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Study reveals impact of canine epilepsy on owners

Study reveals impact of canine epilepsy on owners

Findings could help veterinary professionals to better support clients.

Almost all owners of dogs diagnosed with epilepsy have made substantial life changes to care for their pet, according to new research.

The study by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) found that a diagnosis of canine epilepsy affects many aspects of an owner's life, including work, relationships and overall wellbeing. Many owners said the unpredictable nature of epilepsy made them feel like they were living with a 'ticking time bomb'.

Previously, much of the research surrounding canine epilepsy has centred on developing treatments to manage repeated seizures, rather than the emotional and logistical challenges faced by the owners of affected dogs. Researchers say these new findings could help veterinary professionals to better support clients and improve their overall quality of life.

Dr Rowena Packer, a lecturer in companion animal behaviour and welfare science and research lead in canine epilepsy at the RVC, said: “Epilepsy can be an extremely tough condition for owners to manage, where the love, time and money owners dedicate to their dogs is not necessarily matched by a significant improvement in their condition, with seizures often continuing unabated. 

“Our study has revealed previously unrecognised or underappreciated impacts that epilepsy introduced to these owners' lives. Improved awareness and understanding of these challenges by veterinary professionals have the potential to improve communication with clients, to avoid owners feeling that social media is the only place they can go to feel supported and understood.”

In the study, published in BMC Veterinary Research, researchers conducted interviews with owners to discover how their lives changed following a diagnosis of canine epilepsy. 

Following the initial diagnosis, many of the owners said they felt negative emotions, such as being fearful or uncertain about their dog's future and how the disease might progress. Experience with the disease was rare, and owners were shocked and distressed by the appearance of seizures.

The study also highlights the difficulties of strict daily medication schedules and finding assistance in caring for their dog. These factors, together with fear over leaving their dog unsupervised, had implications on the owner's social lives and led to the increased use of  internet forums for support.

Amy Pergande, a small animal intern at the RVC and primary author of the study, said: “We are sincerely grateful to the owners who participated in this study for providing us with such detailed and often emotive accounts of their experiences. Many of the participants had willingly altered many aspects of their daily routine for their dogs, both socially and professionally, and sometimes at the expense of their own quality of life.”

Initiative to tackle growing problem of unowned cats

Initiative to tackle growing problem of unowned cats

iCatCare launches free virtual library of resources and advice.

International Cat Care (iCatCare) is launching a new initiative to help people working with unowned cats, kickstarting with a free, certified course on the 5 December.

Currently, there are an estimated 300 million unwanted cats worldwide. This number accounts for more than half the predicted global population of domestic cats and is rising year on year.

In a bid to tackle this problem, iCatCare has launched a virtual library of resources, bringing together latest research and expert knowledge. Entitled Cat-Friendly Solutions for Unowned Cats (CFSOC) the information is freely accessible to established professionals, volunteers and organisations, or those who are simply interested in the subject.

To launch the project iCatCare has created a free, certified introductory course called ‘Bringing Cat-Friendly Solutions for Unowned Cats to Life’. Through uplifting and emotional stories of three very different cats, users will be able to learn the principles of the CFSOC and test their knowledge as they progress.

The CFSOC also aims to create a community for those working with unowned cats to share their knowledge, ideas and experiences with like-minded people across the world.

Vicky Halls, cat-friendly homing project manager at iCatCare and CFSOC lead, said: “We strongly believe that collaboration, mutual support and care are needed for us to provide all cats with the best possible life experience.

"Be loud and proud about what you have achieved already but, for the sake of cats, aspire, with the support of others, to evolve from great to even better, as even little changes can make a difference to the species we all care about so much.”

For more information about CFSOC and to take the course when it becomes available on 5 December visit

Image (C) iCatCare

Blind therapy cat wins Blue Cross Medal

Blind therapy cat wins Blue Cross Medal

Carrots has been comforting patients at the Marie Curie Hospice in Bradford.

A blind therapy cat who helped to bring comfort to patients and their families at a Marie Curie Hospice has been awarded the historic Blue Cross Medal.

Four-year-old Carrots has been bringing joy to those living with anxiety and depression, as well as those who receive palliative care, at the Marie Curie Hospice in Bradford. 

Julia Mckecknie-Burke, Blue Cross director of fundraising and one of four judges on this year’s panel, said: “With the Blue Cross Medal we want to celebrate the extraordinary things pets do for us and how they change our lives. 

