Dogs on a Plane: When Fur Flies

Planning ahead is the only sure way to avoid air travel stress for both you and your dog

Thinking about taking your dog along on a flight? It is a common occurrence, but advanced planning will save your sanity, as well as your dog’s stress level. It’s all in the details, and there are a number of them to consider.

First, seriously contemplate whether taking your dog is absolutely necessary. Transport kennels and airplane cargo holds are not comfortable, and for some dogs they are not safe. Brachycephalic animals, such as Pekingese, Bulldogs, Pugs, Shih Tzus, or Boston Terriers (those with the “smashed in faces”) should never travel in the cargo hold of a plane because the structure of their faces can inhibit their breathing. In addition, unweaned puppies, elderly dogs, or females in heat or pregnant should never travel by plane.

Many airlines do allow small dogs to accompany passengers in the cabin, as long as they are 20 lbs. or less and fit into a pet carrier with a waterproof bottom that will stow easily beneath the seat in front of you. Again, this requires pre-planning as airlines will only allow a handful of dogs on a flight. Fees range from $75 to $100 each way for this benefit.

Check with your airline for all the requirements you must know to travel with your dog

The cargo hold is pressurized and somewhat heated or cooled to accommodate traveling pets, but to ensure the animals’ safety, many airlines will not allow them to fly in overly hot or cold weather. As a rule, pets are not allowed on flights to Hawaii, or most international flights due to their length. The size of the transport carrier should be big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down, and it should not have wheels. Pet stores sell airline compliant travel crates that include the required labeling, and be sure to affix a tag indicating your name, home address, and phone number. Including this identification on your dog’s collar is also a good idea.

Tips to Prevent Major Headaches to Prepare Flying with your Dog

  • Book your flight directly with the airline. They know the specific pet transport requirements and can answer your questions. Third party booking agencies or online sites may not be up-to-date, or may not account for pet travel.
  • Book direct flights. Dealing with airline transfers or delays is not a scenario you want to experience traveling with your dog. In addition, avoid traveling with your pet during busy holidays as he could experience rough handling.
  • Acclimate your dog to the transport carrier before the flight. Familiarity will then cut down on stress during travel. Airlines recommend allowing your dog a month before traveling to get accustomed to the carrier.
  • Clip your dog’s nails before the flight. This is to ensure they don’t get caught in the pet carrier’s openings.
  • Be sure your dog’s shots are up-to-date. You will need to provide documentation of vaccines.
  • Carry a current picture of your dog with you and tape one to his carrier. If your dog becomes lost, this will make it much easier for him to be found.
  • Check with your vet to see if giving your dog a sedative is a good idea. Often this is not recommended as sedation can cause nausea, and the effects of tranquilizers at high altitudes can be unpredictable.

Preparing to fly with your dog can be rather overwhelming, but advanced planning will avoid many of the problems that can arise. And once you arrive to your destination, won’t it be great to have your best friend at your side?

The Mystery of Cats — And Catnip

Cat brains are unique to the stimulating effects of catnip

Cats are the most intriguing, wonderful, and yes – strange – creatures. In many ways, they are much like having a nearly wild animal living among us, sharing our homes, our sofas, and even our beds. If they are allowed the freedom to roam, we feel honored when they grace us with their presence. If they bring in prey to showcase with pride, we may feel appalled, but we also secretly share that pride. Their ability to purr is a marvel. Their obsessive need to self-groom is a great perk. And the fact that many of them crazily react to catnip is a delight, as well as a mystery.

Just what is it about catnip? The surprising fact is that there aren’t many facts about why and how it affects cats. What is known about the herb known as Nepta is that it’s a member of the mint family, as well as a distant relation to Cannabis, otherwise known as marijuana. However, it only affects cats, and in particular domestic cats, although there are reports that lions and tigers are susceptible to the essential oil in catnip that sends them into some sort of mental orbit.

It is also known that not all cats react to catnip. The inclination is genetic, and interestingly, very few cats in Australia are affected. Overall, about 30 percent of the cat population could give a hoot. Kittens don’t react until they reach sexual maturity, which leads researchers to believe that the operative oil in catnip stimulates a cat’s pheromonic receptors, which is the same area of the brain that affects sexual arousal. Reactions also differ, and range from rolling, flipping, slobbering, and licking. Some cats will growl and even become aggressive. The effect only lasts for up to 15 minutes, and then wears off until their brain becomes susceptible again, usually after about an hour.

The general understanding is that catnip is not harmful. However, little research has been conducted about the effects of catnip — no brain scans while under the influence; no studies of long-lasting effects. But cats have been “enjoying” the stimulation of catnip for centuries and continue to thrive. Plus, it’s fun to give our kitties a little snort sometimes and watch them lose their dignity for a few minutes. They don’t seem to mind.

