Monday, April 6, 2015

Autoimmune System and Cesarian Section Birth in Dogs

An number of dog breeds with excessively large heads must deliver pups via Cesarean birth. Breed clubs admit that 80% of births in the Boston Terrier, Bulldog and French Bulldog are by C-section. 

Because of the size  and shape
of the skull, most Boston Terriers
 are delivered by C-section.

Boston Terrier puppy compared to a Jack Russell Terrier
 In vaginal birth, the fetus departs the womb completely sterile without a single microbe. Passing through the mother’s birth canal covers the baby with colonies of bacteria that kick-start the immune system.  Cesarean deliveries may contribute to an increase in autoimmune weaknesses because newborns lack the appropriate microbes.
Bulldog and Labrador Retriever pups.
Note differences in skull size.
An infant's diverse microbial community is essential to establish a healthy digestive tract, help shape the growing brain, and even protect from psychiatric disorders.  (
French Bulldog and Dalmatian
Even big dogs have skulls
relative to the size of their bodies. 

C-section pups start life lacking the microbes they would normally have picked up from vaginal delivery, suggesting that colonization of healthy microbes might be delayed.
In 2009 the United Kingdom Kennel Club
 banned the breeding of traits
 that are cruel and disabling for dogs.
This includes the hallmark
deformed skull of the Bulldog.  

Because most of the health issues in these breed are due to their physical structure, the study of medical disorders connected to the slow introduction of protective bacteria is not well studied. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Victorian Puppies

A vintage photo with everything:
good composition, great hat, a palm tree
 and three adorable puppies!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Golden Retriever Cancer

Five of these eight Golden Retriever puppies will likely die of cancer, some by the age of nine.

The most common cause of death in Golden Retrievers is cancer.

The average incidence of cancer deaths in purebred dogs is about 32%. (In humans it's around 20%.) For some unknown reason 60% to 65% of Goldens from the US and Canada are likely to die of cancer.
The cancer rate in Goldens bred in Europe hovers around 30% - 35%.

So what's going on? Morris Animal Foundation wants to know.  Four years ago they received funding to do a longitudinal Golden Retriever study to look at not only cancer and it's many forms, but to also tease out causes.  Is it genetic, environmental, and/or food related?

MAF announced that they've successfully signed up their last recruit - Golden Retriever  #3000.  The study began four years ago. It will track the life style of enrolled dogs from birth to death. For more information about the study, go to Morris Animal Foundation. Or better yet, send a donation.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Lurcher - Another Point of View

Gracie Jones
Dr. Barkman's favorite Lurcher
The Lurcher is a hybrid that has two purebred parents of different breeds (like a Labradoodle).
A handsome Lurcher indeed.

What's the history behind the mysterious Lurcher? 

Up to no good?
The most commonly told story is that the Lurcher was a poacher's dog, favored by Roma people.  The name is a combination of the ancient Romany word  "lur" which means thief and "cur" which means a mixed breed dog. Over the centuries it became one word - Lurcher.  I guess it would translate to thieving mutt. But this old tale has a lot more to do with discrimination against Gypsies than it does with dog breed history.  
A den of thieves?
Another commonly told tale is this one: In the 14th through 16th centuries, English and Scottish governments banned the lower class (mostly Irish), from owning sighthounds lest they be tempted to steal game animals from the King's private reserve.   So they created a clever mongrel using a sighthound as one of the parents. The Lurcher was bred to poach the King's rabbits and birds. My guess is this fable has to do with discrimination too, but against the Irish.

Denigrating the Irish (Punch Magazine)
What else would you expect of an Irish dog?
If you look at the etymology of the word Lurcher, it could be interpreted to mean thieving dog.  But the middle English meaning of the word is also "to lie hidden, lie in ambush." This makes more sense to me.  Hunting dogs were originally used to net game. The dog would freeze or set the animal to allow the hunter to throw the net over it. 

This is how Giles Jacobs used the word Lurcher in his 1718 treatise on hunting dogs (The compleat sportsman.  London:  Eliz. Nutt and R. Colling)  "Your setting dog, you may chose [sic] either a land spaniel, water spaniel or mongrel of them both, the Lurcher. (p. 6)
Just a good ol' huntin' dog?

From what Jacobs said, the Lurcher was any combination of two hunting dogs.  By crossing them, you could create a dog that was a little less hyper than either high-strung parent. It could be a a hybrid of a sighthound, herding dog, setter or spaniel.

Greyhound x Collie mix = Lurcher
Today the traditional Lurcher is mostly represented by Greyhound hybrids. Ruth Horter's The Lurcher is a good contemporary history with lots of pictures of Lurcher combos. (Dr. Barkman would like one of each please.) This is a good website too - Celtic Lurchers

Monday, March 9, 2015

Chemical BPA in Dog Toys

Dogs that chew on certain kinds of plastic toys and bird-dog training bumpers containing the additive BPA may be exposed to chemicals that are toxic, according to research conducted at Texas Tech University. And a new study (3-2-2015) reports an association between BPA and autism spectrum disorder in children. (Scientists wouldn't be able to identify it in dogs although I swear I knew a dog that was autistic.)
It's always something

BPA is a chemical added to plastics to increase softening, flexibility, transparency, durability and longevity. In humans and lab rodents BPA has been linked to a number of health issues including impaired development of reproductive organs, decreased fertility and cancers.  

In July 2012 the U.S. Food and Drug administration banned BPA in baby bottles, zippy cups, and other containers used by children, but there are no restrictions on dog products.   (Dr. Barkman says "If it's not good for babies it's not good for dogs.")
Look for BPA-free toys.

If you're looking for BPA-free dog products you can find them at Planet Dog, West Paw Design, Jolly Pet, Premium Pets and Chewber.  Look for products that say "BPA free" or made in the USA from 100% natural rubber.  

