In the US, there are more than 163 million dogs and cats that consume, as a significant portion of their diet, animal products and therefore potentially constitute a considerable dietary footprint. Here, the energy and animal-derived product consumption of these pets in the US is evaluated for the first time, as are the environmental impacts from the animal products fed to them, including feces production. In the US, dogs and cats consume about 19% ± 2% of the amount of dietary energy that humans do (203 ± 15 PJ yr-1 vs. 1051 ± 9 PJ yr-1) and 33% ± 9% of the animal-derived energy (67 ± 17 PJ yr-1 vs. 206 ± 2 PJ yr-1). They produce about 30% ± 13%, by mass, as much feces as Americans (5.1 ± Tg yr-1 vs. 17.2 Tg yr-1), and through their diet, constitute about 25-30% of the environmental impacts from animal production in terms of the use of land, water, fossil fuel, phosphate, and biocides. Dog and cat animal product consumption is responsible for release of up to 64 ± 16 million tons CO2-equivalent methane and nitrous oxide, two powerful greenhouse gasses (GHGs). Americans are the largest pet owners in the world, but the tradition of pet ownership in the US has considerable costs. As pet ownership increases in some developing countries, especially China, and trends continue in pet food toward higher content and quality of meat, globally, pet ownership will compound the environmental impacts of human dietary choices. Reducing the rate of dog and cat ownership, perhaps in favor of other pets that offer similar health and emotional benefits would considerably reduce these impacts. Simultaneous industry-wide efforts to reduce overfeeding, reduce waste, and find alternative sources of protein will also reduce these impacts.
There is increasing recognition of the therapeutic function pets can play in relation to mental health. However, there has been no systematic review of the evidence related to the comprehensive role of companion animals and how pets might contribute to the work associated with managing a long-term mental health condition. The aim of this study was to explore the extent, nature and quality of the evidence implicating the role and utility of pet ownership for people living with a mental health condition.
Despite evidence that connecting people to relevant wellbeing-related resources brings therapeutic benefit, there is limited understanding, in the context of mental health recovery, of the potential value and contribution of pet ownership to personal support networks for self-management. This study aimed to explore the role of pets in the support and management activities in the personal networks of people with long-term mental health problems.
Positive associations between having a pet dog and adult health outcomes have been documented; however, little evidence exists regarding the benefits of pet dogs for young children. This study investigates the hypothesis that pet dogs are positively associated with healthy weight and mental health among children.
While companion animals have been previously identified as a direct source of companionship and support to their owners, their role as a catalyst for friendship formation or social support networks among humans has received little attention. This study investigated the indirect role of pets as facilitators for three dimensions of social relatedness; getting to know people, friendship formation and social support networks.
Companion animal owners are increasingly concerned about the links between degenerative health conditions, farm animal welfare problems, environmental degradation, fertilizers and herbicides, climate change, and causative factors; such as animal farming and the consumption of animal products. Accordingly, many owners are increasingly interested in vegetarian diets for themselves and their companion animals. However, are vegetarian canine and feline diets nutritious and safe? Four studies assessing the nutritional soundness of these diets were reviewed, and manufacturer responses to the most recent studies are provided. Additional reviewed studies examined the nutritional soundness of commercial meat-based diets and the health status of cats and dogs maintained on vegetarian and meat-based diets. Problems with all of these dietary choices have been documented, including nutritional inadequacies and health problems. However, a significant and growing body of population studies and case reports have indicated that cats and dogs maintained on vegetarian diets may be healthy-including those exercising at the highest levels-and, indeed, may experience a range of health benefits. Such diets must be nutritionally complete and reasonably balanced, however, and owners should regularly monitor urinary acidity and should correct urinary alkalinisation through appropriate dietary additives, if necessary.