Catnip stimulates cats when inhaled and sedates cats when ingested

Catnip as the herb is almost as interesting as cats are themselves. It’s a known sedative when ingested (by both cats and humans) and it also serves as a potent insecticide, especially against mosquitoes. As a tea, it can ease indigestion and also activate uterine contractions, so it should be avoided by pregnant women. It is easy to grow and likes sandy soil and full sun. To dry fresh catnip, hang it upside down in a dry, ventilated area, such as an open bedroom closet. Rubbing, or bruising, the dried catnip will activate the essential oil that will make your cat crazy, if he’s so inclined.

It’s no wonder that cats were once thought to be the companions of witches. The mystery of their little minds, especially under the influence of catnip, is still to this day a little spooky.

How Dogs Think: Canine Cognizance Relies on Complex Use of Senses

What do dogs think? Try thinking like a dog to find out.

I admit it. I am one of those dog owners. By those I mean, I talk to my dog, take him for rides, buy him ice cream, consider his feelings, and in short, treat him pretty much as you might a furry four-legged child. And of course, my child is brilliant.

But as my friend and housemate, and dog person himself reminds me, the average dog has a brain about the size of a golf ball. Fearing there was some dreadful mistake, I scurry to my computer, only to find that he was, in fact, right. But the area of a dog’s brain that is dedicated to olfactory processing is huge and much more complex than ours, he assured me. What’s that? Some kind of lame consolation prize?

Because for dog owners like me, their dogs’ ability to solve problems, understand their owners thoughts and response accordingly, and outwit any attempts to train them in a direction that they themselves do not want to go, is proof positive of the advanced thought processes that go on in their canine cranial cavity.

So do dogs think? And if they do, what do they think about? Maybe a better way to address these questions is to try and think like a dog. Dog-trainer/behaviorist William E. Campbell gives the following example: Dinner’s fast approaching and your dog, Ella, is gazing at you with limpid eyes. She’s wondering when her dinner’s going to be ready you think. What Campbell says is more likely is that all that tail wagging and rapt attention is designed to get you to do and say the things she knows will lead to the actual procurement of dinner. Like you asking her “you want your dinner too, don’t you?” She’s also probably practicing her shtick in the room she’s found to be the source of the magic repast – the kitchen.

So, if Ella’s brain isn’t saying “I want my dinner” – what is it doing? The second thing we need to do, says Campbell, is get rid of the idea of language being involved in a dog’s thoughts. For example, if you were suddenly thrust into the middle of Tokyo, you might understand a great deal about what’s going on around you without understanding one bit of the Japanese language. Eventually you might figure out what some of the words mean. But because dogs lack the vocal ability to speak our language, the limit of our dog’s language learning is the meaning of the sounds of certain words. Luckily, says Campbell, dogs are very quick to learn the sounds that are important to them.

Just as our minds are full of the images, smells and sounds we’ve heard throughout life, dogs process images in their mind through their senses. If the mention of elementary school transports you back to the smell of the chalkboard, the sound of the school bell, and the feel of the wool in your school uniform, you probably have some idea of how your dog experiences the world.

This doesn’t necessarily mean your dog spends his days replaying his favorite movies with a particular car ride earning a “four paws up” or that steak night is Oscar worthy. But some very convincing research suggests dogs do share our ability to form and experience in their minds certain images, odors and sounds. The first evidence of this was confirmed over three decades ago when a Russian scientist studying the electrophysiology of the brain wired several dogs with brain wave equipment and radio transmitters. During an unexpected weekend tour of the lab, he turned a dog named Lo’s equipment on and was amazed to find the dog’s brain wave pattern changed to a pattern that was nearly identical to that of his “working hours.”

These are just a few examples of what may go on in the average dog’s head. But as any true dog lover will tell you, my dog is far from average.

Dogs Love Meat for Good Reason

The world is confusing in dog food land. Marketing magic rules the day, manufacturers tend to favor the bottom line over reliable pet health, and government regulation…actually, there isn’t much government regulation in the $15 billion dog food industry. This allows pretty much a free-for-all in terms of what ingredients manufacturers pack into their products. People tend to trust that the pet food industry has our pets’ best interests – and health – at heart, but this is often not the case at all. According to pet food consumer rights groups and informed veterinarians, the main culprit is corn.

Meat: It's a Dog's Life

“Complete and Balanced” does not necessarily mean complete and balanced. Dogs are essentially carnivores — descendents of wolves — and while they can and will eat vegetables (and an abundance of other fare they shouldn’t eat, as they don’t inherently “know” what is bad for them) the character of their teeth structure and the understanding of their heritage points to meat as their Number One dietary requirement. Therefore, meat is essential as the primary ingredient in dog food, and more often than not, it is corn, as in corn gluten meal, ground yellow corn, corn syrup, as well as other grains such as wheat.  Veterinarians note that the shiniest of coats, the lack of hot spots and itchy skin, and the absence of digestive tract ailments were indicative of dogs with high-meat-content diets. Diets rich in animal proteins do not cause kidney damage in healthy dogs and cats as once believed; they thrive on those animal proteins in every positive way.

