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Home sweet home: Pet cats rarely stray far

The domestic cat is one of our most popular pets. In Norway alone, 5.4 million people own approximately 770,000 cats. But where do our four-legged friends go? The cat wants to go outside, you open the door, it leaves and disappears. After a while it returns, but where was it in the meantime?

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Photo by Mikhail Vasilyev from Unsplash.com

The domestic cat is one of our most popular pets. In Norway alone, 5.4 million people own approximately 770,000 cats. But where do our four-legged friends go? The cat wants to go outside, you open the door, it leaves and disappears. After a while it returns, but where was it in the meantime? 

Researchers and master’s students at NMBU, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, are shedding some light on the feline mystery. They have GPS-marked almost 100 pet cats in a small town in Eastern Norway and tracked the cats when they were outside.

“The goal was to map the movements of  an entire population of pet cats within the same area,” says NMBU-professor Richard Bischof.

The cat owners all lived within about one square kilometer, which gave the researchers a very detailed insight into many cats’ activities within a limited area. The high number of cats within such a small area makes this cat tracking study unique.

In your neighbor’s garden

The results from this small Norwegian town corresponds with similar research from other European countries: the answer to the cat mystery lies significantly closer to home than the owners probably expected.

The cats spent an average of 79% of their time outdoors within 50 meters of the owner’s home. The average maximum distance for all cats was 352 meters.

“Some individuals traveled relatively far, sometimes several kilometers, but those were the exceptions,” says Bischof.

Most cats are literally just around the corner when they are outside.

The “catscape”

“As far as we know, no one has ever tracked that many cats in one small area. This made it possible for us to show what a domestic cat population looks like in time and space,” Bischof says.

“We tend to think of animal populations as a collection of individuals or a single number,” Bischof continues. “Instead, I prefer to see them as surfaces that envelop and interact with the landscape.”

Bischof also points out that most cat owners probably do not think of their cat as a member of a larger animal population. But they are clearly part of what the researchers called the “catscape” in their article.

“The catscape is the combined intensity with which an area is used by all cats living there, and we were able to create a map of it using GPS data,” Bischof says. 

Large differences between individuals

The results showed that there was great variation between the individual cats in how they used the landscape.

“This is quite typical,” says Bjarne O. Braastad, professor emeritus of ethology at NMBU. “Cats have different personalities, and research results reflect this: there is often great variation.”

He goes on explaining that the cats probably spend a lot of time near the home in their own garden to rest.

“It is also worth noting that almost all the cats were neutered,” he adds. “It will of course play an important role. Neutered cats are less likely to roam.”

Student participation

How the animals use the landscape also dictates how they interact with the environment. And cats definitely have some effects on their natural surroundings.

“An interesting topic for further studies is of course the effects on local wildlife,” says project manager and professor Torbjørn Haugaasen. “We did not have the opportunity to include it in this project period, but in the future we would like to take a closer look at that as well.”

A large part of the project has been carried out by NMBU’s master’s students.

“It has been a good combination of research and education,” says Haugaasen. “The students have gained a lot of practical experience with applied science, and also been co-authors of the scientific article.”

Popular project

Although the study has so far been focused on eastern Norway, rumors spread, and the project received inquiries from across the country to join.

“People are obviously very curious about what their cat does when it is out and about. Interest has been really high,” says Haugaasen.

After the data collection and data analysis was complete, the cat owners gained access to digital maps where they could see where their pet had been. The researchers conclude by pointing out how important the cat owners’ help has been.

“We could not have done this without them. As an added bonus, we had the opportunity to include many families with children in our research. Maybe we have inspired some budding scientists?” 

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Pet Care

5 Common ways in which the health of homeless pet owners and their companions is improved

The most common ways in which homeless people are their pets are supported to live healthier lives include free veterinary clinics, join human/animal clinics, stigma reduction, interdisciplinary relationships, and pet-friendly lodging.

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A rapid scoping review has been conducted which reveals five common ways in which the health of homeless pet owners and their companion animals is improved.

Ten percent of homeless people keep pets. But little information exists on specific intervention strategies for improving the health of homeless people and their pets who are often the only source of unconditional love or companionship in their life.

The study, published in the Human-Animal Interactions journal, found that the most common ways in which homeless people are their pets are supported to live healthier lives include free veterinary clinics, join human/animal clinics, stigma reduction, interdisciplinary relationships, and pet-friendly lodging.

Lead authors Dr Michelle Kurkowski and Dr Andrew Springer said research on homeless people and their pets showed significant heterogeneity, but they stress that further programme intervention is needed to recommend intervention best practices.

Promising avenues for evaluating interventions and improving health

They suggest that joint human/animal clinics and interdisciplinary partnerships are promising avenues for evaluating interventions and improving health outcomes.

A study by Ramirez et al (2022) that investigated 44 homeless pet owners in Seattle, USA, for example, found that 61% of respondents were interested in healthcare for their pets, compared to 43% for themselves. Furthermore, 86% indicated they would attend a joint veterinary/human health clinic, with convenience frequently mentioned.

Studies that the researchers drew upon for their findings – from the PubMed and Embase databases – include those focused on homeless pet owners across the USA, Canada, and the UK.

Dr Kurkowski wrote the paper while at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health (UTHealth) but is now a Veterinary Medical Officer for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

A source of friendship and physical safety

She said, “Research has shown that companion animals are a source of friendship and physical safety, and homeless persons with pets report significantly lower rates of depression and loneliness compared to non-pet owners.

