Mechanical disease-sniffing device vs dogs

A number of researchers from various universities have joined together to try and develop a mechanical device that can rival the scenting ability of dogs to detect diseases in people. No one denies that dogs have a remarkable ability to detect the early stages of disease in humans. But the cost of training the dog and the dog’s length of service makes using them expensive. If scientists can develop a device that can equal a dog’s nose it would reduce a lot of the cost.

What has proven elusive to scientists is that dogs can pick up connections that researchers cannot mimic in a machine. For example, some dogs that have been trained to detect one type of cancer will identify other types of cancer as well. When the researchers tried to determine what the dogs were detecting, they were not able to. The differences were not detectable by current tests. What complicates the problem is that the different cancers that were detected by the dogs do not have any biomolecular signatures in common. The dogs were able to generalize from one kind of cancer to be able to identify others.  

The detection system that has been developed is 200 times more sensitive than a dog’s nose but the machine cannot figure out the elusive patterns that the dog can, that allows the dog to detect various cancers. In other words, the machine cannot think and make the connections. Until the researches solve the mystery, the machine cannot replace the dog.

The important point for people who use dogs for scent detection work is that dogs are capable of analyzing scent in a much more complex way then they have been trained to do. The bottom line is that if your scent dog gives you an indication that does not make sense to you, trust your dog and look further.

Hearing loss in dogs

A number of breeds of dogs, mostly those breeds that have the merle, piebald or white coats, are prone to deafness. However, dogs that are subjected to frequent loud noise can suffer from hearing loss the same as people. This is referred to as noise-induced hearing loss.

A study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by Dr. Kari Foss, found that working dogs such as police, sniffer and gun dogs are a strong candidate to suffer from hearing loss. According to Foss,

“Most commonly, noise-induced hearing loss results from damage to the hair cells in the cochlea that vibrate in response to sound waves,” Foss said. “However, extreme noise may also damage the eardrum and the small bones within the inner ear, called the ossicles.”

         The most common signs that a dog is losing his ability to hear are when the dog fails to respond to commands, or they sleep through noise that would normally wake them up. They may bark excessively or make unusual sounds. Sometimes a dog may have a hearing loss in one ear only. If that is the situation, the dog may hear sounds but not be able to tell where it came from.  

         The researchers recommended that dogs who must work around loud noise wear hearing protection that is designed for dogs. It is also possible that dogs can lose hearing from ear infections and illnesses and as they age.

         If a potential dog owner is going to purchase a breed where deafness is a problem, they must be sure that the breeder has done a BAER test to determine if the puppy is deaf or not.

Unwanted behavior in dogs – surprising findings

In a study of 14,000 dogs, fully 73% of the dogs studied had unwanted behavior. One-third of the dogs studied had noise sensitivity. The other behaviors included fearfulness of people, other dogs and unfamiliar locations, fear of surfaces and heights, inattention and impulsivity, compulsive behavior, aggressiveness and separation anxiety. The most common were noise sensitivity, fear of surfaces and heights and general fearfulness.  

Professor Hannes Lohi’s research group from the University of Helsinki conducted the study and found that fearfulness and aggressive behavior were linked to each other as well as impulsivity, compulsive behavior and separation anxiety. The researchers also discovered that many unwanted behaviors are inherited. Their hope is that better breeding may help eliminate these behaviors.

Author’s Note: The article states, “The problems appear to be quite breed-specific. For example, in Border Collies we observed more compulsive staring and light/shadow chasing, behaviours that occurred more rarely in all other breeds.” Studies such as this are interesting, however, it should be considered what the breed traits are, the excessive staring could actually be the Border Collie “eye.” Since Border Collies herd livestock, they may have a tendency to chase light and shadows if their instinctive herding needs are not met.

Cat food formula surprise

Different groups of researchers are interested in learning how much wildlife cats kill for food. With this in mind researcher Roland Kays from North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences decided to study how much wildlife domestic cats kill and eat to supplement the food they are fed by their owners. What they found was very surprising as well as important for cat owners.

The researchers found that they could not determine the amount of wildlife that cats eat because they were studying elements in cat food as a comparison. The reason why this study failed is because cat food manufacturers do not use consistent types and amounts of ingredients in their food. Even foods that were the same flavor and brand were inconsistent. The researchers found that the less expensive brands had more corn products and that the cat food produced in the United Kingdom had a lower amount of corn products.

Author’s Note: This information accounts for why some cats who like a certain brand and flavor of food will suddenly refuse to eat that food. Cats have a very acute sense of smell and they can detect the change in their food. Dog food is no better and dogs can suddenly reject a food that they liked previously. Changing the formula of dog or cat food can also induce loose stools and weight changes in a dog or cat.

New research about the Himalayan wolf

For many years researchers believed that the Himalayan wolf was related to the gray wolf and was not given its own identification. However, the latest research has shown that the Himalayan wolf is a different species than the gray wolf. So much so that scientists have given it its own wolf taxon which means it is recognized as a different species which allows conservationist to form programs to protect it.  

Researchers also found that the wolf not only lives in the Himalayans, but in all of the higher altitude regions of Asia including the Tibetan Plateau. This is a very large area of the planet.

