Tag: Colorado State University

Our best friend is really here to help

The most incredibly relationship we humans have ever had with an animal.

Tomorrow, I am going to repeat a post that first appeared on Learning from Dogs seven years ago. A beautiful documentary explaining in clear, scientific ways how important has been the relationship between the dog and humans.

But for today, as a ‘warm up’ to tomorrow’s post, I wanted to share an essay that appeared on The Conversation blogsite a little over a week ago and is republished within the terms of The Conversation site.

ooOOoo

How man’s best friend is helping cancer treatment

By    Professor of Veterinary Medicine, Colorado State University

February 2, 2017
The author, center, and Dr. Anna Conti, left, and student Kelsey Parrish with Conti’s Basset hound, Picasso, who had surgery for cancer. Via Colorado State University. William Cotton/CSU Photography, Author provided
The author, center, and Dr. Anna Conti, left, and student Kelsey Parrish with Conti’s Basset hound, Picasso, who had surgery for cancer. Via Colorado State University. William Cotton/CSU Photography, Author provided

“A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart… Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.”

John Grogan, “Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog.”

Isn’t it true? We learn so much from our dogs. But beyond what man’s best friend can teach us about enjoying life, they share something else with us. Cancer diagnoses in dogs are on the rise, as are cancer diagnoses in people. In fact, canine cancer is the leading cause of death in pets over the age of 10 years.

This confluence, it turns out, can be beneficial to cancer research. A field of study known as “comparative oncology” has recently emerged as a promising means to help cure cancer. Comparative oncology researchers study the similarities between naturally occurring cancers in pets and cancers in people in order to provide clues to treat cancer more effectively.

In fact, phase 1 and 2 clinical trials in comparative oncology are underway at 22 sites across the country, including Colorado State University, where I conduct research and am a surgical oncologist for animals.

Research in this field, involving veterinarians, physicians, cancer specialists and basic scientists, is leading to improved human health and more rapid access to effective cancer treatment than has been previously possible through traditional cancer research approaches.

More like your dog than you know

 Man and his best friend. From www.shutterstock.com
Man and his best friend. From http://www.shutterstock.com

As a species, dogs have strong physiologic and genetic similarities to people, much more so than mice, who do not typically live long enough for us to know whether they naturally get cancer. We do know that some rodent species, such as pet rats, can get cancer, but predators typically end a field mouse’s life while it is still young. The laboratory mice typically used by scientists are injected with cancer rather than it occurring naturally in their bodies.

Just as scientists officially mapped the human genome, or the complete set of genetic instructions, in 2003, scientists decoded the canine genome. They discovered that dogs have greater than 80 percent genetic similarity to humans, versus only 67 percent for mice.

In addition, cancers such as bone cancer, lymphoma and bladder cancer that spontaneously arise in pet dogs are microscopically and molecularly identical to cancers in people. Many of the genetic mutations that drive cells to become cancerous in people are the same mutations that cause cancer in dogs. In fact, when viewed under a microscope, it is impossible to distinguish between a tumor from a human and a dog.

In addition, dogs provide a large and varied population to study, important in the study of medicine. Individual dogs who develop cancer are as different from one another as are humans. Whereas laboratory mice are essentially identical twins to each other and live in a highly regulated environment, the variation among different dog breeds, home environments, diet and overall lifestyle translate into a population diversity very similar to that in humans.

Today, most pet dogs receive high-quality health care into old age and dog owners are highly motivated to seek out improved options for the management of cancer in their companions, and are also motivated to minimize side effects.

Similarities in response to treatment, too

 Picasso at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Colorado State University. Author provided., Author provided
Picasso at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Colorado State University. Author provided., Author provided.

This genetic diversity and sharing of similar DNA, physiology, microscopic structure and molecular features between dogs and humans has presented cancer researchers with a key opportunity. Dogs not only develop similar types of cancers as humans, but their cancer responds to treatments in similar ways.

