The cat is the most popular companion animal, and people are increasingly interested in its wellbeing. One of the topics under international debate is the weaning age, i.e., the age at which kittens are separated from their mother and siblings and brought to a new home. In Finland, the recommended minimum age of weaning is 12 weeks, but in many other countries, such as the United States, weaning of kittens as young as eight weeks is common.
It has previously been thought that the critical period of socialisation in cats ends by eight weeks of age, after which social experiences have little impact on behaviour.
“We found that positive changes in the cat’s behaviour can occur after the currently recommended age of weaning, 12 weeks. I’m a cat lover myself, and this study supports my own previous experiences on the importance of the weaning age on the wellbeing of cats. I think raising the recommended age of weaning would be the animal welfare act of the year,” says doctoral student Milla Ahola.
While the detrimental effects of early weaning have been studied in some other animal species, no studies on the topic have been conducted on cats, despite suspicions of its connection to feline behavioural problems.
“We found an easy way to improve cat welfare: we propose that the recommended age of weaning be increased by two weeks. The number of cats in the world is immense, and behavioural problems are very common. This could have a significant positive impact on the wellbeing of both cats and their owners on a global scale,” says Professor Hannes Lohi.
The study used the results from the health and behaviour survey Professor Lohi’s group had previously conducted on nearly 6,000 cats, currently the most extensive cat behaviour database in the world. According to the survey, many behavioural problems are more common than expected. More than 80% of cats were reported as exhibiting mild behavioural problems, while serious behavioural problems were reported for 25% of all cats. Feline behavioural problems can include shyness, stereotypic wool sucking, excessive grooming and aggression.
“The age of weaning has an impact on the cat’s later behaviour. Cats weaned under the age of eight weeks displayed more aggression and stereotypic behaviour. Cats weaned in adulthood had fewer such problems than other cats. Cats weaned at 14 weeks of age had fewer behavioural problems than cats weaned earlier,” explains Ahola.
Studies on other animal species have produced similar results. For example, among rodents, monkeys and minks, early separation from the mother leads to a higher prevalence of stereotypic behaviour and aggression. A similar phenomenon has been found in humans
“These behavioural changes are also linked. We found that increased aggression correlated with increased stereotypic behaviour. The impacts of early weaning seem to manifest specifically as aggression and stereotypic behaviour, which suggests changes in the neurotransmitters of the basal ganglia,” states Professor Lohi.
Dogs’ excellent sense of smell is well known, whether it is in the context of searching for people or for contraband substances. However, the question of how dogs understand what they perceive with their sense of smell has largely been unexplored. In a study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the Department for General Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience (Institute of Psychology) at Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, investigated this question and found evidence that dogs create a “mental representation” of the target when they track a scent trail. In other words, they have an expectation of what they will find at the end of a trail.
In total, study director Dr. Juliane Bräuer and her staff tested 48 dogs, 25 of whom had training with the police or a search and rescue team and 23 of whom were family dogs without special training. The tests were carried out with the financial support of the Swiss Albert Heim Foundation in the Dog Studies group of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
The dogs first underwent a pre-test, in which two toys were identified for each dog that he or she liked to retrieve. In the test itself, each dog underwent four trials in which he or she followed a scent trail that was drawn with one of the two toys. At the end of the trail, the dogs found either the toy with which the track had been laid (the normal condition) or the dog found the other toy (the surprise condition). Half of the dogs in the first round were given the normal condition, and the other half were given the surprise condition. The behaviour of the dogs was filmed during all test runs.
“From my experience in other studies, I had assumed that the surprise would be measurable, in that the dogs would behave differently in the surprise condition than they would in the normal condition,” Dr. Bräuer explains regarding her study approach. “In fact, quite a few dogs showed interesting behaviour, especially in the first round of the surprise condition, which we called ‘hesitation:’ although they had obviously noticed the toy, they continued to search via smell, probably for the toy that had been used to lay the scent trail.”
However, this “surprise effect” disappeared in the subsequent test runs. This could be because the dogs, no matter which toy they found, were rewarded by playing games, or because the room still smelled of the toys from the previous test runs, despite having been cleaned.
