dog standing still for an mri



Welfare and Behaviour

Smart dog training and hi-tech imaging giving new insights into dogs' digestion

Dogs like to move! In fact, when not asleep, it’s hard to get them to remain very still at all. If they are not actively walking or running, then wagging tails, endless sniffing and other body movements are pretty much continuous. That is all as it should be, but it presents a bit of problem to researchers and veterinarians who might want to find out what is going on inside a dog’s body. If a pooch can’t stay still, it is very hard to use scanning or x-ray techniques to take a look at internal structures and processes.

For dog nutritionists, this is particularly important. To better understand dog digestion, researchers need to track food moving through the various parts of the gut. In the past, this had to be done by sedating dogs and then subjecting them to x-ray imaging. Sedation is unduly invasive and is far from ideal from the perspective of the animal’s welfare.

Now a team of researchers from WALTHAM have come up with a better approach. The technique, outlined in a paper recently published in Veterinary Radiology & Ultrasound, uses a combination of smart dog training and the latest imaging technology to deliver high-quality images of the canine cavity.

Through reward reinforcement, the dogs were painstakingly trained to stand stock still. They remained fully conscious but could stand for several minutes without so much as a tail wag. The animal’s insides could then be easily visualised using radiographic contrast imaging. The dogs were fed barium meals and the passage of the food through the intestine could then be easily observed.

“Abnormal intestinal transit can impact the absorption of nutrients from the diet, stool quality and potentially alter the absorption of oral medications,” says lead scientist David Wrigglesworth. “So it’s very important that we understand canine digestion properly. However, this should never be done by compromising the animal’s welfare. This new technique is a great step forward in our caring science approach which aims to build on the 3R agenda for animal research: reduce, replace and refine.”