One regulatory requirement of dog food (and cat food), is that the ingredients on the packaging must be listed in order of weight. If corn is listed first, you will know it is the most predominant component. When meat is listed first — chicken, lamb, or beef — then you know you have a winner.

Check those ingredient listings. Nutritional awareness is the best tactic for ensuring the health and vitality of our furry loved ones.

Dogs Detect Cancer With Remarkable Accuracy

A Collie-Doberman mix won’t stop sniffing at a mole on the arm of its owner and even resorts to trying to bite it off. The alarmed woman contacts her doctor who affirms the worried dog’s behavior. The mole is indeed cancerous.

Anecdotes about dogs detecting their owners' cancers led to scientific studies.

A Yellow Lab becomes fixated on her owner’s right breast, pressing down on it with her nose until her owner discovers a lump.

These stories, among at least 16 verifiable anecdotes about dogs detecting cancer in their unsuspecting owners, prompted researchers in England in 2004 to test whether dogs could be trained to detect bladder cancer. The results, while statistically unimpressive, were enough to warrant further studies.

In 2006, an international collaboration of scientists at the Pine Street Foundation conducted a study using five dogs to see if they could detect breast and lung cancers. Unlike the bladder cancer study in which dogs sniffed patients’ urine samples, breath samples were used because it was thought the biomarkers of cancer would be easier to identify in breath samples. Researchers were successful in teaching dogs to identify both breast and lung cancers.

“Our study provides compelling evidence that cancers hidden beneath the skin can be detected simply by [dogs] examining the odors of a person’s breath,” said Michael McCulloch, lead researcher at the Pine Street Foundation, a cancer research organization in San Anselmo, California.

It’s been theorized that cancer cells emit different metabolic waste than normal cells. The differences between these wastes are significant enough that they can be detected by a dog’s amazing olfactory abilities, even in the early stages of disease.

The dogs sniffed test tube breath samples of cancer patients and healthy controls. The test tubes contained fiber to capture microscopic particles. The dogs were trained using clickers, praise and food rewards to sit or lie down in front of a positive cancer sample. “We think dogs are like people and perform best when they get positive feedback,” says McCulloch.

Once trained, the results were remarkable: dogs achieved an accuracy rate of 88% for breast cancer and 99% for lung cancer, much better than laboratory tests. During the actual trial phase to ensure that dogs were not picking up on subtle clues from the humans, the researchers in the room with the dogs did not know which test tubes contained the cancerous samples.

Buoyed by the results, Pine Street researchers are now working with the dogs to see if they can detect ovarian cancer, which often evades detection yet is far more treatable when caught in the early stages.

So, what’s next for man (and woman’s best friend)? Will your health screening someday include being sniffed over by a Golden Retriever? Well, maybe not. But being able to use breath samples to detect cancers in their earliest stages is important not only for savings lives, but being able to treat cancer with less invasive methods.

As McCulloch notes “The fact that it was dogs is almost beside the point. Although I should add that the dogs performed so well that now technology really has to rise to the challenge that they laid down.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry Caps a Coyote, and Saves His Dog

The Gov. of Texas is frightened of snakes

Republican Rick Perry may be running for a third full term against Democratic Bill White, but he won’t ever run from danger. The Texas Governor told the press that he won a confrontation with a coyote on Tuesday, thanks to his laser-sighted pistol. He admitted that he always carries his .380 Ruger – fully loaded with hollow-point bullets – out for jogs on the trails around his home, and that this time it came in handy when he needed to protect his dog‘s life.

The coyote yawned, and startled the governor

He said it’s because of his fear of snakes, but everyone knows that rocks are as effective as hollow-point bullets when it comes to killing a reptile. But, according to Texas state law, citizens are entitled to shoot at coyotes if they feel that the creature is threatening their livestock or domestic pets. And so, when Perry was confronted by the coyote, who did not heed the governor’s vocal warnings, he had no choice but to send it to coyote heaven.

Perry admitted that the coyote went down immediately following the gunshot wound, and that it probably didn’t feel any pain. He acted with the intentions of saving the young retriever from harm, and protect it he did. The young family dog wasn’t harmed, though the coyote was left to rot in the middle of the dusty road.

As for the gun blast, no report was required, since – according to the Department of Public Safety Spokeswoman, Tela Mange – people are constantly shooting coyotes and snakes, and none of the cases are ever reported.

The University of Findlay Professor Studies Dogs like Their Human

Michael Edelbrock Ph.D.

