NZCAC Science

This page will outline scientific articles produced by the NZCAC.


 Do Pets Grieve?

Many owners are familiar with the difficult event of losing a pet and many services are now provided to help owners process their loss, yet little focus has been given to how the loss might affect other animal members of the household. In this study, which appeared in Animals 2016, 6(11), owner-reports indicated that a number of common behavioural changes in dogs and cats occur after a companion animal dies.

A questionnaire was distributed through several animal welfare organisations and veterinary clinics across New Zealand and Australia with 279 owners completing the questionnaire following the death of a pet.  The most common classes of behavioural change reported by owners were affectionate behaviours and territorial behaviours:

“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.“

Other behavioural changes reported included a reduction in both the volume and speed of food consumption and increased amount of time sleeping for dogs, whilst cats increased the amount and volume of their vocalisation.

Further research that is independent of owner interpretation is now needed to validate these finding and address the limitations of this study - in particular the potential for anthropomorphism (projection of human traits onto animals) and owner bias and establish whether these behavioural changes a reflection of loss, result from a reduction in competition for owner attention and other resources or changes in owner behaviour following loss.

Walker, J.K., Waran, N.K., Phillips, C.J.C. 2016. Owners’ perceptions of their animal’s behavioural response to the loss of an animal companion. Animals 6(11):68 doi:10.3390/ani6110068

Qualitative Behaviour Assessment of Dogs in Shelters

Shelters aim to rehome animals to optimise their quality of life, yet the shelter environment and the animals’ experience of it are inherently stressful. Much research has investigated the stressful components of shelter environments and provided strategies for reducing the impact on animal welfare, however many of the techniques engaged to measure animal welfare within this environment are time consuming or invasive. In this study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science 2016 (184) an alternative technique, Qualitative Behavioural Assessment (QBA), was trialed.

QBA is based on human descriptors that summarise an animals interaction with his/her environment and has successfully been used in a range of animal species including, pigs, cows, sheep, horses and dogs. In this study, QBA and traditional measures of welfare were conducted on three comparative groups of dogs; dogs housed short-term in a shelter, dogs housed long-term in a shelter; and a group of pet dogs.

QBA results described pet dogs as ‘relaxed/content’ in a novel environment, while dogs housed in the shelter for a short time were described as ‘curious/cautious’ and dogs housed in the shelter long term were described as ‘inquisitive/curious’ in the novel environment. These descriptions correlated meaningfully with measures of individual behaviour which authors suggest “facilitates the interpretation of behavioural variance resulting from housing differences and supports utilising QBA for the assessment of dogs’ behavioural expression”.

Walker, J.K.,Dale, A.R., D’Eath, R.B., Wemelsfelder, F. 2016. Qualitative Behaviour Assessment of dogs in the shelter and home environment and relationship with quantitative behaviour assessment and physiological responses. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 184: 97-108

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