All posts by dr. jane

The Complexity of Canine Memory

Have you ever sat staring deeply into your dog’s eyes, wondering “I wonder what you’re thinking?” Sure, they give us clues here and there, but as whole, the workings of your dog’s mind remains a mystery.

But there’s mounting evidence that we may have underestimated their mental capacities. I know when I was going through school and we would use words describing the emotions the pets seemed to feeling - love, anxiety, fear - we were often shut down with a stern, “Don’t anthropomorphize!” It was assumed that only humans were capable of such human-like emotions.

As we’ve studied more the amazing bonds that exist between humans and dogs, we’ve gotten better insight into the inner workings of their doggie brains. And while it’s true that we can’t say with 100% certainty what a dog thinks and feels (because you’d actually need to be able to talk to a dog in order for him to tell you that), I can tell you that the more we learn about their inner workings, the gap between people and dogs is narrowing. Each new study offers amazing insight into how smart, individual, and yes – emotional – they really are.

One of the most common tropes we hear about dogs is, “They live in the moment,” which assumes they don’t spend too much time thinking about the past. But all of us who share our lives with dogs have seen them react to something in a way that indicates they sure do remember things, thank you very much! As a veterinarian, “white coat syndrome”, the fearful reaction of a dog to a veterinarian in a white lab coat, is so well-documented that many of us just stopped wearing the jackets entirely.

And now science is finally showing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that dogs remember much more than we previously thought possible.

A recent study of 17 dogs in Current Biology explored the idea of episodic memory in dogs. They began by training the dogs to “Do as I do”, i.e., to imitate their trainer’s behavior. In this case, the dogs were aware they were receiving a cue, a signal to say “pay attention to what I’m doing.”

Then the researchers repeated the experiment, but without giving the “Do as I do” cue beforehand. Regardless of what the person was doing, the dog was instructed to lie down. Afterwards, trainers gave the dogs the command to repeat what they had just observed. This forced the dogs to recall what they had observed using episodic memory. This form of memory centers around the ability to recall a specific event from the past, but you didn’t know you were supposed to remember it at the time it happened. Despite showing signs of surprise, the dogs were able to recall what they had seen and imitate the person’s actions.

By demonstrating this ability to mimic, the study designers showed that dogs are watching and storing what they see all around them. Like people, they appear to be dumping all of that input into a short term memory bank, and if the information isn’t needed, it gets tossed out. Much the same way I can tell you what I had for dinner last night but not last month, a dog’s brain is quite capable of assessing memories and storing those considered pertinent for survival. As a social species whose evolution is closely tied to ours, it makes sense that they actually think in many of the same ways.

So, the next time you do something embarrassing around your pup, don’t be so quick to think they won’t remember it. At least we know for certain they won’t be spilling our secrets via speech, right?

Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

Giving Rescues Reasons to be Thankful

A time of fellowship and enduring affections, this year’s holiday season has come. For many Americans, the chance to value and support friends, family and community offers a welcome change of pace, given a fractious election year. Many of us are already throwing ourselves headlong into preparations to spend quality time with family and friends. And while we may be fully invested in our immediate and upcoming holiday plans, this time of year finds us considering the plights of others … it is the season of giving and thanks, after all!

I’m so grateful to have helped establish a company that does so much to promote the welfare and health of companion animals. As I’m fond of saying, we’re a small company with a great big heart. Helping companion animals to lead healthier, longer and happier lives is not just an important company commitment … it’s our personal mission.

I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of our non-profit’s essential work. The Dr. Jane Foundation provides funding to an incredibly diverse array of small and medium-size animal rescue groups. Regardless of geography, all of these groups are united in common cause … doing whatever it takes to save neglected, abused and homeless animals. Over the last 10 years, it’s been my great honor to discover the hundreds of rescue organizations who invest so much time, energy and passion into forging a brighter future for these helpless creatures. Along with my fellow Board Directors, I have witnessed the amazing resilience of companion animals who have suffered any manner of trauma. Their journeys of healing and hope inspire us to do more for the legions of volunteers, foster parents and veterinarians who work so hard every single day.

Best of all, every time you purchase Life’s Abundance products, a small donation is made in honor of these groups. Simply by shopping with us, every one of our loyal customers helps to support the cause of animal rescue. So, while you're actively working towards wellness for yourself, your family and your companion animals, know that you're also giving a helping hand to the people who have dedicated their lives to making life better for homeless animals.

