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Does Playtime for Cats Reduce Behaviour Problems?

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Does few toys and no play equal issues with your cat?




By Zazie Todd, PhD

A new survey of cat owners by Beth Strickler and Elizabeth Shull investigates how many toys the average cat has, how often their owner plays with them, and whether there is a link with behaviour problems.

Since behaviour problems are a common reason for cats to be surrendered to shelters and so many cats are euthanized every year, it’s important to understand how meeting the behavioural needs of cats can lead to fewer behaviour problems.

Providing toys and opportunities for play is one of the fivepillars of a healthy environment for cats, according to the International Society of Feline Medicine and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (Ellis et al 2013).


Play should allow the cat to mimic different aspects of predation. Toys and play are especially important as enrichment for indoor cats. Of the cats in this study, 61% were indoors-only cats who never go outside. The remainder of the cats spent some t…

Are Dogs Good for Our Health?

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We’re used to reading that they are, but it’s more complicated than you think.


By Zazie Todd, PhD

A new study by González Ramírez and Landero Hernández in Mexico compares dog-owners with non-dog-owners to find out whether or not dogs are beneficial to people’s health and well-being. They wanted to improve on the design of many previous studies by comparing two groups of people who were similar except for the fact that some owned dogs and some did not.
There are several reasons why pets might be good for us. It could be that we have an instinctive bond with nature, and so the company of animals lowers stress and makes us feel better. This is the biophilia hypothesis, which also says we have an especial liking for baby-faced animals, which has an evolutionary advantage. An alternative idea is that animals provide social support themselves and also encourage interactions with other people, thus making us less lonely and helping us to have better mental health.
602 people took part and ans…

Should Pets be Included in Emergency Planning?

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And can they help vulnerable people be more resilient?

A new paper by Thompson et al (2014) in Australia considers how pets can be incorporated into planning for emergencies such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and forest fires. It can quite literally be a matter of life and death. For example, they say, “over 8% of flood-related fatalities in Australia from 1788 to September 1996 resulted from people’s attempts to save ‘stock, property or pets’ – even when the animal or pet was not their own.” 
People sometimes risk their lives in an emergency because they do not want to leave their pets behind. If someone refuses to evacuate because they cannot bring their dog or cat, their life may be at risk, as well as the lives of emergency responders. It’s not just pets – sometimes people are motivated to risk their own lives to try and protect farm animals or wildlife.
The question posed by the paper is, given we know animals are a risk factor in an emergency, is it possible instead for ani…

How Many Dogs is Enough for Canine Science?

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And does it matter which dogs they are?


By Zazie Todd, PhD

The number of dogs that take part in each research study is variable. Often, the sample size is small, because of the difficulty of recruiting dogs and their owners. And while scientists know how many are needed for statistical analysis, there are other things to take into account too.
For example, breed may or may not be relevant. If only ten dogs take part in a study and they are all Australian Shepherds, the results may not be the same as if they were all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. 
There are 180 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. Studies can’t possibly include them all, and then there are mixed breeds to consider too. Some researchers get round this by grouping dogs according to breed type (e.g. toy, working), and trying to include some of each. Scientific papers usually report the breed(s) of dog that took part, along with other variables that could potentially influence results, such as whether or not the…

How Does a Dog's Brain Respond to the Smell of a Familiar Human?

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And what does it tell us about the importance of people to their dogs?


By Zazie Todd, PhD

New fMRI research by Gregory Berns et al (in press) shows that dog’s brains respond differently to the smell of a familiar human compared to an unfamiliar human and other canines – suggesting that certain people are special to their dogs.
The research focussed on a part of the brain called the caudate, which has been much investigated in humans, monkeys and rats. The scientists explain that “caudate activity is correlated with salient, usually rewarding signals that cause the animal to change its behavioural orientation to approach or consume the stimulus.”

Previous research by the team showed that this part of the brain lights up when the dog is given a hand signal that means it will be given a treat, confirming that caudate activation in dogs is connected with rewards.

The results showed that the caudate was activated significantly more in response to the smell of the familiar human than to any …

Are All Labrador Retrievers the Same?

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Or do show dogs and field dogs vary in temperament? And are there differences between chocolate Labs, yellow Labs, and black Labs? Science has the answers.



By Zazie Todd, PhD

It’s often said there are personality differences between Labrador Retrievers bred to show (conformation dogs) and those bred to work (field dogs). And chocolate labs have a reputation for being different than black labs and yellow labs. Is it true?

Research by Sarah Lofgren et al (Royal (Dick) Veterinary School, University of Edinburgh) investigates.

The American Kennel Club describes the temperament of the Labrador Retriever as friendly, active, and outgoing. Labrador Retrievers are in the Sporting group. The AKC says,
"Labs are famously friendly. They are companionable housemates who bond with the whole family, and they socialize well with neighbor dogs and humans alike. But don’t mistake his easygoing personality for low energy: The Lab is an enthusiastic athlete that requires lots of exercise, like swimm…

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

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Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.



By Zazie Todd, PhD

Research by Michelle Lem et al (University of Guelph) asks homeless young people (aged 18-24) what their pet means to them. Previous studies have focussed on the benefits to homeless people of owning a dog or cat. The aim of this study was to get a balanced picture of both the advantages and disadvantages. 
Ten homeless young people took part in in-depth interviews about their pet. 8 of them had a dog, and 2 had a cat but had previously had a dog whilst homeless. Most lived on the street or in a vulnerable housing situation (squatting/couch-surfing), and three had found stable housing.
The main theme to emerge was that of putting the animal first. Everyone in the study said they put their pet first, even if this meant suffering hardship themselves. For example, they would not take up housing if they could not bring the animal with them. This shows the value they place on the companionshi…