Pets: How Can We Be Better Owners? Here Are Some Ideas

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Pets: They make our lives so much richer. But we can also make their lives richer too! Here are some ideas.

New research on animal behaviour is utterly fascinating and shows us how we can be there for them when they need us most Having pets makes our lives better in so many ways. And, scientists at Washington State University set out to prove this.

They wanted to study the effect that petting animals has on people. So they threw a large group of students in a room with some pets and then drew their blood. So does petting cute animals make a difference to stress levels?

“Just 10 minutes can have a significant impact,” said Patricia Pendry, a professor in the Department of Human Development. “Students in our study that interacted with cats and dogs had a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone.”

Several salivary cortisol samples were collected from each participant, starting in the morning when they woke up. The students who interacted directly with the pets showed significantly less cortisol in their saliva after the interaction.

“We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals, and that it helps them experience more positive emotions,” Pendry said. “What we wanted to learn was whether this exposure would show up as hard evidence.”

Which it did. This is exciting because the reduction of stress hormones may, over time, have significant benefits for physical and mental health. So you know what to do! Pat your pet! In return, what can we do for our pets?

THE ‘PURRFECT’ MUSIC FOR CALMING CATS

Taking a cat to the vet can be a stressful experience, both for cat and owner. So how can this stress be alleviated? The use of music has become increasingly popular in human medicine for relaxation. So, is this the same for animals too? That’s what researchers are trying to find out. A study published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery has shown that playing cat-specific music during a vet visit can help. In fact, cats that are under general anaesthesia remain physiologically responsive to music.

Let’s take that idea one step further. Researchers at Louisiana State University are exploring the calming effects of music composed specifically for cats. Musical pieces that are considered pleasing to the human ear often have a beat similar to the human resting pulse rate and contain frequencies from the human vocal range.

This principle has been extended to cat-specific music, which is composed of lines based on affiliative cat vocalisations, such as purring and suckling sounds, as well as frequencies similar to the feline vocal range, which is two octaves higher than for humans. After playing the cats such music, blood samples were also measured to look for a physiological stress response. The study found that the cats appeared to be less stressed during the examination when played the cat-specific music, compared with both classical music and no music. So there you go! Cats like cat-music! Well of course they do, who doesn’t like cat-specific music! This may be an interesting future conversation between you and your vet! And now, to dogs.

PETS: ADOLESCENCE IS RUFF FOR DOGS

Typical teenage behaviour does not just occur in young humans. It happens in dogs too. A study, headed by Dr Lucy Asher from Newcastle University, is the first to find evidence of adolescent behaviour in dogs. The researchers found dogs were more likely to ignore commands given by their caregiver and were harder to train at the age of eight months, when they are going through puberty. This behaviour was more pronounced in dogs which had an insecure attachment to their owner. Dr Asher is a Senior Lecturer in Precision Animal Science. She warns adolescence can be a vulnerable time for dogs as many are taken to shelters for rehoming at this age.

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“This is a very important time in a dog’s life. This is when dogs are often rehomed because they are no longer a cute little puppy and suddenly, their owners find they are more challenging, and they can no longer control them or train them. But as with human teenage children, owners need to be aware that their dog is going through a phase and it will pass.”

PETS AND RESEARCH

The team, which also included researchers from the University of Edinburgh, looked at a group of dogs to investigate behaviour in adolescence. Dogs took longer to respond to the ‘sit’ command during adolescence. The golden time to train a dog seems to be around five months, or after 12 months. The experts also found that in common with humans, female dogs with insecure attachments to their caregivers were more likely to reach puberty early. (Insecure attachment expresses itself in dogs as attention seeking and separation anxiety).

This highlights another parallel with parent-child relationships. Dr Naomi Harvey from the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine said that the study had important consequences.

“Many dog owners and professionals have long known or suspected that dog behaviour can become more difficult when they go through puberty. But until now there has been no empirical record of this. Our results show that the behaviour changes seen in dogs closely parallel that of parent-child relationships. The dog-owner conflict is specific to the dog’s primary caregiver. And just as with human teenagers, this is a passing phase. It’s very important that owners don’t punish their dogs for disobedience or start to pull away from them emotionally at this time. This would be likely to make any problem behaviour worse, as it does in human teens.”

Now you know, they might need a little more love than usual at this time!

PETS AND KIDS

Kids who sleep with their pet still get a good night’s rest. This is according to new research from Concordia University. There is a long-held belief that having your pet sleep on the bed is a bad idea. Aside from taking up space, noisy scratching, or triggering allergies, the most common assertion is that your furry companion would disrupt your sleep. A new study published in the journal Sleep Health tells a different story. Researchers at Concordia’s Pediatric Public Health Psychology Lab found that the sleep quality of the surprisingly high number of children who share a bed with their pets is indistinguishable from those who sleep alone.

“Sleeping with your pet does not appear to be disruptive,” says the paper’s lead author, PhD student Hillary Rowe. “In fact, children who frequently slept with their pet endorsed having higher sleep quality.”

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PETS AND SLEEP

Rowe co-wrote the paper with Jennifer McGrath, professor of psychology and the laboratory’s director. Children and parents answered questionnaires about bedtime routines and sleep hygiene, and children wore sleep trackers. Children were also fitted with a device to track brain waves while they were sleeping.

“One of the sleep hygiene questions asked if they shared their bed with a pet,” McGrath says. “We were startled to find that one in three children answered yes!”

“Co-sleeping with a pet is something many children are doing, and we don’t know how it influences their sleep,” Rowe adds. “So, from a sleep science perspective, we felt this was something important we should look into.”

The researchers categorised the children into one of three groups based on how often they sleep with their pet: never, sometimes or frequent. They then compared the three groups across a diverse range of sleep variables to see if there were any significant differences between them.

“We were able to not only look at bedtimes and amount of time sleeping, but also how long it took to fall asleep, night-time awakening and sleep quality,” McGrath says. They found that the three groups were generally similar across all sleep dimensions. “The findings suggest that the presence of a pet had no negative impact on sleep,” Rowe notes. “Indeed, we found that children who slept with their pets most often reported higher perceived sleep quality, especially among adolescents.” She hypothesises that the children are more likely to consider pets as their friends and derive comfort from sleeping with them. So there you go, when you kid wants to sleep with the cat, say yes!

 

Did you know that dogs can sniff out cancer? That’s another reason to love your dog more.

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