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The Spay/Neuter Debate Continues

As research suggests spaying and neutering could be linked to cancers and joint disorders, some dog owners and veterinarians are rethinking the practice, The Washington Post recently reported.

Spaying and neutering — removing ovaries and testes — became the de facto setting for many pet parents in the 1970s as shelters overflowed. They remain the most prevalent birth control method for pets. Widening evidence, however, is connecting spaying and neutering to health problems in dogs when done too early and on certain breeds.  

“We owe it to our dogs to have a much larger conversation about spay and neuter,” said Missy Simpson, a veterinary epidemiologist with the Morris Animal Foundation, a charity that funds animal health research. “It’s nuanced, and there isn’t a great one-size-fits-all recommendation for every dog.”

Simpson was the lead author of a recent paper on about 2,800 golden retrievers enrolled in a lifetime study that found that those spayed or neutered were more likely to be overweight or obese. The study also found that dogs fixed before they were 6 months old had much higher rates of orthopedic injuries that being lean didn’t prevent.

 Spaying and neutering do eliminate testicular and ovarian cancers, spaying apparently lowers the risk of mammary cancer and uterine infections, and fixed dogs generally live longer. But losing reproductive hormones controlled by the removed sex organs have important systemic roles that may lead to compromised conditions. 

Some veterinarians are advising against sterilization until dogs reach puberty while other vets are beginning to recommend other alernatives — as long as owners act responsibly in managing their dogs with all their parts to keep them safe from having or causing unwanted pregnancies.

Cannabis Study

Does cannabidiol, or CBD, an active ingredient in cannabis derived from the hemp plant, really help dogs with arthritis or chronic pain conditions?

Kimberly Agnello, an associate professor of small animal surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, intends to find out, according to Philadelphia Magazine.

 Agnello and a team of Penn Vet researchers have teamed up with Dixie Brands Inc., a Denver producer of cannabis products, to launch what’s believed to be the first scientific study of a cannabinoid therapy aimed at relieving symptoms of joint-immobility in dogs.

They will study dogs suffering from osteoarthritis to see which CBD treatment works. One group of dogs in the trial will get a proprietary CBD formula developed by a Dixie Brands affiliate, a second group will receive cannabidiol alone, and the third group will receive a placebo. Agnello, the lead investigator for the trial, said there are two potential enrollees. The trial hopes to have 60 dogs.

Agnello called this the largest-scale trial of its kind, possibly the first major double-blind trial for pets. Agnello said this isn’t the first time her team has attempted to study the effects of CBD on pets.


Live Longer  

Dogs apparently help their humans live longer, especially the ones who live alone or have suffered previous heart attacks or strokes. 

MarketWatch, citing the Amercican Heart Association, reported the findings, which came from the analysis of almost 70 years of research published in the journal Circulation in October as well as a new Swedish study of heart attack and stroke survivors over a decade.

The analysis looked at data from almost 4 million people in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Scandinavia, and associated dog ownership with a 24 percent decreased risk of dying by any cause and a 64 percent reduced risk of death after a heart attack in particular. If the dog owner had experienced a heart attack or stroke, that person saw a 31 percent decreased risk of death, compared to the cardiovascular event survivors without a dog.

A separate study of more than 336,000 Swedish dog owners and non-owners who had suffered a heart attack or stroke was also published in October and similarly found that the risk of death for heart attack patients who lived alone but had dogs was 33 percent lower than the solitary adults without dogs. And stroke patients living alone with pups had a 27 percent lower risk of death compared to those without dogs.

Both reports credit the increase in physical activity that keeping a dog entails — good for the heart. Researchers noted that caring for a fur baby also appears to decrease loneliness and depression, which can account for the added longevity among more isolated adults.

However, the researchers caautioned that pets are a big responsibility and they are not an instant cure-all. Seniors sometimes suffer bone fractures related to caring for their pets. Plus, pets require a lot of money for their care.

A Little Cat News

This won’t surprise cat lovers one bit: Cats connect with people just as dogs and kids do, Voice of America reported recently.

The research was published in Current Biology and found that cats show specific “attachment styles toward human caregivers” in experiments with cats and humans. This means cats basically share the same social abilities traditionally linked to dogs.

“Our study indicates that when cats live in a state of dependency with a human, that attachment behavior is flexible, and the majority of cats use humans as a source of comfort,” said Kristyn Vitale, a researcher at the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at Oregon State University and the study’s lead writer.

In the experiment, about 70 adult and young cats first spent two minutes in a room with their caregiver. The cats then spent two minutes in the room alone, followed by a two-minute reunification period with the caregiver. Sixty-four percent were judged to be “securely attached” to caregivers, while 36 percent were found to be “insecurely attached.” The cats with secure attachments showed several signs of “reduced stress” levels, while the cats with an insecure attachment showed signs of stress.  

“The majority of cats use their owner as a source of security. Your cat is depending on you to feel secure when they are stressed out,” Vitale said.

Wolf Attacks

Some Wisconsin bear hunters are seeing emboldened wolves attack their dogs, the Star Tribune reported recently. 

Nearly 30 pet dogs and hunting dogs have been killed or injured by wolves this year. In 1980, only about 25 wolves inhabited the state. In 1990, the number was 34. By 2000, the population reached 248, and by 2010, roughly 700 wolves were believed to be in the state. For much of the last century, black bears were unprotected in Wisconsin and were shot and trapped year-round until the 1950s. Running bear with dogs was introduced in the ’60s. 

