushed last year into the cardiac catheterization lab at Hermann Memorial where a tube was threaded into a blood vessel leading to her heart. One of her doctors, Abhishek Maiti, said they expected to find blocked arteries.

The arteries were “crystal clear,” Maiti said. Further tests indicated she had Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a condition, most common in postmenopausal women, in which a flood of stress hormones “stun” the heart to produce spasms similar to those of a heart attack.

brokenheartThe condition is characterized by transient left ventricular systolic and diastolic dysfunction of the apex and mid-ventricle. That is Simpson’s to the left, upon the onset.)

Simpson, 62, was stabilized with medications, after which she told doctors about the recent stresses in her life, culminating with the recent death of her Yorkshire terrier, Meha.

She was sent home after two days, and, while still taking two heart medications, she is doing fine.

Doctors say the condition usually occurs following an emotional event such as the loss of a spouse or child.

Maiti’s said Simpson’s case was published in the journal not because it is the first involving broken heart syndrome and stress over a pet’s death, but because hers was a “very concise, elegant case” of a fascinating condition.

While it adds to the growing recognition the condition is getting, it also underscores how — just as having dogs can make us healthier — losing them can take a toll that surpasses the emotional.

Simpson said the death of her dog, 9 years old and suffering from congestive heart failure, was not a peaceful one. Simpson postponed an appointment to euthanize the dog, and Meha died the next day.

“It was such a horrendous thing to have to witness,” she’s quoted as saying in the Post. “When you’re already kind of upset about other things, it’s like a brick on a scale. I mean, everything just weighs on you.”

Simpson, who now lives about two hours northwest of San Antonio, says she wants to get another dog someday, but for now she has a cat named Buster.

Lost in translation: In shedding their wolfish past, dogs lost ability to cooperate

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There’s one thing that wolves are still way better at than their domesticated descendants (aka dogs) — cooperating with their own kind.

Domestication may have led to canines becoming more skilled at cooperating, manipulating and melting the hearts of people, but they lost something in the transition.

While they’ll still run together, play together and display other pack-like tendencies, dogs are less likely than wolves to work together as a team to accomplish a goal, says a new study.

To provide a human equivalent, wolves will work together like a team of Navy Seals, while dogs are more like, well, Congress.

Sarah Marshall-Pescini, from the University of Vienna, has found that dogs lag far behind wolves when it comes to accomplishing a task that requires them to cooperate.

She conducted a simple series of experiments in which dogs have to pull on two pieces of rope to bring a piece of distant tray of food within reach. While the dogs almost always failed, the wolves, working together, frequently succeeded.

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“The idea is that we’ve changed their psychology to make them into super-cooperative beings,” says Marshall-Pescini. But that’s only true for their relationships with humans, she added.

By domesticating dogs, humans ruined the pack instinct that makes wolves such great hunters and survivors.

“They adapted to the niche we provided for them and it changed their sociality,” Marshall-Pescini says.

That applies even to dogs living in the wild. They mostly keep to themselves, scavenging alone on human garbage. When they do form packs, they are usually small and loose-knit.

By contrast, wolves live in extremely tight-knit family groups. They rely on their pack-mates to bring down large prey, and they work together to rear each other’s pups.

Fifteen wolves and 15 dogs currently live in Vienna’s Wolf-Science Center, a facility established to look at the differences between wolves and dogs “in as fair a way as possible,” says Marshall-Pescini.

“They’re raised in exactly the same way, with a lot of human contact. This allows us to test a lot of different things without the confounding variables of wolves not being used to humans and pet dogs being super-used to humans.”

In the experiment, a string was threaded through rings on a tray of food on a side of a cage the animals could not access.

If one animal grabs an end of the string and pulls, it just comes out of the rings. If two animals pull on the two ends together, the tray slides close enough for them to eat the food.

All in all, the dog teams did terribly. Just one out of eight pairs managed to pull the tray across, and only once out of dozens of trials. By contrast, five out of seven wolf pairs succeeded, on anywhere between 3 and 56 percent of their attempts.

As The Atlantic explained it in an excellent summary of the study:

“It’s not that the dogs were uninterested: They explored the strings as frequently as the wolves did. But the wolves would explore the apparatus together — biting, pawing, scratching, and eventually pulling on it. The dogs did not. They tolerated each other’s presence, but they were much less likely to engage with the task at the same time, which is why they almost never succeeded.”

