Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The use of drugs to control aggression in dogs

One of the most interesting conversations I had at Crufts was with a behaviourist with a canine customer (patient?) on medication to control aggressive behaviour. She spoke airily of the Amino Acid Manipulation Diet as if everyone knew what that was. I didn’t and so the first thing I did that night was look it up online. Nothing. Not a sausage. I wrote to our vet, Tom, about it and in a moment I will explain what he said.

Dog on Prozac

First, an interesting study relating to behaviour and drugs that I found in a site dedicated to English Springer Spaniels. In it the author explains that Ilana Riesner DVM, formerly of Cornell University (NY), did quite a bit of research into aggressive dogs and discovered that many of the dogs studied by Dr. Reisner had abnormally low amounts of serotonin metabolites in their urine and cerebral spinal fluid. This suggested that the dominance aggression was associated with abnormally low levels of serotonin in the brain which corresponded with findings in violent mental patients and prison inmates!

Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters or brain chemicals that has a calming effect. In most mammals, it seems to decrease the amount of aggression associated with dominance. While it doesn’t necessarily change the social status of an animal, higher serotonin levels decrease the likelihood aggressive displays will be used to maintain that social position. Based on these findings, Dr. Riesner used drugs that increase serotonin levels to treat dominance aggression in dogs. We’re talking here of drugs such as Prozac!

Anyway, about 50% of the dominant aggressive dogs respond to these drugs, with a decrease in aggressive displays. The drugs don’t solve the problem, but they made it safer and easier for owners to use behaviour modification techniques to change the dog’s social status in the home. This indicates that dominance aggression may, at least in some individuals, result from a brain abnormality on the chemical level.

So what about the Amino Acid Manipulation Diet?

So, where does this diet come in? Here are the key points Tom made:

“It is believed that some behavioural problems in dogs are due to genetics that lead to low serotonin levels. However, these may well be 'normal' dogs who are getting the wrong diet which is inadequate in serotonin's precursor tryptophan, due to cooking.”

“The highest sources of tryptophan are what dogs eat in the wild red meat, eggs, chicken &c”.

“If you want more serotonin and a calmer dog feed a raw meat diet - you couldn't get a better Amino Acid Manipulation Diet except that there is no manipulation.”

I am still not 100% sure

I am still not quite sure what the Amino Acid Manipulation Diet actually is. Does it only mean a change of diet? Or is it achieved by using processed foods? All help gratefully received. In the meantime I have to say that I do think drugging dogs with behaviour issues is madness when there may well be a much more natural and effective solution viz. a raw food diet. There has been quite a bit written on the connection between raw food and better behaviour and I will return to it again in the future.

From wolf to wealth

How old is the dog? Where do they come from? The latest evidence, reported in the NY Times last week in an article entitled New Finding Puts Origins of Dogs in Middle East, suggests that the dog became domesticated at the same time human settlement occurred, some 15,000 years ago, and that it took place not in Asia (as previously claimed) but in the Middle East. The theory is the result of a massive new DNA testing programme undertaken by Bridgett M. vonHoldt and Dr. Robert Wayne of the University of California. Dr. Wayne believes that wolves began following hunter-gatherer bands to feed on the wounded prey, carcasses or other refuse. At some stage a group of wolves, who happened to be smaller and less threatening than most, developed a dependency on human groups, and may in return have provided a warning system. Supporting this theory Dr. Carlos Driscoll of the National Cancer Institute (what they have to do with dogs is a bit of a mystery) suggested that dogs could have been the sentries that let hunter gatherers settle without fear of surprise attack. They may also have been the first major item of inherited wealth, preceding cattle, and so could have laid the foundations for the gradations of wealth and social hierarchy that differentiated settled groups from the egalitarianism of their hunter-gatherer predecessors. 'Notions of inheritance and ownership,' Dr. Driscoll said, 'may have been prompted by the first dogs to permeate human society, laying an unexpected track from wolf to wealth.'

Great source of dog walks and information...

A day barely seems to pass without someone launching yet another website featuring dog friendly walks, pubs, beaches &c. &c. &c. The problem is that most of the people behind these sites are thinking about how they can make money from them rather than whether the information they are providing is useful and accurate. One exception to this is Driving with Dogs

What I love about this site is that it has been started by dog lovers for dog lovers. The founders, David and Lezli Rees, launched it in 2005 after sitting in traffic for an hour
on the M40 with their Border Collie (Jem) and realising that there must be some fantastic walks just off the motorway if they only knew where they were. So they set out to do the research covering 1000 miles on foot and visiting just about every motorway junction in the country.

As if this wasn't enough they then set about adding other walks as well dog-friendly beaches, pubs, accommodation and campsites. What's more, they included other useful information such as access for those with disabilities and so forth. All in all an incredible labour of love done with no thought of profit, only of service.

Lezli came to visit us on our stand at Crufts and showed me the printed version of their website: Motorway Walks. Short Walks for Drivers and Dogs. This is available from the Border Collie Trust.

Anyway, I can't recommend their website enough and - now I have found it - look forward to trying some of the walks! Driving with Dogs.

How a raw diet can help purine problems in Dalmations and other breeds…

If you have a Dalmation, Beagle, Bulldog, Basset Hound, Cocker Spaniel, Bichon Frise, Miniature Schnauzer, Lhasa Apso, Miniature Poodle, Miniature Schnauzer, Yorkshire Terrier, Dachshund, Newfoundland, Irish Terrier, Scottish Terrier or Irish Setter then you are probably only too aware that these breeds can have purine metabolism problems.