Protected again by the federal Endangered Species Act after having been returned to state management in 2011, wolves were last hunted and trapped in Wisconsin in the winter of 2013-2014. That season, Wisconsin wolf hunters and trappers killed 257 wolves, a 119 percent increase from the 2012-2013 harvest of 117 wolves.

 Territorial gray wolves will opportunistically kill coyotes, dogs, and occasionally other wolves. Wisconsin farmers and pet- and hunting-dog owners are reimbursed by the state for verified animal losses. Since 1985, nearly $2.5 million has been paid out, most for wolf-caused cattle losses and injuries, while bear-dog owners have received nearly $850,000. The fund is opposed by Wisconsin animal rights advocates.

Smushed Faces

Most owners of pugs, French bulldogs, and bulldogs believe their dog are in very good health or the best health possible despite documented health and welfare problems associated with such breeds, according to a recent PLOS One study.

 The American Veterinarian Medical Association said in October that researchers reported responses from 2,168 owners of brachycephalic dogs in the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada — 789 pug owners, 741 French bulldog owners, and 638 bulldog owners — to an online survey about veterinary diagnoses, conformation-related surgeries performed, veterinary costs, and emotional bonding.

Owner-reported disorders in these dogs ranged from allergies to brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome yet 70.9 percent of respondents considered their dog to be in very good health or the best health possible.  

“Perceptual errors in owner beliefs appear to exist between brachycephalic owner perspectives of their own dog’s health versus the health of the rest of their breed, which may be fueled by cognitive dissonance processes,” the researchers wrote.

Reunited at Last  

A Florida woman and her missing dog of 12-plus years were happily reunited across more than 1,000 miles, The Washington Post reported recently.

The dog, Dutchess, a fox terrier, got out of her owner’s house in Orlando in February 2007. The owner, Katheryn Strang, made signs and took daily trips to local shelter for months in search of her beloved pet.

In October, a man found the dog under his shed in the Pittsburgh area, almost 1,000 miles from Orlando. He took the scared animal to a shelter, Humane Animal Rescue, where a scan of Dutchess’ microchip linked her to Strang, now a Boca Raton resident.

How Dutchess, now 14, made the trek and how she had been living are unknown. Besides overgrown nails, the dog was mostly healthy. Strang had held out hope that Dutchess might be found, paying a $15 annual fee to keep the microchip active

Honoring Service Members

Ohio sculptor James Mellick told Stars and Stripes recently he hopes his traveling dog exhibition gets people talking. He has carved eight dogs out of cedar, walnut, poplar, sycamore, and other woods, taking viewers from World War II up to the war in Afghanistan. The sculptures are scheduled to begin a two-month run from Nov. 8 to Jan. 21 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

“This exhibit shows the sacrifices dogs have made in battle, but it also shows the human sacrifice of their handlers,” Mellick said.

Among the dogs are Lucca and Cooper. Lucca, K458, was a Marine Corps service dog trained to detect explosives who completed 400-plus missions during a six-year career. He barely survived a bomb on patrol in Afghanistan and lost a leg in the explosion. Cooper, K154, was killed with her handler, Cpl. Kory Wiens, by a bomb hidden in a haystack in Iraq. 

“The dogs’ wounds are an allegory for all the human suffering that’s harder to talk about,” Mellick said.

 The exhibit has been touring museums and events around the Unite States since 2015, when Mellick took three of his wooden sculptures to the Ohio State Fair and the Vietnam Dog Handlers Association reunion in Nashville, Tennessee. “People can relate to dogs in a way that’s hard for most people to relate to soldiers,” he said. “I just want to bring awareness to the real wounds that our soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors suffer from.”

Lepto Reminder

Newsweek reported recently that leptospirosis, in the news for surfacing in dogs in Oklahoma and Utah, can be spread from animals to humans.

Dogs often contract the disease while swimming in standing water or drinking from puddles contaminated by animal urine, said the American Kennel Club. There is a vaccination against the disease for dogs, but it is considered a non-essential vaccine unless the animal is at high risk for exposure.

The disease can be occupational hazard for those who spend a lot of time with animals, such as farmers, but leptospirosis has also been associated with contaminated bodies of water. British Olympic rower, Andy Holmes, for instance, died from Weil’s disease, an advanced phase of leptospirosis in 2010.

Heavy rains sometimes prompt health officials to warn people about the possibility of contracting leptospirosis.

Fake Dogs

A pack of handsome brothers has moved into New York’s Bronx Zoo, reported New York Channel 4.

The foxlike wild dogs, known as dholes, have brownish-red coats dappled with white markings and bushy tails. They were born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2016. 

Dholes are native to southern and central Asia and are endangered from development, hunting, and diseases from domestic dogs, according to The Wildlife Conservation Society. The pups moved into an exhibit formerly occupied by polar bears. It has been re-made as a dhole habitat. 

Holding Pattern

In Seattle, Washington, the Emerald City Emergency Clinic serves as an emergency clinic as well as a temporary doggy foster care, reported, as it’s  where dogs wind up when their owners get arrested. 

“We can have upwards of 10 to 15 patients,” Macy Ellison said, noting the clinic at night is staffed by one doctor and two technicians.

Cops drop off dogs, she said, because they have arrested owners or because the animals were abandoned. Once out of police “custody,” the dogs stay at the animal clinic briefly then move to the city animal shelter.