Kayla Boyer, DVM

The nose knows: Canine olfaction helps detect human ovarian cancer

Veterinary researchers at University of Pennsylvania Working Dogs Center hope to develop early screening test from dogs’ ability.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the United States, with about 22,000 cases occurring annually, the American Cancer Society reports. Worldwide, there are more than 204,000 new cases of ovarian cancer annually, accounting for about 4 percent of all cancers diagnosed in women. The highest rates are in the U.S. and Northern Europe.

If diagnosed early, ovarian cancer has a five-year survival rate of more than 90 percent. However, early cancer screening is not currently available—yet. A group of dogs at the University of Pennsylvania may change all that.

In an interdisciplinary collaboration, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s Working Dog Center (photo above courtesy of University of Pennsylvania), the School of Arts and Science’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, Penn Medicine’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology, and the Monell Chemical Senses Center have joined together for a research investigation using canine olfaction, along with chemical and nanotechnology analysis, to detect early-stage human ovarian cancer. A grant of $80,000 from Kaleidoscope of Hope Ovarian Cancer Foundation will fund the project.

The olfactory capability of dogs is unparalleled. According to research from Auburn University, dogs have more than 220 million olfactory receptors in their noses, while humans have only 5 million. A dog’s basic scenting ability, from search and rescue of persons to detecting explosives, is a tribute to its olfactory sensitivity.

“I like to describe it as the dog’s ability to ‘smell in color,’” says Cynthia Otto, DVM, PhD, associate professor of critical care and director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center.

The research program
The Working Dog Center currently has 16 dogs in foundation training. Of those, three have been identified for cancer detection work. The veterinary research group is waiting for final regulatory approvals to receive the human samples. “Since the human patients consented to give their samples without knowledge of the dogs involved, we want to be perfectly clear that those patients won’t have any concern with that aspect of our work,” Otto says. The collaborating oncologic surgeon, Janos Tanyi, MD, PhD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, has already collected samples from 31 cancer patients and 30 healthy individuals for a control group.

Once the research regulations are in place, the studies will begin. “We will then imprint the dogs on the tissue samples, and then we’ll test them on the plasma samples,” Otto says. Her team’s work builds on that of Swedish researcher György Horvath, who’s shown that dogs have a 100 percent sensitivity and 98 percent specificity to detect ovarian cancer in plasma and tissue samples.

With the dogs exposed to both tissue and plasma samples, Penn Vet hopes to give the research the best chance for success. The ovarian tissue samples have the most concentrated odor, with fewer conflicting, confounding odors versus plasma. “If we can document that the dogs are good at picking up the odor in plasma after being exposed to the tissue, then we can try moving forward to see if the dogs could be imprinted solely on the plasma samples,” Otto says.

According to Annemarie DeAngelo, the Working Dog Center’s training manager, it will take about a week to imprint the dogs on the odor, then additional training will begin. The team is budgeting about two months to initiate the training, then they’ll test the dogs with fresh samples that are different from those the dogs were trained on.

Are there breeds that might be better suited to this type of work? “It’s hard to tell,” Otto replies. “We have two Labradors and a springer spaniel, both hunting breeds we think will be best-suited for the work.”

While the canine ability to detect the presence of ovarian cancer is well-established, researchers aren’t sure exactly which chemicals the dogs are detecting in the tissue and plasma samples. But they’re getting closer.

“Monell Chemical Senses Center has some preliminary evidence that the chemicals are volatile organic compounds, odorants that are altered in the earliest stages of ovarian cancer, even before the cancer can be detected by current laboratory equipment methods,” Otto says. And although the researchers don’t know what the chemicals are, they can identify a signature from cancer cells grown in culture that are different from natural ovarian tissue cells.

“As cancer cells’ entire metabolic machinery is shifted when they become malignant, their unique odor is evidently a signature the dogs are able to identify, with different cancer types having different signatures,” Otto says. “Some of [Hovarth’s] studies noted that the non-ovarian cell types were not picked up by the dogs. It is really fascinating, and once we know more about these chemicals, it will hopefully allow us to better understand the physiology of how these cancers grow.”

