Thursday, May 30, 2013

How the world feeds dogs

If we are what we eat, then so are the dogs we feed.  Scientists are taking a serious look at diet with a special interest in gut microbiota.  Gut microbial colonies begin to form at birth, affecting how the immune system develops. Is it possible that dogs fed western diets of commercial foods have gut microbes that are somehow related to a less robust immune system?   

Survey conducted by World Society for the Protection of Animals. 

To find out more about how diets and the immune system are related, the American Gut Project is seeking samples from people and their pets.  You can participate, too.

Read my post about how many calories your dog needs each day.  It has lots of helpful links.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Military Dog Memorials

Eisenhower Park, East Meadow, Long Island, New York
Although dogs stood beside soldiers long before the US Army launched its first official K-9 corps, March 19, 1942, war dog memorials aren't easy to find.  I was surprised to track down only a handful of sites that honor dogs who have faithfully served to protect the men and women in our nations armed forces. If you know of others, let me know and I'll add them to the post.

Erected in 1943
South Lyon, Michigan
Veterinarian Steve Eldow and his family established  Happy Hunting Grounds Pet Cemetery in 1936, and erected the War Dog tribute ten years later. Beneath the stone rests Sparks, who received seven citations while serving with the Marines in Guadalcanal in 1943.

Dedicated August 15, 2004
Marine War Dog Memorial 
University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine
Knoxville, TN
The memorial honors 25 marine war dogs that gave their lives liberating Guam in 1944. The Doberman that sits atop the stone is a replica of the dog at the War Dog Memorial and Cemetery at the US Naval Station in Guam.

Dedicated November 11, 2008
Alabama War Dogs Memorial
USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park
Mobile, AL
Note the four paw prints next to the boot prints.

Dedicated May 12, 2009
Moberly War Dog Memorial
Moberly, MO
The granite memorial to war dogs and handlers
sits in the city park.

Dedicated May 18, 2009
Vietnam K-9 and Dog Handler Memorial
Flemington, N.J.

Dedicated November 11, 2008
Fort Benton War Dogs Memorial
Fort Benton, Montana
Inscribed on back:  In memory of the over 4000 US military working dogs that served in the Vietnam war. They served with all branches of the US armed forces in South Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.  Combating the unconventional guerrilla warfare fought by the communist aggressors, with over 500 dogs being listed as killed in action, they were responsible for saving an estimated 10,000 American lives, never hesitating to give their own.  When the war was over the dogs were left to their fate in southeast Asia.  They were our heroes, our best friends and companion and we will never forget them.

Traditionally, US military dogs were returned home after wars, either to their former owners or to new adopted ones.  At the end of the Vietnam War, when the US left, military dogs were designated as "expendable equipment" and were either euthanized or tuned over to the allied army. Vietnam War veteran dog handlers lobbied congress, and finally a bill was approved allowing veteran US military working dogs to be brought home and adopted after their military service. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law in 2000.  The Vietnam War was the only American war in which US military dogs never came home.

Want to make sure they always come home?  Tell congress that military dogs are more than just equipment. Read more here.
Source: Acclaim Images

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Queen Victoria's birthday May 24

Queen Victoria was born May 24, 1837.  During her 64 year reign, the Queen fancied the King Charles Spaniel, Greyhound, Skye Terrier, Dachshund, Collie, Pekingese, Fox Terrier, Pomeranian, and Pug among others. It need hardly be mentioned that she wasn't the first royal to keep pet dogs, but she’s notable because she had so many, at one point eighty eight. 

The Queen with Tur
Many joined the family at mealtime.  Victoria's husband Albert fed his beloved Greyhound, Eos, from a fork at the dinner table. Some dogs, and surely Eos was one of them, had free run of the royal property, inside and out. 

Eos, by Edwin Landseer
Others were kenneled, but enjoyed household holidays on a rotating schedule. Working dogs, big and small, were treated as pets with sleeping and dining privileges.  One had his own business card that said, "Ratcatcher to HM Queen Victoria." 