“The dogs are really trying to avoid conflict over what they see as a resource,” said Marshall-Pescini. “This is what we found in food-sharing studies, where the dominant animal would take the food and the subordinate wouldn’t even try to approach. With wolves, there’s a lot of arguing and it sounds aggressive, but they end up sharing. They have really different strategies in situations of potential conflict. [With the dogs], you see that if you avoid the other individual, you avoid conflict, but you can’t cooperate either.”

(Bottom photo: Wolf Science Center/Vetmeduni Vienna)

Much ado about nothing: Audible partners with Millan to launch audio books for dogs

Gotta call bullshit on this one.

Well, maybe “bullshit” is too strong a term. Maybe I should just say, “Give me a break” or “Get real,” while rolling my eyes and wondering what consumers are going to fall for next.

Audible and Cesar Millan have teamed up, offering and promoting a book-of-the-month type program, in which, for $14.95 a month, you can choose audio books to play for your dog while you’re not home.

Of course Audible For Dogs is the same thing as Audible for humans, thereby requiring no investment from Audible, or parent company Amazon, other than what they’re spending on promoting the campaign and the undisclosed amount they’re paying Millan, who reportedly is helping choose the books and making promotional appearances.

If you’re not the sort to buy “Pride and Prejudice” for yourself, you might be willing to buy it for your dog, Audible figures, and play it for him to keep him calm and occupied when you leave the house.

The campaign promotes books the company already offers in audio, featuring them on the Audible For Dogs web page — sometimes classics, sometimes bestsellers, sometimes dog-themed, including several by (you guessed it) Cesar Millan.

It’s all based on a 2015 study performed at Hartpury College in the U.K. that showed that listening to audio books reduced stress in shelter dogs even more than music does.

dogs-with-headphonesFollow-up research was conducted with 100 dog participants through Millan’s Dog Psychology Center, and it found (big surprise) exactly what the company wanted it to find.

Specifically, Millan’s center found that 76% of dog owners who played audio books for their dogs reported an increase in calm, relaxed behavior in their pets over a four-week period.

Audible is already the largest seller of narrated books.

But it has figured out it can sell even more by cashing in on our tendency to pamper our dogs and exploiting the guilt we feel when we leave them alone

As one of the owners involved in Millan’s “follow-up study” explained, she used to feel guilty every time she left her dog, Buddy, at home alone.

In a video interview with Millan, she spoke of the effects the audio book program had on her dog and, more importantly it seems, her.

“I was really surprised at the lack of guilt I found when I was able to do that, it was like leaving him with a friend,” the woman, named Leslie, says. “I could go out with a smile on my face and feel really good about what I was doing for him.”

News flash, Leslie: You could have just left a TV or radio on for him and achieved pretty much the same effect, saving $14.95 a month.

($14.95 is the regular price for an Audible subscription, which comes with one new book a month.)

I’ll admit I leave the TV on for my dog, rescued from a Korean dog farm, in hopes it will keep him calm and help him get used to non-threatening humans.

But would I buy him his own audio book? Absolutely not — unless maybe it was one narrated by the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman, or the calm, sleep-inducing, you-can’t-have-too-much-Xanax voice of Bob Ross, the painter.

(Disclaimer 1: We are not implying Bob Ross uses Xanax. You can have too much Xanax. And so can your dog.)

(Disclaimer 2: I apply this same therapy to myself, seeking out a reassuring voice on TV to fall asleep to. Sixty-three year old’s can’t suck their thumbs. This is why I often go to bed with Bob Newhart.)

Millan suggests choosing a book narrated by a person of the same gender as their dog’s primary master and notes that “it’s the consistency of a tone that allows the dog to stay in that (relaxed) frame of mind.”

He also suggested the books be played at average volume on a listening device such as the Alexa-driven Echo, which Audible’s parent Amazon just so happens to sell.

audiodogsMillan says audio books can help dogs better cope with the separation anxiety many have when left alone, which can result in bad behavior, including barking, destruction and peeing.

He also told USA Today, “I’m always looking for ways where people don’t feel guilty, worried, (or) stressed when they leave their dogs alone.”

Again, none of this is actually groundbreaking.

Most of us likely had already figured out that an audio book — like the television or radio — can keep our dog “company.”

Yet Audible/Amazon still felt the need to appoint a celebrity, create a new niche market, conduct a campaign, issue press releases and have a “launch.”

“While most dog owners will indeed go to great lengths to ensure the happiness of their four-legged family members, you can’t help but approach Audible For Dogs with a healthy dose of skepticism,” wrote USA Today. “So is Audible barking up the wrong tree?”

We’d say yes, unless you’re talking about the money tree.