With its pilot grant, Penn Vet is looking at four to six months to complete this line of research (with more work to follow if funded), which they’ll spend training dogs with high sensitivity and specificity to the human ovarian cancer tissues and plasma samples.

The research outcome
Of course, Penn Vet’s ultimate goal is not to send dogs out to every laboratory in the country to perform broad-scale cancer screening. “Though I think a lab full of Labradors would be absolutely fabulous, it’s probably not practical,” Otto says. Rather, the researchers will take what they learn from the dogs and use it to develop a laboratory test for early ovarian cancer screening.

“Though the studies by Horvath have shown promise in dogs being able to be so trained, we want to document that our dogs can do it and be precise,” Otto says. “Once we establish that, the next step is to develop a high-throughput screening method with our colleagues at Monell doing gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, our colleagues in the Physics Department doing nano-sensor technology work, and our dogs.”

The first stage is to prove the principle, establishing that the dogs can be trained to scent the target odors, and to utilize the machinery to do likewise. It will take about a year to 18 months to characterize the components of the chemicals and to refine the analysis to enable the machines and canines to accomplish that goal.

“Once the first step is established, we will determine whether there may be an assessment of tissues that will be less invasive, for example from breath odor samples or urine samples,” Otto says. “Those may be more difficult, because those samples may have components that are more contaminating, that may contain confounding odors. We hope to answer the questions: Can we use the dogs to help make the machines better? Will we be able to use the less invasive breath odor or urine samples via a high-throughput system?”

If the team is successful in its goal is to enable the dogs and machinery to detect early-stage human ovarian cancer, they’ll use both the dogs and the equipment to identify other cancers. But that stop may be a ways off.

“At this point we don’t want to get too diffuse,” Otto says. “We want to confirm with this multidisciplinary approach that the dogs are indeed doing what we think they are, so that there is a real sound understanding of their abilities to detect early-stage ovarian cancer.”

Saving women’s lives
Ideally, the team would like to have a high-throughput, easy methodology to successfully screen women for ovarian cancer. The ideal would be to screen women every six months, even beginning at 25 years of age, especially for those patients with a family history of ovarian cancer. To determine the most appropriate screening time is up to the oncologists, Otto says.

When Otto has spoken with experts at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, they’ve noted that millions of samples per year need to be screened if the test is going to make a difference in the lives of women. “We know how much of an impact an early diagnosis of ovarian cancer will have to save women’s lives,” Otto says.

Why Does My Cat . . . Like to Watch TV?

While cats are not yet counted as viewers in Nielsen ratings, it’s not uncommon for some kitties to become engrossed in TV programming.

Dr. Jillian Orlando, DVM, a veterinary behavior resident at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, says that you’re more likely to find cats watching “the real-life soap opera” going on outside, but she acknowledges that there’s also a feline audience for television.

Why Some Cats Take to the TV

A study of shelter cats exposed to TV found that some felines without access to windows might benefit from having a TV as a possible form of enrichment.

The cats in the study were shown a variety of images, and the most popular programs depicted birds, rodents and fish — natural prey for felines.

According to Dr. Orlando, there are several possible reasons why some kitties are more devoted fans than others. For one, television-watching cats may have a higher “prey drive, and are more likely to be attracted to the quick movements of objects across the screen,” says Dr. Orlando.

The TV screen may also just appeal to a cat who’s bored. “Be sure that you have plenty of toys and window perches for your cat to choose from,” says Dr. Orlando.

What You Need to Watch For — When Your Kitty Watches TV

“It won’t hurt your kitty’s eyes, so you don’t have to tell Fluffy not to sit too close to the TV,” says Dr. Orlando.

But if your cat becomes too engrossed in the plot and tries to go after a critter on the telly, your kitty or your flat-screen TV could get hurt.

“If your cat is really intent on ‘hunting’ the television, don’t let her watch the TV unsupervised. And if you have a large flat screen, mount it to the wall, in case kitty decides to take the leap,” warns Dr. Orlando.