Queen Victoria with her beloved Sharp
The death of Sharp, her favorite Collie (a dog rumored to be ill-tempered and, in the Queen's words,  prone to collie-shangies,  a Scotch word meaning quarrelsome), brought her to such grief that she could barely plan his elaborate funeral.  The dog is buried in the Queen's personal and private garden, Windsor Home Park, Berkshire.  His tomb stone reads:  "Sharp, the favourite and faithful Collie of Queen Victoria from 1866 to 1879. Died now 1879 aged 15 years."

If you want to know every detail about the Queen's menagerie, with paintings, photos and journal highlights, check out Victorian Royal Pets & Animals.

This link takes you to an article I wrote for the American Kennel Club Gazette, Queen Victoria's Canine Legacy

Read more about spoiled rotten royal dogs, King Edwards VII dog, Caesar.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Village Dogs article in The Bark magazine

My Village Dogs article was published in The Bark magazine this month (Summer, 2013). 
Photo: Julia Randall
I interviewed biologist Adam Boyko, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, who is confident that comparing and contrasting the two branches of the domestic canine family tree will provide answers to some of the mysteries that continue to surround the evolution of the domestic dog. Curious about how the under appreciated and even less-studied village dog genome might reframe our current understanding of canine evolution, domestication, and companion dog health, Dr. Boyo's lab is collecting DNA samples from village dogs in the most remote parts of the world.  Like classic twin studies that investigate the interplay of nature and nurture, comparing the genome of village dogs to modern dogs may help disentangle the long-term evolutionary effects of genetic and environmental influences.

Photo: Ryan Boyko

Read the journal articles:

1) The genomics of selection in dogs and the parallel evolution between dogs and human, Nature Communications, May 14, 2013

2) Artificial selection on brain expressed genes during the domestication of dogs, Molecular Biology and Evolution, May 8, 2013

If you don't like big words read Village Dogs in the summer 2013 issue of The Bark.  And if you don't subscribe to The Bark, you're missing the best dog magazine out there.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

King Edward VII's dog, Caesar

King Edward VII died on May 6, 1910.  Like his mother Queen Victoria, Edward loved dogs.

Queen Victoria and Edward VII
In the Victorian era it was customary to remember deceased loved ones with snippets of hair tucked into jeweled lockets or woven into brooches. Edward kept a hair bracelet made from the coat of his rough coated Fox Terrier, Jack. 

In 1902, another Fox Terrier, Caesar, ruled the King's heart. Somewhat mischievous and certainly spoiled, Caesar was a notorious ankle-biter, and amused the King at the expense of servants and royal relatives alike. The dog's collar read, "I am Caesar. I belong to the King."

When the King died in 1910, Caesar followed the casket, leading all the heads of state including nine kings.   Edward's nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, was less than amused and complained interminably of the insult.

Daily Mail
Heartbroken, barely eating or drinking, the grieving dog is said to have spent his days searching rooms for his missing master.  Caesar died four years later, April 18, 1914. Today his likeness lay at Edward’s feet in the King’s tomb in St. George’ Chapel in Windsor.

Caesar is buried at Marlborough House.

You can read more about Caesar here.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Could dogs revert to wolves?

Hypothetically, would all dogs revert back to look and act like their wolf ancestor if they lived long enough in a feral state?

The short answer is they can't, because gene variants we've selected for are lurking about  in the genome.

All dogs, purebred to street cur, are distinct combinations of different versions of the same twenty-plus thousand genes.  What makes one dog different from another, or almost the same as in the case of purebreds, is how the genes are expressed or restricted from being expressed.

In a wild world, breeds would disappear. There would still be different colors, sizes and even shapes, but extreme exaggerated traits wouldn't survive.
source: iheartdan

Would wild dogs be able to sustain a healthy population under intense pressures of natural selection?  Some populations likely would.  Half-feral developing world street dogs have done a pretty good job.  But these dogs are not off-spring of modern companion dogs.

Geographically isolated for thousands of years, dog populations that have evolved by adapting to natural and cultural environments are likely more genetically diverse than modern breeds. That's why they can adapt relatively quickly in an ever changing world - by calling those variants into service.  

But it's not clear if our modern westernized breeds still have the genetic wherewithal to adapt to natural conditions.  We may have thrown all those genetic babies out with the bathwater when we selected for very specific and exaggerated mutations to make breeds.

So keep your babies inside when it's cold, and get the rain slicker out in a downpour.

Read more here about how wolves and dogs are different.