Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Posts of the Year 2013

A white calico cat playing with a ribbon against a white background
Photo: Mila Atkovska / Shutterstock


A big thank you to all of our readers! We wish you a very happy and healthy 2014!!

The most popular posts of the year were:

1. Are Young Children More Interested in Animals Than Toys?
A boy looks at a fish in a tank

A set of three studies by Vanessa LoBue et al looked at young children in a naturalistic play environment in which they could choose to interact with animals or toys.




2. The End for Shock Collars?
A collie playing peek-a-boo

Research funded by Defra in the UK found that electronic collars do not work better than positive reinforcement training for recall and chasing, and have negative welfare consequences for some dogs, even when used by qualified trainers. In addition, "some end-users either fail to read the instructions, misunderstand or deliberately disregard the advice in the manuals."








3.  How Do Hand-Reared Wolves and Dogs Interact with Humans?
A gray wolf standing in the snow

The question of how dogs evolved from wolves is complicated, but it is clear there are important differences that could arise from genetics, domestication, experience, or a combination of these.  A study by Marta Gácsi in Budapest investigates whether dogs and hand-reared wolves behave the same during a changing social situation with a human.








 4.  Will Grey Parrots Share?
Psittacus erithacus

A fascinating study by Franck Péron and colleagues looks at the question of whether or not grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) will share, with each other or with a human.







5. Why Do People Surrender Dogs to Animal Shelters?
A cocker spaniel in the woods during Springtime, surrounded by bluebells

Five to seven million companion animals arrive at animal shelters in the US each year, and about half of these are animals being surrendered by their owners. Why do people surrender their pets? To find out, a study by Jennifer Kwan and Melissa Bain compared dogs being relinquished at three Sacramento animal shelters to those dogs that were there simply to receive their vaccinations.








6. Do Dogs Try to Hide Theft of Food? 
A border collie pup takes a bit out of a sandwich

Will your dog steal food even if you can see or hear the theft take place? Two studies investigate whether dogs can take a human’s perspective in deciding whether to take a piece of forbidden food.






7.Is Attachment to Pet Dogs Linked to their Behaviour?
A woman fast asleep with her beagle

Some people are more attached to their dogs than others.  Recently, we wrote about a study that found that people who relinquished their dog to animal shelters had lower attachment to them than people who were keeping their dog (see no 5 above). Now, a study by Christy Hoffman et al asks whether there is a link between a dog’s behaviour and how attached the owner is to the dog.



8. Why are some Breeds of Dog more Popular than Others? 
A white standard poodle against a pink background

There are so many breeds of dog, it can be hard to choose which one you'd like most. Some are always popular, while other breeds rise or fall in popularity.  A new study by Stefano Ghirlanda et al 2013 investigates whether changes in the most popular breeds over the years reflect personality characteristics, health, or fashion.








9. Do Dogs Find Their Owner's Presence Supportive When a Threatening Stranger Comes Near?
A young girl holds her pet poodle

How does your dog compare to a toddler? Recent animal research is comparing the abilities of dogs with young humans. A study by Márta Gácsi et al in Hungary investigates whether dogs have the same response as infants to a test called the Strange Situation.









10. Stereotypes and Breeds of Dog
A Staffordshire Bull Terrier jumping over the bar in agility

Can social psychological theories of stereotypes about people also explain people’s attitudes and stereotypes of different breeds of dog? That’s the fascinating question posed in a new study by Tracey Clarke, Jonathan Cooper and Daniel Mills of the University of Lincoln




What were your favourites? And are there any topics you would particularly like to see covered next year?

Photo credits: 1. oksankash. 2. Ksenia Raykova. 3. Dennis Donohue. 4. Eric Isselee. 5. rashworth. 6. Anneka. 7. Igor Normann. 8. bikeriderlondon. 9. Raywoo. 10. dezi. All: Shutterstock.


Saturday, 21 December 2013

Season's Greetings

A 1-year old mini aussie under the Christmas tree with presents
Photo: Eric Isselee / Shutterstock

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year 
from 
Companion Animal Psychology Blog!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Can Fatal Dog Attacks Be Prevented?

A sobering new report shows such tragic attacks are a multi-factorial problem.

A happy foxhound-beagle cross sits on a chair
Dogs should be part of family life. Photo: V.J. Matthew / Shutterstock

Cases of humans being killed by dogs are investigated in a new paper by lead author Gary Patronek (Center for Animals and Public Policy, Tufts University).The scientists analyzed dog bite fatalities in the United States from 2000 to 2009, and discovered there are usually multiple contributing factors, many of them preventable.

