November 8

Notes: Animals and humans form emotional connections

One of the great things about being a volunteer at a humane society is seeing the happiness that animals bring people.

It’s great to see a young family come in looking for a new pet. They may be drawn to one particular animal right away or they may spend time talking with staff members about the right personality for the family. Do you want a kitten or an older, more mellow cat? A big dog or a small one? Energetic or relaxed? Once the decision is made, the family eagerly fills out the adoption paperwork with big smiles.

I’ve also accompanied other Heartland Humane Society volunteers who visit retirement homes and nursing facilities with pets. The delight on the faces of these people is obvious as they stroke kittens or dangle a toy for the cats to pounce on.

Now there’s a study from the University of Calgary that further proves the benefits of human-animal connections.

Dr. Gregory Fouts, a psychology professor, decided to look further into the claims that an emotional connection to an animal can help improve health. His study shows a correlation between animal owners and lower blood pressure, reduced stress, and less depression, compared to people who do not own pets.

“What we find is, those people who in fact find those special times (with pets)—maybe only once or twice a week, or sometimes it’s three or four times a day—they actually are healthier and have more life satisfaction,” Dr. Fouts told CTV.

Pet ownership also appears to be connected to greater mobility, less arthritis and a reduced reliance on medication in the senior citizens Fouts studied. Further study, he says, could identify factors that would help match individuals with the type of pet that would most benefit their personality.

A CAT’S LIFE MAY BE STRESSFUL: Edinburgh University researchers at the Hospital for Small Animals recently discovered that cats can show signs of stress. They specifically studied cats with bladder problems to see if the health issues could be correlated to the stress of living unhappily with other cats.

The study compared 31 cats with bladder problems to 24 healthy cats in the same homes. Then, the cats were compared to 125 healthy cats who did not live in stressful environments.

“If a cat is living with another cat where there is a conflict, this is a chronic situation causing long-term stress,” said researcher Dr. Danielle Gunn-Moore.

Besides bladder problems, other signs of stress the researchers observed were clinginess to the owner, changing habits to stay indoors or outdoors longer, urinating inappropriately, and losing interest in food and toys.

If your cat is having some of these problems, you may want to try your hand at being a cat psychiatrist. What factors have changed recently? Is another pet or human stressing your cat out? What kinds of toys and activities can you provide to reduce stress? If another pet could be responsible, can the animals live in different areas of the house?

A NOTE ABOUT CLAWS: A couple of weeks ago I made a casual mention in a column about cats’ pet peeves that declawing can cause behavior problems in cats. “The surgery, which is illegal in many countries, involves removing the entire first “knuckle” of the cat’s toe, is extremely painful, and alters the cat’s personality and behavior 99 percent of the time,” I wrote.

A Colorado veterinarian, Dr. Jean Hofve, sent me a study called “Attitudes of owners regarding tendonectomy and onychectomy in cats,” from the veterinary journal JAVMA (January 2001). In the study, the vets involved found a provable risk of long-term behavior-based complications from the declawing surgery to be about 30 percent. The study involved tracking only 39 cats, but it’s more scientific than my personal observations.

However, Dr. Hofve said, “The complication rate is probably much higher. Longer-term complications such as arthritis have not been directly measured, and the issue of phantom pain is ignored completely.”

Previous studies tracked cats for just a short period after the surgery, and may not have been able to come to complete conclusions about declawing’s real effects.

“Declawed cats who do have behavioral complications are, of course, the ones who end up in a shelter – or turned out on the street, for those who cannot be bothered to treat the animal any more humanely at that point than they did when they opted for surgical mutilation – so naturally there will be a much higher rate of abnormal declawed cats in the shelter environment,” Dr. Hofve told me. “That’s probably what you’re seeing.”

Thirty percent is still a higher number than I’d be willing to take a risk on. Please try positive behavior-based training and alternative scratching areas for your cat, instead of a mutilating surgery.

OUT OF THE ROAD: British drivers are starting to sue owners of pets who cause traffic accidents.

A survey found that 8 percent – or almost 200,000 – of the 2.4 million drivers in England who have had an accident involving an animal have sued the animal’s owner for damages.

Although similar comprehensive studies aren’t available for the United States, you know that this could also happen in our legal system. Pet owners who don’t properly confine their animals on their property or who allow their pets to walk off leash are at risk.

See also: Holiday gifts: Getting the pet in your life something special   A pet's view of Halloween