This means that new cancer treatments first shown to be effective in canine cancers can frequently be predicted to have a similar benefit in human cancer patients. As a result, researchers now recognize that new drug trials in dogs with cancer will result in therapeutic discoveries that are highly “translatable”; that is, more likely to predict “real-life” medical responses in human cancer patients.

By studying how cancer responds in dogs, scientists are gaining a better understanding of how new cancer drugs not only treat the cancer but also influence the patient’s overall quality of life during treatment. This benefits dog owners, by providing access to promising new cancer treatments for their pets with cancer, and benefits human cancer patients by providing a rapid way to collect crucial data needed for FDA approval.

Dogs with cancer are helping kids

For example, a bone cancer known as osteosarcoma is so similar between dogs and people that

 The author performing surgery on a dog. Author provided. Colorado State University., Author provided.
The author performing surgery on a dog. Author provided. Colorado State University., Author provided.

intensive research in canine osteosarcoma has led to several breakthroughs in treating osteosarcoma in children. Limb-saving surgical techniques for safe and effective reconstruction following bone tumor surgery in dogs are now the standard of care in children following bone tumor surgery.

More recently, a form of immunotherapy was shown to drastically improve survival in dogs with bone cancer by delaying or altogether preventing spread of the cancer to the lungs. As a result of the success in dogs, the FDA granted fast-track status to the same treatment for use in humans last April.

Fast-tracking was developed by the FDA to support accelerated approval for promising treatments, especially for serious and life-threatening conditions. A clinical trial in children with osteosarcoma is scheduled to begin this year at multiple pediatric cancer centers throughout the United States.

These types of discoveries demonstrate that our furry companions have a crucial role in teaching us new ways to help all victims in the war against cancer – with two legs or four.

ooOOoo

As I said in my introduction, more on this theme tomorrow.

What a fabulous relationship!

A Very Happy New Year

To all of you and your families and loved ones.

One week ago it was Christmas Day and in the blink of an eyelid it is now New Year’s Day.

Here we are on the first day of the year 2017.

Where is the year going to go? As in where is humanity heading over the next twelve months? Who knows and, frankly, guessing isn’t going to offer clear answers. As that silly saying goes: “I can predict anything except those things involving the future!

But what is certain is that the need to care for and love our dogs continues day after day. My introduction to an essay recently published over on the Care2 site.

ooOOoo

5 Simple New Year’s Resolutions to Improve Your Dog’s Life

1371934-largeCare2 favorite by Lisa Spector About Lisa

When we think of New Year’s resolutions, we often think of changes in our lives we’ve been trying to make for years. Often they are massive changes. But, in reality, sometimes the smallest changes can make the biggest difference over time. The same can be said for changes we make in our pet’s lives. These five resolutions are simple and will be enjoyed by you just as much as Buster. And you will be improving both of your lives in the process.

1. Take a Sonic Inventory

Those of us who love our pets often assume that our environment is the best for our pets. However, sometimes it requires a different way of thinking. What works for us doesn’t always work best for our pets. Taking a sonic inventory of your environment is a good way to check for sounds in your house that may be causing stress to your pets. Sound is like air. We rarely notice these two common elements unless the air suddenly becomes polluted or the sound becomes chaotic.

The sonic inventory is one way of becoming aware of the noise in your pet’s environment. Simply sit on your sofa with pen and paper in hand. Jot down all of the sounds you hear and rate them from one to 10. Observe your pet’s response to these sounds. Ask yourself how you can make your home a calmer, more peaceful place, for yourself and for your pets. Often, just by listening, we become more sonically aware, an important first step.  Small changes made in your sound environment can often make a big difference in your pet’s behavior.

thinkstockphotos-475432976-443x3092. Enjoy a Silent Meditation Hike

Have you ever walked with your dog in total silence? It’s very interesting trying to observe the world from their point of view. Allow Buster to stop and sniff as much as he wants. Taking in the scents gives him all sorts of information and provides him with enrichment. Take a break with Buster. Just sit still without any verbal communication and enjoy all the sights and smells. You’ll be amazed how bonding time in nature is with your furry friend when you aren’t speaking any words.

