09/3/14

A Link Between Desexing and Reactivity

ResearchBlogging.orgWhile desexing bitches is a common surgery, I was pleased to see Kim et al. take note that “the side effects of the operation, particularly any changes in behaviour, have been quantified in only few studies”.

That is to say, despite us commissioning vets to take the ovaries and uterus out of a great many bitches, we don’t really have much research about it. It’s a pretty scary state of play.

This particular study took 14 healthy German Shepherd bitches, between 5 and 10 months old. Half of these dogs were spayed, and the other half left entire. (The bitches were assigned to each group randomly, except for litter sisters, which were assigned opposite groups.)

After the spay, and having been given 4-5 months to recover from the surgery, the bitches were filmed in their kennel as a stranger and a dog approached. This footage was then scored based on how reactive the bitch was. A score of ’3′ indicated severe reactivity, and a score of ’0′ indicated no reactivity. The scorer was unaware of whether the bitch was spayed or not.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Willis.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Willis.

The reactivity of each bitch was recorded several times, and the reactivity of each bitch declined over the study. It’s likely that the bitches habituated to the novel stimuli. However, despite this affect, bitches in the ovary-hysterectomy group scored higher throughout the study.

Before generalising these results, there are some matters to consider:

  • Reactivity was only measured in a kennel setting, and how these dogs react in the ‘real world’ may be different. We can’t suppose that our pet dogs are going to respond in the same way as kennel dogs.
     
  • The reactivity of these dogs was not measured at the start of the study. While it is unlikely, perhaps more reactive dogs happened to fall into the treatment group by chance. Without a ‘before desexing’ score, we cannot be sure of this.
     
  • The authors make note that these results are for German Shepherd bitches aged 5-10 months old. We can’t assume dogs of all breeds and ages would respond this way to spays.
     
  • Further, the bitches in this study are working lined German Shepherds, which may be more reactive than the typical pet dog.

 

However, this study notes that other studies on bitch spays have shown that as a group spayed bitches are:

  • More likely to gain weight
  • More aggressive than prior to spay (if they were aggressive prior to spay)
  • More active
  • More likely to have urinary incontinence
  • More likely to be reactive after surgery

 

The authors recommend:

[V]eterinary practitioners should inform owners that a bitch may become more reactive after spaying either because they have lost the calming effects of progesterone or because elevated gonadotropins stimulate release of adrenal androgens.

 
Source:
Kim HH, Yeon SC, Houpt KA, Lee HC, Chang HH, & Lee HJ (2006). Effects of ovariohysterectomy on reactivity in German Shepherd dogs. Veterinary journal (London, England : 1997), 172 (1), 154-9 PMID: 16772140

Further reading:
Desexing: It’s bad for Vizslas too
Is desexing a cult?
Desexed dogs – 2.6 times less likely to bite!
Why would you NOT desex your dog??
Golden Retrievers: Cancer if you do, cancer if you don’t

07/6/14

The Week in Tweets – 3rd July 2014

The ‘Week in Tweets’ is name in the optimism that I will post a Twitter round up on a weekly basis. This sometimes happens, and sometimes it doesn’t. But here’s everything we’ve tweeted about for the last few weeks. It’s basically my ‘recommended reading’ list.

Team Dog Facebook screenshot

Was really excited when I saw that Team Dog featured one of our blog posts on Facebook. Amazing!

 

Tweet of the Week

My favourite share of the week is the post titled “6 things you’re doing wrong in behavior modification“. My favourite being the rule ‘You’re being too stingy’. This is a serious problem! I am constantly reassuring my training clients that they’re not going to do any damage from feeding – but they may by not feeding. Too much food has never caused a behavioural problem! Of course, the other 5 things are good too.

 

Rescue and Sheltering

Pet Adoption Videos That Don’t Make Me Want to Kill Myself from Will My Dog Hate Me.

‘Rescues’ are overwhelming the veterinary industry.

100 very fetching dogs from Ruthless Photography.

The terrible, awful, heartbreaking story of Zeus from Saving Pets.

 

Training and Behaviour

DIY Wobble Board For Your Dog.

What’s an Antecedent Arrangement? from Eileen and Dogs.

Do Dogs Know The Difference Between Dogs and Other Animals? from Psychology Today.

Littermate syndrome: The risky downside to raising sibling puppies.

Train your dog while watching TV from Robin K Bennett.

 

Dog Breeds and Breeding

Fraser Island Dingoes from Ruthless Photography.

Huffington Post in a huff over mongrels.

Breeder Comparison Matrix.

 

Cool and Fun Stuff

What’s The Oldest Tree in the World?

The Non Swimming Dog.

Cute Animal Video.

Making Dog Hair Sweaters.

Swiss government bans rollkur.

 

Instagram

Phoebe eating chicken poo off my shoes.

07/1/14

Desexed dogs – 2.6 times less likely to bite!