“Carrots is a perfect example of this, and we’re honoured to award him the Blue Cross Medal on its 80th anniversary, placing him alongside a long list extraordinary pets that have transformed or saved human lives.” 

Carrots visits to the hospice started when his owner, Katie Lloyd, was diagnosed with an Anaplastic Astrocytoma, but his soothing, confident nature soon won over the hearts of other patients.
The ginger tom, who lost his sight as a tiny kitten, now provides twice-weekly visits to the hospice, sitting beside patients so that they can stroke him and listen to him purr. 

Katie Lloyd said: “I'm so incredibly proud of Carrots for winning the 2020 Blue Cross Medal. I’m really humbled and didn’t expect Carrots to get this kind of recognition. When Carrots first arrived I knew immediately that he was a special boy. He has been my companion for many years, helping me get through some of the hardest times of my life. ”

Carrots is the only therapy cat within Marie Curie Hospices and is the UK's only blind therapy cat. During the COVID-19 pandemic - when not chasing his favourite scrunchy ball -  he has been writing letters to some of the patients he has met through his therapy work - naturally signing off every letter with a paw print. 

The Blue Cross Medal celebrates heroic pets who are changing or saving lives across the UK, with one pet being awarded the medal every year.

Launched during World War One, the Medal was initially given to people who helped rescue animals. The first time it was presented to an animal was in 1940, to a dog called ‘La Cloche’, for saving his owner from drowning after a German torpedo hit their ship.


Military dog Kuno awarded for bravery

Military dog Kuno awarded for bravery

Belgian shepherd suffered life-changing injuries while on duty.

A retired military working dog who saved the lives of British insurgents during a deadly Al Qaeda attack has been awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal for his bravery and devotion to duty.

In 2019, Belgian shepherd Kuno needed to have one of his paws amputated after sustaining bullet wounds to his back legs during a compound raid.

As the British came under attack, Kuno charged through a hail of gunfire to tackle the enemy, breaking the deadlock and allowing the soldiers to complete their mission.

Kuno was formally-presented with his medal – the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross – during a virtual presentation on Tuesday (24 November).

PDSA director general, Jan McLoughlin, said: “Kuno is a true hero. His actions that day undoubtedly changed the course of a vital mission, saving multiple lives in the process. And despite serious, life-changing injuries, he performed his duty without faltering.”

Following the attack, Kuno was given immediate life-saving treatment on the back of a helicopter. One bullet had narrowly missed a main artery, and he needed several operations before he was stable enough to return the UK.

A lengthy programme of rehabilitation ensued, and Kuno was eventually strong enough to be fitted with a pioneering custom-made prosthesis to replace his missing paw.

Now enjoying his retirement, Kuno is the 72nd recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal. Previous recipients include 34 dogs, 32 World War II messenger pigeons, four horses and one cat.

Image (C) PDSA.

Low cholesterol linked to mortality in cats and dogs, study suggests

Low cholesterol linked to mortality in cats and dogs, study suggests

Researchers assess the period prevalence of hypocholesterolaemia and associated mortality rates.
Low levels of cholesterol are associated with mortality in canine and feline patients, according to new research.

The study published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice assessed the period prevalence of hypocholesterolaemia and the associated mortality rates in dogs and cats at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, University of California, Davis. 

The team reviewed medical records of cats and dogs presenting to the hospital from September 2011 to August 2016 to identify animals that had at least one cholesterol measurement. They also collated patient signalment and clinical information, before calculating the period prevalence and mortality rate of hypocholesterolaemia. 

The study revealed that the period prevalence of hypocholesterolaemia was 7 per cent in dogs and 4.7 per cent in cats. The mortality rate of hypocholesteraemic dogs and cats was 12 per cent in both species, which was significantly higher than that of animals with normal serum cholesterol. 

Steven Epstein, corresponding author for the paper, said: “The odds of death in dogs and cats with hypocholesterolaemia were 3.2 and 2.5 times higher than in those with normocholesterolaemia respectively. Furthermore, there was a significant linear trend towards higher mortality in association with more severe hypocholesterolaemia in both species.

“Disease of the hepatic, gastrointestinal and lymphoreticular systems were most commonly associated with hypocholesterolaemia, and infectious and neoplastic disease were the most commonly associated pathophysiological processes in both species. In dogs with neoplasia, lymphoma was over-represented.”