“Studies show that pet owners experiencing homelessness are also subjected to unique challenges in caring for both themselves and their companion animals. Individuals, for instance, are often forced to choose between accessing lodging and keeping their pets with them.

“Similarly, our review reveals that this group is less likely to utilize needing assistance, such as healthcare or career services, potentially due to difficulty using public transportation of lack of safe places to leave pets.”

However, Dr Kurkowski and Dr Springer said that despite the growing body of literature on both the benefits of pet ownership for the unhoused community – as well as the needs and challenges that homeless pet owners and their pets face – little attention has been given to developing interventions to address the challenges facing this group.

More comprehensive and effective care package

Dr Springer, associate professor of in the Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences at the UTHealth, “Our purpose was to describe the study designs, measurements, and outcomes of relevant primary research studies to identify knowledge gaps in the body of literature on this topic.

“Additionally, common intervention characteristics were highlighted to create a ‘road map’ of prior interventions to assist individuals interested in creating similar programs.

“The ultimate goal of this assessment was to summarize key intervention strategies for pet owners experiencing homelessness to help direct future funding, research, and outreach efforts among this unique population.”

The researchers conclude that a more comprehensive and effective care package for homeless people and their pets will require the combined efforts of healthcare providers, social workers, animal welfare workers and governmental and nonprofit organizations to develop innovative One Health solutions for the challenges currently facing this population.

Written by Kurkowksi, M. and Springer, A., ‘Exploring Strategies for Pet Owners Experiencing Homelessness: A Rapid Scoping Review’ appeared in Human-Animal Interactions.

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Pet Care

Small, long-nosed dogs live the longest

Small dolichocephalic breeds of both sexes (such as Miniature Dachshunds and Shetland Sheepdogs) had the highest median life expectancies of 13.3 years. Meanwhile, medium brachycephalic breeds had the lowest median life expectancies, of 9.1 years for males and 9.6 years for females.

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Small long-nosed (or dolichocephalic) dog breeds such as Whippets have the highest life expectancies in the UK, whilst male dogs from medium-sized flat-faced (or brachycephalic) breeds such as English Bulldogs have the lowest. The results, published in Scientific Reports, have been calculated from data on over 580,000 individual dogs from over 150 different breeds, and could help to identify those dogs most at risk of an early death.

Kirsten McMillan and colleagues assembled a database of 584,734 individual dogs using data from 18 different UK sources, including breed registries, vets, pet insurance companies, animal welfare charities, and academic institutions. Dogs were from one of 155 pure breeds or classified as a crossbreed, and 284,734 of the dogs had died before being added to the database. Breed, sex, date of birth, and date of death (if applicable) were included for all dogs. Purebred dogs were assigned to size (small, medium, or large) and head shape (brachycephalic or short-nosed, mesocephalic or medium-nosed, and dolichocephalic or long-nosed) categories based on kennel club literature. The median life expectancy was then calculated for all breeds individually and for the crossbreed group, then finally for each combination of sex, size, and head shape.

Small dolichocephalic breeds of both sexes (such as Miniature Dachshunds and Shetland Sheepdogs) had the highest median life expectancies of 13.3 years. Meanwhile, medium brachycephalic breeds had the lowest median life expectancies, of 9.1 years for males and 9.6 years for females.

Amongst the 12 most popular breeds, which accounted for more than 50% of all recorded pure breeds in the database, Labradors had a median life expectancy of 13.1 years, Jack Russell Terriers had a median life expectancy of 13.3 years, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels had a median life expectancy of 11.8 years.  Pure breeds had a higher median life expectancy than crossbreeds (12.7 years compared to 12.0 years), whilst female dogs had a slightly higher median life expectancy than males (12.7 years compared to 12.4 years).

The authors note that their results are representative for UK dogs only, and that crossbreeds were strictly defined as any dog that was not a kennel club purebred breed. They suggest that future research should investigate ‘designer breeds’ such as Labradoodles and Cockapoos separately to account for differing levels of genetic diversity between these dogs and mongrels.

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Pet Care

Walk your dog in style

Here is a comprehensive checklist to ensure one’s dog starts the year on the right foot.

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As the curtain rises on the new year, YuMOVE provides a comprehensive checklist to ensure one’s dog starts the year on the right foot:

  • Observe for visible signs of stiffness, especially in the morning or after rest.
  • Watch for changes in walking pace, limping, or discomfort during walks.
  • Pay attention to struggles in sitting, standing, or hesitation to get in or out of bed.
  • Monitor stair climbing difficulties or slipping incidents.
  • Note any shifts in weight between front and back legs.
  • Keep an eye out for behavioral changes such as grumpiness, lethargy, or reluctance to engage in normal activities.

If a dog exhibits any of these signs, consulting with a vet is recommended, as mobility concerns can affect dogs of all ages.

Embark on Healthier Walks in 2024
January signals the National Walk Your Dog Month – the perfect time to dedicate to regular walks with furry companions. YuMOVE provides five tips to optimize the dog-walking experience:

  • Craft a Tailored Walking Plan: Take into account the dog’s age, mobility, and environmental conditions. If uncertain, seek advice from a vet.
  • Monitor the dog’s mobility regularly: Stay alert for signs of stiffness, reluctance, or discomfort during walks.
  • Examine the harness and leash: Confirm a comfortable fit, ensuring safety without causing discomfort.
  • Winter walking precautions: Exercise caution in winter weather, utilize protective gear as needed, and avoid harmful substances on sidewalks.
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