thinkstockphotos-178752848-443x2973. Teach Your Dog a New Trick

No matter how young or old your dog, she will love learning new tricks. Learning new things provides them with much needed mental stimulation. Use a clicker and positive reinforcement training, and it will be just as fun for you as your pup.

thinkstockphotos-490988366-443x2354. Teach Him to Tug

Tug is great exercise for dogs and is often a great stress reliever. Pat Miller, training editor of The Whole Dog Journal, wrote about the benefits of playing tug with your dog (when they follow the rules). A good game of tug provides:

  • a legal outlet for roughhousing
  • strengthens bonds
  • builds healthy relationships
  • offers incredibly useful reinforcement potential
  • redirects inappropriate use of teeth
  • teaches self-control
  • creates a useful distraction
  • builds confidence

Just make sure that you teach a release word and randomly have him release the tug toy throughout your playtime together.

thinkstockphotos-176984527-443x2945. Give Her a Massage

Dogs reduce our stress. Canine massage is a way of giving back to them so that we can reduce theirs. Veterinarian Narda Robinson, Director at Colorado State University’s Center for Comparative and Integrative Pain Medicine, teaches classes on canine massage. She believes that administered with science knowledge, canine massage can help dogs recover from injuries, illness and stress.

Do you have new year’s resolutions for your pets? Thanks for sharing them in a comment below.

ooOOoo
 Please, all of you, have a very safe, peaceful and loving New Year.
Thank you for your companionship these last twelve months, and beyond.

When dark shadows fall across our hearts.

One of the most important lessons we can learn from our dogs: coping with death.

In writing about the lesson of death that we can learn from our dogs I am, of course, speaking of our own death, of the inevitability of our death. That largely unspoken truth that Sharon Salzberg described in her book Faith: “What does it mean to be born in a human body, vulnerable and helpless, then to grow old, get sick and die, whether we like it or not?” [page 34.]

Anyone who has loved a dog has most likely been intimately involved in the end of that dog’s life. It is, to my mind, the ultimate lesson that dogs offer us: how to be at peace when we die and how to leave that peace blowing like a gentle breeze through the hearts of all the people who loved us.

Our beloved dogs have much shorter life spans than us, thus almost everyone who has loved a dog will have had to say goodbye to that gorgeous friend at some point in their lives. Very sadly, perhaps, saying goodbye to more than one loved dog.

All of which is my introduction to a recent essay published on The Conversation blogsite. The essay is written by Bernard Rollin, Professor of Philosophy, Animal Sciences and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. The essay is called: When is it ethical to euthanise your pet?

ooOOoo

When is it ethical to euthanize your pet?

August 12, 2015 6.18am EDT

In the 1960s, I knew people who, before going on vacation, would take their dogs to a shelter to be euthanized. They reasoned that it was cheaper to have a dog euthanized – and buy a new one upon returning – than pay a kennel fee.

Two decades later, I was working at Colorado State’s veterinary hospital when a group of distraught bikers on Harley-Davidsons pulled up carrying a sick chihuahua. The dog was intractably ill, and required euthanasia to prevent further suffering. Afterwards, the hospital’s counselors felt compelled to find the bikers a motel room: their level of grief was so profound that the staff didn’t think it was safe for them to be riding their motorcycles.

These two stories illustrate the drastic change in how animals have been perceived. For thousands of years, humans have kept animals as pets. But only during the past 40 years have they come to be viewed as family.

While it’s certainly a positive development that animals are being treated humanely, one of the downsides to better treatment mirrors some of the problems the (human) health care system faces with end-of-life care.

As with humans, in many cases the lives of pets are needlessly prolonged, which can cause undue suffering for the animals and an increased financial burden for families.