The research teams also found that the wolf does not exist on livestock as is believed by the local people, but mainly preys on wildlife. This discovery is important because the wolf has been hunted due to the belief that they were killing livestock as well as for illegal wildlife trade.

With the wolf’s new status, conservation efforts can be initiated, the local population educated and hopefully help with conservation efforts.

How do elephants treat their dead?

There have been many stories about how elephants react to members of their species who have died. For the first time researchers Shifra Goldenberg, Ph.D., from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, and George Wittemyer, Ph.D., from Save the Elephants and the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at Colorado State University have studied these phenomena.  

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Elephants clearly show feelings for deceased members of their species even if the dead elephant was not a member of their group. They approached the dead animal, investigated the carcass, and appeared to mourn when it was a relative. Some even visit the carcass repeatedly. Elephants have been observed vocalizing and attempting to lift a fallen elephant that had just died. This study indicates intelligence as well as deep emotions that we need more research to understand.

Dog’s eyes are different than wolves

Dr Kaminski and co-author, evolutionary psychologist Professor Bridget Waller, also at the University of Portsmouth conducted an interesting research project which found that dogs have a small muscle above their eyes that allow them to noticeably raise their inner eyebrow. Wolves do not have this ability. The purpose of this muscle is to allow dogs to better communicate with people. The expression that results makes the dog’s eyes appear larger and resembles the movement that people produce when they are sad. It also makes the dog’s eyes appear more infant like. People seem to want to look after dogs more when they exhibit this expression.

The researchers found that dogs will raise their eyebrows more when people are looking at them indicating that dogs are trying to communicate with people. This study illustrates how important and powerful facial expressions are in social interaction.

Managing aggressive behavior in dogs

Dr. Emma Williams, from the School of Psychological Science at the University of Bristol has conducted a study about managing aggressive dog behavior. According to her research, aggression in dogs is a worldwide problem.

She found that animal behaviorists need to focus on helping dog owners feel confident that the rehabilitation program prescribed will work. Behaviorists must also ensure that the dog owner is capable of initiating and following through with the program. Behaviorists should not only focus on the behavior of the dogs, but also the behavior of the owner when developing a rehabilitation program. They found that when a dog acts badly toward a person or another dog, the dog’s owner may react with extreme negative feelings.

What they also found was that positive reinforcement-based behavior modification techniques were very effective in rehabilitating aggressive dogs while punishment-based methods were detrimental for the dog and led to increased aggression.       

Sue’s note: At the first sign of aggression, even in a puppy, the dog owner must consult with a certified canine behavior consultant. Too often dog owners feel that the dog will out-grow the aggression when in reality it always gets worse if not addressed immediately.

Working with animals can cause mental issues

It may be surprising to learn that veterinarians and people who volunteer to help animals may be at a higher risk for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and suicide.

Katherine Goldberg, DVM, LMSW, community consultation and intervention specialist at Cornell Health and Founder of Whole Animal Veterinary Geriatrics and Palliative Care Services has conducted a study to determine how and why this exists. She found that people who volunteer with animals are often confronted with the results of cruelty, and while they want to help animals, they are often faced with having to euthanize healthy animals due to a shortage of homes.

Veterinarians are faced with the same circumstances as well as high college debts, lower income and clients who may question the cost of care for their pets and be suspicious that their veterinarian is trying to push services that their pet doesn’t need.     

Goldberg feels that veterinarian colleges should include courses to help veterinary students deal with the pressures of caring for animals.

Author’s Note: With the advances in veterinary care, at times it has become more difficult to determine how much intervention a pet owner should do for their pet. Like human doctors, veterinarians want to save the life of a pet and will offer all of the options available. What helps the pet owner decide is to evaluate what quality of life the pet will have after treatments. Veterinarians will help make that decision.  

Human breast cancer drug helps dogs with lung cancer

The HER2 gene which is found in women with breast cancer, has been linked with canine pulmonary adenocarcinoma (CPAC) in dogs. Researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) which is an affiliate of the City of Hope and Ohio State University found that a drug, neratinib, can help the over 40,000 dogs who develop CPAC each year.

CPAC is an aggressive cancer that is similar to the type of human lung cancer that non-smokers develop. This study has given researchers more information about the genetics of this disease and treatment options that can help both dogs and humans.

Raw meat diet in dogs associated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria

No matter what age the dog is, eating a raw meat diet causes them to pass antibiotic resistant Escherichia coli (E.coli) in their feces which can be transmitted to humans.

Researchers from the University of Bristol conducted an in-depth study of 823 dogs of all ages.

They found that dogs who lived in the country had a strong risk factor in passing antibiotic resistant E.coli but dogs who live in the city had more complicated risk factors that may be linked to the variety of lifestyles and exposure to other dogs.

E. coli is found in the intestines of both humans and animals and is a common cause of various diseases including urinary tract infection and can cause sepsis in other parts of the body.

The bottom line is that feeding raw meat to dogs is not safe for both the dog and humans. If a dog owner insists on feeding raw meat to their dog, they must be very careful of infection.