During this time, there was an average of 25.6 dog bite fatalities per year, equivalent to 0.087 fatal bites per one million people per year. To put this in context, it is much less than the risk of being struck by lightning in the United States, which is estimated at 1 in 775,000 people per year.   

Previous research has relied on media reports, which may not be entirely accurate or provide the full story. In this study, although the scientists used the media to help identify cases of dog bite fatalities, they also searched national death records. Up until 2007, when personal details were removed from the national registry, they were able to match specific cases to media articles. 

The scientists found a total of 256 instances in the ten year period of the study. For almost 70% of these, they spoke to a law enforcement official who had been involved in the investigation. When prosecutions followed, the team kept in touch until the case was finally resolved, even if this took months or years. In some cases they spoke to animal control officials, veterinarians, or the coroner, to ensure accurate information. They then developed a classification system to record whether or not certain features were involved. 

The results are sobering. In 77.4% of cases, the victim was considered unable or potentially unable to safely interact with a dog, whether because they were a child or for another reason, such as a learning disability or dementia. This includes children under the age of 5, who made up 45% of the victims, showing that this group is especially vulnerable. The reason this kind of vulnerability factor is so important is because in 87% of cases there was no one else there who could intervene. 

Just over half of the attacks involved a single dog. Most of the attacks involved a male dog, whether on its own or as part of a multiple-dog attack (with other male or female dogs). The attacking dog(s) had not been spayed/neutered in 84.4% of cases.  

It is interesting that multiple dogs were present in the majority of attacks, even if only one dog was responsible. The authors report ASPCA figures that most homes have only one dog. Although many happy multi-dog homes exist, it could be that the presence of multiple dogs, particularly when they are sexually intact, is sometimes an indicator of mistreatment or neglect. 

Only 15.6% of fatal attacks involved a “family dog”, in other words one that interacted with people on a regular basis. The remainder of the dogs lived on a chain (37.9%), in an isolated area such as a fenced yard (34.9%), or roamed free (15.4%).  In a fairly high number of cases, the owner already knew the dog might be a problem (37.5%), such as due to a previous attack, or was known to have neglected or abused the animal (21.1%).

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that over 200,000 dogs spend their lives tethered  It is not known how many others are kept locked in a kennel or room. Some places are updating animal control laws to outlaw this. For example, a law that restricts the chaining and tethering of dogs passed the Oregon legislature in June 2013. Education is also important to teach owners that dogs should be socialized as puppies and then have ongoing happy interactions with humans throughout their lives, so that they know how to behave around them.

Many municipalities have Breed Specific Legislation, despite the lack of evidence for such an approach, and so the scientists went to great lengths to verify breed and compare media reports. Evidence of breed (e.g. from pedigree documents) was only available for 19 of the dogs in single dog attacks, and for 28 of those in multiple-dog attacks.  Of these, there were 20 different breeds (including known cross-breeds), showing that banning specific breeds is not a solution. 

Media reporting of breed was found to be problematic, including a few cases where multiple dogs of named breeds were said to be responsible for attacks that were actually carried out by single dogs. When more than one media source reported the attack, they mentioned different breeds almost a third of the time. Similarly, when it was possible to compare a media report with animal control, they gave different breeds 40% of the time.

This research suggests that Breed Specific Legislation does not protect people from dog bite fatalities.  At worst, it may even distract people (and financial resources) from the factors that do make a difference: close supervision of children and vulnerable adults, and good animal husbandry practices that involve the dog in family life. Given the prevalence of husbandry-related factors in these incidents, legislations should consider strengthening measures aimed at preventing cruelty and neglect and supporting responsible ownership.

Many risk factors co-occurred. The average was five, with three-quarters having at least four. The scientists say, “the most striking finding was the co-occurrence of multiple factors potentially under the control of dog owners: isolation of dogs from positive family interaction and other human contact; mismanagement of dogs by owners; abuse or neglect of dogs by owners; dogs left unsupervised with a child or vulnerable adult who may be unfamiliar to the dog; and maintenance of dogs in an environment where  they are trapped, neglected, and isolated and have little control over either the environment or choice of behavior.”