It seems only right this holiday season to share news of our most recent round of funding. And, seeing as how this IS Thanksgiving, I’d like to personally thank the following seven rescue groups, each of whom received financial backing from our non-profit. Please note that most, if not all, of the dogs depicted in the following photos are available for adoption.

New Kent Humane Society

Founded in 2009, this small-town animal rescue works to reduce the growing number of homeless animals. Run entirely by a dedicated team of volunteers, they strive to liberate dogs and cats from the county pound. Their greatest wish is "to reduce the number of animals being euthanized locally". Thanks to their tireless advocacy and a budding network of foster homes, more and more dogs and cats are finding forever homes. In addition to their adoption efforts, this group is also committed to helping lost pet kids be reunited with their families. We support the superheroes of this small community who strive to improve quality of life for so many, especially those who do not have a voice. To learn more, visit www.newkenthumane.org.

D.R.E.A.M. Dachshund Rescue

Serving Atlanta, North Georgia and the Savannah area, this breed-specific rescue is 100% volunteer operated. All of their dogs are temporarily homed in foster care, affording every volunteer ample opportunity to really get to know each foster pup. This hands-on approach can make a huge difference when it comes to matching their personalities with prospective adopters, as it helps to guarantee successful outcomes when their Dachshunds are ultimately placed in their forever homes. To learn more, visit www.dreamrescue.org.

Greyhound Pets of Greater Orlando

Originally founded in 1996 as a chapter of the National Greyhound Pets of America, this Orlando-based non-profit has two main goals: to locate loving homes for ex-racing Greyhounds and to educate the public on the merits of adopting this breed. Unlike most of our grant recipients this quarter, this group operates a physical facility, where right now nearly 50 of these elegant creatures are awaiting placement in their forever homes. Another fully volunteer enterprise, this group is proud that all donations go directly to the care of their rescued Greyhounds. The depth of their connection to the breed is evident in their commitment to never turn away a Greyhound due to injury, illness or old age. To learn more, visit www.greyhoundpetsorlando.org.

Southeast German Shepherd Rescue

Founded in 2010 to save German Shepherd Dogs from abuse, abandonment and high-kill shelters, this non-profit organization owes its existence to the compassion and dedication of its volunteers. Their efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome this noble breed take place primarily in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, but they provide assistance to rescue efforts throughout the Southeast. Everyone in the organization volunteers their service, doing their utmost to identify and place these social, intelligent and agile creatures in loving homes where they can thrive as loving and loyal family members. To learn more, visit www.southeastgermanshepherdrescue.com.

Lovebugs Rescue

This non-profit was founded by Heather Peterson in honor of Kaya, a special-needs Chihuahua who was rescued from a high-kill shelter. Located in Southern California, this foster-based rescue has made remarkable progress building relationships with overcrowded animal shelters in the area. Taking homeless pups into foster care not only saves their lives, it undercuts the reliance on euthanasia by other shelters as an acceptable response to overpopulation. Leading by example, their hope is to educate people about the gravity of the issue and how easy it is to make a difference that benefits everyone involved. To learn more, visit www.lovebugsrescue.org.

Southwest Metro Animal Rescue & Adoption Society

Based in Chaska, MN, this all-volunteer organization has more than 35 years of combined experience in the animal rescue field. One of a growing number of shelter-free charitable groups, this foster home-based organization commits serious time and energy into rescuing abandoned, abused and stray domestic animals. They are passionate about their work, and their mission of caring is clearly born out in the good works they accomplish every day. They have seen firsthand how the bond humans and companion animals share is strengthened through education, whether it's on humane treatment, the vital need for spay/neuter programs or the legal protections afforded animals. To learn more, visit www.swmetroanimalrescue.org.

Southern California German Shepherd Rescue

Founded in August 2006, this amazingly dedicated team of volunteers rescues, rehabilitates and rehomes pet kids all across Southern California. Additionally, they provide veterinary care and spay/neuter surgeries. In the last decade, they have successfully located forever homes for over 900 companion animals. Despite what you might think based on their name, this foster-based rescue saves not just German Shepherd Dogs, but also Great Danes, Poodles, mixed breeds ... even a few cats! To learn more, visit http://socalrescue.org.

