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Tag: study

Why dogs eat poop: A new theory suggests the behavior all goes back to wolves

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If you had to pick the one non-violent behavior that most dismays dog owners, it would likely be when their dog consumes dog poop — be it the dog’s own or some other dog’s.

Most of us can tolerate their incessant licking of their privates. We can laugh off them humping the leg of a house guest. But most humans find their dog gobbling up feces a revolting and inconceivable act, and some — believe it or not — have even cited it as a reason for returning a dog to a shelter.

While traditionally it has been speculated that some dogs (a minority) engage in the practice to make up for some deficiency in their diet, a new paper suggests it may be in their genes, Scientific American reports.

Veterinary researchers at University of California at Davis who surveyed nearly 3,000 dog owners found 16 percent of dogs consume canine feces “frequently,” meaning, in this case, they’ve seen them do it more than six times. In a second survey of just owners of poop-eating dogs, 62% of them were described as eating it daily and 38% weekly.

Benjamin Hart, a veterinarian who directs the Center for Animal Behavior at Davis, reviewed the survey results and the scientific literature on poop-eating, most of which he says is speculative and doesn’t provide any sort of definitive answer for the cause of what’s called coprophagy.

The survey showed no link between feces-eating and other compulsive behaviors. Coprophagy wasn’t associated with age, gender, spaying or neutering, age of separation from the mother, ease of house training, or any other behavior problem.

What coprophagic dogs had in common was this: More than 80 percent were reported to favor feces no more than two days old.

To Hart, that suggests that the cause may go back more than 15,000 years and be rooted, like so much else, in wolves. The new study by Hart and others was published in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science.

Typically, wolves defecate away from their dens, but at times of urgency, they may let loose nearby. When that happens, other wolves commonly gobble it up while it’s fresh, possibly, some scholars believe, to prevent the spread of parasitic infections.

Feces contain intestinal parasite eggs, which, after a couple of days, hatch into infectious larvae.

Wolves, he said, figured out that by eating any fresh poop left near the den they could be spared being infected by parasites.

“If they eat it right away, it’s safe to eat. They won’t get infected by parasites,” he said.

He theorizes that today’s poop-eating dogs still carry around that wolfy instinct, even though the feces of modern-day pets, consuming modern-day dog food, tend to be parasite-free.

Hart noted there is no shortage of explanations for dogs eating poop.

“For every person you ask about this, you get a different opinion. Because they’re guessing, whether they’re veterinarians or experts in behavior,” he said.

Some believe that stress, or enzyme deficiencies lead to the behavior. Others suspect dogs picked it up as they adapted to scavenging for food sources in human environments. Many dogs will try to eat anything, and poop, from their own or other species, falls into that category.

The study noted that dogs whose owners considered them “greedy eaters,” were far more like to engage in the behavior.

Dog owners responding to the survey sometimes saw their dogs eating poop, and sometimes just surmised as much, based on “tell-tale breath odor,” or because poop in the house was disappearing before they got around to cleaning it up.

While there are products on the marketplace that claim to correct the problem, most of those do little more than make a dog’s own poop foul tasting, according to the Washington Post blog Animalia.

A dog owner can try and correct the behavior, clean up immediately after their dogs, and monitor them closely while they are outside, but the bottom line is — disgusting as it may strike us — dining on feces isn’t that surprising given where dogs come from and what they’ve been through.

As Clive Wynne, director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, noted:

“The niche that dogs occupy is essentially one of making a living on people’s leavings — and that isn’t just our leftovers from dinner, but what we put down the toilet, too,” he said. “So it’s only from our human perspective that coprophagy seems strange.”

Scientists learn about aging and memory by monitoring brain activity of sleeping dogs

Researchers in Hungary have found another good reason to let sleeping dogs lie — and maybe for us humans to get more sleep, too.

Both dogs and humans, they say, learn while they sleep.

The scientists placed wires on the head of 15 aging dogs to measure electrical activity in the brain while they sleep. The brain activity, called sleep spindles, has been linked with learning in humans.

The Hungarian scientists are studying how dog’s ability to learn and remember changes as they get older. They hope the study will lead to a better understanding of cognitive ability and memory changes in aging dogs and humans, Voice of America reported.

Ivaylo Iotchey, a neuroscience researcher, says the study represents the first time the sleep spindles of dogs have been measured.

“From studies with humans and rodents, we know that they are extremely useful markers both of memory and cognition but also of aging and activity,” he said. “In the dog, sleep spindles have only been described, they were never quantified, they were never related to function. This is the first time we were able to show that sleep spindles predict learning in the dog.”

The scientists have also found that female dogs, who have twice as many spindles, appear to be better at learning new things.

Senior Researcher Enikó Kubinyi said aging dogs suffer from the same problems as humans who are aging.

“Among very old dogs, up to two thirds of them show signs of dementia, and this dementia is really very similar in a lot of aspects to that of humans, so we could use dogs as a natural model of human aging.”

It’s (almost) official: Dogs are about twice as smart as cats


A scientific study has shown that cats have an average of 250 million neurons in their brains while dogs have about 500 million, making dogs about twice as intelligent.

Before you cat lovers start objecting, keep in mind that the study was performed by humans, who average about 16 billion neurons per brain.

Scientist’s brains, we can only assume, have even more than that.

The study is the work of a team of researchers from six different universities in the U.S., Brazil, Denmark, and South Africa. It is expected to be published soon in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.

The research wasn’t aimed at resolving the great national debate over which species is smarter, but was part of a larger effort to use neurons as one quantifiable measure of intelligence.

Previous research sought to quantify intelligence by measuring brain size and structural complexity. Counting neurons is generally accepted to be a more accurate measurement than those.

To accomplish that, study author Suzana Herculano-Houzel explained to National Geographic, “You take the brain and turn it into a soup.”

That leaves a number of nuclei suspended from neuron cells, allowing the researchers to estimate the number of neurons present. Neurons are a special type of nerve cell found in the brain that transmit messages.

The research team used only a part of the brain called the cerebral cortex, which drives decision-making and problem-solving.

“Neurons are the basic information processing units. The more units you find in the brain, the more cognitively capable the animal is,” said Herculano-Houzel, a neurologist and professor at Vanderbilt University who has been studying cognitive function in humans and animals for the past decade.

The team used three brains — one from a cat, one from a golden retriever and one from a small mixed-breed dog.

In the dogs’ brains, despite varying in size, researchers found about 500 million neurons, more than double the 250 million found in the cat’s brain.

By comparison, orangutans and gorillas have about eight to nine billion neurons, while chimpanzees have about six to seven billion, elephants have about 5.6 billion.

Herculano-Houzel says counting neurons is a more effective measurement of intelligence than the size of an animal, or the size of its brains.

“It’s not a larger body that explains the number of neurons you have,” she said. “You can have animals with similar-sized brains, and they have completely different numbers of neurons.”

South Korean university announces that Snuppy has been recloned

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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.