Advancements & research

  • July 7, 2009

    Study sheds light on tortoise navigation

    Navigation and spatial cognition in mammals is thought to be related to the hippocampus, which helps animals form a spatial map. But reptiles lack this seahorse-shaped brain structure, so how do they navigate? A tortoise will actually use different methods of navigation depending on the presence or absence of visual cues in its environment, according to a new study. The study, “Visual and response-based navigation in the tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria),” was designed to investigate whether the reptilian medial cortex plays a similar role to the mammalian hippocampus in navigation and spatial cognition. For the study, a red-footed tortoise was placed in an eight-armed radial maze, with food at the end of each arm. In the first part of the experiment, a black curtain was placed around the maze to obstruct the tortoise’s view of the room. Four large geometrical shapes of different colors were placed on the curtain to act as visual cues. Lead researcher Anna Wilkinson of the Department of Neurobiology and Cognition, University of Vienna, said the tortoise, Moses, appeared not to use these cues, and instead adopted an interesting navigational method, called the “turn-by-one-arm strategy.”
  • May 12, 2009

    Handheld hearing test could be good for business

    Testing for canine deafness is a desirable diagnostic for dog owners and breeders, but the cost for veterinary clinics can be prohibitive. A study on a different, less costly test could pave the way for practices to perform this test in-house. The currently accepted method for diagnosing deafness in dogs is the brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) test, which detects electrical activity in the cochlea and auditory pathways. However, the equipment required for the test is expensive and testing sites are limited.
  • February 17, 2009

    New 30-minute rabies test causes stir

    A new rabies test has stirred up intense interest – and skepticism – in the zoonosis community. Warwick, N.Y.--based Dyne Immune announced early this month the release of a portable rabies test kit that can be used on animal saliva that gives results in 30 minutes. “The screen allows veterinarians, animal control officers and other professionals to check for rabies in animals that are still alive, eliminating the long wait (10 to 14 days) and hefty price tag associated with typical post-mortem rabies testing,” says the company’s press release. Charles Rupprecht, VMD, PhD, chief of the CDC rabies program, said his office has received many calls about the new test. “We started getting queries from around the world about it,” Rupprecht said. “It was fairly clear that there was a lot of interest in this.”
  • February 17, 2009

    Filling in the cracks and picking up the pieces: Chelonian shell repair

    Practices that treat exotics or wildlife may be familiar with this situation: A person comes in with a turtle that has been run over by a car or chewed on by a dog and says: “Can you help?” What do you do first? Triage is the initial step, according to Gregory Fleming, DVM, DACZM, a veterinarian at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Fleming recently published a paper describing the process of assessment, treatment and rehabilitation for chelonians with shell damage. He also presented his work at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla., in January.
  • November 25, 2008

    Single analgesia injection provides days of pain relief

    New research could change the way post-operative analgesia is administered in dogs, enabling patients to go home sooner and spend less time in the hospital. A study led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine looked at the effectiveness of injecting dogs with extended-release opioids to provide long-term pain relief. The group of scientists, headed by UW veterinary anesthesiologist Lesley Smith, DVM, DACVA, used liposome-encapsulated hydromorphone made with dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine and cholesterol (DPPC-C hydromorphone) for the study. Different concentrations of the formulation, created at the university, were subcutaneously injected into healthy beagles. The concentration of hydromorphone in the dog’s blood serum was then measured at various intervals to determine whether the drug was working. “We extrapolated that certain serum levels (as shown in human studies) are correlated with surgical analgesia,” Smith said.
  • October 14, 2008

    Experts question study on danger of exotics for children

    A report that claims exotic and “nontraditional” pets are not suitable for homes with young children is merely “sensational” science, and what is really needed is better pet-owner education, say some exotic-pet veterinarians. Meanwhile, the state of Delaware is pursuing legislation that would require permits and strict standards for exotic pet owners. The report, in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, concludes that: “most nontraditional pets pose a risk to the health of young children, and their acquisition and ownership should be discouraged in households with young children.” National media outlets have reported on the study, but not everyone buys into it. “Most of that stuff is old, over-hashed fear and loathing,” said Jeffrey Jenkins, DVM, DAVBP (Avian). “I would call it a sensational scientific article.”
  • September 30, 2008

    Research center investigates smell of skin cancer

    In 2006, a group of researchers trained dogs to detect gas compounds in the exhaled breath of humans that indicated the presence of lung and breast cancer. The dogs proved overwhelmingly correct in identifying vials containing breath samples from the cancer patients compared with samples from healthy people. In July, a group of scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia published a study in the British Journal of Dermatology on the various volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are present in healthy human skin, specifically on the forearm and back. The team used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to analyze the “odor profiles” of the skin of 25 people of different ages and sexes.
  • September 16, 2008

    Cow bone xenografts in dog spinal stabilization: good idea or ‘horrible’?

    Turkish researchers released a study in which they concluded that a xenograft bone plate and screw system – similar to a metal plate-screw (MPS) system except made of machined cow bone – is effective for stabilizing a dog’s spine after the facets and lamina were removed. Stiffness of cadaver dog vertebrae with varying degrees of stabilization was measured with a tensile compression testing machine to determine the stability of five test groups. The groups were tested under five types of load: flexion, extension, left and right bending and rotation. Despite the group’s findings, however, academics and practitioners are skeptical, with one specialist calling it “a horrible idea.”
  • August 19, 2008

    Radiation symptoms can predict pain in dogs

    An anesthesia technician at the Colorado State University Animal Cancer Center felt she could predict a dog’s level of pain based on acute radiation effects. This hunch eventually led to a study on pain scores as related to acute radiation scores (ARS). “When the skin has a specific change, we found that in general, it would predict that the animal’s pain level would be increased within a few days,” said Susan LaRue, DVM, DACVS, DACVR, one of the authors of the study. “One of the main principles of pain management is not to let the pain become bad before you start medicating.  So now we have enough data to know when to start pain medication.” The team also found that one scoring system was more useful than another when measuring radiation therapy-related pain.
  • August 19, 2008

    UC Davis professor explores stem cell therapy on dogs

    In an effort to try to treat two incurable dog diseases – degenerative myelopathy and dilated cardiomyopathy – University of California-Davis professor Dr. Rick Vulliet’s research ventures into the near-science-fiction realm of stem cell therapy. A self-proclaimed “agnostic” on the topic of stem cells, Vulliet has high hopes for the technology, but maintains a degree of skepticism. He noted the large number of claims in the media regarding the apparent miracle cure that stem cells offer. “If you read CNN[.com], you get a shot of stem cells and everything is OK,” he said. “Most of the claims are generally bogus.” But Vulliet is determined to try to find an effective treatment for dogs with these debilitating and terminal diseases. He has already begun clinical trials on dogs with degenerative myelopathy. To treat the dogs, Vulliet extracts adult bone marrow cells – mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) – from the patient under anesthesia. The cells are then put in a tissue culture dish for about three weeks, under conditions in which only the stem cells will grow. He then collects the cells and re-injects them into the dog intravenously. If the treatment is viable and approved, veterinarians should be able to do the majority of the treatment in their own practices. Extracting the marrow and re-injecting the cells is a simple procedure, he said, but the cells would need to be grown in a lab. “Any veterinary practice near a tissue culture facility could use this technique,” he said