It’s also a good idea to interact with a cat who’s focused on a show, especially since felines may become frustrated when their instincts to catch prey are thwarted.

“Try to distract your kitty by giving her a toy before trying to ‘catch’ things on screen,” says Dr. Orlando. “You definitely don’t want to encourage the kitty to go after the mouse on television, as cute as it may be.”

Cat Behavior Demystified

When your cat twitches its tail and fixes you with a cold, glassy stare, it means:

A. I want a tickle.

B. Let me out.

C. Could you please die now, so that I can eat your remains.

Kitties are notoriously inscrutable beasts, but now a video posted by Cat Protection, the leading nonprofit organization in the United Kingdom devoted to feline welfare, can help you decode some of your cat’s mysterious behaviors. 

Soon Rule World According to Cat Protection’s research, humans display a “worrying lack of knowledge” about the body language of cats, and particularly, their distress signals. Forty-nine percent of cat owners don’t know that licking the lips indicates that a cat is stressed, and 38 percent don’t understand that flattened ears are a sign that a cat is frightened and needs a place to hide.

“Cats are often considered to be independent and able to look after themselves, whereas dogs are usually perceived to ‘need’ their owners,” says Cat Protection behavior expert Nicky Trevorrow. “The reality is that while cats are pretty good at surviving without us, they do, of course, have needs. If these aren’t met, it can lead to stress and behavioral problems.”

Other key signals: Approaching with tail up: This is a cat’s way of greeting you. Trevorrow suggests that you respond with affection.

Rubbing objects (including you) with its head: It’s not a sign of adoration but a way of spreading its scent. If you have been out all day, your cat might want you to smell more familiar.

Slowly blinking: This is a sign of a happy, relaxed cat.

To communicate with your pet in cat language, you can slowly blink back and turn your head to the side in a relaxed manner to show you are at ease and aren’t a threat.

You might get another slow blink in return.

Lying down, belly exposed: This is not an invitation for a belly rub. The cat is showing that it trusts you, and if you touch its belly, you are betraying that trust; that’s why cats will often respond by grabbing your hand and wrist with their claws. Just give it a little pat on the head instead.

Purring: It can mean your cat is content, but it can also be a signal of pain, so look for other signs of distress.

Now, go apologize to your cat for your ignorance (especially for those years of tummy rubs) and hope for a slow blink in return.

Puppy Socialization

Socialization is one method of preventing behavior problems in dogs;
however, some oppose socialization before 16 wk of age due to the risk of
contracting infectious diseases. The objectives of this study were to
determine if puppies that attended puppy socialization classes and were
vaccinated by a veterinarian at least once were at an increased risk of
confirmed canine parvovirus (CPV) infection compared with puppies that did
not attend classes and to determine the frequency of suspected CPV
infection in puppies vaccinated at least once that attended classes with
trainers. Twenty-one clinics in four cities in the United States provided
information regarding demographics, vaccination, CPV diagnosis, and class
attendance for puppies ≤ 16 wk of age. In addition, 24 trainers in those
same cities collected similar information on puppies that attended their
classes. In total, 279 puppies attended socialization classes and none were
suspected of or diagnosed with CPV infection. Results indicated that
vaccinated puppies attending socialization classes were at no greater risk
of CPV infection than vaccinated puppies that did not attend those classes.