Australian Veterinary Association makes this claim, in its PDF “Dangerous Dogs – a sensible solution“:

Entire (undesexed) dogs are 2.6 times more likely to bite than those that are spayed or neutered (desexed)

Are undesexed dogs really that risky?

I decided to read the three studies referenced individually.

 

avadesexing

 

 

Messam, LL, Kass, PH, Chomel, BB, Hart, LA 2008, ‘The human-canine environment: a risk factor for non-play bites?’, Veterinary Journal, 177(2); 205-15.

This study used data from 2003 (11 years ago) collected in Kingston, Jamaica and San Fransico, USA. Participants were recruited from vet clinic waiting rooms where they were presented with a questionnaire, set to determine the nature of their dog’s biting behaviour (and differentiating it from play biting).

When it came to comparing entire and gonadectomised dogs, this research suggests:

  • Intact dogs are more likely to bite than desexed dogs
  • Intact males are 1.68 times more likely to bite than desexed males
  • Intact males were 0.8 times more likely to bite than intact females
  • Spayed females were the ‘least bitey’

 

Guy, NC, Luescher, UA, Dohoo, Se, Spangler, E, Miller, JB, Dohoo, IR and Bate, LA 2001, ‘Demographic and aggressive characteristics of dogs in general veterinary caseload’, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol 74, iss 1. 

This research is based on data collected in Cannada in 1996 (18 years ago), targeting owners with a questionnaire waiting for vet appointments in three Canadian provinces. Their results indicate:

  • The lowest level of aggression (biting and growling) was reported in intact female dogs
  • Intact male dogs were twice as likely to have bitten as intact female dogs
  • Intact male dogs and neutered females incidents of biting was reported at a similar level

And to quote:

“Relative to intact female dogs, neutered male dogs of at least 1 year of age were at the highest risk for having previously shown biting behaviour, followed by neutered female dogs, and intact males… [O]ur results indicate that the behavioural outcomes of [neutering] are worthy of further investigation.”

 

Gershman, KA, Sacks, JJ & Wright, JC 1994, ‘Which dogs bite? A case-control study of risk factors’, Pediatrics, 93 (6 pt 1), 913-7. 

This study used data from 1991 (23 years ago) using 178 dog bites requiring medical treatment of a non-household-member in Denver, USA. Data was only used for dogs that had not bitten before. The study itself recognises this is a small sample size.

Their data concludes:

  • not-neutered dogs were 2.6 times more likely to bite
  • chained dogs were 2.8 times more likely to bite
  • dogs living with a baby were 3.5 times more likely to bite
  • male dogs were 6.2 times more likely to bite

 

So, are entire dogs 2.6 times more likely to bite?

If you are looking at the study in Denver, USA, in 1991 (23 years ago!) then, yes, their conclusions indicate that intact dogs are 2.6 times more likely to bite than desexed dogs.

But the other evidence referenced by the AVA does not make the exact same conclusions. The study conducted in 2003, using data from Jamaica and the USA, found that intact males were 1.68 times more likely to bite than castrated males, and 0.8 times as likely to bite as intact females. (This study is also old, with the data being collected 11 years ago.)

And that other article, with data from Canada in 1996 (18 years ago) makes pretty much the opposite conclusion. They found that neutered male dogs were the riskiest in terms of bites.

 

Questions to ask…

Why are we relying on data over a decade (or two decades) old? If aggression in entire dogs was a common phenomenon, surely we would have countless studies showing this problem.

Where is the Australian data-set?

Where is the study that controls for factors such as selectionsocialisation, and socio-economic factors?

 

What the AVA should really be saying is:

According to one study conducted in Denver, USA, 23 years ago, entire dogs were found to be 2.6 times more likely to deliver a bite (that required medical treatment) to a stranger than desexed dogs.

06/27/14

“Just stop breeding until the pounds are empty”

A increasingly common rhetoric in the rescue community goes along the lines of, “I’m not against breeding, just breeding when the pounds are full” coming along with the suggestion “just stop breeding for a few years, until the pounds are empty”.

This is a misguided suggestion. While this almost sounds good to the uneducated ear, it seems to imply that the dogs in pounds are exactly the type in demand or that there is a dog in a pound to suit every person. Further, ceasing breeding for 3 years would have an impact on not just breeders, but breeds as a whole, on any organisation with working dogs (guide dogs, custom dogs, farm dogs). Also, placing a ban on breeding is just unenforceable. However, the biggest issue with this suggestion is that it doesn’t target the source of the problem. I’ll look at all these issues in more detail.

 

Pound dogs aren’t for everyone

The dogs available for adoption in pounds is not highly varied. The suggestion that ‘anyone’ can find the dog that is perfect to their household is erroneous. There’s simply not a large variety of dogs in pounds to suit the demand. The reason that breeders (good and bad) are popular is they fulfil a demand that is not met by pounds. Small white fluffies, and indeed small dogs overall, are not well represented in the pound system.