The loss of a companion animal is recognised as being associated with experiences of grief by the owner, but it is unclear how other animals in the household may be affected by such a loss. Our aim was to investigate companion animals' behavioural responses to the loss of a companion through owner-report. A questionnaire was distributed via, and advertised within, publications produced by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) across Australia and New Zealand, and through a selection of veterinary clinics within New Zealand. A total of 279 viable surveys were returned pertaining to 159 dogs and 152 cats. The two most common classes of behavioural changes reported for both dogs and cats were affectionate behaviours (74% of dogs and 78% of cats) and territorial behaviours (60% of dogs and 63% of cats). Both dogs and cats were reported to demand more attention from their owners and/or display affiliative behaviour, as well as spend time seeking out the deceased’s favourite spot. Dogs were reported to reduce the volume (35%) and speed (31%) of food consumption and increase the amount of time spent sleeping (34%). Cats were reported to increase the frequency (43%) and volume (32%) of vocalisations following the death of a companion. The median duration of reported behavioural changes in both species was less than 6 months. There was consensus that the behaviour of companion animals changed in response to the loss of an animal companion. These behavioural changes suggest the loss had an impact on the remaining animal.
Domestication is an important factor driving changes in animal cognition and behaviour. In particular, the capacity of dogs to communicate in a referential and intentional way with humans is considered a key outcome of how domestication as a companion animal shaped the canid brain. However, the lack of comparison with other domestic animals makes general conclusions about how domestication has affected these important cognitive features difficult. We investigated human-directed behaviour in an ‘unsolvable problem’ task in a domestic, but non-companion species: goats. During the test, goats experienced a forward-facing or an away-facing person. They gazed towards the forward-facing person earlier and for longer and showed more gaze alternations and a lower latency until the first gaze alternation when the person was forward-facing. Our results provide strong evidence for audience-dependent human-directed visual orienting behaviour in a species that was domesticated primarily for production, and show similarities with the referential and intentional communicative behaviour exhibited by domestic companion animals such as dogs and horses. This indicates that domestication has a much broader impact on heterospecific communication than previously believed.
Prosociality has received increasing interest by non-human animal researchers since the initial discoveries that suggested it is not a uniquely human trait. However, thus far studies, even within the same species, have not garnered conclusive results. A prominent suggestion for this disparity is the effect methodology can have on prosocial responses in animals. We recently found evidence of prosociality in domestic dogs towards familiar conspecifics using a bar-pulling paradigm, in which a subject could pull a rope to deliver food to its partner. Therefore, the current study aimed to assess whether dogs would show a similar response in a different paradigm, based on the token exchange task paradigm frequently used with primates. In this task, dogs had the option to touch a token with their nose that delivered a reward to an adjacent receiver enclosure, which contained a familiar conspecific, a stranger or no dog at all. Crucially, we also included a social facilitation control condition, whereby the partner (stranger/familiar) was present but unable to access the food. We found that the familiarity effect remained consistent across tasks, with dogs of both the bar-pulling and token choice experiments providing more food to familiar partners than in a non-social control and providing less food to stranger partners than this same control. However, in contrast to our previous bar-pulling experiment, we could not exclude social facilitation as an underlying motive in the current task. We propose this difference in results between tasks may be related to increased task complexity in the token choice paradigm, making it harder for dogs to discriminate between the test and social facilitation conditions. Overall our findings suggest that subtle methodological changes can have an impact on prosocial behaviours in dogs and highlights the importance of controlling for social facilitation effects in such experiments.
Much recent work has focused on occupational stress in veterinary medicine, although little is known about the possible contribution of client-based factors. Clients providing care for a companion animal with protracted illness are likely to experience ‘caregiver burden’ and reduced psychosocial functioning, which may ultimately lead to increased veterinarian stress. This cross-sectional observational study assessed caregiver burden and psychosocial function in 238 owners of a dog or cat, comparing owners of an animal with chronic or terminal diseases (n=119) with healthy controls blindly matched for owner age/sex and animal species (n=119). Results showed greater burden, stress and symptoms of depression/anxiety, as well as poorer quality of life, in owners of companion animals with chronic or terminal disease (p<0.001 for all). Higher burden was correlated with reduced psychosocial function (p<0.001 for all). Owners of a sick companion animal exhibit elevated caregiver burden, which is linked to poorer psychosocial functioning. This knowledge may help veterinarians understand and more effectively handle client distress in the context of managing the challenges of sick companion animal caregiving. Future work is needed to determine whether clients with this presentation impact veterinarian stress and how burden in this population might be reduced.