Including these awards, The Dr. Jane Foundation has awarded grants totaling nearly $24,000 to 18 worthwhile rescues this year! Soon we will reveal more details about what these non-profits are able to accomplish with our funding. But for now, we extend our hearty, holiday congratulations to all of these groups for their remarkable efforts to make the world a better place for companion animals!

Are you involved in an animal rescue, or know someone who is? We are currently accepting applications for 2017 funding. Our Board will be considering applications for the next round of funding in January, so try to have completed grant requests submitted by the end of the year to ensure your group’s consideration.

This holiday season, any contribution you make will help to ensure that deserving groups like these continue to receive much-needed financial support. We will be thrilled to receive your donation, in any amount. For all of you who have already supported our non-profit, we can’t thank you enough. Thanks to your personal donations and continued patronage, we are taking real steps to help animal rescue groups across America. With your help, we’re making a positive difference in the world, one animal at a time.

Wishing you the very best this holiday season, and always!

Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

Care & Feeding of Aging Dogs

Aging Dog

A lot of folks don’t realize it, but as companion animals grow older, their nutritional needs often change. As their caretakers, we owe it to them to provide the best we can, based on their current nutritional requirements. The truth is, when it comes to senior dogs, appropriate, targeted nourishment can make a real difference in terms of longevity and long-term happiness. More...

Pet Food Super Powers

Super girl and dog

Believe it or not, it wasn’t until nearly the 20th Century that pet food was something distinct from scraps derived from human diets. However, only in the past four decades has the emphasis on health-promotion entered the mix. Some of our readers will no doubt recall the “Gravy Train” commercials of the 70’s. Pet food certainly has changed dramatically since those days! More...

Do Dogs Suffer from Depression?

Sad Pug

Pet parents have asked me if dogs can experience depression. In almost every case, the question is prompted by troubling behavior and not just simple curiosity. Well, dogs can most certainly exhibit obvious signs of depression, such as loss of appetite or declining interest in previously enjoyed activities. And then there are symptoms not readily recognized as depressive: anxiety, fearfulness, aggression, various destructive behaviors and even hiding from people. Are these last signs indicative of depression, a complicated emotional disturbance, or do they point to something else altogether? More...

Does Coat Color Predict Feline Behavior?

Lovely Cat

Our companion animal’s coat colors, once only the concern of breeders, have now become the focus of research for other characteristics, including behavior. You may have heard reports that white coat color has been linked to deafness in both dogs and cats. Others have suggested a connection between coat color and aggressive behavior in some dog breeds. Now there’s some evidence of an association between feline behavior and coat color. But is there really anything substantial to this claim? More...

Happy Holidays from Dr. Jane

The holidays are very nearly upon us. As I sit here, writing this post, I can’t help but feel this year has flown past even faster than last year. Like many of you, I’m experiencing the flurry of activity that comes with the close of another year. Things certainly are hopping here at my farm, with all of my chickens, cats, my horse, even my new pygmy goat! As fleeting and precious as time is during the holidays, I consider your reading this holiday message right now an honor and a privilege. More...

Twelve Days of Kitty Kristmas

Even though we appreciate our furry friends year round, there is no time like the holidays to dote on your cat. In the spirit of yule tide tradition, here are 12 ways to holistically improve your cat’s quality of life. More...

The Inside Scoop On Homemade Pet Food

Girl thinking about what to cook

If you’re reading this, chances are it’s not the first time you’ve given some degree of thought to the concept of a homemade pet diet. Whether you regard this topic with interest or with repulsion, a series of pet food recalls combined with the ‘foodie’ movement have resulted in growing discussion among pet parents about the costs and benefits of becoming a personal chef for one’s pet kids. More...

The Special Bond Between Cats and Women

Girl playing with cat on rug

Have you ever wondered why women and cats have such strong relationships? Specifically, why some women (a very few, mind you) tend to collect large numbers of cats? While you’ve heard the term “crazy cat lady”, you never hear of “crazy gerbil ladies” or “crazy ferret ladies”!

In fact, some behavioral researchers wondered the same thing. A recently published study in the journal Behavioral Processes indicates the answer lies in a special bond that exists only between cats and women. Scientists from the Konrad Lorenz Research Station and the University of Vienna took a hard look at the behavioral interactions between 41 cats and their human companions, using individual personality assessments of both their human and feline subjects. Their findings might very well cause a paradigm shift in our understanding of these relationships. More...