What was the Role of Cats in Anglo Saxon England?

Fascinating new research investigates what the archaeological record tells us about people and cats in Anglo Saxon times. Was the human-feline relationship very different from today?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

New research by Kristopher Poole (University of Nottingham) investigates the role of cats in Anglo Saxon England. The period from AD 410 until the Norman invasion of 1066 was a time of great change. The Roman Empire had lost its control and many people immigrated to England, particularly from northern Europe. The urban population grew as small towns developed, and the spread of Christianity brought changes in people’s belief systems. What kind of relationship did people have with cats during this time?

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Fur is probably not the first thing you think of, but evidence from bones suggests that some cats – especially young ones – were used for fur. It isn’t known if the cats were bred for this or if they were captured. Cat bones found at Coppergate in York su…

Did Dogs, Cats and Cows Predict the Magnitude 9 Earthquake in Japan in 2011?

Is it possible that animals had advance warning of the Tohoku earthquake?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

There have long been reports of animals behaving strangely before large quakes, including an account of snakes, weasels and rats leaving home prior to an earthquake in Greece in 373BC. But there is still a lack of scientific evidence. A new study in Japan investigates pet owners’ reports of cat and dog behaviour, and changes in dairy milk production, before the magnitude 9 earthquake in 2011.
The earthquake and tsunami in Japan on 11th March 2011 was devastating. After the quake, in December 2011 and January 2012, Japanese scientists Hiroyuki Yamauchi et al (2014) conducted an internet survey of pet owners. As well as obtaining demographic information about pets, they asked about any unusual behaviour exhibited in the minutes, hours and days prior to the earthquake. The checklist included things like howling and barking (for dogs), vocalizing (for cats), trembling, being restless, and escaping.…

Guinea Pigs and Domestication

Domestication changes animals in many ways. We still don’t fully understand how – or when, or where – the dog was domesticated. But it turns out the guinea pig is the guinea pig of domestication research as scientists compare guinea pigs to their wild cousins, cavies.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

A new paper by Benjamin Zipser et al (University of M√ľnster, Germany) compares adolescent guinea pigs and wild cavies. Previous research has found differences between adult guinea pigs and cavies in things like sociability, aggression, and exploratory behaviour.But no one had found out whether these differences were already present in adolescent guinea pigs, until now.
The word cavy is sometimes used to refer to different members of the guinea pig family, including the domestic guinea pig. The wild cavies in this study were Cavia aperea, also known as the Brazilian guinea pig. It is found in the grasslands of several South American countries including Brazil, Argentina and Peru. They mainly eat grass bu…

What Do People Look for When Adopting a Dog?

A study of over 2000 shelter dogs investigates the physical and behavioural characteristics that help dogs get rehomed. Some of the results may surprise you.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

A recent study by Christina Siettou et al (University of Kent) uses techniques from consumer analysis to gain a better understanding of people’s choices when adopting a dog from a shelter.The researchers looked at the different characteristics of dogs waiting for homes and compared it to the likelihood that a new home is found. 
The online profiles of 2,037 dogs, described as available on the Dogs Trust website, were tracked from first appearance until they were adopted. Dogs Trust was chosen because it has 18 re-homing centres across the UK and takes care of more than 16,000 dogs every year. Their rehoming procedure includes a thorough behavioural assessment that typically lasts 7 days, including time spent in ‘real life’ rooms at the shelter that mimic homes. Dogs Trust also have facilities where dogs can rece…

Feeding the Felines: Does Food Intake Change with the Seasons?

Do you ever feel like you want to eat more in the winter than in summer? It could be that your cat is the same.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

New research by Samuel Serisier et al (2014) investigates how much cats choose to eat at different times of year. The results show seasonal variations in food intake in cats that were allowed free access to food.
The study took place over a four-year period in the South of France. 38 cats took part, including 7 Bengal cats, 6 European shorthairs, 5 Maine Coons and a range of other breeds. There were 17 male cats (almost all neutered) and 21 female (of which ten were spayed).The cats were all healthy, although 16 of them were overweight at the start (and end) of the study. 
The cats were resident at the Royal Canin Research Centre. 8 of the cats were indoors-only, and the rest of the cats had an indoor pen with access to an outdoor run. They lived in colonies of 8 cats. There was a two-hour period each day when a caregiver initiated play with each group of c…

What Is A Typical Animal Hoarder?

Sometimes we hear their cases on the news – dozens of sick and frightened dogs or cats removed from the home of an animal hoarder. But is there a typical profile, and how big is the problem?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

A study by Calvo et al (2014) investigates 24 cases of animal hoarding in Spain between 2002 and 2011. 

Animal hoarding is not simply having large numbers of pets; it also involves a lack of care for those pets, such that they are sick, not receiving veterinary care and living in unhygienic conditions. The hoarder is usually in denial about the situation and still acquiring more animals. As well as any mental health issues, the person may also suffer physical health problems from a living situation littered with animal urine, faeces, and even dead pets. 
For the humane societies who take in the animals, it can be a difficult problem to deal with given the sudden intake of so many creatures in poor health.

Calvo et al say,
“Animals coming from cases of animal hoarding sometimes mu…

Does Animal-Assisted Therapy Help At-Risk Boys?

If existing behavioural programs aren’t working, can therapeutic sessions with a dog help boys who have problems at school?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

A new paper by Abbey Schneider et al (2014) investigates the success of a program designed to help boys who are considered ‘at-risk’ – by matching them up with a specially trained dog and handler.
In Colorado, a group of elementary schools take part in a program called the Human Animal Bond in Colorado (HABIC). It is designed to help girls and boys who have problems such as hyperactivity, aggression, anxiety, or depression. These children are usually given an Individualized Education Plan to help them in school, and several behavioural support systems are also available. When these supports are not enough, children can be referred to HABIC.
The Animal Assisted Therapy program matches each child to a specific dog and handler, with whom they spend 10-12 sessions. The first is a meet-and-greet, and in this and subsequent sessions the child helps th…