JSAP editor Nicola Di Girolamo said: “These findings suggest that low cholesterol levels are associated with mortality in canine and feline patients. It is not clear whether hypocholesterolaemia is simply a marker for disease severity, or if it has active physiological effects contributing to poor outcomes. At this stage, it seems indicated to enhance intensity of diagnostic effort and therapy for affected animals.”

Vets identify gene responsible for feline tooth resorption

Vets identify gene responsible for feline tooth resorption

Blocking activity of the MMP9 gene could prevent condition from developing.

A team of vets at the University of Edinburgh's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies say they have identified a gene responsible for causing feline tooth resorption - a common condition estimated to affect 20 to 60 per cent of all cats.

The discovery follows an analysis of genetic material recovered from the teeth of 11 cats, with permission of the animals' owners. Vets found more than 1,000 genes that had been active in teeth where resorption had occurred and therefore might be involved in the process. 

The team concentrated on one particular gene - the MMP9 gene - which produces a protein commonly found in areas of damaged tissue. In experiments using two different techniques to prevent activity in the gene, both approaches prevented the biological processes associated with tooth resorption.

Researchers say their findings, published in Scientific Reports, suggest that the MMP9 gene, and the protein it generates, are involved in causing tooth resorption. Blocking the action of this particular gene could, therefore, prevent the cell processes that lead to disease, they write.

Dr Seungmee Lee from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, explains: “This is a painful condition which affects virtually all mature cats, and currently there is no effective way to manage the disease other than removing affected teeth. By examining genes involved in the process it seems that if we stop the activity of the MMP9 gene, we may be able to prevent the condition from developing.” 

Currently, there are no treatments for tooth resorption other than extracting the affected teeth. Researchers say their discovery could inform new treatments for this condition and may also have implications for other conditions, such as the role of MMP9 in bone diseases.

MPs to address concerns over puppy smuggling

MPs to address concerns over puppy smuggling

Evidence session to explore how heightened demand for pets may have encouraged crime.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee is set to explore continuing concerns around illegal smuggling of pets into the UK in a one-off evidence session.

It comes after figures released by Dogs Trust revealed that prices for some of the UK's most popular dog breeds reached record levels during the coronavirus lockdown in March. The charity fears the price hike is both fuelling the illegal importation of puppies and the cruel and unsanitary conditions that puppies have to endure.

During the session, MPs will question how unprecedented changes in supply and demand for pets may have encouraged crime and the extent to which new laws and campaigns have helped reduce pet smuggling and cruelty.

The session will also explore to what the end of the Brexit transition period will mean for pet imports and the level of support provided to animal charities during the pandemic. Among the contributors will be Dogs Trust veterinary director, Paula Boydon, BVA senior vice president, Daniella Dos Santos, and animal welfare minister, Zac Goldsmith.

Paul Boyden said: “It’s shocking to see how much dogs are being advertised for sale online and in particular how prices for some of the most popular smuggled breeds have increased during the coronavirus lockdown.

“While there are many responsible sellers out there, sadly there are plenty who are just looking to tug on the heartstrings and exploit the situation for their own profit.”

The evidence session takes place remotely on Tuesday, 24 November, at 2.30 pm. To watch the session live, visit GOV.UK 

RSPCA launches campaign as it prepares for 'toughest Christmas yet'

RSPCA launches campaign as it prepares for 'toughest Christmas yet'

Supporters urged to help frontline teams continue to rescue animals

The RSPCA has launched a new Christmas campaign to support its rescue teams, as the charity fears the financial strain from the coronavirus pandemic could result in a rise in pets being abandoned.

Last winter, the RSPCA took in more than 7,000 animals and received more than 204,000 calls, making it the busiest winter period for the charity in at least four years.

The RSPCA is concerned that this Christmas could be its 'toughest year yet' as more people may struggle to care for their pets as a result of the pandemic, causing a potential rise in neglected or abandoned animals.

The Join the Christmas Rescue campaign asks supporters to donate to help frontline teams continue to rescue and care for animals in need across England and Wales.

Dermot Murphy, head of the RSPCA's animal rescue teams said: “It's been a tough year for everyone, including charities, so now more than ever we need your help to continue our vital work saving animals and giving them a voice.

“Our frontline teams are out throughout the winter but they cannot do this alone, which is why we've launched our Join the Christmas Rescue campaign to show how we can all help animals.

“From our animal rescuers, hospital and centre staff, and our volunteers to every supporter who picks up the phone to call us when an animal is in need, or donates to help us continue our work - every one of us is vital to make sure we can rescue the animals who need us the most.”