To its credit, through the end of the year, Audible will donate a dime per download to Long Island’s North Shore Animal League America, the world’s largest no-kill rescue and adoption organization, up to a total donation of $250,000.

Millan also somewhat philanthropically recorded an original audio book for the service called “Cesar Millan’s Guide to Bringing Home a Shelter Dog,” which you can download for free.

Launch titles include Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” performed by Rosamund Pike; Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood,” performed by Noah; W. Bruce Cameron’s “A Dog’s Purpose,” performed by William Dufris; Garth Stein’s “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” performed by Christopher Evan Welch; and Maria Goodavage’s “Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes,” performed by Nicole Vilencia.

We laugh at Audible’s effort. And yet, at the same time, we encourage them, if they are going to persist in this, to work some books narrated by Morgan Freeman, Bob Ross and Bob Newhart into the mix.

We’d also suggest some Hans Christian Anderson — specifically, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” because it so perfectly reflects what they are up to: making people think something is there when it’s not.

The only thing there is a desire to sell more books. With fewer humans reading them, maybe Audible felt the need to branch out to other species.

I’d warn you that the day could come — given all the books dogs might be consuming and a decline in our own reading — that dogs could become smarter than us.

But there’s a pretty good chance that day is already here.

Researchers say the hyper-friendliness of dogs results from gene mutation

Researchers say they have pinpointed a gene mutation that explains why dogs are so hyper-friendly — one they believe could have played a role in their domestication.

The scientists say they have isolated two genes, variations in which lead to the hyper-friendliness and tail-wagging sociability that most dogs exhibit.

When I read the headlines I had two reactions. First, I didn’t want to believe that the love dogs display resulted from something as stark sounding as a “mutation.” Second, I decided I wanted those genes, and those mutations, inside me — and all humans.

Imagine how much better a place the world would be if we all got so excited we nearly peed when we greeted each other, covered the faces of friends and strangers with licks, and had that unconditional love and loyalty that dogs possess.

Interestingly, though, similar variations in those same genes are already inside a small number of us. The genes at issue — GTF2I and GTF2IRD1 — are the same ones that have been associated with a human disease called Williams-Beuren Syndrome (WBS), which causes developmental disabilities and many other health issues.

The condition is characterized by mild to moderate intellectual disability, unusual facial features, cardiovascular problems and other health issues. But it also can often lead to affected individuals having highly outgoing, engaging personalities and extreme interest in other people.

Having written about people with developmental disabilities for eight years as a reporter, I met more than a few people like that — in institutions, group homes, and living with their families. They’d come up and hug a complete stranger. They’d follow me around, paying attention to everything I did and said. They seemed to indiscriminately love everybody. They were hard to say goodbye to.

I didn’t know it was a result of their Williams-Beuren syndrome, or that there even was a Williams-Beuren syndrome (this was the 1980’s), just that they possessed an innocence and trust uncommon in our species. I can’t remember if, at the time, I saw that behavior as “dog-like.”

But some researchers did.

vonholdtBridgett vonHoldt, an evolutionary geneticist at Princeton University, and Monique Udell, who studies animal behavior at Oregon State University, met three years ago and started talking about dogs.

In an earlier study, vonHoldt had identified a gene that’s mutated more often in dogs than wolves — one that possibly led to their domestication.

Together, Udell and vonHoldt decided to examine the social behavior of a group of dogs and a group of wolves and then analyze their DNA in the region that included the genes in question.

The study they co-authored, using a combination of genetic sequencing and behavioral tests, pinpointed a couple genetic differences that seem to track with friendliness.

Using 16 dogs and eight captive, socialized wolves, they were able to establish that the dogs showed a greater variation, or mutation, of those genes. Animals with these mutations appeared to pay more attention to the humans than those without, the researchers said.

“We find that hyper-sociability, a central feature of WBS, is also a core element of domestication that distinguishes dogs from wolves,” the study concluded.

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The findings, in addition to providing new insights into the human disorder, could explain a large part of what led wolves to become domesticated, and how dogs evolved to become man’s best friend.

To learn more about the study, check out these reports from the
Los Angeles Times, Science and Princeton University.

(Photos: At top, Bridgett vonHoldt, an assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton and the study’s lead co-author, cuddles with her Old English Sheepdog, Marla, by Chris Fascenelli, Princeton University Office of Communications; at bottom, Lauren Brubaker, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences at Oregon State University and one of the study’s authors, interacts with a gray wolf, by Monty Sloan, via Princeton University Office of Communications)