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Animal affection 101: Which creatures kiss, and other ways they show care

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Whether it's running as a pack, nuzzles from mother, or an intertwining of bodies, animals show affection in a variety of ways. Let's take a look.

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Spay and neuter advice goes for reptiles, too

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STILLWATER — Spaying and neutering dogs and cats is common and fundamental to prevent reproductive and other disorders. But this advice applies to most animals — and reptiles are no exception. A spay recently performed at Oklahoma State University’s Veterinary Medical Hospital was definitely “exotic” — done on a bearded dragon named Thor. Thor is a 3-year-old female bearded dragon who was initially believed to be a male (as you can see from the name). Once she grew up, the owners realized Thor was actually a female but decided to keep her name. When Thor was brought to OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital for a health check, her owners were quite astonished that veterinarians suggested spaying Thor, the same as they would for a dog, cat or rabbit. In fact, certain female reptiles are commonly affected by reproductive problems. Lizards (including bearded dragons, leopard geckos and iguanas), aquatic turtles and terrestrial tortoises are all frequently diagnosed with problems related to reproductive activity. The most common disorders include pre-ovulatory and post-ovulatory stasis. The pre-ovulatory stasis is a process where the normal cycle of the follicles does not happen. The ovaries typically remain extremely large for several weeks, creating discomfort. The post-ovulatory stasis, also called dystocia, occurs with the inadequate expulsion of the eggs. Eggs that remain in the oviduct (basically the uterus of reptiles) are prone to break and may result in infection of the abdomen (coelomitis). Often, the only evident signs of these problems in female reptiles are lack of appetite and decreased activity. Since these signs can be ascribed to many diagnoses, veterinarians may need to perform several additional tests including blood work, radiographs, ultrasound and even a CT scan for a final diagnosis. Since these problems may be detected late, the animal may not be in ideal condition for surgery and could require hospitalization for several days before its problems can be resolved. An early spay resolves most of these problems. Thor was admitted for a normal spay, but her ovaries were already altered. There were many hemorrhagic follicles, and the size of the ovary was consistent with active ovulation and potentially pre-ovulatory stasis. Since the follicles were already so altered when they were removed, Thor required a full-body blood transfusion and two additional days of hospitalization. Everything went well, and Thor is currently at home, enjoying life. Since reptiles are extremely different from mammals, and there is significant variability not only between species but also between individual animals, there is no common recommendation for all of them. Instead, owners should book an appointment with a veterinarian who specializes in exotic animal health care to discuss this important issue. OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital has two board-certified specialists in avian, exotic and zoo medicine for exotic animal owners.

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Couple to be charged in historic animal hoarding case

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The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office has authorized charges against owners of a West Bloomfield house for what’s said to be the largest animal hoarding case in the county’s history. Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Walton said Jonathan and Jennifer Klein are being charged with abandoning/cruelty to 10 or more animals after 178 cats were removed in recent weeks from a house they own on Elsie Drive. Dozens were euthanized. Arraignment is expected next week. The charge is punishable by up to four years in prison. According to authorities, many of the cats taken from the house were suffering from various health issues including upper respiratory infections, fleas, skin infections, ear mites and malnutrition. Several were pregnant. The issue came to light April 24 when an animal control office went to the home to perform a welfare check after a complaint was filed for cats that were believed to be abandoned inside the house. The execution of a search warrant initially turned up at least 100 cats inside. Removal of the cats, which totaled 178, continued through mid-May, authorities said. The Kleins subsequently released ownership of all the cats to the county’s shelter. Authorities said they didn’t live in the house with the cats, which had been collected over a number of years. In a news release issued last month, Oakland County Animal Shelter and Pet Adoption Center Manager Bob Gatt said that it was the worst animal hoarding case he’d ever seen. ALSO SEE: Oakland County resident convicted in record-setting kickback scheme at Detroit Metro Airport Trial underway for murder of aspiring photographer, Billy Bell, shot 11 times Green card holder gets 2 days jail, probation for reportedly having 88 pounds of marijuana in vehicle Key witness in Lanard Curtaindoll slaying testifies about shooting and hiding of body

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Children are likely to misread fear in dogs – making a bite more likely