Novel cat genome identifies link to feline dwarfism

Novel cat genome identifies link to feline dwarfism

Study could lead to earlier disease detection and treatments with fewer side effects. 

Researchers in the USA have discovered a genetic mutation linked to feline dwarfism with a gene not previously linked with dwarfism in any species.

Scientists at the University of Missouri and Texas A&M discovered the new variant by developing a new cat genome reference model in a bid to uncover new links between DNA mutations and feline disease. 

The model, which is part-funded by Purina, is said to be 'vastly more accurate and improves scientists’ ability to identify DNA variations that influence the health of individual cats'. 

Felines suffer from many of the same diseases that affect humans. However, the level of genetic information available to help develop new tests and treatments in humans has not been available for cats. 

To help rectify this, researchers applied the new model to 54 cat genomes to identify variations that could be the cause of disease in domestic cats. The genetic mutation linked to feline dwarfism is one of the several discoveries detailed in the journal PLOS Genetics.

Looking ahead, the team hopes to use the model to extend the use of precision medicine in feline veterinary care. The resource could enable scientists to develop more useful genetic screening tests, provide earlier disease detection, and lead to the development of improved treatments with fewer side effects.

Pesticides found in flea treatments are contaminating English rivers, study finds

Pesticides found in flea treatments are contaminating English rivers, study finds

Concentrations found in some samples far exceeded accepted safe limits

Researchers at the University of Sussex have found widespread contamination of English rivers with fipronil and the neonicotinoid imidacloprid, two pesticides commonly used in veterinary flea products.

According to the VMD, these chemicals, which are banned for agricultural use as a result of their negative environmental effects, are found in 87 licensed veterinary products either alone or in combination with other parasiticides. Products include spot-on solutions, sprays and collars.

Professor Dave Goulson and Dr Rosemary Perkins from the University of Sussex analysed 3,861 water samples collected by the Environment Agency in 20 English rivers from 2016-2018.

They found fipronil in 98 per cent of freshwater samples, with the average concentration exceeding safety thresholds fivefold.

The researchers also detected imidacloprid in 66 per cent of samples. In seven out of the 20 rivers sampled, this chemical was found to pose a high environmental risk.

Dr Perkins said: “Fipronil is one of the most commonly used flea products, and recent studies have shown that it degrades to compounds that are more persistent in the environment, and more toxic to most insects, than fipronil itself.

“Our results, showing that fipronil and its toxic breakdown products are present in nearly all of the freshwater samples tested, are extremely concerning.”

The study – published in Science of the Total Environment – shows that the highest levels of pollution were detected immediately downstream of wastewater treatment works, suggesting waterways may be being contaminated by the chemicals being washed down household drains.

Dr Perkins concluded: “We’ve identified a number of steps that can be taken to minimise or avoid environmental harm from pet flea and/or tick treatments. These range from introducing stricter prescription-only regulations, to considering a more judicious and risk-based approach to the control of parasites in pets, for example by moving away from blanket year-round prophylactic use.

“We’d recommend a re-evaluation of the environmental risks posed by pet parasite products, and a reappraisal of the risk assessments that these products undergo prior to regulatory approval.”

Warning as kitten prices soar during COVID-19

Warning as kitten prices soar during COVID-19

Buyers urged to think carefully when using online adverts.

National feline charity Cats Protection is warning potential owners about the perils of buying a 'lockdown kitten' this Christmas after figures revealed the price of kittens soared by almost 40 per cent during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cats Protection stresses that with prices for cats rocketing by around £100 in the past year, buyers could be duped into buying sick kittens from breeders exploiting the demand for pets. 

According to the figures, prepared for Cats Protection, the average price of cats and kittens rose throughout the pandemic to £349.41 in July - a 40 per cent increase from July 2019, when the average price was £253.23.

Jacqui Cuff, Cats Protection’s head of advocacy and government relations, said: “With all of us spending more time at home, it is understandable that many people would want to welcome a new pet into the household. However, we’re asking buyers to think very carefully when using online adverts to find a new kitten.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created the ideal conditions for unscrupulous pet sellers to thrive, as they appear to have a credible reason for not allowing buyers to view the kitten with their mother first.”

The warning comes after the launch of Defra's '12 Days of Petfished' campaign, which aims to educate the public on the risks posed by untrustworthy sellers at this time of year.

In light of the new research, Cats Protection is calling on members of the public to consider adopting from an animal welfare charity. Since lockdown restitutions were introduced in March, Cats Protection has re-homed some 10,000 cats and kittens via its Hands-Free homing initiative. 