This study focussed on fatalities, which are extremely rare, but the CDC estimates that 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, with 885,000 needing medical attention. About half of these bites are to children, who are particularly at risk between the ages of 5 and 9, and more likely to need medical attention if bitten. A 2011 study by Ilana Reisner et al found that, amongst children taken to an emergency department for a dog bite, 70% of those under 7 had been bitten on the face, while older children were most often bitten on an extremity.  

A recent study by Barbara Morrongiello et al found that many parents tend to “assume safety” with an unfamiliar dog and, although watchful, may not be close enough to intervene should anything go wrong. However, it seems that parents would welcome education for their children on how to safely interact with dogs, according to research by Cinnamon Dixon et al. This is something that could be incorporated into the elementary school classroom, for example. 

The analysis of dog bite fatalities shows the crucial importance of close supervision of young children and vulnerable adults around dogs, and the need for a better understanding of animal behaviour amongst dog owners, parents, and health professionals. The authors say “the present study findings also have supported recommendations by the AVMA and others regarding the inadvisability of single-factor solutions such as BSL, which may actually divert resources from more effective measures and regulations.” It seems that a new approach to dog bite prevention is needed.

What do you think should be done to reduce the number of dog bites?

References
Dixon, C., Mahabee-Gittens, E.M., Hart, K.W., & Lindsell, C.J. (2012). Dog bite prevention: An assessment of child knowledge The Journal of Pediatrics, 160, 337-341 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2011.07.016  
Morrongiello BA, Schwebel DC, Stewart J, Bell M, Davis AL, & Corbett MR (2013). Examining parents' behaviors and supervision of their children in the presence of an unfamiliar dog: does The Blue Dog intervention improve parent practices? Accident; analysis and prevention, 54, 108-13 PMID: 23499982  
Patronek GJ, Sacks JJ, Delise KM, Cleary DV, & Marder AR (2013). Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite-related fatalities in the United States (2000-2009). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 243 (12), 1726-36 PMID: 24299544  
Reisner IR, Nance ML, Zeller JS, Houseknecht EM, Kassam-Adams N, & Wiebe DJ (2011). Behavioural characteristics associated with dog bites to children presenting to an urban trauma centre. Injury prevention : journal of the International Society for Child and Adolescent Injury Prevention, 17 (5), 348-53 PMID: 21444335

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Should You Take Your Dog to the Dog Park?

Dogs are social creatures, but while some dogs clearly love to visit dog parks, others seem less happy about it. New research by Ottenheimer Carrier et al (Memorial University of Newfoundland) investigates whether the dog park is stressful, and what dogs do there.

A chocolate and a yellow labrador running with a stick
Photo: Gerald Marella / Shutterstock

Dog parks are open spaces, usually fenced, where dogs can be off-leash. They are particularly useful in municipalities where leash laws mean there are few spaces for dogs to run free. The researchers recruited owners at a dog park and asked if their dogs could take part.  

Eleven dogs took part in the first study, in which saliva samples were collected before and after a walk, before arrival at the dog park, and after being in the dog park for about twenty minutes. Because some samples did not get enough saliva, full results were available for six dogs. The results showed that salivary cortisol levels were higher after 20 minutes in the dog park compared to before they arrived. There was no difference in levels before and after a walk.

Sixty dogs aged 6 months to 15.5 years took part in the second study. 81% were spayed or neutered, and all but one were medium or large breeds because the park was for dogs over 12kg. Owners completed a questionnaire about their dog, including the frequency of visiting the park, and canine personality scales. Each dog was videoed for twenty minutes, and then a saliva sample was taken.

The videos were analyzed to see how dogs spent their time. Five dogs were not included in this analysis because, during the time of the video, they were alone or one of only two in the park and hence did not have chance to interact with several other dogs. For the remaining dogs, there were typically seven dogs in the park at any one time.

Forty per cent of the time was spent near to a human, either with a human alone or with a mixed group of human(s) and dogs. The size of the dog park could have had something to do with this. Dogs spent about a third of their time alone, and about a quarter with other dogs in groups or more.

There was a correlation between play behaviour and mounting. There was also a correlation between stress behaviour (such as a tucked tail) and a hunched posture. Almost all of the dogs displayed a stress-related behaviour at some point, and 83% displayed at least one play signal/behaviour. Older dogs were less active, and younger dogs were more playful.

The owners’ ratings of their dog’s amicability were linked to the frequency of play signals and behaviours. Ratings of extraversion linked to how much time was spent in a pair with another dog. 

