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Dogs use more facial expressions when humans are watching

New research suggests dogs use facial expressions to communicate with humans. Scientists from the University of Portsmouth's Dog Cognition Centre, said they have found the first clear evidence that dogs alter their faces in response to human attention.

Most mammals use facial expressions but it has long been assumed that this is largely involuntary - dependent on the individual's emotional state, and not used in response to an audience.

The research team used a system called DogFACS to capture movements of the face muscles in 24 family dogs, during different types of interactions with humans.

Brow raising to make the eyes look bigger (known as 'puppy dog eyes'), was the most common expression used by dogs in the study. While the dogs made far more facial expressions when humans were watching, being offered food did not produce the same effect, suggesting dogs used facial expressions to communicate, not just because they are excited.

This is the first time scientists have systematically examined dog facial expressions that are used to communicate with humans.

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New DNA tests released for dogs

The Animal Health Trust (AHT) has released three new DNA tests for Lhasa apsos, border terriers and Northern Inuit dogs.

A long-awaited DNA test for progressive retinal atrophy (PRA4) in Lhasa apsos was launched in September. In the UK Lhasa population, one in 145 dogs is thought to be affected by this type of PRA, which causes degenerative blindness.

The AHT also collaborated with the University of Missouri and Wisdom Health to investigate 'shaking puppy syndrome' in border terriers. Puppies affected by this devastating neurological disease show severe tremors as soon as they begin to walk. Most die at a young age or are euthanised on welfare grounds. However, AHT says the disease could now be controlled through prompt and robust DNA testing.

Dr Cathryn Mellersh, head of canine genetics at AHT, said: "Now, there is no reason for any more border terriers to be born with shaking puppy syndrome, illustrating the enormous potential of DNA testing when implemented quickly and effectively across a breed."

The third test is for oculoskeletal dysplasia (OSD) in Northern Inuits. Affected dogs show various skeletal malformations such as dwarfism and blindness at an early age. The mutation was discovered by a team of AHT ophthalmologists and geneticists. Now, Northern Inuits, utonagans, tamaskan dogs and other wolf-like breeds can be tested for the mutation at the AHT.


News in brief

'Shocking' number of online pet adverts across EU

Over half a million cats and dogs – as well as thousands of exotic animals – are available to buy online every day across Europe, according to the Blue Cross and the EU Dog and Cat Alliance. Many of these pets have health problems, are underweight or underage. A lack of animal welfare information is also a common theme among adverts. Some websites even encouraged users to buy animals impulsively. Nearly all charities surveyed (95 per cent) said there was a problem with online pet sales in their country. The Blue Cross said its findings highlight a need for action across Europe to tackle these online adverts.

Survey offers insights into horse health

Skin diseases are the most common health issue in horses, accounting for 31.1 per cent of all reported diseases, according to the National Equine Health Survey. Sweet itch and mud fever were the most frequently reported individual syndromes. The other top health issues were lameness (23.4 per cent), metabolic diseases (8.1 per cent), eye problems (7.6 per cent) and gastrointestinal problems (7.5 per cent). The survey also shows that over a quarter of horses with back problems show signs of lameness, suggesting a possible link.

Mobile zoos to face new regulations

Mobile zoos that provide exotic animals for parties or educational purposes, will require a licence under new legislation to come into force next year. Defra has confirmed it will update England's existing legislation on registering performing animals, to clarify that it covers all animals that are exhibited to the public. This includes mobile zoos, which are not covered by the Zoo Licensing Act. From next year, anyone in the business of providing an animal for exhibit will need a licence from their local authority, and must adhere to statutory minimum welfare standards, which Defra is developing alongside the sector and animal welfare charities.

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