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Showing posts from February, 2014

Enrichment and Play in Domestic Ferrets

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Enrichment, play, and time out of the cage are important for the welfare of pet ferrets.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

Ferrets are popular pets because they are curious, playful and engaging. A new study by Sarah Talbot et al (Charles Stuart University, Australia) looks at play, behaviour problems and enrichment in domestic ferrets.

Despite a reputation for aggression, it seems that ferrets rarely bite – and they love toys.

According to the American Ferret Association, ferrets “are independent, yet enjoy being with people. Their mischievous and playful nature, retained well into old age, makes them entertaining companions.

It is estimated that there are 334 ferrets per 1000 households in the US, and many owners have multiple ferrets. According to the UK's National Ferret Census, most ferrets are kept as companion animals, but about 20% are both working and companion ferrets.



The study involved a questionnaire that was distributed via Australian vets that treat ferrets, the websites of ferret…

Food Enrichment for Cats

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Cats are natural predators, so how can you satisfy a domestic cat’s hunting instinct? A new study investigates the use of food – specifically, sirloin – dangled on wires as a form of enrichment for a captive colony of cats. The results are useful for the average cat owner as well as for animal shelters.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

The study by Juliana Damasceno and Gelson Genaro (University of São Paolo) took place at a captive cat colony in São Paolo, Brazil. The 35 cats that participated in the study had all lived as a captive colony for four years, in a caged outside enclosure. One of the experimenters was already very familiar to the cats since she had spent some years helping to take care of them.
Previous work has shown that food can be used as enrichment for cats, but there are individual differences in how cats interact with such items. One of the aims of this study was to look at those differences, and see if changes to the enrichment program would lead to more cats interacting with th…

Dog Training, Animal Welfare, and the Human-Canine Relationship

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Dog training with positive reinforcement is better for animal welfare and our relationship with the dog.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

Many people are concerned that aversive-based dog training methods can have side-effects. A new study by Stéphanie Deldalle and Florence Gaunet (in press in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior) observes dogs and their humans at training classes using either positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement. The results support the idea that positive reinforcement is beneficial for the canine-human bond and better for animal welfare.

The scientists looked at on-leash walking and ‘sit’ in advanced training classes, where the dogs were already familiar with these behaviours. The dog training schools were selected from observations of beginner classes, to find one school that used positive reinforcement (R+) and one that used negative reinforcement (R-). Reinforcement is something that increases a behaviour and can be positive (adding something nice when the behaviour i…

Is Caring for Animals Good for Young People's Social Development?

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A new study finds that young people who have pets are more connected to their communities than those who don't.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

The study, by Megan Mueller (Tufts University), is published in the journal Applied Developmental Science. It is based on a survey of 567 young people in the US aged between 18 and 26, and was part of a wider longitudinal study called the 4-H study. 
The questionnaire asked whether or not participants owned an animal, how often they were responsible for its care if they did, and whether they were involved in other activities with animals. Other questions asked about their contribution to society, commitment to animals, morality about animals, attachment to and emotions about animals. The researchers also looked at what are called the 5Cs of positive youth development – competence, confidence, connection, character and caring.
The results showed a correlation between taking part in animal-related activities and higher scores on a scale called Contributio…