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The Ruff Report: Research news about Dogs

Dogs are truly a nose above the rest

A dog's amazing ability to sniff out anything from drugs to cancer has been traced to the nerve cells in its nose.

A dog has many more nerve cells in its nasal cavity which account for its heightened sense of smell, New Scientist magazine reports.

Pennsylvania State University researchers found that a complex network of mucus-covered tubes in a dog's nose pre-sorts smells, making it easier for the brain to identify them. The researchers found that different smell molecules are first picked up by receptors at different locations in a dog's airway network. Until now, research has focused on how receptors pick up different chemicals.

"We've shown that the sorting out of the different odorants before they even get to the receptors is also important," said Brent Craven, head of the research team.

The researchers presented the results of their study at a recent meeting of the American Physical Society's division of fluid dynamics in San Antonio, Texas. (November 29, 2008)

Man and dog share special medical bond, too

Man and dog have always had a unique bond, and now those ties are getting even closer as researchers prepare to study genetic mutations that lead to diseases that canine and humans share.

Delegates at the European Science Foundation's 3rd Functional Genomics Conference held recently in Austria were told many diseases may share the same genetic basis in humans and dogs, Science Daily reports.

"Dogs get very similar diseases to humans," said Kerstin Lindblad-Toh of Uppsala University in Sweden and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. "If you ask a dog owner what sort of conditions their pets get, they will say cancer, allergies, eye diseases."

Dogs have been bred into clear isolated populations - the different breeds - so detecting a genetic flaw that leads to a disease is often easier than it is in humans, Lindblad-Toh told the conference. Once a rogue gene has been found in the dog, it could make it easier look for mutations in the same gene in man.

"For example, we have found a genetic mutation that results in a condition called day blindness that can affect dachshunds," Lindblad-Toh said.

A similar condition can arise in humans, and analysis of the mutated protein in the dog is providing new information about the disease in man. Researchers are also looking at genes associated with cancer of the blood vessels to which golden retrievers are prone.

LUPA, a new European consortium, consists of 20 veterinary schools from 12 countries spread across Europe that will work together to collect 10,000 DNA samples from purebred dogs. It will compare healthy animals with those affected by similar diseases as human.

Researchers will analyze the genome of affected dogs compared to healthy ones of the same breed and pinpoint genetic markers for dog diseases. This will help to reduce the high level of inherited disease in purebred dogs.

By identifying these genes, researchers will gain understanding into the mechanisms and pathways of the disease. They hope to apply the knowledge they gain to fighting the same diseases that afflict humans. (October 25, 2008)

Research finds large, black dogs get shunned

Black dogs, especially large ones, need homes, too, but animal welfare advocates say they have a much more difficult time finding homes for them.

They call the phenomenon Black Dog Syndrome.

"We have a lot of great dogs out here, and a preponderance are black dogs, because they're so difficult to adopt out," Annette Lambert of Celina, Texas-based Animal Guardians of America told the Dallas Morning News. "But black doggies need homes, too."

Black dogs are sometimes shunned because they are much more difficult to photograph - their eyes blend in with the color of their fur, so it is difficult for someone looking for a dog on the Internet to feel a connection, said Steve Hurst, a volunteer with Animal Guardians of America who fosters dogs that need homes.

And the wait for a home can be quite long if a black dog is big, said Maura Davies of the SPCA of Texas. Big dogs, those weighing more than 35 pounds, are more difficult to place than smaller ones, she said.

Animal Guardians has more than 40 black dogs in need of homes. "These dogs are a joy to me," Ms. Lambert said, "and I love each and every one of them. I can't help but get attached, but I know they need real homes."

Visit for more information about dogs the organization has available for adoption. (October 18, 2008)

Dogs and cats can live happily ever after

The way to get pets to stop fighting like cats and dogs is all about timing, a study concludes.

The report, done by Tel Aviv University and recently published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, recommends that a family adopt a kitten first and then introduce a dog when both are still young - less than 6 months old for kittens and 1 year for dogs. The probability is high the pets will get along, the research found.

"This is the first time anyone has done scientific research on pets living in the same home," says Professor Joseph Terkel of the Department of Zoology at Tel Aviv University. "It's especially relevant to the one-third of Americans who own a pet and are thinking about adopting a second one of the opposite species."

The cats and dogs evolve beyond their own instincts, learn to talk each other's language and read each other's body language, Terkel said. "It was a surprise that cats can learn how to talk 'dog' and vice-versa," he said.

The researchers interviewed almost 200 pet owners who own both a cat and a dog, studied videotapes and analyzed the animals' behavior. Most of the pets co-existed well, but in some instances - 10 percent - they did get into spats and fights. (September 13, 2008)

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