The dogs who visited the dog park the least had the highest cortisol levels, suggesting that they found it stressful. Dogs that had already visited the park within the previous week showed fewer stress-related behaviours than dogs that had not visited as recently.

So what does this mean for your dog? The scientists say “Owners of dogs showing lowered posture in the dog park might be advised to reconsider exposing their dog to this setting for welfare reasons. Most dogs, however, especially those which owners rate as physically active and friendly, appear to have overall positive experiences in the dog park, and likely benefit from the physical activity and social interactions that such a setting provides.”

Does your dog like to visit the dog park?

Reference:
Ottenheimer Carrier, L., Cyr, A., Anderson, R.E., & Walsh, C.J. (2013). Exploring the dog park: Relationships between social behaviours, personality and cortisol in companion dogs Applied Animal Behaviour Science , 146, 96-106 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2013.04.002

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Do Dogs Or Hand-Reared Wolves Pay More Attention to People?

Theories about the domestication of dogs often say they have evolved to pay more attention to humans than their wolf forebears. But the experimental evidence tends to only look at dogs. A new study by Friederike Range (University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna) and Szófia Virányi (Wolf Science Centre) compares the abilities of dogs and hand-reared wolves to utilize observations of human or dog behaviour to find food.
A captive gray wolf in snow, looking through two silver birches at the camera
Photo: Holly Kuchera / Shutterstock

Eleven wolves and fourteen dogs took part in the study. They were hand-reared in similar conditions, and all were taught basic obedience such as sit, down, and how to walk on a leash. They were tested at 4, 5 and 7 months of age.

The study took place in a meadow. A dead chick was used as food in the experiment.  Each wolf or dog was held on a short leash while a demonstrator (human or canine) put the chick in one of three locations. Then they were released on a 10m long line to explore as they wished. Each trial ended after the chick had been found or two minutes had elapsed, whichever was soonest.

In two other conditions, the demonstrator (human or canine) walked to one of the locations and back without a chick. This was a ‘pretend’ scenario to check the animals were paying attention. In a control condition, the chick was hidden prior to the animal arriving, and there was no demonstration; this tested whether they could find it by smell alone. 

Because the handler had a dead chick in her pocket during these three conditions, she also had to have a dead chick in her pocket during the dog and human demonstrator conditions, so that this would not be an extraneous factor.

The results showed that both dogs and wolves were more likely to find the dead chick in the meadow if there was a demonstrator. In all five conditions, dogs were more likely to find the chick than wolves, though it is not clear if they were better at it or more motivated.

There was a significant difference between dogs and wolves in the demonstrator conditions. Dogs performed equally well whether the demonstrator was a dog or a human. However, wolves performed much better when the demonstrator was human. In fact, the wolves did not pay much attention to the dog demonstrator, whether it really hid the chick or just pretended to.

The fact that both wolves and dogs did better when there was a demonstrator shows they used visual information, and not just smell, to locate the chick. The scientists say, “Although it is clear that canines have an extraordinary sense of smell, little is known regarding in what situations they actually use olfactory cues if not specifically trained to do so.” A recent paper by Alexandra Horowitz et al (2013) is a fascinating first step in understanding the sense of smell of ordinary pet dogs.

In the control condition both dogs and wolves sometimes found the chick, showing they could use their sense of smell to locate it. Interestingly, they did less well at this when they were 7 months compared to younger. Another difference as they aged was that they spent longer watching the demonstrations. It’s not clear if this is because – by this time – they had prior experience of the experimental set-up and had learned the demonstrator would be hiding food. It could also be a developmental difference, or that they simply had more experience with both dogs and people at this point.

The wolves were better at finding the chicks following a human demonstration. It is hard to interpret the results in terms of domestication, however. Dogs were more attentive to the human control trials, which could be because they have evolved to pay more attention to humans. Or it might be that the wolves had a better understanding of causality, and did not pay attention to a human with no food because they knew nothing was in it for them.

The scientists say, “Interestingly, the wolves were less interested in the dog demonstration than the dogs even when the demonstrator had a chick in its mouth, whereas both groups paid similar attention to the demonstration in the dog control trials. This result is in contrast with our expectations based on the domestication hypothesis… the wolves went to the end point more often in the human demonstration trials than in any of the other three conditions. This suggests that they paid special attention to the human demonstration also when compared to the dog demonstration.”

