‘One health’ and the economics of the human animal bond.

Companion Animal Economics Cropped
One of a series of blogs  written by CABI editors for One Health Day November 3rd 2016

The term ‘One health’ was created to emphasise the fact that health of humans and animals were inter-linked and that the control of zoonotic diseases is best achieved by breaking down the barriers between human and veterinary medicine, developing an holistic approach. The disaster of BSE and the emergence of a new human disease, variant-CJD, and the risk of another pandemic of avian influenza, strengthened the case for One-health, and it has been adopted by the WHO, OIE, and many other relevant organizations.

Within the area of One-health, interest has been growing on the modern phenomenon of companion animals. In many parts of the world, particularly in developed countries, pets – mainly dogs and cats, are kept as companions, and are treated as one of the family. They are pampered and treated to expensive veterinary treatments when they become ill, whereas in earlier times, a sick pet would be destroyed and replaced. This attitude to animals is particularly well established in the UK, a nation of animal lovers, with an estimated 12 million (46%) households incorporating about 65 million companion animals, and  where it is not unusual to see a sign on the door of a pub saying “No children, dogs welcomed”.

The beneficial health effects that animals can have on people has been recognised with such schemes as riding for the disabled and therapy dogs that are trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with autism. The term ‘human animal bond’ was coined to describe this mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviours that are essential to the health and well-being of both.  

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Dog share?


“Can we have a pet for Christmas?” is something I hear a lot each December. The answer, much to my children’s disappointment, is always no.

In addition to the fact that we are often told that Christmas is not the best time to introduce a new animal into a household [e.g. see PetRescue.Com article: No Christmas Puppies, Please!], I can’t think of any pet that is both practical and fulfils the necessary fluffy/cute criteria that my kids are requesting. (Apparently the stick insects that we have are not ‘proper’ pets!). 

After listening to experts talk at CABI’s Human-Animal Bond Symposium last month, I can appreciate the benefits that introducing something cuddly into the family could bring. Professor Alan Beck, of Purdue University, described some of the ways that pets can benefit human health and welfare. For example, dog ownership generally results in increased exercise and greater social contact through talking with other dog owners; people with dogs or cats have been found to have lower blood pressure, heart rates and reduced cholesterol than those without; and even staring at a fish tank can provide enough of a distraction from our worries to induce a relaxation response. Animals can also help teach children about responsibility and compassion.

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He’s OK if you don’t get on the wrong side of him

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.

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It’s not just puppy fat

While it’s a well-known piece of perceived wisdom that owners look like their dogs, there is evidence that obese owners are more likely to have obese dogs. Writing in CAB Reviews, Ian Bland and Julian Hill discuss the importance of owner’s perceptions of exercise and diet in terms of controlling obesity in dogs.
It is hard to be sure what the level of dog obesity is, as there is no BMI equivalent, and estimates based on owner assessments are different to those conducted by vets, but the trend is upwards.


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The risks and benefits of neutering pets: what is the evidence?

Cat1 small 

Veterinarians and animal health organizations usually recommend that owners should have their cats and dogs neuter. But what is the evidence that this is a benefit to the owner, the animal and society?

Having pets It is estimated that in the USA there are 30-40 million stray or feral dogs and cats roaming the cities, suburbs and countryside, which is a problem for the welfare of these animals and a threat to public health, and to the health of pets. In the year 2000 4.5 million cats and dogs were destroyed in shelters. This figure was much lower than 20 years before when 23.4 million were put down; though it still represents a large welfare problem and a significant cost. Reducing the number of unwanted puppies and kittens is an important way to control this problem, and best way to achieve this is to encourage neutering in the pet population.

 Measuring the benefits and risks of neutering dogs and cats is the subject of an excellent review by Brennan McKenzie published in CAB Reviews, which aims to take an ‘evidenced-based’ approach to looking at this complex issue. Neutering is beneficial to the population on welfare grounds and on risks to public health, but there are also benefits to the individual animal from being neutered. Reproduction itself has a number of risks including sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy complications, and problems with parturition such as dystocia. There are diseases that are far more likely to affect intact animals than neutered ones, such as mammary cancers, pyometra (bacterial infection of the uterus), ovarian and testicular neoplasms, and prostate diseases. For example, benign prostate hyperplasia affects 60-100% of intact dogs over 7 years old and prostatitis  can occur in up to 28% of intact dogs, whereas they are both are rare in castrated dogs. There are other diseases that appear to be more common in intact dogs, such as perineal hernias, and perianal fistulas. Why intact dogs are more susceptible to these diseases is not known, although a link with sex hormones seems most likely.

One of the main benefits of neutering is in controlling problem behaviour such as aggression and roaming. Difficult behaviour is one of the main reasons for people abandoning their pets or taking them to shelters, to be destroyed. Castration of male cats greatly reduces fighting, urine spraying and roaming. Neutered animals may also live longer than intact ones, but the evidence on this is not really conclusive.

As for the risks associated with neutering, all surgical procedures carry some risk of surgical complications, although the risks associated with castration are small and the complications are usually minor. There are some behavioural risks linked with neutering. Aggression is much lower in castrated animals; however, more spayed females are referred for behavioural problems, including aggression, than intact females. Some dog breeds also seem to show more aggression after neutering than before. Neutered dogs also appear to be more susceptible to cognitive dysfunction (dementia) when older than are intact dogs.

Obesity, which is a big problem in both dogs and cats, is a risk factor associated with neutering, and some conditions linked to obesity, such as diabetes are also higher in neutered animals. The risk of some orthopaedic diseases can be increased by neutering, but other risk factors such as breed and family history have a much bigger association.

Examining the evidence on the optimum age for neutering showed no clear advantage of neutering dogs before 5-6 months, so no strong recommendation can be made from it. Spaying female dogs before their first heat does however reduce the impact of mammary neoplasms.

In conclusion Dr McKenzie emphasises the complexity of the picture of risks and returns associated with neutering, and that this picture should be made clear to veterinarians and through them to their owners. He states that it is critical to integrate relevant research evidence with the unique circumstances of each pet and owner when making recommendations concerning neutering. Having more and better data would certainly help when establishing establish causal relationships between neutering and specific risks and benefits.  

Evaluating the benefits and risks of neutering dogs and catsback, by B. McKenzie

CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources, 2010, 5, No. 045, 18 pp.


Is Your Dog Over 60?

Dogs age more rapidly than humans, especially large breed dogs, and it is thought that one year to a human can be as many as seven years biologically for a pet dog. For example, if your dog is eight years of age, in “human years” your pet is approaching his sixties.

The life expectancy of a dog is highly dependent on its breed with most large breed dogs having a life-span of approximately 10 years (although in some breeds it is as few as five years), while smaller breeds may live for 20 years or more. However, most dogs are considered senior at seven years of age, while most 10 year old dogs can be considered to be in old age.

Pets go through different life stages, from being a puppy through a juvenile to adult, and their needs change as they age. Dogs grow up at different rates and some breeds stay puppies for a long time whilst others mature quickly, but all dogs should be mature by two years of age.

Each stage of a dog’s life requires regular veterinary check-ups and consultations regarding vaccinations, nutrition and exercise.

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