In this short article – and with the considerable help of our Chief Veterinary Surgeon, Tom Farrington – I will try and explain how diet can help.

What are purines?

Purines are natural substances found in plant and animal cells and they are vital to the chemical structure of genes. (Don’t ask me any more about the gene angle because I am already in over my head!). High levels of purine can be found in any food group - that is to say vegetables, fruit, meat and fish. Certain foods such as kidneys, game, yeast,
mackerel, herring, sardines and mussels are particularly high. Others, such as chicken, beef, lamb and non-acidic fruit contain lower levels of purine.

When cells die and get recycled in a dog’s body the purines in their genetic material also get broken down. Once completely broken down they turn into uric acid, which is important to good health because it serves as an antioxidant that protects blood vessels.

However, sometimes uric acid levels in the blood and other parts of the body can become too high. This happens, for instance, when the kidney isn’t functioning properly (as it is the kidney that helps keep blood levels of uric acid balanced) or where there is excessive breakdown of cells. Although kidneys regulate the amount of purine (excreting what isn't required) it is worth remembering that the cause of the problem lies in the liver where purine metabolism is done.

OK enough biology.

The purine problems in dogs…

The breeds already mentioned above metabolise purine in a unique way ending up with excess uric acid. This in turn leads to urate stones. Worse, if treated with Allopurinol to block enzyme-producing urates, dogs can end up with xanthine stones instead of urate stones. This is what Tom has to say about the problem:

“From my experience in treating these cases it should be pointed out that urate stones are radio-lucent and thus can easily be missed especially when in the kidneys as x-rays pass right through them leaving no shadow unlike other stones. It takes air contrast x-rays to show them up! But this cannot be done in the kidney and the stone cannot be felt in the kidney, either. Even ultrasounds can miss them but CT (Computerised Tomography) can pick them up."

The Dalmation question

Dalmations are one breed that has been particularly prone to urinary stones and if you have a Dalmation or are interested in why then this site will be of interest:

How can diet help?

A raw food diet without organ meat and with none of the high purine vegetables (such as cauliflower, peas, spinach, mushrooms and legumes) is generally excellent as a diet for all breeds with a purine metabolism problem.

Tom says: “There will be dogs that are severely compromised genetically and some dogs who, due to various commercial diets including some commercial and home-made low-purine diets, have already suffered severe stones.”

He also points out that in compromised dogs a high fat diet can add to the problems by increasing urate formation especially in the kidneys. So if you have a thin dog with a purine problem consider increasing the frequency and size of meals rather than the fat level and check for hidden stones.

Bear in mind that plenty of pure water is also important. The word ‘pure’ must be emphasised as some additions to water for purification and sterilization purposes can change the urine pH or entire body chemistry triggering crystal formation.

What else? ‘Table foods’ are out and so is anything with salt in it. With regard to diet, incidentally, this may require the addition of potassium citrates (for preventing calcium oxalate crystals) and sodium bicarbonate (for preventing cystine crystals). Always ensure that the diet does not have large amounts of Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) added as it acidifies urine decreasing the risk of the most common forms of stones but increasing the risk of urates.

Finally, do remember to arrange regular urine checks to ensure the pH stays alkaline and for the presence of either urate or xanthine crystals.

Remember, we make all our food to order

If you want to switch your dog to a low-purine, raw food diet but don’t know where to start we can help. All our food is made to order and we don't charge anything extra for adding or altering the basic ingredients. Please call or email for more information.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Perhaps the most impressive dog trainers in London

I have very specific ideas about how dogs should be trained and, candidly, most trainers fail to impress me. My own education was received from a wonderful, Australian woman called Alison Morgan who, though now in her eighties, is still passionate about dogs and obedience training. I watched her work with her own champion dogs almost every day throughout through my childhood (I should explain that she brought me up), attended her classes and also went to many of the dog shows where she appeared. Her philosophy is straightforward: positive reinforcement of good behaviour and what I would describe as mild disapproval of bad behaviour. Anyway, the result is that although I like lots of dog trainers I meet, there are few that I really admire.

Two that I am more than happy to recommend, however, are
Phillip Gazzard and Craig Steiff. Phillip runs Bark Busters for North, South and Central London and Craig runs Bark Busters for West London, Croydon and Sutton. Recently I chose them to look after my sister-in-law Kate’s new lurcher, Jackson, (photos to follow) and my business partner Vicky is actually getting them to help her with her Labradoodle, Rudi. In other words, they are so good we are using them ourselves.

What makes them special? They follow the Bark Busters training philosophy designed in the 1980s by Sylvia and Danny Wilson and which has since become the most popular training method in the world. Indeed, Bark Busters have trained more than 500,000 dogs since it was founded in Australia.
Anyway, I am rambling (first day back at blogging and all that). My real point is that if you are looking for a trainer anywhere in the London area I would definitely recommend Phillip and Craig. They have their own website Dog Training London or you can call them on 0808 100 4071.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Crufts here we come!

Only a week now until Crufts. You will find us in Hall 1 on Stand 100. Please, please, pretty please come and say hello if you are an existing customer. And, of course, if you aren't.