The growth of veterinary medicine and ethics

In 1979, I began teaching veterinary medical ethics at Colorado State University’s veterinary school, the first such course ever taught anywhere in the world.

A year later, the veterinary school hired an oncologist to head up a new program on animal oncology. Soon, our clinic was applying human therapeutic modalities to animal cancer. The visionary head of the veterinary program also hired a number of counselors to help pet owners manage their grief – another first in veterinary circles.

I’d been under the impression that people would be reluctant to spend much money on animal treatments, so I was genuinely shocked when the following April, the Wall Street Journal reported individuals spending upwards of six figures on cancer treatments for their pets.

As a strong advocate for strengthening concern for animal welfare in society, I was delighted with this unprecedented turn of events. I soon learned that concern for treating the diseases of pets besides cancer had also spiked precipitously, evidenced by a significant increase in veterinary specialty practices.

One of the family

So what’s behind the shift in how pets are perceived and treated?

For one, surveys conducted over the last two decades indicate an increasing number of pet owners who profess to view their animals as “members of the family.” In some surveys, the number is as high as 95% of respondents, but in nearly all surveys the number is higher than 80%.

In addition, the breakdown of nuclear families and the uptick of divorce rates have contributed to singles forming tighter bonds with companion animals.

Such attitudes and trends are likely to engender profound changes in societal views of euthanasia. Whereas before, many owners didn’t think twice about putting down a pet, now many are hesitant to euthanize, often going to great lengths to keep sick animals alive.

Vets caught in the middle

However, veterinarians continue to experience extensive stress as they experience two opposite – but equally trying – dilemmas: ending an animal’s life too soon, or waiting too long.

In a paper that I published entitled Euthanasia and Moral Stress, I described the significant stress experienced by veterinarians, veterinary technicians and humane society workers. Many chose their profession out of a desire to improve the lot of animals; instead, they invariably ended up euthanizing large numbers of them, often for unethical reasons.

These ranged from “I got the dog to jog with me, and now it’s too old to run,” to “If I die, I want you to euthanize the animal because I know it can’t bear to live without me.”

In other cases, the animal is experiencing considerable suffering, but the owner is unwilling to let the animal go. With owners increasingly viewing pets as family members, this has become increasingly common, and many owners fear the guilt associated with killing an animal too soon.

Ironically this, too, can cause veterinarians undue trauma: they know the animal is suffering, but there’s nothing they can do about it unless the owner gives them permission.

The consequences are manifest. One recent study showed that one in six veterinarians has considered suicide. Another found an elevated risk of suicide in the field of veterinary medicine. Being asked to kill healthy animals for owner convenience doubtless is a major contribution.

How to manage the decision to euthanize

Here is my suggestion to anyone who is thinking about getting a pet: when you first acquire it, create a list of everything you can find that makes the animal happy (eating a treat, chasing a ball, etc). Put the list away until the animal is undergoing treatment for a terminal disease, such as cancer. At that point, return to the list: is the animal able to chase a ball? Does the animal get excited about receiving a treat?

If the animal has lost the ability to have positive experiences, it’s often easier to let go.

This strategy can be augmented by pointing out the differences between human and animal consciousness. As philosopher Martin Heidegger has pointed out, for humans much of life’s meaning is derived from balancing past experiences with future aspirations, such as wishing to see one’s children graduate or hoping to see Ireland again.

Animals, on the other hand, lack the linguistic tools to allow them to anticipate the future or create an internal narrative of the past. Instead, they live overwhelmingly in the present. So if a pet owner is reluctant to euthanize, I’ll often point out that the animal no longer experiences pleasant “nows.”

In the end, managing euthanasia represents a major complication of the augmented status of pets in society. Ideally, companion animal owners should maintain a good relationship with their general veterinary practitioner, who has often known the animal all of its life, and can serve as a partner in dialogue during the trying times when euthanasia emerges as a possible alternative to suffering.

ooOOoo

So much to learn from these beautiful creatures and so many ways to return the unlimited love we receive from them.