The charity is also advising buyers to think carefully before purchasing a kitten from an online advert and refer closely to its Kitten Checklist.

Jacqui Cuff continued: “Before the pandemic, buyers may have heard alarm bells if a seller offered to deliver a kitten to them, or said it was not possible to view the kitten with its mother. But the guidelines and restrictions on visiting other households means it is now very difficult to be sure of a kitten’s background.”


Vets save cocker spaniel after it eats a face mask

Vets save cocker spaniel after it eats a face mask

Dog given emergency surgery to clear intestinal blockage

Veterinary staff at Huyton PDSA Pet Hospital had to perform emergency surgery on a one-year-old cocker spaniel named Ralph, after the animal ate a face mask.

Ralph's owner Julie Veidman woke one morning to find that her dog had vomited in the night. While not immediately concerned she became worried when Ralph could not keep water down and refused treats. She called PDSA straight away and was instructed to bring Ralph to the charity's pet hospital in Huyton.

“We examined Ralph and could feel something in his tummy – with his other symptoms we immediately suspected he’d eaten something he shouldn’t,” said veterinary surgeon Lizzie Whitton.

“An x-ray confirmed that there was some kind of blockage in his intestines. This can quickly become fatal, so we took him straight into emergency surgery.”

Ms Veidman, who is had to leave her job as a sales assistant due to the stresses caused by the pandemic, had an anxious wait at home while she awaited news.

“Walking away from the Pet Hospital holding his empty lead was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” she said. “He's been my absolute rock through lockdown, I don’t know what we [would do] without him.”

Ms Whitton continued: “Any type of surgery carries risk, and intestinal procedures can come with additional complications, but thankfully Ralph’s operation went very well. However we were all shocked when we removed a face mask from inside him!”

Ralph returned home soon afterwards and after two weeks he has made a complete recovery. Owner Julie thanked PDSA's veterinary team and added: “It worries me as you see masks discarded all over the place right now, and Ralph is living proof that dogs might eat them and suffer serious consequences.”

Images (c) PDSA.

Study reveals link between immune system genes and diabetes in certain dog breeds

Study reveals link between immune system genes and diabetes in certain dog breeds

Important findings published as part of Pet Diabetes Awareness Month

A new study which examines associations between immune system genes and canine diabetes mellitus in high-risk breeds could help improve diagnosis and treatment of diabetes in dogs.

Diabetes mellitus affects approximately one in 300 dogs across the UK, and is much more common in certain breeds than others. Previous studies have implicated a group of immune system genes, or major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes, in canine diabetes mellitus, but this study is the first to examine this association in individual pedigree dog breeds.

The study – published in Canine Medicine and Genetics – was conducted by researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), the University of Manchester and the University of Oxford.

The team studied data from 646 diabetic dogs and 912 breed-matched non-diabetic controls, across 12 high-risk breeds including cocker spaniels, border terriers, Labrador retrievers and Tibetan terriers.

The findings confirmed that particular MHC genes are associated with canine diabetes in certain breeds of dogs, indicating the need for further research into the role of the immune system in the development of canine diabetes, as well as additional genetic studies in single breeds.

According to the study, future research will help identify causal variants and mechanisms, which could improve the diagnosis and management of affected dogs.

Alice Denyer, PhD student at the Royal Veterinary College, said: “I am pleased to have been part of this important research, particularly given that November is Pet Diabetes Awareness Month.

“It is really interesting to see the variation that we found among the breeds studied, supporting the theory that canine diabetes mellitus is heterogeneous among breeds. Human diabetes mellitus is known to be highly heterogenous, but we do not know currently know how similar canine diabetes mellitus is to the human disease.

“Undoubtedly there is much more to uncover in this area, and I look forward to working further on this important issue which affects so many dogs in the UK.”

Chief Vet urges public to be wary of deceitful pet sellers this Christmas

Chief Vet urges public to be wary of deceitful pet sellers this Christmas

Government publishes awareness video as part of Petfished campaign

In the lead up to Christmas, the UK government is reminding those looking to buy a puppy or kitten to do their research and look out for the signs of untrustworthy sellers.

Under Lucy’s Law, commercial third-party puppy and kitten sales have been banned in England. Meaning that anyone looking to acquire a new puppy or kitten must buy direct from a breeder, or consider adopting instead.