According to Dr. Bräuer’s assessment, the results of the first round of testing are nevertheless an indication that dogs have a mental representation of the target object when tracking a scent, which means that they have a concrete expectation of the target. “The comparison between working dogs and family dogs was also interesting,” adds Dr. Bräuer. Although the police and rescue dogs were expected to and did indeed retrieve the objects faster than the family dogs in the first round, within four rounds the two groups retrieved the toys equally quickly. Further studies should help to clarify the exact connection between smell perception, search behaviour and cognition. – Eurekalert.org
Pet Sitters International (PSI), the world’s leading educational association for professional pet sitters, has released its 2018 State of the Industry Survey, revealing that PSI’s member pet-sitting businesses performed more than 22 million pet-sitting assignments and generated more than $440 million in petsitting revenues last year. While these statistics are worldwide, a closer look at PSI’s Canadian members found that going to the cats and dogs is paying off for professional pet-sitting businesses in Canada. According to the survey, PSI’s member businesses in Canada served an average of 91 clients and performed an average of 1,593 pet-sitting assignments per business in 2017. The average gross revenue for Canadian pet sitters in 2017 was $61,208.51 — considerably more than the average wage of $51,000/year for Canadian employees reported by Statistics Canada.
“While our Canadian membership numbers are relatively small — a little more than 200 member businesses—we expect to see a growing number of professional pet-sitting and dog-walking businesses in Canada as pet owners become increasingly savvy in their pet-care choices,” said PSI Founder and President Patti J. Moran. “Demand — and revenue potential — will continue to increase for professional pet sitters and dog walkers who are willing to maintain professional business credentials, such as pet sitter insurance and bonding and take advantage of continuing education opportunities for pet-care businesses,” added Moran. To learn more about PSI or professional pet sitting as a career, visit www.petsit.com. To find your local professional pet sitter, take advantage of PSI’s free pet-sitter search by postal code at petsit.com/locate5
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) recently released its Top Toxins of 2017 list. The annually updated data is a critical resource for pet owners, veterinarians and shelters nationwide, helping to keep animals safe and healthy. The APCC call center, which operates 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, handled approximately 199,000 cases in 2017, an increase of nearly 20,000 over 2016, with calls spanning all 50 states and countries across the world.
“Everyone has a part to play in keeping pets safe and being aware of potential toxins,” said Dr. Tina Wismer, Medical Director, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. “Protect your pets from common dangers, particularly prescription and over-the-counter medications and human foods — including chocolate. Seemingly little things — like remembering to close the cabinet door and block the cleaning supplies — can make a life or death difference for the animals we share our homes and lives with.” Items on the Top Toxins of 2017 list accounted for over 90% of the year’s total cases.
APCC handled nearly 35,000 cases involving prescription medications in 2017, making them the number one toxin on the list, followed closely by over-the-counter medications. Food products, which occupy the third spot, accounted for over 21,500 cases, due in large part to concerns about the artificial sweetener xylitol, present in many sugarfree products.
The fourth most prevalent toxin for 2017 was veterinary products. While flavoured and chewable medications can make it easier for pets to take a pill, it also means they may eat the entire bottle if given access. Chocolate, which is broken apart from other foods in this data, was the fifth most common toxin. In 2017, APCC received the equivalent of over 48 cases about chocolate per day.
The remaining five toxins on the list were household items, such as cleaning products, insecticides, rodenticides, plants and garden products. One of the thousands of lives impacted by APCC in 2017 was Prince, a 10-month-old tabby cat who fell from his family’s sixth-storey apartment. A well-intentioned family member gave him a dose of children’s acetaminophen to alleviate any pain from his fall, not knowing that acetaminophen is toxic to pets, including both cats and dogs. In fact, exposure to the drug can be fatal to cats, causing changes in their red blood cells, which are then unable to carry oxygen to vital organs. The family brought Prince to the ASPCA Animal Hospital (AAH), which consulted with APCC to treat the acetaminophen exposure. Prince remained at the AAH for five days, eventually making a full recovery.
For more information about the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, please visit www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control. If you think your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call (888) 426-4435 or contact your local veterinarian as soon as possible.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) released its newest edition of A Code of Practice for Canadian Kennel Operations in April. Seven years in the making, the over 80-page document incorporates new scientific evidence in many aspects of dog breeding and kennel management, including behaviour and social needs, housing, medicine and nutrition. The latest Kennel Code applies to various environments in which dogs are kept for breeding purposes, ranging from a private home to a large facility
“Our hope is that this comprehensive document will be used by breeders, kennel operators and people looking to purchase a dog from a breeding facility,” says Dr. Troye McPherson, CVMA President. “We want legislative bodies to incorporate into law a reference that will address the breeding and keeping of dogs, and we want veterinarians to use this resource to assist their clients who are dog breeders, kennel operators or prospective owners.” The new Kennel Code covers the following topics: animal environment, food and water, animal wellbeing, husbandry including breeding practices, transport and end of life considerations. It also has specific considerations for working dogs and aging dogs. The current Kennel Code is available in English only, but a French version will be released later in the year. To download a copy of the new Kennel Code, visit the Practice Tools section under the Practice & Economics tab on the CVMA website at www.canadianveterinarians.net.