Vet News – Small Animal News

Vet NewsOur Small Animal News editor, Harriet delves into the intriguing topic of canine intelligence in this month’s dose of Vet News.





Canine Intelligence

Harriet Woodhall (Vet News Small Animal News Editor)

The intelligence of domestic dogs has been a topic much in the news recently after the discovery of perhaps the “world’s cleverest dog”, Chaser the Border Collie.

 One of the reasons this topic is a controversial one could be because of the limited means of testing a dog’s intelligence apart from the amount of words they are able to retain and respond to. One way scientists are trying to evaluate how intelligent the species is to look at its evolution.

Puppy trainingIt is well known that domestic dogs evolved from wolves, but how this transition came about is thought to be through humans. After a group of wolves took advantage of humans, they actually gained from the interaction and domesticated themselves naturally. It is now thought the increase in intelligence is down to their involvement with us.

Dogs have gained a social intelligence different from their wolf ancestors in which they are able to learn words in a similar way to a small child. One study has shown that dogs work things out with an inferential strategy based on the principle of exclusion: they have words that are attached to items, so when given a new word they know this belongs to a different, new item. Another quite shocking discovery was in several border collies who when shown a 2D picture were able to go and fetch the object in the picture – using something called the principle of iconicity. This was previously thought of as something that only children were able to do.

It is clear that we have much to learn about canine intelligence and are gradually uncovering new insights into their minds. One good example of a recent advance is Chaser the “world’s cleverest dog” who has been able to learn 1,200 words, more than any other non-primate and is estimated to have the intelligence of a 2 and a ½ year old child.

 Even further into the field is Brian Hare from Duke University in North Carolina who has come up with a series of scientific tests covering more than just the amount of words learnt – they can also explore empathy, communication, cunning, memory and reasoning.  The tests aim to prove that, like humans, dogs have different approaches to challenges. Researchers have created a profile that enables the owner to get a full overview of their dog’s traits and individual skills. The tests, through the website Dognition, are part of a study that aims to get a better understanding of how dogs think, not just for insight into dogs but also into our own intelligence evolution. As dogs learn words much like human babies it may help with our knowledge of our own learning.

 Maybe the next controversial question that needs answering is: “which are smarter, dogs or cats?”




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Vet News – Small Animal News

Vet NewsWe have a NEW member of the Vet News Editorial Team in the form of Harriet Woodhall, who has taken on the mantle of covering articles of interest in the small animal sphere. So, big welcome to you Harriet and thank you for your first article, which this month is on Canine Diabetes Mellitus.


But before we start….. an intro 🙂

Vet News, Small Animal Editor, Harriet WoodhallHarriet Woodhall

I’m 17 and will be applying for Vet School in September. I live just outside Cambridge along with two (adorable) black Labradors and some chickens. Aside from researching and studying I’m very interested in the conservation of wild species and enjoy playing piano.



Canine Diabetes Mellitus

Harriet Woodhall (Vet News Small Animal Editor)

It is estimated that approximately 1 in 500 dogs develop diabetes and although there are certain breeds that are more susceptible, (Golden Retrievers, Keeshond and Poodles being just a few), all breeds of dog can be affected, most often when middle aged or older.

The disease is caused by inadequate/complete lack of insulin from islet cells in the pancreas. Insulin is the hormone responsible for controlling the concentrations of glucose in the blood – this is achieved by preventing glucose production in the liver and making sure that excess glucose is put into storage.

Common signs of diabetes mellitus include polyuria (production of too much dilute urine), polydipsia (excessive thirst) and polyphagia (losing weight despite increase appetite). Cataracts are also often seen in diabetic dogs due to increased glucose levels. Along with the clinical signs, hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar levels) and glycosuria (sugar in the urine) are often enough of an indication for diagnosis. Diabetes is best diagnosed early, as when left untreated serious secondary complications can arise such as diabetes ketoacidosis.

Dog having temperature taken from earLike humans, dogs can have insulin therapy, most having two insulin injections a day. Bitches should be spayed, as the hormone progesterone produced by the ovaries has a negative influence on insulin. In combination with injections it is recommended to have diet, exercise and weight control. For dogs, a diet high in fibre and complex carbohydrates is suggested, so glucose is more easily controlled and released more slowly.

Researchers in Barcelona have recently been able to cure diabetes in Beagles with gene therapy. The Beagles were given two extra genes which work together to reduce hyperglycaemia. One gene produces the insulin needed and the other produces an enzyme called Glucokinase, responsible for regulating the uptake amount of glucose from the blood. The genes are transferred by adeno-associated vectors, also a new technology. Using a non-pathogenic virus, the genes can be injected into the hind legs of the dog in a single session.

As the first successful study of its kind, there will need to be more evidence using a larger test sample. However, it seems the future use of gene therapy could provide a more effective and practical method of controlling diabetes in dogs



Callejas D, Mann CJ, Ayuso E, Lage R, Grifoll I, Roca C, Andaluz A, Ruiz-de Gopegui R, Montane J, Munoz S, Ferre T, Haurigot V, Zhou S, Ruberte J, Mingozzi F, High K, Garcia F, Bosch F. Treatment of Diabetes and Long-term Survival Following Insulin and Glucokinase Gene Therapy.