UC Davis finds fault with majority of homemade dog food recipes studied

by NewStat


Dog owners who cook food for their pets at home may be putting a lot of love into the recipes, but they are likely not adding enough nutritional value, according to researchers from the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. The researchers analyzed 200 recipes for homemade dog food to determine how many of them meet established nutritional standards. According to the results published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, very few of the recipes were nutritionally complete. “The results of this study, however, indicate that most available recipes for healthy dogs, even those published in books by veterinarians, do not provide essential nutrients in the quantities required by the dog,” said Jennifer Larsen, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at UC Davis and lead author on the study. “It is extremely difficult for the average pet owner – or even veterinarians – to come up with balanced recipes to create appropriate meals that are safe for long-term use.” Most recipes have nutritional deficiencies For the study, researchers analyzed 200 recipes from 34 sources including veterinary textbooks, websites, and pet care books. They used a computer-based program to evaluate recipes for the nutritional content in the food as well as the specificity of the instructions, UC Davis said. The researchers’ findings included: •Out of 200 recipes studied, only nine contained essential nutrients in concentrations that met the minimum standards for adult dogs established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Eight of the nine recipes were written by veterinarians. •Five recipes – all written by veterinarians – featured essential nutrient concentrations that met the National Research Council’s Minimum Requirements for adult dogs. •Only four recipes were written by board-certified veterinary nutritionists, and all of those recipes had acceptable nutrient profiles for adult dogs. According to Larsen, 95 percent of the recipes produced food that lacked the necessary levels of at least one essential nutrient such as choline, vitamin D, zinc, or vitamin E. Eighty-three percent of the recipes lacked multiple nutrients, she said. Vague or incomplete instructions for majority of recipes In addition to the nutritional deficiencies discovered, researchers also determined that 92 percent of the recipes had vague or incomplete instructions. The faulty instructions left pet owners to make at least one guess regarding ingredients, preparation methods, or the use of supplement-type products, UC Davis reported. Researchers also reported that 85 percent of the recipes did not supply owners with calorie information or specify the size of dog for which the recipe was meant. Researchers’ recommendations regarding homemade food According to Larsen, preparing homemade pet food isn’t a bad idea for pet owners – she just believes her group’s research shows that it should be done under the guidance of experts. “Homemade food is a great option for many pets, but we recommend that owners avoid general recipes from books and the Internet and instead consult with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist,” she said. “These specialists have advanced training in nutrition to help formulate customized and nutritionally appropriate recipes.”

Why Does My Cat . . . Shed His Claws?

Cat owners expect to find discarded fur and even the occasional whisker around the house, but it can be disconcerting to find a kitty’s claw stuck to the sofa or a scratching post.

Dr. Roy Brenton Smith, DVM, of the Central Texas Cat Clinic and president elect of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, has certainly seen his share of owners who are thrown by the experience. “They come in with the claw — upset that something bad happened,” says Dr. Smith.

What Causes Claw Sheaths to Fall Off?

The good news is that the process is natural and actually beneficial for a cat. Claws are essential for felines, who use them for defense, climbing and hunting.

According to Dr. Smith, when this happens, the nail has grown beyond the blood supply, so the outside sheath is discarded to make room for a newer, sharper version. He estimates that this happens to each claw about every two to three months in the average housecat.

How Do I Care for My Cat’s Claws?

In addition to honing their nails, scratching also helps cats to shed old claw sheaths. Felines who never scratch can require medical attention for nails that have grown so long that they curl under and pierce the paw pads.

This is why owners need to provide adequate clawing surfaces, such as a sturdy scratching post. Clipping also aids the shedding process — cutting the excess nail off means that cats don’t have to do as much scratching.

But even with regular nail trimming, kitties can still feel the need to scratch. “There is definitely a psychological reason why cats do this,” says Dr. Smith. “There is a look on their face of enjoyment. When they are happy, they really get their claws into it. It’s part of their environmental enrichment.”

Why Does My Dog… Steal Objects?

The sight of a puppy trotting off with a sock in her mouth might seem adorable, but if your dog is a chronic object stealer, it’s not all that cute. Having Fido make off with the roast you cooked for Sunday dinner or your toddler’s favorite toy can be stressful for you — and dangerous for your dog.

Certain breeds — including Golden Retrievers, Yorkshire Terriers and Papillons — are more likely than their canine peers to steal your things. But no matter what breed your pooch is, it is important that you put a stop to her thefts before she winds up at the vet’s office with a tummy ache — or worse.