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Twinsterphoto/Shutterstock The benefits of growing up with a pet are well documented – these days dogs are even used in the classroom . That said, we sometimes forget that dogs can still present a risk. Children under the age of 10 are most at risk of being bitten by a dog. It’s difficult to accurately estimate how often children are bitten, as not all bites result in children being taken to accident and emergency units, but bites can often lead to serious injuries with unpleasant psychological effects, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder . Children may be at greater risk of being bitten by a dog because they struggle to recognise emotions in dogs and can’t interpret their warning behaviour . Many children may know little about how to behave safely around dogs and risk bites more often than adults. Read more: Dogs in the classroom – coming to a school near you soon? When researchers have studied how to prevent dog bites, they found that children can be taught to recognise a dog’s emotional state more accurately and to recall safety rules , like not approaching a dog when they’re eating or chained up. But knowing this didn’t make the children more likely to behave safely around dogs. Despite educational campaigns, the incidence of bog bites continued. Clearly, something was missing. The fear factor New research could prove key to preventing bites. More than 100 children between the ages of four and six were shown images and video clips of dogs showing happy, frightened and angry behaviour. Children were asked what emotion they thought the dog was feeling and would they “pat, play, cuddle, brush or sit next to each dog?” Although most of the children said they wouldn’t approach an angry dog, they were as likely to say that they would approach a frightened dog as they would a happy one. This desire to approach frightened dogs and cuddle them could explain why children are at a high risk of being bitten. Dogs were classified as fearful when they held their head low, dropped their tail and possibly tucked it between their legs. Some wrinkled their nose and curled their lips to show their teeth. Dogs doing this are likely to react aggressively if approached, especially if they feel threatened by the approach . A child might approach a frightened dog with kind intentions, but the dog may perceive their advance as a threat and respond aggressively, putting the child at risk. Recognising when a dog is scared and behaving appropriately is key to preventing a bite. Katoosha/Shutterstock Among young children, dog bites commonly follow positive interaction initiated by the child , such as a hug. This could include a well-intentioned approach to a dog showing some signs of fear. It’s vital to teach children to be cautious about approaching dogs that look scared. This may seem strange to the child, who might think that the dog experiences emotions in a similar way to themselves and would find physical comfort reassuring. This finding is especially important, as children are most commonly bitten by a dog that is known to them and while under the supervision of an adult . Educating parents about the risks of approaching frightened dogs – and the importance of teaching their children about them – could prevent dog bites. Of course parents want to teach their child to be kind to animals – especially the family pet – but this research suggests that it is even more important that parents teach their children to recognise that the way a dog experiences emotions and may behave is quite different to a child’s own experiences. Teaching this could improve the well-being of dogs and help keep our children safe. Sarah Rose does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Man's stressed friend: how your mental health can affect your dog

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Don't worry the puppy. Shutterstock/The Vine Studios If you think your dog looks stressed out, it might be your own stress levels that are affecting your pet pooch. A study published on Thursday in Nature’s Scientific Reports shows pet dogs may synchronise their stress levels with those of their owners. More than just being “man’s best friend”, it appears our pet dogs may be mirroring our mental state too, and that can be bad for their health. It’s all in the hair Swedish researchers studied 58 dogs – 33 Shetland Sheepdogs and 25 Border Collies – as well as their owners. The dogs selected were balanced for sex, breed and activity level. Read more: Vets can do more to reduce the suffering of flat-faced dog breeds Both dog and owner personality was assessed through standardised personality questionnaires, with owners filling out the Dog Personality Questionnaire on behalf of their pet. Border collies were used as part of the study. Flickr/Tamsin Cooper , CC BY-SA The researchers also measured the hormone cortisol in the hair of dogs and their owners over a year-long period. Cortisol is a measure of physiological stress, which can be raised during mental distress. But it’s also elevated for short periods such as during exercise and illness. Hair cortisol is a good way of measuring long-term trends in stress levels, as hair grows slowly (about 1cm per month) and absorbs circulating substances from the blood. Impact on dogs The results showed a significant correlation between human and dog cortisol levels across the year. In 57 of the dogs in summer and 55 in winter, cortisol levels matched those of their owners. This means that for these dogs, their cortisol levels rose and fell in unison with their owner’s. This correlation was not influenced by dog activity levels or dog personality. It was, however, influenced by owner personality. Owners with higher stress levels tended to have dogs with higher stress levels too. Female dogs had a stronger connection with their owner’s stress levels compared with male dogs. Previous studies have shown that female dogs (as well as rats and chimpanzees ) are more emotionally responsive than males. There’s also evidence that increased oxytocin (the love and bonding hormone) in female dogs results in increased interactions with their owner , causing a corresponding increase in the owner’s oxytocin levels. This effect wasn’t seen in male dogs. A limiting factor to the new study was that it did not identify any causes of elevated stress in the dog owners. But what it does show is that regardless of the cause of the stress, our reaction to it impacts our dogs. Our relationship with dogs Researchers have long discussed the concept of what is called the “human-dog dyad”, a close bond between humans and dogs. This relationship, developed over 15,000 years , is unique in the animal world. Our relationship with dogs goes back many years. Flickr/Dboybaker , CC BY-NC There is evidence to suggest dogs evolved alongside us and consequently are in tune with our emotions and bond with us through eye contact . Although many aspects of this inter-species relationship are positive (particularly for us), it’s likely there are some drawbacks to this close relationship with dogs. Like many animals, we can share diseases with our dogs such as the superbug MRSA and Q Fever . What’s more, dog bites are an issue of increasing importance to society. We know that failing to providing basic care like food and shelter is cruel, but we often overlook how disregarding the mental lives of our pets can also negatively impact their welfare. Helping our dogs cope Dogs are sentient animals . This means they can experience both positive and negative emotions, such as pleasure, comfort, fear, and anxiety. A poor mental state, where a dog is regularly experiencing negative emotions such as anxiety, can lead to poor animal welfare . If owners have an impact on the stress levels of their dogs, it means we also play a role in protecting their welfare. The impact we have on our dog’s stress levels goes both ways - positive and negative. If we reduce our own stress levels, it’s likely we will also reduce our dog’s stress levels. Read more: Why a walk in the woods really does help your body and your soul We know chronic stress is bad for both humans and dogs , increasing the likelihood we will get sick as well as decreasing our quality of life. If you don’t work on decreasing your stress levels for your own sake, perhaps you will do it for your dog. There are great resources available for decreasing stress levels, and the good news is that some of them, such as getting out in nature , can be done with your dog right by your side. A great way to reduce your stress: walking the dogs. Flickr/Ed Dunens Bronwyn Orr is a board member of the Australian Veterinary Association. She is also a Member of the Animal Welfare chapter of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists.

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