Monday, March 2, 2015

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in Dogs

Inflammatory bowel disease [IBD] is a condition in which the
digestive tract is chronically infiltrated by inflammatory cells, some that invade the wall of the stomach and intestine.  Symptoms include vomiting, chronic diarrhea and weight loss.
Some breeds are more prone to IBD than others.

Although it's unknown how many dogs suffer from IBD, an unpublished study by Morris Animal Foundation that surveyed a thousand blind guide dog handlers who had worked with numerous dogs over several decades identified the most common health issues in current and previous guide dogs. The study found that 5% of working guides suffer from Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

Researchers know that significantly lower bacterial diversity as well as distinct microbial communities are observed in dogs with IBD. Dr. Jan Suchodolski, a veterinarian researcher in biomedical sciences at Texas A & M University was part of research team that conducted a study with dogs suffering from IBD. They wanted to know if traditional treatments - steroids and special diets - create (directly or indirectly) a more robust microbial community.

After treatment, sick dogs felt a lot better.  However, there was no change in their gut microbiota. It could be that microorganisms are compromised by the condition; they do not trigger it.  Researchers also suspect that biological environmental stresses are involved in ways not yet understood.  

The researchers said, "In conclusion, this study demonstrates intestinal dysbiosis and altered serum metabolite profiles in dogs with IBD. But medical therapy doesn't seem to affect the intestinal dysbiosis."

It remains a conundrum and more study is being conducted. When it's published, I'll summarize the results here.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Kiss Your Dog - It's Good for You

All animals have microbiomes, an invisible blanket of trillions of bacterial organisms that live all over and in us.  Microbial communities vary widely between species and across individuals within a species, affected by age, environment, familial genetics and diet.  
A recent study suggests that our housemates may also directly affect the composition of our personal microbial signature, and the family dog is no exception.
If you kiss, hug, and share a bed with your dog, the two of you have more in common than you might think.  A study reveals that dog-owning families have more diverse and different microbial colonies than dog-less households. 

Adults who share a dog have more similar mouth microbes than those who don’t. Parents tend to share more kinds of mouth bacteria with their dog than they do their children. And children raised with dogs have many different microbes than dog-less kids. 
Whether or not these spit swapping microbes serve a purpose or are just passing though is not clear.  But research shows that children raised with dogs are less likely to be afflicted by asthma.

Monday, February 2, 2015

One Problem with Puppy Aptitude Tests

Who hasn't picked out a puppy based on behavior of the six-week old pooch, using evaluation "tools" to measure dominance?  
One reason that doesn't work (among many) is alpha positions in a litter, especially among females, are established only after eight weeks.  And hierarchical positions become stable only after eleven weeks. Before then, status changes repeatedly, even top to bottom positions.  
Pups are likely rehearsing for roles they'll play as adults. Nobody stays at the top forever.  Pack positions change based on who's in the pack. 
This is one reason puppy tests aren't very good at predicting aggression or dominance later in life.  But by then, we love the dog, and have forgotten what happened in our so-called puppy test, so it doesn't matter.

(P.S. - If you want academic sources for this post, let me know.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Geographic Origin of 400 Dog Breeds

Of the 400 plus dog breeds in the world, more than 300 were created after dog shows gained popularity in the 1870s. To put it another way, it took ten thousand years to create 100 breeds, and about 100 years to develop the other 300.  The graph below shows the country of origin of all 400 breeds.

This is the breakdown by country and number of breeds developed there:

Great Britain - 60
Scandinavia - 31
Europe - 121
Asia - 8
North America - 30
South America - 9
Australia - 9
Africa - 6
Japan - 10
Middle East - 16
Eastern Europe - 22
Russia - 80

Monday, January 19, 2015

What Keeps Your Dog's Feet from Freezing?

It's winter time and your dog is likely jumping from one snow drift to another without a care in the world while your feet, in spite of wool socks and foot warmers, are as cold as ice.
Canine physiology protects dogs' feet to temperatures
as low as minus 31 F.

What keeps your dog's feet from freezing?

A team of scientists figured out that dogs have special blood vessels in their paws that protect them from cold.  Using electron microscopes they found that heat was transferred from the artery in the dog's pad to a network of veins where the blood is warmed up before it returns to the body. This in turn  prevents the feet from cooling down. Dog's paws are kept at a constant temperature in cold weather.

Read more in BBC Nature News.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Mutt Facts

MARS VET LAB says there are 38 million mutts in the U.S., meaning about 50% of US dogs are of mixed parentage. And they should know as they own the monopoly on the DNA test franchise. 

But that's a whole lot less than the Humane Society's estimate. They say around 70% are mixes. There are 61 million mongrels in the U.S. within the 83.3 million pet dog population. Additionally, 75% of shelter dogs are mutts.  And 20% of U.S. companion dogs are adopted from shelters. They should know, right?

Whatever the correct answer is, the good news is that shelter euthanasia has decreased significantly in the last few years because shelter volunteers, bless them, socialize the canine inmates, so more people are adopting.  

Do mutts have fewer genetic health issues?  Yes and no. It's true that a mutt with, for instance, a distant Golden Retriever ancestor will have a lower incidence of cancer than a purebred Golden. But a mutt that's only one generation removed from her purebred parent may have the same risk. Although pups have 50% of each parent's genes or variants of the gene, you don't know which parent's genes will be expressed.

Overall the incidence of genetic pathologies in mixed breeds is a little lower than their purebred counterparts.  Read more details about disease averages at this site.  

But I won't argue which dogs are the best.  Mutts of course. Here are some of mine:

Lollie, Jess, Izzy, Gus and Chance