However, with new lockdown restrictions in effect until 2 December, potential pet buyers are being urged to ensure they carry out the proper checks to know they are buying from a trustworthy source and not being deceived by puppy and kitten dealers who breed and keep animals in poor conditions.

Christmas is a peak time for puppy and kitten buying. According to online retailer Preloved, the majority ‘high volume’ days for new pet listings on its site occurred between late November and mid-December last year.

Defra has released a video titled ‘The 12 Days of Petfished’ as part of its Petfished campaign, to educate the public on the risks posed by untrustworthy sellers at this time of year.

Chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said: “After a difficult year and with many of us spending more time at home, many people may be considering getting a new puppy or kitten.

“However, the lead up to Christmas is a prominent time for unscrupulous sellers to take advantage of those looking to buy a new pet. That is why we are advising people to remain vigilant and to always thoroughly research sellers before getting in touch.”

“Potential buyers should also note that Christmas might not be the best time to get a pet as it can be noisy and chaotic, which isn’t the best environment to settle in a new animal.”

The RSPCA is also supporting the Petfished campaign, urging potential buyers to always research the seller before buying and walk away if they have any concerns. “It is always much better to wait for the right dog than to rush into buying - and unwittingly support cruelty,” said chief executive Chris Sherwood.

National study seeking owners who have acquired a puppy since 2019

National study seeking owners who have acquired a puppy since 2019

Survey will explore impact of lockdown on puppy buying and welfare

The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is looking for UK dog owners who have acquired a puppy since January 2019, to take part in a survey exploring puppy buying experiences both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reports have shown large spikes in UK households purchasing puppies since lockdown began. The 'Pandemic Puppies' survey aims to explore people's puppy buying experiences across this period, looking at how and why they acquired their pet.

The study will also assess the impact that the pandemic has had on the early lives of these puppies compared to those purchased in 2019. As lockdown has reduced opportunities for socialisation and development which are so important for young puppies.

According to the RVC, this research will identify any vulnerabilities to the health, behaviour, and welfare of this puppy population, and will help provide advice and guidance for their owners, as well as future prospective buyers.

The survey is open to UK residents who brought a puppy of any breed or crossbreed home aged under 16 weeks during 2019 or 2020. The puppy must have been purchased from a breeder or private seller, rather than adopted from a rescue organisation or bred by themselves.

Dr Rowena Packer, project leader and lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science at the RVC said: “We want to learn more about how and why people bought puppies during lockdown, and your experiences of owning a young puppy during this unprecedented period.

“We want to know about both good and bad experiences, so even if you feel the puppy buying process didn’t go as well as you had hoped, you have worries, or even if you have rehomed your puppy, we would love to hear from you.

“We equally need vital information from owners of puppies bought before the pandemic in 2019 and early 2020, to learn what ‘normal’ puppy buying looked like in the UK.”

To take part in the survey, please click here.

Study finds that slow blinking can help owners bond with their cats

Study finds that slow blinking can help owners bond with their cats

Findings provide rare insight into cat-human communication

A study conducted by psychologists at the Universities of Sussex and Portsmouth has revealed for the first time that a slow blinking technique can be used as a form of positive communication between cats and humans.

The study - published online inScientific Reports – was led by Dr Tasmin Humphrey and Professor Karen McComb, animal behaviour scientists at the University of Sussex.

Professor McComb said: “As someone who has both studied animal behaviour and is a cat owner, it’s great to be able to show that cats and humans can communicate in this way. It’s something that many cat owners had already suspected, so it’s exciting to have found evidence for it.”

The research team undertook two experiments, both of which were video recorded. The first experiment included a total of 21 cats from 14 different households and their respective owners. After waiting for the cat to settle in one place, the owner sat near the animal and tried both the slow blinking technique and no interaction at all.

This experiment showed that the cats were more likely to slow blink at their owners after their owners had slow blinked at them, compared to no interaction on the owner's part.

The second experiment included a total of 24 additional cats. This time a researcher from the team either slow blinked at the cat or adopted a neutral face without direct eye contact. The researcher also offered the cat their hand, to see if the animal would approach.

According to the study, the cats were found to be more likely to approach the experimenter’s outstretched hand after they’d slow blinked at the cat, compared to when they had adopted a neutral expression.

Author of the study Dr Humphrey said: “Understanding positive ways in which cats and humans interact can enhance public understanding of cats, improve feline welfare, and tell us more about the socio-cognitive abilities of this under-studied species.

“Our findings could potentially be used to assess the welfare of cats in a variety of settings, including veterinary practices and shelters.”