What Your Dog Wants

When your dog steals something, she wants to take possession of the object for any number of reasons. She may want to play with it, because she views the object as a toy. Clothing, shoes and children’s toys are favorite items for canine kleptomaniacs. These dogs may enjoy chewing the object, tearing it or just tossing it around. When a dog takes something that is not hers, she does not know she is stealing. She simply sees something she wants and goes for the object.

If your dog steals food, her motives are obvious. Even though she may be well fed, your dog may still have the urge to snack on people food. If she does, she will try to take anything you leave on the counter or table that smells good and is within her reach.

Some dogs steal because they long for your attention. They will take something just to prompt you to chase them. These dogs know what is important to you and they will grab the item just at the right time, so you see them do it. Their great hope is that you will follow in hot pursuit.

How to Respond


If your dog steals things to play with, it is best to provide her with her own objects to gnaw on. Until she gets into the habit of playing with her toys only, keep your laundry, shoes and children’s toys secure; store them somewhere she cannot reach. It is important that you keep your dog from swallowing objects that are not meant for eating. She may develop a blockage in the intestines that can require surgery.

If she steals food, be vigilant about keeping edibles out of reach. Do not leave food on kitchen counters or in easily opened cabinets. If your dog is a chronic food stealer, talk to your vet about possibly changing her diet to something she will find more satisfying. If it is the chase your dog is after, stop rewarding her stealing with what she perceives as a game. Instead, teach her to bring the object back to you by calling her and offering her a treat in exchange for the stolen item. Rather than steal your slippers, she may end up bringing them to you voluntarily in the end.

Why Does My Dog… Lick Other Dogs’ Muzzles?

What could be cuter than your puppy giving his doggy pal a smooch on the nose? Nothing, really. But is your dog actually planting a kiss on his buddy? Yes, but that’s only one reason your dog may lick another dog’s muzzle.<!–
An admiring Afghan Hound delivers a “salute” of respect to a brave Bernese Mountain Dog who just protected her from a canine bully at the local park.

What Your Dog Wants

During an introduction, a timid and lower-ranking dog will lower his head, avoid direct eye contact and gently extend his tongue to lick the muzzle of a more dominant, confident and higher-ranking dog. The first dog licks the muzzle of the second dog to simply reconfirm that he comes in peace. Think of this as the doggy equivalent of social kissing.

Dogs who are already friends will also trade smooches. Two strongly bonded canine pals will lick and groom each other. They give each other “dog kisses” in displays of affection and friendship. In this scenario, the dogs’ social hierarchy is not an issue. These dogs know and trust each other. They also look out for each other: A dog who excessively licks the muzzle of his canine pal may be doing this because the dog has a tumor, cut or other medical need that requires attention and treatment.

Puppies also “kiss” their mothers, but it’s not a gesture of affection. When puppies make the transition from suckling their mother’s teats for milk to eating semisolid food, they vigorously lick their mother’s muzzle in the hope of getting her to regurgitate some semi-digested food for them. If you have a dog nursing a litter of puppies, follow your vet’s guidelines to ensure that the puppies are getting the proper nutrition and that you know when and how to make the switch from their mother’s milk to puppy food.

How to Respond

Help your dog make friends with his peers: Carefully select confident-but-friendly and patient-tempered dogs to play with your shy dog, to help him hone his social skills. Also consider enrolling him in a special training class that focuses on socialization, taught by an instructor who is certified in, and practices, positive training techniques.

Do not interfere when your two dogs play “kissy face” briefly with each other. Sit back and enjoy this display of canine friendship. Then call them over and have them do a command such as “sit” or “shake paws.” Offer them treats simultaneously as a reward for being good to each other.

If you foster a dog and have three or more resident dogs, introduce the foster dog to your brood one dog at a time and let muzzle-licking between them happen naturally. Start with your least reactive or most friendly dog. Never force an introduction between the dogs because this can deepen the foster dog’s submissiveness or spark a fight.

Location & Phone

Speedway Veterinary Hospital
3736 E. Speedway Blvd.
Tucson, AZ. 85716
Phone: 520-321-4235

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