Michael Edelbrock, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at The University of Findlay, asked students to help him study canine cells using a process that Alexander Vaglenov – M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences – perfected in order to study human cells – not dogs’.

It may seem odd, but, according to Edelbrock, studying how a dog responds to toxic exposure is a great indicator for assessing how a human would react to the very same toxin. As it stands, exposure to environmental pollutants could affect the human genome, resulting in mutations that could potentially lead to serious diseases like cancer. Edelbrock is looking to study the canine population in a controlled geographical environment, to assess how humans would survive in an identical setting.

Edelbrock studies dogs because they resemble humans: genetically speaking.

If these tests discover consistent patterns within the dog’s cells, than eventually they could be employed to analyze the overall environmental quality of a given location; for instance, would a dog be able to live a single day, breathing in the L.A. air?”

Such research like this is currently conducted in $450,000 cutting-edge scientific laboratories, completed prior to the 2007-2008 academic year, and attended by the students and faculty members of the University, as they dig further into the essence of discovery, uncovering the hidden truths of knowledge, and polishing the magnificent facts of biological life.

Small Dogs Genetics Indicate Middle Eastern Ancestry

A mutation may explain the size, but there's no excusing the cherry dress

A team of researchers, led by Melissa Gray and Robert Wayne from the University of California, Los Angeles, have traced the evolutionary history of the pint-sized pooch back to the Middle East. In a genetic study published in the open-access journal BMC Biology, the team surveyed a large sample of grey wolves, and discovered that the genetic mutation largely responsible for small body size had evolved long before wild dogs were ever domesticated by humanity.

Genetics are to blame for looks, as well as size.

All small dogs possess a variant of the IGF1 gene, and apparently, Middle Eastern wolves also have it. Previous work in the region has uncovered the fossilized remains of 12,000-year-old small domestic dogs, supporting the creature’s proposed origins. Older remains of much larger animals have been discovered in Belgium, Germany and Western russia, put the concentration of small animals in a very localized area. According to Gray, the smaller-sized animals were probably preferred by the individuals who lived in densely packed agricultural environments. A reduced size is a frequent side effect to domestication, as it has been demonstrated by goats, swine and cattle. Considering such an environment, where dogs are more likely going to live partially indoors or within confined parameters, it is likely that smaller pets were more popular than the larger dogs.

Human Dog Breeders Outperform Nature, and Hyper-Prove Darwin

The Variation is Astounding

According to a recent study by biologists Chris Klingenberg (University 0f Manchester) and Abby Drake (College of the Holy Cross in the US), the domesticated dog – aka man’s best friend – has managed to etch a unique evolutionary history that shows the cute side of Darwin‘s original theory.

Published in The American Naturalist, the study analyzed the skull shapes of domestic dogs, and then compared them with those of different species from beneath the order of Carnivora (an order also occupied by cats, bears, weasels, civets, seals and walruses). It discovered no only the fact that the skull shapes of domesticated dogs offer a variety that exceeds the known variations found across the entire order, but that the extremes stand in greater contrast than one side of the Carnivora spectrum to the other.

The proof is in the skull

This is significant in that the selection now presented by the order Carnivora – a 60-million-plus process – has been effectively outperformed by human selection over the course of a mere 150 years. Dr. Klingenberg explains that variation that could affect vital functions (like breathing) are allowed to succeed in the world of the breeder; however, if such mutations occurred in the wild, those genetics would slowly die away – via natural selection -resulting with the animal’s ultimate extinction.

In the end, Darwin comes through as the true beneficiary of Klingenberg and Drake’s research. He said intervention causes variation, and as this study has proven, human intervention produces wide variation in a short period of time.

Inventor of the Labradoodle Regrets Inspiring the Designer-Dog Trend

The Labradoodle in action

When Wally Conrad – now 81 – first coined the name for his canine-concoction, he didn’t realize that he was making the mistake of a lifetime. It was the year 1988, he was the manager of the puppy program at the Royal Institute of the Blind, and he’d just received a letter from a woman in Hawaii who was in desperate need of a seeing-eye dog that wouldn’t trouble her husband’s allergies; in return, Conrad invented the first designer dog he loving described as a labradoodle.

The family lives in a shed out back

Today, the labradoodle is close to becoming a recognized breed by the Australian National Kennel Council. Not only is it the first animal of the new designer dog trend that is sweeping the nation, but it’s now out-selling pedigree pups as some fetch a whopping $1000 each. Some pet shops have even reported the mutts outselling three to one.

However, despite the fame and notoriety, Conrad himself, when asked if he was responsible for the first labradoodle, now answers, “yes, but I’m not at all proud of my involvement in it.” Despite of the creator’s neglect, breeders across America are scrambling to fit the demand, as more and more people jump at the chance to hang a dog from a hangar in their closets.

Don’t blame yourself, Conrad – you did good; you just can’t change the fact that people are stupid.