Dogs, just like humans, can have problems with learning, memory and attention, particularly as they get older. Several tests of cognitive ability in dogs have been used in research with a particular focus on the effects of ageing. What is less well understood is how diseases affect these cognitive abilities. In an article in CAB Reviews, Lena Provoost, Margret Casal and Carlo Siracusa discuss how changes in behaviour, such as loss of appetite, house soiling or changes in sleeping are often the first indicators to the pet’s owners that there is a problem. The team from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania say that while those changes could be caused by mental decline, they could be secondary effects of other medical causes, such as pain from infection swellings or kidney disease.
A symposium organized by CABI and the Royal Veterinary College to mark the 50th anniversary of Animal Machines, by Ruth Harrison, reviewed how far we have come in understanding and improving animal welfare since the publication of the book, which marked the start of the movement for welfare of animals in intensive production.
“Would Ruth be pleased with the progress that has been made so far?” asked the panel of international experts on animal welfare, ethics and sustainability. The general consensus of opinion was that there are many things she would be pleased about (e.g. EU-wide bans on veal crates, sow stalls and barren battery cages), but she would be disappointed with the slow speed at which improvements are being made, particularly in countries outside the EU. However, it was suggested that she would be ‘delighted’ by the thought-provoking discussions that took place during the symposium, which highlighted important questions that remain to be addressed.
Idolised in Ancient Egypt, then vilified in Medieval
Europe, the domestication of cats has taken them on an interesting route from
uninvited guests chasing mice in our grain stores to the moggies we cuddle
today. At John Bradshaw’s talk at Blackwell’s
in Oxford last month, evidence of their interesting history was just around the
corner at the Pitt Rivers Museum, where mummified cats are
part of its unusual collection. Dogs, on the other hand, have a long history of
being companions to humans, bred into many shapes and sizes to make them capable
of a number of tasks that have played a key role both in human and canine
As you may have read in a previous blog by Dr John Bradshaw, cats do not tend to have an all-consuming relationship with their owner the way a dog can, however the cat-owner bond is nevertheless important.
Speaking with Dr Bradshaw at CABI’s Human-Animal Bond symposium at the London Vet Show last week, Dr Sandra McCune informed the capacity audience of the positive benefits that a strong bond can bring to both the owner and the cat.
Dr McCune, from the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, said that studies suggest that owning a cat can bring numerous human health benefits including lowering stress levels, helping to fight depression and lowering the risk for heart attacks and strokes.
In return, a good bond between owner and pet is also beneficial for the cat and is more likely to result in better veterinary care. For example, when the bond is strong, owners more often notice changes in the behaviour of their cat which can be an important indication of disease. Owners are also more able to help reduce the fear and stress associated with veterinary treatments and recovery when the relationship is strong.
Most of us have preferences such as left- or right-handedness, and tend to favour one eye over another to look down a telescope. These biases are the result of brain lateralisation, with a dominant left side of the brain leading to right handedness, and vice versa. Many animals show comparable biases. Lesley Rogers believes a better understanding of these biases could be used to improve animal welfare. Rogers, of the University of New England, Australia explains her ideas in an article in CAB Reviews.
Horses, like many animals, show side bias (Fir0002/Flagstaffotos, see License).
The left hemisphere of the brain deals with repeated stimuli, paying attention and learning rules, whilst the right is more concerned with emergency responses to threats. Given the switch over between brain side and the part of the body that it relates to, this means that domestic chickens prefer to look at potential predators with their left eyes (associated with the right hemisphere), but to use their right eyes (and left hemisphere) to search for food, having learned rules for what is and isn’t food. Many animals respond more strongly to predators that approach them from the left.
Many people like a little music while they dine, but does music have the potential to improve the meal itself? A delve into the CAB Direct database shows that there have been many studies on the impact of playing music to animals, but little consistency in the results, other than a general negative response to very loud music.
"Music has charms to soothe the savage breast", according to dramatist William Congreve, and playing music to stressed rabbits reduced serum lipids. Lambs exposed to music were calmer and more docile than lambs exposed to random noise. Several studies have indicated that playing slow classical music appears to alleviate stress in cows, making them more docile and boosting milk yield. However, playing rock music reduced milk yield and country-and-western music reduced it even more. In contrast, a study involving music by the Italian classical composer Manfredini or by the rock group 'Police', a long sound on a trombone or the staccato sound of a hammer on an anvil to cows found milk yield differed significantly among cows and weeks but did not differ significantly among sound treatments. It has been suggested that the effects some have observed may be to make the humans handling the animals treat the animals more gently and sympathetically, and this is what causes the observed changes.
Country is not good for milk yield