National / Science & Health

Is Fido stressed out? New heart sensor can help find out

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

A group of researchers at Osaka Prefecture University has developed a method to detect real-time stress in dogs by using a special canine heartbeat sensor.

Wearable sensors transmit signals from dogs’ hearts to gadgets that allow their owners to determine whether they are relaxed or stressed out, said Shunsuke Shimamura, an associate professor of veterinary medicine at the university who heads the team behind the technique.

His team is developing a device based on the technique with Sharp Corp. and aims to have a marketable product available within several years.

“The device could be used for knowing when dogs are in pain or having health problems,” Shimamura told The Japan Times on Monday. “The use of this could lead to early detection of disease or improvement of medical treatments for dogs.”

Heart rate fluctuations are indicators of stress in dogs as well as humans. Due to differences in heart rate variability between the two, it had been difficult to adapt human stress-detection methods for dogs, they said.

Using a new instrument that can detect slight changes in heart rate, the team discovered that as dogs get tense, the intervals become more and more regulated. When dogs relax, the intervals fluctuate greatly. The team created an index for canine stress levels.

In a test, five beagles were given medication that temporarily suppressed their parasympathetic nerves, making them tense. The result showed that the beagles’ heartbeats matched the levels expected on the stress index.

Current methods for measuring dog stress use blood or saliva, and usually require a few days to get the results. Once the new dog stress detector is born, the process will get shorter and easier, Shimamura said.