Although there are several possible explanations, the ones the scientists deem most likely are that the wolves have a better understanding than dogs that food comes from humans, or that the wolves were sensitive to signals from the demonstrator dogs. It turns out the demonstrator dogs “did not like to take the dead chicks in their mouths and clearly showed their resistance by turning their head or trying to spit the chick out.” The wolves may have recognized these signs of disgust, and hence been less interested in the food.

If the experiment was repeated, it would be a good idea to use a food item the demonstrator dogs do not object to. It’s unfortunate they were asked to do something they did not like, particularly since the paper states that the dog and wolf participants were given a choice as to whether or not they took part. The researchers say they used dead chicks because "the animals are highly motivated to obtain them," and obviously it has to be an item the demonstrator dogs are trained to drop and leave behind. 

The study shows that both dogs and wolves can use information from a visual demonstration to find food, but wolves had most success following a human demonstrator. These findings potentially contradict the domestication hypothesis, but because there are several possible explanations, more research is needed.

Does your dog pay attention when you are doing things with food, such as cooking or eating?

Reference
Horowitz, A, Hecht, J, & Dedrick, A (2013). Smelling more or less: Investigating the olfactory experience of the domestic dog Learning and Motivation, 44 (4), 207-217 : http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lmot.2013.02.002  
Range, F., & Viranyi, S. (2013). Social learning from humans or conspecifics: differences and similarities between wolves and dogs Frontiers in Psychology, 4 : 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00868

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Can Dogs Eavesdrop?

Photo: Sophie Louise Davis / Shutterstock
Several studies suggest that dogs pay attention when humans are nice to someone, and preferentially approach the ‘nice’ rather than ‘not nice’ person. A new study by Esteban Freidin et al investigates dogs’ eavesdropping abilities in the search for further evidence on this ability.

Studies of canine eavesdropping typically involve a scenario in which two people have food and another person, playing the role of ‘beggar’, approaches to ask for some. One person gives food to the beggar, while the other refuses. After observing this, dogs are released to see which person they will approach first.

In a study by Sarah Marshall-Pescini et al (2011), dogs that observed generous versus selfish donors later chose to approach the generous person. This preference was strongest when both donors spoke and gestured towards the beggar. It was still found when the information available to the dog was verbal only, but dogs did not seem to be able to interpret gesture on its own. This study manipulated the behaviour of the donor, but the beggar’s actions remained the same.

The current experiment uses a version of this in which the dog observes how the ‘beggar’ responds. At the start, the two experimental assistants went up to the dog and showed it their plates, which contained cornflakes (for humans) and sausages (for dogs). Then they took up positions at opposite sides of the room, and began to eat the cornflakes at a regular pace. 

In the main condition, a person playing the role of beggar came in, approached each person in turn and asked for food. They always gave the beggar a cornflake, but he responded differently to each person. With the “positive” person, he ate the cornflake and said “So tasty!” With the “negative” person he rejected the cornflake, put it back on the plate, said “So ugly!” and turned his back to them. This condition therefore included both Gestural and Verbal information.

There were two other conditions. The Gestural condition was the same, except the beggar did not speak. In the Verbal condition, the beggar spoke the same words as in the main condition, but he did not gesture (and hence did not receive cornflakes).

In each condition, the beggar had six interactions (i.e. three with each person). After the beggar had left the room, the dog was released and was free to approach the people.

The experimental set-up. Source: PLoS One

The experiment was conducted at a location familiar to the dog, whether that was its home or a day-care. Seventy-two dogs took part, although some had to be excluded because they did not approach anyone (some of these dogs did not pay attention to the interaction and some seemed fearful). After this, there were fifteen dogs per group.

In the main condition, 13 out of 15 dogs approached the person who had received a “positive” response from the beggar. This suggests the dogs had successfully eavesdropped on the interactions. 

However, in the Gestural and Verbal conditions, the dogs’ choices were not significantly different from chance. This suggests that information from both gestures and speech was needed for the dogs to be able to choose the person who was most likely to give them something nice to eat.

Another version of the experiment was conducted, in which the two people changed places three times during the interaction sequence. After this, the dogs did not choose at a rate different from chance. It may be that they used the location to help them remember, that they were not able to discriminate easily between people they had only just met, or that they were confused by the multiple changes of place.

In a further version, in which the beggar acted the same but the donors were replaced by bowls of food, the dogs’ choices were no different from chance.

