Preparation Makes a Difference to Pets in an Emergency

After the Great Earthquake in Japan, preparation was key to evacuating with pets - including training and socialization.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

When the magnitude 9 earthquake struck Japan in 2011, causing a tsunami and subsequent accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant, over 15,000 people were killed. Many people had to evacuate at short notice. Did emergency planning make a difference to their pets?

In 2012, pet owners from two of the most badly affected areas, Iwate and Fukushima Prefectures, were asked about whether or not they took their pet and the types of planning they had done beforehand. The survey, by Sakiko Yamazaki (Humane Society International), has important implications for disaster preparedness. 
In both Iwate and Fukushima, the most common thing people had done to prepare for an emergency was to have extra supplies of pet food. The percentage of people who did this was about the same amongst those who did and did not evacuate with their pet.
Training and socialization of pets…

Summer Reading: The Play Edition

Our summer reading list is all about play.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Why do animals play? In Dog Sense, John Bradshaw writes “In wild animals, play must promote survival; otherwise, evolution would select against it – a young animal that is playing out in the open is much more obvious to a predator than one sleeping in its den. However, the benefits of play donot usually become apparent until months later, when they emerge in the form of better social integration or more sophisticated hunting techniques (to name but two, which vary from one species to another). Again, the simplest explanation is that play is self-rewarding: in other words – it is fun!”
Our summer reading list includes links to articles on play in dogs, cats, rabbits, meerkats and humans. Enjoy!
Why people and animals should take time out to play, by Dr. Anne Fawcett.
Is your dog’s rough play appropriate? Barbara Smuts and Camille Ward, PhD, explain the difference between play fighting and real fighting at The Bark.  Do dogs unde…

The Beneficial Effects of Watching Fish

Spending time observing an aquarium leads to improvements in mood and reductions in heart rate.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

There are psychological benefits to watching fish and crustaceans in an aquarium, according to a new study by Deborah Cracknell et al. They observed people’s natural interactions with a marine life display, and took heart rate, blood pressure and questionnaire results from 84 experimental participants. 

But the display wasn’t a fish tank that you could fit in your living room – it was a large exhibit at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, UK.
Sitting and looking at the display led to significant reductions in blood pressure and heart rate. “Most of these gains occurred within the first five minutes,” write the authors. 

The results are not due simply to sitting, they say, as experimental participants had a rest period before a curtain was opened to reveal the display.
The researchers were able to take advantage of a new marine life display being created at the museum. The…

Proof the Internet helps Cat Adoptions

And that toys are important in photographs of adoptable cats.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

We all assume that internet photos and adverts play an important role in pet adoption these days, and now it’s possible to put a figure on it, at least for cats. 82.5% of people who adopted a cat from a shelter in Western New York said Petfinder strongly or moderately influenced their adoption.

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The length of time cats waited for adoption varied from 1 to 126 days. Cats whose Petfinder profiles were clicked more than once a day were typically adopted in 9 days, but cats with less than one click per day typically waited 23 days for a new home.
The study, by Miranda Workman and Christy Hoffman (Canisius College), also looked at preferred features of adoptable cats. Coat colour made a big difference, with cream cats getting adopted in less than ten days, but black or smoke-coloured cats waited 22 days on average. Not surprisingly, younger cats were adopted faster. Male cats wer…

De-Stressing with a Puppy for Parents of Children with Autism

A pet dog can reduce stress for parents of a child with autism spectrum disorder, according to a new study.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Research by Hannah Wright et al (University of Lincoln) finds that a family dog reduces stress in the caregivers of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This result is especially striking because it applies to pet dogs rather than specially trained service dogs. But there are caveats, because a dog is not right for all families.
The study looked at parents of children with ASD, and compared those who chose to get a dog to those who did not. Parents in the group that acquired a dog had significantly lower scores for total stress, parental distress, and for how difficult they thought their child was. 

The change for parental distress was enough that many parents moved from a rating considered clinically high prior to getting a dog, to one that is not clinically high. This is especially important because people with high ratings on this scale typically do not…

Should Vets Give Treats to Pets?

Do treats at the vet mean fewer bites and a less fearful pet?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Many companion animals are scared of visits to the vet. There is an established procedure for treating fear called desensitization and counter-conditioning (DS/CC) which involves feeding nice food in order to make something less scary. Yet many vets do not give treats to animals. A new paper by Karolina Westlund (Karolinska Institute) considers this reluctance, and looks at the evidence for and against.
Westlund says, “Veterinarians and veterinary assistants have a choice whether or not to use treats when interacting with their patients; indeed a DS/CC procedure could be started the moment the animal enters the waiting room, and continue during weighing, consultation and examination. Could it be that staff assess the potential costs involved in feeding treats, but not the costs involved in not doing so?”
If your pet has ever had to have a general anaesthetic, you’ll have heard the advice not to feed anything …

1 Million Thank Yous

I’m delighted to say Companion Animal Psychology has now passed one million page views! Thank you, everyone, for your support and encouragement.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

In case you’re interested to know, the top 5 posts of the year so far are:
Different dog breeds, different sensitive period? What do young children learn from pets?  Do hand-reared wolves get attached to their humans? Why you need to socialize your puppy Do dogs prefer petting or praise?
As always, if you have suggestions for future posts or there are topics you would really like to see covered, please let me know, either via the comments below or by email. 

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