I looked at the first page of dogs available for adoption at Blacktown Pound (NSW). You can see that most dogs are working or bull breed type, and most are medium to large in size. Not a great deal of variety.

I looked at the first page of dogs available for adoption at Blacktown Pound (NSW). You can see that most dogs are working or bull breed type, and most are medium to large in size. Not a great deal of variety.

Some might argue that if someone really needs or wants a particular type of dog, they should just wait for it to end up in rescue. Is it really fair for someone to wait 2 year or more for a dog that may never appear in rescue? Personally, I was waiting 18 months looking for a dog in rescue (with the requirements that the dog be big, with a wire coat, and very good with other dogs). I gave up waiting and went to a breeder. I feel like I was more than patient, but a dog suiting my needs just wasn’t available to me in this period of time.

On the same date, these are the available pets at Broken Hill Pound NSW available on the 26th of June. Again, the dogs are mostly medium-large working or bull breed types.

On the same date, these are the available pets at Broken Hill Pound NSW available on the 26th of June. Again, the dogs are mostly medium-large working or bull breed types

The other alternative is that people may just get the dog that is available instead of the dog right for them. Did you know that at least two studies (see: one / two) found that 22.5% of the dogs relinquished to a shelter came from a shelter to start with? Being from a shelter is a risk factor for relinquishment in itself, and proposals that people should ‘have to’ acquire a dog from a pound actually seems circular to the end goal of clearing shelters of pets.

 

Implications for Working Dogs

Seemingly in Australia, about 700 dogs are bred for customs and guide dog work each year.  These professions have targeted breeding programs to select for characteristics important for that dog’s individual role. They’ve obviously done the maths, and figure that it’s more cost effective for them to breed their own dogs than take dogs out of shelters and pounds. The proposal that breeders should ‘just stop breeding’ until pounds are empty means that either these programs suffer financially, or the community suffers by not having any dogs at all for several years or more (or forever, really).

Another industry that would suffer would be dogs used on properties for herding or as livestock guardians. These agricultural branches have specially bred dogs for their purposes. Many farms find the work of dogs invaluable, and would also be financially impacted by a breeding ban.

 

Enforcement is not going to happen

I’ve blogged at length about all the types of legislation that continually goes unenforced Australia-wide, yet touted as ‘good’. In reality, animal legislation is horrendously unenforced. If microchipping laws get flaunted, breeder licensing flops, and the animal welfare acts regularly are violated nation wide, what hope do we have of ceasing dog breeding for a particular period of time?

 

Dog and Breed Welfare

The idea that breeding should just stop for ‘a few years’ neglects to mention that ‘a few years’ is a long time in a life of a dog.

Let’s say you have a breed that lives until about 12 years old. Three years is a quarter of that dog’s life. That means the dog is middle-aged by the time it is 6 years old.

What I’m getting at is that if you were to ban breeding for a few years, we are going to be breeding older bitches, which we know is riskier. (As bitches age, they have smaller sized litters with bigger individual puppies, which is riskier for the bitch to whelp.)

This means that, for the individual bitches involved, this is bad for their health.

On a broader scope, if breeders choose not to breed their bitches because of a breeding ban, this could put the health of entire breeds in jeopardy. If a bitch is especially important (maybe she has hip scores of 0/0 in a breed with a high incidence of hip dysplasia, or maybe the bitch was imported from Sweden and is important for improving genetic diversity within the breed in Australia), then the loss of this bitch’s progeny to the breed is significant.

Basically, a breeding ban is bad for individual bitches, as they will be bred older, to their detriment. And a breeding ban is bad for breeds, as desirable or important bitches will not be able to make substantial positive impacts on their breed.

 

Is this really where we should focus?

My biggest gripe with this is it is, again, taking the focus away from the pound – the place where killing happens.

Pounds have an obligation to promote and market their animals. Let’s ban pounds from killing and so obligate them to make changes to their approach!

The other gripe is that this proposal works on the basis that there is an overpopulation program – there isn’t an overpopulation problem.

And: pounds will never be empty! Pounds have an important community service reuniting pets to their families. If my dogs got lost, they’d probably end up in the pound (if not scanned for a chip prior), and I’d be grateful for that.

 

A ban on breeding, even for a short period, is not a solution to shelter killing.

  • Shelters do not have a wide variety of dogs available for adoption, so limiting the availability of some breeds may mean:
    • People wait a unreasonably long time to acquire a dog, or
    • People acquire a dog unsuitable to their lifestyle (and the dog becomes at greater risk of being relinquished back to the shelter at a later date).
  • Working dog breeds (including customs, guide dogs, farm dogs) and the organisations that breed them will suffer, as will the people that these dogs benefit.
  • Animal legislation is not enforced and this will be another unenforceable law.
  • This proposal is bad for bitches and breed welfare.
  • And most importantly, this proposal fails to acknowledge the fault of pounds in the shelter-deaths.