The researchers say, “we found that dogs could choose which donor to beg food from based, not on the behaviour of the target individuals (the donors in our protocol), but on the reaction that an interacting person (the beggar, who was absent at the time of choice) showed towards them. This finding may indicate a level of subtlety in dogs’ eavesdropping not found before.”

The dogs could use gestural and verbal information combined to decide who to approach for food, but without both types of information they did not know who to approach. And unlike previous studies, this was based solely on the reactions of the beggar.
 
When do your dogs beg for food?

Reference
Freidin E, Putrino N, D'Orazio M, & Bentosela M (2013). Dogs' Eavesdropping from People's Reactions in Third Party Interactions. PloS one, 8 (11) PMID: 24236108  
Marshall-Pescini, S., Passalacqua, C., Ferrario, A., Valsecchi, P., & Prato-Previde, E. (2011). Social eavesdropping in the domestic dog Animal Behaviour, 81, 1177-1183 DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.02.029

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Cat's Gotta Scratch ...

Research shows that if a scratching post is available, cats will use it.

Scratching is a normal behaviour for a cat, but can be problematic for owners if a cat chooses to scratch the wrong items. A new study by Manuel Mengoli et al in Italy investigates feline scratching behaviour amongst a mixed sample of cats.

Photo: Imageman / Shutterstock

Cats scratch for a variety of reasons, including communicating with other cats via visible scratch marks and olfactory signals left behind from glands in the plantar pads. It may also keep their claws sharp and healthy. Although scratching is a normal behaviour, it can also be a sign of stress. As the authors say, “the use of scratching as a marking signal is normal in a wide territory, but when it is observed repeatedly inside the house, it is reasonable to conclude that the animal is not feeling safe in that specific environment.”

Cat owners were recruited via vet clinics and the departments of Psychology and Veterinary Medicine at the University of Padua. They completed a survey about their cat and its scratching behaviour. 

Surveys were completed for 128 cats, including both indoor and outdoor cats, a range of ages, males and females, neutered or not. (Unusually, the paper does not give details of the cat demographics, such as average age). 

The questionnaire asked about access to outdoors, whether or not a scratching post was available in the home, how often the cat used it, and how often (if ever) the cat scratched other items.


The results showed differences in scratching behaviour. The cats most likely to scratch ‘inappropriate’ items were entire males, who did not have a scratching post in the home. On the other hand, some cats hardly ever scratched inappropriate places, particularly neutered males, and intact females with access to the outdoors.

The most important finding for cat owners is this: If a scratching post is present, cats use it. 

If your cat is causing problems with scratching behaviour, the obvious solution is to get a scratching post. If this does not solve the problem, then you may also need to consider the kind of post you provide.

Although this study did not look at the type of post, it seems that some cats have preferences. Since posts can be made of different materials, including sisal, carpet and wood, it could be worth experimenting to find which your cat prefers. In fact, subsequent research has studied which is the best scratching post from the cat's perspective.

Another factor to bear in mind is the height of the post relative to the cat, since cats often like to stretch upwards while they scratch. Some posts on the market are of a height that is better suited to small cats, and bigger cats may prefer a taller post. Also, some cats like to scratch on a horizontal surface as well as a vertical one.

It is important for cat owners to know that scratching posts, if provided, will be used. De-clawing is illegal in many places, including the UK, Australia and Brazil, but is common in some other countries including the US. The procedure is called onychectomy, and involves amputation of the last bone of each toe on the front paws (i.e. not just removal of the claws, because the claws are attached to the bone).

In his book Cat Sense, John Bradshaw writes that “The initial pain resulting from the procedure may be controlled with analgesics, but we do not know whether cats subsequently feel phantom pain due to the nerves that have been severed. However, cats and humans have nearly identical mechanisms for feeling pain, and four out of five people who have fingers amputated have phantom pain, so cats most likely do as well… Declawed cats are more likely to urinate outside their litter trays than other indoor cats, possibly because of the stress of this phantom pain.”

So the finding that cats will use scratching posts, while obvious to some, will help many cats and their owners.

What kind of scratching post does your cat prefer?

Reference
Bradshaw, J. (2013) Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed. London:Allen Lane.
Mengoli M, Mariti C, Cozzi A, Cestarollo E, Lafont-Lecuelle C, Pageat P, & Gazzano A (2013). Scratching behaviour and its features: a questionnaire-based study in an Italian sample of domestic cats. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 15 (10), 886-92 PMID: 23492353

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